“You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the OZ Torah Tape Library”
This movie takes place in Brooklyn where Frum Yiddin (Observant Jews) and Frie Yiddin (those that are less strict on the Torah's Laws i.e. Mikvah) mingle on a daily basis. Whether it be in business affairs or stam (just)neighbors. Our main character is Nishama Hunting, a wild boy with a girl's first name. Nishama is an extremely intelligent bocher (unwed young man) but he rarely uses his abilities. Instead, he has taken a job at Kosher Delight as a bus boy during the day. He works with his best friend, Sammy, who is not as gifted as Nishama is. At night, Nishama cleans the floors at a local Yeshiva.
The story opens on Nishama sitting in his room at home with a Talmud writing a Kal Vechomer (A Fortiori) out on his mirror.
Nishama cleans the floors of the Yeshiva and sees a Shaylah (a Talmudic query) on the blackboard. He ponders for a breif moment and writes the Teretz (answer).
A talmid (student; not the same as Talmud) on Shabbos (the holy Sabbath)hastens to tell his Rebbe, Rabbi Vanderlan of his discovery. The Rebbe pleads not to be bothered during his Challah and egg salad. But the bocher tells the Rebbe that during Shabbos play groups he discovered the Teretz to the shaylah. The Rebbe shocked and impressed runs from his Shalosh Seudah to the Yeshivah. He is in awe and whispers a prayer to himself. He has been searching Rishomin for years for this Teretz and here it was. He searches out the bocher who wrote the answer.
Nishama is hanging out with his friends on the streets of Brooklyn watching the young Cheder boys play dodge ball. They notice their rivals across the way and start a fight with them. The police come quickly after one of the Rabbeim yells “Chaps Im” (“Grab Them”).
Rabbi Vanderlan comes to jail to bail Nishama out. It turns out, the Rebbe has enough money for bail because of the taxes he has been cheating from the government (it's Mutar (permissible) because they are Goyim (gentiles)). Nishama agrees to see a well-known Rebbe, Rabbi Williams for a chavrusah and counseling in agreement that he learns with Rabbi Vanderlan. Nishama, reluctantly agrees.
Nishama meets Rabbi Williams for the first time. The two do not get along at all. It appears that Nishama is more Misnagid and Rabbi William's Chassidish tendencies are too much to handle. Nishama mocks Rabbi Williams sefer (holy books) collection as most are Artscroll books. He also tries to analyze a painting of Rabbi Williams. As we will see later on, the painting is a true expression of Rabbi Williams losing his Rebbe (TZ”L) of many years. Nishama: What's the big deal with a Rebbe? Rabbi Williams: Why don't you have one? Nishama: Because I don't want to deal with new people. Rabbi Williams: That's a great Hashkafah (outlook). With that Hashkafah, you'll never meet anyone new. Nishama: Why don't you find a new Rebbe? Rabbi Williams: It's not the same. I couldn't' do that to my Rebbe. Nishama: That's a great Hashkafah. With that Hashkafah, you'll never meet anyone new The first session is over.
Nishama while working in Kosher Delight hears Sammy flirting with a very religious girl still in uniform. She is most probably attending seminary. A bocher approaches Sammy and makes him look stupid by quizzing him on the blessing made for a banana. Nishama interrupts the bocher's misquoting of the Chafetz Chayim, citing the Machlokis Rishomin (argument of the elders) proving the bocher wrong. It turns out the blessing is Ha'Etz. The bocher stoops back embarrassed, fearing this might ruin his shidduch. Nishamah and the girl, Shimayim, begin to talk. It is obvious they like each other. Shemayim suggests Nishama should call her Shadchin. Nishamah refuses and asks for her number so they can go out for something arbitrary, like eating chulent. This is where the famous line “Do you like esrogim? Well, how do you like these Esrogim?” is spoken by Nishama as he flaunts Shemayim's number to the bocher.
Nishama learns with Rabbi Vanderlan and Rabbi Vanderlan is impressed. He secretly wishes he could learn like Nishama. Nishama's grasp on all perushim is phenomenal. He can make a Reb Chayim his own.
Nishama takes Shemayim out on their first date (her real first date). She is nervous and she dresses tzniusly (modestly). They have a great time at Dougie's and say good night at the end of the evening. Nishama asks for a good night kiss. Shemayi blushes and say “like, no way”.
