Embarrassed that the letter writing had taken so long, Hevedke blushed and handed the folded papers to Tevye.
“Give Hava my best,” he said with a shy, hopeful smile.
“Keep up with your studies,” Tevye answered.
“I intend to, don’t worry.”
Tevye nodded. If stubbornness were one of the traits of a Jew, then Hevedke deserved a diploma. No doubt he would be another Rabbi Akiva.
“That wouldn’t be the end of the world,” Tevye thought to himself. Rabbi Akiva had stayed away from his wife for twenty-four years in order to sit and learn Torah. So should it be with Hevedke.
The two men shook hands on the street, and Hevedke returned to the yeshiva.
For Hevedke, an incredible transformation was truly taking place. It was as if he had discovered a completely new world. A world where all darkness and confusion had vanished, where there were only horizons and horizons of light. In the yeshiva, for the first time in his life, he had discovered a true connection to God. To a God who was mysteriously working behind the curtain of history to fulfill the promise He had made to the Jews to bring them back from the four corners of the world to the Land of Israel.
Many nights, Hevedke fell asleep in the study hall, draped over his opened books. Though his thoughts often wandered to Hava, he didn’t want to leave the yeshiva’s hallowed walls. He didn’t want to be far from the shelves of holy volumes, even though they were written in a language which he was still struggling to understand. Suddenly, the world outside seemed like a figment of the imagination, a passing fancy, a deceiving charade, something which could only distract him from the learning that he loved and from the worlds he had discovered in the pages of the Talmudic writings. To the poet who had read all of the works of Tolstoy, Gorki, Hugo, Voltaire, Shelley, Shakespeare, and Keats; who had championed the philosophies of Aristotle, Plato and Locke; and who had clung in blind faith to the Christian gospels, a true revolution was occurring. Like candles held up to the sun, all of the luminance he had once found in the classics disappeared in the blazing light of God’s Torah. A new, incredible the truth became clear. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.“
Probing thinker that Hevedke was, his spiritual journey was not without clarifications and questions. But the rabbis he learned with always had answers, gleaned from the Sages of the past. The traditions of learning had been passed down generation after generation ever since the giving of the Torah on Sinai. What Hevedke’s keen mind found particularly striking was that, unlike the origins of other religions, the revelation at Sinai had been an historical event, witnessed by two million people, and accepted as fact by all of the world. Both Christianity and Islam had constructed their doctrines upon the foundations of the Jewish religion. Every other philosophy, religion, political movement, or creed originated with man. But Judaism was different. The Torah had been given by God. It was God’s own plan for all of existence. And the nation He had chosen to elevate the world out of its darkness was Israel. The very nation which all of the world hounded and attempted to destroy!
The discovery was so profoundly moving, it overwhelmed all of the young man’s thoughts and all of his waking moments. It entered into his dreams. As his learning progressed, his mind dwelt less and less upon Hava. He still loved her with all of his being for having led him to the real purpose of living, yet that love was now shared by his passionate yearning for God. Now that he had discovered his Creator in the pages of the Talmud, Hevedke longed to be purged in His great healing light. Profoundly ashamed for his beliefs of the past, he cried out to God for forgiveness. He filled up notebooks with poems declaring his love for his Maker. He prayed for hours on end, begging God to come into his life and to open his eyes to the teachings of Torah. But, at first, God didn’t answer. Crestfallen and ready to give up the yeshiva, he had visited Rabbi Kook’s house filled with despair.