: S. LIBIN
The seventy-year-old Reb Shloimeh's son, whose home was in the country,
sent his two boys to live with their grandfather and acquire town, that
is, Gentile, learning.
"Times have changed," considered Reb Shloimeh; "it can't be helped!" and
he engaged a good teacher for the children, after making inquiries here
"Give me a teacher who can tell the whole of their Law, as the saying
goes, standing on one leg!" he would say to his friends, with a smile.
At seventy-one years of age, Reb Shloimeh lived more indoors than out,
and he used to listen to the teacher instructing his grandchildren.
"I shall become a doctor in my old age!" he would say, laughing.
The teacher was one day telling his pupils about mathematical geography.
Reb Shloimeh sat with a smile on his lips, and laughing in his heart at
the little teacher who told "such huge lies" with so much earnestness.
"The earth revolves," said the teacher to his pupils, and Reb Shloimeh
smiles, and thinks, "He must have seen it!" But the teacher shows it to
be so by the light of reason, and Reb Shloimeh becomes graver, and
ceases smiling; he is endeavoring to grasp the proofs; he wants to ask
questions, but can find none that will do, and he sits there as if he
had lost his tongue.
The teacher has noticed his grave look, and understands that the old man
is interested in the lesson, and he begins to tell of even greater
wonders. He tells how far the sun is from the earth, how big it is, how
many earths could be made out of it--and Reb Shloimeh begins to smile
again, and at last can bear it no longer.
"Look here," he exclaimed, "that I cannot and will not listen to! You
may tell me the earth revolves--well, be it so! Very well, I'll allow
you, that, perhaps, according to reason--even--the size of the
earth--the appearance of the earth--do you see?--all that sort of thing.
But the sun! Who has measured the sun! Who, I ask you! Have you been
on it? A pretty thing to say, upon my word!" Reb Shloimeh grew very
excited. The teacher took hold of Reb Shloimeh's hand, and began to
quiet him. He told him by what means the astronomers had discovered all
this, that it was no matter of speculation; he explained the telescope
to him, and talked of mathematical calculations, which he, Reb Shloimeh,
was not able to understand. Reb Shloimeh had nothing to answer, but he
frowned and remained obstinate. "He" (he said, and made a contemptuous
motion with his hand), "it's nothing to me, not knowing that or being
able to understand it! Science, indeed! Fiddlesticks!"
He relapsed into silence, and went on listening to the teacher's
"stories." "We even know," the teacher continued, "what metals are to be
found in the sun."
"And suppose I won't believe you?" and Reb Shloimeh smiled maliciously.
"I will explain directly," answered the teacher.
"And tell us there's a fair in the sky!" interrupted Reb Shloimeh,
impatiently. He was very angry, but the teacher took no notice of his
"Two hundred years ago," began the teacher, "there lived, in England, a
celebrated naturalist and mathematician, Isaac Newton. It was told of
him that when God said, Let there be light, Newton was born."
"Psh! I should think, very likely!" broke in Reb Shloimeh. "Why not?"
The teacher pursued his way, and gave an explanation of spectral
analysis. He spoke at some length, and Reb Shloimeh sat and listened
with close attention. "Now do you understand?" asked the teacher, coming
to an end.
Reb Shloimeh made no reply, he only looked up from under his brows.
The teacher went on:
"The earth," he said, "has stood for many years. Their exact number is
not known, but calculation brings it to several million--"
"E," burst in the old man, "I should like to know what next! I thought
everyone knew that--that even they--"
"Wait a bit, Reb Shloimeh," interrupted the teacher, "I will explain
"Ma! It makes me sick to hear you," was the irate reply, and Reb
Shloimeh got up and left the room.
* * * * *
All that day Reb Shloimeh was in a bad temper, and went about with
knitted brows. He was angry with science, with the teacher, with
himself, because he must needs have listened to it all.
"Chatter and foolishness! And there I sit and listen to it!" he said to
himself with chagrin. But he remembered the "chatter," something begins
to weigh on his heart and brain, he would like to find a something to
catch hold of, a proof of the vanity and emptiness of their teaching, to
invent some hard question, and stick out a long red tongue at them
all--those nowadays barbarians, those nowadays Newtons.
"After all, it's mere child's play," he reflects. "It's ridiculous to
take their nonsense to heart."
"Only their proofs, their proofs!" and the feeling of helplessness comes
over him once more.
"Ma!" He pulls himself together. "Is it all over with us? Is it all up?!
All up?! The earth revolves! Gammon! As to their explanations--very
wonderful, to be sure! O, of course, it's all of the greatest
importance! Dear me, yes!"
He is very angry, tears the buttons off his coat, puts his hat straight
on his head, and spits.
"Apostates, nothing but apostates nowadays," he concludes. Then he
remembers the teacher--with what enthusiasm he spoke!
His explanations ring in Reb Shloimeh's head, and prove things, and once
more the old gentleman is perplexed.
Preoccupied, cross, with groans and sighs, he went to bed. But he was
restless all night, turning from one side to the other, and groaning.
His old wife tried to cheer him.
"Such weather as it is to-day," she said, and coughed. "I have a pain in
the side, too."
Next morning when the teacher came, Reb Shloimeh inquired with a
"Well, are you going to tell stories again to-day?"
"We shall not take geography to-day," answered the teacher.
"Have your 'astronomers' found out by calculation on which days we may
learn geography?" asked Reb Shloimeh, with malicious irony.
