• TABLE OF CONTENTS
HIDE
 Front Cover
 Front Matter
 Half Title
 Title Page
 Chapter I
 Chapter II
 Chapter III
 Chapter IV
 Chapter V
 Back Matter
 Back Cover






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The impatient sages
CITATION THUMBNAILS PAGE TURNER PAGE IMAGE ZOOMABLE
Full Citation
STANDARD VIEW MARC VIEW
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/AA00004599/00001
 Material Information
Title: The impatient sages a legend
Physical Description: 79 p. : illus. ; 25 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Lewin, Samuel, 1890-1959
Lewin, Jeremiah
Budko, Joseph
Publisher: Beechhurst Press
Place of Publication: New York
Publication Date: 1948
 Subjects
Subjects / Keywords: Hasidism -- Fiction   ( lcsh )
Genre: non-fiction   ( marcgt )
 Notes
Statement of Responsibility: tr. by Jeremiah Lewin; illus. with woodcuts by Joseph Budko.
General Note: Translation of Chassidische legende.
General Note: Autographed by the author on half-title.
 Record Information
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: aleph - 002795279
oclc - 05247884
notis - ANS3541
lccn - 48007594
Classification: ddc - 892.48
System ID: AA00004599:00001

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
    Front Matter
        Page i
        Page ii
    Half Title
        Page 1
        Page 2
    Title Page
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
    Chapter I
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
    Chapter II
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
    Chapter III
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
    Chapter IV
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
    Chapter V
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
        Page 56
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
        Page 63
        Page 64
        Page 65
        Page 66
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
        Page 71
        Page 72
        Page 73
        Page 74
        Page 75
        Page 76
        Page 77
        Page 78
        Page 79
        Page 80
    Back Matter
        Page 81
        Page 82
    Back Cover
        Back Cover 1
        Back Cover 2
Full Text
PJ
5129 .L47 L58 1948








)
the impatient sages


a legend by Samuel Lewin


THE
Impatient Sages
translated by Jeremiah Lewin illustrated with woodcuts by Joseph Budko
the beechhurst press: NewYork


Copyright, 1948, by Samuel Lewin
manufactured in the united states of america
designed by Sidney Solomon


the impatient sages




(Chapter One
Lhus did it happen in the days
long since departed, when the Jews in Poland were tenants unto the landowners, and were also the keepers of the taverns. Each nobleman, each landowner was monarch upon his own domains; he maintained his own militia, and was privileged to have his subjects flogged when they did transgress against him. The peasants were serfs. Poverty was upon the land, yet three small silver coinsnot quite half a Russian rublesufficed in those yonder times to feed a family eight days. A smooth-worn copper, which by long service had lost almost all likeness to money, paid for a quart of brandy; along with that, for the price of two groshie one bought a piece of mutton of three or four pounds; hardly did the tavern keeper notice the weight.
In those days the livelihood of the Jews in Poland depended upon the good graces of the landlords. Nevertheless those were better times than these. The Jew was the landlord's merchandiserhis commerce spread to Danzig, to Leipzig. And though he was merely a "Moshke," a mere Johnny Scrapeleg who needs must dance for the lord's amusement when such was the lord's whim, yet preserved he his shrewd and clever mind. The landowners traveled to the Rabbi and hearkened his advice. The Polish magnate, the nobleman, the ecclesiast wrote letters unto the Rabbi on many a difficult question, wrote concerning weighty astronomical problems or concerning a misunderstood verse of the Psalms. Often did it come to pass that Polish grandees held public disputation with some great Rabbi about divers pronouncements from that learned guide of holy living, the Shulchan
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The Impatient Sages
Aruch, in order utterly to prove unto the Rabbi that Jews do use Christian blood for their Passover Feastor else they argued the meaning of the numbers thirteen, ten, or three. In these arguments the Rabbis were most usually the victors, and oft therewith performed great miracles. But the Jews remained Jews as theretofore.
In those days the Jews in Poland did yet fashion their existence in such wise, that the struggle for subsistence meant not to them the purpose of their life. Learning was for them of prime import. Days and nights did they sit in the House of Study to learn; years did they spend with their chosen Rabbi. He was then that one power who knew how to draw all things unto himself. Whensoever he did greatly insist before the Almighty upon the fulfilment of a wish, he possessed the force to see his will through.
2/ AT THAT TIME, DURING A SEVERE WINTER, THERE
happened an occurrence which set all Crown Poland a-trem-ble, and perhaps even all the world.
It was in the month of Tebet, in December, in the season of bitter frost. Nor was the winter then as it is nowadays. The snow remained from Jewish New Year until the Feast of Passover seven months later, and often even longer. Year after year the Vistula River froze soon after Sukkoth, the Feast of Tabernacles, and freight wagons, drawn by six horses and laden with iron, salt, and other goods, rolled across the river. Atop the vehicles rode men and women: brawny Jews with beards and earlocks, belted and girted about and about, closely enwrapped in heavy furs, fur caps on their headsand the women solid like staunch liegemen, in high boots, coarse shawls around their heads; they drove across hither and yon,
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The Impatient Sages
and scarce felt that they went over water. It was a highway like all others, snowed under, and gashed by horses' hoofs.
During that month of Tebet, of December, there arose incredibly a fearful tempest that prevented all coming and going. Its fury was immense. Old folks marveled much and thought surely some foul play was afoot, they rumored that the winds had torn from their shackles in the land of the merciless cold. Roofs were carried away, houses tumbled about; people were hurled up on high and disappeared. No one could set foot out of doors, no peasant stirred from the village, nor ever the hungry crows upstarted all the day.
And therefore did great restlessness befall that learned Magian, the sage Maggid of Kosnitz. Kosnitz was upon one bank of the Vistula River and Lublin upon the other. And there in Lublin lived a Wonder Rabbi, the Seer Yaakov Isaac, the "Lubliner." Since neither railroad nor telegraph existed yet in that age of long ago, nor yet mail service, whosoever was desirous of sending a letter did so by messenger. And because the weather rendered impossible the crossing of the Vistula, the Kosnitzer Maggid was troubled, for he feared lest he receive not the letters from the Lubliner, with whom he was just in correspondence concerning a serious matter; the Maggid felt that the storm was malevolently intended against him: the powers above purposed to sunder him from the Lubliner, that there pass not between them the spirit of understanding.
3 ALL DAY THE QUARTERS AND PRAYERHOUSE OF
the Maggid were crowded with transient traffickers, men and women who had had to interrupt their journey because of the storm. Now, not only for the reason that there could have
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been no venturing farther whilst such winter howled without, did even the lowly wagoners turn in unto the Rabbi to seek warmth near the great stoves wherein the fire slackened not all day; nayfor that sole reason they could just as well have stayed at the inns, where they had indeed put down their baggage and stabled horse and wagon. Rather, all of them came in unto the Maggid because not one single Jew went through Kosnitz but would customarily go to the Maggid, time permitting. And no matter how savage the tempest, had its rage been yet tenfold, yet would it have stayed no one from making his way to the Maggid.
In addition to these newcomers, the Rabbi's chambers were already filled with Kosnitzers themselves who also had come because of that most unnatural storm. For, in that little town all manner of curious rumors were already heard. Wonders were recounted: how the wind had wanted to dash into pieces the house of a Jew but had not succeeded. And the Synagogue: the Synagogue was old, and one single thrust would have sufficed to overturn it, and yet had the wind not harmed it. It was quite apparent: the Maggid had had a hand therein.
Contrariwise, from the Churchbut recently built, tall and strongpart of the slate roof had been torn away. Much talk went on also touching the Maggid's restlessness. All the town knew that the Maggid was steeped in apprehension, and every one spoke of it. The Jews grew heavy with care and stalked about like spectres. Within the Maggid's quarters were warmth and quiet comfort, and yet did the wail of the storm afflict the spirits of all. Each in himself was afrighted because of the storm. Even the window panes quivered under the gale's wrathful onslaught when, screaming fiercely, he clutched at the shutters and with gruesome roaring assayed
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The Impatient Sages
to wrench them from their hinges. During such a moment of terror each one felt almost that an evil doom impended. All eyes fastened upon the Maggid's door which was shut throughout the day and guarded by the gabbi, the highest servant, that none enter therein. Whensoever he opened it to see whether the Maggid require him not, they all thronged around and lent ear to the proceedings, and he who stood nearest the door had to retell what he had glimpsed and heard. Thus was it all the day.
4 AT EVENTIDE, WHEN THE SUN DESCENDED BE-
yond the town and poured out a sea of blood 'round about, the womenfolk and some of the men fell to arguing about the redness in the sky. The women said that they beheld war, and from out the battles flowed blood all around; but the men asked who could presume to say what stern Judgment about this world had been passed in Heaven; perhaps only the Maggid, who had not been seen all day, had evoked it that the hapless decree had been stayed.
"So it is, so it is!" they all started up when they saw that the storm did abate of a sudden. "Yes, yes, the Maggid has brought it about," burst joyfully from their lips. "Yonder red is the spilled blood of the evil spirits who had intended to do wickedness." All of them were like newborn. The wind continued to fall, the sun had already sunk well beneath the town, and even the sky became paler and paler.
At that moment the Maggid's door opened, and the gabbi summoned the assemblage to the Minchah prayer, the evening service. All the Jews poured into the adjacent room; the more esteemed ones approached the Maggid to greet him, the women remained in their place. But the Maggid returned no
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The Impatient Sages
greetings, and the men who had surrounded him were left standing with tendered hands. The Maggid simply lifted the long brows which shaded his eyes and looked upon each one. The men withdrew.
The large eyes of the Rabbi peered worrisome and thoughtful into dark distances. Wordless he turned about and went to his prayer stand at the east wall.
No one dared move. The servant lit two candles, placed them in their candelabra upon the cantor's stand near the Sacred Ark, and the congregation waited. A worshipper with long beard went to the stand to lead the prayer. Piously and with even voice he commenced the offering chant, "And God spake unto Moses." The other Jews devoted themselves likewise to prayer. The womenfolk in the side room bent their headsa few repeated word for word after the cantor, the rest stood about like a dumb herd.
The dusk of evening darkened the sky. Cloud scraps bordered those red streaks which still remained. Later the clouds spread slowly across the sky and joined with one another. Night fell.
The prayer was ended. Soon the orderlies lit the oil lamps within the rooms the brightness grew. Now were they all of easier heart, the tenseness diminished; each one drew deeper breath. Several still stood with foreheads wrinkled and rubbed their hands, some smoothed their beards lazily, plucked out a hair or took their beards into their mouths. Others cast shy glances about the room. This one put a question to his neighbor, that one answered softly. Many sat down upon the long benches placed against the walls, and the rest gathered in groups of two and three, elbows leaning on the wall, and became engrossed in conversation. The Maggid himself took
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The Impatient Sages
a seat. He called the gabbi to tell him something, and straightway all sprang rigidly to their feet and watched. Like soldiers who are at ease during the momentary lull after assembling, carefree and relaxed, but as soon as the general summons his officers to speak to them, come again to stiff attention and pay close heed. When the gabbi went from the Maggid into another room they all remained standing as before, until the servant returned with a long pipe and handed it to the Maggid.
Thereupon they dared anew to sit and to talk in whispers. Whosoever had already been smoking, did now expel the smoke with augmented courage; but all looks still remained fastened on the Maggid.
