His family name was Goomniak but at fifty
he changed it to Freed. Why Freed?
Because he was freed of the name
Goomniak. As a child he had been laughed
at for his name and even as an adult he
had been aware of suppressed laughter.
When he became Freed his business took off.
His company sold mail-order costume jewelry.
His niche was Army and Navy enlisted
personnel whom he reached through ads
in military newspapers and magazines.
Now, with his new name, Freed began
an internet marketing campaign on military
websites. It was like striking oil. Orders
doubled at first, then tripled.
One online ad showed a lady’s gold-plated ring mounted with a tiny
diamond. The price was a hundred dollars. But a red line ran through
the price, with text below: “Pay just $50 if you’re in the military!”
More text: “Order by the Fourth of July and pay only $40!”
Then: “Include this code word with your order and subtract another
ten percent! The code word is BUTTERCUP.”
Finally, in bold italics: “You risk nothing! Full money back guarantee!”
Since the rings cost Freed only three dollars, his business was like a
cash machine. The more money he made, the better he felt. He was
introducing himself as Jerome Freed or Jerry Freed and no one was
laughing at him anymore.
He divorced his wife. He freed himself of her. The cost was high but
so what? Their children were grown and his wife had become a millstone
around his neck. A millstone was something heavy and Biblical.
With his new confidence and his improved income Freed was attractive
to women. His sex life took off like his business. He would never get
married again. “Not in a million years,” he told his friends. “I’m having
too much fun.”
One night, lying in bed with a beautiful woman asleep beside him,
Freed reflected on the self-sabotaging tendency that had afflicted
him for so many years. Why had he remained Goomniak? At any
moment he could have become Freed.
Freed drifted off to sleep, and in that same hour he dreamed that
he was locking the front door of his apartment. As he secured the
lock and felt the bolt go out, the door somehow opened and a
well-dressed businessman rushed past him. Freed awoke in terror.
Friends since childhood, Freed and Mel Patak met weekly for
lunch at a cafeteria in the jewelry district. Amid the clattering of
knives and forks they amused and needled each other.
But on the day after Freed’s dream, Mel Patak saw that something
was wrong. “Jerry, are you okay?” he asked. Freed said, “I’m going
to die. I don’t know where and I don’t know how. But I will die
Mel stared across the table. “Are you sick? Have you seen a doctor?”
“A doctor won’t help,” Freed said. He told Mel about his dream of the
locked door opening and the well-dressed businessman. The dream
predicted his imminent death.
Mel saw this was not a joke. Freed’s face was pale. He looked like
he could die there in the cafeteria. Mel said, “Jerry, have you ever
heard of Rabbi Michael Mushnik?” No,” Freed answered, “I’ve
never heard of him.”
Mel was taking a cellphone from his pocket. He said, “You need to
see Rabbi Michael Mushnik about your dream. It’s probably nothing,
but you need to see Rabbi Michael Mushnik. ” Mel punched a message
into the phone as Freed watched skeptically.
A moment passed. Mel was staring at the phone. Then he brightened.
He lit up like an electric sign. “Yes! Rabbi Michael Mushnik will see
you immediately!” He took a pen from his shirt pocket, scribbled an
address on a napkin, and slid it across the table to Freed.
Freed glanced at the address. It was not far away, but he was
reluctant. After all, what was the use? “I’ll have to close the office,”
he said. “Close it then!” Mel’s voice was rising. “Close the office!”
Freed shrugged. “Okay, Mel, take it easy.” “Good.” Mel looked
relieved. “Go right now. And Jerry, bring some money.”
The address was a brick warehouse converted to living spaces.
Trendy, but could this be a home for a rabbi? On a directory beside
the entrance Freed pushed the “Mushnik” button. He was buzzed
in at once.
He entered a brightly lit foyer. At the far end was an elevator and,
to one side, a sharply inclined stairway. A voice came from above:
“Hi! Just take the stairs! I’m one flight up!”
Freed climbed the stairway. On the second floor landing a large
young man appeared. Freed recognized the uniform of an observant
Jew: white shirt, black trousers, a knit kippah on his head. “Welcome,
Jerry! I’m Rabbi Michael Mushnik!"
They shook hands. The rabbi grinned, squinting behind thick glasses.
“Let’s go inside.” As they crossed the landing toward an open door,
Freed noted the ritually knotted fringes, tzitzit, dangling from beneath
the rabbi’s untucked shirt.