"No, that's a discovery of mine!" and the teacher smiled.
"And when have 'your' astronomers decreed the study of geography?"
persisted Reb Shloimeh.
"To-morrow!" he repeated crossly, and left the room, missing a lesson
for the first time.
Next day the teacher explained the eclipses of the sun and moon to his
pupils. Reb Shloimeh sat with his chair drawn up to the table, and
listened without a movement.
"It is all so exact," the teacher wound up his explanation, "that the
astronomers are able to calculate to a minute when there will be an
eclipse, and have never yet made a mistake."
At these last words Reb Shloimeh nodded in a knowing way, and looked at
the pupils as much as to say, "You ask me about that!"
The teacher went on to tell of comets, planets, and other suns. Reb
Shloimeh snorted, and was continually interrupting the teacher with
exclamations. "If you don't believe me, go and measure for
yourself!"--"If it is not so, call me a liar!"--"Just so!"--"Within one
yard of it!"
Reb Shloimeh repaid his Jewish education with interest. There were not
many learned men in the town like Reb Shloimeh. The Rabbis without
flattery called him "a full basket," and Reb Shloimeh could not picture
to himself the existence of sciences other than "Jewish," and when at
last he did picture it, he would not allow that they were right,
unfalsified and right. He was so far intelligent, he had received a so
far enlightened education, that he could understand how among non-Jews
also there are great men. He would even have laughed at anyone who had
maintained the contrary. But that among non-Jews there should be men as
great as any Jewish ones, that he did not believe!--let alone, of
course, still greater ones.
And now, little by little, Reb Shloimeh began to believe that "their"
learning was not altogether insignificant, for he, "the full basket,"
was not finding it any too easy to master. And what he had to deal with
were not empty speculations, unfounded opinions. No, here were
mathematical computations, demonstrations which almost anyone can test
for himself, which impress themselves on the mind! And Reb Shloimeh is
vexed in his soul. He endeavored to cling to his old thoughts, his old
conceptions. He so wished to cry out upon the clear reasoning, the
simple explanations, with the phrases that are on the lips of every
ignorant obstructionist. And yet he felt that he was unjust, and he gave
up disputing with the teacher, as he paid close attention to the
latter's demonstrations. And the teacher would say quite simply:
"One can measure," he would say, "why not? Only it takes a lot of
When the teacher was at the door, Reb Shloimeh stayed him with a
"Then," he asked angrily, "the whole of 'your' learning is nothing but
astronomy and geography?"
"Oh, no!" said the teacher, "there's a lot besides--a lot!"
"Do you want me to tell you standing on one leg?"
"Well, yes, 'on one leg,'" he answered impatiently, as though in anger.
"But one can't tell you 'on one leg,'" said the teacher. "If you like, I
shall come on Sabbath, and we can have a chat."
"Sabbath?" repeated Reb Shloimeh in a dissatisfied tone.
"Sabbath, because I can't come at any other time," said the teacher.
"Then let it be Sabbath," said Reb Shloimeh, reflectively.
"But soon after dinner," he called after the teacher, who was already
outside the door. "And everything else is as right as your astronomy?"
he shouted, when the teacher had already gone a little way.
"You will see!" and the teacher smiled.
* * * * *
Never in his whole life had Reb Shloimeh waited for a Sabbath as he
waited for this one, and the two days that came before it seemed very
long to him; he never relaxed his frown, or showed a cheerful face the
whole time. And he was often seen, during those two days, to lift his
hands to his forehead. He went about as though there lay upon him a
heavy weight, which he wanted to throw off; or as if he had a very
disagreeable bit of business before him, and wished he could get it
On Sabbath he could hardly wait for the teacher's appearance. "You
wanted a lot of asking," he said to him reproachfully.
The old lady went to take her nap, the grandchildren to their play, and
Reb Shloimeh took the snuff-box between his fingers, leant against the
back of the "grandfather's chair" in which he was sitting, and listened
with close attention to the teacher's words.
The teacher talked a long time, mentioned the names of sciences, and
explained their meaning, and Reb Shloimeh repeated each explanation in
brief. "Physics, then, is the science of--" "That means, then, that we
have here--that physiology explains--"
The teacher would help him, and then immediately begin to talk of
another branch of science. By the time the old lady woke up, the teacher
had given examples of anatomy, physiology, physics, chemistry, zoology,
It was quite late; people were coming back from the Afternoon Service,
and those who do not smoke on Sabbath, raised their eyes to the sky. But
Reb Shloimeh had forgotten in what sort of world he was living. He sat
with wrinkled forehead and drawn brows, listening attentively, seeing
nothing before him but the teacher's face, only catching up his every
"You are still talking?" asked the old lady, in astonishment, rubbing
Reb Shloimeh turned his head toward his wife with a dazed look, as
though wondering what she meant by her question.
"Oho!" said the old lady, "you only laugh at us women!"
Reb Shloimeh drew his brows closer together, wrinkled his forehead still
more, and once more fastened his eyes on the teacher's lips.
"It will soon be time to light the fire," muttered the old lady.
The teacher glanced at the clock. "It's late," he said.
"I should think it was!" broke in the old lady. "Why I was allowed to
sleep so long, I'm sure I don't know! People get to talking and even
forget about tea."
Reb Shloimeh gave a look out of the window.
