Kept within the bounds of time and space, Ezra could not escape the impending doom of Shabbat Dinner. His hands clenched tightly to Tziviah’s arm, his gentle, hazel eyes gazing towards the family home. His sandals scuffled across the field, his wife leading him towards his worst nightmare.
“Zussya and Mordechai have been keeping Abba busy,” muttered Tziviah, opening the front gates, “After the wedding, Mordechai hasn’t stopped looking for a wife. But it’s Levi that Abba should worry about… He’s nearly twenty-two!”
A gentle wind brushed against Ezra’s bangs, covering his sight. Hastily, he brushed it away. Either way, Ezra’s poor eyesight made everything blurry. Squinting his eyes, he scanned across the horizon. The fading sun outlined the delicate pasture. The pebble road swiftly swirled across the fields until reaching a quaint home.
Ezra was brought back to reality with a sweet kiss against his cheek. He turned, facing towards his beautiful new bride. Tziviah tilted her head and spoke reassuringly, “Ezra, I don’t want you to be scared. My family is very excited to have dinner with you.”
Ezra nodded, still holding tightly to his wife. His eyes laid on her, warmth instantly filling his soul. There was an aroma of comfort that Tziviah brought to Ezra. Perhaps it was her curls or the simplest shimmer in her eyes. Tziviah could melt his soul away in an instant. Amongst every star in the Universe, Ezra had found the brightest one.
“Oh Tziviah!” Kissing Tziviah on the forehead, Ezra then said, “You’re misunderstanding me. I’m excited to dine with them, I truly am!”
“Then, why are you afraid? If you continue to walk this slow, we will miss the sunset!”
It was then that Ezra noticed his pace, particularly how he begrudgingly shuffled across the path. He giggled and replied, “But of course, I’m so sorry.”
They quickened their pace. Ezra bore a bright smile as he looked to the house; yet on the inside, Ezra was terrified. Ezra knew who was inside: Tziviah’s family.
The couple were married no more than two weeks ago. After the wedding, the couple settled into Ezra’s household. Tziviah instantly fit well into his family (though it was easy since Ezra was an only child). In the following week, a letter arrived to Ezra’s home. It was from her father, written in ancient Hebrew. He had his wife read it aloud:
My daughter Tziviah,
Peace be on you. I hope my letter finds you in great health. Your brothers and I hope that you are transitioning well into the life you have chosen. Mordechai wished for me to tell you that he is chasing a young lady, Zeldi. He said that you know of this young lady, but I couldn’t recall her name or family kin.
I want you to come home this weekend. As tradition, we will be serving Shabbat dinner before sunset. I anxiously look forward to seeing you again, my dearest Tziviah...
It was at this point that Tziviah stopped reading aloud. But from the little Hebrew Ezra knew, it was easy to tell that the letter was longer. She deeply sighed as she silently read it, then quickly flipping it over. But Ezra caught the end of the letter:
“A wise daughter hears her father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.”
May G-d keep you wise,
Tziviah’s father was named Azriel, known throughout the village to be a firm man. Azriel was never known to be the open and giving hand; rather, Azriel was the man one would avoid at any cost. But Azriel was wealthy, wealthy enough to own land, anyhow. Ezra, on the other hand, was a washed-up scholar. Although he was born within 10 miles from the village, Ezra left Russia to study astronomy in Venice. Returning back from Italy, Ezra was now seen as an unorthodox stranger.
And yet, linked arm to arm, was Tziviah and Ezra. Ezra counted himself to be the happiest man alive, speechless to be married to such a marvelous woman. But whether or not his in-laws admired him, he hadn’t a clue.
His eyes scanned towards the house, where two figures stood. He squinted his eyes, taking a moment to realize that they were two young boys. One of them ran inside the house, the other began to wave. Within seconds, a third figure appeared. Draped in purple robes and adorned in a thick beard was Azriel.
Yet from the looks of it, Azriel was not pleased.
Wine and challah filled the air as Ezra and Tziviah entered the home. Immediately Ezra bowed to Azriel, then he was embraced by his brother-in-laws, Zussya and Mordechai. Zussya and Mordechai were twins, around the age of twelve. The boys shared almost every identical feature, the only difference being Mordechai’s freckles. Ezra had only met them once, during the wedding. And yet, the two boys were ecstatic to see him. It was as though Ezra was their long-lost brother.
“Ezra!” They both shouted in Russian, “Welcome home!”
Zussya spoke up, “Abba didn’t tell us you’d be here!”
“He didn’t?” Ezra tilted his head, “Why wouldn’t I come…?” Ezra glanced towards Tziviah, whose face blushed. He then looked forward to Azriel, who stood stiff at the doorway.
Ezra then realized that he was an unwelcomed guest.
Zussya continued asking, “Did you enjoy your wedding, Ezra? Wasn’t it magical?”
“The real question is,” smirked Mordechai, “How was after the wedding?” Upon hearing this, Azriel approached his son and smacked his arm. Mordechai winced and Zussya chuckled.
“That’s enough,” uttered Azriel in Yiddish, “Mordechai, get your brother Levi. Zussya, take our guest’s shoes, won’t you?”
