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The Secrets In The Flames


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“I shall leave here tonight to wherever my eyes will lead me. With a broken heart and afflicted soul, I am forced to take leave of my heiliger Tzaddik and orphan my beloved children. To you and to all our acquaintances, Moshe Chaim has taken leave of this earth.”

By morning, the tragic news of Moshe Chaim’s sudden disappearance had spread from mouth to mouth. Word had it that he was lured away from his learning by a knock on his study window; believing that his Rebbe had sent for him, he dashed out and never returned.

Upon being apprised of the shattering news, the Tzaddik sighed deeply, “Everything is in the hands of Heaven and whatever our Beloved God determines is for the good. One is not to question His doings.” That spelled the end of any further discussion of Moshe Chaim with the Tzaddik.

In the ensuing ten years, not even before the High Holy Days when there was not a person in town who did not approach the Rebbe with a kvitel (written prayerful request) to elicit his blessings, Soreh’le never once visited the Tzaddik.

To the women of the congregation who gently urged the agunah to beseech the Tzaddik to pray on her behalf, Soreh’le would say, “True, I am in need of my husband and my children their father, but the Rebbe has sustained the loss of his right hand and kindred-spirit; why rub salt in his wound? If he could bring him back, would he not?”

Soreh’le continued to maintain her sterling reputation – except for the fact that while she once was known as Soreh’le the tzidkanis, she now was referred to, with much empathy, as Soreh’le the agunah.

The Apter Rav was still trying to ascertain what urgent matter had brought Soreh’le to him at such an inconvenient time. The agunah released her pent-up emotions.

“Ten years of oppressive and agonizing darkness since that dreadful night, with not a soul to confide in by which to relieve my indescribable pain, to lighten my burden the slightest. My heiliger Tzaddik, I was too ashamed to come to you, to bare my grief which has eaten away at my soul and has caused me suffering beyond words.

“To cleanse myself of my iniquity, I have poured every ounce of energy into rearing my two children, raising them to tread a righteous path as befits the offspring of Moshe Chaim. It was my hope that the investment of my hard work and ensuring that my children have the same advantage as anyone else’s children would help me atone for my great transgression. And yet the heavy stone on my heart has not budged and I have not had a moment’s peace knowing that my good husband, a pure and untainted soul, has on account of me undertaken eternal exile.”

Two tears that had formed in the corners of the Tzaddik’s eyes dripped onto his pale cheeks and trickled down his dense white beard.

Soreh’le paused, took a deep breath, and continued. “If only I’d have been exposed for my wrongdoing right from the start and punished accordingly, my soul would have been spared from undergoing such drawn-out torment. In everyone’s eyes I am regarded as a righteous woman. When I overhear the pitying comments behind my back, I am tempted to shout, ‘Call me by the name I deserve: Sinner! I am not worthy to sit among any of you!’ ”

“Sins, my dear daughter,” interjected the Tzaddik, “beget grief and heartache.”

“The punishment is horrible, Rebbe,” replied Soreh’le. “Cursed be the snake that wormed its way into my soul and nearly caught me in its nest.”

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