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Every year some students would claim to be the Messiah,
It was the rabbi who had to deal with them.
He had jumped, years ago, from a moving boxcar
on the way to a death camp. That leap
left him ready for anything.
This year at Pesach, a Jewish student proclaimed
Armageddon. “Burn the books! Burn the textbooks!”
he shouted to a cheerful crowd,
sang Hebrew songs to confuse the Gentiles,
dressed for the end like Belshazzar.
People stopped to whisper and laugh.
“I have a noble task,” the boy explained.
“I must prepare myself to endure
the laughter of fools.”
The rabbi was a skeptic.
Years ago he’d been taught, If you’re planting a tree
and someone cries out, The Messiah has come!
finish planting the tree. Then
go see if it’s true.
Still, he took the boy into his study
and questioned him slowly, meticulously,
as if the poor soul before him might be,
God help us, the Messiah.
Copyright 2017 Chana Bloch. From Swimming in the Rain: New and Selected Poems (1980-2015). Reprinted with permission of Autumn House Press.