The Pocket Knife
Listen, children, and I will tell you a story about a little
knifenot an invented story, but a true one, that happened to myself.
I never wished for anything in the world so much as for a
pocket-knife. It should be my own, and should lie in my pocket, and I
should be able to take it out whenever I wished, to cut whatever I
liked. Let my friends know. I had just begun to go to school, under
Yossel Dardaki, and I already had a knife, that is, what was almost a
knife. I made it myself. I tore a goose-quill out of a feather brush,
cut off one end, and flattened out the other. I pretended it was a
knife and would cut.
What sort of a feather is that? What the devil does it mean? Why do
you carry a feather about with you? asked my fathera sickly Jew,
with a yellow, wrinkled face. He had a fit of coughing. Here are
feathers for youplaytoys! Tkeh-heh-heh-heh!
What do you care if the child plays? asked my mother of him. She
was a short-built woman and wore a silk scarf on her head. Let my
enemies eat out their hearts!
Later, when I was learning the Bible and the commentaries, I very
nearly had a real knife, also of my own making. I found a bit of steel
belonging to my mother's crinoline, and I set it very cleverly into a
piece of wood. I sharpened the steel beautifully on a stone, and
naturally cut all my fingers to pieces.
See, just see, how he has bled himself, that son of yours, said my
father. He took hold of my hands in such a way that the very bones
cracked. He's a fine fellow! Heh-heh-heh!
Oh, may the thunder strike me! cried my mother. She took the
little knife from me, and threw it into the fire. She took no notice of
my crying. Now it will come to an end. Woe is me!
I soon got another knife, but in reality, a little knife. It had a
thick, round, wooden handle, like a barrel, and a curved blade which
opened as well as closed. You want to know how I came by it? I saved up
the money from what I got for my breakfasts, and I bought the knife for
seven groschens from Solomon, and I owed him three more
Oh, how I loved it, how I loved it. I came home from school black
and blue, hungry and sleepy, and with my ears well boxed. (You see, I
had just started learning the Gemarra with Mottel, the Angel
of Death. If an ox gore a cow I learnt. And if an ox gores a cow,
then I must get beaten.) And the first thing I did was to take out my
pocket-knife from under the black cupboard. (It lay there the whole
day, because I dared not take it to school with me; and at home no one
must know that I have a knife.) I stroked it, I cut a piece of paper
with it, split a straw in halves, and then cut up my bread into little
cubes which I stuck on the tip of the blade, and afterwards put into my
Later, before going to bed, I cleaned the knife, and scrubbed it,
and polished it. I took the sharpening stone, which I found in the
hayloft, spit on it, and in silence began to work, sharpening the
little knife, sharpening, sharpening.
My father, his little round cap on his head, sat over a book. He
coughed and read, read and coughed. My mother was in the kitchen making
bread. I did not cease from sharpening my knife, and sharpening it.
Suddenly my father woke up, as from a deep sleep.
Who is making that hissing noise? Who is working? What are you
doing, you young scamp?
He stood beside me, and bent over my sharpening-stone. He caught
hold of my ear. A fit of coughing choked him.
Ah! Ah! Ah! Little knives! Heh-heh-heh! said my father, and he
took the knife and the sharpening-stone from me. Such a scamp! Why the
devil can't he take a book into his hand? Tkeh-heh-heh!
I began to cry. My father improved the situation by a few slaps. My
mother ran in from the kitchen, her sleeves turned up, and she began to
Shah! Shah! What's the matter here? Why do you beat him? God be
with you! What have you against the child? Woe is me!
Little knives, said my father, ending up with a cough. A tiny
child. Such a devil. Tkeh-heh-heh! Why the devil can't he take a book
into his hand? He's already a youth of eight years.... I will give you
pocket-knivesyou good-for-nothing, you. In the middle of everything,
But what had he against my little knife? How had it sinned in his
eyes? Why was he so angry?
I remember that my father was nearly always ailingalways pale and
hollow-cheeked, and always angry with the whole world. For the least
thing he flared up and would tear me to pieces. It was fortunate my
mother defended me. She took me out of his hands.
