Michal's Destiny, p.2Roberta Kagan
“You mean my wifely duties?”
“Yes. That’s what I’m talking about. I know that sometimes these duties are unpleasant, but with God’s help, your husband will be kind to you and be quick about doing what must be done in order for you to have children. I realize that sometimes you will dread this, but you must not refuse this to your husband. While he is doing what must be done, you pray as hard as you can that a child will be conceived. Children are God’s greatest blessing.”
“I am afraid, Mama. I’m afraid that it will hurt. I’m afraid I won’t like this man who I am to be with for the rest of my life. I wish I could run away.” Michal felt tears begin to form in the corners of her eyes.
“I know.” Her mother swallowed hard, “But it is a sin, Michal; you must not feel this way. You must accept your responsibilities. I understand what you’re going though. Once, I too was a young girl meeting the man I would spend my life with. Believe me, I know how you feel.”
Michal looked into her mother’s eyes and felt sorry for her mother. She’d been married off to a tyrant of a man and then had been bound to him forever. Please, God, Michal said a silent prayer, please make Avram be nothing like my father.
“Every woman is afraid on her wedding night. But you will be all right. You’ll see. Soon it will be over and you’ll say to yourself … there was nothing to fear,” her mother said with a smile on her face, but the trace of a tear forming in the corner of her eye.
“But, Mama. I don’t want to get married.”
“It’s time, my child. I am so sorry, my Michal, but your papa has decided and so we do as he says. You will marry tonight; it’s time.”
Michal stood at the end of the aisle inside the small synagogue and looked out through the veil that covered her face to see all of the people she’d known since she was born. They sat assembled in rows of wooden chairs. All heads were turned towards the door; they were waiting for her to walk towards the chuppah and her new life. At the front of the room, beneath the chuppah, a canopy made of wood and adorned with flowers, stood the rabbi with a table in front of him. On the table was a glass of wine. A strange thought drifted through Michal’s mind. Had Taavi the carpenter fashioned that canopy of wood with his own strong hands? Had Taavi sat at his table and carved that very canopy under which a man stood, a man who waited for Michal to come to him? A stranger named Avram Lippman. Even from where she stood, his face was clear enough to be completely foreign to her. How could they have both lived in this small village for their entire lives without her ever having seen him before? As was expected, he wore a black coat that hung below his knees and a tall fur hat. Michal thought that he had a pleasant face. Pale, not sun browned and handsome like Taavi the carpenter. But pleasant enough. Avram was tall and very slender, with dark curly hair that floated around his head and a strong Grecian nose. Michal sucked in a deep breath as the music began. Her father nodded to her and she walked obediently beside him towards her destiny. As they got closer, her body trembled. She wanted to run, but she glanced up at her father, who looked back and gave her a menacing stare. When she saw her father’s eyes, she knew that she must face her destiny; there would be no turning back. Seven times she walked, circling the canopy, her heart pounding with fear until she stood beside her future husband. Then the rabbi began the marriage ceremony. The words the rabbi spoke were a blur because her mind was screaming in protest. But she did as was expected of her and said, “I do.”
Michal was going through the motions, but nothing was registering with her; it all seemed like a very bad dream.
They spoke their vows. Avram’s voice was shaking as he promised himself to Michal.
When Michal whispered “I do,” her own voice sounded foreign to her.
Then Avram gently slid the gold band on the trembling first finger of her left hand.
They both drank from the glass of wine. Next the glass was wrapped in a cloth and placed on the floor. Avram’s leg was wobbly as he raised his foot over the glass. Then as hard as he could he stomped the wine glass. The sound of glass shattering started everyone cheering. “Mazel Tov!”
Michal felt a sick sensation in the pit of her stomach as Avram removed her veil.
Avram felt his knees shaking as he saw the girl, Michal, walking towards him. He could not see her face. It was covered. He watched her circle the chuppah then stop beside him. He heard the rabbi and repeated as he was told. His heart was a bass drum in his ears. The wine glass was laid at his feet; he broke it with one stomp of his foot. The crowd of people began yelling, “Mazel Tov!” Then, with shaky hands, he pulled the veil back from her face. This was the woman who would be his wife. The woman he’d thought about every day since the shidduch had been made. This was Michal.
Avram drew in a breath and looked directly into the eyes of the girl who stood before him.
She was not only pleasant looking. She was beautiful. She was more than he could have ever hoped for, even in his dreams. Her dark hair was long and fell into spiral curls. Tomorrow, of course, that hair would be shaved. Her mother would come in the morning and shave her head, as was customary. Then she would wear a head cover or a sheitel. From this day forward, once her hair grew back, he would be the only man who would ever see it. As a modest married woman, she would keep her head covered. But right now, the beauty of her thick locks took his breath away. He’d never seen eyes the color of Michal’s. They were gray, but not just gray; they were dark charcoal with specks of silver like tiny stars. When he looked at her, she did not return his gaze; she cast her eyes down to the floor. This was to be expected of a good woman. He wanted to lift her chin and give her a reassuring smile. It had not occurred to him until this moment that she too might be frightened of the future. Uncustomary at a proper Jewish wedding, he whispered so only she could hear him. “You are beautiful.”
