: ISAIAH LERNER
Erev Yom Kippur, Minchah time!
The Eve of the Day of Atonement, at Afternoon Prayer time.
A solemn and sacred hour for every Jew.
Everyone feels as though he were born again.
All the week-day worries, the two-penny-half-penny interests, seem far,
far away; or else they have hidden themselves in some corner. Every Jew
feels a noble pride, an inward peace mingled wi
h fear and awe. He knows
that the yearly Judgment Day is approaching, when God Almighty will hold
the scales in His hand and weigh every man's merits against his
transgressions. The sentence given on that day is one of life or death.
No trifle! But the Jew is not so terrified as you might think--he has
broad shoulders. Besides, he has a certain footing behind the "upper
windows," he has good advocates and plenty of them; he has the "binding
of Isaac" and a long chain of ancestors and ancestresses, who were put
to death for the sanctification of the Holy Name, who allowed themselves
to be burnt and roasted for the sake of God's Torah. Nishkoshe! Things
are not so bad. The Lord of All may just remember that, and look aside a
little. Is He not the Compassionate, the Merciful?
The shadows lengthen and lengthen.
Jews are everywhere in commotion.
Some hurry home straight from the bath, drops of bath-water dripping
from beard and earlocks. They have not even dried their hair properly in
It is time to prepare for the davvening. Some are already on their way
to Shool, robed in white. Nearly every Jew carries in one hand a large,
well-packed Tallis-bag, which to-day, besides the prayer-scarf, holds
the whole Jewish outfit: a bulky prayer-book, a book of Psalms, a
Likkute Zevi, and so on; and in the other hand, two wax-candles, one a
large one, that is the "light of life," and the other a small one, a
shrunken looking thing, which is the "soul-light."
The Tamschevate house-of-study presents at this moment the following
picture: the floor is covered with fresh hay, and the dust and the smell
of the hay fill the whole building. Some of the men are standing at
their prayers, beating their breasts in all seriousness. "We have
trespassed, we have been faithless, we have robbed," with an occasional
sob of contrition. Others are very busy setting up their wax-lights in
boxes filled with sand; one of them, a young man who cannot live without
it, betakes himself to the platform and repeats a "Bless ye the Lord."
Meantime another comes slyly, and takes out two of the candles standing
before the platform, planting his own in their place. Not far from the
ark stands the beadle with a strap in his hand, and all the foremost
householders go up to him, lay themselves down with their faces to the
ground, and the beadle deals them out thirty-nine blows apiece, and not
one of them bears him any grudge. Even Reb Groinom, from whom the beadle
never hears anything from one Yom Kippur to another but "may you be ...
"and "rascal," "impudence," "brazen face," "spendthrift," "carrion,"
"dog of all dogs"--and not infrequently Reb Groinom allows himself to
apply his right hand to the beadle's cheek, and the latter has to take
it all in a spirit of love--this same Reb Groinom now humbly approaches
the same poor beadle, lies quietly down with his face to the ground,
stretches himself out, and the beadle deliberately counts the strokes up
to "thirty-nine Malkes." Covered with hay, Reb Groinom rises slowly, a
piteous expression on his face, just as if he had been well thrashed,
and he pushes a coin into the Shamash's hand. This is evidently the
beadle's day! To-day he can take his revenge on his householders for the
insults and injuries of a whole year!