And that pocket-knife of mine was thrown away somewhere. For eight
days on end I looked and looked for it, but could not find it. I
mourned deeply for that curved knifethe good knife. How dark and
embittered was my soul at school when I remembered that I would come
home with a swollen face, with red, torn ears from the hands of Mottel,
the Angel of Death, because an ox gored a cow, and I would have no
one to turn to for comfort. I was lonely without the curved
knifelonely as an orphan. No one saw the tears I shed in silence, in
my bed, at night, after I had come back from Cheder. In
silence, I cried my eyes out. In the morning I was again at Cheder, and again I repeated: If an ox gore a cow, and again I felt the
blows of Mottel, the Angel of Death; again my father was angry,
coughed, and swore at me. I had not a free moment. I did not see a
smiling face. There was not a single little smile for me anywhere, not
a single one. I had nobody. I was aloneall alone in the whole world.
* * *
A year went by, and perhaps a year and a half. I was beginning to
forget the curved knife. It seems I was destined to waste all the years
of my childhood because of pocket-knives. A new knife was createdto
my misfortunea brand new knife, a beauty, a splendid one. As I live,
it was a fine knife. It had two blades, fine, steel ones, sharp as
razors, and a white bone handle, and brass ends, and copper rivets. I
tell you, it was a beauty, a real good pocket-knife.
How came to me such a fine knife, that was never meant for such as
I? That is a whole storya sad, but interesting story. Listen to me
What value in my eyes had the German Jew who lodged with usthe
contractor, Herr Hertz Hertzenhertz, when he spoke Yiddish, went about
without a cap, had no beard or earlocks, and had his coat-tails cut
off? I ask you how I could have helped laughing into his face, when
that Jewish-Gentile, or Gentilish-Jew talked to me in Yiddish, but in a
curious Yiddish with a lot of A's in it.
Well, dear boy, which portion of the Law will be read this week?
Ha! ha! ha! I burst out laughing and hid my face in my hands.
Say, say, my dear child, what portion of the Law will be read this
Ha! ha! ha! Balak, I burst out with a laugh, and ran away.
But that was only in the beginning, before I knew him. Afterwards,
when I knew Herr Hertz Hertzenhertz better (he lived at our house for
over a year) I loved him so well that I did not care if he said no
prayers, and ate his food without saying the blessings. Nevertheless, I
did not understand how he existed, and why the Lord allowed him to
remain in the world. Why was he not choked at table? And why did the
hair not fall out of his uncovered head? I had heard from my teacher,
Mottel, the Angel of Death, from his own mouth, that this German Jew
was only a spirit. That is to say, a Jew was turned into a German; and
later on he might turn into a wolf, a cow, a horse, or maybe a duck. A
Ha! ha! ha! A fine story, thought I. But I was genuinely sorry for
the German. Nevertheless, I did not understand why my father, who was a
very orthodox Jew, should pay the German Jew so much respect, as also
did the other Jews who used to come into our house.
Peace be unto you, Reb Hertzenhertz! Blessed art thou who comest,
Reb Hertz Hertzenhertz!
I once ventured to ask my father why this was so, but he thrust me
to one side and said:
Go away. It is not your business. Why do you get under our feet?
Who the devil wants you? Why the devil can't you take a book into your
Again a book? Lord of the world, I also want to see; I also want to
hear what people are saying.
I went into the parlour, hid myself in a corner, and heard
everything the men talked about. Herr Hertz Hertzenhertz laughed aloud,
and smoked thick black cigars that had a very strong smell. Suddenly my
father came over to me, and gave me a smack.
Are you here again, you idler and good-for-nothing? What will
become of you, you dunce? What will become of you? Heh-heh-heh-heh!
It was no use. My father drove me out. I took a book into my hands,
but I did not want to read it. What was I to do? I went about the
house, from one room to the other, until I came to the nicest room of
allthe room in which slept Herr Hertz Hertzenhertz. Ah, how beautiful
and bright it was! The lamps were lit, and the mirror shone. On the
table was a big, beautiful silver inkstand, and beautiful pens, also
little ornamentsmen, and animals, and flowers, and bones and stones,
and a little knife! Ah, what a beautiful knife! What if I had such a
knife? What fine things I would make with it. How happy I should be.
