A pale young man shuffled into the small Jerusalem yeshiva during kriyat haTorah one Shabbat morning.
He walked over to the bimah, stood next to the gabbai and watched him. He started to copy his every movement. When the gabbai moved his feet, so did the stranger; when he pushed his hat back or scratched his face, the young man did the same. The yeshiva boys were having difficulty concentrating on their prayers. Stifled laughter could be felt if not heard.
When Mussaf began he moved and stood next to one of the boys. The young man copied the yeshiva boy’s every single move – moving his feet backwards and forwards, bowing and swaying. He didn’t appear to be mocking the boy, but he quite obviously wasn’t praying himself. The yeshiva boy had tremendous difficulty concentrating once he realized that he was being watched and imitated. So as soon as he finished davening, he fled the room to release his bottled-up laughter.
Yet again, the visitor took up a position next to another boy, and watched and copied him.
The boys didn’t know what to make of him, but their natural friendliness and hospitality led them to invite him for the Shabbat lunch in the yeshiva. He said nothing as he followed them into the dining room.
The mealtime followed the same routine as the praying. The stranger, who had still not yet said one word, simply copied the person he sat next to. He ate what he ate, and wiped his face when he did. It was as though he had no personality of his own and needed another person to emulate in order to exist. The boys tried to engage him in friendly conversation, but to no avail.
Suddenly, toward the end of the meal, he gave a tremendous wail as though he was in terrible pain. His body crumpled and he started sobbing. Nothing could stop him. His sobbing and wailing continued unabated for some time. When he finally stopped, he plunged once again into silence. One of the boys offered him his bed so he could rest. He wordlessly accepted the offer and lay down on the bed, his eyes remaining open the entire time.
The boys conferred with the rosh yeshiva about the visitor, as he didn’t seem at all inclined to leave after Shabbat. Realizing that the young man was obviously going through some tremendous personal crisis, the rosh yeshiva told them to leave him alone, give him a bed, let him stay, make him feel welcome – and see what the next day would bring.
He awoke early and one of the yeshiva boys, realizing that the young man had arrived on Shabbat with nothing, found him a towel and clean clothes so he could shower before davening.
After his shower he went back to bed, spending the rest of the morning there. In the afternoon he started to talk to one of the boys who sat with him and relayed a strange story of how he came to their yeshiva that Shabbat morning.
He had spent the last few weeks in a very oppressive yeshiva, but he didn’t elaborate as to why he was there. On Shabbat he realized that he could no longer accept the tremendous demands and excruciating criticism of his every move and thought in the yeshiva; he thus decided that he had to leave. But where could he go?
He walked out of the yeshiva and resolved to follow the first person he saw, for wherever he would go was bound to be better than from where he had come. He lost track of the first person he saw, turning his attention to the next person he saw in the street. This happened several times until he found himself in this story’s yeshiva. That was all he would tell of his background.
In the evening he suddenly appeared at the doorway where the rosh yeshiva was giving a shiur and insisted on speaking to him immediately. Realizing the importance of the boy’s decision to talk, the rosh yeshiva excused himself and at once took him into his room. They spoke for over an hour. The young man began to let down his guard slightly to the kindly rosh yeshiva, and started to disclose to him some of his inner turmoil and pain.