But if you want to be in the thick of it all, you must stand in the
anteroom by the door, where people are crowding round the plates for
collections. The treasurer sits beside a little table with the directors
of the congregation; the largest plate lies before them. To one side of
them sits the cantor with his plate, and beside the cantor, several
house-of-study youths with theirs. On every plate lies a paper with a
written notice: "Visiting the Sick," "Supporting the Fallen," "Clothing
the Naked," "Talmud Torah," "Refuge for the Poor," and so forth. Over
one plate, marked "The Return to the Land of Israel," presides a modern
young man, a Zionist. Everyone wishing to enter the house-of-study must
first go to the plates marked "Call to the Torah" and "Seat in the
Shool," put in what is his due, and then throw a few kopeks into the
* * * * *
Berel Tzop bustled up to the plate "Seat in the Shool," gave what was
expected of him, popped a few coppers into the other plates, and
prepared to recite the Afternoon Prayer. He wanted to pause a little
between the words of his prayer, to attend to their meaning, to impress
upon himself that this was the Eve of the Day of Atonement! But idle
thoughts kept coming into his head, as though on purpose to annoy him,
and his mind was all over the place at once! The words of the prayers
got mixed up with the idea of oats, straw, wheat, and barley, and
however much trouble he took to drive these idle thoughts away, he did
not succeed. "Blow the great trumpet of our deliverance!" shouted Berel,
and remembered the while that Ivan owed him ten measures of wheat.
"...lift up the ensign to gather our exiles!..."--"and I made a mistake
in Stephen's account by thirty kopeks...." Berel saw that it was
impossible for him to pray with attention, and he began to reel off the
Eighteen Benedictions, but not till he reached the Confession could he
collect his scattered thoughts, and realize what he was saying. When he
raised his hands to beat his breast at "We have trespassed, we have
robbed," the hand remained hanging in the air, half-way. A shudder went
through his limbs, the letters of the words "we have robbed" began to
grow before his eyes, they became gigantic, they turned strange
colors--red, blue, green, and yellow--now they took the form of large
frogs--they got bigger and bigger, crawled into his eyes, croaked in his
ears: You are a thief, a robber, you have stolen and plundered! You
think nobody saw, that it would all run quite smoothly, but you are
wrong! We shall stand before the Throne of Glory and cry: You are a
thief, a robber!
Berel stood some time with his hand raised midway in the air.
The whole affair of the hundred rubles rose before his eyes.
A couple of months ago he had gone into the house of Reb Moisheh
Chalfon. The latter had just gone out, there was nobody else in the
room, nobody had even seen him come in.
The key was in the desk--Berel had looked at it, had hardly touched
it--the drawer had opened as though of itself--several
hundred-ruble-notes had lain glistening before his eyes! Just that day,
Berel had received a very unpleasant letter from the father of his
daughter's bridegroom, and to make matters worse, the author of the
letter was in the right. Berel had been putting off the marriage for two
years, and the Mechutton wrote quite plainly, that unless the wedding
took place after Tabernacles, he should return him the contract.
"Return the contract!" the fiery letters burnt into Berel's brain.
He knew his Mechutton well. The Misnaggid! He wouldn't hesitate to tear
up a marriage contract, either! And when it's a question of a by no
means pretty girl of twenty and odd years! And the kind of bridegroom
anybody might be glad to have secured for his daughter! And then to
think that only one of those hundred-ruble-notes lying tossed together
in that drawer would help him out of all his troubles. And the Evil
Inclination whispers in his ear: "Berel, now or never! There will be an
end to all your worry! Don't you see, it's a godsend." He, Berel,
wrestled with him hard. He remembers it all distinctly, and he can hear
now the faint little voice of the Good Inclination: "Berel, to become a
thief in one's latter years! You who so carefully avoided even the
smallest deceit! Fie, for shame! If God will, he can help you by honest
means too." But the voice of the Good Inclination was so feeble, so
husky, and the Evil Inclination suggested in his other ear: "Do you know
what? Borrow one hundred rubles! Who talks of stealing? You will earn
some money before long, and then you can pay him back--it's a charitable
loan on his part, only that he doesn't happen to know of it. Isn't it
plain to be seen that it's a godsend? If you don't call this Providence,
what is? Are you going to take more than you really need? You know your
Mechutton? Have you taken a good look at that old maid of yours? You
recollect the bridegroom? Well, the Mechutton will be kind and mild as
milk. The bridegroom will be a 'silken son-in-law,' the ugly old maid, a
young wife--fool! God and men will envy you...." And he, Berel, lost his
head, his thoughts flew hither and thither, like frightened birds,
and--he no longer knew which of the two voices was that of the Good
No one saw him leave Moisheh Chalfon's house.
