Apr 292014
 

And so it goes.

***

Beside me as I stood in my place pressed against the Wall was a Mandatory policeman prodding and spurring with the crop in his hand. What enflamed this man’s heart so to make him so furious? A sickly old woman had brought with a stool to sit upon. The policeman leapt up and kicked away the stool, knocking the old woman to the ground, and seized the stool, as she had broken the law, enshrined by the lawmakers of the Mandate, that it was expressly forbidden for any worshiper at the Wall to bring something to sit on. The worshipers saw and kept silent, for who could talk reason with one whose mind was mind up? And then came that same old woman I knew and stared at him. The policeman cast his eyes downward and returned the stool.

I approached her and said, the strength in your eyes is greater than that in all the promises of England, because while England granted us the Balfour Declaration and sent us all her officials to annul it, you, my dear old woman, lay your eyes on that villain and annulled his wicked intentions. She replied, don’t say such things, he’s a good goy, who saw my distress and gave that poor woman back her stool. Have you davened minchah?1 Why do I ask, because if you’re free, I wouldn’t mind if you came with me to do the mitzvah of bikkur khoylim.2 The rebbetzin, may she live, has fallen ill. She’s quite sick now. If you want, come and I’ll show you a shortcut. I drew by her side and went away with her.

We wind our way from alley to alley and courtyard to courtyard, and she stopped every step of the way to give a piece of candy to a child and a penny to a beggar and ask after the health of a man’s wife and the health of a woman’s husband. I said to her, since you’re asking how everyone else is doing, I’ll ask how you’re doing. She replied, borukh hu u-vorukh shmoy,3 with Him I want for nothing. The Holy One Blessed Be He gives to all His creations according to their needs and even I am one of his creations too. Most of all I should thank Him for doubling my portion today. I said to her, and what is that? She replied, every day I read the daily portion of Tehillim,4 and today I read two days’ worth. While she spoke a pall came over her face.

I said, your happiness has fled. She hesitated a while and answered me, yes, my son, I was happy and now I’m not. While she spoke the glow returned to her face. She lifted her eyes and said, blessed is G-d who took my sorrow from me. I said, why were you happy, then sad, and now happy again? She said affectionately, if you weren’t so insistent I would tell you, that way you shouldn’t ask, but rather you should say, what did you do to deserve G-d taking away your sorrow? For to Hashem, may he be blessed, everything is the same, happiness as well as sadness. I said, perhaps I’ll instead insist that you’ve taught me how a man should speak. For it’s a quite a lesson, happy is he who doesn’t forget it. She said, a good man you are and a good quote you’ve quoted me, and I won’t keep a single good thing from you. You asked why I was happy and why I was sad and why I’m happy again. Surely you know just as well as I, all the deeds of man are allotted to him from the moment of his birth until his death, even how many times a man will say Tehillim. But the choice is his, how many psalms to say every day. There are men who merit completing each day the entirety of the book, and there a men who say one complete section or simply the daily portion every day. It’s always been my custom to read each day the daily portion. Today I was drawn after the psalms and said two days’ worth. And because I realized that, I became sad. Perhaps I’ve become superfluous in this world and it’s trying to rid itself of me and push me to finish my portion and complete my allotment, and while it’s proper to thank Hashem, if I die I won’t be able to say even one more psalm, even one more letter. The Holy One Blessed Be He saw my distress and showered me with his kindness and let me know that such was His will, may He be blessed. If Hashem desired to put me to death, who am I to be sad? At once G-d took my sorrows away from me. Borukh hu u-vorukh shmoy.

I peered at her and mused to myself, how does one come to know such complete surrender? I thought of the first generations, who had been filled with good midot. I spoke to her of thse past generations and said, more than what I’ve said you’ve seen with your own eyes. She replied, when a man’s days and years are drawn out, he merits to see a great many things. Good things, and even better things.

I asked her, tell me about those good things. She hesitated awhile and said, how to begin? I’ll start with the days of my childhood. When I was a child, I was a little chatterbox. Truly, from the time I woke I up to the time I fell asleep, I never stopped babbling. There was an old man in my neighborhood, and he told those amused by my chatter, such a pity about this child, if she fritters away all her words in her youth, what will be left for her when she’s old? Terror overtook me and I was afraid that tomorrow I might be struck mute. After days I came to fully understand the man’s logic: that a man shouldn’t spend in a short time what’s been allotted to him for all the days of his life. I trained myself to closely examine every word, whether it truly needed to be said, and came to be frugal with speech. And being frugal in speech, I was left with a great treasury full of words. My days have been drawn out until I speak all the words that were allotted to me. And now that all I have left are a handful of words, you ask me to spend them. If I do, I shorten my days. I said to her, that I surely wasn’t asking for. What’s going on anyway, we’ve been walking and walking and we still haven’t reached the rebbetzin. The old woman said, you’re thinking of the courtyards we once used as a shortcut. And now that most of the city is populated by Arabs, we need to make our way around them and so lengthen our route.

We came to a certain courtyard. She said, you see this courtyard? Forty Jewish families were here and two synagogues within and they would pray and study by day and by night, but they left it and the Arabs came and snatched it up. We came to a coffee shop. She said, you see this building? There was once a great yeshiva within and Torah scholars would sit and study there, and they left it and the Arabs came and snatched it up. We came to a donkey stable. She said, you see this stable? A soup kitchen it was, and poor good-hearted souls would come inside hungry and leave with their bellies full, and they left it and the Arabs came and snatched it up. Houses in which Torah and prayer and charity never ceased, now Arabs and donkeys hop around them. And now, my son, we’ve arrived at the courtyard of the rebbetzin. You go in and I’ll come in after you. This poor thing, because of some imagined good outside the Land she can’t see the true good. I said to her, and the true good, what might that be? She smiled and said, how you can even ask such a thing, my son? Haven’t you read? Happy is he whom You choose and draw near that he might live in Your courts. And what courts of the Holy One Blessed Be He are those? The courtyards of our G-d within Jerusalem.

  1. Tehilla asks the narrator whether he has prayed through the daily afternoon service.
  2. Visiting the sick.
  3. Blessed is He and blessed is His name.
  4. The Psalms. The Book of Psalms is divided into portions to be read on each weekday, before the cycle repeats.

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