She looked up and met his eyes. Then he noticed that her eyelashes were long and lovely.
Michal smiled and, at that very moment, Avram thanked the stars in the heavens for his good fortune. But, more importantly, at that moment, Avram fell in love.
The wedding celebration passed in a whirlwind of music, food, and dancing. The couple were separated, she with the women, he with the men. But when the party ended, Michal and Avram were alone.
“I hope you enjoyed the food,” he said, feeling awkward.
She nodded. “Yes, and you?”
“Yes, very much.”
“My mother made the lokshen kugel.”
“It was very good.”
“Everyone loves her kugel; she uses thick noodles, raisins, and apples, so it is sweet.”
Neither of them had tasted the food; both were too nervous about the coming night.
Then he found the courage to ask her the question that haunted the back of his mind. Avram feared what her answer might be, but something inside him made him need to know.
“Were you disappointed?” he asked in a very soft voice.
“Yes, I mean, when you saw me?”
“Oh, oh … no. I mean, I don’t know what I was expecting. But, no.”
“I was not disappointed when I saw you,” he said boldly.
She cocked her head to the side. He was more outspoken than she’d thought he would be.
“This is difficult for both of us. But I don’t want it to be that way, Michal. I know that you must be anxious about tonight. But I want to reassure you that I will be gentle. I promise I will try my best not to hurt you.”
She felt her face flush hot with embarrassment. Then she nodded.
Michal prepared for the night by going into the bedroom and changing into her white long-sleeved nightgown that covered her from her neck to her feet. Then she got into the bed under the covers and waited. The weather was warm, but she felt chilled.
Avram gave her ample time to get ready. He was on edge, nervous and
“Michal?” he whispered in the darkness.
“Yes?” her voice was barely a whisper.
“I know that what I am going to ask of you is out of the ordinary. And, of course, you can refuse as a frum (devout, pious) woman, but I hope you will not be offended or upset.”
“What is it?”
“Can we just lie here together? Just maybe hold each other? I know that this is a lot to ask of you. But I am afraid I cannot do what is expected like this. Do you understand?”
Strangely, she did. She did understand. “Yes. Yes, Avram. Lie down here beside me and let’s just talk. Let’s talk about everything.”
He felt a tear well up behind his eyes. Could this woman be real or was she a dream? She felt the same way that he did. She too wanted to feel close to him. Perhaps maybe she even had thought about the unthinkable; she might have thought about love.
At first, Avram stayed on the far side of the bed and the two began talking. For a while, the conversation was stilted and awkward. Then Avram told Michal a funny story about one of his friends in the yeshiva and the two of them laughed together. They laughed until their bellies ached. Boldly, Michal moved closer to Avram. He felt the warmth of her body and it comforted him. She seemed to know what he needed and he was relieved. They continued talking long into the night. At some point, their hands brushed. Avram moved closer to Michal and gently kissed her lips. She touched his face. He caressed her body and then, as naturally as God had intended, the two became one. As the sun rose, they fell asleep, and by the time they awakened to her mother’s incessant knocking on the door, they found themselves in each other’s arms.
Michal opened the door for her mother, who brought food for the newlyweds. Michal knew that her mother had come to shave her hair.
Avram wished that the shaving of Michal’s beautiful hair was not necessary. He loved the long dark curls. But this was the custom of his religious sect, and so he sat quietly.
As the first thick dark curl dropped quietly to the floor, Michal was unnerved. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t known all of her life that this would take place on the day following her wedding, but even with the knowledge, as the hair tumbled to the ground she felt her heart breaking. Michal longed to scream in protest, but she could not admit, not even to her own mother, that she was vain. Vanity was a sin and she had spent many hours alone in her room brushing her long locks. But now, because she was a married woman, every time she menstruated, the Mikva lady would try to shave her hair again. Exposing of one’s hair was immodest; it attracted unhealthy attention from men other than one’s husband. Michal told herself this over and over again, but she still felt dizzy and horrified knowing what her bald head must look like. Once the shaving was done, Michal reached up and touched her scalp.
“Come, Michal, come and eat now,” her mother said, wrapping a colorful scarf around Michal’s newly shaven head.
