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[Page 85]

How the Place of Turiysk Was Uplifted

Z. Weinfer


Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Rebeca Bialik Gilad

As he returned and approached the bridge, he alone remained on the same railing as previously. In his thoughts, he had the feeling that he had not even left the place. Suddenly, his 19 years in America were left behind him. He again saw the child who studied Gemara in the Beis Midrash. Even though he picked up an improper [treif-posul] book from time to time, he was more interested in the Gemara than in the books placed before him.

It was not just with the Gemara, but also with everything that was around him.

His friends, the Gemara youths, began to appear before his eyes. Zelik Bracha Hinda's was among them – the youth with the blond peyos and large, blue eyes that were always immersed in thought, and about which people said that they always gazed like birds flying in the sky. The sons-in-law supported by their fathers-in-law appeared before him. They would sit stationary at their shtenders [learning podiums] with open Gemaras, with their watches that the in-laws had given them for the wedding. There were also older Jews who swayed before their open books, humming the words with a sweet, melancholy, cyclic melody.

The fine rabbi, Yisrael Maties was sitting there. The lit candles on his shtender beautified his pale, gentle face, which appeared even paler and gentler. He was trembling over some difficult matter within the frame of his coal-black beard and peyos. His eyes were so finely black that they were literally fiery. They became especially bright when the matter in the book was suddenly clarified in his mind.

Rabbi Moshe Gott bent his thin, lulav-like neck over an open book. From time to time, he let a quiet sound from his throat, which hovered and remained hanging in the air.

In a corner, completely separate from everybody, sat the elderly Bunem Rodewiczer, who came from the village from time to time to sit in the Beis Midrash for the evening and absorb the sound of Torah. He sat with an open Ein Yaakov[1] with large, white eyebrows that hanged over his eyes like white curtains. Nobody could say whether he was looking into the Ein Yaakov from behind them, or keeping his eyes closed completely and satisfying himself with the sounds of Torah he was hearing from around him.

[Page 86]

One could hear the voices of the youths arguing and forging each other, as they were swaying and pulling at their barely sprouting beards.

There was the elderly Reb Levi Sofer. His head was bent. He had a narrow, wispy, white beard. Quiet, stifled sounds emanated from his mouth.

The side door on the right suddenly opened, and the crowed stood on their feet. Even the elderly Levi, who held his head very low, sensed what was happening and stood up.

Rabbi Yaakov Leibenyu appeared, accompanied by Mottel Berkes. He paced in a circle between the shtenders and the tables, waved his right hand, and mumbled with a benign fierceness in his voice, “Sit! Sit!”

He mumbled to the crowd, and sighed to himself as he said with resentment, “Ay, ay, wasting time from Torah.”

The only one who did not have to stand up before the rabbi was Rabbi Moshe Gott, for he constantly recited his Zohar[2] while standing.

In his memory, he recalled a yahrzeit for his father in the town.

“ -- -- Moshele, would you please go to the Beis Midrash to study a commentary of the Mishna in memory of Father,” his mother reminded him, and scolded, “Previously, I did not have to remind you to do this on the day of Father's yahrzeit.”
The final observation, with a sigh, was regarding the treif-posul books with which he used to be involved at that time, as well as the fact that he “chanced upon” girls a bit too often in that time.
“Oh, woe to me,” Mother would say after a deep sigh, as he did her a favor and set out to the city Beis Midrash.
It was the afternoon of Shushan Purim[3], as Jews were sitting at home celebrating the downfall of Haman. Therefore, the Beis Midrash was empty. Only Rabbi Moshe Gott gloomily dragged himself there and back in his low-cut shoes. Moshe Etia Beiles recalls that when he opened the Mishna and started searching for sections that began with the initials of his father's name[4], the thin figure of Rabbi Moshe Gott sprouted up before him.
“Ay, ay, ay,” groaned Rabbi Moshe Gott in his thin voice.

“What is it, Rabbi Moshe?”

Rabb Moshe pointed with his withered finger to a notice that [Page 87]

was hanging on the door among many other notes. This is what was written on the notice:

“An important announcement. Yesterday evening, we “caught” Moshe Etia Beiles with Rivka Shlomo Nachum's[5] at the crooked tree behind the town.”

“This, indeed? Foolishness!”

“Foolishness?” asked Rabbi Moshe Gott curiously, holding the tip of his thin, grey beard with his thin finger.

“Definitely foolishness! What then, not foolishness?”

“With a matron, foolishness?” Rabbi Moshe Gott asked again, with his dark eyes becoming red hot.