Without further remark, Mordechai dashed to the other side of the house. Meanwhile Zussya knelt and took off Ezra’s shoes. Tziviah began to take her own shoes off, until Azriel interrupted her, “Tziviah, wait a moment.”
“You are my daughter,” Azriel then knelt before his daughter, “Let me do this for you.” He took her shoes off himself, while Mordechai did the same to Ezra. As Mordechai and Azriel rose, Azriel’s eyes laid solely on Tziviah.
He began to mutter in ancient Hebrew. To his misfortune, Ezra was fluent in Russian and passable in Yiddish. Yet as it came to ancient Hebrew, especially the complex phrases, Ezra was at a loss. The only words he could understand were “husband” and “evening”.
Tziviah stared at her father for a moment. There was a look of discontent in her eyes, but she replied in Russian, “Ezra and I are delighted to be here, Abba. Can I help you with dinner?”
“Thanks to your brother Levi, our meal is prepared.”
At the mention of his name, the third brother showed up. Levi was the eldest child, almost identical to Azriel in feature and manner. However, this was the first time Levi met Ezra. Much to the family’s dismay, Levi did not attend the wedding. When Levi approached, he immediately embraced Tziviah. But as his eyes drew to Ezra, he muttered, “Abba didn’t invite you, Ezra.”
The bluntness of Levi shocked Ezra. Who did this man think he was? Levi was audacious, but shared freely what was on his mind. Ezra, on the other hand, was meek and kept his emotions hidden. He stammered, his face blushed, “I… supposed it was just tradition for me to go with my wife?”
“Tradition?” scoffed Levi, then spoke in ancient Hebrew, “Oh please, Ezra. Just how Jewish are you?”
It was then that Azriel interrupted, “Enough!” But Levi did not let go of his stare against Ezra.
“I will not have any fighting in this household, do you understand, Ezra?” Azriel stared at Ezra, his eyes filled with judgement. Ezra did a double-take. Levi is the one causing trouble, thought Ezra, not me! Ezra shuffled back, holding tight to his wife’s arm. Ezra had no response. Not only am I unwanted here, but I’m being persecuted for nothing!
Then, with the sway of his hand, Azriel led the family to the table.
Their stomachs ached as the wine and challah were set before them. Levi took pride in arranging the meal, continuously gloating to his young brother-in-law across the table. Ezra’s discomfort could be felt across the room. But Ezra’s discomfort had to come to an end as Azriel led in ancient Hebrew prayer, “Blessed are You, LORD our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates varieties of nourishment.”
Azriel then broke the challah, a common Jewish bread, and passed it to his right. Azriel then took the cup of wine and prayed in ancient Hebrew, “Blessed are You, LORD our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree.”
He then passed the cup of wine. As the family began to break bread and share wine, Azriel did what it was custom: Azriel commissioned his daughter, Tziviah, to light the candles. They prayed once more. As Tziviah continued to light the candles, Azriel asked in ancient Hebrew, “Ezra, will you lead us in song?”
The room went completely silent, but under Levi’s breath came a snicker. Ezra stared at his wife, and she at him. It looked as though Tziviah’s family was playing a cruel trick on Ezra! The only Hebrew song that Ezra could recall was from his younger years. Knowing this, Tziviah began to open her mouth for rebuttal, but Ezra interrupted, “I will.”
Ezra began, “Shalom aleichem malachei ha-sharet malachei Elyon, mi-melech malachei ha-melachim ha-qadosh Baruch Hu. (Peace be with you, ministering angels, messengers of the Most High, Messengers of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He.)
Bo'achem le-shalom malachei ha-shalom malachei Elyon, mi-melech malachei ha-melachim ha-qadosh Baruch Hu. (Come in peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High, Messengers of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He.)
Barchuni le-shalom malachei ha-shalom malachei Elyon, mi-melech malachei ha-melachim ha-qadosh Baruch Hu. (Bless me with peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High, Messengers of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He.)
Tzeitechem le-shalom malachei ha-shalom malachei Elyon, mi-melech malachei ha-melachim ha-qadosh Baruch Hu. (Go in peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High, Messengers of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He.)”
Ezra never was a gifted singer, much rather a tenor with spotty pitch. However, as he finished, his eyes rested on Levi. Levi looked towards him, the smirk was wiped off of his face. Ezra then turned to Tziviah, who had sprinkles of tears in her eyes. He pulled her closely and quoted, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.”
Ezra softly kissed Tziviah’s head, pulling her gently into his embrace. Azriel took notice and said nothing more.
As the sun began to die, food and wine filled the family’s bellies. Once filled to the brim, Ezra began to openly share his travels in Italy. Although Levi seemed uninterested and Azriel was impenetrable, the twins were ecstatic.
“Is it true that the Catholic Church is the richest empire in the World?” enquired Mordechai, fascinated by Ezra’s tales of Italy.
“From the looks of it, it seemed like it,” recalled Ezra, reimagining the Vatican. Although Ezra spent most of his time in school, he managed to take a few visits to Italy’s beloved sites, “Although most of my Catholics friends were as poor as dirt.”
