Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Av 5761 - July 25, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
The Lasting Spark
by Shira Shatzberg

The story that you are about to read took place along the banks of the Mississippi River in the year 1815. It happened to a Jewish family, immigrants from Poland, who settled as pioneers in the United States of America. The Bob family -- originally Bobsky -- had long ago detached themselves from the Torah and mitzvos, the very roots of the Jewish people. They had left their family and friends in the cold, dark ghetto back in Poland in order to find a better future for themselves, in the large world of unlimited options. They had arrived in the States in the year 1807 and they were already totally absorbed into American society with a goal of turning the American Dream into reality.


"Mother," the eight-year-old girl turned her face away from the raised burlap covering where she'd been staring at the never ending fields of Missouri receding behind their wagon. "When will we be stopping for the night? We have been traveling all day already and night shall be falling soon. Although there will be a full moon tonight, I'd hate to be stuck on the road after dark, especially with all that's been going on lately..." her voice suddenly broke off.

"You're right, Debra," Shirley sobered at the thought of being stuck on the muddy land in the dark, "and the daylight is fading more and more by the moment."

As if on cue, the caravan suddenly came to a stop. Shirley climbed out of the back of the covered wagon that she and three of her daughters had been sitting in for the last twelve hours. John, her husband, and Mike, her eldest son, were walking towards the wagon. In the horizon, she was able to catch the last glimpse of the bright red sun. The sky was painted with blobs of pink and purple. In the distance, she could see the banks of the Mississippi River. Someplace beyond the green meadows, the mountains seemd to be kissing the sky. The sight was beautiful.

John's gruff voice woke her from her reverie. "We are still 'bout three acres or so from our destination, but I say it would be better to just camp out at this place for the night. Seems like strange things been going on lately so let's get busy pitching the tents and building the fire. Debra, you help Mother get the little ones out of those wagons and settled into tents. Mike and Frank," he turned to his eleven and eight-year-old boys, "start collecting the firewood. The moon'll be out in a couple o' minutes. It's a good thing the moon's full tonight," he added, "so that we can keep an eye out for those troublemakers out there..."

A few hours later, the whole family had eaten. The younger children were all sleeping peacefully under handmade down quilts. John, Shirley, Mike, Debra and Frank were sitting comfortably around a nice big campfire. "You know," John said, "we'll probably be reaching the banks of the river tomorrow, where we'll hopefully settle down and build our life. We'll all have to work hard and make sure our dream and the dream of the American nation is fulfilled. We gotta get an early start tomorrow morn... Oh! Look!" John stopped in mid-sentence. Out of the shadows a few feet away popped a figure. He drew nearer and nearer. Shirley let out a shriek.

"Sorry to frighten you," the figure said as he stepped closer. "It's just that my family and I have been traveling quite a few months and we still haven't found a place just right to live. Are you settling down in the area?" By now, the man speaking was in full sight. He actually looked very ordinary, in fact, very much like the Bob's kind of person. He couldn't be the one causing the trouble that had been going on lately.. and if it wasn't him, they had better warn him to look out.


A new Friday morning dawned on the deep blue river before her and Shirley sighed in pure pleasure. Thank goodness they had finally settled down for good, and at the most perfect spot. She had used the past few days to set up her new log cabin, built by her husband and sons, with the help of their new neighbors, whom they had helped in turn. Now, finally, a regular daily routine had begun forming in the household, and things were falling easily into place. The new neighbors were just the kind Shirley had always wanted. "Find yourself a double `N' and live happily ever after," Shirley liked to say. Her double `N' was -- a good name and a good neighbor.

In the early afternoon, Leah First from next door tapped lightly on the wood cabin door. That wasn't unusual at all. Being that the Bobs and the Firsts were the only two families in the area, they had helped each other get started. Back and forth the children would go, getting advice, borrowing things and so on. So Shirley was not surprised to open the door and see Leah standing on the doorstep of her home.

Shirley quickly ushered her in and had her sit down on one of the newly built oak chairs. It was then that Leah asked Shirley the question she had come to ask.

"Jewish?" Shirley's eyes opened wide. "We actually are, but why do you ask?" Leah smiled one of her big winning smiles. "Great! I thought so!" she exclaimed. "Then you are invited over to our house for dinner tonight. You see, our family is religious. Each Friday night we sit down to a delicious dinner. We lay out our best china. It's quite an experience. Please join us!"

At first, Shirley refused. Her grandparents had been religious and if her parents had cut themselves off from religion, it must be total nonsense. Her parents were intelligent people. Why should she start involving her family in such craziness? But in the end, Leah First won. She convinced Shirley and John that they had nothing to lose. They grudgingly agreed.


