Driving the family home from synagogue, Audrey looked into the rearview mirror, and posed the usual Shabbes question to Andrew in his car seat, “So, katshkela, did you get anything out of Ki Tissa, today’s Torah portion?”
“I sure did!”
“Mazel tov! Tell us.”
“I got a great idea for a costume! For next Halloween.”
Audrey darted a glance at Jonathan. He’d long felt ambivalent about Jewish children dressing up for a holiday that was Christian at best, pagan at worst. Yet Audrey and Jonathan were careful to be gentle with Andrew on religious matters since they’d suffered in childhood from well-meaning, but fire-and-brimstone-spouting Hebrew school teachers. “What better way to enjoy the Torah,” said Audrey, trying to cut off Jonathan’s frustration at the pass, “than to dress up like a Torah character?”
“I don’t know,” mumbled Jonathan.
“It’s wonderful that the Torah portion inspired you, katshkela,” Audrey said, her voice a little too cheery. “Who from Ki Tissa do you want to be next Halloween?”
“Guess!” said Andrew, clapping his hands.
“Um… um… um…,” Audrey played along, “I think I can guess this one…. It’s Moses carrying the two tablets down from Mt. Sinai, right?” She glanced again into the rearview mirror.
Little Andrew shook his head.
“Not Moses?” asked Audrey. “Okay, Jonathan, your turn to guess.”
“Aaron?” Jonathan asked, a bit disturbed since Aaron had not displayed his greatest wisdom in Ki Tissa, what with collecting gold from the Children of Israel and fashioning that golden calf idol.
Again, little Andrew shook his head, giggling this time.
“Okay,” Audrey said, “We give up. Who from Ki Tissa do you want to dress up as on Halloween?”
Bouncing up and down in his car seat, Andrew said, “The golden calf! I want to be the golden calf!”
“No!” snapped Jonathan. For the first time in his life, Jonathan understood what Moses must have felt descending Mt. Sinai.
Audrey pulled over to the side of the road, pressed Jonathan’s hands in hers. “Andrew, sweetheart,” she said, “you can’t dress up as the golden calf.”
“Sure I can! We’ll get a cow mask and we can glue glitter on it!”
Audrey took a deep breath, collected her thoughts. “Listen, katshkela, Jewish children do not dress up as the golden calf.”
“Why not?” Andrew’s grin was fading. “It would be pretty.”
“Because we’re not Hindus,” said Jonathan.
“Jonathan, that’s not helpful. Let me?”
“Andrew, don’t you remember how angry Moses got when he came down from Mt. Sinai and saw the golden calf? He smashed the two tablets, he was so angry. The golden calf was bad.”
“Why?” asked Andrew.
“Because the people thought it was a god. They prayed to it. Like in ancient Egypt where they prayed to idols.”
“Idols are bad,” said Andrew, his voice Hebrew-school solemn.
“Yes, sweetheart, you’re absolutely right. Idols are bad. So we must never dress up like an idol, okay?”
“That’s my good boy.” Audrey re-joined traffic. Jonathan gave her a thumbs-up. “So,” she said, “let’s think hard — who else from the Torah portion could you be on Halloween?” She looked in the rearview mirror, saw Andrew’s face light up with an idea.
“I know! I know!” he said. “I’ll dress up as the Almighty! He’s not an idol. And we know He’s good, right?”
“Oh, brother,” Jonathan groaned.
“Yes, sweetheart,” Audrey said, trying not to laugh. “We know He’s good. But, you can’t dress up like Him because nobody knows what He looks like.”
“Sure we do, Mom! He looks like an old man.”
Audrey turned her head to Jonathan, her face filled with an I’m-fresh-out-of-ideas look.
“Andrew,” said Jonathan, “let me ask you something.”
“Be gentle,” Audrey whispered.
“If you dress up as the Almighty,” Jonathan began, “what if a stranger walking down the block sees you and thinks you really are the Almighty? Maybe this stranger will start praying to you like you’re an idol or something.”
“Uh-oh,” said Andrew.
“Yeah,” said Audrey. “Big uh-oh. Maybe Ki Tissa isn’t the best Torah portion for Halloween costumes.” Her turn to give a thumbs-up.
“I know!” said Andrew. “I know what to dress up as!”
“Okay,” said Jonathan, wincing. “Let’s hear it.”
“I’ll dress up like the two tablets! You can write on me in Hebrew!”
Once more Audrey and Jonathan looked at each other. This time they shrugged. “Andrew,” said Jonathan, “you found yourself a costume.”
Daniel M. Jaffe, editor of “With Signs and Wonders: An International Anthology of Jewish Fabulist Fiction,” lives in Santa Barbara, Calif.