Well, I must try it. Is it sharp? Ah, it cuts a hair. It slices up a
hair. Oh, oh, oh, what a knife!
One moment I held the knife in my hand. I looked about me on all
sides, and slipped it into my pocket. My hands trembled. My heart was
beating so loudly that I could hear it saying, Tick, tick, tick! I
heard some one coming. It was heHerr Hertz Hertzenhertz. Ah, what was
I to do? The knife might remain in my pocket. I could put it back later
on. Meanwhile, I must get out of the room, run away, away, far.
I could eat no supper that night. My mother felt my head. My father
threw angry glances at me, and told me to go to bed. Sleep? Could I
close my eyes? I was like dead. What was I to do with the little knife?
How was I going to put it back again?
* * *
Come over here, my little ornament, said my father to me next day.
Did you see the little pocket-knife anywhere?
Of course I was very much frightened. It seemed to me that he
knewthat everybody knew. I was almost, almost crying out: The
pocket-knife? Here it is. But something came into my throat, and would
not let me utter a sound for a minute or so. In a shaking voice I
Where? What pocket-knife?
Where? What knife? my father mocked at me. What knife? The golden
knife. Our guest's knife, you good-for-nothing, you! You dunce, you!
What do you want of the child? put in my mother. The child knows
nothing of anything, and he worries him about the knife, the knife.
The knifethe knife! How can he not know about it? cried my
father angrily. All the morning he hears me shoutingThe knife! The
knife! The knife! The house is turned upside down for the knife, and he
asks 'Where? What knife?' Go away. Go and wash yourself, you
good-for-nothing, you. You dunce, dunce! Tkeh-heh-heh!
I thank Thee, Lord of the Universe, that they did not search me. But
what was I to do next? The knife had to be hidden somewhere, in a safe
place. Where was I to hide it? Ah! In the attic. I took the knife
quickly from my pocket, and stuck it into my top-boot. I ate, and I did
not know what I was eating. I was choking.
Why are you in such a hurry? What the devil ...? asked my father.
I am hurrying off to school, I answered, and grew red as fire.
A scholar, all of a sudden. What do you say to such a saint? he
muttered, and glared at me. I barely managed to finish my breakfast,
and say grace.
Well, why are you not off to 'Cheder,' my saint? asked my
Why do you hunt him so? asked my mother. Let the child sit a
I was in the attic. Deep, deep in a hole lay the beautiful knife. It
lay there in silence.
What are you doing in the attic? called out my father. You
good-for-nothing! You street-boy! Tkeh-heh-heh-heh!
I am looking for something, I answered. I nearly fell down with
Something? What is the something? What sort of a thing is that
Aa book. Anan old 'Gegemarra.'
What? A 'Gemarra'? In the attic? Ah, you scamp you! Come
down at once. Come down. You'll get it from me. You street-boy! You
dog-beater! You rascal! Tkeh-heh-heh-heh!
I was not so much afraid of my father's anger as that the
pocket-knife might be found. Who could tell? Perhaps some one would go
up to the attic to hang out clothes to dry, or to paint the rafters?
The knife must be taken down from there, and hidden in a better place.
I went about in fear and trembling. Every glance at my father told me
that he knew, and that now, now he was going to talk to me of the
guest's knife. I had a place for ita grand place. I would bury it in
the ground, in a hole near the wall. I would put some straw on the spot
to mark it. The moment I came from Cheder I ran out into the
yard. I took the knife carefully from my pocket, but had no time to
look at it, when my father called out:
Where are you at all? Why don't you go and say your prayers? You
swine-herd you! You are a water-carrier! Tkeh-heh-heh!
But whatever my father said to me, and as much as the teacher beat
me, it was all rubbish to me when I came home, and had the pleasure of
seeing my one and only dear friendmy little knife. The pleasure was,
alas! mixed with pain, and embittered by fearby great fear.
