"I don’t need a chavrusa, and I for sure don’t need a big talmid chacham like him, I’m happy to go to a shiur"
Chaim paced up and down his new backyard as he spoke on the phone. It wasn’t much bigger than the one in Kensington, but it was like a different planet. Back in Brooklyn, a huge, knotted old apple tree had taken up too much space in their little backyard, blocking the sun from a disheveled patch of grass surrounded on all sides by cracked concrete. It seemed like every week, one of the kids had skinned a knee over there and needed Band-Aids. There was a gap in the bushes that opened into the backyard of the Italian prizefighter with all the cats, Mario, and Succos had always been a weeklong exercise of trying to keep the cats out of the succah without offending their owner.
Years ago, Heshy and Nussi had built a clubhouse and there were still nails sticking out of the boards leaning against the back of the house. Chaim and Shaindy had always discussed getting rid of the boards, but then they would remember the eineklach and how much fun the clubhouse could be for them, if they could only rebuild it.
The new owners had smiled politely at the memories Shaindy Brucker shared, and had their workers cart the boards directly to the garbage, clearly not that interested in seeing the old clubhouse reassembled.
Here in Lakewood, small white pebbles neatly filled the space between concrete pavers and a brand new patio set, installed by the developers, sat in the shadow of the fresh cedar wood fence. Chaim wanted to sink into the inviting thick white cushion with its yellow stripes, but something Heshy had said caused him to stop walking and grab hold of the fence post, just to steady himself. It was a dramatic move, something he was not prone to, but Heshy had succeeded in shocking him.
Chaim was the calm parent, and even when he wasn’t, he’d long ago learned to keep his voice steady and composed. Getting excited only increased the tension, he always said.
“I hear,” he said, not completely sure what Heshy meant. Maybe his son would repeat it.
“Yah, like, until you were in Lakewood, it wasn’t that nogeia for us,” Heshy obliged. “But now that you’re there, it’s kedai for us to try. It’s like an eis ratzon. It’s where I feel like we would do well, and you have enough space, from what I hear, that a room isn’t a big deal. The main thing for us is yishuv hadaas, and if we don’t have the stress right away of rent, of deciding on a place, vechuloi vechuloi, it can make a huge difference for us.”
Chaim was quiet. Shaindy would have a hard time with this.
He imagined Heshy’s face, open and expectant, completely certain not just that his own ideas were perfect, but also that everyone else would be just as pleased as he was and fall neatly into place.
It would have been simpler to turn the conversation on its head and tell Heshy to ask Shaindy directly, but Chaim knew that he had to do it himself. There was no easy way to say it, but at least to him, she would be able to react — something that would make it easier for everyone later on.
“Okay, tzaddik,” he said, “sounds very nice and we would be very excited. Let me just speak it over with Mommy and I’ll get back to you. How’s Gitty? The baby?”
“Good, baruch Hashem, thanks Tatty, they’re excited about this plan too,” Heshy said, and then paused for a moment. “Ta, what are you learning?” he suddenly asked brightly, as if this was a new conversation.
The kids had always done that when they wanted to distract Chaim, and even though Chaim saw through it, it always worked.
“I’m learning with the chevreh on the phone, for now, but I have a few chavrusa options I like, I have to decide what mehalech to take. Devail, I’m writing a bit on Taharos, tumah retzutzah…”
It worked now as well.
Reuven Stagler had gone to the same daf yomi shiur for 21 years in Queens, and he hoped to join the one in the Alameda Gardens shul. The seven-fifteen morning shiur seemed perfect. He was surprised when his wife mentioned that Chaim Brucker was looking for a chavrusa to do the daf with. What was wrong with the shiur in shul?
“Shaindy said her husband would love it, but it would be better if you asked him, made it like it’s coming from you?”
Reuven looked at her oddly. “Huh? Like what’s coming from me?”
Nechama shrugged. “I don’t know, that’s what she said. Maybe he’s a shy type? Maybe he needs the kavod of you asking him?”
“I hear. I don’t need a chavrusa, and I for sure don’t need a big talmid chacham like him, I’m happy to go to a shiur, it’s more my style. Less pressure, less intense, you know?”
Nechama looked confused. “No, I think he wants to start a shiur, is what she said, or maybe she wants him to start the shiur? I don’t know. I really don’t have any idea what she means, but Reuven,” her voice dropped a bit, “she’s my only friend here for now and I don’t want to rock the boat. Could you maybe just go up to him and find out what he has in mind?”
“Look,” Reuven spoke kindly, “I’m happy you made a friend right away, you know that, but I’m not looking for obligations and I’m not super interested in becoming anyone’s talmid, even a choshuv person like him, at this point in my life. I doubt he wants to say a shiur, by the way, he seems perfectly content right now.”
She sighed and went back to her magazine and he felt bad.
“Yeah okay, I’ll go over to him after Maariv, no problem,” he said.
Reuven approached Chaim on the way out of shul and asked if he was holding with the daf.
“What do you have shver?” Chaim asked, enthusiasm creeping into his voice, and Reuven felt bad all over again. This man wanted to speak in learning and nothing else.
“Nothing, nothing, just trying to decide on the right shiur, is all, so I was wondering if you learn it,” Reuven said as the two men fell into step.
“Depends on the masechta, but I can’t say I’m a dedicated daf learner, no,” Chaim said.
“Okay, okay, you would probably be a very good maggid shiur,” Reuven said generously.
He could tell from the way Chaim looked at him that he had said something wrong.
It was quiet, and Reuven asked, “What?”
Chaim shrugged and kept walking. “I moved to Lakewood to learn in peace. Baruch Hashem, we made money on the house and we’re finally able to enjoy some menuchas hanefesh, I just want to chazer, to write… but I feel like people want… ah, nothing, nothing at all. Not sure why I said that. So tell me again, what sugya are you learning?” he asked, his voice shifting again. He was back in safe, secure territory.
Reuven felt bad for his new friend and struggled to come up with a kushya. “I had a he’ara on Rashi in the parshah,” he finally said as they turned onto Wimbledon Loop, and Chaim Brucker looked grateful.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 883)
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