Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

21 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 14, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
The Bed
by Sudy Rosengarten

The Sabbath was departing, stealthily retreating through the darkness of the Shemtov Yeshiva in Brooklyn. The Rebbe, a form felt, rather than seen, concluded the service with swaying body and ringing voice. His shadow was grotesque, projected as it was against the oron by the moving lights of passing cars, and with arms uplifted and rocking head, he appeared as a prophet of old, come with G-d's message. You could feel his eyes clenched tightly as the song he whispered rang out in contradictions of joy and sadness. The figure on the wall flailed about as the chassidim looked on entranced. Suddenly, the dark shape hugged its head and sobbed aloud, "Hashem in Heaven, heal in Your mercy!" and a great sigh rose from all the chassidim.

The first child of the Rebbe's new marriage had lain in the shadow of death since its birth six weeks earlier. Though everyone else seemed to know that there was no hope for it to survive, the young rebbetzin kept insisting that it would live, that a saint like her husband was worthy of a miracle. But the despair in her husband's cry now caused her to be uneasy and she was grateful for the darkness and let her tears flow freely, sensing that for the first time, the chassidim looked at her with pity rather than censure.

The havdola candles were lit. The blessings were followed by a great clamor and commotion as the students, beards just beginning to sprout, scrambled over chairs and tables, earlocks flying, to dip their fingers into the wine from which the Rebbe had drunk.

"A good week, a happy week," the Rebbe radiated in greeting as he eased his way through the pressing throng. He nodded with friendly recognition to each chossid who stood stiff at attention in his path, trembling to be noticed. The Rebbe's beard was already streaked with white, but his walk was proud, his carriage regal -- an impressive, imposing figure. His eyes were compelling; his face was a halo of light, of fire.

"A good week, a happy week; a week of good tidings and health and redemption," he called out happily as his gabbai, loyal old Leibel, guided him deftly towards the door. The more daring youngsters courageously touched the Rebbe's cloak as he passed, then ducked and scattered when old Leibel glared at them threateningly.

"Don't wait for me tonight," the Rebbe told Leibel. "The rebbetzin will be at the hospital and I'm not to be disturbed." Old Leibel sighed heavily and nodded.

"Let the students eat without me. I'll have melave malka upstairs alone." Alone in his private rooms, Reb Yankele's head leaned heavily against the door. He looked slowly around him. Since his marriage, it had been an effort for him to enter his rooms. Actually, he didn't consider them his own anymore. His three-legged table, to him, symbolic of the fragility and transience of all worldly things, had long since been relegated to the cellar along with the iron bed and lumpy mattress that had served him faithfully since his rescue from the Holocaust.

"But don't you understand that people don't live like this any more?" his new young wife had said. "Why must I live with old junk when it causes me such unhappiness?" The young rebbetzin cried into her pillow and refused to unpack their wedding gifts in the poverty stricken room. It had been useless trying to get his young wife to understand.

Until Leibel had interceded, they had both gone about in grievous silence. "To have relented so quickly to a woman's whim," Reb Yankele now rebuked himself without mercy. To have made peace with his young wife's mania for beautiful things and allow it to turn his sanctuary into a dungeon. How was it possible when just a short while before, though now it seemed like in a different gilgul, he would have grappled with the Soton and spat in his face! To think that for the sake of sholom bayis he had stooped so low and allowed his wife to worship alongside those who kneel at the altar of flesh and fashion, style and sham!

The Rebbe slumped wearily into his chair, then jumped up again, as though stung by a serpent. His chair? That sumptuous creation of leather and felt that had been designed especially for him by the most sought-after decorator in the field? Since his marriage, there wasn't a thing in the house he could call his own. He felt as though he moved about in some foreign land in which he dared not stop to rest. Oh, how he longed to take a hammer and smash all those beautiful new things to pieces -- the crystal chandeliers, the fancy mirrors, the velvet settees, the antique pieces chosen after lengthy sessions and detailed discussions. But a wiser voice restrained him. He dare not grieve his young wife further, also a Holocaust survivor. Her pain over their sick child was more than she could bear.

Wearily, he sat down again and rocked his head in exhausted defeat. When faithful old Leibel, the last of his father's court, had approached him after the war and suggested that it was his duty to remarry, he had pleaded to be left alone. But the devoted old chossid would not relent and soon the suggestion became a demand. Leibel had never been an easy person to escape, neither when Yankele had romped innocently through childhood in his Polish-Russian hometown, nor as he grew into manhood in his father's courtyard. Even when Yankele thought he was alone, old Leibel was guarding him zealously, analyzing every word that emerged from his mouth, following his every step and afterwards, reporting all those, plus every question that he ever asked, back to his saintly father, whom Leibel served as blindly as he had Yankel's grandfather before him.

