Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Nissan 5765 - April 20, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Doing Something

by M. Zonnefeld


When rumors started that Shmuel Dovid, the son of Necha the cook, was about to leave home, all were surprised.

"Impossible," many said with raised eyebrows. "He's such a ben yochidel (`only child' with all that implies)."

"He won't last," Shmuel Dovid's friends predicted. "He'll return immediately."

"It's just a joke," Zalman the merchant chuckled. "I know him well. He's the type of bochur who never even thinks seriously about traveling."


Zalman indeed knew Shmuel Dovid well. After all, they lived only two houses away from each other, and when Shmuel Dovid was growing up, Zalman would often see him in the evenings, standing on the street.

"Waiting for Mamma?" Zalman had always asked on such occasions.

Shmuel Dovid would nod. His mother was busy at such times in the yeshiva's large kitchen and his father was in the beis medrash as usual. In the winter, Necha would make special efforts to be home when Shmuel Dovid returned from cheder. But in the summer, she wouldn't worry about him. The shtetl was small and all of its residents knew each other. Shmuel Dovid had many good friends who would play with him in the street until she returned, or even invite him to their homes. Very often, she could be seen going from door to door and asking: "Is Shmuel Dovid here?"

But in general, he would play near the house, and run toward her when she returned home.

Shmuel Dovid wasn't spoiled. However all knew that he was very attached to his mother. The long years during which she had raised him as an only son had taken their toll, and apparently his friends teased him about it.

"Mamma's bread again?" they would chuckle during recess when he would take out the coarse and slightly burned bread his mother had baked herself, instead of the familiar slices of the town's baker.

"There's nothing like my mother's bread," he would stubbornly answer. In the afternoons he also didn't participate in the joint meal which the shtetl's fund provided for every child whose parents couldn't provide a nutritious lunch. True, Necha was also one of the beneficiaries of that program, but nonetheless every morning she would send him off to cheder with a lunch bag with homemade food.

"A groisse chochmah," his friends would say. "His mother is the yeshiva's cook."

The yeshiva's budget did not enable Necha to be a gourmet cook, to say the least. The meager sum she received to run the kitchen barely sufficed for the purchase of basic products, and she was forced to prepare the same fare over and over again. But she was very creative, and every evening she seasoned the potato soup and cut the salad greens in a different manner.

"What counts is that the bochurim aren't hungry and learn well," the rosh yeshiva would say.

"Kein yehi rotzon," Necha would softly pray. "May my Shmuel Dovid be among them."

Shmuel Dovid was very attached to his mother. He would forgo games with his friends in order to sit beside her in the busy kitchen, watching her quick motions. He soon proved to be a very efficient cook's helper who would collect the peels she had left on the counter, wipe the washed pots and make sure that the soup wouldn't boil over. When he had nothing else to do, he would sit on a stool, humming to himself and shuffling his feet.

Zalman did his schoolwork in the corner of the table which was her work surface. While he repeated the material he had studied in cheder, she would delight in his childish niggunim. When the melody of the Mishnayos intermingled with the buzz of the learning from yeshiva's beis medrash, forming a single Heavenly chorus, she felt that she was in Gan Eden.

Even when Shmuel Dovid grew older, he went home every night to sleep, and the yeshiva knew that there was no need to allot him a cot.


"Mamma's boy," everyone said.

"He'll go away but will return immediately," Zalman insisted.

"But it's a pity to pack, to travel, and then to come back immediately," Zalman's wife rejoined. "I think that he shouldn't go at all."

Zalman was the town's trip meivin — its travel expert and consultant, who was familiar with all of the train routes and timetables. Everyone came to him for traveling advice, because he was about the only one in the shtetl who ever left, the only one who ever traveled the mysterious track which had only two shiny rails, and which suddenly lunged from a nearby tunnel and twisted toward the horizon. Most people kept their distance from the huffing and puffing engine which gave off black clouds and barely managed to drag along its grimy cars. But Zalman loved the railroad station and the train, and was always willing to talk about his beloved locomotives.