And still his hand remains suspended in mid-air, still it does not fall
against his breast, and there is a cold perspiration on his brow.
Berel started, as though out of his sleep. He had noticed that people
were beginning to eye him as he stood with his hand held at a distance
from his person. He hastily rattled through "For the sin, ..." concluded
the Eighteen Benedictions, and went home.
At home, he didn't dawdle, he only washed his hands, recited "Who
bringest forth bread," and that was all. The food stuck in his throat,
he said grace, returned to Shool, put on the Tallis, and started to
intone tunefully the Prayer of Expiation.
* * * * *
The lighted wax-candles, the last rays of the sun stealing in through
the windows of the house-of-study, the congregation entirely robed in
white and enfolded in the prayer-scarfs, the intense seriousness
depicted on all faces, the hum of voices, and the bitter weeping that
penetrated from the women's gallery, all this suited Berel's mood, his
contrite heart. Berel had recited the Prayer of Expiation with deep
feeling; tears poured from his eyes, his own broken voice went right
through his heart, every word found an echo there, and he felt it in
every limb. Berel stood before God like a little child before its
parents: he wept and told all that was in his heavily-laden heart, the
full tale of his cares and troubles. Berel was pleased with himself, he
felt that he was not saying the words anyhow, just rolling them off his
tongue, but he was really performing an act of penitence with his whole
heart. He felt remorse for his sins, and God is a God of compassion and
mercy, who will certainly pardon him.
"Therefore is my heart sad," began Berel, "that the sin which a man
commits against his neighbor cannot be atoned for even on the Day of
Atonement, unless he asks his neighbor's forgiveness ... therefore is my
heart broken and my limbs tremble, because even the day of my death
cannot atone for this sin."
Berel began to recite this in pleasing, artistic fashion, weeping and
whimpering like a spoiled child, and drawling out the words, when it
grew dark before his eyes. Berel had suddenly become aware that he was
in the position of one about to go in through an open door. He advances,
he must enter, it is a question of life and death. And without any
warning, just as he is stepping across the threshold, the door is shut
from within with a terrible bang, and he remains standing outside.
And he has read this in the Prayer of Expiation? With fear and
fluttering he reads it over again, looking narrowly at every word--a
cold sweat covers him--the words prick him like pins. Are these two
verses his pitiless judges, are they the expression of his sentence? Is
he already condemned? "Ay, ay, you are guilty," flicker the two verses
on the page before him, and prayer and tears are no longer of any avail.
His heart cried to God: "Have pity, merciful Father! A grown-up
girl--what am I to do with her? And his father wanted to break off the
engagement. As soon as I have earned the money, I will give it back...."
But he knew all the time that these were useless subterfuges; the Lord
of the Universe can only pardon the sin committed against Himself, the
sin committed against man cannot be atoned for even on the Day of
Berel took another look at the Prayer of Expiation. The words, "unless
he asks his neighbor's forgiveness," danced before his eyes. A ray of
hope crept into his despairing heart. One way is left open to him: he
can confess to Moisheh Chalfon! But the hope was quickly extinguished.
Is that a small matter? What of my honor, my good name? And what of the
match? "Mercy, O Father," he cried, "have mercy!"
