The Havdalah Curse: A Modern Hassidic Tale

A modern Hasidic story about a girl who was cursed and blessed by her love of Torah. This story won the 2016 Melbourne Jewish Writers’ literary prize.

This story won the 2016 Melbourne Jewish Writers’ literary prize.

Mr and Mrs Samson were blessed with six fine and gifted children. Five times Mrs Samson dreamt of a baby with a beard who sat before a crowd of learned Jews, all of whom gazed upon the infant’s face. Shortly after each dream, Mrs Samson was delivered of a healthy son. 

When the time came for her sixth child to enter the world, Mrs Samson dreamt again. This time there was a bearded child, but the faces of the crowd were turned in all directions. Some sat with their backs to the child, while others stared with fascination towards its glowing face. Days later Mrs Samson bore a daughter, Geula.

One-by-one, the Samson sons were called to the Torah. Each boy read his portion better than the last. They were a source of great pride and joy to their parents. Geula too wished to learn like her brothers. Her parents sent her to special Torah classes for girls, explaining that there were different paths for sons and daughters. 

Geula wanted to be a good Jew in the way of her brothers. When she took it upon herself to pray three times a day, her parents produced small sighs of concern. When she joined the quorum of responses at grace after meals, they turned to each other with heavy hearts.

One night, following the ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath, Geula saw the remnants of her father’s wine. Lifting the cup to her lips surreptitiously, she finished the last drops. She did not believe in the curse said to befall girls who drank of the Havdalah cup. It felt right to do at last what her brothers had done so many times before.  

The next day Geula was filled with remorse and fear. She knew this time her pride had taken her too far. She needed to make amends. Penitent, Geula undertook to be a good Jewish girl in the way that her parents craved.  And then she waited for the curse to come.

It was not easy for Geula to surrender her desire to follow her brothers’ path. One-by-one each brother set forth to learn at the feet of the world’s great rabbis, while Geula stayed home. She played with friends, helped her mother, and behaved as girls from families like hers were expected to behave. Mr and Mrs Samson’s hearts were gladdened by her transformation. 

In the months leading up to her bat mitzvah, Geula’s parents were advised that it was time for their daughter to learn some Torah. When Geula again opened a book of sacred text, her soul soared. She became consumed with a need to learn. 

Her mother was the first to notice the soft sprouting of hairs around her daughter’s chin. She waited for them to disappear, but the hairs kept coming. They soon tried shaving, but nothing would stop the growth. In the final days before her bat mitzvah, a beard as dense as any worn by her brothers covered Geula’s young face.

Despite his love for her, Mr Samson could not look at his daughter. Mrs Samson struggled also, but her heart cried out for her little girl. She took her child from doctor to doctor but none could explain the cause. Only Geula guessed what it meant. 

A visiting rabbi confirmed her suspicion. “This child has drunk from a Havdalah cup,” he said gravely. “The beard will only go when she stops learning Torah.”

Geula shed tears. She tried to close her books, but she was pulled back the way a moth is drawn to a candle. There was nothing she could do to stop.

It was hard for Mr and Mrs Samson, but eventually they understood that their sixth child would also be a bearded scholar. 

Geula went to school. Geula learnt Torah. Geula became a woman.

Mrs Samson had a dream. In her dream she saw Geula. Many eyes were turned towards her daughter whose bearded face emanated light. The following day the visiting rabbi returned. He came to the house of the Samsons and told them of a new seminary for women like Geula. They consulted Google and saw that he was right.

Geula was the first of five students. Each one had drunk from the Havdalah cup and had grown a cursed beard. Over the years more hirsute women arrived. 

Geula continued studying long after she had stood beneath her wedding canopy and her children had grown. She learnt until the day her eyes could see no more; teaching long after her beard was white. For those not afraid to gaze upon her bearded light, she was the giant of her age. 

Her parents’ hearts were filled with joy, but Geula’s children were their greatest pride.

Part of my fiction collection.

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