* * *
It is the summer time. The sun is setting. The air grows somewhat
cooler. The grass emits a sweet odour. The frogs croak, and the thick
clouds fly by, without rain, across the moon. They wish to swallow her
up. The silvery white moon hides herself every minute, and shows
herself again. It seemed to me that she was flying and flying, but was
still on the same spot. My father sat down on the grass, in a long
mantle. He had one hand in the bosom of his coat, and with the other he
smoothed down the grass. He looked up at the star-spangled sky, and
coughed and coughed. His face was like death, silvery white. He was
sitting on the exact spot where the little knife was hidden. He knew
nothing of what was in the earth under him. Ah, if he only knew! What,
for instance, would he say, and what would happen to me?
Aha! thought I within myself, you threw away my knife with the
curved blade, and now I have a nicer and a better one. You are sitting
on it, and you know nothing. Oh, father, father!
Why do you stare at me like a tom-cat? asked my father. Why do
you sit with folded arms like a self-satisfied old man? Can you not
find something to do? Have you said the night prayer? May the devil not
take you, scamp! May an evil end not come upon you! Tkeh-heh-heh!
When he says may the devil not take you, and may an evil end
not come upon you, then he is not angry. On the contrary, it is a
sign that he is in a good humour. And, surely, how could one help being
in a good humour on such a wonderfully beautiful night, when every one
is drawn out of doors into the street, under the soft, fresh, brilliant
sky? Every one is now out of doorsmy father, my mother, and the
younger children who are looking for little stones and playing in the
sand. Herr Hertz Hertzenhertz was going about in the yard, without a
hat, smoking a cigar, and singing a German song. He looked at me, and
laughed. Probably he was laughing because my father was driving me
away. But I laughed at them all. Soon they would be going to bed, and I
would go out into the yard (I slept in the open, before the door,
because of the great heat), and I would rejoice in, and play with my
The house is asleep. It is silent around and about. Cautiously I get
up; I am on all fours, like a cat; and I steal out into the yard. The
night is silent. The air is fresh and pure. Slowly I creep over to the
spot where the little knife lies buried. I take it out carefully, and
look at it by the light of the moon. It shines and glitters, like
guinea-gold, like a diamond. I lift up my eyes, and I see that the moon
is looking straight down on my knife. Why is she looking at it so? I
turn round. She looks after me. Maybe she knows whose knife it is, and
where I got it? Got it? Stole it!
For the first time since the knife came into my hands has this
terrible word entered my thoughts. Stolen? Then I am, in short, a
thief, a common thief? In the Holy Law, in the Ten Commandments, are
written, in big letters: THOU SHALT NOT STEAL.
Thou shalt not steal. And I have stolen. What will they do to me in
hell for that? Woe is me! They will cut off my handthe hand that
stole. They will whip me with iron rods. They will roast and burn me in
a hot oven. I will glow for ever and ever. The knife must be given
back. The knife must be put back in its place. One must not hold a
stolen knife. Tomorrow I will put it back.
That was what I decided. And I put the knife into my bosom. I
imagined it was burning, scorching me. No, it must be hidden again,
buried in the earth till tomorrow. The moon still looked down on me.
What was she looking at? The moon saw. She was a witness.
I crept back to the house, to my sleeping-place. I lay down again,
but could not sleep. I tossed about from side to side, but could not
fall asleep. It was already day when I dozed off. I dreamt of a moon, I
dreamt of iron rods, and I dreamt of little knives. I got up very
early, said my prayers with pleasure, with delight, ate my breakfast
while standing on one foot, and marched off to Cheder.
Why are you in such a hurry for 'Cheder'? cried my father
to me. What is driving you? You will not lose your knowledge if you go
a little later. You will have time enough for mischief. You scamp! You
epicurean! You heathen! Tkeh-heh-heh-heh!
* * *
Why so late? Just look at this. The teacher stopped me, and
pointed with his finger at my comrade, Berrel the red one, who was
standing in the corner with his head down.
Do you see, bandit? You must know that from this day his name is
not Berrel the red one, as he was called. He is now called a fine name.