Berel proceeded no further with the Prayer of Expiation. He stood lost
in his melancholy thoughts, his whole life passed before his eyes. He,
Berel, had never licked honey, trouble had been his in plenty, he had
known cares and worries, but God had never abandoned him. It had
frequently happened to him in the course of his life to think he was
lost, to give up all his hope. But each time God had extricated him
unexpectedly from his difficulty, and not only that, but lawfully,
honestly, Jewishly. And now--he had suddenly lost his trust in the
Providence of His dear Name! "Donkey!" thus Berel abused himself, "went
to look for trouble, did you? Now you've got it! Sold yourself body and
soul for one hundred rubles! Thief! thief! thief!" It did Berel good to
abuse himself like this, it gave him a sort of pleasure to aggravate his
Berel, sunk in his sad reflections, has forgotten where he is in the
world. The congregation has finished the Prayer of Expiation, and is
ready for Kol Nidre. The cantor is at his post at the reading-desk on
the platform, two of the principal, well-to-do Jews, with Torahs in
their hands, on each side of him. One of them is Moisheh Chalfon. There
is a deep silence in the building. The very last rays of the sun are
slanting in through the window, and mingling with the flames of the
"With the consent of the All-Present and with the consent of this
congregation, we give leave to pray with them that have transgressed,"
startled Berel's ears. It was Moisheh Chalfon's voice. The voice was
low, sweet, and sad. Berel gave a side glance at where Moisheh Chalfon
was standing, and it seemed to him that Moisheh Chalfon was doing the
same to him, only Moisheh Chalfon was looking not into his eyes, but
deep into his heart, and there reading the word Thief! And Moisheh
Chalfon is permitting the people to pray together with him, Berel the
"Mercy, mercy, compassionate God!" cried Berel's heart in its despair.
* * * * *
They had concluded Maariv, recited the first four chapters of the Psalms
and the Song of Unity, and the people went home, to lay in new strength
for the morrow.
There remained only a few, who spent the greater part of the night
repeating Psalms, intoning the Mishnah, and so on; they snatched an
occasional doze on the bare floor overlaid with a whisp of hay, an old
cloak under their head. Berel also stayed the night in the
house-of-study. He sat down in a corner, in robe and Tallis, and began
reciting Psalms with a pleasing pathos, and he went on until overtaken
by sleep. At first he resisted, he took a nice pinch of snuff, rubbed
his eyes, collected his thoughts, but it was no good. The covers of the
book of Psalms seemed to have been greased, for they continually slipped
from his grasp, the printed lines had grown crooked and twisted, his
head felt dreadfully heavy, and his eyelids clung together; his nose was
forever drooping towards the book of Psalms. He made every effort to
keep awake, started up every time as though he had burnt himself, but
sleep was the stronger of the two. Gradually he slid from the bench onto
the floor; the Psalter slipped finally from between his fingers, his
head dropped onto the hay, and he fell sweetly asleep....
And Berel had a dream:
Yom Kippur, and yet there is a fair in the town, the kind of fair one
calls an "earthquake," a fair such as Berel does not remember having
seen these many years, so crowded is it with men and merchandise. There
is something of everything--cattle, horses, sheep, corn, and fruit. All
the Tamschevate Jews are strolling round with their wives and children,
there is buying and selling, the air is full of noise and shouting, the
whole fair is boiling and hissing and humming like a kettle. One runs
this way and one that way, this one is driving a cow, that one leading
home a horse by the rein, the other buying a whole cart-load of corn.
Berel is all astonishment and curiosity: how is it possible for Jews to
busy themselves with commerce on Yom Kippur? on such a holy day? As far
back as he can remember, Jews used to spend the whole day in Shool, in
linen socks, white robe, and prayer-scarf. They prayed and wept. And now
what has come over them, that they should be trading on Yom Kippur, as
if it were a common week-day, in shoes and boots (this last struck him
more than anything)? Perhaps it is all a dream? thought Berel in his
sleep. But no, it is no dream! "Here I am strolling round the fair, wide
awake. And the screaming and the row in my ears, is that a dream, too?
And my having this very minute been bumped on the shoulder by a Gentile
going past me with a horse--is that a dream? But if the whole world is
taking part in the fair, it's evidently the proper thing to do...."
