The Malters sit down for Shabbat dinner and Reuven asks his father about Danny. Mr. Malter says he will have to go far back in Jewish history to explain. He asks if Reuven has the patience to sit and listen and Reuven says he does.
The introduction of this story links Danny to a longer line of Jewish history and tradition. Mr. Malter is also presented as a teacher and scholar, guiding Reuven through both complex personal and historical issues.
Mr. Malter describes the growth of Hasidism in Poland in the 18th Century. Jews were invited to come to Poland in the 13th Century when the country was poor, and although they had been persecuted elsewhere they prospered in Poland. In the 17th Century the Polish peasants revolted and killed around 100,000 Jews, decimating the Jewish Polish community.
The present reality of the Jewish people is connected to tragedies that occurred hundreds of years ago. This demonstrates how suffering is an unfortunately integral part of the Jewish faith. This discussion foreshadows the revelation of the Holocaust, which the American Jews do not yet know about.
Mr. Malter continues that it was hard to believe in God during this time of tragedy. The Polish Jews became a “degraded people.” Many Jews believed that this slaughter marked the coming of the Messiah. A man named Shabbtai Zvi claimed to be the Messiah, and more than half the Jewish world followed him. He was a fraud, though, which created a “spiritual disaster.” The Polish Jews became superstitious and uneducated. Jewish scholars only focused on Pilpul or empty arguments about tiny sections of the Talmud that do not relate to the world.
The fact that the Jews could not make it through this dual physical and spiritual tragedy affirms the fears that Mr. Malter will have about the future of the Jews after the Holocaust. He also points out that ignorance equals ruin. Mr. Malter repeatedly emphasizes the importance of thoughtfulness and education.
Mr. Malter pauses to asks his son if he is going on too long and Reuven tells him to continue. Mr. Malter explains that as the Jews became more and more superstitious and less educated. This is the point when the explanation of Reb Saunders’ son begins. A man named Israel was born in 1700. He was poor and uneducated and would leave school to spend time in nature.
Mr. Malter apologizes for going on for too long, showing that he cares greatly about his son. He wants to make sure that Reuven is listening and engaged. The answer to the question about Danny goes back to 1700, showing the importance of history in understanding Judaism, especial Hasidism.
Israel worked in a Synagogue but studied the Kabbalah (books of Jewish mysticism) rather than the Talmud. He became a teacher and was seen as a wise, holy man. He married the daughter of a rabbi, but his brother-in-law kicked him out and he and his wife moved out into the mountains. He became known as the Ba’al Shem Tov (The Kind or Good Master of the Name) and gave birth to Hasidism. He traveled around and argued for an open form of religion. He provided the people with a new way to understand and approach God.
The Hasidic religion came out of a rejection of tradition and the current order of society. He also points out that there are many different forms of Judaism, Hasidism was the right new form at the right time.
Each Hasidic community had a tzaddik, or a leader, and the people followed these leaders blindly. Many of them became corrupt, but others were sincere. The Hasidim also became frozen in time. They wear the same clothes they work in Poland in the 1700s, and they hold the same customs and beliefs, they are not allowed to read secular literature. Reb Saunders is a great tzaddic and Talmudist and when he dies the position will go on to Danny.
This section explains the risk that Danny is taking by reading different novels and even Freud. Not only is he violating his faith, he is also the very person who is supposed to uphold it by following in his father’s footsteps. He has no choice with his future.
Mr. Malter tells another story that he says relates to Danny. A brilliant man named Soloman who lived in the 18th century abandoned his family to study philosophy in Berlin and died alone. Danny may be even smarter than Soloman, and he lives in a free country so he is able to get any book he wants. Mr. Malter says that Danny has a mind that only comes around “once in a generation.”
Through the story of Soloman, Mr. Malter points out that Danny’s brilliance can lead to loneliness and dissatisfaction. He has a gifted mind, not something that one can choose to cultivate. He says that Danny is free in America, but he is only partially free. He still has the laws of his father and his faith.
Mr. Malter tells Reuven that Danny needs a friend. He is lonely and confused over whether he should follow his mind or his father. He says that the accident has bound them, and that Danny can help Reuven as well. Both boys need this friendship.
Reuven says he can’t believe that so much has changed in one week and tells his father about everything he noticed when he came home from the hospital. Mr. Malter says he wishes Reuven's mother were alive but doesn’t finish the thought. Reuven goes to bed and Mr. Malter stays downstairs, thinking and drinking tea.