His name is now Berrel the thief. Shout it out, children. Berrel the
thief! Berrel the thief!
The teacher drew out the words, and put a little tune into them. The
pupils repeated them after him, like a chorus.
Berrel the thiefBerrel the thief!
I was petrified. A cold wave passed over my body. I did not know
what it all meant.
Why are you silent, you heathen, you? cried the teacher, and gave
me an unexpected smack in the face. Why are you silent, you heathen?
Don't you hear the others singing? Join in with them, and help them.
Berrel the thiefBerrel the thief!
My limbs trembled. My teeth rattled. But, I helped the others to
shout aloud Berrel the thief! Berrel the thief!
Louder, heathen, prompted the teacher. In a stronger
And I, along with the rest of the choir, sang out in a variety of
voices, Berrel the thiefBerrel the thief!
Shshshaaah! cried the teacher, banging the table with
his open hand. Hush! Now we will betake ourselves to pronouncing
judgment. He spoke in a sing-song voice.
Ah, well, Berrel thief, come over here, my child. Quicker, a little
quicker. Tell me, my boy, what your name is. This also was said in a
BerrelBerrel the thief.
That's right, my dear child. Now you are a good boy. May your
strength increase, and may you grow stronger in every limb! (Still in
the same sing-song.) Take off your clothes. That's right. But can't
you do it quicker? I beg of you, be quick about it. That's right,
little Berrel, my child.
Berrel stood before us as naked as when he was born. Not a drop of
blood showed in his body. He did not move a limb. His eyes were
lowered. He was as dead as a corpse.
The teacher called out one of the older scholars, still speaking in
the same sing-song voice:
Well, now, Hirschalle, come out from behind the table, over here to
me. Quicker. Just so. And now tell us the story from beginning to
endhow our Berrel became a thief. Listen, boys, pay attention.
And Hirschalle began to tell the story. Berrel had got the little
collecting box of Reb Mayer the Wonder-worker, into which his
mother threw a kopek, sometimes two, every Friday, before
lighting the Sabbath candles. Berrel had fixed his eyes on that box, on
which there hung a little lock. By means of a straw gummed at the end,
he had managed to extract the kopeks from the box, one by one.
His mother, Slatte, the hoarse one, suspecting something wrong, opened
the box, and found in it one of the straws tipped with gum. She beat
her son Berrel. And after the whipping she had prevailed on the teacher
to give him, he confessed that for a whole yeara round year, he had
been extracting the kopeks, one by one, and that, every
Sunday, he had bought himself two little cakes, some locust beans,
andand so forth, and so forth.
Now, boys, pronounce judgment on him. You know how to do it. This
is not the first time. Let each give his verdict, and say what must be
done to a boy who steals 'kopeks' from a charity-box, by means
of a straw.
The teacher put his head to one side. He closed his eyes, and turned
his right ear to Hirschalle. Hirschalle answered at the top of his
A thief who steals 'kopeks' from a charity-box should be
flogged until the blood spurts from him.
Moshalle, what is to be done to a thief who steals 'kopeks'
from a charity-box?
A thief, replied Moshalle, in a wailing voice, a thief who steals
'kopeks' from a charity-box should be stretched out. Two boys
should be put on his head, two on his feet, and two should flog him
with pickled rods.
Topalle Tutteratu, what is to be done to a thief who steals '
kopeks' from a charity-box?
Kopalle Kuckaraku, a boy who could not pronounce the letters K and
G, wiped his face, and gave his verdict in a squeaking voice.
A boy who steals 'topets' from the charity-bots should be punished
lite this. Every boy should do over to him, and shout into his face,
three times, thief, thief, thief.
The whole school laughed. The master put his thumb on his wind-pipe,
like a cantor, and called out to me, as if I were a bridegroom being
called up, at the synagogue, to read the portion of the Law for the
Tell me, now, my dear little boy, what would you say should be done
to a thief who steals 'kopeks' from a charity-box.
I tried to reply, but my tongue would not obey me. I shivered as
with ague. Something was in my throat, choking me. A cold sweat broke
out all over my body. There was a whistling in my ears. I saw before
me, not the teacher, nor the naked Berrel the thief, nor my comrades. I
saw before me only knivespocket-knives without an end, white, open
knives that had many blades. And there, beside the door, hung the moon.
