Before a group of men and women start on their journey to settle in the Land of Israel, a stranger named Hananiah enters their town of Buczacz, entreating them to allow him to accompany them. The man, barefoot and in rags, carries all his worldly goods tied up in a kerchief. With some prompting, he recounts his adventures, full of perils and narrow escapes. He stayed for a time with robbers who were forced by their oppressors into a life of crime. Asking why the robber chief puts on phylacteries, Hananiah learned of the death of Zusha, the band’s former leader, whom the present one imitates by this action. Ashamed to have to decline the chief’s offer to lead him through a certain cave to the Land of Israel, Hananiah left the band to resume his journey.
The travelers are delighted to have Hananiah join them, for he will complete the quorum of ten men required for communal prayer. Among the men are Rabbi Shmuel Yosef, well versed in legends of the Holy Land, and Rabbi Yosef Meir, who divorced his wife because she refused to go to the Land of Israel. Among the women are Milka, who married a man on condition they would immigrate to Israel, only then to have him insist on staying and divorce her, and the wives of four of the men.
Hananiah rejects the group’s offer of boots, swearing that his feet must remain bare because, while in a country that never celebrates the Sabbath or festivals, he loses track of the time and fails to honor the Day of Atonement. He proceeds to polish the lamps and the other implements in the House of Study, to repair torn books, to make trunks for the pilgrims, and to fashion a Holy Ark for the Torah Scroll accompanying them to the Land of Israel.
The townspeople gather to speed them on their journey, except Buczacz’s rabbi, who believes that settlement in the Land of Israel must await the coming of the Messiah. The group hires and outfits two large wagons, the men and women to ride separately; the wagoner drives one and Hananiah, though denying he is a wagoner, expertly guides the other. Everywhere they stop, people, even rival...
(The entire section is 855 words.)