“Were you bar mitzvah, Jerry? I’m just curious,” Mushnik asked. Freed
was actually uncertain. “I think so.” “Ha ha! You think so but you don’t
remember for sure. Well, if you were, your name is inscribed in the
Book of Life.”
They entered a spacious loft -- 1500 square feet, Freed estimated –
cluttered with furniture, cardboard boxes, book cases, sofas, bicycles.
There was a cat litter smell.
Mushnik closed the door, then spread his arms in an all-encompassing
gesture. “Torah is so large, Jerry. It’s not just wide, but also deep.
Nobody except a tzaddik can understand the whole thing. My specialty
is Chaye Sarah, 105 verses, 1402 words, and 5314 Hebrew letters.”
Still grinning, he cocked his head to one side. “Say something, Jerry.
Don’t be shy.” But Freed did feel shy, or disoriented. “You’re a large
man,” he managed to say. “I mean, you did refer to the largeness of
“That’s right!” Mushnik laughed, as if this were just what he’d been
waiting to hear. He clapped Freed on the shoulder. “I wrestled at 285.
Now I’m about 250. Here’s my study.”
His study was enclosed area walled off by bookcases, like a child’s
fort. On a narrow desk lay an open book of densely lettered Hebrew.
“Make yourself comfortable,” said the rabbi, indicating a folding chair.
He sat down at the desk, turned his eyes toward the ceiling, and sighed.
“How do I have the merit to see the future? The truth is, I don’t have
that merit. No one does except the tzaddikim. But for reasons known
only to himself – and I often ask myself why -- Hashem has bestowed
that aspect of his light upon me.”
He stared at Freed, still cheerful but intense. “Mel Patak texted me
about why you’re here, Jerry. You’re afraid you’re going to die. And,
unfortunately, I see you are correct. Your time is just about up. You
had a dream about this, I gather?”
Freed’s heart sank. He felt helpless, hopeless. “I had a nightmare,”
he whispered. “I was locking the door to my apartment. Then the door
opened and a well-dressed businessman rushed past me. I woke up
Mushnik nodded. “The well-dressed businessman symbolizes
death, obviously. But you want to live, right? So I need to know
why you want to live, Jerry. Tell me why you want to live, and I’ll
be fully motivated to help you.”
Though still shaken, Freed felt unexpected anger. Why did he want
to live? It was a ridiculous and insulting question. “Rabbi, I want to
live because I don’t want to die.” he said. “It’s natural. Life resists
“Yes, all life resists death,” Mushnik agreed. “A cockroach resists
death. A paramecium resists death. But are you a cockroach or a
paramecium? Don’t you have some higher purpose, Jerry? What is
your raison d’etre?” he demanded, in awkward French.
Freed’s heart was pounding. “I certainly do have a purpose,” he
proudly stated, and added in an accusing tone, “But I doubt you’ll
think it’s a higher purpose. You’re a rabbi, but my purpose isn’t
studying the Torah.”
“Of course. But there are many ways of studying Torah, Jerry.
In the Jewish religion the word ‘study’ has a multiplicity of meanings.
So does the word ‘Torah’ for that matter. Just be completely honest
with me. Lay your cards on the table. Let the chips fall where they may.”
“All right, fine. My purpose in life is to make love with beautiful women.
For years I ignored the women passed through my life. My name was
Goomniak. I was an upstanding citizen. But I changed my name to
Freed!” he exulted.
“No kidding? Really?” Mushnik inquired. He seemed fascinated.
“Your name was Goomniak, but now your name is Freed. And
when you changed your name, I’ll bet your life changed too.
Because you’re having sex more often, right?”
Freed was encouraged. “Absolutely. Beautiful women are flocking
to me and I’m fucking them. Excuse my language. And the more
of them I fuck, the more I understand the deep meaning of it.
Sometimes, even during the act itself, I mentally step back and
see how this is what I was born to do!”
“Wow. Just wow,” said the rabbi. “What can I tell you? Kodosh,
kodosh, kodosh, holy, holy, holy is the lord of hosts, the whole
Earth is full of his glory.” He thought for a moment. “Okay, here’s
something you’ll be interested in. Here’s something to think about....”
He spoke in a confiding tone. “Jerry, there’s a verse in Chaye
Sarah -- it reads, ‘Abraham was old and stricken with years’ – and
that verse anticipates the opening verse of the Book of Kings,
which reads, ‘King David was old and stricken with years.’ Do you
grasp the significance of that?”