“She is no matron, just a plan, Jewish girl.”

“Indeed, no matron?” Rabbi Moshe Gott asked, as he quietly dragged himself across the Beis Midrash in his low-cut shoes.

Moshe Etia Beiles recalled that he thought that it was already over. However, Rabbi Moshe Gott quickly returned and, casting flaming glances at him, asked.
“Indeed, an ordinary Jewish girl?”

“I have told you so.”

“And what were you doing there with an ordinary Jewish girl?” he wanted to know.

“What do you think? We were talking.”

“You were talking?” Rabbi Moshe found the idea novel.

“Indeed, yes, we were talking.”

“So! So! You were talking?”

Rabbi Moshe Gott again dragged himself in his low-cut shoes over the quiet, empty Beis Midrash, mumbling something into his beard.

That afternoon, things looked grey through the windows of the Beis Midrash. Certain that Rabbi Moshe Gott had already finished with him, he began to glance into the Mishna. However, he was still there.

“And about what were you talking with the female?”

“What does it matter about what? We were talking!”

Moshe Etia Beiles remembers that he uttered that final response in an irritated tone. However, Rabbi Moshe Gott was not impressed, and lost his composure.

[Page 88]

“You were talking? You were talking?” he shouted. He pulled at his bear with his trembling hand and almost jumped up.

“Now I am like a girl, for example, and we talk! So speak! Let me indeed hear how one talks!”

The moon peeked out of the clouds, like a bride in a silver wedding gown entangled in a wide swath of woven lace. Seeing it, memories of the Jews in the Beis Midrash jumbled in his mind.

The thin figure of Rabbi Levi Sofer appeared before his eyes once again, no longer sitting separate and alone, but rather the tenth of a group of Jews around him.

Lechayim, Rabbi Levi.” Kiva Bloz extended his hand. He had yahrzeit today and therefore brought a flask of liquor.

Lechayim, Lechayim, you should live more years,” answered Rabbi Levi Sofer with a dull voice.

He was called Sofer [scribe] even though nobody in town remembers him writing a Torah scroll. Not only a Torah scroll, but he also refused to write even a mezuzah.
“The proof, the proof,” he would say as he explained his refusal to perform the mitzva.
The thin, stooped figure of Rabbi Levi Sofer stood before Moshe Etia Beiles' eyes. He was wearing a threadbare, green, elastic kapota, sitting bent over the over and studying by heart. The words came out of his toothless mouth a bit garbled. He only stood up on his feet as he was praying. He would stand up so straight and so tall, literally like a thin pine. When he was in a state of strong devotion, he would raise his thin hands upward. Then, with his head between his raised arms, he would look like a three-branched menorah.

Rabbi Levi Sofer lived entirely from the court. As people would say, what was he lacking? There was no trace of his family in town for a very long time already. There was not even an inkling that he had once been a family man. Only a few elderly people could state that he once had a wife and children. He wife was already in the world of truth for many years, but what of his children?

Perhaps in America, or perhaps somewhere else.

In his deep old age, he had come to rely on the support[6] of the court of Rabbi Leibenyu. He was the son who inherited from the elder Rabbi Avrahamele. His constant place was near the oven in the Beis Midrash, where his mouth never closed.

[Page 89]

Nobody in town could state how great his learning was. Due to his age and his mumbling, nobody ever had a debate with him regarding an explanation of the Gemara. It was always crowded around him, and everyone literally placed their mouths to their ears:

“Shh, shh, Rabb Levi is explaining!”
A winter night in the Beis Midrash appeared before Moshe Etia Beilis' eyes. Rabbi Levi was then about to explain how the place of Turiysk was uplifted.

The lights over most the tables and shtenders were already flickering. A thick, tallow candle was burning over the table near the oven – probably someone's yahrzeit candle. It was already late. Most of the studiers had already gone home, but there was still a considerable crowd sitting next to the warm oven when Rabbi Levi began to tell.

“It was in the days of Nikolai I, may his name be blotted out,” he began, swaying his thin head around with his eyes, as he began to explain the wickedness of that Nikolai I.

“It was with that selfsame Nikolai, under whose rule they used to snatch young Jewish boys and turn them into soldiers, Heaven forbid.”

