Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Av 5763 - August 13, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Father and Daughter

by Chaim Walder

Part II

In the first part we met Moshe Dovid Tolstoy, who got married when neither he nor his wife was really ready -- and then divorced only a year later. The most lasting result of the union was a daughter, Miriam Malka, whom Moshe Dovid felt strongly attached to. His ex-wife wanted nothing to do with him and wanted their daughter also to have nothing to do with him.

Moshe Dovid remarried. He had another daughter with his new wife -- Rochel. Suddenly he located his first daughter, Malky, but his first wife fought against giving him visitation rights or any contact. Moshe Dovid's rov advised him that, given his ex-wife's stubbornness, he could satisfy his yearning to meet with his daughter only at a serious emotional cost to her. He advised Moshe Dovid to withdraw, and Moshe Dovid accepted his advice.

Rochel grew up a sensitive, artistic girl. When she reached high school age, she had to be sent to school in the city and to live with her grandmother since there was no suitable school near their home. She is lonely in the new school and has trouble joining the other girls who have been together since they were six. For the end-of-year play, she is chosen by the director, Malky, a very popular girl in the senior class, to draw the scenery after her sample drawing was sabotaged. Malky even went home with Rochel to see her other work.


Ever since Malky could recall, her mother had been doting and very protective. But this didn't cool the relationship between Malky and her mother. Quite to the contrary, Malky regarded this behavior as an expression of love and even though her mother's doting was a bit exaggerated, Malky took it with good spirits.

However in seminary, Malky was very independent, and liked to remain after school as long as possible to participate in many social activities.

Even though Malky had many friends, no one was her special friend because she formed an invisible barrier between herself and others.

Sadly, there was a basis for this behavior. Even though Malky's home seemed regular on the surface, a subtle coldness prevailed within it and a mysterious -- yet definite -- emotional distance existed between the parents and their children. Malky had never experienced any warmth in her home. But this didn't bother her, because she wasn't aware that such warmth existed in families.

Malky also had her own Pandora's box which consisted of memories she feared to call up. Sometimes, though, disturbing scenes surfaced in her mind. One time, she asked her mother to explain them, but her mother's sharp reaction reinforced Malky's reluctance to discuss that topic -- and she never again raised it.

The heavy emotional void in Malky's heart also created a sphere for another kind of life. Externally, she lived in the world of decorations and scenery, while inside something unknown festered.

She was obviously unlike her siblings. Her identity card, which she had never seen, was shrouded in secrecy. Wherever she turned, she sensed curtains that concealed secrets from the past.

Above all, a childhood memory of two policemen and a man who called her by her name and then said something incomprehensible, stuck in her mind.

One day, Malky asked Rochel: "Can I watch you paint the scenery?" Then and there, the two became good friends.

Soon news of their close bond spread throughout the seminary. But while Rochel's prestige rose as a result of this friendship, Malky's decreased because girls in a seminary's graduating class rarely associate with ninth-graders, mature as these ninth-graders might be.

Day by day, the link between the two grew stronger, and soon Malky began to feel that she and Rochel were twin souls.

During one of their heart-to-heart talks about their childhood years, Malky revealed her innermost feelings, doubts and suspicions.

"What do you think?" Rochel asked her.

"I don't know. Perhaps I am adopted."

At that point, Rochel recalled her own puzzle, but decided not to mention it.

Two days later, she gave Malky a beautiful picture of a broken heart in the form of a puzzle.

Malky eyed the drawing with mixed feelings. Rochel waited patiently and expectantly for Malky's reaction, and in the end, heard her say: "Something's missing here."

Rochel's heart skipped a beat.

"What's missing?"

"The artist's signature," Malky added.

Rochel signed her full name -- an act which quite soon changed both her life and Malky's.

When Malky brought the drawing home, her mother asked to see it. She had already heard about a talented girl named Rochel who drew fantastic scenery, and was eager to see her work.

As Tzila studied the picture, her gaze fell on the signature.

"What's that?"

