The flames danced in the silver cups behind them, enjoying a moment only they were aware of. Although it was midday, the Rebbe requested that the drapes on his windows be drawn.
Only a few candles were lit, and it occurred to Mottel that the illumination of the room was of a different sort. It was still difficult to see around the Rebbe’s study, but somehow things seemed more clear. His thoughts were less noisy, and his desires felt simpler.
He turned to Issur, and they simultaneously grimaced. How on Earth did the tzaddik know?
"In every household," the Rebbe began, "there is a mother, there is a father, there are sons, and there are daughters. Sometimes, even, there is a dog."
"Each one has a special job to do, that only they can do. That only they were meant to do. So too, in Radzyn. So too, in the world." He paused for a moment, considered opening his mouth, then stopped himself. "It's so important," he continued, "it's so important."
"Issur," he said, "do you know what's more precious than having something you need? Not having the things you don't need yet."
The Rebbe knew when to be soft and when to be harsh, and locked his gaze until the richest man in Radzyn put his head halfway down in shame and handed the fiddle to Mottel.
"Mottelleh," the Rebbe said, "what happened to your music this morning? We weren't the same without it. Please, play us a song." All the men in the room knew that this wasn't a request.
If circumstances were different, Mottel would have happily embraced an opportunity to do what he does best for his Rebbe. If this were yesterday, and he weren't yet worried about buying some challah for dinner, he would have played the happiest song he could remember. But, standing in front of the man he respected most in this world, and next to the one he envied most, he could not feel anything but ineptitude for once again possessing the violin he had sold that morning to buy some food for Shabbos. He closed his eyes and a sad, piercing, song began to emanate from his soul onto the strings of his beloved instrument.
Being uncomfortable with your Creator is one thing, but being uncomfortable with yourself is another. When the Rebbe heard this song, his heart felt its own pain, its own loss, and felt worthy of the rewards it would receive for enduring it.
When Issur heard the song, he also felt his own worth, and began to clap sinisterly. "If only,” he said, “you could eat a song for Shabbos dinner!"
Mottel's soul stirred. He had poured it into his melody, as he poured it into every melody he had ever played. How many days had he spent on how many corners pouring his soul into melodies? And, what, he wondered, did he have to show for it? What, he demanded from his Creator, was to show for it!
"Oy, Mottelleh," Issur murmured.
"Oy, Mottelleh," the Rebbe murmured.
Still holding the neck of the fiddle with both hands, Mottel sank to his knees, lowered his head, and followed each individual string with his eyes, across a bed of splintered wood, glue, and paint. His hands shook, and sweat dripped from his forehead into his eyes, mixing with tears and dripping down his nose to the bare floor beneath him.
“That, my sweet Mottelleh,” said the Rebbe, "is something you cannot do.”
“Do you know how precious every instrument is? Every instrument, with or without music, every moment, every object that allows us to connect with something holy inside of ourselves.”
Mottel did not have the strength to look up. He just listened, breathing softly. Fractured pieces of his fiddle had pierced his hands, lingering, and blood moved towards his fingertips and slowly stained the cuff of his white shirt.
“Motteleh, if you don’t pay respect to these holy instruments, they cannot connect you.” He paused. “They cannot protect you.”
Mottel now looked up, his eyes red and distant. Issur, too, dared not look away from his Rebbe in this moment.
They each had the same question, and it was not necessary to ask it.
“Protect us against what?” the Rebbe said, looking at both of his chassidim. “We should be blessed to never know the answer.”