Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Av 5763 - August 5, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Father and Daughter

by Chaim Walder

Part I

Moshe Dovid was quite young when he married the even younger Tzila at a lavish wedding. Both of them came from well-to-do homes, and until their wedding neither of them had encountered any obstacles in their lives.

This of course doesn't imply that there were no such obstacles. It just means that they didn't encounter them because their parents tried to remove every obstacle from their paths in advance, lest their children discover that life has thorns.

Obviously, such an upbringing produces individuals who are, in the best case, capable of contending with the sleep sand which collect in the corners of their eyes and, on exceptional occasions, with the difficult questions of whether or not to move a piece of furniture from one room to another or what cereal to buy at the supermarket, if at all.

To put it briefly, neither of them was more fit for marriage than a newborn baby is for a ski trip.

After a year of a marriage, which was fraught with arguments and long silences, Tzila had a baby -- an occasion for arguing about what to name her.

When Moshe Dovid went up to the Torah, he called the baby Miriam after one of his grandmothers, while Tzila, who didn't like that name, called her Malka. But because Tzila didn't specify why she had chosen that name, everyone assumed that the baby was named after Malkas Esther or the Queen of England.

One day, Tzila took Miriam Malka and left town.

It took Moshe Dovid a few days to locate them. When he finally found them, he was handed an official summons to the beis din. A few months later, the two parted ways at a modest and tearless divorce ceremony.

But that was the last tearless moment in their lives. From then on, tears were an inseparable part of their lives. Fortunately those tears were shed in different regions in the country, otherwise they might have caused a serious deluge.

Because Moshe Dovid had never before had a daughter, nor even a sister, he was very eager to see his daughter on the visiting day designated by the beis din. But apparently Tzila had designs which she hadn't mentioned in the divorce agreement, and she took Miriam Malka abroad for two years.

Moshe David planned to follow Tzila abroad -- or more precisely to tail the tiny being she had taken with her and towards whom he had distinct fatherly feelings. But then he discovered that there are many countries in the world, and that he hadn't the faintest idea where Tzila had gone. Besides, even if he knew in which country she was residing, he didn't know the city in which she lived and surely not the street -- a secret Tzila's parents refused to divulge.

Clearly, he had a problem! Like most Jews with problems, he consulted his rav, who said that it was pointless to search the globe for the already obscure traces of a woman whose footsteps became more blurred with every passing moment. He also claimed that since Moshe Dovid was a young man whose future lay ahead of him, it was senseless to waste it on vain searches for a little girl, even though she was his daughter.

Moshe Dovid heeded his rav's advice and stopped searching for Malky. Two months later, he was offered a good shidduch and remarried.

It turned out that Moshe Dovid's experiences, heartbreaking as they were, thrust him into an arena previously unknown to him: the arena of life. He learned the hard way that life isn't a constantly replenishing bowl of cherries, but rather a never-ending staircase which one must mount all the time, making every effort to preserve his attainments along the way. Quite rapidly, Moshe Dovid learned the art of coping and contending!

The person who helped him contend was his new wife, who very quickly grasped that her husband was good-natured but spoiled. She herself wasn't fazed by such questions as who would turn out the light in the kitchen. However, she was quite capable of analyzing such questions seriously with those who regarded them as difficult.

A year after their wedding, Moshe Dovid's wife gave birth to a girl whom they called Rochel, and many felt that a cycle in his life had closed. Good- bye one wife and child; enter new wife and child. Abi gezunt!.

However, fatherly love isn't like a mathematical equation, and there were nights during which Moshe Dovid would wake up, cold perspiration on his forehead. At such times, he would sit up in bed and stare at the wall. Then his lips would purse, and he would weep as quietly as possible so that his wife wouldn't hear him. His wife, though, was one of those rare types who could detect voiceless crying.

At such times, she would urge him to speak. But this was a difficult task, because Moshe Dovid wasn't one who revealed his feelings, and surely not a loaded feeling for one in the early stages of a second marriage.

But she wasn't like other wives. She persuaded him that precisely because the issue was so touchy, it was best to air and discuss it. The result was that the two held long soul- searching talks about Moshe Dovid's lost daughter and his deep emotional attachment to her.

In the end, these talks eased Moshe Dovid's distress and made his pain more tolerable.

Five years later, Moshe Dovid learned that his former wife had returned to Eretz Yisroel, and that she had married a man named Yisrael Levi and was living in a different city.

Moshe Dovid ascertained her address, and one day positioned himself near his former wife's house. From his lookout, he saw his wife leaving the building and holding the hand of a skipping seven-and-a-half year old girl. That adorable little girl was his daughter.

She was so close and yet so far. Something blurred his view. Although it was moist, it wasn't rain but his uncontrollable tears.

He remained at his lookout post until afternoon, waiting to see his daughter again when she returned from school. Then he saw her get off the school bus and scamper into the house.

An hour or so later, she came out again and began to jump rope with her friends and he was overwhelmed by emotion. A week later he came again, and the storm within his soul, caused by his longings to draw closer to his beloved daughter, nearly crushed him.