“Friends?” repeated Mordechai, “I thought the one thing the Catholics hate more than the Protestants are Jews!”
Ezra tilted his head, “Who told you that?”
“Mother did,” piped up Zussya, “And she also told us that Catholics--”
Azriel then interrupted, “Enough!”
As soon as Azriel yelled, Ezra was filled with instant regret. Had Ezra only alienated himself further?
Azriel stood from the table, “Enough.”
It was then that Azriel looked to his left, where remained an empty chair. Ezra’s eyes followed. A heavy sigh escaped Azriel’s lips. There was such sorrow in his eyes that Ezra hadn’t noticed. Had it always been there? From the moment that Ezra met Tziviah, he was aware that her mother had died. There is a visible pain that a child wears when their mother dies. Tziviah bore the loss of her mother in her actions and emotions, but Tziviah rarely spoke about it. From the looks of Azriel, the Abba wore this pain far worse.
“Zussya, Mordechai… take the dishes to the kitchen before it is sunset,” Azriel then turned to Levi, “And Levi, take your sister to the kitchen as well. I want you both to take the leftover food to the nearby orphanage. Do you understand me?”
Levi stuttered, “But Abba… sunset is only ten minutes away.”
“Do as I said,” declared Azriel, “Why should the poor starve while we remain content this Shabbat?”
Without further comment, Levi was the first to rise to his feet. He snapped at his brothers, pointing to the dishes. In a hurry, the twins gathered the dishes. Levi then came to Tziviah, took her by the arm, and led her into the kitchen.
Ezra was now left sitting across from his father-in-law. Ezra’s hands clenched together, sweat beginning to grow on his brow. Azriel’s eyes were still fixated on the empty chair. Once his eyes drew away, he spoke in Russian, “Follow me.”
Azriel then began to walk outside. At first instinct, Ezra was reluctant to follow. What would happen outside? Should I bear any more ridicule from this man? But as he considered Tziviah and how much he loved her, he decided to follow. Azriel parted the curtains, waiting until Ezra was at his side. The two then walked across the field until reaching a stone wall. Azriel perched himself on it and then looked towards the night sky.
Silence. The two men remained in silence, their eyes gazing at every constellation. Ezra could name every single one and every star visible to the naked eye.
“Why do you love the stars?”
Azriel’s question broke the silence. Ezra nearly jumped. He glanced over to Azriel, whose eyes were deeply fixated on the sky. Ezra replied, “Because it reminds me that something else is out there.”
Azriel chuckled. Ezra noticed Azriel’s eyes becoming blurry. At first, Ezra thought it was his bad vision. But squinting closely, it was apparent that Azriel was in tears.
“Why do you love the stars, Abba?” asked Ezra.
“One of those stars is my wife.”
Drawing his hand from his robe, he reached out and took a hold of Ezra’s hand. Ezra immediately jolted, but Azriel hushed. Gently, Azriel drew their hands towards the sky. He pointed to a singular star and whispered, “My wife is that one.”
Azriel’s finger pointed to Alpha Cassiopeiae, the breast of the Queen’s constellation. To Ezra, he could name every scientific fact known about this star, from its approximate age to its luminosity. However, to Azriel, he hadn’t the slightest clue that this was apart of the Queen’s constellation. To him, this was his wife.
“Tzipporah, my wife, died giving birth to Zussya and Mordechai. That very night, as she died in my arms, her eyes pointed to this star. I believe it was her way of telling me she would meet me there.” Azriel’s voice then began to crack, the tears in his eyes he could no longer contain. He turned to Ezra and asked, “When you die, do you have a star where you’ll reunite with my daughter?”
Ezra could not reply. All he could do was stare towards Alpha Cassiopeiae. Ezra was left with nothing to say.
“I can tell you love my daughter,” said Azriel, “You stare at her more fondly than you do these stars-- and these stars are your life’s study.”
“Tziviah is greater than any star I could find or imagine,” Ezra replied, “I cannot repay you enough for giving me the honor to marry her.”
It was then that Azriel laughed aloud. Even with tears in his eyes, Azriel chuckled, “Oh Ezra, Ezra. I’m not as orthodox as you think. It was Tziviah that chose to marry you, I had no say. My daughter Tziviah, as you know, is a beautiful woman. You paid a small dowry to have my blessing, but many other men offered much more money.”
Azriel then dug into his pocket. He pulled out a coin purse and said, “But Tziviah chose you. It didn’t matter that you offered a tenth of what the other men offered… but it was you that she wanted most. She had found her star. And as her Abba, I couldn’t stand in the way.”
His hands dug into the coin purse, where he withdrew five gold coins. His other hand seized Ezra’s arm and he placed the gold into his hand, saying, “Take this back, Ezra. My daughter is worth far more than gold could offer.”
Ezra clutched onto the gold, his eyes beginning to water. As he stared down at his hand, a tear fell onto his knuckle. Without another word, Azriel stood up and slowly walked towards the house.
“Abba?” Ezra called out.
“Yes, my son?”
“Beta Cassiopeiae,” said Ezra, “I will meet her at Beta Cassiopeiae.”