The Lithuanian

by Gerszon Gora

Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

Reb Pesach was one of the honorable people of the town. His house was the only one in the entire town that was built with two stories of red brick, in contrast to the other houses that were build of wood. He was very rich, and was liked by all circles in town. He frequented the Hassidic houses. He himself was not a prominent scholar, but he knew very well how to cleave to Hassidim. In the middle of one of the bright nights of Elul, prior to the holidays, when the horses were hitched to the wagon and the Hassidim were preparing to travel one by one to travel to the Rebbe, Reb Pesach went along with his splendid suitcase that contained provisions for all of the travelers.

Our Reb Pesach also had a daughter who reached the age of marriage, and was perhaps even a bit beyond that age. The matchmakers were not quiet and did not rest. They occupied themselves with this matter greatly, but help from Heaven was not forthcoming.

Year after year went by, and a match was not found for the daughter of Reb Pesach. The Hassidim encouraged Reb Pesach and said to him, “Don't worry, forty days prior to the creation of a child, his match is decreed from above. It must be that the proper match is yet to come. One day, the salvation will come with the blink of an eye.” Indeed, thus it was. The match from Heaven appeared with all his glory and splendor.

Reb Pesach made a match with an excellent boy from a Lithuanian family, one of the choice ones from the large Lithuanian Yeshivas, whose was known to be an expert scholar. However, at first it was difficult for Reb Pesach to decide on the matter. How can he bring a Lithuanian into the Shtibel? How could this young man find his place among the Hassidic young men, who speak to each other in the second person and do not treat each other with respect? How would he be able to tolerate seeing a young twenty year old man talking to a ninety year old in familiar language? However, he had no other way. He had found no other match, and, after all, he always desired to marry off his daughter to a scholar. Therefore, when they advised him about Ben-Zion the Lithuanian, he did not hesitate until he had concluded this fine match. It was no wonder that everyone talked and was astonished about this match.
The young Hassidic men talked among themselves, “What was Reb Pesach thinking, that he would bring to us a veteran Lithuanian, whose entire essence is formality?”
However the elder Hassidim, who were more levelheaded and broadminded, received with joy the news that, with the help of G-d, Reb Pesach had finally succeeded in finding an expert scholar as a match for his daughter, who would be supported at his table for many years so that he could continue to study Torah.

There was one old man there who had himself traveled several times to the Rebbe of Kock. He looked upon this matter positively, and turned to the grumbling young men and said to them: “Why all the noise? 'Litvaks' should indeed come to us. It is up to you to draw them near, to expose them to the treasures of Hassidism, and to bring them into the Hassidic mysteries.” The elder continued on, saying, “Remember that when that young man comes to you, whom you call the 'Litvak', you must draw him near and introduce him slowly to our way of life.” The words of the elder influenced the young man, and they all decided to draw the Lithuanian near, and to make him one of the group.

On the first days after the seven days of celebration, when Ben-Zion the Lithuanian entered the Shtibel, he sat in front of a large volume of the Vilna edition of the Talmud that he had received from his father-in-law as a gift, and began to study in the Gemara-melody that is known from the Lithuanian Yeshivas on account of its stress on each syllable – the young men looked upon with wonder and were silent. His methodology of study surprised them. They gave him leeway of a few days to continue with his method. For the first days, they also overlooked his manner of speaking, in which he used the formal style even to a young child. This is nothing – they thought – this is dough that can be kneaded.
Ben-Zion the Lithuanian had all of the character traits of a Hassidic young man. His gait was quick and elastic. His new ideas on Torah that he presented to the young men of the Shtibel testified to his sharpness of mind, brilliance, and exceptional grasp. He disliked verbosity of words, and matters that were off topic. He stated his words in brief and with reason. He was of middle height. His build was thin and lean. His beard was short and groomed in accordance with custom. He had penetrating, dark eyes. They always exuded a thirst for knowledge; a desire to obtain knew facts that would augment his store of knowledge.

During the first days, he recognized the division between himself and the rest of the young men. Even though he studied his Talmud all day, he silently felt within himself a sort of desire for both worlds. Everything was new to him. He saw Jews who wrapped themselves in tallises and put on tefillin in a manner that was different than what he was used to in his youth. All of their customs and manners were different than those he was used to. They all made various strange movements during the time of prayer and study. This one made motions of devotion; the other one paced back and forth, and then went to the corner, with his tallis covering his entire face, and his entire body trembling.
A desire was awakened in his heart to probe into the character of these young men and to understand them. He wished to understand them and their manners. In particular, their camaraderie amazed him, as they sat around the table after the services and drank a cup of “96” liquor, wishing each other blessings from the depths of their hearts. How strange is it, he thought in his heart – for what does liquor have to do with a Beis Midrash, a place where one studies Torah?

From examining them, he realized that all of these young men were cut from one mold. There is no “I” and “you”, just “we”. The “I” is subordinate to the “you”, and the “you” is subordinate to the “I”, and thus they merge into the “we”.
Slowly, a meeting of hearts took place between the young men and the Lithuanian, who began to look on this entire matter with different eyes. The young men began to invite him to the Rosh Chodesh feasts, and on occasion urged him to look into some Hassidic book before going to sleep. Thus, from both directions, the closeness was forged and grew from day to day. There was now only one final barrier between them – the Lithuanian “Misnagdish” education that cannot be uprooted from the heart in one day.
However, the day finally came where this barrier was removed. Ben-Zion the Litvak became completely involved in the life of the Shtibel and became an inseparable part of Hassidic life.

This took place on the heels of his first visit to the Rebbe, along with the other young men, before the holidays. The splendor and glory that pervaded in the court of the Rebbe, and the “still, silent voice” that rose above the thousands of Hassidim, who were crowded together and absorbing each expression with awe – these removed the final obstacle from his heart. He then understood the concept of “faith in Tzadikim” and finding shelter in the shadow of a Tzadik.
Being in the presence of the Rebbe was equivalent with all of the discussions and statements of the young men before this trip.
He said to himself, “On occasion, there is a certain unique experience that awakens sublime feelings, which can have more influence than an entire book”.
When he returned from the court of the Rebbe along wit the rest of the group, he felt himself as one of them in every manner, and he told them: “Please don't continue to call me a Litvak. I am one of you.”

With the passage of time, Ben-Zion ascended the rungs of the ladder of Hassidism and became a pillar of the Shtibel. He was the living spirit of the camaraderie. He was active in charitable matters and in helping those in need. “Lithuanianism” was no longer recognizable in him.
Nevertheless, he continued to be knows as, “Ben-Zion the Lithuanian” among the townspeople.