"Remember boys, the play is in two weeks. Start practicing tonight!”
Shua can’t be Moshe Rabbeinu.
It’s jut a fact.
But he could definitely be a frog. Or a gorilla. Or even a giraffe.
Know what I mean? No? Okay, let me back up a second.
Shua is my best friend. Actually, he’s new to our school and I’m the only one he talks to. He’s super shy. But that’s fine, because I’m a huge talker. He likes to listen to me, and I love having someone who’s interested in what I have to say.
Naturally, when the school announced the main roles for the annual Pesach play, I was given the role of Moshe Rabbeinu.
“It’s one the biggest parts, Yanky,” Rabbi Danziger, our principal, told me in the hallway. “I know you’re a good talker and a good actor, but you really need to review your lines.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered. I know the whole Pesach story in my sleep.”
“There are a lot of lines, Yanky.”
“I know, but I can study for a test the night before and remember everything. I’m not worried about rehearsing.”
“But I am. Yanky, earlier this year I was made aware of some of your test scores. They were, err, not the greatest. I suppose you studied once for those, too?”
“Rabbi Danziger, this is different. This is a play; something I actually care about! Not like boring schoolwor— uh…”
“Yanky, look at me. This is a big play and a huge fundraiser for the school. I’m happy you got one of the biggest parts, but I need to know you’re going to be responsible.”
At that moment, Shua passed by.
“Ah, Shua! Come here, please. As I’m sure you’ve heard, Yanky got the part of Moshe Rabbeinu in the play. There’s a lot of lines and long sentences for his role. Can I count on you to make sure he rehearses many times? I know the two of you are good friends.”
Shua nodded shyly, pushing his glasses back up his nose.
“Good, thank you, Shua. Remember boys, the play is in two weeks. Start practicing tonight!”
I was lying on my bed when I heard a soft knock on my bedroom door.
“Nobody knocks around here! Must be you, Shua! Come in!”
Shua came in and sat down on my bed. “Hi.”
“Hi, Shua. You came just in time. Check out this awesome CD I picked up from the bookstore today. It’s a brand-new story from Y.B Production—”
“Yanky, I already have that CD. Besides, we don’t have time to listen to stories. We need to go over your lines.”
“C’mon! You’re really worried about what Rabbi Danziger said?”
“But why? I always manage to take care of things. Yeah, sometimes it’s last minute, but I get it done, you know?”
“Not really. Did you know there’s a social studies test tomorrow in Mr. Kotty’s class?”
“Fine, fine. Let me get my script. Okay, here it is. Ready?”
“Ready when you are.”
I stood on top of my bed and began reading my lines in a dramatic voice.
“Wow, you’re good!” Shua said.
“Thanks! What role did you get?”
“I’m dressing up as one of the animals for Makkas Arov.”
“Oh, cool! That’ll be so much fun.”
“Yeah, I guess…”
“What? C’mon, you can hop around stage growling your head off. Sounds like a blast to me! It’s a big part of the play, Shua.”
“Not such a big part, because 15 other kids are doing the same thing with me.”
“But you don’t want to be in the spotlight, anyhow, right? This is perfect for you. You’ll put on an animal costume and no one will even know it’s you. Perfect, right?”
Shua’s eyes darted upward and met mine for a brief moment.
Was that a tear?
“Okay, keep going.” Shua cleared his throat. “It sounds epic so far.”
The next day in school someone came by to take pictures of everyone in the play.
“Everyone, follow Mr. Jason Aparatclick to the auditorium.” Rabbi Daniziger shepherded us out of the classroom. “There will be signs there for each role in the play. Hold the sign with the title for your role and smile for the camera.”
Everyone ran into the gym and found the appropriate signs.
“Excuse me, Meir Berkstein!” Rabbi Danziger snapped his finger at someone pulling his own ears with a goofy grin as the camera flashed in his direction. “These pictures will be seen by everyone in the entire community. Is that the face you’d like to be remembered by?”
Meir promptly let his ears snap back into place and dropped the crazy smile.
Finally, it was my turn. I grinned for the camera and proudly held my sign.
“You’re going to be great,” Shua said to me as we made our way back to the class. “I can’t wait until the rehearsal.”
“Thanks!” I smiled. “Me too!”
Rehearsal came before we knew it. Dressed up in our awesome costumes, we really looked the part. I spun around the stage with my staff, rattling off the lines I had practiced with Shua. Then Makkas Arov came and the stage lights darkened. From behind the curtains bounded 15 animals. Lions and tigers and bears and — well, you get the point.
“Cut! Why is our monkey doing the kazatzka dance?” Rabbi Danziger did not look pleased.
The dancing monkey pulled off his face mask. It was Meir Berkstein.
“I thought I should improvise. Weren’t the monkeys happy they got to punish the Mitzrim?”
“Meir, please, stick to the script.”
“I’m shmoiling in this suit. Can’t a bear get a break?” The polar bear raised his fluffy paws.
