About that Sixth Day_
The road was narrow. In the morning a wagon rumbled down the middle and the two peddlers were forced into the brambles on either side. The peasant who was driving laughed, shouting at them, “You Jews are always selling something but I’m not buying.” He flipped the reins and the horse whinnied.
Lave shook his fist but Chaiim quickly turned him around, whispering urgently, “Shah, you want they make another pogrom. Don’t give them an excuse.”
“I wanted he should know, I don’t sell his wife a needle and thread, his pants would be down around his knees.”
“He knows, he knows. Ever think that maybe that’s where he wants them?”
Then to distract his friend he continued telling him about the dream he had last week. “It was all about angels. You don’t think that’s a sign I’m going to die soon?”
Lave shifted the load on his back, kicked a clod of dirt to the side of the road. “That be the case, we’d all be dead. No, probably the schmaltz you had last night had gone bad.”
“Schmaltz! You think I’m a rich man? Schmaltz, and it’s not Shabbos. Next you’ll be telling me I had herring. A pickle maybe, but what’s a pickle? A cucumber gone bad so they throw it in a barrel and pray over it. No, the dream was full of angels; they were at a convention, all muttering about creation, how it wasn’t fair. That much I remember.”
Chaiim stopped and burped several times.
“You feeling better? I can smell the onions and garlic. On a big road, I would give you room – like they say: another man’s dinner leaves you hungry in the morning – and the inn is still an hour away.”
“So, my dream will keep us from counting the steps.” Chaiim turned and burped again. “I was hiding behind a pole in this big hotel, I think in Kiev. The lobby was full of angels, shoulder to shoulder so they couldn’t spread their wings, but I still heard a fluttering sound. Maybe that’s how they talk, you think?”
Lave laughed. “I think? You think I go around listening in on angels? Sneak into some goyisher hotel in Kiev? Not even my Shabbos bekeshe (frock coat) would be good enough to get past the front door. You want us to go into Hotel Kiev and be killed?”
“Nu, nu, nu – you want the story, enough with the questions. Else you count the steps. I was there; I’m here now – not killed – and I saw it with my own eyes. Outside the main hall, a sign in large Cyrillic letters announcing the main talk: About that sixth Day.”
“Sixth day? What sixth Day?”
“These were angels, remember. So I’m guessing it’s from Creation. God called them in to consult. So that sixth day, to answer your question.”
“Consult?” Lave sputtered. “Where’d you read that?”
“It’s in the Chumash. Right at the beginning. God gets going. One thing after another and then boom! Creation, day 6. But who’s counting? I heard Him calling, ‘Be nice to consult some angels, get another set of eyes on this.’ I’d guess God knew this was a major undertaking, you’d think.”
“Thinking He was not. Thinking He’d have asked my wife.”
“Lave, you listening? This is creation we’re talking about. Adam’s not here yet, not Eve either. And neither your wife.”
“Oi. I should have been there then. Quiet. Could you imagine, Chaiim, such quiet.”
“Quiet you could learn too. So, if you’re listening, the doors to the big hall open and all the angels float in. No pushing just in case God’s looking down. So before the doors close, I sneak in, like I was tucked under the wings of the last angel.”
“You weren’t afraid of being caught?”
“Nah, my dream. I knew I could always figure a way out. And besides, by this time I’m thinking these angels are going to want a witness – creation being serious stuff. So this archangel gets up on the stage, behind the podium. Starts to talk about how rotten mankind’s been. Says it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Me, I almost lost it then. Worse, I wanted to say, ‘Look at me – I can’t remember the last time I had herring.’”
Lave interrupted. “Last month, in Uckla’s inn when that poritz (landowner) made you act as if you were a cat and open your mouth so he could drop in a herring or two. And you never said how many angels were in that hall.”
“Those herring don’t count. And I didn’t have to buy supper so who’s the bigger fool? And now it’s you asking the questions – ‘How many angels?’ Why do you care?”
