Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 536
Shmul-Leibele is a simpleton, unsuccessful but honest in his trade. Although he is not scholarly, he is expert at following the basic tenets of his religion. His wife, Shoshe, is a meticulous homemaker and more competent in her trade than her husband in his. Together they create a life, a marriage, and a home devoted to the observance of Jewish ritual and customs.
The couple’s commitment to making and keeping the Sabbath is unequivocal. A recognition of the day on which God rested after completing the Creation, the Sabbath represents the culmination of the devout couple’s daily spiritual strivings. Shmul-Leibele ceases work at noon every Friday, takes a ritual bath, and aids in the temple’s preparation for the Sabbath prayers. Shoshe purchases special foods to cook and prepares herself and her home in royal fashion. Both attempt to create an earthly paradise in which to experience, as best they can, the divine presence.
On one winter Friday, the shortest Friday of the year, the couple’s preparatory rituals begin in customary manner, but the elements of nature effect change. A severe snowstorm hampers movement outside and makes it difficult to distinguish day from night. The rooster’s morning crow is not heard and the couple arise late. Shmul-Leibele decides not to work his half-day, spending the day instead at the bathhouse and in study.
When he returns home, however, the candles that announce the Sabbath’s official arrival are lit and the home, as usual, sparkles with a spiritual essence. Shoshe is dressed beautifully, adorned with her wedding necklace and a polished wedding band. Despite the physical manifestations of winter, to Shmul-Leibele the experience is particularly enchanting. He leaves for the synagogue, where his prayers seem assuredly to transcend his earthly lips and find an audience with God’s ears.
After temple, Shmul-Leibele tries to hurry home to Shoshe, anxious that some ill may have befallen her. Instead, she greets him looking radiant; their home sparkles with a Sabbath glow and the scents from the Sabbath meal are alluring. Having fulfilled the ritual obligations to partake of their dinner, the couple intersperse their meal with Sabbath hymns, chants, and prayer. Finally, exhaustion overcomes Shmul-Leibele, who falls quickly asleep, with Shoshe following shortly thereafter.
Sometime later, Shmul-Leibele awakens, eager to satisfy his physical desires for his wife. After fulfilling the proper observations regarding marital sex (that his wife has attended the ritual bath signaling her preparedness for sexual relations; that he speak first of his love for her and his hope that their mating may produce an offspring), the couple consummates the sexual act. Despite Shoshe’s warning that something may be burning in the oven and that the flue is closed, they fall immediately asleep.
Both awaken from dreams of death and burial. Shmul-Leibele believes he has had a terrible nightmare but alters his perceptions on hearing that Shoshe has had the same experience. They realize that they cannot either move or hear sounds, and come to understand that they have died, perhaps by asphyxiation. First with a sense of alarm and then with pious acceptance, the couple prepares to greet the angel of God who will come to lead them into paradise.
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