* * *
There was something about the way Emanuel spoke about Kalonymous that aroused Motti’s suspicions, a subliminal message passed between brothers. Motti gave his brother a good stare, and before long, Emanuel began to squirm.
“Okay, brother,” said Motti, finally. “Spill it. Do you know where Kalonymous is?”
“No! I don’t.”
“But…” Motti prodded.
“I might know someone who does.”
“Really,” said Motti, vacillating between anger and a strong desire to laugh at the absurdity of it all. “And how is he doing? Is he doing well?”
“There’s no cause for sarcasm, Little One.” Emanuel was unable to resist goading his brother with taunts guaranteed to infuriate Motti. He was surprised when Motti refused to rise to the bait.
“I’m being sincere. You brought this up because you wanted to tell me what you know, and I’d appreciate it if you would do that right now.”
Emanuel conceded defeat and told Motti the entire story, from his encounter with Beck to his meeting with Reb Leib. Motti listened intently.
“I don’t even know what to say.” Motti paused. “I can’t even be mad at you, because you were following daas Torah. Maybe if you’d have mentioned it earlier…”
“I know, believe me, I know. I’ve been castigating myself, but I haven’t seen you and there seemed no right way to send you the message. I can bring you to Reb Leib if you want. You can speak to him yourself and see what he has to say, especially with this new piece of information.”
Motti nodded. “I’d appreciate that. I’m wondering, though, if I should wait until Berl and Fisch actually arrive before telling Kalonymous. Anything could happen between now and then. I would like to send him a message, though, that we miss him, that he hasn’t left our thoughts for even a moment, and our door is always open to him, even if just for a visit.”
* * *
Every new mitzvah Kalonymous was introduced to was a burst of joy that filled his entire body. The other boys sometimes laughed at his enthusiasm during davening and the obvious delight he took in mitzvos like tzitzis, but he didn’t care at all. Motti and Breindl kept the same mitzvos but he hadn’t felt the same way, perhaps because it was foisted upon him, lovingly, for sure, but not of his own free will.
The Birenzweigs were just different. They didn’t focus too much attention on him, which suited him very well. He was allowed to discover things on his own, with the kind and helpful Chilik faithfully by his side. He would occasionally fight an urge to look out for Chilik, to find food for him, and make sure he was warm and dry. After it passed, he would exhale with relief that Chilik could take care of himself. He would care for his brothers again in a heartbeat if they ever needed him, but for now he reveled in the freedom of caring only for himself.
Two days after Motti sat in his brother’s library sipping brandy, Kalonymous and Chilik were on their way home from cheder when they noticed they were being followed. They swerved in and out of side streets and alleys and the boy stayed on their trail.
“Who is it?” Kalonymous asked.
“I know him. It’s Yankele. It’s the Rav’s grandson.”
“What does he want with you?”
Chilik chuckled. “I doubt it’s me he wants.” He turned around quickly and Yankele stopped short, nearly losing his balance.
“What do you want?” asked Chilik. “And why are you following us? You could have just caught up to us.”
“My zaidy said to make sure the boy was still staying by you. That’s him, right?” He pointed to Kalonymous.
“See, I told you,” said Chilik. “Yes, it’s him.”
“My zaidy asked him to come, he has a message for him.”
“From who?” asked Kalonymous, even though in his heart he already knew.
“How should I know? Just come.”
Yankele started walking, beckoning impatiently for them to follow. “I’m coming with you,” said Chilik, and the two walked quickly behind their sturdy and persistent guide.
There was a large crowd as usual, but Yankele pumped both his arms as though he was swimming, pushing his way through until he reached his zaidy’s special table. Kalonymous and Chilik were unsure whether they were supposed to follow so they hung back, annoying Yankele tremendously. He swam back, grabbed them each by a hand and pulled them up to the front.
Kalonymous had never seen a gadol b’Torah before, and if Chilik had not been at his side he might have grown dizzy from the radiance emanating from him. Reb Leib turned his attention to Kalonymous as Yankele introduced them with the same pomp as a king’s courtier.
“A sheine yingeleh,” he said, patting Kalonymous’ cheek warmly. “A sheine panim.”
Kalonymous understood the words but not the emotion behind them. He hadn’t felt such love in a long, long time, if he ever had at all.
To be continued . . .