“Hashem will answer our prayers. Shimon is a Meron child. Reb Shimon will intercede.” She felt that lump again, but Eli rewarded her with a rare, relieved grin, and she smiled back, and looked up at the hill. The world was streaming with light, music, people dressed in black, people dressed in white, singing, dancing, praying.
They were divided and swallowed on the steep incline, between others rushing to grab Lag B’Omer for themselves.
Esther looked around. She remembered the place vaguely, having been here so many long years ago. Her soft soles padded the gravel and she rushed upward, until she had a place, until she was one with the other women waiting, waiting for the Yom Tov to start.
While she waited she stood and cried the words in her siddur. Her siddur was frayed, its words her constant servants. A slow song wound its way from the center of the congregating nation, out toward its swaying border. The Boyaner Rebbe made his way up a platform to the fire, domed streimel crowning his head. Men rushed to add oil, cotton, and kindling for the fire. All the while, the song took hold, and she listened.
The song yearned, and Esther did too. “Vihi noam Hashem …” The words filtered over the mountain like a mist of clouds and the tune strangled her with want. “May the favor of Hashem rest on us; establish the work of our hands…”
She thought of her Shimon, his once-pure countenance now crowded with hard lines. His once-fluid eyes now jelled into anger, glazed with indifference. And her mother’s heart could no longer bear the squeeze of disappointment. She gave herself up to the sobs.
What had she done wrong? Hadn’t she swathed in him in soft white when he was born, given him a holy name, nursed him in the night? Hadn’t she pointed out butterflies and flowers as they walked together? Hadn’t she slid brown rice, peas, and chicken into his developing little self? Did she not send him to a cheder where they noticed him, taught him, loved him? Did she not play puzzles, read books, review his homework with him?
She threw him a bar mitzvah like a wedding, one befitting the only child born to waiting, doting parents. She sent him to yeshivah, baked his favorite nut bars when he came home, listened to his concerns of friends and fiends and those boys who fell into the gray between. What did she not do? What did she do wrong? Why had Hashem not blessed the work of her hands, the source of her preoccupation for so many years? What had happened to the gift she received one Lag B’Omer day, 19 years ago?
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