The womenfolk within the adjacent room began to gossip, at first gingerly, gradually louder, as such is the custom amongst waggish women. Those near the window, looking out, did in their hearts praise God for the loving-kindness He had shown in abating the storm. Quietly they addressed their neighbors, suggesting that one could soon start out again, then, sharing all in one and the same talk, they drew together into one single knot. Little by little they dropped all restraint, as though they were in a bake shop, or at the butcher's, or on a market place; the door leading to the women's section had to be closed.
A tall Jew with blond beard and red face, with burning eyes and square forehead, beckoned to the Maggid. "Look," he pointed. Vast darkness reigned outside, heavy clouds hid the stars and the moon which ought to have been shining that night, for it was the season of the full moon. Only the white snow gleamed, deep covering the earth and still falling dense from the sky.
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The Impatient Sages
The Maggid sat, smoked his pipe, and breathed blue curls into the air, blue puffs which floated slowly up. He lifted his long brows, gazed at the door.
The door openedand a fur-wrapped something rolled in, like a heavy bundle. No face, hands, or feet showed, nothing but a white, snow-crusted heap that shuffled awkwardly along.
All remained motionless as under a spell, mouths agape and eyes staring. The new arrival stood still, and from his broad clumsy hands he slowly doffed the large, fur-lined mittens which, fastened by a cord, hung from his shoulders like two ewers of water. Then he began to discover his face which had been so tightly wound around with sackcloth that the head seemed wider than the shoulders. At long last emerged a peasant with drooping whiskers and hairless chin. His little eyes sparkled as though he had drunk brandy.
Instantly the entire room seemed filled by his presence; all the gathering surrounded him and stared at him. But he continued preoccupied, undid his furs, then his belt and his jerkin, and threw back the shaggy fur collar which had given him the look of a bear. He was truly like Esau, with a fur-lined cap on his head, and sweat-covered even as that other Esau who had come from the fields and had let Jacob pour red lentils down his gorge.
"I guess he's the Rabbiehh," said he, after his gaze, having mustered all, had remained fixed on the Maggid. "Yes, yes, he is," answered several Jews. The gabbi came forward demanding "What do you want?" "I got a letterfrom the Rabbi Lubliner," retorted the peasant and approached the Maggid who sat and stirred not. He waited for the peasant to put the letter on the table.
"Heretwo letters"and from the innermost depth of his
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The Impatient Sages
coat near his breast he produced a piece of paper in the which were enclosed the letters. He unfolded the paper and laid the letters before the Maggid. "Two letters," he began, "one for Sir Rabbi, and the other for Sir Rabbi Shmelke of Ritchevil." He stepped back again and waited. "I still got to go to Ritchevil today with the second letter." Ritchevil was a few miles from Kosnitz.
The peasant spoke half Polish, half Yiddish, as the Jews generally were wont to speak. He was already more Jew than Christian, with the exception, of course, that he was not really a Jew, but was possessed of a peasant mind and a peasant appearance. He had learned what the Jewish Law permitted and what it forbade; he even knew many Hebrew benedictions. Came Sabbath and the Holy Days, he knew exactly what he had to do in the Rabbi's house: he took the candlesticks from the table, made fire in the stove, straightened a candle which was not upright, or relighted it when it went out. Everything he did on his own, for he knew that it was forbidden to ask. His mother had served in the Rabbi's house as a girl. He observed the dietary laws, and although he was Christian yet had he steadfastly resisted all temptations and had never eaten pork, lest he desecrate the Rabbi's tableware. All Poles who knew him knew that he would not touch it, and therefore called him "Jew." When some Christians scornfully offered him a piece of pork, he would lash at them as only a peasant could who had nibbled from the Jewish spirit. Everything faded then before the eyes of his companions; they went away from him with downcast gaze, and all along the way they cursed in undertones: Jew slave. But he merely lifted his sackcloth coat and with his finger indicated his posterior. Then he resumed his tasks of
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The Impatient Sages
woodchopping or cleaning at the Rabbi's residence with peasantlike doggedness, grumbling the while: "Pshakreva dog's bloody curse on their headthey don't know that I'm better off here than with a landowner; I'm gettin' white bread all week, an' kugel, fish an' brandy on Sabbath."
The Maggid took up both letters, raised the long brows which shaded his eyes, and read the addresses. His own letter he put into a book which lay nearby; the other he left on the table.
The peasant stepped forward and picked up the second letter. He enfolded it again in its former wrapping which he still held in his hand, and restored it to his breast. Meantime he recounted the story of his journey.
"Oi-oi, what a trip," he suddenly let his hands drop. "That storm wasn't no ord'nary storm, that waspshakrev and a dog's curseyour God sure must have . ." The Jews opened wide their eyes. "I left Lublin Saturday evening," he continued. "Right after the Rabbi took off his Sabbath cap he called me in, gave me these here letters, an' told me to go. I walked the whole night, Sunday the whole day, Monday, Tuesday, till I got to the Vistula. An' therelike a bunch of devils the winds went crazy. I wasn't supposed to go back or hide myself. When the great Rabbi says to go ahead, you gotta do it. And if the black devil himself in person came after me, I wouldn't 'ave been a-scared. Because I know, when the Rabbi says: take the letters an' come back, so I know that I'll come back. If he don't say to come back I don't go, because then I know that it's bad. To hide on the way or go back, that ain't for me. You just can't do nothin' against the orders of your God. It's no use to hide. So when the winds got too rough, I just threw myself on the ground. I digged myself in the snow
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The Impatient Sages
and I held on. The storm tore down whole villages, carried away wagons and horses, everything flew awaybut I stayed. Once I thought the storm was gonna get me too. So I says to your God, says I: all right, so you're gonna kill me or drag me off somewhere. But lookee here, I've got letters from the great Rabbi Lubliner; the Rabbi sent me. And I take out these here letters and I hold 'em up. An' right away the wind began to whistle an' to yell like he had a thousand devils stuck in him. But I stayed right where I was."
The Jews felt themselves gripped as by some magic power which would lift them up. They scrutinized the man and saw that he was no mean peasant. Their fingertips trembled and their hair stood on end. At a stroke each one perceived something preternatural in the peasant. He seemed to them a hidden saint, at once very near and very far away. Imagination galloped at free reign, and they all believed that the peasant was no peasant, the storm no ordinary storm.
The Maggid removed the letter from the book and put it into his pocket. He had no need to read it; he knew its contents. All the day he had been full of cark and care, not because he had feared lest the messenger fail in delivering the missive in this weather, but because the storm had even dared interfere in his affairs.
Halfway through his tale the peasant suddenly broke off confused, for he felt the strange fire which flamed in the eyes of the Jews. He was afraid to go on talking. The Jews noticed this, turned aside, and edged away from him. The peasant started again, "But one thing, Sir Rabbi, I don't understand." He approached the Rabbi and demonstrated how he had grasped the letters when he held them up to the wind. "That's the way I had 'em: 'Letters from the great Rabbi Lubliner!'
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The Impatiefit Sages
says I. First the storm wanted to tear 'em out together with my hand and all. So when I see that it's gettin' worse, I put 'em back near my breast, and I got mad and I yelled: 'I have to deliver them the way I was told to!' An' then the storm stopped."
The Jews glanced at the Maggid, for they hoped to be able to divine something in his face. But his immobility only heightened the tension of the silence. Then the Maggid arose and turned his face to the wall. This sign sufficed for the man who had previously led the congregation in prayer; he went to the east wall and resumed the service.
J AFTER THE EVENING PRAYERS THEY WERE ALL
in an uplifted mood, as though a grave peril had been overcome. They brightened, their eyes shone radiant with joy-as though they were imagining that they had unexpectedly entered a hall wherein a wedding feast was being celebrated, to the which they themselves had been invited as guests. Their excitement vented itself in lively conversation; their eyes went from the peasant to the Maggid, from the Maggid to the peasant. Each one of them felt that something great had happened and that something else as great was imminent. For example that tempestit had lasted more than twenty-four hours, and yet had been subdued in a tricethere was something uncanny about it. Suddenly all saw that the sky had been swept clear. The clouds were fled, and the moonround and fullsailed on victoriously and proud. Never before had they beheld such a magnificent full moon and such a beautiful night. Millions of twinkling stars glittered and gleamed, beckoning to the snow which shone white on the ground and
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The Impatient Sages
roofs. It was almost brighter than day. Even the wagoners had undergone a transition. Worry no longer beclouded their brows, and they felt themselves bidden to that festive wedding spirit, somewhat out of place perhaps, but guests nonetheless. "Now we'll soon be able to continue on our way," said one driver, whip in hand, and approached a group of men who were in a state of highest agitation. But no one paid him any mind. No one had even heard his words. They had forgotten that they were on a journey and would soon have to start again.
"Oho," joined in another wagoner, brandishing his whip. Spruce and tall and broad of back, with a firm and blowzed face, brighteyed, sprouting an unruly black walrus mustache, and with a voice that volleyed through the house. "Outside it's brighter than daylightdo you see how it looks out there?" He lifted his arm and pointed his whip at the window. "It's a long time since we had a night like this." Those who were standing around had glowing faces and burning eyes. All crowded again about the Maggid to press his hand.
Leibele, the cloth merchant, a tiny young wisp of a man who had scarcely emerged from out the house of his father-in-law to step into life (hardly was the fuzz of his beard beginning to show), came, nay, flew in like a little bird. He was from Lublin, follower of the Wonder Rabbi Yaakov Isaac, and moreover the Rabbi's avowed favorite. His father and his father-in-law were also followers of the Lubliner. To this Rabbi came not only the Chassidim, who were the pietists of eastern Europe, but also many other pious ones from all over the world; and even other, lesser Rabbis, who had their own following in turn, came to him. Likewise did outstanding scholars and hidden saints and many who had barely heard
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The Impatient Sages
tell of him. But Leibele Clothdealer, whyhe was considered in the Rabbi's house as something extra special, he was allowed to jump at will on tables and benches. When Simchas Torah, the Feast of the Rejoicing of the Law, was being celebrated, or even on an ordinary Sabbath day when the Chassidim came together around the festival board he jumped over their heads, onto their shoulders, caring not whom nor where he hit. The Rabbi called him "my youngest"; others called him "Spring-birdie." His bodyweight was of no account. When he jumped on someone it was hardly felt. At the Rabbi's house he bobbed up in all nooks and corners, rummaged continually through all the chests and closets, and took whatever struck his fancy. He even joked with the wife of the Rabbi. Whatsoever he found, letters, manuscripts, everything, even the secret matters which no one else was permitted to see, he read them all; and when he had the notion he insisted stubbornly that the Rabbi disclose to him the latest secrets. The Rabbi knew that Leibele Clothdealer never breathed the least word of any of this.
At that very moment while he was forcing his way through the room, he was like pure fire and flame. He scattered the men apart in all directions, jumped over them, and flung himself before the Maggid: "Rabbi, I know, I know everything, but I won't tell." All stiffened as though struck by lightning. Their eyes searched all around as though to discover whence he had come. They could hardly believe that it was he who had spoken these words. In the tavern they had sat next to him without deigning to take any notice of him. Now they stood utterly dumbfounded. They looked at one another with searing glances, and felt as though a blow had at once extinguished all the lamps and plunged all into heavy darkness.
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The Impatient Sages
"If you know, then keep silent," said the Maggid to him with a lift of his eyebrow, while shaking hands with him and penetrating him with a look. All were a-tremble. "Tell the Rabbi of Lublin that I have received his letter, and that the storm accomplished nothing." Those present shivered head and foot. "Let him write to Rabbi Shmelke not to be a mule-head. The time has come." And both took their leave. By now no one was capable of clear thought. But the Maggid addressed the peasant and said to him, "Bring me a letter from Ritchevil."