All this was in preparation for that moment when Yankele would be worthy to continue the Shemtov Dynasty.


Reb Yankele inherited his father's chair. He filled it well. Chassidim traveled for three days by horse and cart to witness him pleading for Hashem's goodness and blessings. His courtyard slowly filled with his own future heirs.

Except that a madman came to power and buried them all in the Valley of Dead Bones. Suddenly, Reb Yankele was free of any unholy thoughts that had occasionally come to sully moments of great communion and to make putty of a soul that soared and entered and conquered heights unattainable to most men. But Leibel sought to bring him back down to this world.

"All humanity suffers and you seek peace? Who will continue the seed of Shemtov while you wallow in misguided chastity?" The gabbai had never been one to blunt his sharp tongue, but Reb Yankele, stung deeply, realized that this time, exceptional love and great courage had forced his old mentor to speak out.

"Reb Yankele," he had pleaded, "the world looks to you for an heir, a light in the bitter night of this cursed exile. To what purpose were you spared if you refuse to accept the role that awaits you? Come, Yankele, my child, bury your dead; bewail and grieve and cry, for they shall never return. We can only go their way, but not yet. First we must live and marry and beget children and fill Hashem's world with holy people who will serve Him."

As always, Leibel won and a match was arranged. Reb Yankele heard her gay laughter when he entered the room and though she lowered her eyes and bit her lips in confusion, he felt something hard and cold melt inside him.

Long lines of scholars and saints were traced on both sides and after a brief exchange, the meeting was over. And the two had married.

A year later, a child was born.


Now, Reb Yankele looked around and wondered what he was doing in this strange room. He longed to take a hatchet to the exquisite furnishings but dared not. "Poor woman. This is her compensation for the suffering and ugliness of her own past, to cram the present with beautiful possessions." And because he dared neither judge nor stop her, he had betrayed his own soul.

The earth, he knew, is a magnet that pulls man down, enslaving him so that he cannot rise to the heights that his Creator expects him to reach. But it had been useless to explain these things to his young wife and until Leibel had interceded, they had both gone about in grievous silence.


He heard her footsteps dragging. The visits to the hospital were taking their toll. "Why don't you pray?" she demanded as she entered the room. "Why don't you storm heaven's gates and rescue our child? If you prayed, Hashem would surely listen!" She was shouting and sobbing, unable to stop. The words came hurtling from the inferno of her soul -- screeching, gagging...

Then she saw the grief in his face and crumpled in a chair and begged forgiveness. "I was to have given you an heir for the Shemtov dynasty..."

"Hush," whispered the Rebbe comfortingly. "There'll be other sons of Shemtov who will call you Mother." He continued to talk to her, in sing-song, reassuring her again and again of other children, strong and beautiful, able to cope with this world, as this one was not. His voice was like a sedative and her sobs subsided. She slept by the table, head cradled on her arms, in exhaustion. From the students' dining hall came the sound of melave malka zemiros which would last till close to dawn, a reluctant farewell to the Shabbos Queen.

Reb Yankele got up. He removed his round sable hat and satin cloak and entered his bedroom. Though his heart pounded loudly as it did on Yom Kippur when he struck his breast in remorse at the Al Cheit, his movements were calm and quick. He folded the bedspread and linens, then carefully dissembled the bed. It took six trips to transport his beautiful new fruitwood bed into a corner of the cellar and bring back up his old, peeling iron bedstead and three- legged table. In the company of the other massive furniture and the wall-to-wall carpeting, his old bed seemed truly grotesque; it seemed to mock the whole room.

Reb Yankel placed a lit candle on the three legged table and began to chant softly. It turned to a cry and then to wailing. He bemoaned the destruction of the Mikdash and the exile of the Shechina. He begged for guidance and wisdom, to be rescued from the churning sea of darkness called civilization. He pleaded like a shipwrecked wanderer longing to return home.

The phone rang. It was the hospital calling. Reb Yankele was silent for a long time. Then, in tears, he forced out a whisper, "Boruch Dayon Ho'emes."

"Rabbi, are you there? Are you there?" the voice on the phone insisted. "Yes, of course, I'm here. We'll be right over."

He gently roused his wife and they rushed to the street where old Leibel was already waiting with a cab.


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