Chapter One - First Acquaintance
Translation Copyright 2001 by Morris Rosenthal
Translations from Hebrew
Copyright 2001 by Morris Rosenthal
All Rights Reserved
A Righteous Love
By Sarah Faiga Menkin - Published in Hebrew in Vilna 1880
The time is January 1st 1861 at six o'clock in the evening. This is the season when winter strives with spring, because winter doesn't want to quickly give up his place where he has pitched his tent for weeks and months, and go wandering off into exile through different lands. Despite this, little by little the spring robs him of his rights, and shows him he is not a prosperous citizen here, for the sun stands on the right of the spring and destroys by day the nightly labors of the winter. When the spillways and canals are barely frozen, the sun comes along and melts them back to water. But the winter will not be frightened or intimidated and makes a firm stand.
The day and the night also struggle, because the one doesn't want to give up his place to the other, until the hand of one becomes daring and goes forth forcefully, driving the other before him, and day concedes to night.
At this moment as the sun is going down and the stars are yet hiding their power [Hab 3:4], a woman walks. Her form is wrapped in black garments and a black veil conceals her face along with netting over her head. But who is she? We cannot know, as she has covered her face, but her bearing and her refined step inform us that she is of the loftiest daughters of the land. She walks and gazes at each passerby, perhaps she will meet an acquaintance, then walks on. Suddenly she hears a voice addressing her. "Pardon me, dear maiden, for stopping you in the street!" The maiden lifted up her lovely eyes from behind her veil [Cant 4:1] to see who was speaking to her, because these few words pulled her heart after them. Despite her face being covered by a veil, her eyes sparkled like stars leaving their orbits on a clear night.
"Behold, for two years now I have been following your steps in order to speak a word to you, but you have always turned away from me. Did you imagine me a wolf waiting in ambush that all innocent kids must flee from him? Why are you walking alone in the evening on this quiet street, far from the commotion of the city and people?" The maiden gazed at him for a moment then tried to walk on, even though she knew he was a respectable man.
"Pray mistress, answer my words, then afterwards you will go on your way."
"In the dark we cannot discern between wolves and men, because sometimes we meet a wolf in the guise of a man, and therefore we must be cautious."
"If this is what you are looking upon, honorable maiden, then you will not be able to tell even by day. A wolf that is ambush to catch an innocent kid will not come to the flock in the form of a wolf but wrapped in the skin of a sheep in order to deceive. I sincerely hope that you don't think me a wolf, and now that you know me a little, you will answer my words."
"When I went out from my father's house it was yet day," answered the maiden, "But I tarried at the house of my friend Goldberg. I thought certainly the stars will shine and light the way for me, but to my heart's anguish, they are all hidden under the clouds that I must walk in darkness. But sometimes a man will walk in darkness and it will be light for him like a bright day, yet under a bright sun like in our city of Milano a man walks in the dark like the middle of the night."
"In this, you speak correctly. The stars hid when you appeared because they are frightened that your glow will dim [Lam 4:1] their shining, and therefore they disdain to compete with you."
"Leave off this speech, sir, because flattery is hateful to me."
"I also hate flattery, but I cannot hold the truth captive under my tongue."
"Have I spoken as you? Didn't I say that the stars were hidden because it was their will to darken the way for me."
"What do you need with a multitude of stars? May not a single star light the path for you and be your guard and shield in order that you travel safely on your way?"
"See now, sir," said the maiden, lifting her eyes on high, "Are they not all hidden? Therefore your imaginings are empty."
"Believe me, mistress, if you promised the stars not to shame their glow, then they would all come to you bowed down, their noses to the earth, as they did to Joseph."
"Have you forgotten that it was in a dream they bowed to him? Do not answer in dreams, for a dream comes from a multitude of interests [Ecc 5:2 - continues with "and a fool is known by a multitude of words"]. So it was with Joseph when he dreamt his mute dream and his brothers interpreted for him, "Shall you reign over us?" [Gen 37:8]. He was thinking the whole time of being a king, and therefore he saw in his second dream the sun and the moon and the stars bowing down to him."
"Believe me, mistress, that as they bowed to Joseph in a dream they will bow before you in the end, if you only promise not to darken them by your glow."
A scarlet blush suffused the face of the maiden, and she turned her shoulder to go, but he blocked her way and said, "Pray mistress, answer my words."
"Behold this is known to all," said the maiden, "That the majority of the heavenly bodies are dark. They only receive their light from the sun and without her they wouldn't illuminate anything. And what have they to do with me or I with them? Can I fire the heavens, am I not of the earth? Can we lower the planets to the earth and distance them from the sun? Would not both they and I then be dark? And if they sought later to fly upwards, then in the end they would fall back because others would have taken their places. Therefore, leave them in the sky to receive light from the sun and illuminate each other and not come to me, because I am on the earth, from which I was taken and to which I shall return."
