Context for the Image and Quote

The lines in the image were taken from a scene in The Tremble of Love, excerpted below. Here’s a little context:

Yisroel, a young teacher’s assistant, and the students that he shepherds have entered a forest where they are greeted by terrifying, grievous howls whose source they cannot imagine. The children want to run away in fear, but Yisroel urges them to remain and to continue singing the niggun, the wordless melody he has taught them. Leaving the younger children in the hands of the older boys, Yisroel goes deeper into the forest alone. These are his words and his exchange with the children upon returning.

Because we did not flee

Excerpted from The Tremble of Love: A Novel of the Baal Shem Tov by Ani Tuzman


“When I left you, I was afraid. I felt called to walk towards the source of the wailing without knowing what I was to do. I sang as you sang, hoping our niggun might bring blessing and comfort. When I drew nearer, I saw a man humped over a freshly dug grave surrounded by other new graves. The grievous howling was so great it did not seem possible that it was coming from that lifeless body, cast over the grave like a worn coat. I took hold of the melody more strongly, telling myself what I had told you: to sing to someone suffering. I lifted my voice, imagining your voices braided with mine.”

Srolik paused, his glance resting on the boys one at a time before he continued.

“I learned that the man, a hunter, had lost his youngest child to illness three weeks ago. The same illness then took his four sons and his remaining daughter, leaving only his wife. The hunter had just finished burying his wife near the graves of his children. So great was his despair that, after covering her grave with a last shovelful of earth, he was preparing to take his own life.”

Srolik let out a long breath, looking directly at the boys who steadied him as he tried to steady them.

“The man’s sorrow had taken on a life of its own, joining with the universal sorrow that has no face or limbs, sorrow that roams desperately over the face of the earth bereft of love. Such heart-rending sorrow pours forth in our world all the time, but only sometimes are we able to hear it. When we entered the forest, we heard the unrestrained despair of a human heart feeling abandoned and believing life to be only suffering.”

Srolik paused. They all breathed in, then out, as one body whose heart beat a little less thunderously now.

“Unable to bear his pain, the hunter lost consciousness. The anguish of his soul found a voice and released itself into the forest. When our tender love touched that grief, it was transformed into grief a man can bear, grief that will open his heart rather than destroy it. This is the power of compassion.

Motke, short of breath but filled with urgency, asked, “What we hear now—are they the sobs of the hunter who did not die?”

“Yes, he weeps, Motke. Pain that we cannot contain escapes as our tears. That a man can weep is a blessing.”

“Will he cry forever?” surged forth from Samuel, his face revealing how greatly it saddened him to imagine this.

“No, dear one, he will not cry forever. Do not worry. He will not live locked inside of his own pain. When a man’s or woman’s heart is broken, more love may enter.”

Srolik knelt and extended his arms, the youngest entering his embrace.

“Because we did not flee but approached the man’s torment, it was no longer the only force in the hunter’s life. The force of love was present as well. We were the messengers of that love—small lights in the complete darkness enveloping the hopeless father. Although it was the time for those he loved to be taken by Malach Hamoves, the Angel of Death, it was not yet his time.”

        Srolik saw that weariness pressed the boys’ shoulders down and added weight to their eyelids. Just an hour earlier their shoulders had been lifted and tightened in terror, their throats constricted and eyes pinned open. Their bodies had endured a great deal. He wished he could touch and soothe each one of them.

“Despite the terror you faced, you were able to find and share your courage with each other, and with a man lacking all hope. Unimaginable power dwells in each of us, power that is magnified—made greater— when we unite. You have made a miracle today, the miracle of life raising life. It is our time, dear ones, to leave this place and continue to the cheyder. You have been lending each other warmth that is beyond the body.”

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