"If a train derails, it can't continue," he explained to whoever was willing to listen. "On one of my trips, we saw a train which had derailed beside a river. The cars had overturned and many people were injured."

Zalman the merchant told many stories about his trips and about the distant regions he had reached in order to buy his wares. Men would listen to him raptly. Women whose husbands told them the stories would nod and whisper: "His poor wife. I wouldn't be able to sleep if I knew that my husband was on one of those trains."


Shmuel Dovid admired Zalman. He would listen raptly to his stories, and try to imitate him as best as he could. When he was a child Necha would often find him with a rolled blanket under his arm and a crumpled paper in his hand.

"This is a ticket," he would tell her. "The blanket's my suitcase. I'm going on a long trip, just like Zalman the merchant."

"You're staying with Mamma," she would tell him and then hug him.

This time, although he was no longer a child, she still didn't believe him when he said that he was leaving. She also knew that he didn't have money for such a trip, nor did she. It was no secret that Necha's family was supported by the community's tzedokoh fund. At first, the Rov had sent them the money in secret ways, in order not to embarrass her. Although she soon discovered the source of the money, life had taught her not to refuse money when she needed it.

"I can't refuse help when I know that Shmuel Dovid's breakfast depends on it," she once told a curious neighbor. "I would make do. But Shmuel Dovid . . . "

The neighbor didn't reply. Both of them knew that doing with any less for Necha meant starvation, point blank! Even with the stipend, Shmuel Dovid's pants were always patched — neatly of course and by a loving hand. His coat was frayed at its edges, although it was carefully brushed and lacked no buttons.

The Rov would allot them the maximal amount from the tzedokoh fund. But this fund was never very ample, because the Jews of the shtetl barely had enough money for themselves. However, they were known for their chessed, and they tried their best. Necha would accept her envelope with tears in her eyes, each time promising that when she was better off she would return the money.

"I'll work as hard as I can," she would tell herself. "May all three of us be healthy, so that we will be able to return the debt. I mark down all of the amounts in a special notebook — even those I received before I knew who was sending me the money."

Every few months Necha and her husband would review their debts. Necha would calculate the sum carefully and mark the total in her notebook neatly. Then she would pray for the day when they would be able to pay it all back — the day on which their financial situation would be better. Of course, she had other plans for that wonderful day on which "things would be better" such as whitewashing the peeling walls and buying Shmuel Dovid a large and stable bed which wouldn't squeak every time he turned over. (She had wanted to give him her bed, but he wouldn't let her.)

"You need the best, Mamma," he would tell her with a shy smile. "You're my mamma, and besides I barely know where I am sleeping once I have closed my eyes, and in the morning — nu! It's good that I don't have a comfortable bed, otherwise who knows when I would get up."

Both of them would then smile at the portion of cereal and the dry slice of bread which awaited them on the table every day. They smiled, too, when Shmuel Dovid's hand jutted out from the sleeves of his coat that had been so carefully brushed after the previous winter, and smiled at the toes, which peeked out of his rubbers. Both knew that it was forbidden to sigh, because a sigh would draw in its wake a whimper, which would bring on a tear. And once a tear was permitted to burst forth, it was impossible to know when the crying would stop.

Over the years, Necha was offered occasional jobs and she began to earn enough. Slowly, her back began to straighten. Then one day, she told the Rebbetzin: "I'm financially independent."

"That means that you forfeit your . . ."

"I forfeit it," Necha hurriedly replied before the Rebbetzin could add the word, "stipend." "We're okay now, and thank you so much for all of your help until now."

Necha reported for work every day at the nearby yeshiva in order to serve the meal, but not before she had dragged the jugs of milk into the kitchen. In the afternoons, after all of the dishes had been washed, she would check rice for the yeshiva, and in the evenings she would iron for people.

"It's not that I don't know how to iron," the ladies who brought her their clean yet wrinkled laundry would apologetically say. "Its just that I don't have time. There are so many things to do at home, yet the clock continues to tick."

Necha did good work, and tried not to ask high prices. Her little pushke on the kitchen windowsill began to fill, and pleasant dreams pervaded her heart when she looked over her old debt notebook. But a trip to a distant place was something else!