"All right, Sir Rabbi."
"Tell the Ritcheviler Rabbi, that I am also still here."
The people hunched their backs, pulled their heads between their shoulders and groped their way to the door. The Maggid returned to his room; the others, still unclear about the significance of the preceding events, withdrew slowly, first the men, then the women. The chambers were empty. The orderlies put out the oil lamps . there was darkness.
W THE GROUPS SEPARATED OUTSIDE. THE KOSNIT-
zers went home; the merchants, men and women who had to continue onward, went to the inn where they had stored then-baggage; the drivers and the peasant went along with them. No one whispered even a word. Only the peasant muttered over and over, "Queerthat's what it is." The wagoners brought their horses, wagons, and sleighs out of the stables and began to harness. Soon baggage-laden men and women trudged out of the inn and climbed atop their wagons. Everything was ready for departure.
The horses stood and chewed their bits, neighed lustily and
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The Impatient Sages
shook themselves. The moon glided smoothly across the sky and illuminated the small town which seemed bedded in deepest slumber. The little houses leaned confidingly against each other like frightened children, as though they were still panicky from the tempest which had raged shortly before. A white quilt of snow covered the countryside.
"Hey what?" the peasant stood still. "Are we gonna go without a drop of brandy? That ain't Chassidic nohow. It ain't right to go on a trip in a night like this without a little drink-now after the storm that wanted to smash everything is gone." "He's right," called a Jew. "Of course he's right," echoed others. "Brandybrandy!" All started up like men waking from sleep and began to clamor for brandy, as though they expected to find therein the solution of all mysteries. Even those who were still completely dazed, mumbled hoarsely as in dream: "Brandy."
Soon the men were within the tavern once more. The women remained on the wagons. The drivers, the peasant-all drank each other's health. Then they arose and remounted their vehicles; the peasant jumped upon the wagon which was bound for Ritchevil, and away they went.
The horses, bellies filled and rested for twenty-four hours, galloped along and pulled so that the axles creaked. The snow scrunched beneath the wheels and runners, and sparkled and glittered in the distance like light-flooded diamonds. Everything crackled from the bitter frost. At the crossroads the vehicles separated and took to their several ways. Those going to Lublin followed one direction; those destined for Warsaw, a second; and those bound for Ritchevil, a third route. After a minute they could no longer see each other. The wagons and sleighs disappeared. Some were received by the
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woods which resembled congregations of tall-grown, praying Jews with long prayer shrouds pulled over their heads; others were swallowed by the night. For a while the ringing of the sleighbells and the rattling of the wagon wheels were still audible. And the sound carried far across the sleepy, white-bedded fields.
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Qhapter Two
AGIC BEAUTY GRACED THE night. The sky was deep and clear, the earth was downy-white. Over the snow-decked plains a million twinkling stars beckoned to the moon, and throughout it all twined the secret which had had its beginnings in the room of the Maggid: the tempest, Leibele, the peasant. And the sky, distant and black, kept the secret well concealed. The snow covered it. All of Nature breathed it: the fields, woods, sleeping villages, frozen ponds, winding roads, as though the night had whispered it to all of them, with the admonition to guard it closely. Lurking eyes spied furtively, seized and haunted the people sitting atop their wagons. Such was the night in the which the Jews had left Kosnitz. They drove over snow-hidden roads, past naked trees with branches like scrawny arms of skeletons, past woods whence puling ghouls of terror tenfold wafted. The horses stomped through the deep snow. Sleep fled all eyes. The drivers, giving their horses free reign to lumber on whithersoever they willed, pushed their hands into their sleevesthe right hand into the left sleeve, and the left into the righthuddled deep in their fur jerkins and covers, and pulled their caps far over their ears. The men deliberated once again on all the happenings of the previous day. The women kept their eyes closed in semi-slumber, swayed in unison with the wagons, let their heads droop, and awakened with a sudden jerk.
But then the drivers recommenced to spur their horses: "Giddyap there, hey giddyap!" The frost knifed across their faces. "Cold," rasped an elderly man on the wagon for
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The Impatient Sages
Ritchevil and yawned weakly. "Yes, beastly," chimed in others. "The frost is getting worse all the time." They fell to rubbing their hands. "It's not so much the cold . but . ."
"Heygiddyap!" the driver noticed that the horses almost stood still; he raised his whip, and immediately they bestirred themselves. The Jews also roused themselves. One word led to another, and soon a conversation was in swing. At first about incidentals, about business, about wheat and cornas such things usually go; but ere long the talk turned toward that which had all the time been pent in each single heart. They felt themselves eased as from a ponderous burden: since Kosnitz they had sat there in dumb silence as though even they formed part of that selfsame secret which encompassed that night.
-2 THE PEASANT, WHO RODE WITH THEM ON THE
same wagon, slept unperturbed and snored like a true Esau. He had been made exceedingly tired by the long traveling which was behind him, by the storm he had battled, but especially by the brandy he had drunk, and thus he had fallen asleep. All his incredible experience with the gale, which had tried to carry him off and to tear the letters together with his arms out of his body, and after he had cried out that he had to deliver the letters because they came from the Wonder Rabbi Lubliner, how the storm then began to yowl and to wince as though verily containing evil demonsall this experience did not really impress him to the extent of keeping him from falling asleep. All those things which he had heard and seen at the Rabbi's house, what were they finally any of his concern; was heafter alla Jew himself? And now did
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The Impatient Sages
the Jews who were with him on the same wagon come to realize that the peasant was nothing more than just a mere peasant whom the Lubliner Rabbi had sent out as a messenger with two letters. The one he had handed to the Maggid in Kosnitz, with the other he was riding to Ritchevil for delivery to Rabbi Shmelke.
Yet this their latest realization notwithstanding, the Jews one and all, from the very moment of boarding their wagons in Kosnitz right on throughout the whole trip, were still enmeshed in the spell cast by the great secret harbored and indicated in the manifold events of this night.
Gladly would they have understood the happenings in the Maggid's house, but there the mystery had pounded in their heads like millstones. Everything was muddled and plunged into error; no one could grasp a clarified thought. On the way, however, on the wagons, they were enabled to think with greater calm and cooler heads on the occurrences. But the more they thought, the less they knewthey foundered in a sea of thoughts, in a depth, an abyss, unfathomable like the night. Imagination bore them upward and revealed unto their senses momentous events, lofty ideas, and deep-hidden riddles.
J AMONGST THEM RODE A JEW WITH A LONG BEARD
reaching almost to his belt, with large, contemplative eyes and a high, broad forehead. Throughout the whole time he had gazed unconcernedly up to the sky; his neighbors on the wagonbench had remarked him from the very first. "Did you hear what the Maggid said?" he suddenly withdrew his eyes from the heavens to address the men.
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"How do you mean that?" they all started up as one.
"Yes, it is time ... he should not be spiteful . ." mused the first, again thoughtful, and turned his gaze anew unto the sky.
Now he attracted the general attention even more than before. They perceived immediately that he was no ordinary person.
"What do you think did the Maggid mean to say by his words?" someone ventured to ask him.
"Hmm . ." The Jew again lowered his upraised eyes and regarded his neighbors around him. "I mean that the time for our Redemption is certainly at hand. The coming of the Messiah .. but not by force . ."
The Jews pricked up their ears.
"I know the young man," continued the other. "That young man is from the congregation of the Lubliner Rabbi. Ere-whiles I did also pilgrim to the Lubliner Rabbi. i am Jacob Wolf from Ruboshov."
"Master Jacob Wolf from Ruboshov? Sholem aleichem peace be with you!" A commotion started on the wagon, numerous hands were extended to him from all sides. What a surprise! Reb Jacob Wolf from Ruboshov was on their wagon! Who had not heard of hima scholar, one of the saints! They all crowded closer.
"Today I am traveling to the venerable Ritcheviler," said Jacob Wolf, and stopped short as though he had given himself away with these words. "And indeedi am now going . ."
"Because of that?" they all jumped up.
"i have something to attend to there," he smiled modestly and fell silent; then he resumed, "i am no longer pilgriming to Lublin, because i don't approve of the way in which the
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The Impatient Sages
Rabbi insists before the Almighty. A man must not presume wilfulness before the Lord God. When the time is ready the Messiah will come and we shall be redeemed. Today is probably not yet the proper moment, and that which comes before its appointed time is not goodnonot even desirable. I admire the old Ritcheviler; he does not insist, he does not overrate his powers, but he places his trust in the Most High. Whatsoever He does, is well done."
"Yes, yes, that's the way it is," offered someone.
"The worthy Ritcheviler has faith in God," Jacob Wolf turned to him. "He believes that when the proper time has come it cannot be delayed even a single minute. There have been cases already when great saints were insistent before God and God gave in for their sake. Then things became worse than they had been and the saints had to plead with the Lord to restore the former conditions. Saints have the power of insistence: 'The righteous decideth, and God fulfilleth'but it is not permitted, and it remains a play with fire. The Kos-nitzer Maggid follows the lead of the Lubliner Rabbi, but both of them areI don't dare say itthey are bothGod forbid! Satan is misleading them. And perhaps the world still does not deserve it. The world must first become worthy, all of one inclination: either all without blemish orGod shield us!all tainted with sin."
4 THE JEWS WERE TOSSED FROM ONE EXCITEMENT
into a higher. Each one felt the hammering of his heart; their heads became giddy as previously in the Maggid's house when the young man had pushed them aside pell-mell and had flung himself before the Maggid, saying that he knew it
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The Impatient Sages
all, but would not tell a word. Now there fell a renewed hush, as though the people held their breath, and the secret of the night waxed great and greater, and rolled its slow dull weight upon them.
"We have heard about the Lubliner Rabbi," two men probed their way out of the spell; they spoke in low and flustered voices. The one was tall like a tree trunk, broad-shouldered, with ruddy, obstinate face, wide-open eyes, and black beard; the other was a simple monger.
"In our town," the monger became talkative, "I am from Chelmin our town they tell a lot about the works of the Lubliner Rabbi. He likes to be headstrong. But they say that he carries out everything that he insists on, because it lies in his power."
"And what power," they all became lively again. "The Lubliner Rabbi . they say that he believes that the people should be stubborn in everything."
"Hee hee," broke in a curious old recluse with high piping laughter; he sat opposite Master Jacob Wolfa spindly little man with a sparse goatee and a sickly complexion, with dim eyes in the which, however, there still smouldered an old fire. "Hee heeI went through Lublin one day," he began in shrill falsetto voice, "and stayed there over the Sabbath. I wanted once to spend a Sabbath with the Lubliner Rabbi. Hee heeI still remember it like today. On Sabbath, during the meal, the Rabbi recited Torah. He started with the creation of the world. The world, he said, came into existence because the Almighty had insisted upon it."
Reb Jacob Wolf stared at this odd fellow. His eyes engulfed him as though to drown him in their depth. The other one continued, "The Spirit of God, said the Rabbi, was upon the
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The Impatient Sages
waters. Chaos and void was in all parts. And God said: Let there be light! And there was light. God had seen that the chaos and void would remain eternally darkthat the light could not come about all by itself. Therefore He gave His command, and it was."
