Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Short Fiction

Last week was the continuation of the fictional character, Count Zero, by Simcha Wasserman, with “Bikur Cholim” and the healing power of compassion and laughter while visiting the sick; this week, the series continues with the fourth and last installment, with “Origins.”  It is as much a story about beginnings—and we all desire to know as much as possible of our origins— as it is about determining who we are today. It is also about, I would argue, on how to maintain a course of moral action, even if  at times, after a sustained search for meaning and wonder, we do find ourselves slightly off the beaten track.

by Simcha Wasserman

Not one to openly express emotion, Count Zero wept silently in private at the passing of his uncle, Bentzion. His uncle and aunt Sarah (who predeceased her husband by 15 years) had raised him from the age of 3 years old, having lost both his parents in a mysterious voyage of diplomatic import. Their ship literally disappeared off the face of the earth in the stormy waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

As the Count matured, he asked his uncle and aunt for details surrounding their last voyage, and what they did for a living prior to their deaths. Uncle Bentzion, who was his mother’s brother, said that his parents were simple hardworking immigrants from Europe; his father was a tailor, his mother a seamstress. And what of their diplomatic voyage? His uncle would only shrug his shoulders, “I don’t know.”

Shortly after Bentzion passed away, his uncle’s lawyer called the Count, explaining that he was the sole heir to their estate. His uncle and aunt, unfortunately, were not blessed with children. At the reading of Bentzion’s last will and testament, a modest sum of money was left to the Count.

But more puzzling, was a note in his uncle’s handwriting addressed to him. It read: “To my dear nephew, Yitzchak Yoseph Miller, I leave you a precious story of your namesake, which I found among the papers left by your beloved parents. This story might offer some insight into the nature of your soul. I do not understand the ways of the soul, but after watching you become a man, I can see some special connection to the past in your thoughts and actions. May you continue to be blessed in your journey through life. Here follows the story, written in your father’s handwriting:

In 1508, a young man in his early twenties, appeared in the city of Valencia, Spain. His name was Yitzchak Yoseph Miller. The city was in a quandary over a newly imposed decree prohibiting the importation of Cuba cigars, a lucrative business taking full advantage of recent bumper tobacco crops.

When the Governor of the city saw Yitzchak Yoseph, he was duly impressed for this stranger to  town was tall and immaculately dressed in the noble garb of the Spanish aristocracy, sparkling sword and all.

“Welcome, dear sir,” said the Governor, looking up to greet the young man’s eyes. “I am the Governor of Valencia,” he said with a flourish.

“Thank you,” said Miller, scanning the main street of Valencia where they both stood. “Forgive me for saying so, but I sense some turmoil here among the people.”

The Governor eyed him thoughtfully, thinking that here was a perceptive young man.

“Tell me Senor...?”

“Mr. Miller.”

“Tell me, Senor Miller, do you enjoy a quality cigar?”

“With all due respect, Governor, only a fool inhales smoke. My preference is for good health.”

The Governor was taken aback, with such a direct response.

“Is there some cause for unrest in your city?”

The Governor hesitated for a few moments but thought it would do no harm to tell a visiting stranger, who was most likely just passing through, the reason for the mood of oppression in the city. “I have imposed a ban on the importation of Cuban cigars.”

“Ah,” said Miller. “So you are trying to protect the health of your people! Very wise and kind of you.”

The Governor blushed. “Not exactly, Senor... In truth, we have a problem with the Jews.”

“How so?” The demeanor of Miller hardened, his voice as cold as a blade of steel in the winter.

“The importers of tobacco from Cuba are all Jewish merchants—they are becoming uncomfortably wealthy!”

“Sir, I must confess that I am Jew,” Miller said, with thinly concealed anger. The Governor gasped, overcome with an inexplicable desire to run.

“And further, my dear Governor, I am well aware of your heritage as well.” The Governor’s face grew white, his legs barely able to support his quivering body.

“The Inquisition is not so long ago....and your sainted mother did not forfeit her life for yours to have you abandon your people.” The Governor slumped to the ground, sobbing.

“I trust you will annul this decree and bring honour to your holy mother and all those who died, sanctifying the name of G-d.”

After a brief pause, Yitzchak Yoseph continued: “If your tears are truly authentic, my heart aches for you, but if not...bear in mind, I will be forced to return, and my next visit will not be a pleasant one...”

The Count slowly read his father’s letter again. He then shook hands with the lawyer. “Mr. Miller, if you pardon me for saying, it seems that you have a very unusual and colourful ancestry. And perhaps, no small legacy to perpetuate, if you so desire.”

Simcha Wasserman is a Lubavitcher chossid living with his family in Toronto.
Copyright ©2015. Simcha Wasserman. All Rights Reserved. The story is published here with the author’s permission.

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