"It's Rochel's signature," Malky replied.

The reaction was acute and immediate. Malky's mother's paled. Then she winced sharply, and began to repeat the name as if it were a mantra.

"Tolstoy. Tolstoy. Where is she from?"

"From a small town in the north."

"Malky, I warn you. Keep away from that girl. Don't talk to her. Don't have anything to do with her, otherwise you aren't my daughter. Is that clear?" Malky's mother sternly cried.


"You heard. Do what you're told."

Malky shrugged her shoulders.

"I guess you don't understand me. If you don't promise to break up with that girl, I'll take you out of the seminary and move to another apartment."

Malky was deeply startled. There was something very abnormal about her mother's reaction.

"Do you promise me?"

Malky didn't reply.

Malky's mother looked her in the eye and realized that her threat hadn't been effective. Malky wasn't a seven-year-old, but a young lady of nearly twenty. At that age a parent can't just fire orders. They must be accompanied by explanations.

"Didn't she tell you about her family?"

"No. Is there something wrong with her family?"

"Do you mean to say that she made friends with you just like that?"

"She didn't make friends with me. I made friends with her. She seems like my twin soul."

Tzila flinched. Then she nearly collapsed.

"Ima, what's going on here?" Malky suddenly demanded. "Ever since I can recall, I've been living with secrets. Why not tell me some of them?"

Malky's mother opened her mouth as if to speak, and it seemed as if she was about to divulge the secret. But then she demurred, saying: "I have no koach. Anyway you'll never understand."

Once more, Malky returned to the blank wall which eclipsed her life.

Then, in a seeming coincidence, Tzila began to listen to marriage proposals for her daughter, one after the other, and within three weeks Malky was a kallah.

Right after her engagement, Malky's parents asked to speak with her in private. Obviously they wanted to tell her something very important.

They sat down opposite her and in one instant resolved all of the dilemmas which had perturbed her since her childhood. They told her that her present father wasn't her biological father, and that her mother had once been married to someone else.

"And who is my real father?" Malky asked.

"Are you certain that you want to know?"

The truth is that she wasn't certain. She harbored a natural grudge against the man who had abandoned her without displaying any interest in her. Nonetheless, her curiosity got the better of her.

"Who is he?"

"His name is Moshe Dovid Tolstoy," her mother said.

"Tolstoy? Is he related to Rochel?"

"He's her father."

Malky's head began to spin. "That can't be. Do you mean to say that her father is my father, and that he abandoned me and raised her? That can't be."

Her parents fell silent.

The day of her engagement was the blackest day in her life.

Suddenly, everything turned over. Her father wasn't her father, and her true father had abandoned her and had preferred to raise her best friend, Rochel. Suddenly Malky felt rejected and cast out. She was angry at the world which had treated her in such a manner.

It didn't take Rochel long to feel the change. The very next day, when Rochel wished her friend a mazel tov Malky merely answered her formally and continued on her way.

Rochel was shocked. At first she thought that Malky was just acting coy. But when an additional attempt to congratulate Malky resulted in a similar reaction she knew that some drastic change in their relationship had taken place.

Rochel dragged herself back to her grandmother's house in despair. She had never felt so hurt in her life. The play was supposed to be the following week. However Rochel didn't go to school for an entire week. She told her grandmother that she was sick. And she was, but not physically. Yet who took an interest in her anyway?

Two nights before the play, Rochel got out of bed, went to the seminary, and opened the room where the scenery had been stored. Dragging the scenery into the street, she hailed a taxi and took the scenery home.

The following day there was an uproar in the seminary. All assumed that someone had destroyed Rochel's scenery again.

The girls gathered around Malky helplessly. "We should call the police," they said. "This is too much. Without scenery, we can't put on the play."

Malky remained silent. She knew quite well that no one had stolen the scenery, since there were no signs of a break-in, and since she and Rochel were the only ones with the keys. Malky knew precisely where the scenery was, but had no idea how to retrieve it.

She called Rochel's grandmother and said: "Can I speak with Rochel?"