Meanwhile he was watching a peasant with a horse, and he liked the look
of the horse so much that he bought it and mounted it. And he looked at
it from where he sat astride, and saw the horse was a horse, but at the
selfsame time it was Moisheh Chalfon as well. Berel wondered: how is it
possible for it to be at once a horse and a man? But his own eyes told
him it was so. He wanted to dismount, but the horse bears him to a shop.
Here he climbed down and asked for a pound of sugar. Berel kept his eyes
on the scales, and--a fresh surprise! Where they should have been
weighing sugar, they were weighing his good and bad deeds. And the two
scales were nearly equally laden, and oscillated up and down in the
Suddenly they threw a sheet of paper into the scale that held his bad
deeds. Berel looked to see--it was the hundred-ruble-note which he had
appropriated at Moisheh Chalfon's! But it was now much larger, bordered
with black, and the letters and numbers were red as fire. The piece of
paper was frightfully heavy, it was all two men could do to carry it to
the weighing-machine, and when they had thrown it with all their might
onto the scale, something snapped, and the scale went down, down, down.
At that moment a man sleeping at Berel's head stretched out a foot, and
gave Berel a kick in the head. Berel awoke.
Not far from him sat a grey-haired old Jew, huddled together, enfolded
in a Tallis and robe, repeating Psalms with a melancholy chant and a
broken, quavering voice.
Berel caught the words:
"Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright:
For the end of that man is peace.
But the transgressors shall be destroyed together:
The latter end of the wicked shall be cut off...."
Berel looked round in a fright: Where is he? He had quite forgotten that
he had remained for the night in the house-of-study. He gazed round with
sleepy eyes, and they fell on some white heaps wrapped in robes and
prayer-scarfs, while from their midst came the low, hoarse, tearful
voices of two or three men who had not gone to sleep and were repeating
Psalms. Many of the candles were already sputtering, the wax was melting
into the sand, the flames rose and fell, and rose again, flaring
And the pale moon looked in at the windows, and poured her silvery light
over the fantastic scene.
Berel grew icy cold, and a dreadful shuddering went through his limbs.
He had not yet remembered that he was spending the night in the
He imagined that he was dead, and astray in limbo. The white heaps which
he sees are graves, actual graves, and there among the graves sit a few
sinful souls, and bewail and lament their transgressions. And he, Berel,
cannot even weep, he is a fallen one, lost forever--he is condemned to
wander, to roam everlastingly among the graves.
By degrees, however, he called to mind where he was, and collected his
Only then he remembered his fearful dream.
"No," he decided within himself, "I have lived till now without the
hundred rubles, and I will continue to live without them. If the Lord of
the Universe wishes to help me, he will do so without them too. My soul
and my portion of the world-to-come are dearer to me. Only let Moisheh
Chalfon come in to pray, I will tell him the whole truth and avert
This decision gave him courage, he washed his hands, and sat down again
to the Psalms. Every few minutes he glanced at the window, to see if it
were not beginning to dawn, and if Reb Moisheh Chalfon were not coming
along to Shool.
The day broke.
With the first sunbeams Berel's fears and terrors began little by little
to dissipate and diminish. His resolve to restore the hundred rubles
"If I don't confess," thought Berel, wrestling in spirit with
temptation, "I risk my world-to-come.... If I do confess, what will my
Chantzeh-Leah say to it? He writes, either the wedding takes place, or
the contract is dissolved! And what shall I do, when his father gets to
hear about it? There will be a stain on my character, the marriage
contract will be annulled, and I shall be left ... without my good name
and ... with my ugly old maid....
"What is to be done? Help! What is to be done?"
The people began to gather in the Shool. The reader of the Morning
Service intoned "He is Lord of the Universe" to the special Yom Kippur
tune, a few householders and young men supported him, and Berel heard
through it all only, Help! What is to be done?
And suddenly he beheld Moisheh Chalfon.