As the rejoicing of a wise man grows who has been working years on a thing and suddenly his reason brings him a new invention, so grew this man's happiness on hearing these energetic words from the mouth of the maiden he loved and had been watching over. He was no longer able to contain the stormy spirit inside him and he cried out, "Gentle Finalia! So much I have heard about you. Now that I finally meet you I see your integrity, your precious soul and your intelligence lift you above every man. How happy will be the planet that descends to you from the heights of the skies, distancing itself from the sun to receive your bright shining. Could you truly believe, gentle one, that I navigate the streets just to exchange words with maidens? It is because I already know you and praise of your honorable name is always on my lips. But every time I meet you and seek to talk with you, you always find a strategy to elude me. Today, I saw you passing this way, so I kept watch on the street the whole time for your return. Now, honorable maiden, do you not know that the earth is also a planet like all the planets in the sky, and she also receives her light from the sun? If only I succeed in my ambition that you will call me by the name of a planet I will be happy, because surely you would be my light and in the end I wouldn't fall."
"What suits you is the name Victor," said the maiden, "Because you are always daring. Your words compelled me to reply to you and stand in the dark of the night speaking with a strange man with whom I have not been acquainted."
"For all that, you haven't answered my question that will remove for me all doubt and confusion and give me ground to stand on [Ps 31:9].
"My answer will not gladden you."
"Do not council me to answer your question."
"It will be what it is! I'm not afraid of anything.
"As I said earlier, sometimes a man will walk in the dark at midnight and despite this it will be light for him, and sometimes a man will walk under the sun on a bright day groping for the wall as if blind [Is. 59:10]. The sun of good fortune has descended from my father's house, which was previously exalted. Surely you have heard that I am the daughter of a French Baron, and so he is. Ach, the name "Baron" is all that remains to my father of the riches and honor that were apportioned to his estate under the skies of France. When fortune smiled on the entire land of France, he was among the leaders. Now the sun has set and destroyed most of the leaders, taking also my father's honor and his soldiers."
"Do you know, gentle Finalia, if I were to mark your faults [Ps. 130:3], then these words must be thought crime and a sin. But you must know that with all my heart I bless these events, because if your father retained his standing now, I wouldn't be able to hope for such happiness as this. Now I hope that the sun will send me a ray and illuminate me with the light of life."
The maiden didn't answer his words in order to put an end to the conversation.
"Why do you refrain from speaking?"
"Leave me be, sir, and I will be on my way, because my parents will worry about me. I will answer all your questions for you another time."
"Is this your answer? Indeed I am a fool, because a fool in his speaking will be thrown down," [Pr. 10:8] said Victor.
These words of complaint hurt her pride, and she said, "Tell me, sir, who can stand before humanity [Ps. 130:3 - "who can stand" the second part of the Ps. 130:3 citation given above which begins "If you mark all our sins, Lord, who can stand." i.e. nobody is perfect]. This is the first time I have heard such words from the mouth of a man, and because I do not answer everything that you come up with, you find occasion against me? [Job 33:10] Should it be counted a crime and a sin if I know that a man of war comes against me, shooting at his target and not missing, so I set up a shield for my heart lest he wound me with a sudden arrow? Now allow me to go, because my parents will worry and the vision is for an appointed time," [Hab 2:3 - continues "but in the end it shall speak"] and when she finished speaking she said "Goodbye," and left.
Like a driven nail, Victor stood for several moments, unable to budge from his place. His eyes alone followed her passage, his gaze flying after her as the dark light cast from the oil lamp further increased the grace and elegance of her lovely bearing. "She is a daughter of the heavens," he thought to himself, but suddenly he awoke from his inward trance and said, "What a fool I have been to let her go off alone after delaying her until now. I will go after her to protect her, because my peace depends on her wellbeing." He didn't tarry in fulfilling his words but strode energetically after her until he caught up, and he said," Did you imagine, dear maiden, that I would let you walk alone in the dark of night and not watch over you? Know that I will always be your guard and shield, for you I would go through fire and water." The maiden didn't answer him, but he took in her glance and understood that her heart was full of thanks. "If only you will permit me, dear maiden, to give you my arm?" Again she didn't answer him, but she didn't remove her hand from his arm and he felt a slight trembling throughout her body. "Tell me now, gentle one, when will we see one another again, for when you said, 'The vision is for an appointed time,' I determined to ask you this.
"Your question will remain without an answer, but this I can tell you. In a little bit we will reach my father's house and I will part from you."
"This answer does not gladden me. I want you to set me a time [Job 14:13] when we will meet again, and I won't move from this spot until you answer."
"If so, choose as you see fit and I won't go back on your words."
Victor's face shone with happiness and joy, and he wanted to converse further but the look in her eyes compelled him to keep silent, and she said, "Here is my father's house."
"Remember now," he said to her, "and don't forget. Thursday, six in the evening at the appointed place," and the happiness was again apparent on his face. Made joyful by a sweet, new hope, these two lovers parted, and he remained in his place watching after her until she was hidden from his eyes by the hallway of the house.