"How will you pay for the ticket? It's very expensive." Channah, the travel meivin's loyal wife gently asked. "I know all about ticket prices. Zalman told me."

Necha knew that too. Yet even if she hadn't known that fact, she would have realized it from Shmuel Dovid's lowered eyes when he had told her about his plans to leave.

"It . . . it costs a lot of money," he had stammered. "But still, Mamma... maybe . . ."

His words remained suspended in the air, and Necha felt miserable. He never asked for anything. Even when his friends got new and attractive toys, he didn't show a trace of jealously. He never even dreamed of asking for toys like those of his friends. During the long winter nights, he would try to avoid puddles as best as he could, in order not to ruin his shoes, and when he outgrew his clothing he didn't complain.

"But why?" she asked him with an admixture of motherly pain and motherly pride. "Why get up and go at such a young age. Your friends all live at home and are happy, while only my son strives for greatness."

"It'll be good for me, Mamma," he whispered. "I'll learn better, I'll be able to concentrate better. You know, Mamma, that Chazal say that a person should be goleh lemokom Torah. Besides, the rosh yeshiva recommends the method they use there. He said that it suits me, Mamma."

The painful words escaped his lips slowly, and against his will. It was obvious that this plan had been sprouting in his heart for a long time, and that he had struggled with it until it finally won out.

"So what do you say, Mamma?"

He didn't tell her about the long nights in which he had lain awake in his squeaky bed considering, from every possible angle, the difficulties of the parting and the longings. He didn't describe his hesitations which had eaten away at him, gaining control of him at undefined times. He didn't tell her about the warm words of the rosh yeshiva, or about the great encouragement he had received, or about the thoughts that had bothered him for so long. He also didn't tell her about the sentence which had pecked at him during recent months, and which had escaped his lips one evening when he was studying with his chavrusa: "I have to do something!"

"Something?" his chavrusa had replied in confusion. They were in the middle of an exciting Talmudic discussion, to which that outburst was totally unconnected.

"What has to be done? Who has to do it?" he asked.

"Me," Shmuel Dovid replied with burning yes. "I have to do something. It's time that I did something."

"But you're always doing something," his chavrusa replied. "You're learning, aren't you?"

Shmuel Dovid curled up into himself for a moment.

"I have to do something genuine for it, do you understand?" he said heatedly. "True, I learn. But my learning is partially rote and partially motivated by my desire to make my parents happy. and maybe for a bit of kovod too," he sighed.

"I try, but somewhere deep down inside me, my ego is involved. In the end, I enjoy learning and am satisfied with myself. In the long run, I do everything for my ego's sake. This time I want to do something genuine, something for the Ribono Shel Olom. Do you understand? Something 100 percent for Him, something which lacks all personal desires."

He then looked at his startled chavrusa with a pleading glance. "If I go, everything might appear different. What do you say?"

His chavrusa searched for the right words.

"But we learned that all our deeds must be performed willingly and with enjoyment. What word did the Mashgiach use? Ah! Lehis'aneig. Do your remember? One must delight in Hashem. Nothing wrong with enjoying studying. Perhaps that's a very high level."

Shmuel Dovid smiled in confusion.

"I'm not what you think I am. True, I enjoy learning. But I actually delight in my inner satisfaction. I'm all wrapped up in myself," Shmuel Dovid sighed. "Maybe that's because I'm an only child and the entire house revolves around me. Perhaps I wouldn't have dared to raise such an idea, if the Rosh Yeshiva hadn't spoken to me. But when he called me for a talk, and recommended that I go, I figured that it was time to grow, and if not now, when?"

His chavrusa fell silent. His finger drew circles on the edge of his shtender, without his realizing it — circles which became increasingly smaller.

"So go," he said with an effort. (After all was about to lose his chavrusa.) "But write me when you succeed. Okay?"

Necha didn't cause difficulties. If her son had agreed to accept the pain of separation, who was she to stop him? The pushke was nearly half full, and with the addition of a loan or two, she could fund the trip, while her dream of paying back her debts could be postponed for a later date. Her clients were satisfied, and the yeshiva wanted to give her extra hours plus higher wages. Besides, if only she and her husband were at home, expenses would decrease.