As to draw energy from the sacred letters, the rabbi placed his
hands on the Hebrew book. ”You see, David was the reincarnation
of Abraham. That’s my personal opinion. Some would disagree,
which neither here nor there. Anyway …”
He leaned across the desk toward Freed. “King David was on his
deathbed, Jerry. He was cold. The servants covered him with
blankets, but he was still cold. So what did they do, Jerry?”
He slapped the desktop. The sound was like a gunshot. “They
found a girl named Abishag the Shunammite. Of course, that
name means nothing to you. Abishag the Shunammite? It’s
like a bunch of nonsense syllables. So I’d like you to do me a
favor, my friend…
“I’d like you to imagine the hottest woman in the history of the world.
Then I’d like you to imagine a woman even hotter than that. Much
hotter! As we read in the Book of Daniel, ‘The furnace was heated
seven times hotter than ever before….’
“That unbelievably hot woman was Abishag the Shunammite.
Eighteen or nineteen years old. Perfect body. Beautiful long hair.
Totally uninhibited. They put Abishag the Shunammite in bed with
King David, to warm him up, so to speak.”
He stopped. He seemed to relax. Was that the end of the story? “So
what happened?” Freed asked. “Aha!” Mushnik exploded, fully charged
again. “He wants to know what happened! Well, Rav Shimon Shalom
Kalish of Amshinov says one thing happened, but Rav Moshe Yitzchak
Gewirtzman of Pshevorsk says something else happened!”
But abruptly, disarmingly, his tone changed again. Now he was solemn.
“Did you bring any money, Jerry?” Freed was taken aback. “Money?”
“Yes. How much money did you bring me to save you from the malakh
hamavet, the angel of death? Five thousand dollars? Ten thousand?”
“I brought five hundred,” said Freed. The rabbi vigorously shook his head.
“What! “Five hundred? Did Patak tell you to bring five hundred dollars?”
“Patak didn’t tell me what to bring.” Mushnik was thunderstruck. “Patak
means goose in Bulgarian,” he muttered.
He seemed genuinely depressed. “Well, put it here,” he said, struggling
to recover. “Let me see the cash.” He tapped the desk. Freed took five
bills from his pocket and placed them down.
Mushnik gazed sadly at the money. Looking back at Freed, he spoke
slowly and emphatically, as if to an idiot: “All right, instead of you dying,
Jerry, thirteen Jewish men are going to die in your place.”
“Thirteen men?” Freed was incredulous. “Jewish men,” the rabbi
emphasized. “But don’t stress. They were going to die anyway. It’s
an administrative issue. I can’t explain it.” He waved his hand
dismissively, then removed his glasses. He looked younger without
them, like a teenager or even a baby.
“Now I’m going to enter a trance,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “While
I’m in my trance I’ll recite the names of the thirteen Jewish men.
Then I’ll stay in the trance for a while. So please just show yourself out.”
Rising slightly, he stuffed the money into his pocket. “That’s all there
is to it. Any questions? Everything okay?” His mood was elevating.
He was becoming cheerful again, his old self. “Um, rabbi,” Freed said,
“what if it doesn’t work?”
But Mushnik seemed not to have heard. His eyes were already
closed. His face sagged. His shoulders slumped. In a voice dreamy
and distant, but firm, he said, “Lou Margolis!”
It was the first name. Quiet followed. Freed waited, first confused,
then impatient. Mushnik was breathing deeply. Was he asleep?
"Bernard Inlander! Stuart L. Kroll! Herman Fishman! Mort Shaeffer!”
Using his fingers, Freed tried to keep count of the names. Five so
far. Meanwhile, something new and strange was happening. Freed
found himself believing in this. It was a tenuous belief for the moment,
like a fish on a line. He wanted to manage it correctly.
“Harry Perlin! Samuel Niederberger!”
Seven names. Another, longer hiatus began, but Freed felt confident.
He had seen it happen before.
“Leo Klein! Marshall Moscowitz!”
Nine names. Freed was really feeling much better. Giddy, in fact.
Now he understood Mushnik’s indignation about the five hundred
dollars. It was indeed far too little to pay. But five million would also
be too little, because you can’t put a price tag on life.
The rabbi’s breaths were becoming shorter. His face was turning
red, his eyes were closed tight. Freed closed his own eyes. The
possibility of becoming more observant of his religion occurred
to him. Did God exist?