Bleak uncertainty took hold again. The words oppressed their brain like heavy thundershowers. Even Reb Jacob Wolf lost his composure. He did not know what had come over him doubt awoke in his heart. Perhaps . but that 'perhaps' entered not yet into his mind, and his pulse raced because of the doubt in his heart. He bit his lips, his head spun. A thousand thoughts rushed through his brain. But in a sudden flash it was revealed before him like infinitudes of light: "No man is like unto the Most Highno, not even the holiest of men."
When this had burst from the lips of Reb Jacob Wolf it seemed as though the night split asunder and departed. The Jews had heard nothing, for they fancied themselves in Heaven watching the Lubliner Rabbi standing before God to wrest from Him the Redemption of the world.
"Noit is not true!" yelled Jacob Wolf. He divined the thoughts of the other Jews; he saw that they were now on the side of the Lubliner Rabbi and that they counted upon that same "perhaps" which only a minute ago had stirred also in his mind. He cried out with all his might, "It must not be! It must not be!" A deathlike silence fell. . .
"You must insist! You must insist!"
At first no one knew whence this shout had come, but soon they saw the wagoner turn around, holding his whip. All were struck into bewilderment.
The wagoner had not been able to endure that silence any longer. He felt that if all kept still after the words of Reb
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The Impatient Sages
Jacob Wolf then the latter was proven right, and not the Rabbi Lubliner. And he did not want that; he wanted the Lubliner to be right. When the wagoner had regained his self control he turned to Reb Jacob Wolf, already almost apologetically, "I don't know you, Sir, I've never heard your name. I'm just a plain mandon't know how to study. I'm a driver, and I know that my horses don't run if they don't get the whip; they drag and they crawl along, and you can freeze before getting to the next inn. Seethey were almost going to stop again. Hey you! go to thegiddyap there!giddyap!" He raised his whip, stood up, and with all his strength lashed the horses as much as ever he could: "Hey! Hey! giddyap!" The horses bolted like lightning. "You see, Reb Jacob Wolf, you can't do without a whip."
5 TO THE JEWS AND TO JACOB WOLF IT SEEMED
that something in their hearts was shattered. They sat dispirited and crushed. Again everything became nebulous. But differently this time, because everything had once already been revealed in one single flash, each one for himself had been enabled to look clearly and deep into the core of events and to understand them. But the stupendous prospect of cognizance still dizzied them so that they could not collect their thoughts, much less retain them. Everything in their brain was like a mixed multitude, heaped up as a towering mountain or thrown down as a terrible bottomless valley. One desire inspired them all: might the day pass and the week, and might time hasten on. Reb Jacob Wolf again clung to the sky in his thoughts; his high forehead seemed higher, his eyes wandered aimlessly. The wagoner whipped and drove his horses with-
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The Impatient Sages
out mercy until they fairly flew along, their coats steaming, and slavering at their mouths.
After a few hours' ride they saw that day was already breaking. The stars went out, the moon grew pale, impenetrable darkness reigned. Gray morning light came and grew stronger until the fog lifted and day appeared. In the morning twilight the tops of the cloister spires, the houses, the entire town became distinguishable. At long last the wagoner was inside the town.
"Ritchevil," exclaimed someone, as though awakening from sleep. "YesRitchevil!" and they stared astonished. The women roused themselves, sat there bleary-eyed and with rattling teeth. "Really Ritchevil," someone scratched herself and yawned. "Ritchevil, Shmitchevil," growled the wagoner in annoyance down into his beard; his anger had not yet subsided, he was ill-tempered and freezing. Drowsily the men regarded the houses which they passed, the new-fallen snow, and the people who were crossing the streets.
6 "WHOA . ." THE WAGON PULLED UP BEFORE A
house and the womenfolk descended.
"This is the inn," said the wagoner, pointing at the white house with its opened, green shutters and its frozen window panes which were now thawing and sweating from the warmth of the rooms. A gently curling streamer of blue smoke rose from the chimney. "Soso, an inn, really an inn." They stood around the wagoner and could still not quite regain themselves. "An inn."
The wagoner unharnessed the horses. He saw the whip marks which he had raised on their backs. Each welt had the
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The Impatient Sages
thickness of a sausage. The sight did much bewilder him.
The townspeople were already up and about. They were on the way to the Synagogue or already returning thence, their prayershawls and the leather straps of their ritual Tephillin under their arms. Warmly-dressed women carried baskets of baked goods, carried slaughtered geese whose blood-streaming necks hung down and dragged the beaks over the ground, leaving red trails on the snow; others carried milk in cans and apples in baskets; and they offered their wares for sale from house to house. Girls miserably wrapped in rags carried metal trays with fresh butter pretzels and cried: "Fresh beigels, folks, three pretzels for a copper!"
To this the snow did sing its airs of lightly crinkling melodies. The wideawake town activity contrasted with the tiredness of the arrivals. The driver tied the feedbags around his horses' heads and entered the tavern. Soon all the travelers followed him in. Only the peasant remained on the wagon and snored. Had it not occurred to a Jew, who had his hand already on the doorhandle, to run back and to wake him, the peasant would have gone on sleeping until frozen and dead. In the tavern they became changed persons. They warmed and revived themselves and remembered the business deals for the sake of which they had come. Soon the women were jabbering like geese who had been untied and let out into the yard or whose feeding troughs had been replenished with fresh oats. Reb Jacob Wolf went up to his room; the driver collected the fares from his passengers. As soon as the peasant had warmed himself somewhat he went about his errand of delivering the letter.
36


Qhapter Three
^ T THE HOUSE OF THE OLD
Ritcheviler the doors and windows were still shut, albeit no one slept any longer. Even though the Ritcheviler had attained a hoary high age, yet did he arise every night at midnight in order to say the prescribed prayers, and thereafter returned no more to bed. Throughout the rest of the night he sat and studied, and when day began to dawn without, he donned his prayer shawl and wound the Tephillin straps about his arm and forehead, said the first prayers of the morning ritual, and then devoted himself to the Psalms. His spouse, a weak and age-broken woman, God-fearing and free from all blemish, was wont to arise ere dawn in order to bring her husband a glass of warm milk. She guarded him like the very apple of her eye. Refuse as ever he might, she relented not and took his sin upon herself: he had to drink. Also the servant was already risen, and lit the fire in the stove. It was dark in the rooms; only there, where the Rabbi sat at study, burned a wax taper. The servant and the wife stole about on tiptoe, cautious, lest a loud step disrupt the exalted silence. No outsider was permitted to knock on the door ere the shutters had been thrown back, and even if a life were at stake. When a woman travailed in difficult child-bed labor, or when a sickness had suddenly struck, the one sent to fetch the Rabbi had but to step up to the house and to lean against the wall; that sufficed the old Ritcheviler knew instantly that someone stood without. Thus, when now the peasant rapped upon the door the servant was taken aback and went in unto the Rabbi to ask his advice. The Rabbi ordered admitted the person who had knocked. ,
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The Impatient Sages
2 "GOOD MORNING," IT RANG THROUGHOUT THE
house even before the servant had opened the door. "A letter from the Rabbi Lubliner!" The peasant entered into the house, stomping his heavy boots so that the walls were startled out of their tranquillity.
It was a habit of the old Ritcheviler immediately to open each letter that was brought unto him and straightway to read it. He never would depend upon his prophetic spirit to foretell him the contents. "Man must not cleave in faith unto himself," he would ofttimes say. "A man is no more than a man, he has nothing whereon to pride himself. He must not presume to know aught, for he knows nothing, and he cannot know anythinghe is devoid of understanding; understanding is only with Him Who is eternal." Therefore he opened the letter as soon as he had it from the servant and read it word for word, halting now and then, and at last remained sitting as though he had received a message of bereavement. The Lubliner Rabbi had imparted to him that he had already begun to take action.
Rabbi Shmelke asked to have the peasant shown in to him.
3 THAT THE LUBLINER HAD ALREADY TAKEN STEPS
and had thrown the Heavens into agitation, that much was known to the old Ritcheviler. His enlightenment had come from on high. But he expected that the Lubliner would rue and desist while time still allowed. Now, after the other had written that he would not rest short of final achievement, the old Rabbi knew that matters stood badly.
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The Impatient Sages
Once more the old Ritcheviler's thoughts dwelled on the question entire: perhaps the Lubliner was in the right after all; the Dispersion had already lasted so long that there remained no more strength to endure it longer; it became ever worse; no one was penitentand who could foretell, the world would yetGod forefend!plunge completely into the pit of pollution, and then there would not remain even one single saint whose merit could still save the world. The Kosnitzer Maggid has also joined forces with him; now they were two, perhaps they understood it better, perhaps they perceived more. The Lubliner Rabbi was, after all, a man of no mean accountbut to insist before God, no, that was not permitted. He jumped up from his seat and cried, "The Redemption must come by itselfby itself! Tell your Rabbi," he addressed the peasant, "that i know full well what he is capable of. The evil winds will be mastered, but the sun will also fall victim. He will failthat he should know it!"
The peasant shook with fright. The old Ritcheviler, standing there, resembled a lion. He was of so tall a stature that all had to look up to him. His eyes burned, his glance was keen, his countenance forbidding. His silver beard which covered his breast like armor quivered and heaved in righteous rage. The peasant left; the servant opened the window shutters.
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Qha-pter Four
A -H^FTER THE JEWS HAD COM-pleted the affairs for which they had come to Ritchevil, they departed thence. One went homeward, another to his next destinationthe peasant back to Lublin. He came first to Kosnitz and went in unto the Maggid, imparted to him all that had befallen at the house of the Rabbi of Ritchevil, and then continued onward without more ado. He crossed the Vistula River and was soon in Lublin.
Kosnitz was seething like a boiling kettle. Whosoever had seen the peasant the first time, ran after him now when he was the second time come. The news spread throughout Kosnitz that yon peasant was here again, and all the town, big and small, ran into the streets to catch a glimpse of him. And because he was no longer seen the unrest mounted, forasmuch as every man was able to offer a different explanation for his speedy disappearance.
And alike in Ritchevil, the same excitement had already taken hold. All the town had soon been informed of everything; men and women, youngsters and oldsters, stood in clusters in the streets and ceased not from exchanging secrets. Each one reported differently, and that he had seen and heard every detail himself. In the Prayerhouses before the evening service and during the morning ritual they left not off telling one another divers rumors. One said he knew all about such matters from a book but that he could not quite grasp the ultimate meaning; someone else recounted having at night espied all manner of curious signs in the heavens, but had been afraid to go on looking; a third one, that he had read it in the Rabbi's face; and so on. The people became spiteful
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The Impatient Sages
and divided, they shouted, grew angry and embittered, railed and fell to quarreling. This one said so, that one exactly contrariwise. Everywhere could be found those who were for and those who were against. Those who were for knew not for what, and those against knew not against whatbut all took sides. There needs must ever be two camps. Said this one so, then that one said the opposite, and thus was disorder stirred up in all parts.
The larger and the smaller Prayerhouses were constantly crowded to excess. Men forsook their business, teachers their lessons (the boys had meanwhile been excused from their Cheder-school and roved about the streets), craftsmen stopped their labors. At home the food stayed on the tables and grew cold. The husband did not even return from the House of Prayer any more, and wife and children waited long, until they chose to eat without the master of the house. Not until night did the men come forth out of the Prayerhouse, upset, bathed in sweat, and hoarse of voice. More than one had in that manner fallen severely ill and had died, because he had been "for" or "against." The women argued with their husbands, at every instant they wanted a divorce, but then there lacked time even for this. And if they did indeed go up before the Rabbi, then did they both stand there before him in tongue-tied confusion, the man looked at his wife, and tears started from out their eyes. Wherefore and why? they asked each other and returned home. And moreover, even the womenfolk were already spending half their days in the streets a-tattling; wheresoever they met, in a bake shop or in a store, there was strife and canker amongst them, even as amongst the men. One maintained this, a second that. One retold her husband's words, another cried counter, saying
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The Impatient Sages
that her husband knew better because he was more learned. The former shrilled, "No, my husband knows better, he can study better." And when a man did actually come home at mealtime he found not his wife within the house and the food was unprepared. Everything stood topsy-turvy.
