The market place is full of people, despite the cold. The smells and sounds whisk by him. He better hurry, Mother is waiting for the potatoes. They will have latkes today, tonight is Chanukah. Isser likes latkes. Before Father died, they used to have applesauce with the latkes on Chanukah. His little sister has never had applesauce with latkes. He looks for the green grocer’s stall. There is long line. Everyone is stamping their feet and huddling in layers of clothes against the biting wind. Crates full of pickled vegetables line the path to the green grocer’s stall. Just beside him is small crate with jars of applesauce. If only Mother’s coins were not so few, he ponders and looks at the rows of small jars. A few steps and he can reach out and touch the jars. He runs his fingers over them with longing, thinks of his little sister and Mother’s latkes. A glance up and down the line he sees no one looking his way. A jar passes down into his coat pocket. He steps away from the crate and moves with the line, closer to the green grocer.
“Thief, thief!” An old woman shouts. His stomach knots, his face burns. He looks around, sees people avoiding his gaze. He leaves the line and hurries away. Mother’s shopping bag flaps empty against his leg. A hand grabs him from behind.
“Come here, you little thief!” It’s Mendel, the Beadle. “You are going to the Rabbi!” Mendel’s hand feels around in his pockets. Finds the jar of applesauce. He grabs Isser by the scruff of his coat. The boy doesn’t resist. How can he? It is true. He is a thief. People turn, point and whisper. His Mother’s shopping flapping empty against his leg. The beadle knocks on the Rabbi’s door. The boy shivers beneath his coat. The door opens and the Rabbi looks down at him.
“What is it?” The Rabbi looks from Isser to Mendel the Beadle.
“The boy is a thief, Rabbi, he stole this from the green grocer,” the Beadle holds up the small jar with applesauce. The Rabbi looks back down at Isser.
“Who is this boy?” The Rabbi keeps looking at Isser.
“Isser, Dov the Tinker’s son.” The Beadle says.
“Isn’t his mother Gittel a widow?” The Rabbi asks.
“Yes,” the Beadle answers, “it’s been four years. The Beadle loosens his grip on the boy’s coat.
“Did you steal it, Isser?”
“Yes.” Isser nods and looks at his worn shoes.
“I see,” the Rabbi says, “why did you steal it, Isser?”
The boy shuffles his feet.
“For my sister, for Chanukah, Rabbi,” he says in a whisper.
“For Chanukah, you say, and your mother sent you for potatoes so you can have latkes, yes?”
“Yes.” The boy looks up at the Rabbi. “My sister has never had applesauce with latkes, Rabbi.”
“Hm, I see. So you stole the applesauce so she can have it with her latkes tonight?”
“Yes, Rabbi.” Isser moves his feet over the snow.
“Wait here Isser,” the Rabbi says, “Mendel come with me.” The two men disappear into the Rabbi’s House. Isser tries not to hear what they say. He thinks about his Mother, waiting at home for the potatoes, and of his little sister. The Rabbi’s voice drifts through the open door.
“I know Mendel. The truth is that Isser stole a jar of applesauce. Still we must ask why he did it to get at the perfect Truth. The Holy One, Blessed is He, judges everything on merit, and so must we. Truth is that Isser stole the applesauce for his sister, because it is Chanukah tonight and his mother has few coins to spare.”
Isser cannot hear what Mendel the Beadle answers. The two men comes back out. He dares not look at them. Mendel the Beadle puts something in his pocket. He can feel the form against his hand. The jar with applesauce! He looks at the Beadle. Mendel the Beadle smiles and nods.
“Isser,” the Rabbi says, “run and buy the potatoes your Mother needs for latkes. Tell the green grocer I will talk with him shortly. Gut Yontiff!”
This is part of the Reflections at the Magick Tree 12 days of Yule Blog Party