"O wa!" he exclaimed, somewhat vexed, "they are already coming out of
Shool, the service is over! What a thing it is to sit talking! O wa!"
He sprang from his seat, gave the pane a rub with his hand, and began to
recite the Afternoon Prayer. The teacher put on his things, but "Wait!"
Reb Shloimeh signed to him with his hand.
Reb Shloimeh finished reciting "Incense."
"When shall you teach the children all that?" he asked then, looking
into the prayer-book with a scowl.
"Not for a long time, not so quickly," answered the teacher. "The
children cannot understand everything."
"I should think not, anything so wonderful!" replied Reb Shloimeh,
ironically, gazing at the prayer-book and beginning "Happy are we." He
swallowed the prayers as he said them, half of every word; no matter how
he wrinkled his forehead, he could not expel the stranger thoughts from
his brain, and fix his attention on the prayers. After the service he
tried taking up a book, but it was no good, his head was a jumble of
all the new sciences. By means of the little he had just learned, he
wanted to understand and know everything, to fashion a whole body out of
a single hair, and he thought, and thought, and thought....
Sunday, when the teacher came, Reb Shloimeh told him that he wished to
have a little talk with him. Meantime he sat down to listen. The hour
during which the teacher taught the children was too long for him, and
he scarcely took his eyes off the clock.
"Do you want another pupil?" he asked the teacher, stepping with him
into his own room. He felt as though he were getting red, and he made a
very angry face.
"Why not?" answered the teacher, looking hard into Reb Shloimeh's face.
Reb Shloimeh looked at the floor, his brows, as was usual with him in
those days, drawn together.
"You understand me--a pupil--" he stammered, "you understand--not a
little boy--a pupil--an elderly man--you understand--quite another
"Well, well, we shall see!" answered the teacher, smiling.
"I mean myself!" he snapped out with great displeasure, as if he had
been forced to confess some very evil deed. "Well, I have sinned--what
do you want of me?"
"Oh, but I should be delighted!" and the teacher smiled.
"I always said I meant to be a doctor!" said Reb Shloimeh, trying to
joke. But his features contracted again directly, and he began to talk
about the terms, and it was arranged that every day for an hour and a
half the teacher should read to him and explain the sciences. To begin
with, Reb Shloimeh chose physiology, sociology, and mathematical
* * * * *
Days, weeks, and months have gone by, and Reb Shloimeh has become
depressed, very depressed. He does not sleep at night, he has lost his
appetite, doesn't care to talk to people.
Bad, bitter thoughts oppress him.
For seventy years he had not only known nothing, but, on the contrary,
he had known everything wrong, understood head downwards. And it seemed
to him that if he had known in his youth what he knew now, he would have
lived differently, that his years would have been useful to others.
He could find no stain on his life--it was one long record of deeds of
charity; but they appeared to him now so insignificant, so useless, and
some of them even mischievous. Looking round him, he saw no traces of
them left. The rich man of whom he used to beg donations is no poorer
for them, and the pauper for whom he begged them is the same pauper as
before. It is true, he had always thought of the paupers as sacks full
of holes, and had only stuffed things into them because he had a soft
heart, and could not bear to see a look of disappointment, or a tear
rolling down the pale cheek of a hungry pauper. His own little world, as
he had found it and as it was now, seemed to him much worse than before,
in spite of all the good things he had done in it.
Not one good rich man! Not one genuine pauper! They are all just as
hungry and their palms itch--there is no easing them. Times get harder,
the world gets poorer. Now he understands the reason of it all, now it
all lies before him as clear as on a map--he would be able to make every
one understand. Only now--now it was getting late--he has no strength
left. His spent life grieves him. If he had not been so active, such a
"father of the community," it would not have grieved him so much. But he
had had a great influence in the town, and this influence had been
badly, blindly used! And Reb Shloimeh grew sadder day by day.
He began to feel a pain at his heart, a stitch in the side, a burning in
his brain, and he was wrapt in his thoughts. Reb Shloimeh was
To be of use to somebody, he reflected, means to leave an impress of
good in their life. One ought to help once for all, so that the other
need never come for help again. That can be accomplished by wakening and
developing a man's intelligence, so that he may always know for himself
wherein his help lies.
And in such work he would have spent his life. If he had only understood
long ago, ah, how useful he would have been! And a shudder runs through
Tears of vexation come more than once into his eyes.
* * * * *
It was no secret in the town that old Reb Shloimeh spent two to three
hours daily sitting with the teacher, only what they did together, that
nobody knew. They tried to worm something out of the maid, but what was
to be got out of a "glomp with two eyes," whose one reply was, "I don't
know." They scolded her for it. "How can you not know, glomp?" they
exclaimed. "Aren't you sometimes in the room with them?"
"Look here, good people, what's the use of coming to me?" the maid would
cry. "How can I know, sitting in the kitchen, what they are about? When
I bring in the tea, I see them talking, and I go!"
"Dull beast!" they would reply. Then they left her, and betook
themselves to the grandchildren, who knew nothing, either.
"They have tea," was their answer to the question, "What does
grandfather do with the teacher?"
"But what do they talk about, sillies?"
"We haven't heard!" the children answered gravely.
They tried the old lady.
"Is it my business?" she answered.
They tried to go in to Reb Shloimeh's house, on the pretext of some
business or other, but that didn't succeed, either. At last, a few near
and dear friends asked Reb Shloimeh himself.
