Esther tries to familiarize herself with her new surroundings. She takes an inventory of all that needs to be done and then repairs to the garden, which is overgrown. She begins to weed it, and, as she is digging, she unearths a small potato growing beneath the weeds. She takes heart that her victory garden has followed her to Eretz Yisrael.
* * *
While Mutty had been here, Manny had learned dutifully in the makeshift beis medrash the exiled yeshivah had set up in Yerushalayim. After Mutty left, he wandered from shul to shul until he found his place. It was a most unlikely place, which he’d found by accident, but from the moment he walked in, he knew it was exactly where he was supposed to be learning.
He did intellectual battle with himself every day, asking himself what a Yekkishe man like himself was doing in a Sephardi “beit hamedrash.” After a few weeks, he let the matter go and made peace with his decision. He hadn’t yet told Esther of his new place of learning but he knew that in the right time he would.
On the morning following the disturbing luncheon with Jens, he sat in his usual seat and tried to learn, but his thoughts were a million miles away. He’d put his head down to say the Mishnah, and then he’d pick his head up and stare at nothing, and then he’d come to attention with a taut pull of the neck, like someone had snapped their fingers in front of his face. After a few rounds of this, he found himself looking into the kind and wise eyes of the shul’s Rav.
“Can I be of some help?” he asked, standing beside Manny’s seat.
“I beg your pardon?” said Manny. It was the first time the two men had conversed beyond an obligatory morning and evening greeting.
“You seem distracted. I was wondering if I could be of help.”
Manny could not figure out what to say. Yes, he longed to shout. I do need help. A lot of help! But it was not his way to seek help from others.
The Rav took his silence for agreement, and sat carefully on the chair facing Manny.
The Rav was small and elderly, but also spry. Manny had seen him leave the shul and walk away at such a rapid clip that if Manny were walking beside him he would not have been able to keep up.
“L’kvod Harav, thank you.” Manny was embarrassed to the core, and could feel the red flush climb up from his neck like a clinging vine. “I’m fine. It’s just … I just …”
The Rav gave a small, encouraging smile, and waited patiently for Manny to get hold of himself, but in the end, Manny really couldn’t get a hold of himself at all. He ended up blurting out his entire sorry tale once again.
As much as he wanted to stop talking, he found that he couldn’t. He thought briefly of his unguarded conversation with Jens on the train, which had left him feeling so vulnerable later on, unsure of what “danger” Jens was alluding to, and whether he and Esther were in fact imperiling themselves by staying.
Of course, speaking to the Rav was completely different from speaking to a gentile private investigator. His very expression conveyed kindness and wisdom. Manny knew he needed to unburden his heart, which was unusually heavy. If it was just he who would be affected by possible danger perhaps he could handle it. But he had no idea how to protect Esther, and in the end, that was the question he put to the Rav.
He had sputtered out the story in a loshon kodesh so broken and twisted that it poured out from under his tongue like a pile of dried kindling, but the Rav answered so slowly and clearly that Manny was certain he had understood.
“The answer is very simple, my friend,” said the Rav. “You want Hashem to go out of teva for you, to make these bad forces go away. You must, in turn, invite good into your home. The evil forces will then dissipate into the air like fog, as though they never existed. You must bring good in. It will protect you and your wife.”
“Please, what does the Rav mean?” asked Manny. “What kind of good? Where do I find good?”
The Rav smiled. “There is good all around you,” he replied, waving his hand around the beis medrash at a wide angle. “Find some, and bring it home. Hatzlachah!” With that, the Rav stood up and walked back to his place, resuming his learning.
Manny sat stunned, utterly undone by the Rav’s strange advice. He wondered briefly how he found himself so often in these unusual situations, then dismissed that thought for a more poignant one: What did the Rav mean? He couldn’t discuss it with Esther because then he’d have to tell her what he was trying to protect her from. And that he was not going to do. He’d just have to go looking for “good” on his own, whatever and wherever that was.
To be continued . . .