No one took heed that it was the season of winter, that there was freezing and snowing. People stood in the streets with open coats, sweat running in streams; and it was thus not alone in Ritchevil nor in Kosnitz, but throughout the length and breadth of Poland, in all towns and villages thereof, and in all inns and mills thereof, and in all its far-scattered places, in fine, wheresoever dwelled even one single Jew, there was the same turbulence. There was never a one could tell the pith and marrow of the matter, nor cared to know. What availed it to know? And after all, who could really have known? But if a man saw people standing and talking, then he joined them, bent his ear, inquired, nosed and probed this way and that, andlo!he knew! Thus was he enabled to deliver unto others, these retold in turn, and it made the rounds. In very sooth, the Jews traveled abroad not alone for the purposes of businessthey went in order to tell and to carry back wayward tales. After a few short weeks all Poland became in this manner pregnant with processes, the which no one could rightly illumine; and the rumors went beyond the boundaries of the land. That winter season passed swiftly, although on the other hand it did then seem that the days themselves would never close and the nights last into eternity. Each and all awaited the Feast of Passover in the month of Nissan, which is the month of April. For if something portentous is to take place amongst the people of the Hebrews, it will of a surety take place in the month of Nissan.
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6 THE POLISH FOLK, THE PEASANTS, LANDOWNERS,
nobility, burghers, began to direct their attention toward the Jews in order to learn what was happening. They could not understand it: the Jews were absent from all the country fairs; and the peasants who had come to sell their grain or flax or other produce could find no buyers and had to carry all their goods back home. Nor did the Jews come into the villages, and whatever was put up for sale began to rot and to spoil. The granaries on the estates remained filled with grain and no man came to empty them thereof. So fared it also with the crafts. Trading and craftsmanship were in those days exclusively in the hands of Jews, and these attended not to their affairs: their arms failed them and their heads thought not. The peasant could find no craftsman to fashion him a pair of boots, a coat or a hat. When the bed at home went out of joint or the table or bench out of kilter there was no one to be found to right the damage. Conditions became unbearable, everything halted; rage seized upon the Polish grandees and bitter vexation upon the people. It was noised amongst the Gentiles that the Jews were up to something. Each knew a different story. This one reported to have seen of a night a white-shrouded Jew in a forest, conversing with Heaven; that one told of having met a number of Jews, how they did jump and bay at the moon to ask questions of her; and suchlike were there rumors aplenty. Actual dread of the Jews befell many Poles. Like a wall there arose between them this mighty, this awesome mystery, robed and hidden in veils of phantasy.
Thereupon the landowners foregathered with one of their renowned bishops who dwelled upon the banks of the Vistula
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The Impatient Sages
River between Pulav and Kazmierz upon Mount Wissoka, in order to find advice on how to deal with the Jews.
3 THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS SAT THE LAND-
lords together and pondered and found no solution. But then one landowner had a notion that the Jews might possibly be awaiting their Messiah, for it was known to one and all that the Jews had been released from bondage in Egypt at the time of the Passover Feast; but others considered that it could not be even so. The Jews had no Moses anymore and they would never be set free again. Their God would have nothing more to do with them, forasmuch as they had sinned a grievous sin against Him in the killing of His Son; and therefore were they damned to abide in eternal Dispersion.
And they continued thus deliberating point for point until a likely solution was found: all the Rabbis were to be sent for; they would expound the import of these occurrences.
Thus was it done. Heralds were dispatched throughout all Crown Poland, and the Rabbis came. But they asserted to know no answer. Then the lords were enraged and shouted, "What means this? You know naught of the doings amongst your own folk?" "Nowe know it not," the Rabbis answered.
Then waxed the lords most wroth, and summoned the chiefest Rabbis. And there came the saintly Kosnitzer Maggid, the hoary Ritcheviler, and the Wonder Rabbi of Lublin, Yaakov Isaac the Seer: he was tall, gaunt, and pale; his eyes closed, but when he opened them they darted flamesthey were unisoned with Yonder Worldmystic. A little gray beard had he, and earlocks down to his breast. He wore white hose and pointed shoes. His shoulders were round and stooped as
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The Impatient Sages
though he bore the burden of the universe. In constant agitation were his hands, as though endlessly searching Heaven for somethingand his feet, as they would constantly hurry somewhere. Upon their entering, the lords rose to their feet respectfully, and only one of them dared ask, "Surely it is known to the Masters that which there is amongst their brethren?"
"Yes." The Lubliner stepped forward. "The Messiah is cominghe must come."
The lords bowed courteously. "Your Redeemer?" ventured one timidly.
"The Redeemer of the world!" was the Rabbi's short and sharp retort.
"God grant itamen," responded all and sat down again. Then they warmly shook hands with the Lubliner Rabbi and went their several ways. Now each and every one knew that the Messiah would come.
THE RABBIS WHO HAD BEEN FOREGATHERED BY
the Polish nobles upon Mount Wissoka had not returned home immediately. Instead they had first met together with the Rabbi of a little town nearby. The assemblage was called by request of the Rabbis who had known naught of that which had been inquired of them during their meeting with the Polish lords. Even the old Ritcheviler had by all means concurred in this request. He maintained: inasmuch as each of them had alreadv heard of that which was imminent they should be told all the details and their advice sought. The Lubliner was aggrieved. He felt that it would work him harm to have to reveal everything. He resisted this undertaking determinedly, but could not prevail. With but one single ques-
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The Impatient Sages
tion the old Ritcheviler had overwhelmed him.
He had asked the Lubliner, "How do you consider this? i am older than you, you are only a man, i beg of you a small favor and you refuse to grant my petition. How then can you demand of God something so great and still expect that He will grant it you?"
Thereunto the Lubliner could make no answer and gave in.
At the assemblage were also Leibele Clothdealer from Lublin and Reb Jacob Wolf from Ruboshov. They looked at one another but spoke no word. The Lubliner also remained silent, nor answered the questions which were put to him. Completely broken in spirit he started homeward; he did not take a wagon, but walked afootand no one knew which way he had gone. Not that the old Ritcheviler had frightened him that he might fail; not that the assemblage had made him realize that he and the Kosnitzer Maggid stood quite alone against the dissension of all others. Those scruples had no power to unnerve him. No power whatever in the whole world could have diminished the Rabbi's burning desire for the coming of the Salvation. But what the Lubliner had become aware of at the assemblage, and what had caused him so much pain, was that there indeed the actual full extent of their Damnation had been borne home to him. He perceived that they had already sunk so deep into the slough of Damnation that the people had ceased wanting to be upraised. Not that the time was yet too earlynay, it was already too late. This realization weighed upon his heart like heavy stone, and he tore his hair.
"Oh woe, woe," he cried, "the whole world is so very bitterly accursedeven the saint is bereft of his will for Salvation. For if he were to see all the depth of the Damnation he
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The Impatient Sages
would not then remain idle and wait upon the time." And he ran into the woods, stood before a tree, and prayed, "Lord of the Universe! The whole world is in Damnation, the whole world! Yeaeven the most righteous! Woethe most righteous! Thou must redeem the world!"
In solitude he left the woods and turned again homeward.
5 EVEN NOW ONLY A HANDFUL KNEW THAT THE
Messiah was expectedthose were the Rabbis who had met there and the Polish lords. Amongst the Gentile populace the rumors continued to wag; and yet could not one of them broach the essence of the matter. The Poles again sought the friendship of the Jews and asked them what was going to happen.
"The Messiah is coming," answered the Jews, albeit they knew not themselves how it would be. "Our Rabbis, the Lubliner Rabbi, the wise Maggid, the old Ritchevilerthe signs in the heavens ... in the stars ... in the books . ." The Poles looked at them and nodded their heads. "Soso."
It was not until the approaching of the Purim Feast (the which Israel celebrates in honor of Esther and Mordecai, who had saved them from the evil intent of Haman, the killer), not until the season when the snow melts and the sun climbs higher into the sky, that the attitude of the Jews grew solemn. Each one became engrossed within himself; the school teachers recommenced their lessons, and the men studied again in the Houses of Study. They all learned, all of them, one and the same text: the Talmudic tractate of Rosh Hashonah, the Feast of the New Year, whereinon the tenth and eleventh pageis recorded the disputation between the Rabbis Eliaser
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and Jehoshuah of blessed memory, concerning the time of the Redemption; the one claiming that the Messiah will come in Tishri, in the month of October, and that there would be signs half a year prior, in Nissan, the month of April; and the other claiming the opposite.
When the children came home from their Cheder-school, they told their parents that which they were learning. "Certainly, it is true," said each father to his child, eyes shining, "in the coming month of Nissan, just before their year's Passover Feast." The children became pensive and pictured the Messiah in their imagination.
In the Houses of Study the scholars of the Law sat before their Talmud, but ever and anon they peered out of the windows and up to the sky, and creased their brows. In his own fancy each one attempted to imagine the splendor of the Messiah. The simple man who knew not how to study became devout. He began to see to it that the codes and rituals were strictly observed in his home. At break of day, even before there was light, he already hurried to the Prayerhouse to recite Psalms, to pray, to do charitable deeds according to his ability; the women began to look more closely to themselves and to fulfill unswervingly the three commandments which pertained to them in particular. One and all sensed the solemnity of the times. Throughout towns and villages traveled preachers, and every evening preceding the prayer services they sermonized and admonished the people to repent. One and all sensed the imminence of great events. The sky had already cleared completely and was of a deep blue color, the sun was risen high, the first day of Nissan approached, and the Jews were prepared. The twitter of a bird, any untoward noise, a gust of wind, or a loud report
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made them all prick up their ears. During the whole two weeks from the first of Nissan until the commencement of the Feast of Passover, no Jew left his home town any more. People stood in the streets and gawked at the sky. The women left off scrubbing and polishing for the Feast. Young men who considered themselves erudite and who believed themselves capable of explaining the heavenly signs, went stealthily to the woods behind the town evening after evening and remained there many hours. Upon their return, they told the town what they had seen: how they had espied the visage of Jehoshuah Ben Nun of blessed memory in the moon, and in the heavens the symbol of a division; like a white serpent it had suddenly cleft the sky and had then immediately disappeared. Up in Heaven above there was excitement; angels were noiselessly hurrying hither and thither; the Deity was holding the crown wherewith to adorn the Messiah; and the Messiah himself was standing ready and in white raiment, white angels with white wings at either side of him to be his guides. And they told of many more things which they had not even been able to see. Their neighbors heard of all this and passed it along; the youths became renowned, people stared after them and considered them as the first to have been found worthy of encountering the Messiah, and they showed them respect.
6 ON THE EVE OF PASSOVER, WHEN EVERYONE
sat down to the Seder festival and to the meal, there was anxiety in all the homes. The Ritchevilers, who at first had been opposedduring all the preceding time they had held fast to the opinion that nothing contradictory to their own Rabbi's words would be accomplishedeven they had come
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The Impatient Sages
to believe before the Feast that something was bound to happen; and with wildly beating hearts they sat down to the Seder meal and service. Each person was afraid to glance out the windows, for if it were to be accomplished in that very instant he would not have the strength to contain himself. At the passage: "Pour out Thine anger!" when the door was to be opened as prescribed, there was none with the courage to go. They were stifled with fear, their blood congealed in its course, and their limbs were smitten motionless. The master of the house himself had to open the door. He gathered all his strength, edged towards the door, and flung it wide open: "Greetings and Peace with Him who comes!" Thereat none could hold himself upright.