"How people do gossip!" he answered.
"Well, what is it?"
"We just sit and talk!"
There it remained. The matter was discussed all over the town. Of
course, nobody was satisfied. But he pacified them little by little.
The apostate teacher must turn hot and cold with him!
They imagined that they were occupied with research, and that Reb
Shloimeh was opening the teacher's eyes for him--and they were pacified.
When Reb Shloimeh suddenly fell on melancholy, it never came into
anyone's head that there might be a connection between this and the
conversations. The old lady settled that it was a question of the
stomach, which had always troubled him, and that perhaps he had taken a
chill. At his age such things were frequent. "But how is one to know,
when he won't speak?" she lamented, and wondered which would be best,
cod-liver oil or dried raspberries.
Every one else said that he was already in fear of death, and they
pitied him greatly. "That is a sickness which no doctor can cure,"
people said, and shook their heads with sorrowful compassion. They
talked to him by the hour, and tried to prevent him from being alone
with his thoughts, but it was all no good; he only grew more depressed,
and would often not speak at all.
"Such a man, too, what a pity!" they said, and sighed. "He's pining
away--given up to the contemplation of death."
"And if you come to think, why should he fear death?" they wondered. "If
he fears it, what about us? Och! och! och! Have we so much to show in
the next world?" And Reb Shloimeh had a lot to show. Jews would have
been glad of a tenth part of his world-to-come, and Christians declared
that he was a true Christian, with his love for his fellow-men, and
promised him a place in Paradise. "Reb Shloimeh is goodness itself," the
town was wont to say. His one lifelong occupation had been the affairs
of the community. "They are my life and my delight," he would repeat to
his intimate friends, "as indispensable to me as water to a fish." He
was a member of all the charitable societies. The Talmud Torah was
established under his own roof, and pretty nearly maintained at his
expense. The town called him the "father of the community," and all
unfortunate, poor, and bitter hearts blessed him unceasingly.
Reb Shloimeh was the one person in the town almost without an enemy,
perhaps the one in the whole province. Rich men grumbled at him. He was
always after their money--always squeezing them for charities. They
called him the old fool, the old donkey, but without meaning what they
said. They used to laugh at him, to make jokes upon him, of course among
themselves; but they had no enmity against him. They all, with a full
heart, wished him joy of his tranquil life.
Reb Shloimeh was born, and had spent years, in wealth. After making an
excellent marriage, he set up a business. His wife was the leading
spirit within doors, the head of the household, and his whole life had
been apparently a success.
When he had married his last child, and found himself a grandfather, he
retired from business, and lived his last years on the interest of his
Free from the hate and jealousy of neighbors, pleasant and satisfactory
in every respect, such was Reb Shloimeh's life, and for all that he
suddenly became melancholy! It can be nothing but the fear of death!
* * * * *
But very soon Reb Shloimeh, as it were with a wave of the hand,
dismissed the past altogether.
He said to himself with a groan that what had been was over and done; he
would never grow young again, and once more a shudder went through him
at the thought, and there came again the pain in his side and caught his
breath, but Reb Shloimeh took no notice, and went on thinking.
"Something must be done!" he said to himself, in the tone of one who has
suddenly lost his whole fortune--the fortune he has spent his life in
getting together, and there is nothing for him but to start work again
with his five fingers.
And Reb Shloimeh started. He began with the Talmud Torah, where he had
already long provided for the children's bodily needs--food and
Now he would supply them with spiritual things--instruction and
He dismissed the old teachers, and engaged young ones in their stead,
even for Jewish subjects. Out of the Talmud Torah he wanted to make a
little university. He already fancied it a success. He closed his eyes,
laid his forehead on his hands, and a sweet, happy smile parted his
lips. He pictured to himself the useful people who would go forth out of
the Talmud Torah. Now he can die happy, he thinks. But no, he does not
want to die! He wants to live! To live and to work, work, work! He will
not and cannot see an end to his life! Reb Shloimeh feels more and more
cheerful, lively, and fresh--to work----to work--till--
The whole town was in commotion.
There was a perfect din in the Shools, in the streets, in the houses.
Hypocrites and crooked men, who had never before been seen or heard of,
led the dance.
"To make Gentiles out of the children, forsooth! To turn the Talmud
Torah into a school! That we won't allow! No matter if we have to turn
the world upside down, no matter what happens!"
Reb Shloimeh heard the cries, and made as though he heard nothing. He
thought it would end there, that no one would venture to oppose him
"What do you say to that?" he asked the teachers. "Fanaticism has broken
"It will give trouble," replied the teachers.
"Eh, nonsense!" said Reb Shloimeh, with conviction. But on Sabbath, at
the Reading of the Law, he saw that he had been mistaken. The opposition
had collected, and they got onto the platform, and all began speaking at
once. It was impossible to make out what they were saying, beyond a word
here and there, or the fragment of a sentence: "--none of it!" "we won't
allow--!" "--made into Gentiles!"
Reb Shloimeh sat in his place by the east wall, his hands on the desk
where lay his Pentateuch. He had taken off his spectacles, and glanced
at the platform, put them on again, and was once more reading the
Pentateuch. They saw this from the platform, and began to shout louder
than ever. Reb Shloimeh stood up, took off his prayer-scarf, and was
moving toward the door, when he heard some one call out, with a bang of
his fist on the platform:
"With the consent of the Rabbis and the heads of the community, and in
the name of the Holy Torah, it is resolved to take the children away
from the Talmud Torah, seeing that in place of the Torah there is
Reb Shloimeh grew pale, and felt a rent in his heart. He stared at the
platform with round eyes and open mouth.