The only problem that remained was her longing and her loneliness. But that would be her own private battle. She wasn't the first mother in the world, nor would she be the last to cope with such a situation. She even felt pleased that she, plain ordinary Necha, might be able to follow in the footsteps of those great women who merited Olom Habo for sending their children off to yeshiva.

Zalman got them a valise in a secondhand store . "It's lasted quite a number of years," he promised, "and will last many more."

"It's really strong," Channah rejoined.

Then he went ahead and ascertained the timetables and the cost of the ticket, even promising to accompany Shmuel Dovid to the station.

"I am familiar with the place," he explained. "Many people are taken aback by the hustle and bustle there."

"My Zalman manages everywhere," Channah once more rejoined, "even in cities he has never before visited. I guess he has a special travel sense."

Necha got hold of a new feather pillow and a warm blanket. Giving them to Shmuel Dovid, she said: "These are so that you won't freeze at night. Zalman says that it's very cold there."

Zalman also advised Necha to add some fur to Shmuel Dovid's collar, and to provide him with woolen socks.

Necha baked him three loaves of her farmer's bread and wrapped them in brown papers. Then she filled a small container with his favorite cookies. Moments before he left, she handed him a faded cloth bag. "These are my fruit cakes," she whispered, "so that you'll have something to eat until you outgrow Mamma's pampering."

Shmuel Dovid didn't reply. His face was tense and pale.

Zalman took the suitcase, and all that Shmuel Dovid had to carry was his gemora and Mamma's bag of fruit cakes.

"Zol zein mit hatzlocha, my precious one," she whispered, while his father placed his hands on his head and blessed him.

The three walked towards the railroad station silently. Zalman walked a bit ahead of them, in order not to intrude on their privacy during those emotion-filled moments. Suddenly, the train lunged forth from the dark tunnel and, with a loud noise, stopped at the platform.

"That's nothing," Zalman calmed them. "There's the ticket booth, Shmuel Dovid. You can buy your ticket now. I've already placed the suitcase in the coach."

Shmuel Dovid and his parents found themselves alone, beside the tracks for one blessed moment. Necha didn't say anything. Her son already seemed a bit far away. The three remained silent, smiling, as they had done during all of the difficult times they had undergone together. They knew that it was forbidden to sigh, because a sigh would bring a whimper in its wake, and that would lead to a tear, and once a tear is granted permission to burst forth, who could know when it would stop.

"Have a safe trip," Necha finally whispered. "May Hashem help you to succeed, Shmuel Dovid. Do you hear? To succeed!"

"Omen," Shmuel Dovid replied with great concentration, knowing that his mother's brochos were potent. Moments later, the wheels began to move and, from the window, he could see Zalman, standing with feet apart and waving to him with a confident smile.


The yeshiva gedola was far different than he had expected. Never in his life had he seen so many bochurim in one place. As a child, he had thought that the beis medrash in his small shtetl was the biggest building in the world, and that the sound of the tefilloh there was mighty. Now he saw that he had been mistaken. The study hall of his new yeshiva was so big that one couldn't encompass it in once glance, and the omen which resounded during the tefilloh, shook the building rafters, and his ears.

"Will I ever get used to such a huge place?" he sighed.

"I felt that way too," the friendly bochur who had accompanied him inside admitted. "But I soon discovered that I was wrong."

The dormitory was also huge and Shmuel Dovid was stunned by the size of its kitchen.

"I'm glad that Mamma works in a smaller place," he reflected, when he tried to estimate the amount of work that took place there, while trying to cope with the longing the sight of the kitchen aroused.

That night he slept on a bed whose squeak was very different from that of his bed at home. Suddenly, he missed the small kitchen where his mother worked. He would have given nearly anything in the world in order to sit beside her for a few moments, and to tell her about his experiences that day. But davka on that day, when he was so wound up, his mother was so far away.