“Because my neighbor said his priest asked how many angels can dance on the head of a pin so I thought if you knew how many were in that hall, maybe we could figure out how to answer his question – that’s all.”
There was a break in the tree cover and the sun cut a clear golden channel to the dirt road. Chaiim opened his mouth wide, slowly advancing until he felt the sun spill over his nose and upper lip, and then snapped his jaws shut. Through clenched teeth he explained to his friend, “That’s the way to trap gold coins.”
Chaiim stopped, moved his jaws up and down, his jawbone cracking as if the gold coins were bit in halves and halves again. “And that, my friend, is the way to help all the gold on its way.” He smiled, contentedly put his hands behind his back and skipped on a few steps.
Lave hurried to catch up. “Well, what did the angels say about the sixth day?”
Chaiim lifted his hat with one hand and ran the other through his hair. “Ah, about the sixth day is it? What else could they say. It went like this. That archangel up on the stage says, ‘Sure we were consulted, but where is it written that our advice was followed? No, consulted. We warned what would happen: Day one. Kicked out of Eden. Not much better after that.’ And then from the audience, ‘Yeh, ten generations and you get Noah and that flood.’ I watched as drops of water flew off that angel’s wings. Guess he was there and still trying to get dry behind the wings. It started to get out of hand and that’s when I made my escape. Last I heard was the archangel rapped the lectern calling for quiet.”
“And that was it?” Lave sounded frustrated.
“No. I decided to come back the next day. The hotel lobby was deserted. Clean, well you’d expect that with angels for guests. I was disappointed, found one of those overstuffed armchairs in a corner and sat down. I hear a crinkling and reach back under the cushion. Never guess what I found?”
“No, I’d never guess. OK, I’m asking, so what did you find?”
“A sheet summarizing the conclusions of the proceedings. It was in old Russian with all those fancy Cyrillic letters. Near as I could tell the angels were lodging a formal protest against God for putting them down on paper as being ‘consulted’ just so He could blame them later for when things went wrong.”
“Oh, there’s more to the dream but the inn’s around the bend up ahead and dreams keep well, thousands of years for some of them.”
The Next Day
Lave was glad his friend had arranged for them to stay overnight at the Inn. “Chaiim, you must have been inspired, having the innkeeper tell the neighboring farmers that we’d be here Tuesday evening with all new wares for sale.”
“Not so much as inspiration as laziness. Why should we have to walk from one small farmhouse to another, especially since the farmer is in the field during the day. How many can we visit in an evening? Two, or maybe three if they’re close enough and none of the farmers has a newborn animal they wish to show us. This way, they come to us. One buys, they all buy. How can Stash let Stan buy a new pan for his wife without buying something equally elegant for his own? And then Bruno sells more beer and things get even more lively. You’ll see, we’ll be invited to come back in a month or before the next festival.”
Early the next day, at cock crow, Chaiim woke up and, when he saw his friend holding his head, raised an eyebrow, which even in the dim light of the attic was enough to ask for a full report – although one not overly long.
Lave lamented. “I’m not sure with all the beer I drank if I made any profit at all, especially as a few things got broken and who’s to pay?”
“But, Lave, last night it looked like you were having a wonderful time and, as our sages say, who can set a price on a wonderful time – aren’t they as fleeting as pretty sunsets?”
“Never mind with your sunsets. Last night, yes; it was fun. But now I’m much the worse for wear. You should have at least arranged that we get a ride back in one of your good customers’ horse-cart.”
“Best not. I dare say they had too much to drink themselves and perhaps spent too many kopeks. But what counts are the silver and copper kopeks that are still in our pockets. Ah, Imperial Russia with her mints. You know, Lave, they’re called kopeks because of the denga, a Russian coin, that had a rider on a horse carrying a spear. Kopek is Russian for spear. Nu, we’d have coins called romach instead of shekels if back in the good old days when Moishe was around there was a coin with Pincus with his spear [romach Heb.] going after the Midianite woman and Israelite. You have to know all of this if you want to be a merchant.”