"The children are to be made into Gentiles," shouted the person on the
platform meantime, "and we have plenty of Gentiles, thank God, already!
Thus may they perish, with their name and their remembrance! We are not
short of Gentiles--there are more every day! And hatred increases, and
God knows what the Jews are coming to! Whoso has God in his heart, and
is jealous for the honor of the Law, let him see to it that the children
cease going to the place of peril!"
Reb Shloimeh wanted to call out, "Silence, you scoundrel!" The words all
but rolled off his tongue, but he contained himself, and moved on.
"The one who obeys will be blessed," proclaimed the individual on the
platform, "and whoso despises the decree, his end shall be Gehenna, with
that of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who sinned and made Israel to sin!"
With these last words the speaker threw a fiery glance at Reb Shloimeh.
A quiver ran through the Shool, and all eyes were turned on Reb
Shloimeh, expecting him to begin abusing the speaker. A lively scene was
anticipated. But Reb Shloimeh smiled.
He quietly handed his prayer-scarf to the beadle, wished the bystanders
"good Sabbath," and walked out of Shool, leaving them all disconcerted.
* * * * *
That Sabbath Reb Shloimeh was the quietest man in the whole town. He was
convinced that the interdict would have no effect on anyone. "People
are not so foolish as all that," he thought, "and they wouldn't treat
him in that way!" He sat and laid plans for carrying on the education
in the Talmud Torah, and he felt so light of heart that he sang to
himself for very pleasure.
The old wife, meanwhile, was muttering and moaning. She had all her life
been quite content with her husband and everything he did, and had
always done her best to help him, hoping that in the world to come she
would certainly share his portion of immortality. And now she saw with
horror that he was like to throw away his future. But how ever could it
be? she wondered, and was bathed in tears: "What has come over you? What
has happened to make you like that? They are not just to you, are they,
when they say that about taking children and making Gentiles of them?"
Reb Shloimeh smiled. "Do you think," he said to her, "that I have gone
mad in my old age? Don't be afraid. I'm in my right mind, and you shall
not lose your place in Paradise."
But the wife was not satisfied with the reply, and continued to mutter
and to weep. There were goings-on in the town, too. The place was aboil
with excitement. Of course they talked about Reb Shloimeh; nobody could
make out what had come to him all of a sudden.
"That is the teacher's work!" explained one of a knot of talkers.
"And we thought Reb Shloimeh such a sage, such a clever man, so
book-learned. How can the teacher (may his name perish!) have talked him
"It's a pity on the children's account!" one would exclaim here and
there. "In the Talmud Torah, under his direction, they wanted for
nothing, and what's to become of them now! They'll be running wild in
"What then? Do you mean it would be better to make Gentiles of them?"
"Well, there! Of course, I understand!" he would hasten to say,
penitently. And a resolution was passed, to the effect that the children
should not be allowed to attend the Talmud Torah.
Reb Shloimeh stood at his window, and watched the excited groups in the
street, saw how the men threw themselves about, rocked themselves, bit
their beards, described half-circles with their thumbs, and he smiled.
In the evening the teachers came and told him what had been said in the
town, and how all held that the children were not to be allowed to go to
the Talmud Torah. Reb Shloimeh was a little disturbed, but he composed
himself again and thought:
"Eh, they will quiet down, never mind! They won't do it to me!----"
Entering the Talmud Torah on Sunday, he was greeted by four empty walls.
Even two orphans, who had no relations or protector in the town, had not
come. They had been frightened and talked at and not allowed to attend,
and free meals had been secured for all of them, so that they should not
For the moment Reb Shloimeh lost his head. He glanced at the teachers as
though ashamed in their presence, and his glance said, "What is to be
Suddenly he pulled himself together.
"No!" he exclaimed, "they shall not get the better of me," and he ran
out of the Talmud Torah, and was gone.
He ran from house to house, to the parents and relations of the
children. But they all looked askance at him, and he accomplished
nothing: they all kept to it--"No!"
"Come, don't be silly! Send, send the children to the Talmud Torah," he
begged. "You will see, you will not regret it!"
And he drew a picture for them of the sort of people the children would
But it was no use.
"We haven't got to manage the world," they answered him. "We have
lived without all that, and our children will live as we are living now.
We have no call to make Gentiles of them!"
"We know, we know! People needn't come to us with stories," they would
say in another house. "We don't intend to sell our souls!" was the cry
in a third.
"And who says I have sold mine?" Reb Shloimeh would ask sharply.
"How should we know? Besides, who was talking of you?" they answered
with a sweet smile.
Reb Shloimeh reached home tired and depressed. The old wife had a shock
on seeing him.
"Dear Lord!" she exclaimed, wringing her hands. "What is the matter with
you? What makes you look like that?"
The teachers, who were there waiting for him, asked no questions: they
had only to look at his ghastly appearance to know what had happened.
Reb Shloimeh sank into his arm-chair.
"Nothing," he said, looking sideways, but meaning it for the teachers.
"Nothing is nothing!" and they betook themselves to consoling him. "We
will find something else to do, get hold of some other children, or else
wait a little--they'll ask to be taken back presently."