This time, he stopped a taxi and asked its driver to follow the school bus. The driver obeyed and took him to Malky's school. Moshe Dovid paid the driver and got out. But like a good citizen, the jittery taxi driver called the police and reported that a suspicious person was tailing a school bus.

Within moments, a police car pulled up beside the school and two policemen jumped out and arrested Moshe Dovid. At the police station, he alleged that he had only wanted to see his daughter, and that he had no court order forbidding him to visit her. "The opposite is true," he protested. "My ex- wife is violating the court order and the agreement between us."

To verify his version of the story, the police took him to his ex-wife's home and her reaction made it absolutely clear that he was telling the truth. She was certain that they had come to arrest her for fleeing the country, and she began to shout that he was a moser who would pay dearly for his crime.

One of the policemen, who grasped the true picture, took Moshe Dovid aside and said: "You should go to the beis din and straighten out the matter. You're the girl's father and have every right to meet her in a respectable manner and not like a thief in the night."

Suddenly the school bus pulled up in front of the house, and Malky got out and saw the strange scene. Two policemen were speaking with her mother, who seemed uptight and distraught, while a third man in a black suit was looking directly at her. When she neared him, he called her Miriam and then Malky. Then he said something else which she didn't understand.

Who is that man? Why did he call me Miriam and then Malky? What else did he say? I don't understand him.

Her mother shoved her into the house, and Malky managed only to glimpse the man's puzzling, somewhat melancholy expression.

Moshe Dovid turned to the beis din and learned that Tzila claimed that since her daughter thought that her stepfather was her biological father, Moshe Dovid's visits would confuse her emotionally. She also said that she would fight Moshe Dovid tooth and nail, and wouldn't hesitate to go abroad again in order to prevent his visits.

The rabbinical pleader told Moshe Dovid, "Don't worry. I'll file a court order forbidding her to leave the country, and another forcing her to let you visit Malky."

But Tzila had her own plans. She rented yet another apartment and transferred Malky to a different school. Moshe Dovid quickly discovered Malky's whereabouts. Nonetheless, it was clear that he could visit her only under police auspices.

Once more, the broken Moshe Dovid consulted his rav who, after much thought, said: "It's obvious that you have the right to visit your daughter. But in order to prevent this, your ex-wife is willing to pay a steep emotional and psychological penalty, such as that caused by repeatedly changing Malky's surroundings and exposing her to courts and police. Are you also willing to pay such a price?"

Moshe Dovid fell into deep thought. At last the rav said: "Moshe Dovid, I know that you seek justice and want to challenge your ex-wife's refusal to let you see your daughter. Basically, you are right. But your daughter's happiness is at stake. Therefore I say: before deciding which course to pursue, pit your suffering and your just claim against your sincere wish that Malky be happy and lead a good life."

Then the rav whispered, "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.

"But if you insist on displaying your fatherly feelings to her now, you will cause her emotional pain. The neshomoh dislikes those who hurt it even if the pain was caused legitimately."

Moshe Dovid didn't answer. That night he roamed the streets, envisioning his daughter half-skipping, half-walking to school. He wanted to lunge forth and proclaim his existence to her, and then to exert his rights to see her. But the rav's advice, which he had heeded his entire life, rang in his ears.

"She is mine, and she isn't mine," he repeated as he returned home to his wife who worriedly awaited him and who had been studying his behavior during the past few days. He asked her for advice, but she didn't want to interfere, claiming that she was biased. He shut his eyes in despair, trying to imagine how she would react if she thought that she wasn't biased. Then he concluded that she would tell him to throw in the towel, concentrate on his current family and hope that Hashem would eventually return the loss to its owner.

The following day he notified the beis din that he was dropping the case. He paid the rabbinical pleader and ignored his protests and his promises to arrange a meeting between Moshe Dovid and his daughter in a matter of days.

"He Who gave me my daughter will arrange a meeting between us," Moshe Dovid replied. And with that, a chapter in his life ended.

It ended, but it was still incomplete. At his wife's request, he wrote tender and loving letters to his daughter. Inside he always inserted money and gifts. The letters returned, one after the other. Although no one had bothered to open them, he still continued to send them.

Strenuous as it was, this effort wasn't futile because it helped him release the pent-up pain and grief his longing for Malky had caused.

Quite soon, his second wife gave birth to another girl, and his broken heart began to heal. Afterwards, they had children one after the other, and before they knew it they had six children.

Fifteen years passed. Rochel, his oldest daughter from his second marriage, graduated elementary school and was ready for seminary. Because the town in which they lived had no seminary which suited their level, she enrolled in a well- known seminary in the large city where her grandmother lived.

At the beginning of the new semester, she moved into her grandmother's home and started school.


Rochel was a very sensitive, intelligent and pensive girl. Her parents called her the seismograph of the house, due to her ability to sense all sorts of subtle undertones. Indeed, Moshe Dovid's wife often said: "Rochel knows that something is bothering you. Perhaps she knows even more than that. She picks up everything."

Rochel in fact was very perceptive, but her delicate nature prevented her from probing matters. She held the pieces to many puzzles, but never had the courage to match the parts.