Two Jewish families sat around a table decked out in silky white. Two long candlesticks stood proudly in the center, seeming to realize how very important their presence was. Two loaves of homemade bread, braided interestingly, hid under the silk napkin, protecting them from curious eyes, as Israel First made Kiddush. A feeling of warmth spread over the room, threatening to captivate one and all. The delicious meal, songs and comfortable feeling swept everyone into a Sabbath atmosphere. Everyone was enjoying themselves immensely, even Shirley, much to her surprise. "It's not the food alone," she mused. "It's the atmosphere, like food for the soul," she concluded. She threw a glance in the direction of her husband, hoping to catch his eye. She wondered what he was thinking. She wanted to share this special moment with him but John seemed engrossed in a time and place far removed. Shirley followed his gaze to the melting white wax of the candles upon which two tiny flames still flickered softly.


"John," Shirley called out loudly. "I'm trying to make a mushroom stew for dinner but I'm out of mushrooms. The children are out fishing for trout so I have no one to send. Would you go fetch me some?" So off John went, basket in hand.

Shirley sat down to wait. A short rest was a luxury she rarely found time for, though she enjoyed sitting back and reviewing past events and putting them into perspective. It was unusual for her to have the chance to do so, so she decided to take full advantage of the moment. She thought about her children, her neighbors and about Friday night meals which were no longer nonsense to her. She tried not to think about the trouble going on, but thoughts of that sort kept creeping back into her mind. She sighed. She still couldn't understand how the troublemakers had sneaked into her home to rob various possessions. Or how anyone could be so cruel as to snatch a bucket of three big trout which her sons had worked so hard to catch, right behind their backs. So quickly that they hadn't caught a glimpse of them. Too bad. She would have liked to give them a piece of her mind.

John was humming as he picked the mushrooms. He examined each one carefully to make sure they were not poisonous. Then, suddenly, he found himself surrounded by a group of Indians, as if they'd appeared out of nowhere. Their painted faces broke into wicked grins as they struck him in the chest with a tomahawk. They escaped as stealthily and soundlessly as they had come.

The search parties that had been arranged by the settlers in a village just a few hundred acres north of where the Bob and First families had staked out their homes found Mr. Bob unconscious a few hours later. He was laid in a covered wagon used as an ambulance and brought to the village infirmary, the closest thing to a hospital. Mounted police were sent to scour the territory to catch the culprits once and for all.


"Repeat the words after me," Leah softly told Shirley. "It's the most you can do for your husband just now. Besides, the words of the psalms are very powerful."

Halfway through the first psalm, which they recited very painstakingly, a nurse stepped into the room. "Mrs. Bob, your husband has regained consciousness and it seems he'll pull through. The doctor says it's nothing short of a miracle."

Shirley's eyes grew round. Was the power of these psalms so great? "Could I see John, please?" she asked. The nurse smiled, "Actually, his first words were to ask you and the children and the First family to come to him."

A feeling of relief swept over Shirley when she saw her husband. He spoke first. "Thank goodness, I'm alright. But you know, I've been thinking..." His eyes took on the dreamy look he had had on Friday night. Shirley was afraid that he was going to lose consciousness. Just then all the others traipsed in. John's glance swept over the people in the room and he began talking:

"To this day, I can clearly picture my grandfather on his last day on earth. That day, my mother urged me to go. `Papa just went to visit and he says that Grandpa won't last for another day. But don't stay there too long. Grandfather is a strange man with strange habits which I wouldn't want you to imitate.'

"I ran the whole three blocks, knocked on the bedroom door and let myself in. Grandfather was sitting up in bed waiting for me. His face was pale from the exertion. I didn't want him to strain himself, so I tried to talk, but no words came out. It was then that I saw tears streaming down his cheeks unto his white beard.

" `Yonoson,' he said, `I know that what I am about to ask may sound strange to you because of your upbringing. I will never understand how my own flesh and blood could have deprived his children of the treasure of the Torah, but even more so, of the holy Shabbos.' Grandfather fell back upon his pillow and gasped weakly. `I have but one request of you. Promise me that you won't deprive your children of the holy Shabbos...' I promised, and then he closed his eyes. Forever."


By the time John finished his story, everyone in the room had damp eyes. He announced that he now intended to keep his promise and expected the Firsts to help him. And from that single mitzva, others followed, and the flickering flames of the Shabbos candles kindled the flames that would burn on for generations to come.

If you've forgotten, the author is a thirteen-going-on- fourteen year- old!


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