Reb Shloimeh did not hear them. He had let his head sink on to his
breast, turned his look sideways, and thoughts he could not piece
together, fragments of thoughts, went round and round in the drooping
"Why? Why?" He asked himself over and over. "To do such a thing to me!
Well, there you are! There you have it!--You've lived your life--like a
His heart felt heavy and hurt him, and his brain grew warm, warm. In one
minute there ran through his head the impression which his so nearly
finished life had made on him of late, and immediately after it all the
plans he had thought out for setting to right his whole past life by
means of the little bit left him. And now it was all over and done!
"Why? Why?" he asked himself without ceasing, and could not understand
He felt his old heart bursting with love to all men. It beat more and
more strongly, and would not cease from loving; and he would fain have
seen everyone so happy, so happy! He would have worked with his last bit
of strength, he would have drawn his last breath for the cause to which
he had devoted himself. He is no longer conscious of the whereabouts of
his limbs, he feels his head growing heavier, his feet cold, and it is
dark before his eyes.
When he came to himself again, he was in bed; on his head was a bandage
with ice; the old wife was lamenting; the teachers stood not far from
the bed, and talked among themselves. He wanted to lift his hand and
draw it across his forehead, but somehow he does not feel his hand at
all. He looks at it--it lies stretched out beside him. And Reb Shloimeh
understood what had happened to him.
"A stroke!" he thought, "I am finished, done for!"
He tried to give a whistle and make a gesture with his hand:
"Verfallen!" but the lips would not meet properly, and the hand never
"There you are, done for!" the lips whispered. He glanced round, and
fixed his eyes on the teachers, and then on his wife, wishing to read in
their faces whether there was danger, whether he was dying, or whether
there was still hope. He looked, and could not make out anything. Then,
whispering, he called one of the teachers, whose looks had met his, to
The teacher came running.
"Done for, eh?" asked Reb Shloimeh.
"No, Reb Shloimeh, the doctors give hope," the teacher replied, so
earnestly that Reb Shloimeh's spirits revived.
"Nu, nu," said Reb Shloimeh, as though he meant, "So may it be! Out of
your mouth into God's ears!"
The other teachers all came nearer.
"Good?" whispered Reb Shloimeh, "good, ha? There's a hero for you!" he
"Never mind," they said cheeringly, "you will get well again, and work,
and do many things yet!"
"Well, well, please God!" he answered, and looked away.
And Reb Shloimeh really got better every day. The having lived wisely
and the will to live longer saved him.
The first time that he was able to move a hand or lift a foot, a broad,
sweet smile spread itself over his face, and a fire kindled in his all
but extinguished eyes.
"Good luck to you!" he cried out to those around. He was very cheerful
in himself, and began to think once more about doing something or other.
"People must be taught, they must be taught, even if the world turn
upside down," he thought, and rubbed his hands together with impatience.
"If it's not to be in the Talmud Torah, it must be somewhere else!" And
he set to work thinking where it should be. He recalled all the
neighbors to his memory, and suddenly grew cheerful.
Not far away there lived a bookbinder, who employed as many as ten
workmen. They work sometimes from fifteen to sixteen hours, and have no
strength left for study. One must teach them, he thinks. The master is
not likely to object. Reb Shloimeh was the making of him, he it was who
protected him, introduced him into all the best families, and finally
set him on his feet.
Reb Shloimeh grows more and more lively, and is continually trying to
rise from his couch.
Once out of bed, he could hardly endure to stay in the room, and how
happy he felt, when, leaning on a stick, he stept out into the street!
He hurried in the direction of the bookbinder's.
He was convinced that people's feelings toward him had changed for the
better, that they would rejoice on seeing him.
How he looked forward to seeing a friendly smile on every face! He would
have counted himself the happiest of men, if he had been able to hope
that now everything was different, and would come right.
But he did not see the smile.
The town looked upon the apoplectic stroke as God's punishment--it was
obvious. "Aha!" they had cried on hearing of it, and everyone saw in it
another proof, and it also was "obvious"--of the fact that there is a
God in the world, and that people cannot do just what they like. The
great fanatics overflowed with eloquence, and saw in it an act of
Heavenly vengeance. "Serves him right! Serves him right!" they thought.
"Whose fault is it?" people replied, when some one reminded them that it
was very sad--such a man as he had been, "Who told him to do it? He has
himself to thank for his misfortunes."
The town had never ceased talking of him the whole time. Every one was
interested in knowing how he was, and what was the matter with him. And
when they heard that he was better, that he was getting well, they
really were pleased; they were sure that he would give up all his
foolish plans, and understand that God had punished him, and that he
would be again as before.
But it soon became known that he clung to his wickedness, and people
ceased to rejoice.
The Rabbi and his fanatical friends came to see him one day by way of
visiting the sick. Reb Shloimeh felt inclined to ask them if they had
come to stare at him as one visited by a miracle, but he refrained, and
surveyed them with indifference.
"Well, how are you, Reb Shloimeh?" they asked.
"Gentiles!" answered Reb Shloimeh, almost in spite of himself, and
The Rabbi and the others became confused.
They sat a little while, couldn't think of anything to say, and got up
from their seats. Then they stood a bit, wished him a speedy return to
health, and went away, without hearing any answer from Reb Shloimeh to
their "good night."
It was not long before the whole town knew of the visit, and it began to
boil like a kettle.