The transfer to a strange place and unfamiliar social environment was very difficult for her. All of her classmates had gone to the same elementary school and knew each other since childhood. But Rochel wasn't the sort to approach a classmate and say: "Hi, my name is Rochel. What's yours?"

Despite these social obstacles, Rochel plunged into her studies. Nonetheless, no one paid her even the slightest attention. After a few months, the topic of the class Chanukah performance was raised. The entire class buzzed with hearsay about the parts each would receive. One name though, was whispered by all with expectation and hope -- the name of the play's director.

That director, who was in her last year in seminary, was highly praised for her talents and leadership abilities. When she entered the classroom and began to give out the parts, it was clear that she indeed deserved those accolades.

The parts in the play were assigned one after the other. Then the assignment of the technical jobs began. "Who knows how to draw?" the director asked.

All eyes focused on Tzivia, who was very talented in drawing. The director also looked at Tzivia, and it seemed obvious that Tzivia would get the job.

"I see that two girls in this class know how to draw," the director suddenly said. Only then did the members of the class perceive that another girl had raised her hand -- Rochel.

At first Rochel's classmates raised their eyebrows. Then they began to giggle. How dare she compete with Tzivia?

"Since there are two candidates," the director determined, "I want each to bring a sample of a drawing related to the play. Then I'll choose the girl most suited for the job."

The next day, Rochel's drawing was ready. She had worked on it all night, and when she brought it to the classroom, it was impossible not to marvel over it.

It was a genuine work of art -- a drawing one keeps on the wall for many years and not merely a short-lived stage prop. But quite soon, someone began to criticize the drawing, saying that it wasn't suitable for a play.

That connoisseur was one of the class' more popular girls, who for some reason had decided that artistic ability does not constitute a visa into the class' main clique. But since an age-old adage says that "blessing one's fellow is like a curse," the ooh's and ah's the drawing had elicited might also have sparked that reaction.

Rochel didn't answer. All she did was stare at the girls who had a moment ago praised her, and had suddenly found flaws in her drawing.

After that relative tumult, the drawing was wrapped and placed on top of the closet.

The following day, Tzivia brought her drawing to school. While it was very nice, it in no way compared to Rochel's drawing.

The following day, when the play's director arrived, Rochel mounted the closet in order to take down her drawing. But she found only Tzivia's, and under it a blank piece of cloth.

Rochel's drawing had disappeared.

Feverishly, Rochel began to search for her drawing while her classmates followed her with their eyes.

Then the director entered.

Tzivia showed the picture to the director who complimented her. In the meantime, Rochel continued to search for her drawing.

Rochel mounted the closet once more, while her classmates giggled. This time too, she found the blank piece of cloth, which seemed a bit strange and thick.

When she finally took it down, the mystery became clear. An anonymous hand had pasted a blank piece of cloth onto her picture. It was still possible to see the outlines of her drawing, but no more than that. Rochel was shaken. She still didn't understand what had happened. "I guess I didn't place my drawing down carefully," she innocently said. But obviously that wasn't the case.

She tried to separate the pieces of material, but the anonymous hand had done a good job and had spread the glue all over the cloth.

As Rochel was trying to peel off the piece of cloth, one part of her picture stuck to one piece of cloth, and the second to the other piece. Her lovely picture was torn to bits, along with her heart.

She looked back at her gaping classmates and knew that one of them had conspired against her. Rochel, who had never conspired against anyone, couldn't understand how something like that could happen.

Suddenly, a tear appeared in the corner of her eye, and then another one. Soon she began to sob uncontrollably, feeling like a loner against a flock of enemies

Then with a fleeting decision, she let go of the torn picture and marched towards the door. When she reached the entrance, tears flowing from her eyes, she felt a pair of hands clasping her shoulders.

The director!

The director held her tightly. Then, in an understanding tone and with simple and direct words, she said: "If that's what they did to your drawing, then it must have been special. You'll design the scenery for this play. Now, sit down."

Yes, a simple and clear instruction. Who could defy such an authority figure, such a leader?

Rochel hesitated. But the director led her to her desk, and continued to give instructions as if nothing had happened. The lesson ended, and the girls went over to Rochel and told her how shocked they were by the incident, and how amazed they were by the drawing. But Rochel was still dazed by the evil which had disclosed itself.

At the end of the day, as Rochel was leaving school, someone called her. It was the director, who was leaning on the fence.

"Can I walk you home?"

"Of course."

"Do you have more drawings."


"Can I see them?"

"Yes. They're at home, I mean at my grandmother's. I live with her."


"Yes. My parents live in another city, and that's why I have to stay at my grandmother's."

"Your grandmother won't mind if I pop in, I hope."

"No, she won't."

The moment the director saw the drawings, she knew that she hadn't been mistaken. Rochel was a very talented artist.

Late that night, when the director went home, the enchanted Rochel gazed up at the starry sky, barely believing that Malky, one of the most popular girls in the seminary, had visited and spoken with her for so long.

"Well, I guess she likes my pictures," Rochel told herself before falling asleep.

End of Part I


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