Smoke streamed lazily out of the open windows of the Rebbe’s house, hesitant to escape but eager to rise in the warm summer air. The thirteen men sitting inside the waiting room looked down at their shoes, smacking the end of their pipes in short breaths, in preparation for what would surely be their last opportunity to see the Rebbe.
Every young woman strolling from shop to shop was beautiful, and every child running from school was exuberant, and each was gladdened by the pleasant scent that always accompanied the sweetness of Summer’s arrival. But, to Koppel, it seemed that even the cobblestones over which the smoke drifted shook with anxious anticipation. Inhaling the smell of tobacco through the open door to his workshop, he winced at a familiar sting in his gut, and braced himself for the oncoming assault.
Summer in Radzyn meant more customers would come by his shop to chat, and laugh, and take a l'chaim, and maybe order a piece of jewelry or silver candlesticks to be made. It also meant the imminent departure of his Rebbe. Like his father and grandfather before him, the Rebbe would spend each Summer in the mountains, giving his eyes and ears new sights and sounds to uplift. The Rebbe would sorely miss his chassidim, and his chassidim would sorely miss their Rebbe, and each would deal with the separation in their own unique way.
This was decidedly Koppel’s least favorite time of year.
Shaken from this thought, Koppel heard the familiar cry of Shmuli the shamash and relaxed. The day, it seemed, was over. Soon the men of Radzyn would put their tools down, remove a gartel from their pocket, and file into shul for the afternoon prayer. Some men would offer wild expressions of devotion, clapping and shaking in rhythm with their desires; others could offer only a sigh. Whichever the case, Shmuli would knock on their door and invite them along.
Today, however, Koppel watched something strange unfold through his window. Shmuli not only knocked on the door across the street, but he walked in as well. He spent barely a minute inside, and came out carrying a neatly wrapped package, tucked tightly beneath his right arm. Koppel leaned forward curiously to investigate, and was greeted with an inviting raise of the shamash’s eyebrows.
“Shmuli, come in!” Koppel motioned with his hand, panicked and embarrassed at his own tendency to pry.
“Koppel, I wish I could, but mincheh-“
“Please, Shmuli! How long have you been waiting for this moment to sit with Radzyn’s silversmith? Eternity? Longer than that?”
Reluctantly, Shmuli abandoned his mission, if only for a moment, and stepped into Koppel’s shop. He knew Koppel would have a funny story prepared for him, and who was he to turn down a funny story from Radzyn’s silversmith?
He sat down in a chair across from Koppel, and placed the neatly wrapped package on the nearest table. Although Koppel had not the slightest idea what he would say to Shmuli, he was always ecstatic to leave his silver and entertain a guest. He liked to pride himself on the depth of relationship he cultivated with his customers, and considered being able to shmooze with them a matter of livelihood. He’d spend hours each day talking about this, and hours each day talking about that, and always remembered to ask how a sick child was feeling, if a feud had been resolved, or why the details of a passionate plan had not developed. He was keenly aware that his customers expected quality in their conversation, even more than they expected quality in the kiddish cups, silverware, knives, and jewelry they ordered from him.
However, the silversmith across the street, whose shop Shmuli had come from, did none of that.
Nosson had arrived in Radzyn just a few months prior, and it appeared to Koppel that he had yet to properly adjust. He worked late into the night, hummed to himself while his customers waited patiently for service, and did not start a second project until he finished the first. Every morning, Koppel raised his head to catch a glimpse of the new silversmith through his window, and had yet to have his glances returned.
Once in a while somebody would leave Nosson’s shop with a curious smile and a package, tucked tightly beneath their arm. And, although every yid in Radzyn was of high esteem, it seemed to Koppel that Nosson’s customers were always of the highest. This bothered him the most, because it certainly was not a reflection of Nosson’s personability. His only relief was the knowledge that his competition still collected zloty in the market each erev Shabbos, in order to supplement his inadequacy.
And so, Shmuli and Koppel drank some vodka and laughed, and spoke of the goings on of all their friends Radzyn, until Shmuli got up and thanked his host. Koppel assured him he’d follow closely behind, and once Shmuli left he took off his apron to hang on a curved hook near the door. As he moved it aside to take down the rekel behind it, he gripped the leather tightly and let his hand linger before letting it go and watching it swing back and hit the wall. He let his stomach relax, and walked over to the candle to blow it out, when from the corner of his eye, he noticed something that was not there before.
However, he also knew that everything in Radzyn tells the deepest truths, and he had watched the tree in front of Nosson’s shop sprout flowers well before any of the trees in front of his own shop did.
It would not be a matter of will, but of time, before he saw what was inside the neatly wrapped package, from across the street, that had been tucked so tightly under Shmuli’s right arm.