To commit such sin is to play with destiny. Once you are in, there is no
getting out! Give the devil a hair, and he'll snatch at the whole beard.
So when Reb Shloimeh showed himself in the street, they stared at him
and shook their heads, as though to say, "Such a man--and gone to ruin!"
Reb Shloimeh saw it, and it cut him to the heart. Indeed, it brought the
tears to his eyes, and he began to walk quicker in the direction of the
At the bookbinder's they received him in friendly fashion, with a hearty
"Welcome!" but he fancied that here also they looked at him askance,
and therefore he gave a reason for his coming.
"Walking is hard work," he said, "one must have stopping-places."
With this same excuse he went there every day. He would sit for an hour
or two, talking, telling stories, and at last he began to tell the
"stories" which the teacher had told.
He sat in the centre of the room, and talked away merrily, with a pun
here and a laugh there, and interested the workmen deeply. Sometimes
they would all of one accord stop working, open their mouths, fix their
eyes, and hang on his lips with an intelligent smile.
Or else they stood for a few minutes tense, motionless as statues, till
Reb Shloimeh finished, before the master should interpose.
"Work, work--you will hear it all in time!" he would say, in a cross,
And the workmen would unwillingly bend their backs once more over their
task, but Reb Shloimeh remained a little thrown out. He lost the thread
of what he was telling, began buttoning and unbuttoning his coat, and
glanced guiltily at the binder.
But he went his own way nevertheless.
As to his hearers, he was overjoyed with them. When he saw that the
workmen began to take interest in every book that was brought them to be
bound, he smiled happily, and his eyes sparkled with delight.
And if it happened to be a book treating of the subjects on which they
had heard something from Reb Shloimeh, they threw themselves upon it,
nearly tore it to pieces, and all but came to blows as to who should
have the binding of it.
Reb Shloimeh began to feel that he was doing something, that he was
being really useful, and he was supremely happy.
The town, of course, was aware of Reb Shloimeh's constant visits to the
bookbinder's, and quickly found out what he did there.
"He's just off his head!" they laughed, and shrugged their shoulders.
They even laughed in Reb Shloimeh's face, but he took no notice of it.
His pleasure, however, came to a speedy end. One day the binder spoke
"Reb Shloimeh," he said shortly, "you prevent us from working with your
stories. What do you mean by it? You come and interfere with the work."
"But do I disturb?" he asked. "They go on working all the time----"
"And a pretty way of working," answered the bookbinder. "The boys are
ready enough at finding an excuse for idling as it is! And why do you
choose me? There are plenty of other workshops----"
It was an honest "neck and crop" business, and there was nothing left
for Reb Shloimeh but to take up his stick and go.
"Nothing--again!" he whispered.
There was a sting in his heart, a beating in his temples, and his head
"Nothing--again! This time it's all over. I must die--die--a story
with an end."
Had he been young, he would have known what to do. He would never have
begun to think about death, but now--where was the use of living on?
What was there to wait for? All over!--all over!--
It was as much as he could do to get home. He sat down in the arm-chair,
laid his head back, and thought.
He pictured to himself the last weeks at the bookbinder's and the change
that had taken place in the workmen; how they had appeared
better-mannered, more human, more intelligent. It seemed to him that he
had implanted in them the love of knowledge and the inclination to
study, had put them in the way of viewing more rightly what went on
around them. He had been of some account with them--and all of a
"No!" he said to himself. "They will come to me--they must come!" he
thought, and fixed his eyes on the door.
He even forgot that they worked till nine o'clock at night, and the
whole evening he never took his eyes off the door.
The time flew, it grew later and later, and the book-binders did not
At last he could bear it no longer, and went out into the street;
perhaps he would see them, and then he would call them in.
It was dark in the street; the gas lamps, few and far between, scarcely
gave any light. A chilly autumn night; the air was saturated with
moisture, and there was dreadful mud under foot. There were very few
passers-by, and Reb Shloimeh remained standing at his door.
When he heard a sound of footsteps or voices, his heart began to beat
quicker. His old wife came out three times to call him into the house
again, but he did not hear her, and remained standing outside.
The street grew still. There was nothing more to be heard but the
rattles of the night-watchmen. Reb Shloimeh gave a last look into the
darkness, as though trying to see someone, and then, with a groan, he
Next morning he felt very weak, and stayed in bed. He began to feel that
his end was near, that he was but a guest tarrying for a day.
"It's all the same, all the same!" he said to himself, thinking quietly
All sorts of ideas went through his head. He thought as it were
unconsciously, without giving himself a clear account of what he was
A variety of images passed through his mind, scenes out of his long
life, certain people, faces he had seen here and there, comrades of his
childhood, but they all had no interest for him. He kept his eyes fixed
on the door of his room, waiting for death, as though it would come in
by the door.
He lay like that the whole day. His wife came in continually, and asked
him questions, and he was silent, not taking his eyes off the door, or
interrupting the train of his thoughts. It seemed as if he had ceased
either to see or to hear. In the evening the teachers began coming.
"Finished!" said Reb Shloimeh, looking at the door. Suddenly he heard a
voice he knew, and raised his head.
"We have come to visit the sick," said the voice.
The door opened, and there came in four workmen at once.
At first Reb Shloimeh could not believe his eyes, but soon a smile
appeared upon his lips, and he tried to sit up.