The following day each one recounted that which he had seen: how an old man with silver beard had enteredhis countenance radiant with joy, and smiling happy like a little child.
Everyone knew for a certainty that that had been the Prophet Elijah.
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(Chapter Five
^HE SUMMER WAS EXCEEDING BLEST
that year. The ears of grain were heavy on the stalks. The fields glistened in all colors as though wishing to please the sun, or man. They arrayed themselves in soft, green stuff, decorated themselves with red, yellow, blue, and white ribbands, and with many colors which shone in the distance. And the blending of those many colors: stripes longwise and stripes broadwise, round and speckled and mottled, gold and lilac, with flame-tinted bowsaltogether a ravishing sight. Beguiling fragrances went out from them, sweet odors rose for miles around. Day after day the sun caught them up in his fiery arms, caressed them with the caresses of love, poured gold-dust upon them and garbed them in airy fluff like pearl-bedewed tresses. The fields grew more beautiful from day to day, increased in grace and loveliness, and soon ripened the fruit.
And the trees also put on their green silken cloaks, adorned themselves with vari-hued blossoms and buds, they bloomed and conceived fruit. The woods, awakening from the long, heavy sleep of winter, shook the snow crust off their boughs and dressed themselves in green fineries. They crackled and stretched themselves clear to the sky and stood as though absorbed in thought. They gave their phantasy free play, surrendered themselves up to their dreams, and infected others with their dreaminess. Millions of birds flew up from their branches and with gay twitter and singing spread out in broad flights over God's free nature.
The ponds threw off their cumbrous icy load, and it sounded
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like the murmuring of prayers and the babbling of little children. Tiny frogs jumped from the water and croaked. Bees hummed all around and were gorged with honey. The kine, not wanting to be outdone, joined the concert with their lustiest mooing and lowing, and their udders were firm and tumid with milk. Forsooth, the earth looked not at all like a world of human beings but rather like a brimming paradise wherein God Himself prepares the table before His children, bidding them be merry and without care; they had but to open their mouths, and roasted pigeons would come flying. A veritable haven of endless bliss! The eyes of the peasants shone good-humoredly, landowner and grandee went about with broad smiles; and each Jew was joyous in his heart, for that the Messiah would soon comeand each looked toward his Redemption.
-2 THE SUMMER WAS HOT, AND FROM EARLIEST
morning until late in the evening the sun glowed and poured fire over the world. His fire consumed all the clouds, save the little silver ones which hid near the horizon. There was never any rain during the daytime, only at night: in the middle of nightthe sky is clear, deep, and blue, the stars twinkle and sparkle, they dance like angels in a ring and move their white wings; the blue angel has hushed God's world into the deepest slumber, no breath is heardsuddenly thunder and lightning, dense heavy clouds race across the sky and blot out the stars, and the earth falls into darkness. Driven by gales, clouds of sand whirl up high into the air, rotate like frenzied Roman candles and beat against the window panes. The lightnings hurl their flash into the houses and awaken all the people.
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The Jews jump up in direst panic. And when the thunder rolls and crashes ... then, yes, then quite a few topple out of their beds, and many carry on like madmen. Instantly they dress themselves and make ready. Each one looks after the fringes of his prayer vest to see that they correspond to the ritual code, dons his Sabbath robe and velvet hat or skullcap; some even take their prayer shroud. They bid wife and children dress, and then stand there expectantlynow without fear, and inwardly firm. "Who will be afraid before the One, the Lord of the world," says each man to himself and to his wife, "before God the Creator of the world, and before His thunder and lightning which announce the coming of the Messiah. We must be strong and await our Salvation joyfully." And thus they stand and wait.
But outside it commences to rainand they see themselves betrayed. When the earth and trees have drunk their fill after the day's thirst, and when everything is soaked, then the rain stops. The clouds depart, the stars shine once more, and all resumes its former state: the same quiet night, the same vast blue sky, and the same tranquillity. But the Jews, their wives and children, remain clothed for the rest of the night. In the morning all the world breathes long and deep; earth, trees and grass are bathed clean and purified. The sun is still more radiantly beautiful, and it is impossible to look into his light. Only the Jews, their wives and children, live seemingly transported to another world.
After such a night there happened something unbelievable; it was unearthly and weird. Rosh Hashonah was at hand. The sun was shining brightly, when of a sudden pitch darkness fell. People could hardly see one another. The Gentiles knelt down and crossed themselves: the Messiah of the Hebrews
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is coming! Some of the Jews thought it was already evening, but could not understand it since the day had only just begun, in fact, many had not yet broken fast. Scholars still sat and pored over their tomes in the Houses of Study. Craftsmen had just taken their tasks to hand and were caught unawares: the tailor while threading a needle, the cobbler hammering the sole of a boot, the cabinet maker while sawing a board. All were overcome by terror and awe. They feared to leave the room, yea, even to glance out the window. They cowered and huddled, held one another, dared not move. Children clung to their parents, parents embraced their children. But the pious Jews plucked up their courage, went into the street, and saw how two celestial faces encountered each other in the darkened sky.
They rushed to their Rabbi, and the whole town was in turmoil: the Messiah comes! The Messiah! The Rabbi, the students of the Law, aged men, women, all who had just been afraid to move, youths, girls, children, even the sick, all swarmed out into the streets.
It happened alike in every town. Everywhere they saw two faces encountering each other in the sky. In every town the Rabbi spoke his grace and benediction, for that it had been granted him to live to see this day, and all the Jewswan and more dead than alivefelt the quaking of the earth beneath their feet and the stirrings of the dead. Each joined hands with the others, they tucked up the hems of their robes, and waited for the peal of the Messiah's trumpet. The whole world will fall to pieces, this sinful, darksome world, and a new world will be born, a clean one and resplendent!
But this phenomenon did not last long either, and soon they saw themselves betrayed once more. It became again as bright
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as theretofore; and it was not until the people had regained calmness that they realized they had witnessed an eclipse of the sun.
Be all that as it may, that summer was accounted the season of the Messiah. Shortly ere the month of Elul, the which is the month of September, the old Ritcheviler had given in to the Lubliner and had written him of his agreement. The joy of the Lubliner was indeed great, and they threethe Rabbi Lubliner, the Kosnitzer Maggid, and the old Ritchevilerset about to hasten the advent of the Redemption. Soon it was called out in all Synagogues and Houses of Prayer: let each Jew be prepared, let him do penitence and seek the forgiveness of his neighbor, and let there be unity amongst all.
3 THE GREAT HEAT OF SUMMER WAS FOLLOWED
by cooler weather. The air was changed, and the sun ceased to glow so torridly and to climb so high into the sky. He waxed calm and thoughtful, left off being so passionate as during his youth just after the Passover Feast. His rays were also changed, softer, more tender, no longer so wilful and unbridled as at first, but rather modest and dreamy. Winds blew oftener and rawer. The evenings were murky and the nights were cold. The peasant had already reaped all the bounty of his harvest from the fields and had stored it in his garners. The fields were bare and wore a sad ugly expression like a girl whocruelly robbed of her hairshamefacedly hangs her bald head; or like a mother whose child dies while feeding at her breast and leaves her emptyhanded and with uncovered breast wherefrom the milk still oozes drop by drop. The fruits were plucked from off the treesthe limbs and branches were
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plundered. Sadness enveloped nature. In the Synagogues sounded the Shofar, the ritual ram's horn, and grave concern was written on the faces of the Jews. Their gaze became strange and glassy, revealing their somber mood; and when the time was come for the first Slichoth prayers of expiation preceding the High Holy Days, then each Jew took leave of wife and child and wended his wav to his Rabbi. This one
J
rode to Kosnitz, that one to Ritchevil or to Lublin, according to his custom, each one to his Rabbi. But in that one year the most pilgrims traveled to Lublin.
4 JEWS CAME TO LUBLIN AFOOT AND IN WAGONS,
across mountains and valleys, on footpaths and highways, traversing moss-clad woods and fertile fields which were transected by two sister rivers, the Vistula and the Warta. Along one side of the whole length of the way the pilgrims were accompanied by the Vistula River's prattling wavelets-like graceful children telling enchanting tales from ancient times, tales about Polish knights, about bewitched princes whose desire was toward the daughters of the Jews, about Casimir the Great and the lovely Esther (she had married him in order to be able to help her Jewish brethren whom in those days the Polish nobility made grievously to suffer), about golden suns which bathed their rays in this very stream, and about many pleasant matters more. On the other side they were pursued by the rustling waves of the Warta River, the Vistula's contrary sister. Whereas the Vistula is quiet like a child, kind, gentle, and good, the Warta is ill-tempered and sharp-tongued like a witch, ever complaining, and twisting like a venomous snake. Her rustling tells about dreadful black
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heavens, about enthrallment and chains, about gallows and henchmen and murderous robbers, about raging sovereigns who mistreated their peoples gruesomely, about Russian Muskovites who put everyone to the blade when they plunged into Poland; and always the blood had flowed into the Warta River, wherein also girls had been hurled alive because they had not let themselves be ravaged. Everything did the Warta swallowand is not sated yet.
Three days and three nights traveled the Jews in then-wagons, walked the pilgrims afoot, over highroads and byroads, across hills and vales, until they came unto a high mountain before the town, atop which was the old Jewish cemetery with its tombstones bearing weather-gnawed inscriptions; there reposed the last remains of great Jewish sages, such as the "Iron Head," whose word alone once made a church to crumble. It was at this cemetery, then, that the stream of Jews halted a few minutes ere pouring into the town.
5 SOON THEREAFTER THE ARRIVALS THRONGED
all the alleys of the Jewish ghetto, making it resemble an encampment of an army of hundreds of thousands. The streets of the old Polish town Lublin were turned black; but into the residential section of the Polish nobility the Jews were denied access. The streets there were spacious, brick buildings and honorable monuments were to be found therein, as well as massive walls which were decorated with pictures of armored knights on warlike steeds; there also stood the ancient castles with their secret dungeons whither the insurgents of later times had fled to hide themselves; and there as well the town hall with its white griffin and the two uplifted
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halberts. In front of the two iron gates of the Jewish ghetto stood Polish sentinels with drawn swords, guarding lest some Jew seek exit. The ghetto alleys were confined, narrow, and dark, the houses poverty-stricken and rotting to ruin.
In one of those alleys, called the Rabbi Street, opposite an old Synagogue, stood the ghetto's only stone house, encircled by a broad gallery roundabout; it was the dwelling of the Rabbi. The house had a large courtyard, and in this yard stood the Prayerhouse of the Rabbi, the ritual bath, and the kitchen for the Chassidim who came pilgriming to him. At each season of the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur there was erected in the yard a second Prayerhouse of wood, that all who came unto the Rabbi might pray therein. But for that particular Rosh Hashonah no second Prayerhouse was built in the yard. Rather, the whole court itself became one large Templeyet notwithstanding even that, the Jews who had come to the Rabbi in Lublin were so numerous that the entire court did not afford room for more than one tenth of them. All the alleys were overflowed, everyone pushed the man ahead of him, and all tried to move forward. One could see nothing but girded silken robes, black beards, and dark dreaming eyes which looked out from under high hats. The white high foreheads and the pale intent faces were like white flakes in a dark night. No one spoke a word, and the awesome, respectful mood of the Eve of New Year hovered in the air.