He was quiet for a while. His old eyes twinkled, as if they wanted to see the homeless and tormented Jewish children from that time. Suddenly, he swayed and laughed with a quiet and refined laughter.
“How did I get immersed in such sadness, huh?”
He looked at those around him with his twinkling eyes, and mumbled.
“No, no, not about that, but indeed about something else.”
He moved his thin, trembling hand over his face and beard, and said:
“It is about how this place of Turiysk became uplifted, that I want to tell you about.”
He was silent for a while, looking at those around him with glances as if begging forgiveness, and began:

[Page 90]

“This indeed happened in the days of the evil one, may his name and memory be blotted out, and it was at the beginning of a winter evening as the sun was already about to set. Suddenly, out of thin air, a carriage with two passengers appeared in town.” He mentioned, “out of thin air.” In truth, such carriages often appeared here.
He thought for a moment, as if he wanted to relate accurately what had happened. His eyes twinkled, peering through his beard.
“I mentioned earlier 'the beginning of the winter.' If you will, it was in the autumn. As everyone knows, there is terrible mud in the autumn. The wagon with the passengers was stuck deep in the mud, and the horses could not do anything.”

“Ha, ha, ha,” he laughed quietly to himself.

“I said 'stuck' yes, indeed, certainly stuck, however not for long, Heaven forbid. The local Jews of that time were coarse, strong Jews, literally mighty people. They firmly upheld the commandment, “'You shall surely release it'[7]. They came and they dragged it out.

“Ha, ha, the locals were coarse Jews, mainly stable boys, always doing something with horses and cattle. But they were honest, healthy Jews, literally brave men. My father of blessed memory used to relate about one such Jew called Moshe Katshe. Hmm… yes, Katshe… He was once a hero!”

H looked at those around him and asked them quietly:
“Did you never hear about this hero, Moshe Katshe, huh? What then, you indeed never heard? I remember, so I will tell you about him.”
Smiling into his beard, Rabbi Levi Sofer, asked those around him.
“So, where was I, huh?”

“At the wagon driver with the two Jews who were stuck in the mud,” they reminded him.

“Yes, yes, with the grassy Jews.” He regained his train of thought and continued to tell. “Of course, they immediately came. Jews fulfil the commandment of 'you shall surely release it.' They pulled the wagon, and goaded the two weary horses in the front – Giddy-up! Giddy-up!”

The old man shouted the “Giddy-up” with strained shout from his mouth, and continued:
“And when they had released the wagon and goaded the horses,
[Page 91]
suddenly, Yehoshua Shual's grabbed on… You have never heard the story from Yehoshua Shual's, regarding the candelabrum that he grabbed from the Torah reader one Sabbath? So so, you indeed never heard?”
His eyes twinkled with great curiosity toward the listeners, regarding why they had never heard this.
“I remember, and I will tell you another time about Yehoshua Shual's with the candelabrum on the Sabbath in the Beis Midrash. And now? Yes, yes, that Yehoshua Shual's made an announcement:

'Jews, it is time for Mincha!'

And it was indeed time to conduct the Mincha service. The sun was already ruddy over the fruit orchards on the other side of the river.
'Guests, let us go to the Beis Midrash,' the residents called out.

'No, no, not to the Beis Midrash,' called out the older of those who were sitting in the wagon.

'Huh? What? Not to the Beis Midrash? Where then, will the Jews recite the Mincha service, huh?' – asked the residents with great curiosity. Then the older one on the wagon lifted his eyes, and they saw…”

Rabb Levi Sofer was silent for a while. He swayed his head back and forth, and then said:
“His eyes shone like Sabbath candles, Jews later explained.

And it was then, when the older one moved his hands near the younger one and told him,' Yisrael, tell them, Yisrael.' That is what the older one told the younger one, and the younger one immediately turned his head toward the wagon driver, who then put a veil over the neck of one of his horses: 'Michel, which day is it, about Sara the daughter of Leah?' – 'The third,' the wagon driver roared as a wagon driver usually roars, what did you do with the horses. – 'Sara the daughter of Leah?' asked the Jews who were around, as they looked with great curiosity. Suddenly Yehoshua Shual's banged his head and shouted:

'Sara the daughter of Leah? Sara the daughter of Leah? – That is my daughter-in-law, who is already in the third day in labor!?' – 'Michel, you must go to Rabbi Yehoshua Shual's house, and we will recite the Mincha service there,' the older one said to his wagon driver. Michal immediately ascended the coachbox. The horses moved, and the wagon started to go, smoothly as if it was atop a table, and without sinking in the mud.”