Lave’s head was throbbing. “Ah, now you’re a merchant? And your counting house, where is that? And when are you going to finish telling me about your dream with those angels?”
The two friends hastily looked around the attic room where they slept, worried lest they’d forgotten something. Whatever was still out was thrown into their sacks and the sacks tied. Lave’s legs were trembling when he descended the ladder from the attic; Chaiim handed down their sacks. Then they went around back to find the innkeeper.
“Here, Bruno,” Chaiim handed him a roughly wrapped bundle, “is a large cotton print, for your wife. You’ve told us many times how clever she can be with material. Perhaps, when we return in a month, we will see her handiwork. We both thank you for inviting your friends. They were indeed a lively crowd as you promised. We need to be on our way home. But perhaps we can trouble you for some water before we go.”
Once they were on their way, Chaiim returned to the question Lave had asked earlier.
“Ah, Lave, the sun on our faces and the birds chirping in the treetops. What can be nicer than a question? As the sages have often said, ‘A good question is like a whetting stone on a dull scythe. It sharpens the mind for the work that lies ahead.’
“As for my counting house, it’s the same as yours – out in back. But in spite of the half-moons cut in the door, the light is none too good for counting all my rubles and that is why God, in his infinite wisdom, has kept us poor.”
An hour further along the road home, with the sun full in their faces, Lave held up his hand. He looked green, dropped his sack and rushed off into the thicket on the right side of the road. When he returned, his hand was gently massaging his belly.
Chaiim picked up both sacks, slinging one over each shoulder. “Tell me, Lave, do I not look like I belong in the King’s Guard with my hands across my chest?” Chaiim started a slow cadence in place, and with a “One. Two. Three. Four!” set off down the road. Lave hurried to catch up, which set his belly beating its own broken rhythm-
“Lave, you shouldn’t worry. Our marching along is but preparation for when our grandchildren will march in God’s Army. The word will go out, and little black-hatted pins will be stuck on the map of the world showing all God’s outposts.”
“Really, just like that?” But he wasn’t having much success snapping his figures.
“No, I think there will be problems along the way, but look how already everyone knows of the Baal Shem Tov and now we see God’s presence everywhere.”
“Really?” and this time Lave’s fingers made a loud snap, “Even in my headache?”
Chaiim nodded. “Yes, the sages said God gave us headaches that we should remember we have heads with which to contemplate His greatness.”
Lave started to laugh, then brought his hand quickly to his temple. “In that case, I wish to make you a godly gift of one major headache.”
They walked on in silence until suddenly Lave’s belly started to rumble so loudly that Chaiim turned around, fearing they were being chased by horsemen. Lave fumbled with his pants and once again rushed off into the woods.
When he returned he saw that his friend had walked on ahead and was waving.
Chaiim smiled. “The crows will carry the good news home: ‘Lave returns with an empty klumek [sack] and an empty boykh [belly]. A bowl of vegetable broth will be waiting, trust me.
Lave sputtered. “For this you need the crows? A bowl of vegetable broth is always there. If we eat like kings then what are kings supposed to eat?”
“Good, good – more questions. I can hear already the honing stones on the scythes and haven’t forgotten your questions about the angels. But last night I realized that dreams are always better in one’s own bed. Who knows, perhaps in the morning it will be you whom the angels visit and give an answer.”
Another hour they walked on in silence until Chaiim, seeing a large clod of dirt in the road, skipped ahead to kick it to the side.
Lave nodded. “Chaiim, I see now how God wishes us to connect this world down below with Him in the world above. For don’t we end our prayers asking God to help us make our souls like dust to others? And here He supplies us with clods of dirt to show us how.”
Chaiim saw the rise in the road to the hill that overlooked their kleyn shtetl [little town]. “Perhaps, perhaps. But now we trudge up and march down like triumphant conquerors. The smell of chicken soup is in the air and, as I promised, we’re home in time for Shabbos.”