from The Chasam Sofer (author).
CHAPTER SIX: PILGRIMAGE TO MAINZ
The early morning wind blew the dank, cold mist against Moshe's face and swirled behind him. When he looked back from the carriage that he rode upon, he saw the great city of Frankfort am Main already being swallowed into the fog. Fog behind him, and the road ahead of him stretching blindly into the white, faceless fog! Only his meager suitcase of belongings in the wagon, the back of the wagon driver and the bay horse with downcast head plodding slowly forward on the clay ground seemed to have any reality.
Behind him, swallowed into the mist, lay his home, his parents, his beis medrash and teachers. Before him lay the yeshiva of Mainz, headed by the great rabbis, Rabbi Michl Sheyer and Rabbi Tevele. Would he do well there? What kind of men were they? Would he have enough to eat? All was uncertain, all unclear.
To leave his home, his friends, to leave all that was dear and familiar to him for unknown risks and possibilities. It seemed so pointless. No one had forced him to leave. Nothing drove him out--except for his own pained heart.
The horse strayed to the side of the road to crop at a sprig of grass, but the wagon driver yanked at the rein and growled, and the horse reluctantly turned its head back to the road and plodded forward. So too must he, Moshe, force himself forward, force himself to keep going, remind himself why he had not stayed with his teachers, his friends, his family.
For three years, from the age of ten to thirteen, Moshe had lived with Rabbi Adler, learning Torah from him and Rabbi Horowitz, among other great rabbis.
But wherever he turned, Moshe ran into his father: perhaps it was in the synagogue or in the beis medrash, or simply on the street. Moshe loved his father and wanted to grow close to him. Maybe this time, his father would not again rebuke him. But there was no way to know, for before him was always his teacher's admonition: You may not speak to your father!
And how could he go visit his family, how could he visit his beloved mother, when he could not speak with his father? Should he sneak in when his father was not there? Or should he come at any time and simply not exchange a word with him? Always he thought of his father. And whenever their eyes met, whenever Moshe would see his back on the street, whenever Moshe would want to run up to him, to share a word with him, to sit at the table and speak with him, he was brought up short by his teacher's admonition: You may not speak to your father!
Finally, Moshe could no longer bear this constant emotional turmoil. He decided that he must leave Frankfort am Main and begin a life where the pain of his severance from his father was not constantly before him.
And so the long journey, driving through a tunnel of deep fog, had begun.
When Moshe came to Mainz after a few days' journey, night was falling. The sky was clear, and the gentle stars shone like pearls upon crushed indigo. A warm breeze blew against his face, and blew past him snatches of noises and talk from the town that lay before him.
In Mainz itself, Moshe was cordially received. He was given a room in the house of a wealthy man. This man showed Moshe his large library of seforim and invited Moshe to use them whenever he wished.
The next day, Moshe presented himself to Rabbi Sheyer, bringing with him letters of introduction from his rabbis in Frankfort am Main.
Everyone in Mainz was quite welcoming. Moshe's sterling reputation had preceded him, and he was given all the facilities he needed to learn with as few distractions as possible.
At that time, French soldiers were billeted with various city residents. Among them was a young French officer named Pauli de Monfort, who was staying in the same house as Moshe. This officer offered to do Moshe's household chores in return for Moshe's teaching him German. This arrangement led to a friendly relationship, and the officer grew to have a very positive appreciation of Torah.
It is possibly at this period that Moshe learned at least the basics of his far-ranging knowledge in various topics such as mathematics, astronomy, physics and anatomy. Possibly he learned his knowledge of French from this soldier. Studying from works written by Torah scholars, Moshe applied himself to learning all the sciences and fields of knowledge that would broaden his ability to understand Torah. As the Vilna gaon had said, "To the extent that a person lacks secular knowledge, so does he lack understanding of the Torah by a hundred-fold." In addition to the sciences, Moshe also gained an understanding of history, politics and cartography. He also became versed in languages, and in addition to German, he learned French and Latin.
A year after Moshe's arrival, Rabbi Sheyer honored the boy with a document certifying him to be "Meshuchrar"--freed. This was a sign of great respect. The halachah states that a student is obligated to serve his teacher in various ways. However, a teacher may, if he so chooses, free his student of those obligations. This was the meaning of the document that Moshe had now received. It indicated Rabbi Sheyer's feeling that Moshe could no longer be considered a simple student.
This document had a practical application as well. Now Moshe was entitled to receive a regular income from the community charity fund and from individual householders.
But Moshe was not satisfied. He had all that he had sought, but the ache within him had not subsided. Always his heart stayed with him, and his feelings and his need for warmth, for family, for home could not be denied. He was welcome here in Mainz, he was well-treated. He had everything--except for home. He wished to go back to his teachers, Rabbi Adler and Rabbi Horowitz. He yearned to see his family again.
Moshe was sitting in the beis medrash late at night by the light of a candle whose drooping, charred head sent up an uneven flame. He looked up from his sefer at the candle. What were they doing now in Frankfort am Main? Were all the students awake in Rabbi Adler's beis medrash, learning together? Moshe stood up and walked to the door of the beis medrash. He stepped into the black and silent street. He gazed at the impersonal and glittering sky. A falling star, like a glowing, milky pearl, swooped down in silence, blazed for an instant, and then, silently, faded invisibly into blackness.
Would he fade into nothingness here in Mainz? Or would his aching heart fade finally and leave nothing but a hollowness inside him if he ignored his pain?
Moshe stepped back indoors and hurried to the flame. He must trim it now if it was to continue burning.
The next day, Moshe announced to Rabbi Sheyer that he was returning to Frankfort am Main. He had learned in Mainz for two years. He had taken his first steps to independence. Now it was time to go home.