Chapter Two - The Dwelling of the Righteous
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
On one of the streets of Milano, you will see a small house at the end of the street. The house consists of four rooms, not splendid like the rest of the homes in Milano, because the shine of silver which beautifies everything and brightens the darkest places doesn't appear there. Nonetheless, they were fastidiously clean because the efforts of a gracious woman uphold the honor [Pr. 11:16] of the house. In this house the reader will find the honorable Adelberg family. The four rooms of the house were arranged thusly: The first room was the kitchen, containing a table, a chair and a cupboard where all of the cooking utensils were kept. The second was a bedroom containing two beds with sheets as white as snow, and over them were purple bedcovers. Even though they weren't new, one can see that they had been very expensive, and by their great value, everyone can understand that they were the remains from happier days in a house grander than this one. The third room was the daughter's, and in it were found a bed, a small table, and a cabinet in which the daughter kept her clothes, her books, and her ink stand [Ez. 9:2]. These last were her whole life and being, and she was always engrossed in them. There were also some splendid and pleasing flowers that gave witness to the diligent hand that grew them, and these were the prized plantings [Is. 5:7] of the daughter who put much effort into caring for them. The fourth room was for dining at meal time and for receiving guests when one of their friends would come to visit. It was also the library for the baron because there he would sit and meditate on his books.
"Dina," called the man sitting at the library table with a book open before him. The man was around fifty, with grey hairs sprinkled about him [Hos. 7:9]. Even though he was handsome, with a large forehead and broad temples that encompassed half his head and long eyelashes that added to his elegance, he was obviously a troubled soul [Ps. 88:4]. Recent days had weighed heavily on him and his household, leaving after them tracks of their cruelty and signs of sorrows and distress on his face. He is Baron Meir Adelberg.
"Dina," called the baron and lifted his head from the book to see if his wife had heard his cry. When he saw her standing on the threshold of the room he said, "Dina, has Finalia still not returned?
"Yes," she said, "But she won't tarry there late, nothing is wrong." she said. "And while I don't know why, surely she is in the house of her friend Henrietta where she has remained until now."
"You know that this is against my wishes, and it is not her way to sit in a strangers house all evening. How can she return home alone at this hour."
"She won't go out alone because they will send their maid with her."
Adleberg sighed and said, "You know, I'm finished here and I'll go out to meet her."
"Don't be nervous," said Dina, "We'll wait a little longer and maybe she'll come."
"You know, Dina, that I don't want her going there. What can the friendship of a rich girl bring her, if not a pining heart."
"Do you imagine, my dear, that Finalia our daughter is like all the girls who only set their sight on silver and gold? If she occasionally visits the house of this rich man, she isn't going to see his silver and gold. It is their daughter that she loves, because she also has a wise heart and education, and therefore she finds pleasure in talking to her."
"Why does she sigh every time she returns from there?"
"She sighs about the evil things that touch her soul."
"Is the heart of the rich man's daughter so oppressed? If only I had remained in my earlier glory in the city of my birth, then my daughter would be different. There I thought I would seek for my daughter a man of high office [Is. 9:5], also educated and learned in wisdom and knowledge and not far from being God fearing. But when fortune turned the back on me, all of my hopes disappeared and passed away [Neh. 1:12]. And what can I do? But the daughter of Goldberg, whose father has said he will give her a dowry of 100,000 in silver, does she also have a heavy heart?"
"Her more than our daughter, because our daughter is always happy and cheerful. If she hears me give an occasional sigh, she says, 'Please, dear mother, don't sigh. You are tearing my heart to pieces because I can't stand to hear sighing,' so I am forced to laugh at her words. It isn't so with Goldberg's daughter. She is always complaining about her bitter fate in the ears of our Finalia. Her father intends to put an end to her youth because he wants to give her to a man whom she hates. But her father has chosen him because he has a great fortune and also a famous genealogy. He always laughs at the new customs, saying, 'A maiden cannot know whom to push away and whom to draw near. I am her father and I will choose for her what is good for her.'"
"So he is also not a native born Italian?" asked the baron.
"He is a Galacian," said Dina. 'He came here poor and destitute, but he is skilled in trade and succeeded greatly."
"Trade?" the baron laughed mockingly, "Isn't he a moneylender?"
"Isn't not a trade?" asked Dina.
"God protect every Jew from tradesman and merchants like these. For fifty silvers a poor man will pay interest for two years, and afterwards the moneylender will take as pledge the last garments for his skin that cruel times have left him. In taking them he will say, 'You haven't yet repaid me my money,' even though the interest he has been paid is five times the principal. Why else does hatred for us grow in different lands if not the business of usury? Once there appeared in my theatre a terrible play that drags our honor through the dust. And what did we see there? A rich Jew who sought the flesh of a poor man for interest, and everyone laughed and clapped their hands. The moneylenders put a sword in the hands of those who hate us, with which to terrorize and demean us. On whose account were produced the conflagrations in the lands of Spain and Portugal if not the usurers? When I was on my land, I was much richer than Goldberg, but I didn't put out my money for interest. Don't you remember that I loaned the widow of General Wallom ten thousand in gold interest free, and that she didn't return my money. Despite that my fortune was none the worse. But many of us speak about this moneylender as if he were fervent and God fearing.
"Truly he is God fearing," said Dina. "He has already been living here in Milano for many years, but he hasn't changed his dress, his customs or even his language. He will even wed his educated daughter, who is accustomed to going about with native Italian girls, to a Galacian Hassid."