“And I’m thirsty,” the lion moaned.
“Fine, fine. Everyone, take a five-minute break and then we’ll meet back on the stage.”
I spotted the gorilla and ran over to give him a hug.
“Nice job, Shua! That was awesome! I loved the way you improvised and teamed up with the giant squid!”
The gorilla took its mask off and it wasn’t Shua underneath.
“I’m over here.”
I turned and saw a lonely hippo struggling to get unzippered.
“Oops! Sorry, Shua!”
I bounded over and helped Shua out.
“Good job, Shua!”
Shua shook his head sadly.
“I’m serious, you did great.”
“They gave the animal roles to the kids who couldn’t act. All we have to do is stumble around the stage while the sound effects are played. We literally do nothing, and no one even sees who we are.”
“But isn’t that better? I know you hate crowds and everything…”
“I’m shy, but who wants to be invisible?” Shua whispered.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I just thought…”
“That I didn’t care? Yeah, that’s what everyone assumes.”
I didn’t know what to say.
The day of the play arrived. Trembling with excitement, I hopped onto my bike and began to peddle to school.
“Yanky, hold on!”
My mother sprinted out the front door.
“Don’t you remember what I said about the rain? It’s going to pour any second. You’ll be soaked!”
“No worries.” I tapped the staff sticking out of my backpack. “I’m Moshe Rabbeinu, remember? I can handle it.”
“Well, here’s a poncho just in case.” My mother chuckled. “Once the babysitter finally gets here, I’ll drive right over so that I can watch the play!”
“Thanks, Mommy! Bye!”
I was off. After two blocks the sky lit up with lightning bolts and it began to rain furiously. I blinked the rain from my eyes and struggled to keep my wheels from sliding across the slippery pavement. Down a hill I went, my fingers tensed around the brakes.
Then, a car flew past me and honked loudly. I never did find out why. But it was enough to startle me. I took my eyes off of the path in front of me and looked toward the noise. That’s when my front tire slipped slightly, and the handlebar jerked violently in my hands. I squeezed the brakes and went flying over my bike. I landed hard and felt a sharp pain in my foot.
It wasn’t broken. I’d be in agony if it was. But it was definitely sprained. Now what? I wasn’t going to give up the play, so I hopped over to my bike and began limping to school while holding it. Eventually, I made it to the school with only a half hour to spare.
“Yanky! Where have you been? Everyone is—oh! Oy! What happened?”
“I fell off my bike.” I collapsed onto a chair in pain. “It’s just a sprain.”
“Let me see that.” Mr. Trumpden, the show director, knelt and examined my foot. “Does that hurt?”
“How about this?”
“OOOOOwwww! Yes, affirmative, sir!”
“Okay, it’s a sprain alright. You know you can’t go on stage as Moshe Rabbeinu, right?”
I swallowed hard and nodded. I knew I couldn’t play a main role in my condition.
“I didn’t limp here tonight to convince anyone I could still play my part. I came, because you’re going to need a replacement and I know someone who can take my spot.”
“Who? You have so many lines!”
“The boy who’s supposed to play as a hippo. Shua Jacobs.”
“Yanky, I appreciate it, but…” Rabbi Danziger struggled to find the right words. “I don’t think that’s possible.”
“Please, just give me a chance.”
I hobbled backstage and approached Shua. He was sitting by himself, playing with the zipper of his hippo costume.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“Yeah, just a sprained ankle. How are you feeling?”
“Me? I’m fine.”
“Good, because you’re taking my spot.”
Shua’s eyes went round very quickly.
“I’m very serious. No one else knows my lines as well as you do. We’ve been rehearsing those lines like a million times. Shua, you got this. I already told Rabbi Danziger.”
“I can’t!” Shua’s face was white. “You’ve got to be kidding me! Maybe I know the lines by heart, but I can’t act in front of a crowd! You know me! How could you even ask me to do this! Aren’t you my friend?”
“Yeah, I know you. And I’m your friend. Exactly. And I know that you, like everyone else, needs and deserves to have their time in the spotlight. I believe in you. Now go out there and believe in yourself.”
The music had started playing and the curtains were begging to open. Shua took a giant breath and gave a small nod.
“Throw this on, kid! It’s almost your part!” Mr. Trumpden quickly helped Shua into my Moshe Rabbeinu costume.
It was showtime.
What can I say? As the curtains rose, I thought, there’s no way Shua can be a Moshe Rabbeinu. He’s just not the type. But I was wrong. He was amazing. Let me repeat that: A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Did it hurt to sit on the sidelines? Sure. But I learned that just because someone is shy, doesn’t mean they’re any less talented. And it doesn’t mean they’re any less desperate for attention and validation, like the rest of us.
Moshe Rabbeinu was an unlikely hero to stand up against Pharaoh. He was extremely humble and had a speech impediment. But Hashem saw his potential. And that night, everyone in that auditorium witnessed a glimpse of Shua’s potential.
And most importantly, Shua witnessed it himself.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 854)
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