6 NEW YEAR'S EVENING FELL, AND ALL HURRIED
again to the house of the Rabbi. But the street in which the Rabbi dwelled had been already long overcrowded by the Jews native to that section, and resembled a veritable sea of
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heads. All eyes were turned toward the stone house with its broad, encircling gallery. No one could move another step forward, each clung to the man before him, and the thousands of separate persons appeared like one single body. And upon this living sea floated the Rabbi's house. The other, smaller houses had been completely submerged in this flood. Within the Rabbi's courtyard, however, there was no more pushing, because there they were already verily lying one atop another. The staircase railing leading up to his house had been torn off and now swam on the heads of that multitude as though upborne by rocking waves.
Night came, and in the House of Prayer the cantor began the service. The Jews became silent and serious. They opened their eyes wide and strained to hear; but only those who stood nearest the House of Prayer in the yard were able to hear the recital at all; those farther offin the adjacent and neighboring streets (for the Jews had filled all the side streets)heard nodiing and could not have known whether the service had already begun. And yet they prayed, one and all; for when those in the Prayerhouse had started, the nearest ones heard and likewise began; then it passed on from neighbor to neighbor in turn, even out into the street; then on from street to side street and fartheruntil all, all of them were caught up in prayer. The Rabbi prayed, the Jews in the Prayerhouse, in the courtyard, in streets and cross streetsall as one man, all with one voice they prayed. They began with the cantor and ended when he did. All united. That which was in the mind of one was in the minds of all, and that which was perceived by one was perceived by all. The thoughts of one were the thoughts of all, and what one felt, all felt. Theirs were not ten thousand thoughts and ten thousand feelings, but only one
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single thought and one single feeling. And the same vision was disclosed unto all of themall beheld one and the same face: the likeness of their Rabbi whom they envisioned in Heaven, standing before the Lord and demanding from Him the Redemption of the world. God sat upon His golden throne, a crown upon His head, very stern of mien. Before Him was an open book. A voice sounded. Angels stood, trembled, ran back and forth, brought souls before God that He pass judgment upon them, and then led them thence, presented scrolls of protocol, held speeches, accused, defended, made entries in ledgers; one could hear pleading and crying, even as in any earthly courtroom.
Meanwhile the cantor had finished the main prayer and waited for the Rabbi. The congregation waited. They waited a quarter hour, half hour, a whole hour . the Rabbi had still not finished his prayer and stirred not. First he held his eyes tightly shut, then opened them wide and stared. All stood still and watched. One hour . two . three. Someone became tired and yawned. The Rabbi moaned. The people trembled, again forced their eyes open, creased their brows, and stood upright again. Soon there was nothing more whereby to distinguish the congregation from the Rabbi; like him they were hushed . left off breathing . gradually quieter and still more quiet.. calm and soundless .. finally utter silence of death. The candles burned noiselessly. Their little flames flared up and bowed down, drew into themselves, and remained standing like thoughtful persons. And one single bodiless spirit wove itself through all this gravelike peace.
Of a sudden, a candle flamelet fell a-dancingtic-a-tic, tic-toetwisted and twined, became small and flamed up anewthen another, and a third, and several at a time. By
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now the candle flamelets were quite audibletheir burning and dancing, their noisy leaping and swaying. A man sighed . another . several. The Rabbi began to waver, to bend tortuously, and to sink down. He moaned, twisted this way and that, flayed his arms, roared like a lion, and pounded with his fists against the wall. But no one there could hear or see this any more. Their ears were shut against the world, and their eyes stared vacantly on darkness. Each one felt himself borne upward . flying higher, ever higher . beyond the clouds . still higher, into the last Heaven. And the same vision again: the Rabbi standing before the Lord, and insisting upon the Redemption of the world. But now also the Kosnitzer Maggid and die old Ritcheviler, all three before God, demanding the Salvation of the world. Behind them thousands of Jews, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, a host the which no eye could scan. God was again seated upon His throne, but He was sorrowful. He was surrounded by angels more numerous than before, and they looked upon God and upon the Rabbis, but divined not the meaning of all this. God heaved a troubled sighand a storm ran through the Heavens. Evermore angels came before God and magnified His praises and the glory of His name. But God deigned no answer. The angels regarded one another with questioning glances. Closed was the ledger, the scrolls laid aside; silence reigned. The angels, who had been fetching the souls and leading them thence, now stood idly by. God judged not man any more: He now sat in judgment over all His world. The worldHis worldwas before Him, and He had to pronounce judgment, whether to release it from the Damnation or no. But God knew not what to do. Even the old Ritcheviler who never had opposed God's will, even he stood now before
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Him and demanded the Redemption of the world. All three gave assurance that the time were come, that the world be not made to wait any longer. And the Allknowing One, the Creator of the universe, was reft of advisement. He turned to His angels to question them. And they answered, all with one voice, a mighty chorus: "Redeem the world, redeem the world, redeem the world!"
Suddenly chaos and turmoil and dreadful wild storm, howling, raging, whistling and 'mid thunder and lightning all the devils of Hell vaulted in: the angels of iniquity, Satan, the accusers, Lillith and Asmodeus leading the charge. They took the Heaven by assault, spread out their black wings and plunged into darkness all the heavenly host; God, His ministering angels, the Rabbis Lubliner, Ritcheviler and Kosnitzer, and the Jews alsoall plunged in darkness. They surrounded God and besieged Him, that none might come near Him. They began their hellish tasks of destruction, extinguishing the lights and drowning the universe in foulest blackness. At the same time they spat fire, gnashed their teeth and hurled lightning bolts from out their horrid eyes; their glassy eyes bulged out of their sockets. Gritting their teeth of steel, they vomited lurid flames, and their tongues darted full length from out between their ponderous jaws like sheaves of flame thrown from volcano cratersyea, greatly did they seek to strike terror in the hearts of all. But the angels feared not. They left not off attending God and protecting Him like the very orb of their eye, lest the creatures of Hell seize Him to drag Him into exile, even as they had seized the world. Had that come to pass, there could no more have been even the slightest thought of salvation. The angels know that the spirits of Hell lie in ambush for God, and therefore they protect the Lord
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God from eternity to eternity and wage battle against Hell. Satan's brood puts out the candles, and the angels relight them as fast, becauseknowing that Hell loves darkness they will not suffer darkness to be. And when the press of battle goes too strong against them, the angels summon the sun for help. Against the sun the spirits of Hell are powerless and must flee from before him. The sun they never can extinguish.
Throughout all the time whilst the black shadow of Hell's demons spread its evil influence over the Lubliner Rabbi, the Maggid and the old Ritcheviler, these three were powerless to act. They could not pray and could not voice their demands, for the visage of God was removed from before them. The Lubliner Rabbi had battled against this from the very first, he had beat about him with his arms in order to dispel the darkness; he had yelled and beat his fists in fury until his strength had failed and his legs refused tiieir office. Then had he begun to groan and to sink down.
Meanwhile daylight came. The angels brought the sun whose searching light fell amongst the hellish fiends like firebrands of confusion and sent them sprawling in mad disorder. The Rabbi Lubliner jumped up, he realized that it was day, and he cried out a loud cry, "Yisgadal v'yiskadash, glorified and sanctified is He," thus finally closing the main prayer. All the gathering, even the cantor, were startled into wakefulness. They saw that it was light, and those who stood in the streets beheld perturbed a bit of sky; they froze and shivered in the cold. The sweat, which covered them still from before, had chilled and dried; their feet were numb and lame, their heads as heavy as the dullest lead, and the last drop of blood was pressed from their hearts. No one knew where he was. Illness
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embroiled their bowels, their throats were gripped in a stranglehold which stole away their breath, all was dark again before their eyes, and their knees buckled. But the cantor sang "Yisgadal," and all the Jews within the Prayerhouse joined in the song. The Rabbi beat the tempo with his hands, and he danced, and those who crowded round the Prayer-house did likewise, they beat their hands, they sang and danced. The song grew louder, rang out into the street, and whosoever was near falling down, heard and stood up, by unseen hands upheld. Then they took up the song in turn, beat time with their hands, and danced. And as from one single person rose the unity of their song, of their timebeat and their dancing, and thus was their prayer concluded.
Afterwards they shook hands and wished each other the granting of their supplications. No one sat down to eat, for it was day and withal time to say the morning prayer. The additional prayer was said, the Mussafprayer: therewith the struggle of the night before flared up anew. The stalwart Rabbi resumed his fight, again confronted God with his demands for the Redemption of the world, and waged renewed war against Hell. Just so did the Kosnitzer Maggid and the old Ritcheviler. But daylight made their struggle easier. Whenever the Rabbi was most sorely harassed, he himself would lift the Shofar, the ritual ram's horn, to his lips and blow in mighty blasts "T'kioh, Sh'vorim. T'ruoh, T'kioh," the four sacred calls of the Shofar. Then were the spirits of Hell distraught and scattered into flight. And once again rang out the cantor's "Yisgadal"victory, victory was achieved.
Immediately after the service the Rabbi sat down to table in an uplifted mood. The assembled, crowding around the long boards which were being laid by the orderlies and officials
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of the Synagogues, came not so much for the sake of eating, but because each single one of them yearned to partake of the high teachings of the Rabbi from his own hallowed lips. And when the Rabbi gave account of all the arduous fighting which he had had to withstand in Heaven above, each gaping listener dropped his spoon and the bite stuck in his throat. Then bowed the Rabbi his head and raised a piteous sigh, "We are not yet at the goal; there is still much to do until all the devils and evil spirits are overcome and thrown to the ground."
And sadness redescended upon them.
/ RIGHT AFTER ROSH HASHONAH NEW MASSES OF
ominous clouds flooded the Rabbi Lubliner's sky and swallowed his hopes for timely salvation. Violent winds raged with overwhelming suddenness and prevented all coming and going. Strong trees were uprooted and branches flung fitfully into the air. Here was a hurricane the immensity of whose terror dwarfed the storm of the previous year. It was absolutely impossible for any Jew to reach the Prayerhouse for his devotions or the reciting of Psalms; no, not even during the Ten Days of Penitence between New Year and the High Holy Day of Atonement could they attend the urgent Slichoth prayers of expiation. The Lubliner realized the peril, realized that the evil spirits possessed the field; and he was deeply grieved. Soon the three Rabbis had to take counsel how to quell the winds. Try whatsoever they would, nothing availed. The Jews fell under the spell of distressful anxiety. Dark despondency transpierced them and stole the light before their eyes. Who had ever heard of such an outrage!on the ten supreme Penitential Days! One should come cleansed
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before God's judgment seat, and now one could not even reach the Prayerhouse, and of all things during the decisive period preceding the Redemption.