"She's sick," her grandmother replied.

"Tell her it's Malky."

Rochel's grandmother returned after a moment and replied, "I'm sorry to say this, but she told me to tell you that you are the cause of her illness."

Malky began to perspire and didn't know what to do. At last she decided to go to Rochel's house and to firmly demand the scenery back.

Malky knocked on the door and when she entered, she found Rochel lying in bed with an anguished expression. Although Rochel didn't say a word, her face said everything.

Malky knew that she couldn't state her request. However, she had nothing else to say. But to her surprise, Rochel opened the conversation.

"Do you know what?" she darted. "The girl who ruined my painting likes me better than you do. She only destroyed a work of art, while you tore my heart to bits. You won my confidence, befriended me, drew out all of my feelings, and in the end threw me aside without even explaining why, while I innocently thought that you were really my friend. Take the scenery and get out of my life."

Rochel wept and didn't even try to wipe her tears, while something within Malky snapped. "You're right, Rochel. You're not my friend. You're more than that. Rochel, you are my sister."

Rochel looked at her in confusion.

"But I only learned that on the day of my engagement," Malky continued. "Your father, Moshe Dovid, was married to my mother. They divorced after I was born. He remarried, and two years later you were born. We are sisters, daughters of the same father. Do you understand that? My name is Miriam Tolstoy, Rochel Tolstoy's sister."

Rochel's eyes widened. Numerous feelings raced through her heart: shock, disbelief, scorn, anger, fear, worry, denial, opposition and in the end submission and acceptance. The puzzle of her life was completed by the piece laid by Miriam who called herself Malka.

They looked at each other speechlessly. Eventually Malka Miriam broke the silence. "You're right," she said. "It's not your fault that your father abandoned me. You are the best friend I ever had, my twin soul. Now I understand why I always felt that you were my sister. Forgive me for having treated you cruelly. But understand me . . . please."

It took the shaken Rochel a long time to absorb this new information. At last she said, "Something doesn't make sense. My father isn't the kind of person who abandons people, surely not his own children. You have to know him. He is the warmest and most loving person in the world. You have to hear his side too."

Malky closed her eyes wearily. "The truth is that I don't have the strength to listen to truths any more. I am tired and broken as is, and who knows what kind of trauma the exposure to new facts might cause me."

The two hugged each other and then dragged the scenery back to the school.

The show took place the following evening as scheduled, because, as everyone knows: "The show must go on."

Moshe Dovid and Miriam Malky

Rochel went home the day after the play. She didn't explain why she had come home and her parents assumed that she didn't feel well. When no one was around, she rummaged through the family's document cabinet and soon found the letters which her father had sent to his daughter Miriam.

Quickly, she took them and returned to school. Then she asked Miriam Malky to meet her and gave her the pile of letters.

"These are the letters which never reached their destination," she said. "I think I am allowed to give them to you, because my father really wanted you to read them."

Miriam Malky opened the letters one after the other, and read them all through. They contained words which had never before been directed to her and feelings to which she had never before been exposed.

Now she knew that her true father loved her with all his heart and soul and that he hadn't asserted his right to visit her because he didn't want to ruin her life.

The feeling that she had been abandoned dissipated, and instead she was proud to be the daughter of such a good and wonderful man. Now she even regarded her sister Rochel in a new light.

Suddenly, a strong urge to see her biological father overcame her. But she knew that she would not venture that far without her mother's permission.

Such permission wasn't granted. Instead, her mother reacted with hysteria. "You have to choose between me and him," she said. "If you decide to contact him, I won't come to your wedding and won't be your mother anymore. Don't forget who raised you and who took care of all your needs."

Despite her mother's threats, Miriam Malka wrote a letter to her father and shared her hesitations with him. She also tried to persuade her mother to relent, but met with an intransigent wall.

Rochel took the letter home but before showing it to her father, she told her parents that she knew what they had hidden from her all those years.