"Your mention of the Galacian Hassid has reminded me of something to tell you. Yesterday morning I met Zevchiel the matchmaker, and he said that he has an honorable matter to discuss with me and asked when he might find me at home. I imagine that man Yichidiel has sent him to me, because he has seen our daughter in Goldberg's house"
"You're right," said Dina, "Finalia also told me about this, but she made light of his dreams and his words, even though he is very rich. I'll be back in a minute," she said, and ran off to the stove even though she hadn't finished speaking, because the meal was nearly ruined. Just as she intended to return to her husband's room, the sound of footsteps was heard in the entrance hall.
"Pray go and see who is here!" cried the baron, "Because I hear footsteps and it may be Finalia."
"And if it's Finalia, what then? Should I go to welcome her because she is so late?" Dina said angrily.
The door opened and Finalia came in with a glowing face and addressed them as her custom, "Greetings, sweet parents. Certainly you were worried about me because I am late?"
"Why are you so late?" the mother said in complaint, "Your father wanted to go out to meet you. So where were you?"
"I tarried in Goldbergs house," said the daughter, "And afterwards - afterwards - their maid brought me home." And with these words her face reddened because it was the first time a lie had escaped her lips.
"Tell me Finalia," said the father, "Are you familiar with that man who always goes to the house of Yediya Goldberg?"
"Surely you are asking about Yechidiel ben Dalia, a Galacian Hassid," the daughter said.
The father examined her and understood that she despised him in her heart [2Sam 6:16]. He asked her a second time, "Do you know this man?"
"What do you say about him?"
"He is like all the Galacian Hassidim," said the maiden and gazed penetratingly at her father, as if she sought to plumb the depths of his heart, but he paid no attention to this and continued speaking.
"It happens that yesterday morning I ran into Zevchiel, and he said that tomorrow evening he would come here to discuss with me matters that concern you."
"Concern me!" Asked the maiden and she began to tremble and shake as she recalled that this very evening had been her first acquaintance with Victor, and she thought this time had been the happiest in her life. How could she be hearing now that Zevchiel would be coming tomorrow to speak concerning her. Maybe Victor would hear and be unhappy. "And what have I to do with him?" the maiden resumed speaking, "He made his intentions known by way of Henrietta, but I laughed at his words and his ambitions. Woe to such a fool and idiot such as this who thinks that his money will always cover [Ex. 25:29] his stupidity. God forbid that I should transgress his commandments and worship the golden calf. I won't bow down before strange gods and I won't covet the gold that covers them."
"Will you also find occasion against every man, my dear Finalia?"
The father wanted to say more, but Dina came in and arranged the table for dinner, and she said, "Don't wait to talk until after you've eaten because in a moment the bell will sound the hour ten."
"Can the time already be ten?" asked Finalia in wonder.
"This evening has cheered you up greatly Finalia," said the father, "And even though I don't know how, that the hours pass like minutes for you proves it to me."
The maiden blushed slightly then recovered and said, "And do you know what this happiness is, dear father? Maybe it's that you told me how tomorrow Zevchiel and Yechidiel are coming here," and she turned to leave the room.
"Where are you going Finalia?" said the mother, "Aren't you eating?"
"I'm not hungry, eat without me," said the daughter and left. Dina brought the meal to the table and the two of them sat to eat.
"So what do you think?" said the baron, "She abhors him [Zach. 7:8] very much."
"What do I think?' said Dina, "She knows the man and his limitations and that's why she abhors him."
"I won't push her, but I imagine that the best jewels [Ez. 16:7] will do their work with great effect, because he is very rich."
"You are mistaken, my dear, mistaken! You do not yet know your daughter who keeps her feelings locked away, because her heart is as bold as man's, and money means nothing to her."
"That may be," said the baron, and the discussion continued throughout the meal.
But let us see what Finalia is doing now. She lies on her bed and she thinks about the new things that have awakened and ripened in her heart this evening. The arrow of love which had not yet reached her heart was suddenly fired at her by an educated man who took aim against her and didn't miss the target. Even though we saw this evening the innocence and uprightness of her being, we can't deny that her heart has been captured in a trap prepared by the hunter. Such is always the technique of the best hunters. They do not stalk lions or bears with their nets, nor do they spread their snares on trails for ferocious beasts [Is. 35:9], but for innocent kids. Kids that don't attempt to flee even breadth of one step. These are gathered in the nets, and afterwards they moan under their hard yoke and heavy burden. A precious soul like Finalia, who was always cheerful in her lot and who never complained even in the worst time, she can almost be recognized as one of these. Here she is, lying on her bed powerless [Is. 40:29], her eyes full of tears and her pure thoughts jumbled. She was thinking, "Is he truly a man and not something come down from the heavens to laugh at me and see if I would also spurn a heavenly creature? The beauty of his wisdom and understanding and his rare soul and delicate feelings I have never encountered, so how can I believe that he is a creature of the earth? Therefore I will forget this evening because it surely was a day dream or a vision. But no! Didn't I hear him pressing me to answer his questions? And he also said that Thursday at six in the evening we would meet at the appointed place. So I will wait until Thursday, but I wish I knew what he was doing now! Maybe he is also ravished [Pr. 5:19] for me. Maybe he will think that I am thinking about him." A scarlet blush covered her face with these thoughts. Her heart was like a stormy sea, her head like a struck anvil [Is. 41:7]. She covered herself with a blanket and slept, and sweet dreams flew over her head in their thousands. And in every scene and every image she saw Victor, because from now on she was obsessed with him whether she was dreaming or awake.