"I will travel the region and become an apprentice, hire myself as a delivery man — whatever it takes!”
Shoshanah never again saw any strangers outside her home and she forgot about what had happened. Chaim was relieved when the letters stopped coming and he told nothing of the matter to his daughter.
Eventually it was time for Shoshanah to be married. After searching for a suitable match for his special daughter, Chaim and his wife selected Gimpel’s learned, good-hearted son, Baruch. It was a time of tremendous happiness, but also sadness. The Cossacks were rampaging throughout the region, slaughtering Jews everywhere, and food and money were very scarce.
One day Chaim asked to speak to Baruch as he was walking out of the beis medrash.
“My dear son-in-law, how was your learning today?”
“Baruch Hashem! And, how are you?”
Chaim sighed heavily.
“I had to leave my job. The boss says it’s only a matter of time until the Cossacks come and plunder our village. He doesn’t want to be caught with a Jew working for him. I can no longer support you and Shoshanah with the little help I have been offering.”
Baruch glanced down at his torn shoes and patched-up pants. His winter coat resembled a tattered towel. He and Shoshana were already living on scraps, shivering from the cold at night, but now they would literally have absolutely nothing to survive on.
“I will find work!” Baruch said after a minute.
He forced a smile on his face. “I will travel the region and become an apprentice, hire myself as a delivery man — whatever it takes!”
“May Hashem be with you, my son.”
Shoshanah stayed with her parents as Baruch set out into the unknown to find parnassah. Every day they davened for his safety, terrified for his very life. The Cossacks were seemingly everywhere, spreading their terror and mayhem wherever they went.
Only a few villages away from his own, Baruch found a leather maker who was willing to hire him as an apprentice and teach him the business. Baruch made sure to wear a large hat over his yarmulke to hide his Jewish identity. Who knew which of the gentiles were sympathetic to the Cossack cause? It was better to be safe, rather than sorry….
Baruch worked day and night, staying in the shop after hours to master the trade so that he could finally return home to his wife and family. He davened constantly to Hashem, muttering under his breath as he worked, always careful to conceal his private conversations from the gentiles who worked with him.
But one day he was not so careful. Exhausted and nearing the end of his strength, he broke down crying. He thought he was alone, as it was many hours since the others had left the shop to go home for the day.
“Hashem, I’m exhausted, I’m broken! How much more can I possibly take? I’m doing my best, but how can I keep my spirits up when I’m surrounded by gentiles every second of my day? I don’t know when I’ll be able to return to my wife, and who knows? Maybe the dreaded Cossacks have already reached her village and killed everyone? Send me a sign! Please, Hashem! I’m trying to be a good Yid, to have emunah!”
A shadow loomed in the corner of the room and Baruch jumped in fright.
“Who are you talking to?”
It was Jack, an older man who worked for Baruch’s boss.
“I’m talking to myself.”
“No, I heard what you were saying. So, you’re a Jew, eh? I always thought you were different. I bet you have a special head covering underneath that hat you always wear, am I right? Now I know why you never use foul language or steal. You’re one of them.”
“Will you tell everyone?”
“Maybe.” Jack grinned, revealing two rows of yellow teeth.
“Don’t, please. My life depends on it!”
“Relax, I’m just kidding. I actually have some questions about the Jewish religion. I’m an atheist and I always wanted to debate a Jew. Come now to my house and we’ll debate, over a delicious hot pot of soup and meat. What do you say?”
“I’m not interested. I just want you to keep this a secret, please.”
“No!” Jack’s eyes narrowed. “Come now or I’ll tell everyone your true identity!”
“Okay, okay, just relax!”
Baruch followed Jack home, seeing as he had no choice. He entered Jack’s tiny, dilapidated house and they sat down at a table.
“Forget the soup and meat. I lied about that. But I do have something even more delicious than that. Here, take a swig of some good vodka.”
“I don’t drink.”
“Well, I do.” Jack laughed roughly. “I’m going to take a few drinks before we begin our debate.”
Jack proceeded to down half the bottle. His face turned beet red and he then began to rant and rave, howling about his false, ridiculous beliefs. Baruch stayed silent against the tirade, waiting for the moment he could safely leave the house.
“And you’re all a bunch of cowards, a nation of fools, all of you! You’re the worst, the very wors—”
And suddenly Jack clutched at his chest, made a gurgling noise in his throat, and then toppled over backward into his cabinet full of liquor.
Baruch stood up slowly.
Jack was not moving at all.
Baruch knew it was time to leave. There was no choice: He would have to run back home to his village or possibly face trouble with the authorities tomorrow. As he turned to go, he spotted objects glinting on the floor next to Jack. When Jack had fallen, his elbow had slammed into the wall and coins had come tumbling out.
It was just enough money for Baruch to hire a ride to return home and purchase some food and clothing for his family for a few weeks. Hashem had answered his tefillos, in a most unexpected way.
When Baruch returned home with the money, it was a great time of celebration. He told his family all about his trials and tribulations and his ultimate salvation . After the celebration was over, Shoshanah gently informed Baruch that there was also bad news on the horizon. The Cossacks were rumored to be heading straight toward their village….
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 815)
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