After telling them what she knew, and reexperiencing her excitement, she gave Moshe Dovid the first letter from his oldest daughter. Moshe Dovid read it and cried, and at that point fully appreciated the wisdom of his elderly rov, so many years ago. His daughter had returned to him in a totally miraculous manner. Even if she couldn't meet him, her heart was with him and that's what counted.

True to his character, Moshe Dovid showed his rov the letter. As the rov read it, tears flowed from his eyes. Then he said: "Right now it is better that you not meet, in order not to destroy the shidduch and the wedding. After she is married, she and her husband can behave as they please. She is obligated to respect her mother, but she isn't obligated to fulfill all of her mother's whims, especially if they clash with kibbud ov."

Moshe Dovid followed his rov's advice, and instructed his daughter to pursue the approach he had used nearly twenty years earlier. But that wasn't all he wrote. In his letter he expressed his deep feelings towards her, and told her that he hadn't stopped being her father even for a moment. He also showered her with blessings on her forthcoming chasunah, even though it would take place without him.

Miriam Malky read the letter with mixed feelings. Over and over again, she read her father's warm words and his brochos and felt terrible that he wouldn't be at her wedding. However, the thought that her father was so humane and had such good middos bolstered and strengthened her very much, and she consoled herself with the hope that she would soon return to him.

The wedding day arrived and Moshe Dovid donned his Shabbos finery and headed to the wedding hall. Hiding behind a bush in the yard of an adjacent apartment building, he watched his daughter's chuppah from there.

At that point, he recalled how he had watched the seven-year- old Malky as she pranced out of her house, and his heart broke. While the guests sang "Kol sosson vekol simchah, kol chosson vekol kallah," another voice emanated from the bushes -- the mournful and tear-filled voice of a father who loved his daughter with all his heart, yet couldn't even participate in her simchah.

Although he was overcome by sorrow, he knew that he had merited such a wonderful daughter because he had heeded his rov's advice, and he saw that the rov's promise that Hashem would return him his daughter was being fulfilled.

He didn't know, though, that Rochel, who naturally was involved with her best friend's wedding, had seen him weeping and had whispered a few words in the kallah's ear.

When Malky was in the yichud room, she asked to leave for a moment. Then she followed Rochel outside and found her father sitting on a stone in the nearby yard, his head in his hands.

Malky wanted to call out "Abba," but just couldn't. Rochel pronounced that word in her stead, saying: "Abba, Miriam Malka wants you to bless her."

He stood up, confused, and tried to say something. Then the kallah said: "Bless me like . . . like fathers bless their daughters . . . "

Moshe Dovid understood her intention. He hesitated, but drew closer to her. Then he placed his hands on her head and blessed her, his tears wetting her veil.

Then he said: "Go, my daughter. Don't worry your mother and your husband. Go and be blessed."

The kallah returned to the yichud room, and Moshe Dovid remained rooted to his place for a long time. In the end, he felt he was the happiest man on earth. He had merited to bless his oldest daughter on the day of her chuppah. So what if he hadn't been able to stand under the chuppah himself!

During the sheva brochos week, the kallah told her husband the entire story. The young man, who was very level-headed, said: "From this day on, you shall behave like every married woman with a father and a mother. Let the one who wants to give you up, do so."

The couple visited Moshe Dovid at his home, and all of his children were introduced to their "new" sister. It was a warm home, and Miriam Malka's newfound sisters and brothers enveloped her with love. This was Miriam Malka's first encounter with the delicious taste of familial warmth.

Although Malky hid these visits from her mother, Tzila sensed what was occurring. Yet she was smart enough to know that if she interfered, she might lose her daughter and she pretended not to know about the visits.

With Miriam Malka's first visit, Moshe Dovid regained his peace of mind. These visits were always pleasant and enjoyable, and Miriam Malka basked in the warmth she had lacked all her life. Her relationship with her half-sisters and half-brothers was natural, and they regarded her as their true sister.