Two names to go.
Freed opened his eyes. He looked at his hands. He’d counted twelve
names. Just one more….
That was it. A wave of warm emotion engulfed Freed. Behind the
desk, Mushnik now had a serene look, as if he’s given birth. His
breathing was steady, his chin was resting on his chest. Freed
realized that Mushnik was a good man, a decent man.
He wanted to hug and kiss Mushnik. He would never forget
Mushnik. Nothing was now as important to Freed as not waking
Mushnik. He would show himself out the door, as Mushnik had
said. He would let the good man peacefully repose.
On tiptoe at first, and then padding quietly along, Freed made his
way past the rabbi and out of the loft.
Darkness had fallen. As he flagged a taxi, Freed felt the city’s
night energy rising. He felt himself reborn. He felt himself
redeemed. He would celebrate with a sexual adventure,
something he’d often thought about. He would have sex with
two women at the same time.
In the taxi he consulted a list of women on his phone and chose
two: Ellen and Evelyn. He had no doubt they’d agree to participate.
For one thing – and he was frank with himself about this -- he always
compensated a woman for her time as they kissed goodbye.
Ellen: she worked in a men’s sportswear shop, honing her skills of
flattery and flirtation. Freed knew that most of what she said to him
was garbage, but sexually she was so ardent and authentic that
her screams of pleasure sometimes alarmed him.
Evelyn: she was from the Russian city of Ufa and had a humdrum
job in a fitness club. Yet Evelyn held a mysterious allure for Freed,
who had grown up before the fall of the Soviet Union. Once, lying
on top of Evelyn, he realized that she was a sort of forbidden fruit
and started fucking her with renewed energy.
Back in his apartment, visions of the coming hours disclosed
themselves to Freed with perfect clarity. Delightfully lewd
snapshots of what was going to happen flashed in his imagination
as he began sending text messages to Ellen and Evelyn.
During his marriage – all those years -- a threesome with hot young
women would have been unimaginable. Even one day ago, when he
was under a sentence of death, simply waking up alive in the morning
seemed too much to hope for. But now the sky was the limit.
As he knew they would be, Ellen and Evelyn were free that evening.
As he expected, they were eager for the adventure he proposed.
They were coming right over. They couldn’t wait. None of this
surprised Freed. He set up some candles in his bedroom.
What did surprise him, what took his breath away, was how far
the threesome exceeded his wildest dreams. Ellen and Evelyn had
never met before. They claimed to be “same sex virgins.” Yet they
tore off their clothes and rushed at each other as if magnetized.
Freed watched, wild-eyed, comparing their asses and breasts. Then,
interposing himself between the two women on the bed, he began
arranging them on top of himself and on top of each other in every
configuration he could possibly think of.
There was no limit to this, none whatsoever. The sexual possibilities
were expanding like the universe itself. Could it ever end? But then,
standing beside the bed during a momentary interlude, Evelyn
suddenly launched herself into the air like a leaping sailfish, executed
a front flip, and landed on her back on the mattress.
There was a split second of stunned silence, then uncontrollable
laughter. Freed had never laughed so hard in his life. As he and
Ellen struggled to catch their breath, Evelyn explained that as a
child in Ufa she had practiced gymnastics. More and more laughter
But the mood was slowly changing. In the glow of the guttering
candles quiet talk evolved, then whispers, then silence. Ellen
and Evelyn were asleep. Ellen was beside Freed, with Evelyn
beyond. Resting on his side, Freed was able to loll one of his legs
over both their asses at once.
Here again, as in Rabbi Mushnik’s study area, Freed was awake
amid the sleep of others. And now he felt for these dear women
the same unaccustomed magnanimity he’d felt for the rabbi.
He must let Ellen and Evelyn sleep, as he’d let Rabbi Mushnik
sleep. He could wake them later and fuck them again. He was
beginning to feel sleepy himself.
Who would have believed it? Life could seem predictable but
it was actually unpredictable. He had assumed he would always
be Goomniak. Some self-sabotaging tendency had caused him
to think so. But he became Freed.
His business had been stagnant, but it became a money machine.
His sex life had been nonexistent, but now beautiful women were
flocking to him. The dream of the well-dressed businessman had
seemed to portend his doom, but Rabbi Mushnik had appeared.
Freed drifted off to sleep, and in that same hour he died.