Randomly, his hand felt through his baggage, and by itself found something soft and fragrant — Mamma's fruit cakes. He recited a brochoh and munched them with delight. The cake was real, and its flavor rolled on his tongue. Then, in one instant, his mother was so close that if he extended his hand, he would touch her apron. He shut his eyes, and delighted in the sweetness of the thought.

Now he could think clearly about the inspiring meeting with the Rosh Yeshiva, the first tefilloh in the large study hall, and the excitement he felt when he pressed along with every one else to hear the Mashgiach's mussar shmuess. Now he could reconstruct, without pain, the train ride and his first meetings with the bochurim. Now he felt projected and comforted, and capable of repressing his former feelings of awkwardness.

The cakes lasted for the next two weeks, during which he ate only a measured amount a day. This though, was a big nisoyon. After a long day, he knew that the homemade cakes and the flavor of his mother awaited him and that he would once more become `Mamma's boy,' as his friends back home had jokingly called him behind his back. And yet, he controlled his feelings, and didn't gobble them all at once. (As his Mashgiach said, he had begun his work on the trait of self-control with those cakes.)

At first the cakes were delicious. But slowly, they grew stale and didn't melt in his mouth anymore. Nonetheless they still were sweet reminders of his dear mother. On his fifteenth day in the yeshiva, when he inserted his hand into the cloth bag he found nothing there. Surprised, he once again searched, only to be saddened by the bag's emptiness.

"Longings are gifts," he heard the Mashgiach say. "They remind us that we have loving relatives from afar, and that we aren't alone."

But he was alone and loneliness wasn't good company. The many new boys surrounding him only made him feel lonelier, and the letters he sent every Monday night clearly illustrated to him the extent of the distance between him and his shtetl. He filled long pages to his parents with descriptions of the yeshiva and the study sessions. To his former chavrusa, he only wrote short letters. He simply had nothing to write him.

"I still haven't succeeded," he wrote him on a postcard he had bought in the yeshiva's office. "I still haven't done something without personal motives. Perhaps the opportunity hasn't come my way."

And that was true. The limud at that time constituted one long saga of attempts to justify his trip. Every good sevoro he devised served as a reason to justify the doubts and longings which pulled him, like a magnet, to the small shtetl kitchen.

"Where are you from?" a cheerful bochur asked him in the middle of a heated gemora debate. "What do you say? I guess they know how to learn in your town."

The delight he felt at that moment, made it even clearer to him how far he was from achieving his goal.

Fall ended and winter arrived with full force. It lunged into the city like a locomotive, washing it with torrents of rain, shaking it with howling winds which nearly uprooted the trees surrounding the yeshiva.


Shmuel Dovid also felt uprooted. The cold was his constant companion, and all of the pillows and blankets which his roommates piled on top of him were of no avail. He lay underneath them, shivering from the cold and unable to sleep. During those days, his concentration powers weakened and he sometimes dozed on his shtender.

"That never happened to me at home," he tried to justify himself.

Once more doubts began to eat away and gnaw at him. Had the trip been worthwhile? Wasn't his learning level regressing? His dreams seemed further away than usual.

"Something bothering him," his new chavrusa determined.

"Do you need anything? Are you lacking anything?" he asked

"If only my chavrusa knew what I lacked," Shmuel Dovid reflected. The absence of his mother intermingled with the frustration he felt by his inability to fulfill his goal, to the point that he couldn't separate them.

But his chavrusa didn't relent.

"Do you eat enough?" he gently asked. "Is your dormitory room okay?"

"Everything's fine," Shmuel Dovid replied. "I just have to get used to life here."

"I've had enough time to get used to life here," he remonstrated to himself. "Will I ever change? Is my dream of doing only one act lishmoh so unrealistic?"

That winter was the coldest and snowiest the yeshiva's older boys had ever known. The temperatures dropped below zero and the large heaters burned nonstop. In the evenings the cook would serve the bochurim bowls of hot soup. This soup though, could in no way compare with his mother's potato soup, and Shmuel Dovid was ashamed of the sharp longing that had engulfed him the whenever thought about that.