She looked at me, and smiled, like a human being. My head was going
round. The whole roomthe table and the books, the boys and the moon
that hung beside the door, and the little knivesall were whirling
round. I felt as if my two feet were chopped off. Another moment, and I
might have fallen down, but I controlled myself with all my strength,
and I did not fall.
In the evening, I came home, and felt that my face was burning. My
cheeks were on fire, and in my ears was a hissing noise. I heard some
one speaking to me, but what they said I do not know. My father was
saying something, and seemed to be angry. He wanted to beat me. My
mother intervened. She spread out her apron, as a clucking hen spreads
out her wing to defend her chickens from injury. I heard nothing, and
did not want to hear. I only wanted the darkness to fall sooner, so
that I might make an end of the little knife. What was I to do with it?
Confess everything, and give it up? Then I would suffer the same
punishment as Berrel. Throw it carelessly somewhere? But I may be
caught? Throw it away, and no more, so long as I am rid of it? Where
was I to throw it in order that it might not be found by anybody? On
the roof? The noise would be heard. In the garden? It might be found.
Ah, I know! I have a plan, I'll throw it into the water. A good plan,
as I live. I'll throw it into the well that is in our own yard. This
plan pleased me so much that I did not wish to dwell on it longer. I
took up the knife, and ran off straight to the well. It seemed to me
that I was carrying in my hand not a knife but something repulsivea
filthy little creature of which I must rid myself at once. But, still I
was sorry. It was such a fine little knife. For a moment, I stood
thinking, and it seemed to me that I was holding in my hand a living
thing. My heart ached for it. Surely, surely, it has cost me so much
heartache. It is a pity for the living. I summoned all my courage, and
let it out suddenly from my fingers. Plash! The water bubbled up for a
moment. Nothing more was heard, and my knife was gone. I stood a moment
at the well and listened. I heard nothing. Thank God, I was rid of it.
My heart was faint, and full of longing. Surely, it was a fine
knifesuch a knife!
* * *
I went back to bed, and saw that the moon was still looking down at
me. And it seemed to me she had seen everything I had done. From the
distance a voice seemed to be saying to me: But, you are a thief all
the same. Catch him, beat him. He is a thief, a thief.
I stole back into the house, and into my own bed.
I dreamt that I ran, swept through the air. I flew with my little
knife in my hand. And the moon looked at me and said:
Catch him, beat him. He is a thiefa thief.
* * *
A long, long sleep, and a heavy, a very heavy dream. A fire burnt
within me. My head was buzzing. Everything I saw was red as blood.
Burning rods of fire cut into my flesh. I was swimming in blood. Around
me wriggled snakes and serpents. They had their mouths open, ready to
swallow me. Right into my ears some one was blowing a trumpet. And,
some one was standing over me, and shouting, keeping time with the
trumpet: Whip him, whip him, whip him. He is a thieef. And I myself
shouted: Oh, oh, take the moon away from me. Give her up the little
knife. What have you against poor Berrel? He is not guilty. It is I who
am a thiefa thief.
Beyond that, I remember nothing.
* * *
I opened one eye, then the other. Where was I? On a bed, I think.
Ah, is that you, mother, mother? She does not hear me. Mother, mother,
mooother! What is this? I imagine I am shouting aloud. Shah! I
listen. She is weeping silently. I also see my father, with his yellow,
sickly face. He is sitting near me, an open book in his hand. He reads,
and sighs, and coughs and groans. It seems that I am dead already.
Dead?... All at once, I feel that it is growing brighter before my
eyes. Everything is growing lighter, too. My head and my limbs are
lighter. There is a ringing in my ear, and in my other ear. Tschinna! I
Good health! May your days be lengthened! May your years be
prolonged! It is a good sign. Blessed art Thou, O Lord!
Sneezed in reality? Blessed be the Most High!
Let us call at once Mintze the butcher's wife. She knows how to
avert the evil eye.
