Questioning faith in the parsha
The Magic Barrel by Malamud
The sweet, the heady smell of Lieb’s white bread drew customers in droves long before the loaves were baked. Alert behind the counter, Bessie, Lieb’s second wife, discerned a stranger among them, a frail, gnarled man with a hard hat who hung, disjoined, at the edge of the crowd. Though the stranger looked harmless enough among the aggressive purchasers of baked goods, she was at once concerned. Her glance questioned him but he signaled with a deprecatory nod of his hated head that he would wait—glad to (forever)—though his face glittered with misery. If suffering had marked him, he no longer sought to conceal the sign; the shining was his own—him—now. So he frightened Bessie.
She made quick hash of the customers, and when they, after her annihilating service, were gone, she returned him her stare.
He tipped his hat. “Pardon me—Kobotsky. Is Lieb the baker here?”
“An old friend”—frightening her further.
“From long ago.”
“What do you want to see him?”
The question insulted, so Kobotsky was reluctant to say.
As if drawn into the shop by the magic of a voice, the baker, shirtless, appeared from the rear. His pink, fleshy arms had been deep in dough. For a hat he wore jauntily a flour-covered brown paper sack. His peering glasses were dusty with flour, and the inquisitive face white with it so that he resembled a paunchy ghost; but the ghost, through the glasses, was Kobotsky, not he.