Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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24 Cheshvan 5760 - November 3, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Three Tears By the Well...
Translated by S. W. from Kol Chotzev, a biography of R' Sholom Schwadron zt'l, with permission of the author

Published by Machon Daas Torah, Jerusalem


In the Jerusalem of yore there was not much room for children to play. No playgrounds. And no toys to speak of, either. Youngsters used to give vent to their exuberant, youthful energies by running around the well. They were brimming with vitality, those clever, very picquant children of Jerusalem. An element of charm graced their mischievous faces as they raced around the water cistern, their payos jouncing in the wind, playing tag. Sholom, the orphan boy, was one of the conspicuous children among his peers. He used to spend long hours there; he had no father to call him to come home. Actually, he was not too keen on going home, either, to the empty table. So he sated himself with games. He leaped and cavorted with wild abandon, giving release to his childish exuberance, as precocious children will.

Things looked different in Elul, however. At a relatively early hour each afternoon, his mother would go outdoors, keeping in view the open square by the well. She kept at a distance, her heart aching, and her voice would reverberate from afar. "Shulemke," she'd call out. "Elul! Shulemke! It's a time when even the fish tremble in the water, and you're running wild?"

From time to time, she would resume a vigil by the window and affix a compassionate eye on her son, absorbed in his play. "Elul," she would sigh. "What will become of him when he grows up, if he keeps up these immature pastimes?" And she would add a fervent prayer, "Hashem, please..." A tear would seep from the corner of her eye, and then another, and another, glazing her eyes which continued to be riveted upon the small figure, there by the well.

Whoever was to hear R' Sholom's lionroar of "E-l-u-l!", not many decades later, might well have distinguished the echo of that selfsame cry of his mother's voice, "Shulemke, Elul!" Even at the age of seventy, he could still remember the "Elul" clarion of his mother. And when he stood before an audience of hundreds, he would reconstruct the scene of his mother at Elul time, and conjure up her tears, which evoked his own. And the separate tears of mother and son would meet and converge at some invisible point...

"Answer us, Father of orphans, aneinu. Answer us, Judge of widows, aneinu." His mother's Elul prayer was eventually answered.

The years, the prayers, and plentiful Heavenly Assist, did the job. Shulemke, the precocious child, began climbing the spiritual ladder of achievement, rung by rung, through sweat and effort. His strength of character and determination amazed everyone, especially those who still remembered his cavorting around the well. That energy, it turned out, was the flintstone of the prodigious powers that were latent in him and that came to the fore. Many anticipated the moment when the boy would sublimate and harness his immense energy to the plentiful capabilities with which he was blessed, to his indefatigable diligence and his pure heart.

It happened.


Ever since that turning point, R' Sholom's mouth did not cease its study. He applied himself, nights as days, to Torah. His teachers, who had discerned the buds of greatness within him, encouraged him, prodded him and nurtured his talents. These were foremost figures of the generation: R' Yaakov Katzenellenbogen, R' Eliyohu Dushnitzer and his great master, R' Leib Chasman, z'tm'l.

When R' Sholom reached maturity, he had already amassed huge quantities of knowledge and piety `under his belt.' Throughout these years of development, his mother accompanied the process of growth, quelling with pleasure and pride. She saw his effort; she noted his application. It reminded her of her husband's extraordinary hasmoda and she knew that Shulemke had inherited his capabilities. She also received enthusiastic periodical `regards' from his teachers, yet she was unaware of the true extent of his potential. Nor could she imagine how much he had actually already achieved.

Until that moment by the well...

R' Sholom was a young married man by now, having recently gotten married and established a home. Not that he spent much time at home. His whole world was Torah. He studied from morning to evening without stop at the Ohel Torah kollel. At night he studied with his brother-in-law, R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, until three in the morning. This went on for many months.

One morning, R' Sholom's wife noticed that her husband looked crestfallen, disspirited. He looked perturbed. "Wife of mine," he said to her, "I've noticed you carrying heavy pails of water from the well every day. That's no easy task. Even drawing up the water requires exertion; you have to bend down and haul up pailful after pailful. Enough! This must stop. From now on, I want to do this chore. I'll draw the water and I'll carry it home. Leave the empty pails by the well in the morning and when I finish davening, I'll fill them and bring them home. I don't want you doing this heavy work any more, alright? Now it's my job."

The rebbetzin was stunned. Many thoughts raced about in her mind, as she tried to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of this new system, the benefits of the mitzva as opposed to its drawbacks. Up until then, she had done her utmost not to disturb her husband. Up till that very moment, she had refused to requisition any of his precious time for mundane chores. But was she permitted to refuse his initiative? She had to admit that it was a difficult task for a woman. She studied the hands that had become swollen with work and painridden from shlepping the heavy load. She was amenable to her husband's offer, at first, but quickly rejected it. "How can I allow a mere physical difficulty or bodily pain to interfere with the spiritual growth of a potentially very great man? His life is so absorbed with Torah, how can I do this to him?"

With his intuitive touch, R' Sholom sensed her vacillation and with swift determination, shut the case and refused to listen to another word. "My mind is made up. Tomorrow, right after the davening, I am going to fetch the water."

The morrow dawned. Time passed and it was getting late, but R' Sholom had not yet returned, even though the davening had finished long since. What could be keeping him? she wondered. How long does it take to fill up two pails and bring them? She went over to the window, from where she could see the well.

A strange sight met her eyes. R' Sholom was standing by the well, holding paper and pen. He was very engrossed in his writing. What could be so important? she asked herself, puzzled.

She quietly left the house and went over to the well. "What happened to you?" she asked him. He was still absorbed in his writing, oblivious to everything else, but her voice brought him back to the present and he gave a start. He put his pen into his pocket. "Oh, I forgot that I had come here to draw some water," he said sheepishly. "A wonderful chiddush just struck me, an answer to a very knotty problem which I had struggled with yesterday in my study, and I was afraid I'd forget it if I didn't write it down immediately."

"But where is the dipper?"

"Oh," he said, switching his attention back to practical things at hand. But he was still under the impact of his discovery. "Errrr, I guess it slipped from my hand when I took my pen out of my pocket. I must have let the rope go, and it dropped into the water. I'm so sorry..."

Tears sprang to his wife's eyes. These were not tears of regret over the lost dipper, an expensive item, that had disappeared into the water, but tears of joy at the realization of what a treasure she possessed, a husband whose heart and soul was fully immersed in Torah and who could not even take his mind off Torah to draw some water from the well...

Tears reminiscent of previous tears. Touching one another, perhaps, at some place in time, in space...

R' Sholom would remember that poignant moment by the well for the rest of his life. Whenever the occasion arose where he sought to conjure up an image of someone who studied with total absorption, he would say, "I once went to the well to fetch some water, when I was suddenly struck by a fantastic chiddush. It gripped me so completely that I totally forgot where I was..."

When R' Sholom's mother heard about the incident, she rose to her feet and went over to the window. She glanced out at the well and was soon lost in reverie. This was the `regards,' the future reassurance she had yearned for, during those many uncertain years before. Suddenly, she was overcome with tears. She buried her face in her hands and tears of joy burst forth like a fountain. She recalled those many years and tears of anguish, prayer and hope over the future of her Shulemke, as she had watched him prancing about the well. Here, then, was the answer to her prayers.

Tears by the wellside. Also touching, in a distant dimension of time, mingling with the tears of a young widowed mother, of a young, jubilant wife, and now, of the proud, fulfilled mother of a mature son who had lived up to hopes and expectations.


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