The doctor ought to be calledthe doctor.
The doctor? What for? That is nonsense. The Most High is the best
doctor. Blessed be the Lord, and praised be His Name!
Go asunder, people. Separate a bit. It is terribly hot. In the name
of God, go away.
Ah, yes. I told you that you have to cover him with wax. Well, who
Praise be the Lord, and blessed be His Holy Name! Ah, God! God!
Blessed be the Lord! and praised be His Holy Name!
They fluttered about me. They looked at me. Each one came and felt
my head. They prayed over me, and buzzed around me. They licked my
forehead, and spat out, by way of a charm. They poured hot soup down my
throat, and filled my mouth with spoonfuls of preserves. Every one flew
around me. They cared for me as if I were the apple of their eye. They
fed me with broths and tiny chickens, as if I were an infant. They did
not leave me alone. My mother sat by me always, and told me over and
over again the whole story of how they had lifted me up from the
ground, almost dead, and how I had been lying for two weeks on end,
burning like a fire, croaking like a frog, and muttering something
about whippings and little knives. They already imagined I was dead,
when suddenly I sneezed seven times. I had practically come to life
Now we see what a great God we have, blessed be He, and praised be
His Name! That was how my mother ended up, the tears springing to her
eyes. Now we can see that when we call to Him He listens to our sinful
requests and our guilty tears. We shed a lot, a lot of tears, your
father and I, until the Lord had pity on us.... We nearly, nearly lost
our child through our sinfulness. May we suffer in your stead! And
through what? Through a boy who was a thief, a certain Berrel whom the
teacher flogged at 'Cheder,' almost until he bled. When you came
home from 'Cheder' you were more dead than alive. May your
mother suffer instead of you! The teacher is a tyrant, a murderer. The
Lord will punish him for itthe Lord of the Universe. No, my child, if
the Lord lets us live, when you get well, we will send you to another
teacher, not to such a tyrant as is the 'Angel of Death,'may his name
be blotted out for ever!
These words made a terrible impression on me. I threw my arms around
my mother, and kissed her.
Dear, dear mother.
And my father came over to me softly. He put his cold, white hand on
my forehead, and said to me kindly, without a trace of anger:
Oh, how you frightened us, you heathen you! Tkeh-heh-heh-heh!
Also the Jewish German, or the German Jew, Herr Hertz Hertzenhertz,
his cigar between his teeth, bent down and touched my cheek, with his
clean-shaven chin. He said to me in German:
Good! Good! Be wellbe well!
* * *
A few weeks after I got out of bed, my father said to me:
Well, my son, now go to 'Cheder,' and never think of little
knives again, or other such nonsense. It is time you began to be a bit
of a man. If it please God, you will be 'Bar-Mitzvah' in three
yearsmay you live to a hundred and twenty. Tkeh-heh-heh!
With such sweet words did my father send me off to Cheder,
to my new teacher, Reb Chayim Kotter. It was the first time
that I had heard such good kind words from my father. And I forgot, in
a moment, all his harshness, and all his abuse, and all his blows. It
was as if they had never existed in the world. If I were not ashamed, I
would have thrown my arms about his neck, and kissed him. But how can
one kiss a father? Ha! ha! ha!
My mother gave me a whole apple and three groschens to take
to Cheder, and the German gave me a few kopeks. He
pinched my cheek, and said in his language:
Best boy, good, good!
I took my Gemarra under my arm, kissed the Mezuzah, and went off to Cheder like one newly born, with a clean
heart, and fresh, pious thoughts. The sun looked down, and greeted me
with its warm rays. The little breeze stole in under one of my
earlocks. The birds twitteredTiftiftiftif! I was lifted up. I
was borne on the breeze. I wanted to run, jump, dance. Oh, how good it
ishow sweet to be alive and to be honest, when one is not a thief and
not a liar.
I pressed my Gemarra tightly to my breast, and still
tighter. I ran to Cheder with pleasure, with joy. And I swore
by my Gemarra that I would never, never touch what belonged to
anothernever, never steal, and never, never deny anything again. I
would always be honest, for ever and ever honest.