Michal nodded. She had always done as she was told, but right now she wanted to pick up the razor and cut her mother’s throat. What was she thinking? It was not her mother’s fault. She only did what a good mother was expected to do. The way Michal was feeling, the last thing that she wanted was to eat. She felt sick to her stomach as she reached up and touched the scarf. Her mother was already picking up the hair from the floor. “Go, Michal, go and let me clean up.”
Michal just remained in her chair, looking glassy-eyed into the mirror.” Her mother leaned down and kissed Michal’s cheek.
“You’ll get used to it. It’s only hair. Was last night all right?” her mother asked.
Michal nodded, not wanting to talk, just wanting to close herself up in a room alone and cry.
That night, Michal and Avram lay side by side in her bed. They had both been raised in Orthodox homes and they both knew that, according to Jewish law, they were not to touch again after the first time they had intercourse for seven days. The initial sexual encounter was a mitzvah, a blessing, but now the couple was required to practice restraint, as they would be expected to for the rest of their marriage. Michal knew that every time she menstruated she would have to wait until she’d gone to the Mikva in order to be declared clean before she could once again lie with her husband. A few days before the wedding, her mother had given her a special scarf to wear when she was unclean, as a reminder to her husband. She was to explain to Avram that when he saw her wearing the special scarf, he was to know that he was not to touch her until she was declared clean again. Not only were they forbidden sexual contact, but their hands must not touch; there must be no contact at all. However, since they had already shared a more tender wedding night than was allowed, they had both made an unspoken agreement to break this rule. And, somehow, each of them, regardless of their upbringing, even though they knew it was wrong, felt comfortable sharing this secret between them. The secret of holding each other close, of joining together before seven days had passed, even though it was considered a sin.
“Do you want me to go to my own bed?” he asked. “I know I should not be lying in bed beside you.…”
“Go back only if you want to.”
“I’d like to stay here.”
“You feel badly about your hair?”
“Yes. I don’t know why. I expected it, but I feel so lost without it.”
“Would you believe me if I told you that you are even more beautiful now?”
“No.” She laughed.
“You are; now I can see your lovely face even more clearly.”
“You are trying to make me feel better.”
“Of course I want you to feel better, but that’s not why I said that. I said it because it’s true.”
“You are a very kind person, Avram. I am fortunate to have such a good husband.”
“Will you try something for me?” Avram asked.
“Will you take your nightgown off and lay here with me?”
“AVRAM!” she said, feeling the blush come over her cheeks.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.…”
There was silence for several minutes, then Michal stood up. Avram felt his heart pound in his chest. He was sure he had offended her. She was going to sleep in the other bed. He was sure of it. Avram swallowed hard. He felt his throat close; there was nothing he could say. He’d made a terrible mistake.
Then, like a miracle, so unexpectedly, Michal pulled the nightdress over her head and quickly got back under the covers beside Avram. He stood and took off his clothes. Then, he too got back into bed.
Neither said a word. Then Avram cleared his throat.
“Thank you,” he whispered into the darkness. Putting his hand out, he touched Michal’s cheek. Then took her hand and kissed the palm with his warm lips. She scooted closer to him and he took her int
In the morning, Michal smiled at Avram and he returned the knowing smile. Only days before, they were two strangers and now they were not only husband and wife, but best friends. As Avram walked to work at his father’s shop, he wanted to call out to the world, “I am the happiest man alive. I am blessed with the most beautiful and kind wife in the entire world. And she bears the name of the wife of King David.” While Avram worked, Michal went about making a home for the two of them. She had learned to cook and sew from her mother. When Avram came home that night, Michal had baked a bread and put some bones and vegetables in a pot to prepare a soup for him. It was not the best soup he’d ever eaten, but because she had labored over it, he raved about how wonderful it tasted. He told her about his day, about all he was learning from his father.
Over the next several days, Avram felt comfortable enough to confide in Michal and tell her his private thoughts about some of the customers who came into the shoe shop. Most of the stories were funny because he loved to see her smile. Occasionally, however, he would confide in her and explain how a customer had tried to steal something or take advantage of his father. He would tell her who the culprit was and how angry it made him. She never judged him. It seemed to Avram that Michal was always on his side and that warmed his heart. How could he have been so blessed, what good deed had brought about such a perfect union? God was good to him.
The preparation of their first Shabbat dinner weighed heavily on Michal. She had always had a soft heart and found it difficult to kill a chicken. She didn’t want to admit her weakness to Avram. But that Friday morning, he saw the stress in her face and asked what was bothering her. She told him nothing. He touched her cheek and asked again. She dropped her eyes and admitted her problem. Another husband would have been livid. But, gentle Avram just smiled and told her to go to the kosher butcher and purchase a chicken already cleaned instead. It would cost a little more, but her feelings were worth it. She could not help but be relieved. Michal thanked him and kissed his hand.
Michal's Destiny by Roberta Kagan / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes