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Reuven and his father take a cab home from the hospital back to their brownstone apartment on a street off of Lee Avenue. When Reuven enters the house, he can smell the delicious chicken soup that Manya, their Russian housekeeper, has prepared for them. Manya greets Reuven warmly.
After lunch, Reuven walks through his apartment as if seeing it for the first time. First, he walks through the hallway, which is lined with pictures of great Zionists from the past century: Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism; Chaim Nachman Bialik, a great Hebrew poet and writer; and Chaim Weizmann, a Zionist leader who eventually becomes the first president of Israel. Next, Reuven surveys his own room, where New York Times war maps line the wall alongside pictures of Roosevelt and Einstein. He then enters his father’s study, which is lined from floor to ceiling with bookcases.
Reuven’s father is working at his typewriter so Reuven exits quickly, not wanting to disturb him. In the living room, Reuven looks through the window, watching the sunlight. He remembers that Danny has promised to visit him the following day. Lying on the lounge chair on the back porch, Reuven thinks about Danny and about all that has changed since the softball game.
That night, after Shabbat dinner, Reuven sits at the kitchen table with his father, who sips tea and answers Reuven’s questions about Danny. Mr. Malter warns Reuven that he will begin his explanation far back in history, with a description of the rise of Hasidism in the eighteenth century. In the seventeenth century, David Malter explains, Polish Jews were persecuted by Polish peasants and by members of the Greek Orthodox Church. As a result of the anti-Semitism, someone pretending to be a messiah deceived them. Serious Jewish faith in Poland was replaced by a superficial belief in magic and superstition. A leader named the Ba’al Shem Tov—The Kind or Good Master of the Name—emerged into this spiritual void with a new vision of Judaism, and Hasidism was born.
Ba’al Shem Tov studied the Jewish mystical texts of the Kabbalah, and downplayed the study of Jewish legal texts in favor of spirituality and prayer. Every Hasidic community was led by a tzaddik, a righteous person who served as a superhuman link between the community and God. The Hasidim lived shut off from the rest of the world and passed down the position of tzaddik from father to son. Despite opposition from the Mitnagdim—the intellectual opponents of Hasidism—the movement flourished, and its traditions were passed down through the generations. David Malter points out that the clothes the Hasidim wear today are the same style they wore in Poland hundreds of years ago, and that they hold many unique beliefs, such as the belief that Hasidic leaders need to bear the suffering of the entire Jewish People. Reuven’s explains that Danny is next in line to inherit his father’s great Hasidic dynasty, with all its traditions and customs.
Mr. Malter says that because Danny is so brilliant, he is not satisfied with Jewish texts alone but voraciously consumes all types of literature. In fact, Danny reminds Mr. Malter of Solomon Maimon, an eighteenth-century Jew who forsook his faith to pursue secular knowledge. Mr. Malter encourages Reuven to become friends with Danny, then apologizes for his long lecture. Reuven tells his father how different the world looks to him now, as a result of only the last five days. Reuven gets up to go to bed, leaving his father to sip his tea pensively at the kitchen table.
Take a Study Break!