No one in Vaysechvoos dreamed that Binkeleh Bubkes, ex-schnorrer turned philanthropist, would ever take a wife. Certainly the sizable fortune he inherited from his brother, Finkel, made him to be quite a catch, as Golda the Matchmaker continually pointed out. But Reb Binkel was more of a listener than a talker, a kind but shy man who never really knew what to say to a woman.
So when Binkel developed a friendship with the Widow Malkah Moscovitz, and when that friendship deepened and turned to love, everyone in Vaysechvoos was delighted. Malkah was every bit as good-hearted and generous as Binkel. The wedding day was so joyous you would have thought it was Simchas Torah. Even Golda, who had nothing to do with the match, gave a hearty mazel tov” to the newlyweds. “Mrs. Matzek,” she told Malkah (well, you didn’t think Binkeleh’s real last name was Bubkes, did you?), “may you live to be a hundred years and your love be multiplied one day by the next.”
After the wedding, Malkah and Binkel discussed plans to redecorate their new home. “Let’s buy some fabric for new draperies,” Binkel said, “and we’ll change the coverlet on the bed. This way it won’t feet like my house or your house, but our house.” Malkah smiled her agreement.
She went to Berish the Tailor (and also the village cloth seller) the very next day. She made her selection, and since Binkel had the best credit in town, she signed for the goods.
Berish looked down at the sales slip, and there, as plain as could be, was not a simple “X” as one might expect, but an elaborate row of letters that spelled out “Malkah Moscovitz Matzek.”
He was aghast. “You can write!”
Malkah smiled shyly. “Yes, well, there really isn’t much call for it, but I couldn’t resist. I’m no youngster, but every new bride likes to try out her married name.”
“New name, yes, but Malkah . . .” Before he could finish the sentence, she was out the door.
Gossip flies faster than hungry hawks swooping down after carrion, and it wasn’t long before everyone in the village knew that Malkah could write, and that she had signed her previous husband’s name along with Reb Binkel’s!
“I never heard of such a thing,” Berish said to Binkel at men’s night at the mikvah. “Didn’t she agree to become Malkah Matzek when she married you?”
“Well, yes,” Binkel replied slowly.
“And isn’t your name good enough for her?” pressed Shimmon the Butcher.
“I don’t think she meant anything by it,” Binkel said. His voice was calm, but his face was turning red with the embarrassment of being confronted.
“Well, it isn’t natural,” Kamza, the livestock dealer, insisted. “And if I were you, I’d tell her. ‘Malkah,’ I’d say, ‘you’re a Matzek now. And You had better act like one. And furthermore. . .'” Kamza, usually a man of few words, had just run out.
“if my name isn’t good enough for you, maybe you don’t really love me,” Shimmon suggested.
“And if you don’t love me, I’ll just have to get a get!” Kamza finished triumphantly.
“Enough!” Binkel was really red now, and angry, too. “No get for us. I don’t know why Malkah did it, but I do know that she loves me. And I’ll tell you something else. I fell in love with Malkah Moscovitz and I love the name Malkah Moscovitz–and I’m honored that she added my name to hers.”
The men were taken aback, but soon they were talking about other matters. Because after all, if Malkah Matzek still wanted to be a Moscovitz and that was okay with Binkel, why should they care?
Of course, poor Malkah had no idea what was in store for her at ladies’ night at the mikvah. No sooner had she lowered herself into the water than she was pelted with questions and accusations.
“Isn’t Binkel good enough for you?”
“Moscovitz is gone. Are you trying to have one husband here and another in the world to come?”
“Such airs you put on–a signature with three names!”
A younger bride might have been reduced to tears, but not Malkah. She smiled at the women who had wished her well just a few days earlier.
“Dvorah, Leah, Zlata . . . all of you. You’re so very silly. But come, let me explain. You all know that my husband Moscovitz was a good man. And my son Moscovitz, he also is a very good man; he’ll be a famous rabbi someday, and I want people to know that I’m his mother. But you didn’t know my husband’s mama, Esther Moscovitz, God rest her soul.
“Esther’s father-in-law was a rabbi, a wonderful man. When she was a young bride, she had an ear to hear and a heart to learn, so she persuaded her father-in-law to teach her to read the holy books. It was she who taught me to read and write, and wisely did she counsel me to be careful not use the knowledge to put on airs! You know, my own mother died when I was quite young, but I really don’t think she could have loved me better or taught me more than Esther Moscovitz.
“I know that my son will carry on the name. Still, I’d like people to know that I’m a Moscovitz so that when Binkel and I travel in our old age, people will ask if I’m any relation to the esteemed Rabbi Duvid Moscovitz. If that’s giving myself airs, I’m sorry. But when I get old, maybe no one will begrudge me the pleasure.” Most of the women were nodding sympathetically by now.
“But more than anything, I can’t part with my name because of Esther Moscovitz. She’s been gone for years but I still miss her so. . .”
Malkah’s voice had begun to tremble, but she finished her story, “. . . and if I can’t be a Moscovitz any longer, I’ll just have to change my name to Esther.”
Then the women were ashamed, and they looked at their friend with respect and love.
Leah spoke for them all. “Esther is a beautiful name. But you’ll always be our Malkah . . . Malkah Moscovitz Matzek.”