The Barkoffs exchange stories about Rabbi Barkoff, and a rare feeling of warmth and closeness settles over them. Mattel asks if it bothered Rabbi Barkoff that he never had sons, and Mrs. Barkoff responds strangely.
* * *
Rabbi Aron Asoulin was always grateful for anything Hakadosh Baruch Hu bestowed upon him, but, although the high ceilings of his borrowed home were lovely to look at, it was hard to heat the space they covered. The house was always a little chilly, but he didn’t complain.
He had risen early that morning before the children awoke and fired up the kerosene heater for the first time that season, and by the time they came down to eat their home was reasonably warm.
He had taught his children well to be happy with what they had, and they knew to dress in layers to keep warm. The heater had a strong smell, but cost almost nothing to run. He lit one match at the beginning of winter to light it, and extinguished the fire Erev Pesach when he put the heater away.
He spoke with the children quietly as they ate, and made sure they all had whatever they needed. Mrs. Asoulin was making sandwiches, holding the baby, and washing dishes, seemingly all at the same time.
When the children finished eating, Rabbi Asoulin walked each child to the door and gave a special brachah for a good day, kissing each child on the top of the head as they left the house.
Rabbi Asoulin was just about to leave for kollel when the phone rang. He picked it up as he had one foot out the door.
Once she heard him say the words Baruch Dayan Ha’emet, Mrs. Asoulin gave the conversation her full attention. People were always calling her husband for one reason or another, and she had stopped asking him each time who had called and what they wanted. But she had a feeling that this phone call was significant.
Mrs. Asoulin watched as her husband took out the pen and small pad he always kept in his shirt pocket and jotted down information the caller was telling him, and listened as he thanked “Geveret Natan” and then hung up.
Rabbi Asoulin stood still for a moment, his hand cupping his chin and his eyes closed, and that was how his wife knew that whatever he was going to say was not going to be good.
She waited as long as she could, until she finally said, “What?”
Rabbi Asoulin looked at her with his large, sad eyes. “It is Rabbi Barkoff. He was niftar.”
Mrs. Asoulin’s hands immediately flew to her mouth. “Oh, no!”
“It was very quick,” said Rabbi Asoulin.
“Who was that on the phone?” asked Mrs. Asoulin.
“A friend of theirs. The almanah and the daughters, and the nurse, Miss Barkoff, are sitting shivah nearby here. Very nearby.”
“How did she find us?”
“The nurse gave her our number and asked her to tell us,” said Rabbi Asoulin. “I feel terrible.”
“Yes, me too.”
“We didn’t ever properly thank him. I always wanted to write him a long letter, telling him how much I appreciated his kindness to us. He didn’t even know us,” continued Rabbi Asoulin.
“I’m sure he understood,” said his wife. “He knew what our situation was.”
“But still, it wasn’t right. We need to go there,” he said. “Today.”
“Of course. We must,” she agreed. “But Aron, what will we do if…?”
He quieted her firmly. “We will cross that road when we get there. Right now, we must focus on the niftar, and comforting the mourners. We cannot think of ourselves.”
Mrs. Asoulin nodded.
“I will come home bein hasedarim and we will go then. I don’t want to wait until evening. They might be tired, and I don’t want to put off the mitzvah.”
They wished each other hatzlachah, and Rabbi Asoulin was gone. As soon as he left, Mrs. Asoulin sat down with her sefer Tehillim, feeling that if her life got any more difficult she wouldn’t know how to live it anymore.
The house was quiet — a day when everyone felt well enough to leave the house, even Maryam — no colds or fevers or ear infections. But that was when she was left with too much time to think and worry.
When Rabbi Asoulin came home a few hours later, her eyes were red and soft, and he clucked his tongue at her. “I hope you told Hashem to send your tears where He needed them,” he said.
Mrs. Asoulin nodded. “Just once, I’d like to claim them for myself,” she replied.
“We don’t need them. We have everything we need.”
“You are the baal emunah. But what will we do if we have nowhere to live? How will your emunah help us then?”
“Don’t even say those words. Everything will be fine. It is already fine. If we don’t live here, the same One Who gave us this place will find us another.”
“Do you have the address?” she asked, as they closed the door behind them. “I took the baby to the neighbor.”
“Of course. It is just a few blocks away.”
“I am nervous, Aron. We haven’t seen Rena since we came here. Perhaps we should wait and bring Maryam along, to break the ice.”
“It’s not a place for a child. And she asked to see us. It is the right thing to do.”
They reached the entrance to the building, and, each of them taking a deep breath, Rabbi Asoulin opened the door to the apartment.
To be continued …