Victory Gardens – Chapter 92

Manny shares his worries with the Rav of the beit medrash where he learns. The Rav advise him to seek out good in order to protect himself from any bad occurrence.


It was a confused Manny who returned home for lunch from learning  that day, the Rav’s words ringing in his ears. Seek good. Do good. What did that mean? Where was he supposed to find good and bring it towards him? Did being more sensitive to Esther count as seeking good?

He thought back over the extras that he had done to make Esther comfortable in this new environment. He was particularly proud of the primus, which had been difficult to find and difficult to learn how to use. It pleased him that his efforts on Esther’s behalf seem to have truly pleased her so much.

But that was not what the Rav was referring to, he sensed. He interpreted the Rav’s advice to mean something he needed to locate and find outside of his circle of comfort, something more outstanding than the wholly-expected action of being sensitive to his wife.

He did not know what form the opportunity would take; he davened that he would recognize it when it presented itself.

In fact, he looked around a great deal now, even though it was for a different reason. He’d developed the habit of turning his head to look behind him as he walked, checking doorways, making sure there were other people around him, and  who those people were.

He didn’t know how the sinister men Jens had hinted of looked or acted or what they might do, and the knowledge that there was an unidentifiable threat somewhere out there was highly unnerving.

He’d like to be the man to say that he didn’t worry for himself, but the truth was that he worried for himself just as much as he worried about Esther. He was forced to stare straight into the face of his own lack of courage, and it was not a view he really wanted to see.

He came home to find Esther in a fine mood, having discovered the unexpected potential for a garden under the bramble of weeds that were in the back yard. She had been telling him about some sort of window garden she’d made at home, a “victory garden,” she called it, but he hadn’t quite understood — or listened carefully enough — to understand what she was getting at. But now, seeing her so happy over a potato, he realized that he only listened, really listened, to about half of the things Esther said to him, and of those things, he understood perhaps half. If moving to Eretz Yisrael only meant strengthening his marriage to Esther, then it was worth doing for that alone.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, wheels were turning and plans were being set into motion. Letters were being written and sent and the world was changing . Those who were on the top were now on the bottom, and vice versa.

In a modest apartment in New York City, a young man was experiencing cataclysmic change. Mutty’s world had narrowed down to one thing only: Papa.

He didn’t know why it had happened that way. He could have set up chavrusos for himself or gone to work in Manny’s printing plant, as Manny had planned.

Instead, Mutty was focused totally on his father, and on restoring him to his former vigor.

The doctor had come and examined Papa, and determined that there was nothing physically wrong with him, although if he remained idle and isolated his chances of deterioration were quite high. He had explained to Mutty and Mama that healing Papa from the stupor he had sunk into — and this outcome was by no means definite — would take time.

Beyond that discussion, Mutty had no experts from whom to ask advice. However, to his surprise, he found himself in possession of some deep inner wisdom he’d had no idea was there. He knew, for example, that he had to set up an inviolate routine for Papa that they had to stick to every day, no matter how Papa was feeling or acting. Papa had always kept to a routine, but it was nothing compared to what Mutty set up. This inner wisdom seemed to guide Mutty in everything he did, and while the results varied, his resolve remained. It was strange to find himself doing things he didn’t know he was capable of. It was like meeting someone who lived inside of yourself, a stranger you never knew was there.

Mama looked on with a bittersweet mixture of pride and sadness as she watched her young son take on such a large burden, but his shoulders seemed to broaden as he willingly carried the load. She cooked delicious meals for the three of them, and offered her own brand of silent encouragement.

So this was how things stood the morning the letter arrived. It was a regular morning and a regular-looking letter, but it was a harbinger of things to come. Had Mama and Mutty been aware of its import, they would never have let it sit, unopened and unread, for as long as they did.

To be continued…