Berel quickly rose from his place, he wanted to make a rush at Moisheh
Chalfon. But after all he remained where he was, and sat down again.
"I must first think it over, and discuss it with my Chantzeh-Leah," was
* * * * *
Berel stood up to pray with the congregation. He was again wishful to
pray with fervor, to collect his thoughts, and attend to the meaning of
the words, but try as he would, he couldn't! Quite other things came
into his head: a dream, a fair, a horse, Moisheh Chalfon, Chantzeh-Leah,
oats, barley, this world and the next were all mixed up together in
his mind, and the words of the prayers skipped about like black patches
before his eyes. He wanted to say he was sorry, to cry, but he only made
curious grimaces, and could not squeeze out so much as a single tear.
Berel was very dissatisfied with himself. He finished the Morning
Prayer, stood through the Additional Service, and proceeded to devour
the long Piyyutim.
The question, What is to be done? left him no peace, and he was really
reciting the Piyyutim to try and stupefy himself, to dull his brain.
So it went on till U-Nesanneh Toikef.
The congregation began to prepare for U-Nesanneh Toikef, coughed, to
clear their throats, and pulled the Tallesim over their heads. The
cantor sat down for a minute to rest, and unbuttoned his shroud. His
face was pale and perspiring, and his eyes betrayed a great weariness.
From the women's gallery came a sound of weeping and wailing.
Berel had drawn his Tallis over his head, and started reciting with
earnestness and enthusiasm:
"We will express the mighty holiness of this Day,
For it is tremendous and awful!
On which Thy kingdom is exalted,
And Thy throne established in grace;
Whereupon Thou art seated in truth.
Verily, it is Thou who art judge and arbitrator,
Who knowest all, and art witness, writer, sigillator,
recorder and teller;
And Thou recallest all forgotten things,
And openest the Book of Remembrance, and the book reads itself,
And every man's handwriting is there...."
These words opened the source of Berel's tears, and he sobbed
unaffectedly. Every sentence cut him to the heart, like a sharp knife,
and especially the passage:
"And Thou recallest all forgotten things, and openest the Book of
Remembrance, and the book reads itself, and every man's handwriting is
there...." At that very moment the Book of Remembrance was lying open
before the Lord of the Universe, with the handwritings of all men. It
contains his own as well, the one which he wrote with his own hand that
day when he took away the hundred-ruble-note. He pictures how his soul
flew up to Heaven while he slept, and entered everything in the eternal
book, and now the letters stood before the Throne of Glory, and cried,
"Berel is a thief, Berel is a robber!" And he has the impudence to stand
and pray before God? He, the offender, the transgressor--and the Shool
does not fall upon his head?
The congregation concluded U-Nesanneh Toikef, and the cantor began: "And
the great trumpet of ram's horn shall be sounded..." and still Berel
stood with the Tallis over his head.
Suddenly he heard the words:
"And the Angels are dismayed,
Fear and trembling seize hold of them as they proclaim,
As swiftly as birds, and say:
This is the Day of Judgment!"
The words penetrated into the marrow of Berel's bones, and he shuddered
from head to foot. The words, "This is the Day of Judgment,"
reverberated in his ears like a peal of thunder. He imagined the angels
were hastening to him with one speed, with one swoop, to seize and drag
him before the Throne of Glory, and the piteous wailing that came from
the women's court was for him, for his wretched soul, for his endless
"No! no! no!" he resolved, "come what may, let him annul the contract,
let them point at me with their fingers as at a thief, if they choose,
let my Chantzeh-Leah lose her chance! I will take it all in good part,
if I may only save my unhappy soul! The minute the Kedushah is over I
shall go to Moisheh Chalfon, tell him the whole story, and beg him to
The cantor came to the end of U-Nesanneh Toikef, the congregation
resumed their seats, Berel also returned to his place, and did not go up
to Moisheh Chalfon.
