Summary: Chapter 18

“It makes us aware of how frail and tiny we are and of how much we must depend upon the Master of the Universe.”

See Important Quotations Explained

On the afternoon of the first day of Passover, Reuven goes over to the Saunderses’ house, where Danny greets him. Full of fear, Danny leads Reuven up to his father’s third floor study. Inside, everything is exactly as Reuven remembers it, except Reb Saunders himself, who looks haggard and stooped with suffering. He greets Reuven and makes some small talk. When Reuven says he plans to be a rabbi after graduation, Reb Saunders stiffens as though in pain. In a soft voice, he remarks that after graduation, Danny and Reuven will go “different ways.” Danny’s mouth falls open in shock: he and Reuven realize that Reb Saunders knows about Danny’s plans not to become a rabbi.

Reb Saunders continues, talking to Danny through Reuven, never once looking at his son. He explains why he raised the Danny the way he did. From a very early age, he saw that Danny had an unbelievably brilliant mind, but possessed little soul. As a young boy, Danny felt no compassion for the suffering of others, no empathy, no sense of mercy. Reb Saunders tells the story of his brother, who forsook Jewish observance in favor of intellectual pursuits and then died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. He explains that only knowledge of the immense suffering in the world can redeem one’s soul.

Reb Saunders reveals that the silence he imposed upon Danny was a way to teach him compassion, to teach him to feel the suffering of others. His own father raised him that way. Reb Saunders learned through silence to turn inward, to feel his own pain and, in doing so, to suffer for his people. He says that bearing this burden of suffering is a fundamental part of being a tzaddik.

In America, Reb Saunders explains, he could not prevent Danny from his ravenous pursuit of knowledge. He decided to raise Danny in silence, understanding that it would drive Danny away from becoming a rabbi, because he felt it was most important that Danny’s “soul would be the soul of a tzaddik no matter what he did with his life.”

Danny’s father finishes by telling Reuven that he and David Malter have been a blessing to Reb Saunders. He says he knew Reuven and his father both possessed good, deep souls, and he thanks God for sending both of them to Danny at a time when he was ready to rebel. In conclusion, he announces that he does not care what profession Danny chooses—he knows now that his son has the soul of a tzaddik, and “he will be a tzaddik for the world” no matter what job he holds.

Reb Saunders turns to Danny. Speaking quietly, he asks his son if he will shave off his beard and earlocks for graduate school; Danny nods that he will. He asks if Danny will continue to observe the Ten Commandments; Danny nods again. Stuttering, Reb Saunders then asks Reuven to forgive him for the silence he imposed between him and Danny. His voice breaks, and he turns to Danny, asking his son to forgive him for the pain his style of parenting caused. Then, his shoulders stooped and his face full of grief, he shuffles out of the room. Danny bursts into tears. Reuven, also crying, tries to comfort him. Afterward, the two boys walk for hours in total silence.