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THE PROMISED CHILD
"Perhaps. I have hope in my heart once again, Mendel.
Perhaps we will be helped through the zechus of the tzaddik, just
as others have been helped too."
"Yes, I too was filled with hope. And the glorious weather we
had all Sukkos also raised my spirits. For the first time in many-
years I was able to sleep in the sukkah every night. But then on
the afternoon of Simchas Torah it began to rain, and it hasn't
stopped since. You know we never have such rains in Pulichev.
What does it all mean?"
"What do you think, Mendel? What do you think it means?"
"I think it might mean we are not meant to go see Reb
Zalman. Perhaps it is not our destiny to have a child. I think I am
not deserving enough to continue the Pulichever lineage. I don't
think it will do us any good to go. Who knows? We might even be
putting our lives in danger if we insist on going to see Reb
"Do you really believe this, Mendel?"
"I don't know what else to think."
The Rebbetzin closed her eyes and knitted her brows in
"Perhaps we are being told that we want a child for the
wrong reasons," she said at last. "Perhaps we are too concerned
with our own needs. Both of us want a child to fill the void in our
own lives and also to continue the Pulichever lineage. Perhaps
more is expected of us. Perhaps we should want a child to bring
him up to serve Hashem and to help our people."
Reb Mendel slowly nodded his head.
"Yes, I think you may be right. That is how my father and
grandfathers would have felt about it. There is much wisdom in
what you say."
The Rebbetzin blushed.
"You would be wise to get some rest, Mendel," she said.
"Tomorrow we may be able to go, and you'll need your strength."
In the morning the rains had indeed stopped. By mid-
morning Reb Mendel and the Rebbetzin were on their way. The
roads were barely better than rivers of gravelly mud. The driver
swore under his breath as he whipped the horses on. By day their
bones were jarred by the ceaseless lurching of the carriage. By
night they tossed restlessly on lumpy mattresses in drab roadside
inns. On Shabbos they stayed with whatever Jewish family they
After two harrowing weeks on the road they reached the
Vistula River. Ahead, they could see the enormous royal castle
looming over the walls of Old Krakow. At the southern tip of the
city stood the smaller walls of Kasimierz, the section in which the
Jews of Krakow had been permitted to settle after being evicted
from the old city in 1495 by King Jan Albert. It was late afternoon
when Reb Mendel and the Rebbetzin finally found lodging in a
comfortable inn in Kasimierz. On the day of their arrival they
were too exhausted to step out of the inn. The following day they
went to Reb Zalman's house.
Reb Zalman lived in a ramshackle building nestled against
the city wall. The door was opened by a gaunt man with a stringy
black beard who led Reb Mendel and the Rebbetzin through an
archway into a small alcove that was completely bare except for
one long wooden bench. He introduced himself as Mottel the
Gabhai and asked them what they needed. He listened gravely to
their story, nodding sympathetically from time to time. Then he
asked them to wait there. He would call them when Reb Zalman
was ready to receive them.
Through the archway they could see a tiny shul and another
closed door beyond. After almost a full hour, the door opened,
and Mottel stepped out. He closed the door softly behind him and
motioned to them to come.
"There are a few things I must tell you before you go in," he
said. "Reb Zalman is old and weak. He lies on a bed. You must
bend over when you speak to him. I'll be next to you to help you if
you need it. Reb Zalman will give you his hand, but he will have a
cloth wrapped around it. Do not be offended."
Mottel opened the door and led Reb Mendel into the room.
The Rebbetzin remained standing in the open doorway. Reb
Zalman lay motionless on a narrow bed. He appeared to be
sleeping. His eyes were closed. His beard andpayos blended into
the pillow, forming a snow white frame for the glowing, almost
translucent skin of his face.
Mottel cleared his throat, and Reb Zalman's lids fluttered
open to reveal brilliant pale blue eyes. He fixed his gaze on Reb
Mendel. The burning eyes seemed to bore into Reb Mendel's
soul, forcing him to look away in confusion. Then, much to the
astonishment of Mottel the Gabbai, Reb Zalman removed the
cloth from his right hand and shook Reb Mendel's extended
"So you're Reb Mendel Pulichever," Reb Zalman said. "I
knew your father well. How can I help you, my son? What do you
"I have been married for over nine years, and I have still not
been blessed with a child "
"1 see. And you have come all the way from Pulichev just to
ask for my berachaM
Reb Mendel nodded.
"You must want a child very, very much."
Again, Reb Mendel nodded.
Reb Mendel's mouth fell open at the unexpected question.
"Because it is the proper way to serve Hashem and to help
our people," he stammered at last.
"And your wife agrees, of course," said Reb Zalman with a
smile, "as one would expect from Reb Yaakov Sofer's daughter.
Tell me, Reb Mendel, what if the best way for you to serve
Hashem is by not having children?"
"If I were convinced of that I would be happy with my fate,"
replied Reb Mendel fervently.
"Yes, yes," said Reb Zalman. "Quite so."
Reb Zalman closed his eyes. For a long time, he lay absolutely
still. Reb Mendel watched him intently, hardly daring to breathe
aloud. When Reb Zalman finally opened his eyes they glistened
"Reb Mendel," he said, "I can promise you a son, but I must
make three conditions. They are as follows: One, every Yom
Kippur you must be the one to say the KolNidre.Two, he must be
born with a defect."
"What kind of defect?" asked Reb Mendel, his voice filled
"I will pray that it won't be too severe," said Reb Zalman. He
"And the third?" prompted Reb Mendel.
Reb Zalman sighed wearily.
"The third," said Reb Zalman, "is that when your son reaches
the age of three you must bring him to Krakow for me to cut his
"Then I accept," said Reb Mendel eagerly.
"Reb Mendel, always remember to be thankful for whatever
you are given," Reb Zalman said with a strange look of sadness in
his eyes. "Mottel, ask Reb Yaakov Sofer's daughter to come here
for a moment."
Mottel signalled the Rebbetzin to come closer. She came
forward several paces.
Reb Zalman looked at both of them and said, "May the
Ribono Shel Olam bless both of you and give you the strength you
With that, he turned away and closed his eyes, and they
understood that it was time to go.
The following day they set out on the long journey back to
Pulichev. Strange and unsettling as the experience had been, they
could not contain their joy. They were going to have a child! A
Almost exactly a year later, in the middle of the month of
Cheshvan, Shloimele was born. The boy was missing the middle
toe on his left foot, but that hardly seemed to matter. Reb Mendel
thanked Hashem for letting the defect be so insignificant. Family,
friends and dignitaries came from many towns and cities in
Poland to celebrate the bris..
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