Shut In


Lebele is a little boy ten years old, with pale cheeks, liquid, dreamy

eyes, and black hair that falls in twisted ringlets, but, of course, the

ringlets are only seen when his hat falls off, for Lebele is a pious

little boy, who never uncovers his head.

There are things that Lebele loves and never has, or else he has them

only in part, and that is why his eyes are always dreamy and troubled,

and always fu
l of longing.

He loves the summer, and sits the whole day in Cheder. He loves the sun,

and the Rebbe hangs his caftan across the window, and the Cheder is

darkened, so that it oppresses the soul. Lebele loves the moon, the

night, but at home they close the shutters, and Lebele, on his little

bed, feels as if he were buried alive. And Lebele cannot understand

people's behaving so oddly.

It seems to him that when the sun shines in at the window, it is a

delight, it is so pleasant and cheerful, and the Rebbe goes and curtains

it--no more sun! If Lebele dared, he would ask:

"What ails you, Rebbe, at the sun? What harm can it do you?"

But Lebele will never put that question: the Rebbe is such a great and

learned man, he must know best. Ai, how dare he, Lebele, disapprove? He

is only a little boy. When he is grown up, he will doubtless curtain the

window himself. But as things are now, Lebele is not happy, and feels

sadly perplexed at the behavior of his elders.

Late in the evening, he comes home from Cheder. The sun has already set,

the street is cheerful and merry, the cockchafers whizz and, flying, hit

him on the nose, the ear, the forehead.

He would like to play about a bit in the street, let them have supper

without him, but he is afraid of his father. His father is a kind man

when he talks to strangers, he is so gentle, so considerate, so

confidential. But to him, to Lebele, he is very unkind, always shouting

at him, and if Lebele comes from Cheder a few minutes late, he will be


"Where have you been, my fine fellow? Have you business anywhere?"

Now go and tell him that it is not at all so bad out in the street, that

it's a pleasure to hear how the cockchafers whirr, that even the hits

they give you on the wing are friendly, and mean, "Hallo, old fellow!"

Of course it's a wild absurdity! It amuses him, because he is only a

little boy, while his father is a great man, who trades in wood and

corn, and who always knows the current prices--when a thing is dearer

and when it is cheaper. His father can speak the Gentile language, and

drive bargains, his father understands the Prussian weights. Is that a

man to be thought lightly of? Go and tell him, if you dare, that it's

delightful now out in the street.

And Lebele hurries straight home. When he has reached it, his father

asks him how many chapters he has mastered, and if he answers five, his

father hums a tune without looking at him; but if he says only three,

his father is angry, and asks:

"How's that? Why so little, ha?"

And Lebele is silent, and feels guilty before his father.

After that his father makes him translate a Hebrew word.

"Translate Kimlunah!"

"Kimlunah means 'like a passing the night,'" answers Lebele,


His father is silent--a sign that he is satisfied--and they sit down to

supper. Lebele's father keeps an eye on him the whole time, and

instructs him how to eat.

"Is that how you hold your spoon?" inquires the father, and Lebele holds

the spoon lower, and the food sticks in his throat.

After supper Lebele has to say grace aloud and in correct Hebrew,

according to custom. If he mumbles a word, his father calls out:

"What did I hear? what? once more, 'Wherewith Thou dost feed and sustain

us.' Well, come, say it! Don't be in a hurry, it won't burn you!"

And Lebele says it over again, although he is in a great hurry,

although he longs to run out into the street, and the words do seem to

burn him.

When it is dark, he repeats the Evening Prayer by lamplight; his father

is always catching him making a mistake, and Lebele has to keep all his

wits about him. The moon, round and shining, is already floating through

the sky, and Lebele repeats the prayers, and looks at her, and longs

after the street, and he gets confused in his praying.

Prayers over, he escapes out of the house, puzzling over some question

in the Talmud against the morrow's lesson. He delays there a while

gazing at the moon, as she pours her pale beams onto the Gass. But he

soon hears his father's voice:

"Come indoors, to bed!"

It is warm outside, there is not a breath of air stirring, and yet it

seems to Lebele as though a wind came along with his father's words, and

he grows cold, and he goes in like one chilled to the bone, takes his

stand by the window, and stares at the moon.

"It is time to close the shutters--there's nothing to sit up for!"

Lebele hears his father say, and his heart sinks. His father goes out,

and Lebele sees the shutters swing to, resist, as though they were being

closed against their will, and presently there is a loud bang. No more

moon!--his father has hidden it!

A while after, the lamp has been put out, the room is dark, and all are

asleep but Lebele, whose bed is by the window. He cannot sleep, he wants

to be in the street, whence sounds come in through the chinks. He tries

to sit up in bed, to peer out, also through the chinks, and even to open

a bit of the shutter, without making any noise, and to look, look, but

without success, for just then his father wakes and calls out:

"What are you after there, eh? Do you want me to come with the strap?"

And Lebele nestles quietly down again into his pillow, pulls the

coverlet over his head, and feels as though he were buried alive.