[Page 92]

Moshe Etia Beiles leaned over the railing of the bridge, but he was completely in the Beis Midrash near Rabbi Levi Sofer. From the other side of the river, the rhythmic panting of the mother did not cease in Jasne Wielmaszne Koszinski's steam mill. This meant that everything that was is no more, is no more. The water mill beneath the bridge driven by the open dams was the same. But Moshe did not pay attention now to their explanations, for he was completely in the Beis Midrash near the oven, and was listening to what Rabbi Levi Sofer was explaining. He was not only hearing, but also literally seeing how Rabbi Levi Sofer's thin, trembling finger straightened and trembled over the sparse hairs of his beard. He made efforts so that his ears would hear Rabbi Levi Sofer's voice, that continued to relate:

“The thing is, they recited the Mincha service in the home of Yehoshua Shual's the horse merchant. You realize that the prayer leader was none other than the older Jew from the wagon. This was a Mincha like on Yom Kippur, not a regular weekday Mincha. The groaning from the adjacent den intermixed with the Mincha prayers, and the gathering entered a state of deep devotion. The groaning from the den was, of course, from the young wife, who had been writing in her bed for third day with great suffering. For the three days, they had done everything that they could do, and used everything that they could. The grandmother administered hot and cold compresses. My father of blessed memory, who was the permanent exorciser, had already tried a few times to exorcise the evil eye. Stefan the quack, on the other hand, had already tried his craft a few times. Even Paraska the wax caster woman had already been by a few times. Ha , ha, Paraska the wax caster!”
Rabbi Levi Sofer laughed gently and asked those around:
“Have you not heard of Paraska the wax caster, huh? Indeed, you never heard? Oh, woe! So so, you have not heard? I remember, and I will tell you about her, how she came to Rabbi Avrahamele, may his merit protect us, in her older years… Are you with me?” He asked, and immediately mentioned, “With the wax caster, huh? So, yes, with the wax caster. So, as it is called, she casted wax and casted wax, and it did not help. To sum up, they worshipped the Mincha service, and as they were worshipping Mincha, he turned around, and the older Jew from the wagon said:

'Binyamin should come.'

Binyamin, the husband of the wife, indeed Yehoshua Shual's only son, entered trembling. It is no longer worthwhile to ask from where he knew that the young man's name was Binyamin. From where did he know that the wife's name was Sara Leah? And do not even wonder how they even saw this.

[Page 92a]

'Binyamin,' he said to the terrified young man, 'take a glass and run over to the river. Immerse the glass in the river seven times. Seven, or indeed exactly seven times seven, no more and no less. Then you should draw a full glass of water from the river, and bring it here immediately.

When Binyamin went away with the glass, the Jew turned his face to the wall and those gathered saw how his shoulders were trembling. His shoulder trembled even more every time he heard a groan from the nearby den. The younger man who had arrived with him in the open wagon stood next to him the entire time with closed eyes, and Michel the wagon driver stood next to the door and was quiet. It is certainly not appropriate to ask why the older one turned his face to the door at the moment when Binyamin returned with the glass, silencing Binyamin as he approached the entrance. He took his hand and entered the den with him. They both moved forward, and the gathering moved along behind them. When the approached the den, the stranger looked for a while at the wife, who was lying there in a weakened state. He then bent over to her, and ordered him to recite the Shehakol blessing[8]. At the end of the blessing, he said to Binyamin, 'bring the glass to her mouth.' Binyamin began to tremble like a leaf on a tree. 'I am a Kohen. I am not allowed…' 'Yes, yes, we are kohanim!' the father Yehoshua Shual's helped his son. “Nidda!' those surrounding silently said with trembling voices[9]. They the stranger turned his Sabbath-candle-like eyes toward Binyamin and commanded, 'I, Mordechai the son of Aharon of Chernobyl, permit, and decree!' These words puzzled everyone. It took a long while until they realized what happened. And when they finally did realize, we heard the roar:

'The Chernobler, the Chernobler!'
It was at that moment that Binyamin placed the full glass to the lips of his wife with trembling hands. At that moment, the glass split in Binyamin's hand. One half remained empty in his hand, whereas the other half remained hanging over the woman's lips, and the water dripped into her mouth.
'Holy Tzadik!' everyone called out with great trembling. He, may his merit protect us, gave a hint that we should leave the den, and immediately send in the grandmother. Within a few minutes the sound of a baby's cry was heard from the den.

'Mazel Tov,' said the Rebbe. Looking at the door where his wagon driver was standing, he added, Unhitch the horses, Michel, we are remaining here for the Shalom-Zachar!'[10]

[Page 93]

Rabbi Levi Sofer remained quiet for a while. He eyes turned into his beard, and the velvet hat on his head swayed.

