“Let's table the discussion" is an Adath Israel Shul initiative where a story or thought is presented in order to stimulate exciting and constructive discussion around our Shabbos table or among friends and children. (Dedicated to the Refuah Sheleima of Shalva Adina Bas Sarah Chana & Eliyahu Aharon Ben Yocheved Yetta Ettel).
In his 1931 short story “Something from Tolstoy” Tennessee Williams tells the story of Jacob Brodzky, a shy Russian Jew whose father owned a bookstore. Jacob Brodzky also had a love – his childhood sweetheart Lila who was as outgoing as he was shy and reticent. After his father died, Brodzky married Lila and they live in an apartment over the family bookstore whose possession Jacob now took as his own.
While Jacob enjoyed the life and the business, Lila did not. She wanted more adventure -- and she found it when she met an agent who praised her beautiful singing voice and enticed her to tour Europe with a vaudeville company. Brodzky was devastated. At their parting, he reached into his pocket and handed her the key to the front door of the bookstore.
"You had better keep this," he told her, "because you will want it some day. Your love is not so much less than mine that you can get away from it. You will come back sometime, and I will be waiting."
To escape the pain he felt, Brodzky withdrew deep into his bookstore and took to reading as someone else might have taken to drink. He spoke little, did little, and could most times be found at the large desk near the rear of the shop, immersed in his books while he waited for his love to return.
Nearly 15 years after they parted, she did return. But when Brodzky rose from the reading desk that had been his place of escape for all that time, he did not recognize Lila. "Do you want a book?" he asked her as if she were a regular customer.
That he didn't recognize her startled her. But she gained possession of herself and replied, "I want a book, but I've forgotten the name of it."
Then she told him a story of childhood sweethearts. A story of a newly married couple who lived in an apartment above a bookstore. A story of a young, ambitious wife who left to seek a career, who enjoyed great success but could never relinquish the key her husband gave her when they parted. She told him the story she thought would bring him to himself.
But his face showed no recognition. Gradually she realized that he had lost touch with his heart's desire, that he no longer knew the purpose of his waiting and grieving, that now all he remembered was the waiting and grieving itself. "You remember it; you must remember it -- the story of Lila and Jacob?"
After a long, bewildered pause, he said, "There is something familiar about the story, I think I have read it somewhere. It comes to me that it is something by Tolstoy."
Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein Shlita noted that if we do not heed Hashem’s word, we will be lost among the nations (Vayikra 26:38). The Midrash comments that the Jewish nation itself is like a lost object. When a lost object is gone, then its owners give up hope for its recovery and return. We call that Yioosh. However, so long as the lost object has unique signs to its ownership, one never gives up hope of finding it and seeing it return to its proper place.
The same is true for the Jewish nation. So long as we are careful not to give up our signs of commitment to Hashem – our understanding of distinction even while scattered among the nations, then we can be sure that we will return to our proper location under the watchful eye of Hashem.
What are your signs of distinction that remind you to whom you are committed?
How can you strengthen these signs so that you never forget them or the hope that they contain?
Let’s “table” the discussion – by discussing it with our children, spouses, families and guests and open an exciting discussion into our homes and communities.