Joe was a good man. He went out of his way to help others, did mitzvot, and tried to live his life according to scripture.
One night, about 1 AM, he sat reclined in his chair watching television. He’d been doing that a lot lately, as his run of luck hadn’t quite been so good. Work was slow, his son, Mordechai, had fallen into a group of teens he wasn’t too fond of, and his mamma had been in the hospital for several days recovering from an infection. Joe had seen worse times, he was sure, but for the life of him, he couldn’t remember when.
He’d almost fallen asleep when he heard the booming voice come out of the TV.
“Limited Time Offer Joe!”, it announced. Hearing his name, Joe opened his eyes and saw that the picture, normally a bit choppy, was crystal clear. Standing before him was a man dressed in a white tuxedo, smiling.
“No Joe, you’re not asleep – this isn’t a dream – it’s the offer of a lifetime! Your lifetime!”, the man said with a sincere smile.
Joe was speechless. His television was talking to him! He was certain he was asleep.
“I told you Joe, you’re not sleeping!”, the man said. Joe mustered up the courage to speak.
“If I’m not sleeping, then how do you know my name? Is this some sort of joke?”, Joe said. He looked around the room for any cameras that might be pointed at him, but he found none in the small living room.
“I know everyone’s name Joe”, the man responded, “And I don’t play jokes, you know that”. Joe was shocked. A man who knows everyone’s name, doesn’t play jokes, wears white, and can talk to one through their television set. Joe was speechless.
“Yes Joe, I have many names, and much to offer you”, the man said. He looked at Joe as someone looking at an old friend. “Times are tough, and I know you just want to do what is right for yourself, your family, and your community, Joe”, the man said. “And that’s all I want for you as well. I came here tonight to offer my help”.
Joe was still having a hard time putting together words, but could sense that the man could somehow read his mind. The man waited a moment, smiled, and began.
“But Joe, this is a limited time offer – I’ve come here tonight to help you and, if you want, give you a tremendous gift, but you’ll need to start speaking if you want to accept it”. Joe listened carefully, and realized he would need to string together another sentence.
“I’m listening, and I’m open to your gift”, Joe said, proud of himself that he’d gotten two thoughts out in one sentence.
“Joe, I know you want to help people, and sometimes, you don’t know how. Take Mordechai for example”, the man said as he sat down in a chair, a table next to it had a picture of Moredechai, framed, sitting on it. The picture was from when he was younger, and not as troubled. Joe was happy to see the picture, it brought back happy memories.
“Moredechai has been through a lot lately Joe, and he doesn’t even know what he wants in life. But the gift I have to offer to you today could help him – it could help everyone, and you’ll be the instrument of my aid”, the man proclaimed. “Joe, I want to give you the ability to know a man’s wants and desires just by looking at them”. The man stopped, letting the words slip into Joe’s mind.
“Know what they want?”, Joe replied, meekly.
“Yes”, said the man, “Even if they don’t know what they want, you can help them discover it, help your fellow man!”.
Joe sat there for a moment and pondered. The man adjusted his position in the chair and as he waited, looked to the side of the screen.
“Joe – I’m going to go attend to another matter for a moment, think about what I’m offering”, the man said as he walked off the screen. Joe could hear muffle voices to the side, the man asking another person something about Joe. But Joe couldn’t make out the reply. The man came back into frame with a renewed vigor.
“Joe, like I said, this is a limited time offer”, he said with a smile.
“I don’t mean to disrespect you”, Joe began, “But I don’t want to take your offer”.
The man stood there for a moment, and then softened his face and spoke.
“I know it’s a big responsibility Joe, but think of the people you can help. You can give up working in an area where work is scarce and do good works by helping others”, he said. “I know you just want to help others, and this is how you can do it.”
Joe could sense the man’s disappointment. He knew that he was being given a once-in-his-lifetime offer, and he did want to help his fellow man. But something nagged at him, and he had no idea what it was. Was it responsibility, as the man suggested, or something else. Joe was unsure, and the man could sense it.
“Joe, I don’t want to rush you”, the man said, “I just know that you’ve been a faithful servant – through thick and thin, good and bad, and I want to reward you for that”. The man sat in his chair once more. This time the picture in the frame changed from Mordechai to Mamma, when she was younger, healthier.
“Soon your Mamma will be coming home”, the man said, “to her home above. You could use your gift to make her last earthly dreams come true. I know you have the power to use your gift wisely, and that you won’t use it for foolish purposes. What do you say Joe?” The man waited for a reply.
“What about those beyond help?”, Joe said.
“What do you mean, Joe?”, the man asked.
“What about those who have wants that I can’t fulfill. Those who want to hurt others, or take from others”, Joe was amazed that he could put together the words coming out of his mouth. He felt a jolt of energy, but it was risky to challenge the man.
“Those people aren’t of your concern Joe – they are lost. Think of those you can help, and think of how much people will respect you when you give that help”, the man said as he rose from his chair. Joe sat across from the screen, and thought about his choice.
“Joe, now is the time to make up your mind”, the man said. “This is a limited time offer, about to expire”. His voice began to get louder to Joe.
“Respect me? Wouldn’t that lead to pride?”, Joe said.
“You take the gift now or never Joe, I’m not going to give you the option again”, the man was nearly yelling. The more intense he got, the more sure of himself Joe became.
“No, now be gone from here”, Joe said confidently.
The television blinked off. A moment later the phone rang. Joe looked at the clock – it was past 2 AM. Who could be calling him this late?
“Hello?”, Joe said into the phone.
“You made the right choice. The evil in men’s hearts would have led you to temptation. The pride of the gift would have ruined any man”, the voice at the other end of the phone said. “You shall not further be tested”. The line went dead.
Joe sat there, and while he was not tired, a peace came over him, and the next thing he knew, it was morning. He looked about and realized that Mordechai hadn’t come home last night, an increasingly regular ritual. It was 8:15 when the phone rang.
“Hello?”, Joe said.
“Joe”, Mamma’s voice was weak, but firm, “You’ll never believe who came to see me last night”.
“Mordechai – he came in about 2 AM and said something told him to come spend time with me instead of those kids he’d been with. He just left to come over to your place. He said he had to apologize, but he wouldn’t tell me why”. Joe was shocked as he heard his mother’s words.
“That’s amazing Mamma”, Joe said “How are you feeling today?”.
“I’m doing well. The doctor came in around 7 and told me that I’m getting better. I should be out of here in a few days”.
Joe talked a bit more to his mother and then they hung up. He was shocked. Not only had Mordechai visited his grandmother in the hospital, but her health was improving. How could that be? It was…
Joe stopped himself just short of using the word “miracle”.
Mordechai came into the house with the newspaper. They talked for almost an hour, Mordechai apologizing, Joe forgiving, and both catching up on the past year’s events. As it came time for Mordechai to get some rest before he went to work later that day, he looked at his father and spoke.
“You know Dad, you haven’t asked me why I changed my mind about my life”.
“I figured you’d tell me when you were ready, and I have a few clues about it myself anyway”, Joe said with a smile.
“I can’t explain it myself Dad, so if you have clues, I’d love to hear them. At some point last night I just realized that what I was doing was hurting people, including myself. As soon as I made the decision to leave and go see Grandma, I knew things were going to get better for all of us”, Mordechai said as he leaned down to hug his father who was still sitting in his chair.
“I think you’re right – things are going to get better”, Joe said as Mordechai left the room.
Author’s Note: I left the name of the son/daughter in the story up to a Facebook friend, who chose Mordechai in honor of upcoming Purim.