"Help, what shall I do, what shall I do?" he thought, as he struggled
with his conscience. "Chantzeh-Leah will lay me on the fire ... she will
cry her life out ... the Mechutton ... the bridegroom...."
* * * * *
The Additional Service and the Afternoon Service were over, people were
making ready for the Conclusion Service, Neileh. The shadows were once
more lengthening, the sun was once more sinking in the west. The
Shool-Goi began to light candles and lamps, and placed them on the
tables and the window-ledges. Jews with faces white from exhaustion sat
in the anteroom resting and refreshing themselves with a pinch of snuff,
or a drop of hartshorn, and a few words of conversation. Everyone feels
more cheerful and in better humor. What had to be done, has been done
and well done. The Lord of the Universe has received His due. They have
mortified themselves a whole day, fasted continuously, recited prayers,
and begged forgiveness!
Now surely the Almighty will do His part, accept the Jewish prayers and
have compassion on His people Israel.
Only Berel sits in a corner by himself. He also is wearied and
exhausted. He also has fasted, prayed, wept, mortified himself, like the
rest. But he knows that the whole of his toil and trouble has been
thrown away. He sits troubled, gloomy, and depressed. He knows that they
have now reached Neileh, that he has still time to repent, that the door
of Heaven will stand open a little while longer, his repentance may yet
pass through ... otherwise, yet a little while, and the gates of mercy
will be shut and ... too late!
"Oh, open the gate to us, even while it is closing," sounded in Berel's
ears and heart ... yet a little while, and it will be too late!
"No, no!" shrieked Berel to himself, "I will not lose my soul, my
world-to-come! Let Chantzeh-Leah burn me and roast me, I will take it
all in good part, so that I don't lose my world-to-come!"
Berel rose from his seat, and went up to Moisheh Chalfon.
"Reb Moisheh, a word with you," he whispered into his ear.
"Afterwards, when the prayers are done."
"No, no, no!" shrieked Berel, below his breath, "now, at once!"
Moisheh Chalfon stood up.
Berel led him out of the house-of-study, and aside.
"Reb Moisheh, kind soul, have pity on me and forgive me!" cried Berel,
and burst into sobs.
"God be with you, Berel, what has come over you all at once?" asked Reb
Moisheh, in astonishment.
"Listen to me, Reb Moisheh!" said Berel, still sobbing. "The hundred
rubles you lost a few weeks ago are in my house!... God knows the truth,
I didn't take them out of wickedness. I came into your house, the key
was in the drawer ... there was no one in the room.... That day I'd had
a letter from my Mechutton that he'd break off his son's engagement if
the wedding didn't take place to time.... My girl is ugly and old ...
the bridegroom is a fine young man ... a precious stone.... I opened the
drawer in spite of myself ... and saw the bank-notes.... You see how it
was?... My Mechutton is a Misnaggid ... a flint-hearted screw.... I took
out the note ... but it is shortening my years!... God knows what I bore
and suffered at the time.... To-night I will bring you the note back....
Forgive me!... Let the Mechutton break off the match, if he chooses, let
the woman fret away her years, so long as I am rid of the serpent that
is gnawing at my heart, and gives me no peace! I never before touched a
ruble belonging to anyone else, and become a thief in my latter years I
Moisheh Chalfon did not answer him for a little while. He took out his
snuff, and had a pinch, then he took out of the bosom of his robe a
great red handkerchief, wiped his nose, and reflected a minute or two.
Then he said quietly:
"If a match were broken off through me, I should be sorry. You certainly
behaved as you should not have, in taking the money without leave, but
it is written: Judge not thy neighbor till thou hast stood in his place.
You shall keep the hundred rubles. Come to-night and bring me an I. O.
U., and begin to repay me little by little."
"What are you, an angel?" exclaimed Berel, weeping.
"God forbid," replied Moisheh Chalfon, quietly, "I am what you are. You
are a Jew, and I also am a Jew."