Their beards were thick, their eyes were deep and sweet, and their voices were even sweeter. They possessed talents as rich and varied as the hats, eyeglasses, and bekeshes they brought from the four corners of Europe. Their journeys were as distinct as they were difficult, but each and every one of these yidden who had left home to come this shtetl shared at least one piece of Fruma's story. Things outside of Radzyn were changing.
Amidst all the foreign niggunim that were now hummed around town, there lay a distinct sadness, and an uncertainty with indefinite dimensions. It inspired powerful prayers in shul and it infiltrated the Rebbe's tisch, hinting to a darkness so large that their hosts did not dare investigate without an invitation to do so.
When a small group of students escorted a hidden tzaddik to the only place that appeared immune to this darkness, Fruma's parents seized the opportunity and sent her along to accompany them. Together they journeyed over lonely roads, fled crumbling bridges, and navigated twisted pathways through the thick forests leading to Radzyn.
"This is so beautiful," she told Gittel, surveying the crowd and appearing confident as always. "My tatti would've loved this."
Gittel was tired.
The past few days had been a blur. Yankle's had not been accustomed to such hard labor, and it took every last bit of flour and energy to bake enough bread and desserts to feed the multitudes of Radzyners partaking in this simcheh.
But, that wasn't the most difficult part. While her hands cracked eggs and measured milk, her mind was searching for a reason to keep working. As bread piled up higher in boxes, and boxes piled up higher in carts, those reasons became more and more important to define – until they were all that mattered.
One night leading up to the sheva berachos, Gittel flattened yet another ball of soft dough onto a long metal tray, and it occurred to her that she had lost count of how many trays she had already filled. She closed her eyes and tried to remember, but for all her effort she simply was unable to discern that night from any other. Dreaming far into the future, she began to count all the cookies she'd ever bake, and all she could see were those same cookies becoming old, stale, and worthless.
She did not want to play this game anymore.
"How was your week?" she finally replied to Fruma, who was still admiring the scene before her like she was a member of an audience. "What did you do?"
Fruma smiled politely, without giving an answer. Gittel was too embarrassed to admit it, but she'd been thinking of Fruma throughout her entire hopeless week, relying on the chance that there was at least one person who had the solutions that Yankle's couldn't provide.
Being surrounded by all these yidden, however – each more different and complex than the other – transformed the hopelessness Gittel was feeling into something more like a betrayal. She had always dreamed of the people living beyond Radzyn. She had created entire fantasy worlds of their lives. But seeing the many styles of dress, worship and dance of the people gathered around her, brought with it a fulfillment richer than she was capable of imagining. There was something glorious about them, something powerful and something strong. This reality made her own small life seem that much more exotic.
The frustration of the preceding week became dull and, for just this moment, she wanted to be nowhere else but here.
Fruma might possess a secret to happiness that working long days at Yankle's could never afford her, but, right now, basking in this spectacle, she pitied poor Fruma for lacking the merit to contribute her talents to the affair.
The Rebbe slouched, looking out to the party over the enormous slices from the challah resting in front of him. He rocked back and forth while he thought of what he would say.
Not long ago Radzyn had only one silversmith, now there were two. There used to be just one scribe, now there were four. The Rebbe could now choose between an entire minyan of butchers from which to purchase his liver. Each new arrival brought his own story and principles and was operating under The Rebbe's auspices. Lately, he spent his nights contemplating why he was given the opportunity for this challenge of guiding the holy men and women who had already guided themselves this far.
After several minutes, he pulled on his beard, and began to speak with his eyes closed.
"When a person speaks," the Rebbe began, "his words should consist of his thoughts at that very moment. Sometimes, he won't have any words at all."
The Rebbe opened his eyes, and scanned several types of cookies from Yankle's that were spread out for him, and considered how each one was different, in color, shape, and weight.
He picked the one that was decorated the least. He counted all the differences between it and the ones he did not choose, and it occurred to him that they were all entirely indiscernible to the only sense that really mattered.
"I'm humbled by each and every person who has come to join us in Radzyn. They have their own Rebbes and I look forward to learning what they have to teach us. But-"
"These few yidden bring with them so much strength, and sometimes I doubt whether we can accommodate it all."
He bit into the cookie with intent and began to chew.
It was vile. It was ugly. It was sad. Whatever it was, he could not let it into his body. The Almighty had commanded him to avoid profanity, and what he tasted was nothing if not profane.
He looked around the room, embarrassed by his gross display of emotion, and realized he was not the only one who tasted it. Scattered around were half-eaten cookies in folded napkins, and people shuffling on their feet, hungry and ready to go home.
"It has never been more important than now," he ended, "for every one of our actions to be filled only with sweetness."
He looked over to Gittel's mother, and nodded slightly.
"Oy," said Fruma, leaning over to Gittel with wide eyes. Then she laughed, slid her chair back, and stood up to take a stroll.