After Purim, when industrious women had begun to plan their spring-cleaning, a heavy snowstorm fell over the city. For many days a heavy white blanket covered the houses and paralyzed the routine flow of life. The food and water supplies were restricted. Postal services stopped functioning. It was rumored that the train had even stopped running.

"The tracks are filled with snow," bochurim related. "Everything's paralyzed."

The study hall though, was a hub of activity and life. The heat there wasn't only generated by the stoves, the Mashgiach said with satisfaction.

"Torah warms," Shmuel Dovid's new chavrusa told him with a smile. "It also makes one happy. Think about that."

Shmuel Dovid knew that his chavrusa was right. But of late he had tried not to think that much, especially since the post office near the yeshiva had closed. One morning after davening, he dragged his feet over to the post office as he had done many times. In his hand, he bore a letter to his parents. He didn't write anything to his chavrusa, because he had nothing new to relate.

"Closed," a sign said.


"Closed, young man. Don't you see?" Someone in a heavy coat boomed. "Mail can't be delivered in such snow. Even the sleighs can't move."

Shmuel Dovid dragged himself back to the yeshiva. On the way to the post office, he had walked gingerly despite the snow because he was so eager to send the letter and to know that in two weeks, his mother would hold it in her very own hands. However the disappointment made him sluggish, and the way much longer.

"Do you feel okay?" his chavrusa asked him that morning.

"Boruch Hashem," Shmuel Dovid answered briefly.

At night, when he was in bed, he noted that his efforts to study harder that day had stemmed from his desire to find favor in his chavrusa's eyes, and the bitter taste of disappointment once more filled his entire being.

With every passing day, the detachment from the world at large seemed more difficult. People in the know said that the heavy snow was driving the whole country crazy. But Shmuel Dovid wasn't bothered by the lack of vegetables for dinner. Life in his shtetl had taught him not to be too choosy as far as food was concerned.

But the closing of the post office disturbed him very much. The sweet anticipation of a letter from his mother whom he still missed, no longer egged him on. The excitement of Monday nights, during which he would share his experiences with his parents knowing that they would soon read his letters, was absent.

In the beginning he had written to his parents as if nothing had happened, imagining how many letters they would receive when the postal services resumed. But soon such pointless writing dampened his spirits and, after a number of days, he stopped writing. Instead, he tried to immerse himself deeper into his learning and not to think about anything else. His chavrusa was very pleased with him. But when Shmuel Dovid made an accounting at night, he realized that he was still far away from his goal.

After a week-and-a-half of forced slowdown, life in the city slowly began to resume its regular routine. At first, the food suppliers dragged sleighs filled with produce to the back entrance of the yeshiva. The vegetables were partially frozen and their flavor second-rate. But the dining room tables weren't as empty as they had been during the storm.

"Don't let the wonderful learning level of the past week be replaced by another type of learning," the Mashgiach said. "That was `study from oppression' in the full meaning of the concept."

But Shmuel Dovid continued to learn with fervor. As long as the postal service hadn't resumed, his situation hadn't changed.

"They won't begin working so quickly," a roommate told him. "It'll take a long time until the roads and railroad tracks are all cleared. Then there will be a barrage of mail to be delivered. I think it'll take at least a month for the mail to be delivered regularly."

Outside, the town residents began to shovel the snow from their roofs. Concerned mothers took their infants outside for a bit of fresh air, and hurried back inside due to the terrible cold. But Shmuel Dovid continued to feel sad. "You're longing," his sensitive chavrusa determined. "There's nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone feels that way, especially those who can't return home for yom tov."

He was right. The moment the sound of the beating of rugs began to resound in the town, his longings became unbearable. Nearly half of the student body planned to go home, and was busily packed their valises.

"They're clearing away the railroad tracks," bochurim related.

"The main danger is from the rising rivers," the clerks in the ticket booths warned. "Dams are collapsing and many areas are flooded. The train won't be able to reach every place."

Nonetheless, the bochurim continued to pack.

"We'll manage," a thin boy whose suitcase weighed more than he did, said.

"Those who are going home now remained here last year. Traveling is very expensive, and also very un-yeshivish. There are boys who haven't been home for four years," a friend told Shmuel Dovid.