After much lip from Nishama, Rabbi Williams takes Nishama to the park and they sit on a bench. This is what he says: “You think you're a special Bocher, right? You think you can just open a Gemorah and learn. You know all the rishonim and achronim, right? Well, there is no amaylus whatsoever. If I asked you about a sukkah, you'd tell me the exact tefuchim, amos, where it should be. If I asked you about Matzah, you could tell me how long to bake it. But you've never sat in a sukkah on a cold snowy October night. And you've never had a bite of Matzah when you're so constipated that you can't take anymore. Now tell me, have you ever had a Rebbe? Have you ever had someone you can trust so much that you can ask him any question in the world. I'm sure you've read the Olemeinu stories but you've never known what it feels like to have a Rebbe. Because you're scared. You're scared of the gadlos of Torah. Well, Nishama, it's time to grow up.” The next session they talk a great deal learning Alei Shor, a premiere Mussar sefer. Rabbi Williams tells Nishama stories of his Rebbe, one of them, a very amusing one. He tells of how his Rebbe fell asleep during the silent Amidah, standing up. He fell down and being the Rebbe had a great sense of humour, he began to laugh along with all the bochurim. Everyone had to say Shemonah Esrei again.
Rabbi Vanderlan tells Nishama he has taken the liberty of setting him up on shidduch dates. Nishama likes Shemayim too much but tells no one of their involvement. He sends Sammy in his stead on the dates. Sammy goes on three of the sidduch dates and winds up sleeping with two, losing their status of besulah (virgin) and makes the third eat treif (non-kosher). All the while, Nishama loves spending time with Shemayim. Shemayim knows she wants to get engaged to Nishama after the second date (as most frum girls do) but she hasn't introduced him to her parents because he is not observant. They get into a massive fight over this and Nishama tells Shemayim he never wants to see her again. He tells Shemayim many nasty things like “you could never be my ayshis chayil!!!”
Nishama goes to meet Rabbi Vanderlan. Rabbi Vanderlan is astounded by the Chiddushim Nishama has come up with. But he is mad because Nishama hasn't taken the shidduchim seriously. In frustration, Nishama yells at Rabbi Vanderlan. “Do you know how easy it is for me to make a layning on a gemroah? Do you know how easy it is for me to think like the rishonim? You're pathetic. I can't believe you got semichah from the Mir. This Chiddush was so easy for me (as he throws the papers into Shaymis – the Rebbe yells in distress). I'm outta here. I don't need this. Rabbi Vanderlan turns to Nishama and says “Sometimes I wish I had never met you. Because then I could say Kriat Shma Shel HaMitah and go to sleep at night not knowing there was someone like you out there.” Nishama slams the door.
At Kosher Delight, Sammy and Nishama take a break. They talk. Sammy: So what happened to that girl? Nishama: I stopped seeing her. Sammy : Why? Nishama: This is all not for me. She isn”t. Rabbi Vanderlan isn't and neither is Judaism. I'll just want to hang with you guys for years and our kids can play togetha. Sammy: You better not. I'll kill you. Nishama: What? Not you, too. Don't give me that “do-it-for-yourself” speech. Sammy: No, don't do it for yourself. Do it for me. I mean it. I'll kill you. If you're not frum in 10 years, I'll kick your ass in. If I don't see you in awhile with tzitziis (tradiotional Jewish male garb) and a sefer learning in Yeshivah, I'll murder you. We are so jealous at what you have. You are sitting on a winning Pirchei ticket. I've never told you this but every time I walk up to your door, i have my best part of the day. Because that's the part of the day when I think you may be at minyan. I go up those stairs and I think, maybe today he's putting on tefillin. But you're always there. I just wait for that day because Hashem gave you a gift I will never have. Don't abuse that. We'll never have that. I don't know much but I do know this. Uhhh….I gotta go clean that table.
Nishama's last session with Rabbi Williams. They shmooz and it turns out Rabbi Williams is moving to Israel to find a new Rebbe. He reviews through Nishama's files and it turns out Nishama's parents weren't frum. Nishama asks Rabbi Willaims if he has every seen a file like that, where people weren't always frum. Rabbi Williams confronts Nishama and tells him that he too was not always frum. In a shocking ending, reminiscient of the Sixth Sense, we find out that Rabbi Williams is a Ba'al Teshuvah.The Rabbi embraces Nishama repeating, “it's not your fault”over and over. Nishama breaks down and starts to cry, “I want to be frum, I want to be frum”.
Nishama calls up Shimayim and begs for forgiveness. He asks to see her again. He tells her he will change for her. And she agrees. This time it's for real. He then meets her parents at La Marais and thank G-d her father has business Nishama can go into.
Nishama wakes up early and grabs his bag of teffilin. He heads to shul but first stops at Rabbi Williams house and leaves a note. It says “I'm going to see about a Rebbe”. Sammy then comes up to Nishama's house and beeps. No answer. He runs to the door and knocks. No answer. Nishama is not there. Sammy smiles and runs back to the car.
Nishama is davening in shul with a minyan. An older man walks over to him and says “my Rebbe would like to talk to you”. Nishama smiles.
With great appreciation to Chaim Dovid for supplying us with a most powerful and potent soundtrack featuring the Oscar nominated song, “Gutta Nishama (Learn, Learn, Learn)”