“Then the Shalom Zachar took place! We worshipped in the town Beis Midrash, and then went to Yehoshua Shual's home.”
Moshe Etia Beiles smiled in the dark night. He remembered how at that moment, Rabbi Levi Sofer lowered his head into his beard and looked like he was dozing. However, the surrounding crowd sat and waited. Suddenly, he swayed, and woke up. He lifted his face, glanced at the yahrzeit candles with his eyes, and his voice again started up:
“On Saturday night, Rabbi Mordechila made Havdalah, but immediately after “Vayiten Lecha[11] he said to Yisrael, who was his gabbai [assistant]:

'Michel should hitch up the horses.'

'How come, holy Tzadik!' the town, especially Yehoshua Shual's, begged of him.

'At least for the circumcision?' Yehoshua Shual's fell at his feet, but it did not help.

'I have finished,' said the Rebbe. A little later, Michel helped Rabbi Yisrael onto the wagon that he, Michel the wagon driver, had driven to the porch.

When Michel was already seated in the cabin, and all the Jews had already been dismissed, a large, bright moon came out from behind the clouds and shone over the river that flowed behind Yehoshua Shual's house.
'A fine river you have,' Rabbi Mordechaile said, and quickly added, 'It will soon rise, your river.'”
Rabbi Levi Sofer smiled quietly into his beard and ended as follows:
“So, now you all know that Rabbi Mordechaile's son, Rabbi Avrahamele, settled here a year after this. The world resonated through him. And it was indeed by that river that he built his courtyard, and here in the courtyard he compiled his holy book 'Magen Avraham.' Which is… Which is… So, I do not need to explain to you what the 'Magen Avraham' is for the Hasidim in the world.”
A cool wind blew from the river and caressed Moshe Etia Beilis' face. Above everything, one could hear from the steam mill the difficult sighing

[Page 94]

that the mother let out. From below the bridge, one could hear the rushing of the water that flew into the wide Turiya with great force. Suddenly, he got the sensation that the “sigh, sigh” from the mother in the mill was not so that the stones should mill the kernels in the mill, but rather it was the great force that thrusts and thrusts at something that is very close, in front of the eyes. He also sensed the rushing water under the bridge. It happened that the water flow was washing away every memory, every sigh that here. He felt a deep pain. A pain that slowly intermixed with fear, and his mouth murmured.

“Zelik, Zelik, where are you? Come and save!”
He set out with shaky steps from the bridge to the other side, between the dense, intertwined, muddy oaks, toward the town.
“Shh,” the leaves rustled gently on the branches of the oaks. The moon, cool and silent, burst through the branches of the broken, silver lines before his steps. “No problem, the poet will save,” he silently comforted himself.
He imagined the discussion that he would have with his friend, the poet, when they would meet again in New York.
“Did you see, Zelik?” he will ask him.

“I saw,” Zelik will answer, “and also heard.”

This time, however, Zelik would not leave him alone. He will demand that he give back the town that once was.
“Zelik,” give us back Rabbi Avrahamele, Rabbi Yaakov Leibenyu, Rabbi Levi Sofer, Rabb Moshe Got.”
He would demand from him, as well as from Itzikl the chimneysweep. He would demand from him, and from all, all, who were there. He would demand from him.

Moshe Etia Beiles accelerated his steps, and he murmured from his mouth.

“A wagon driver came with two Jews…”

Translator's Footnotes

  1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ein_Yaakov Return
  2. The Zohar is the main work of the Kabala. Return
  3. The day following Purim, still somewhat festive. Return
  4. There is a custom on yahrzeits to study sections of Mishna, the opening letters of which form the name of the deceased. Return
  5. This Yiddish naming convention would mean: Rivka the daughter of Shlomo Nachum. Return
  6. The term used here 'kest kind' implies a youth relying on the support of his father-in-law. Return
  7. See Exodus 23:5. Return
  8. The blessing before partaking of various foods and drinks, including water. Return
  9. A woman in childbirth has the status of a Nidda (a woman in the state of ritual impurity), and her husband is not allowed to touch her. It is interesting that the kohen status has no bearing on this. A Kohen is not allowed to come in contact with a corpse, or even be in the same building as a corpse, but all Jewish husbands are not allowed to come in contact with their wives when in the state of Nidda. Return
  10. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shalom_Zachar Return
  11. A section of the post Sabbath prayers. Return


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