Shmuel Dovid was spared the doubts of whether or not to join the students who went home every year. Even though he hadn't written home for a long time, he knew that his parents wouldn't have the money to pay for a two-way trip. As a result, he immersed himself deeper and deeper in his learning, struggling with the disappointment and his longing. But at the same time, his hopes of achieving his goal seemed more unrealistic.


By Pesach, fifty percent of the students had gone home. The halls were no longer filled with bochurim. The omens were less resounding, as was the sound of the learning, and Shmuel Dovid felt that he had to struggle in order to continue learning as usual.

"Lefum tsa'aro agro," the Mashgiach reminded him with an encouraging tap on the back.

On the morning of the 14th of Nisan, his roommate told him: "One of the city's residents will invite us to the Seder."

Both of them were doing a final cleaning lest even a trace of chometz remain in their rooms.

"The Seder?" he wondered.

"Yes," his roommate quietly said. "That's the way it is here. But don't forget to prepare a good vort on the Haggadah. They'll probably ask you to say something. On chol hamoed we'll eat here. They kasher the kitchen every year. Everything is non-gebrochts, and is really tasty."

He knew that, and had no complaints about the food or the yeshiva. However, when he took out his yom tov suit, which his mother had brushed and packed so carefully, his heart twitched.

"Shmuel Dovid?" a bochur called out. "Is there a Shmuel Dovid here?"

"That's me," Shmuel Dovid replied.

Shmuel Dovid stepped outside, wondering why he had been called out. The aroma of burning chometz filled the hallway.

"Someone's looking for you," the bochur said.

"For me?" he asked with surprise.

"Nu, I'll go outside and see who he's looking for," Shmuel Dovid reflected. "It's not right to leave a Jew out in the cold."

Shmuel Dovid rushed down the stairs, forgetting to take his coat. It would only take him a second to speak with the man, and he wouldn't catch cold.

Opening the yeshiva's door, Shmuel Dovid was stunned. Someone who looked just like Zalman stood there, a package in his hand. However that man was dressed in a ragged coat, while the Zalman he knew had always been impeccably dressed. His beard too, was a bit unkempt

"Shmuel Dovid!" the man exclaimed, the warm cry definitely earmarking him as Zalman the travel meivin, despite the change in his appearance. For a moment, Shmuel Dovid became the small boy who waited in the street for Necha the cook to finish serving the meal in the yeshiva or for Tatte to close his gemora and return home.

"Reb Zalman!" he yelped.

"Should I invite him in?" he then wondered. "He'll surely tell Mamma how crowded and small the rooms are in the yeshiva. But he seems so tired and looks so pale."

"Oy, Reb Zalman, come in. I'll fetch you a cup of coffee."

"No, that's okay," Zalman answered. "I just popped over for a moment and have to continue on immediately." Then, inching over to Shmuel Dovid's ear, he whispered: "Shmuel Dovid, I've come to apologize."

"To apologize? For what? It's erev Pesach, not erev Yom Kippur."

"Shmuel Dovid, I haven't much time," he said breathlessly. "I've come to beg your forgiveness. I set out on a long trip to this region nearly two months ago. Your mother, Necha the tzaddeikess, asked me to take you something. I was delayed, due to very unpleasant circumstances — some not very nice people tried to cheat me and caused me a lot of trouble. When I was finally pretty close to your yeshiva, the snow began to fall.

"Do you understand, Shmuel Dovid. Your mother, poor thing, never thought that I would reach you so late. I hope that nothing spoiled on the way. Will you forgive me?"

Shmuel Dovid cast a bewildered glance at him. Then, he said: "Is the package you're holding for me?"

"Yes," Zalman replied, as he handed him the package with a sigh of relief. "Boruch Hashem that I made it. Have a good and kosher'n Pesach. I won't make it home for yom tov because of the snow, and am on my way to my brother who lives in a nearby village. I'd better hurry."

Wishing him a good yom tov, Zalman hurriedly left the yard without even looking back, as if he feared that Shmuel Dovid might return the package.