"Come, come!" he said joyfully, and his heart beat rapidly with
The workmen remained standing some way from the bed, not venturing to
approach the sick man, but Reb Shloimeh called them to him.
"Nearer, nearer, children!" he said.
They came a little nearer.
"Come here, to me!" and he pointed to the bed.
They came up to the bed.
"Well, what are you all about?" he asked with a smile.
The workmen were silent.
"Why did you not come last night?" he asked, and looked at them smiling.
The workmen were silent, and shuffled with their feet.
"How are you, Reb Shloimeh?" asked one of them.
"Very well, very well," answered Reb Shloimeh, still smiling. "Thank
you, children! Thank you!"
"Sit down, children, sit down." he said after a pause. "I will tell you
some more stories."
"It will tire you, Reb Shloimeh," said a workman. "When you are
"Sit down, sit down!" said Reb Shloimeh, impatiently. "That's my
The workmen exchanged glances with the teachers and the teachers signed
to them not to sit down.
"Not to-day, Reb Shloimeh, another time, when you--"
"Sit down, sit down!" interrupted Reb Shloimeh, "Do me the pleasure!"
Once more the workmen exchanged looks with the teachers, and, at a sign
from them, they sat down.
Reb Shloimeh began telling them the long story of the human race, he
spoke with ardor, and it was long since his voice had sounded as it
He spoke for a long, long time.
They interrupted him two or three times, and reminded him that it was
bad for him to talk so much. But he only signified with a gesture that
they were to let him alone.
"I am getting better," he said, and went on.
At length the workmen rose from their seats.
"Let us go, Reb Shloimeh. It's getting late for us," they begged.
"True, true," he replied, "but to-morrow, do you hear? Look here,
children, to-morrow!" he said, giving them his hand.
The workmen promised to come. They moved away a few steps, and then Reb
Shloimeh called them back.
"And the others?" he inquired feebly, as though he were ashamed of
"They were lazy, they wouldn't come," was the reply.
"Well, well," he said, in a tone that meant "Well, well, I know, you
needn't say any more, but look here, to-morrow!"
"Now I am well again," he whispered as the workmen went out. He could
scarcely move a limb, but he was very cheerful, looked at every one with
a happy smile, and his eyes shone.
"Now I am well," he whispered when they had been obliged to put him into
bed and cover him up. "Now I am well," he repeated, feeling the while
that his head was strangely heavy, his heart faint, and that he was very
poorly. Before many minutes he had fallen into a state of
A dreadful, heartbreaking cry recalled him to himself. He opened his
eyes. The room was full of people. In many eyes were tears.
"Soon, then," he thought, and began to remember something.
"What o'clock is it?" he asked of the person who stood beside him.
"They stop work at nine," he whispered to himself, and called one of the
teachers to him.
"When the workmen come, they are to let them in, do you hear!" he said.
The teacher promised.
"They will come at nine," added Reb Shloimeh.
In a little while he asked to write his will. After writing the will, he
undressed and closed his eyes.
They thought he had fallen asleep, but Reb Shloimeh was not asleep. He
lay and thought, not about his past life, but about the future, the
future in which men would live. He thought of what man would come to be.
He pictured to himself a bright, glad world, in which all men would be
equal in happiness, knowledge, and education, and his dying heart beat a
little quicker, while his face expressed joy and contentment. He opened
his eyes, and saw beside him a couple of teachers.
"And will it really be?" he asked and smiled.
"Yes, Reb Shloimeh," they answered, without knowing to what his question
referred, for his face told them it was something good. The smile
accentuated itself on his lips.
Once again he lost himself in thought.
He wanted to imagine that happy world, and see with his mind's eye
nothing but happy people, educated people, and he succeeded.
The picture was not very distinct. He was imagining a great heap of
happiness--happiness with a body and soul, and he felt himself so
A sound of lamentation disturbed him.
"Why do they weep?" he wondered. "Every one will have a good
He opened his eyes; there were already lights burning. The room was
packed with people. Beside him stood all his children, come together to
take leave of their father.
He fixed his gaze on the little grandchildren, a gaze of love and
"They will see the happy time," he thought.
He was just going to ask the people to stop lamenting, but at that
moment his eye caught the workmen of the evening before.
"Come here, come here, children!" and he raised his voice a little, and
made a sign with his head. People did not know what he meant. He begged
them to send the workmen to him, and it was done.
He tried to sit up; those around helped him.
"Thank you--children--for coming--thank you!" he said. "Stop--weeping!"
he implored of the bystanders. "I want to die quietly--I want every one
to--to--be as happy--as I am! Live, all of you, in the--hope of a--good
time--as I die--in--that hope. Dear chil--dren--" and he turned to the
workmen, "I told you--last night--how man has lived so far. How he lives
now, you know for yourselves--but the coming time will be a very happy
one: all will be happy--all! Only work honestly, and learn! Learn,
children! Everything will be all right! All will be hap----"
A sweet smile appeared on his lips, and Reb Shloimeh died.
In the town they--but what else could they say in the town of a man
who had died without repeating the Confession, without a tremor at his
heart, without any sign of repentance? What else could they say of a
man who spent his last minutes in telling people to learn, to educate
themselves? What else could they say of a man who left his whole
capital to be devoted to educational purposes and schools?
What was to be expected of them, when his own family declared in court
that their father was not responsible when he made his last will?
* * * * *
Forgive them, Reb Shloimeh, for they mean well--they know not what they
say and do.