The host of pilgrims had not quit Lublin after Rosh Hashonah; instead they attempted at night, when it was time for attending the Slichoth prayers, to make their way to the Synagogue, unmindful of the storm. But they had hardly moved a step when the vigilant swift tempest pounced upon them, they were seized as by claws that strove to abduct them. They were forced to stop short, to stand stock stillthere was no advancing, no retreating. Anyone who dared even a single small step risked his life thereby. Was someone's cap torn off his head, he could not follow after it. They were robbed of breath as by a choking hand. The darkness hung heavy and limp. Amidst this danger the pious and determined Jews bethought themselves what had best be done. Someone said, "Let us go in the faith of the Lord," and the rest tried to advance with him, but had to halt immediately. Finally they agreed upon the following solution: each one tied his cap down on his head by means of his scarf, lay flat on the ground and crawled hand and foot all the way to the Prayerhouse. On the way, however, more than one of them was hit by a falling rafter or a brick which the wind was hurling from somewhere, and not a few arrived for the Slichoth service battered and with bloody head. But arrive they all did. Yet when the Rabbi beheld the Jews bathed in blood, great and righteous rage welled up within him: whatthey are fighting with weapons, throwing stones, hurting sons of Israel on their way to prayer! He snatched up his stick and dashed outside, and wielding his stick like a sword, he hailed down furious blows all around him until the wind surrendered. The Kos-
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nitzer Maggid did likewise with his scarf and the Ritcheviler with his belt. At long last the storms abated in all places, and the Jews went unmolested to the Prayerhouse.
8 THROUGHOUT THE TEN DAYS OF PENITENCE THE
Jews everywhere had been truly contrite, had fasted, purified themselves, and consecrated their souls to God. On the day which preceded the High Holy Day of Atonement, after having spent a wakeful night praying, they had all gone to the bath early in the morning in order to perform their ablutions, only to return thence immediately to the House of God. Throughout all that day their restlessness glimmed in their eyes. Each hurried to the other to implore his forgiveness in case he had wrought sinfully or unjustly against him.
At eventide, when darkness came and daylight took its rest, long wax tapers were lit in every house; amid tears each pressed his loved ones to his heart. The window shutters were put up, the doors bolted, and they went to the prayer of All Vows, the Kol-Nidrei prayer. With them went the womenfolk and the grown-up children. In the houses were only the very small children, and the somewhat bigger ones who had to watch them, and the lighted candles. Through the streets hurried men and women, without shoes, their faces tear-stained, and whenever they met they blessed one another and broke into renewed sobbing. The fear which troubled them spread far and wide, inundated towns and fields and woods with nameless dread. The affrighted peasants kept close within their huts. Clouds devoured the darkening skyevening became night.
In the Houses of God hundreds of candles burned, but their
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flames appeared different than other times. Their flickering betrayed suppressed excitement and mysterious foreknowing of great coming events. With strangely spiteful force they pulled themselves erect and pointed upward as though to indicate that up on high all did not go aright. All the Jews were wearing white robes, and their prayer shrouds were pulled over their heads; they tossed in anguish during the prayer, hearts were pounding. The walls looked on with fearful amazement and the air was charged with panic and fright.
9 THE RABBI LUBLINER's PRAYERHOUSE WITH
the yard around it and the streets and sidestreets resembled from afar a foam-decked sea heaving up and back with pinioned power, heaving amid stormy lashings 'neath dark-boding skies.
Out of the windows of the light-flooded Prayerhouse flowed brightness. Within, before the opened Holy Shrine, stood motionless the Rabbi, completely covered by his prayer shroud as were he a white mountain.
Three raps sounded from the gallery loft, and all stood still. Tremblingly, as though undecided, spoke an unseen voice, "Light shineth for the righteous, and for those of truthful heart shines joy." All stood transfixed in awe.
After the Torah scrolls had been carried around a number of times and had been replaced in the Holy Shrine, the voice began anew, "With the knowledge of the Almighty and with the knowledge of the congregation . ."
All breathing stopped.
The cantor started to intone the Kol-Nidrei prayer. The candleflames became as one single fire, and the fire grew
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The Impatient Sages
smaller . ever smaller . until barely a glow was left . And darkness spread throughout, and from the darkness uprose visionsvisions of time long ago.
Caves wherein staunch men of Israel sought refuge: heroes, martyrs burst the chains to which they had submitted, threw off the false oaths which had been forced upon them. And another scene: funeral pyres, ravenous flames; God's faithful ones leapt into the fire to be consumed for the glorifying of His Holy Name. The executioners imparting death decrees, and the henchmen ready to cast the victims to the flames, scarlet-cloaked and with flushed facesmerciless murderers, cold fire in their eyes and the cross in their handsall these were left standing shamed and scorned.
And still more scenes, one succeeding another and another, until at last they vanished and all was as it had been afore. The candlelight reared afresh, and the cantor ended with the closing words of the Kol-Nidrei prayer.
After Kol-Nidrei the heaving sea tossed, raged, and roared with overnatural strength: the outcry of a mighty host burst forth from its long night of bondage, breaking forth to shatter one wall after another, one barrier after another, until at last it completely freed itself. In the Heavens above all was in turmoil. There stood they ready, the camps of angels and of devils, even all the fiendish demons of Hell and their leaders, Lillith and Asmodeus. God's Word was hovering in the air. And One Word, held back by Him since the first morning of Creation, will resound with terrible reverberation and will crush all those who knew but heeded not nor understood. The great, the bitter Truth will ring out from His lips.
But meanwhile throngs of angels were locked in wrathful combat with the devils' multitude. The world quaked to its
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The Impatient Sages
very core. The forest wailed, the storm-winds howled, the oceans clamored with tempestuous tongues. The fishes woke in fright and fled. The Rabbi Lubliner, the hoary Ritcheviler and the Kosnitzer Maggid took the Heavens by assault. And before their shouting and their praying the devils toppled as though smitten by fierce-burning coals. The cantor sangthe war seemed won. The devils in their plight seized upon the help of fire. One Jew's prayer shawl was set afire by a candle-pandemonium broke loose within the Prayerhouseother Jews left off praying to rush to his rescue. They tore the burning robes from off his shoulders and trampled the fire underfoot but just therein lay the devils' gain. And thus it wavered all the night. A gain for the Jews defeated the devilsa gain for the devils defeated the Jews. The weapons of the Jews were potent prayers, the weapons of the devils' cohorts, firebrands and storm. Evermore robes went up in flamesfinally they put a house on fire: they upset a candle that had remained alone in someone's dwellingan inferno was unleashed. Whirlwinds hurled the flames into the nearby housesquickly grew the frenzied blaze. The Jews had to abandon their prayers in order to do rescue work. The Rabbi saw their case, that it was sorely straiteneddeviltry was the stronger. Fire and wind were withal mightier weapons than prayers alone.
Next day the Rabbi fought no more, he could only whimper in his praying like a little child. The Jews were totally humbled and crushed, no longer able to pray. Their strength had been spent in fighting the fire at night. In the fire they perceived God's punishment for that they had been stiff-necked, saying "Where is our Salvation?" Insistence before God is not permitted. The cantor was like one touched by death, and was barely audible, so still he prayed. He merely
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The Impatient Sages
twitched his lips like a fallen warrior who, having been left behind in the field, invokes God in his last lonely hour of need. The crowd resembled sacrifices on a slaughter block, bound, defenseless. Their eyes turned unto Heaven yet their glassy stare . their hearts were full of quiet weeping . quiet . quiet . Thus passed the day like the last moments of a dying hero.
An hour before the coming of night, while the sun was preparing to descend and darkness was drawing nigh, while many candles had already burned away and the last remaining ones looked like forgotten orphansyea, then did the vanquished sea upsurge once more with sudden start to rage anew. Yea, like a fast-bleeding Bon who tries his strength once more before his death, even so did the Rabbi spring up again with his remaining strength, shouting, praying, and beating his fists against the wall, against which he had pressed his forehead all the day, he tried once more to overpower Heaven. The cantor commenced the closing N'ilah prayer, and the congregation joined with vigorous voice.
One could sense that this was the ultimate minute in the which was to be sealed what had been recorded all day. When the words came, "Father, King, destroy the sharp edge of Thy Judgment Word," then burst it forth like peals of thunder, like outcry from a million doomed that yell with all their strength: Tear up thy terrible decree. Thereafter fell they silent, and strengthless uttered not another word. The final word, "Set Thy seal," was left entirely unsaid. In that selfsame instant arose God from His holy seat. Like unto rolling thunder was His Divine Pronouncement:
"Too numerous are the sins of man that I might prevail against them, even as man can naught prevail against the
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The Im-patient Sages
devils who are so numerous because begotten out of those same sins. In vain will they fight whilst they yet commit sins. Two devils they may conquer, but thousands more will emerge from their sins; thus will they ever do battle against themselves. And also their penitence availeth naught. Eternally and forever will they languish in Damnation, because eternally will they sin, even as long as they cease not from fashioning new doctrines whilst refusing to keep My Law which I have given unto them when I did create the world, in order that it may be free, even until the day when I shall make it utterly to vanish with all inhabitants thereof and all their sins."
When the Lord God had proclaimed these words, an angel recorded them and sealed them. The cantor closed the prayer in a pain-fraught whisper; the Jews parted and dragged themselves their several ways, down-smitten and with drooping head.
JO THE FOLLOWING DAY, AFTER THE HOLIDAY,
many of the Jews left for home. Whosoever stayed behind, stalked about in bottomless dejection and had lost his head. The Rabbi Lubliner had again locked himself into his room and no longer wanted to see anyone. No, not even during Succoth, the Eight Day Feast of Tabernacles, nor yet on Simchoth Torah, the Rejoicing of the Law. The Chassidim, who had been wont to celebrate these festivals with gaiety, wandered about like hapless shades.
But on the Day of the Rejoicing of the Law they could no longer hold themselves, and they assembled at the Rabbi's house. They tore open the door to his room, were lively, and
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The Impatient Sages
tried to enliven also him. Brandy appeared on the table, and they pledged a toast to their Rabbi, "A long life to you, Rebbe!" The saintly man looked pale and changed. His eyes, which had always burned like fiery coals, were now extinguished. At the table he sat listless and did not seem to know that it was holiday. But meantime his guests fell into joyful abandon. Another toast: "Long life," and still another one and a dance flared up. Leibele Clothdealer, the "Pet," the "Springbirdie," he was there too, but he was also changed. He was lifeless like his revered master. The Chassidim danced ever more merrily and lively and with ever greater fervor, and finally they swept the Rabbi along. At first he did not feel himself dancing, but suddenly he opened his eyes: he was dancing. Without breathing, without stopping, he was dancing. Soon he closed his eyes again, his face was white, white as Deathhe was dancing. Dancing wild, dancing Death's dancedancing, dancing. Anon the scared Chassidim stopped abruptly, they wanted to hold the Rabbi, but they dared not approach him. The Rabbi kept dancing and dancing. Through the room, out onto the gallery, into the little tabernacle that had been erected there, back into the room and out again. Suddenly a scream, all stood aghast: out on the gallery the wind had torn the Rabbi's mitre from his head, the Rabbi tried to snatch it and plunged over the parapet. And the Chassidim within the room saw how white angels descended and outspread their wings that the Rabbi fall not to the ground. Yet when they went outside to bear him up, he was dead. There was not any bruise upon his body, yet he was dead.
The Kosnitzer Maggid knew of the disaster straightaway. He was just in the procession of the Holy Scroll which is part
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The Impatient Sages
of the Simchoth Torah ritual, and let the Scroll slip from his grasp. He understood the significance thereof immediately, and raised a desolate cry, "Men of Israel, we have lost; Rabbi Yaakov Isaac the Seer from Lublin is no more."
And the Kosnitzer Maggid spoke not another word to the end of all his days.
On the day following the burial of the Lubliner Rabbi, funereal black clouds enveloped the sky; all Israel observed the seven days of mourning and wept and sorrowed like orphans for their father. Also the Gentiles wept, and the sky was dissolved in tears.
The tempest redoubled in fury and made ready for a long-some and distressful winter.
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