Shmuel Dovid was stunned. But when he saw the round letters, written in a motherly manner, he felt better. Of course, he wanted to open the package immediately, but not in so public a place. Rushing upstairs, he charged into his room.

"Boruch Hashem, the room's empty," he sighed with relief and placed the package on his bed. That was the only vacant surface in the room. Taking out an old pocketknife he cut open the strong cords that bound the package. But when the package was finally unwrapped, his face fell. Inside it were three loaves of bread, lovingly baked and packed by his mother — a bit frozen, but definitely edible. Beside them were a number of fruitcakes, and a shiny tin of cookies.

Shmuel Dovid glanced at his watch. The deadline for eating chometz had passed half-an-hour ago, and the last moments to burn the chometz were nearing. Taking the package with trembling hands, he ran downstairs, each step seeming to him like a mountain. He reached the wooden door, huffing and puffing, as if he had just completed a difficult journey.

But perhaps he had indeed gone through such a tough journey. All the way down, the loaves of bread winked at him, and the fruit cakes cascaded rivers of sweet and comforting aromas his way — fragrances of something familiar and cherished which, if he only placed them in his mouth, would wash away all of his worries and longings and clear his mind.

"Mamma must have worked so hard to prepare these cakes," he told himself, as he visualized her going over to the pushke on the windowsill and taking out her last pennies. He could see her dragging over to the grocers in the rain and then bringing home the flour and the ingredients she needed for the bread and the cakes. He could picture her sifting the flour, peeling the fruits, kneading the dough and baking the loaves and the cakes. He could hear her asking Tatte how to pack and send them. He could also hear her asking Channah if Zalman could take them on his next trip, and Channah replying: "Nothing is too difficult for Zalman, you know."


Shmuel Dovid carried the package downstairs carefully, as if it contained a tender infant. One lone fire still burned in the yard and as he neared it he wondered if Bnei Yisroel had felt that way when they brought their korbonos.

His hands trembled uncontrollably. He feared that if he threw the package into the flame, which was anyway struggling over its existence, he might totally extinguish it and he would remain with his chometz in his hand. His longing cut him mercilessly, and the lost opportunity filled his mouth with a dry taste.

"Did you finish?" he heard the Mashgiach, who walked around the yard with a watch in his hand, say. "It's late. One doesn't play games with issurei Torah. It's time to do something."

"Yes, I have to do something," Shmuel Dovid's dry lips whispered the very same words he had said to his chavrusa before leaving the shtetl. "I have to do something genuine for the Ribono Shel Olom — something 100 percent for Him, which lacks all personal desire, a sort of self-nullification."

He had always tried. But deep down, very deep down, the stubborn ego had always taken credit for his achievements — for every bit of learning, every sacrifice.

He lifted the wrapped package with a steady hand, shut his eyes intently, and threw it into the bonfire. Then he bent down to push a wayward twig inside, and stirred it with his foot — a segulah to fan the fire.

A crumpled note, which had apparently fallen out of the packet, lay on the ground. Picking it up reverently, he read the words, which had been written in a loving hand: "My dear son, Enjoy and succeed. Succeed!

"Omen," he whispered intently, knowing that Mamma's brochos were very potent — and actually had materialized. He straightened himself and breathed more easily. A sweet tranquility overcame him. Now he could stand at the side serenely, and carefully turn over the loaves and the cakes until they had become cinders. Hadn't he finally begun to realize his goal?

Nothing remained of the package. A handful of coals still sizzled near the snow pile, which wasn't harmed even a bit by the heat and remained as packed and dirty as before.

"Did you finish yet?" the Mashgiach asked, his watch in hand and a yom tov-dik glint in his eyes.

"I finished," Shmuel Dovid answered slowly. Suddenly, he felt so tired that all he wanted to do was to run into the yeshiva's large study hall, lean his swirling head on the shtender and feel comforted and calm.

However he rushed upstairs because he had to straighten his room, prepare a vort and write a few words to his chavrusa from the shtetl. He knew that the railroad tracks had been cleared and that the train would soon bring a mail sack, which would contain his letter, to the point where the shiny rails twisted toward the horizon and blended with it.


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