The Reluctant Master, Part 6

Henry stops at a plantation where everyone worries about his spiritual condition.

Lax about his own Sabbath, Henry gave little thought to his slaves’. Late on a Saturday afternoon, they stopped with Mr. and Mrs. Mason, who lived in a pleasant two-story house in Cobb County. They gave him dinner—he had learned to eat, or pretend to eat, what was put before him—and over dinner, Mrs. Mason, who had said grace over the meal, asked him, “Mr. Kaltenbach, would you like to come to meeting with us tomorrow?”

Puzzled, Henry said, “Meeting?”

“Our house of worship.”

Their church. “I’m a Jew, Mrs. Mason. I don’t believe there’s a Jewish house of worship nearby.”

“A Jew!” she exclaimed. She gave him a searching look. What was she looking for? She asked, “I’ve heard that the Jews don’t believe in our Lord Jesus Christ. Is that true?”

Tact was in order. “We respect him, ma’am, but we don’t revere him as Christians do.”

Another searching look. “I’ve heard that the Jews don’t believe in heaven or in hell, either.”

“That’s true, ma’am.”

“I’m afraid for your immortal soul, Mr. Kaltenbach.”

He said politely, “You don’t need to trouble yourself, ma’am.”

She was very troubled indeed. “You don’t go to church, you don’t believe in Jesus, you don’t worry about heaven or hell. Mr. Kaltenbach, what do you Jews believe in?”

Henry recalled Rabbi Friedmann, with his trimmed beard and stylish frock coat, telling the Jewish schoolboys of Dresden about the sage of the Talmud, Rabbi Hillel. Henry said, “One of the great teachers of our religion was once asked to explain Judaism in a very few words. He said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ That’s what we believe in.”

Minnie, who was clearing the table while listening to this exchange, waited until the upset Mrs. Mason left the room. She asked, “Massa, are there Jews where we’re going?”

“Not many.”

“Where will you go to meeting, Massa?”

Henry was surprisingly touched. He laughed. “I’ll go when I can, and when I can’t, I’ll know that God forgives me.”

For the first time, he saw Minnie smile. She said, “I like to hear that.”