Nonetheless, Miriam Malka was still unable to call her father "Abba." Thus, in order to avoid that loaded word, she would address him by means of indirect phrases such as: "Excuse me . . ." "Is it possible . . . " "Can you . . . "

Even though this mode of speech was in no way offensive, Moshe Dovid's heart skipped a beat every time she spoke that way. Nonetheless, he was very thankful to Hashem for having returned his daughter to him, even if she didn't call him Abba.

Despite her husband's request that the visits to her father be open, Miriam Malka continued to visit him only on the sly. She loved her mother, even if deep down she disapproved of her mother's attitude regarding these visits.

The years passed and Miriam Malka began to celebrate her own children's simchas. Moshe Dovid was invited to these simchas, but more like an uncle than a grandfather. He had grown accustomed to the idea that on a personal basis he was a father and a grandfather in every respect, but in public he was only an uncle. Although he didn't resent this, the fact that Malky was still unable to call him Abba continued to bother him.

But the story doesn't end here. Despite this amazing turnabout, misfortune eventually invaded the lives of Moshe Dovid and Miriam Malka again.

When Miriam Malka was thirty-eight, she was diagnosed as suffering from a terminal disease. There were no arguments about who would perform the vigil beside Miriam Malka's bed in the hospital. Both her mother's and her father's families shared the burden equally.

When the doctors despaired of her recovery, they told the family that as far as they were concerned, Miriam Malka could spend the rest of her days at home.

Miriam Malka chose her biological father's home and, before the eyes of her father and her siblings, she grew more emaciated from day to day.

One day, Miriam Malka called her father to her room. He sat down beside her, trying to hold back his tears. But her tortured look crushed him.

She tried to say the word she had so long avoided. It was so difficult for her to utter it. But in the end she stated the request she had made on her wedding day, adding that word. "Bless me, Abba. Bless me," she whispered.

Moshe Dovid heard the longed-for word, but would have preferred to forgo it, if only his daughter would live.

For the second time in his life, he placed his hands on her head and blessed her. Then in a childish voice, Miriam Malka said: "Abba, say Shema Yisroel with me."

Moshe Dovid recited the Shema with her, using the melody he had customarily sung with his children when they were small -- one Miriam Malka had never heard. Then he laid her head on the pillow, and watched her fall asleep forever.


At the levaya there were no mechitzos between the Tolstoy and the Levi families. The members of both families mourned the great loss and finally understood the folly of spending one's life on petty grievances. They also understood that Miriam Malka had been a korbon tomim, meant to signal to them to stop the ostracism, at least in respect to the families' joint grandchildren.

In the ensuing years, Miriam Malka's children merited the devoted love and care of six grandparents, who opened their respective homes to them.

Moshe Dovid and Esther

When Miriam Malka's oldest daughter reached eighteen, she became engaged to a fine young man, and all busily prepared for the chasunah.

This chasunah served as a balm which cured the wounds the family had suffered due to Miriam Malka's petiroh. Like most weddings of orphans, this one was unusually joyous.

At the end of the chasunah, the mitzva tantz customarily held in Chassidic families, took place. During this dance, the kallah holds one end of a gartel, while her close relatives take turns holding the other end, the wedding's badchan announcing the name of the relative in line.

When the badchan called out, "Der Zaidy, Moshe Dovid iz mechubad mit dem mitzva tantz," (The grandfather Moshe Dovid is honored with the mitzva tantz) Moshe Dovid stepped forth, and took hold of the gartel. As he danced, all clapped hands.

At that moment, Moshe Dovid, whose eyes had filled with tears, recalled the wise words of his beloved rov who was already in Olam Ho'emmes: "Hashem is in charge, and in the end, truth will prevail. Malky will remain your daughter even if the two of you don't meet now. Keep in touch with each other. Life doesn't end today, and one day she will return to you."

Hashem had returned his daughter to him, and she had even called him Abba before her petiroh. Now he was dancing before his granddaughter, and even if Miriam Malka was taken away from him, she had returned by means of Esther, his granddaughter.

At the end of the dance, Esther said: "Bless me, Zaidy. Bless me."


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