What Does the Title Mean?

Many years ago, a man wanted to find a lamed vavnik, one of the thirty-six people whose righteousness sustains the world. The man travelled to to the greatest cities, studied with the greatest teachers, but he could not find a lamed vavnik.

One evening, as he journeyed from one seat of learning to another, he came to a undistinguished village -- just a clump of small buildings at the edge of a scrubby forest -- where he found just one seedy inn. It was too late to travel any farther, so he consoled himself that in the morning he would be gone. Who knows, perhaps this next scholar, about whom he had heard such praise, would be the one he sought?

The innkeeper clapped down a plate heavy with gummy kasha and watery cabbage, shifting the balance of the table, which was uneven on its legs. "Eat. Enjoy," the innkeeper said. "You must be weary after so long a journey."

The man mumbled the blessing over the hard brown bread, and sighed.

The innkeeper remained standing over his guest, much to the latter's dismay. "What brings you to our village? Very few come this way."

"I am in search of a lamed vavnik." The man looked into the eyes of his host, daring him to laugh or even try to understand his quest. "I have travelled many miles, studied under many great men, and I will not rest until I have found one."

To the man's surprise, the innkeeper nodded and smiled. "You are in luck. We have a lamed vavnik right here in our village."

The man blinked, the bread uneaten in his hand. "Do you understand what I mean? A lamed vavnik, one of the thirty-six righteous."

The innkeeper put his hands on his belly and laughed, which angered the man even more. "A lamed vavnik right here in our village," the innkeeper said to a one-eared cat that was licking its paw on the window sill, "and he thinks I don't know what a lamed vavnik is." He patted the table, causing it to wobble precariously.  "Eat, and rest well, my friend. Tomorrow I will take you to see our lamed vavnik."

"I look forward to it." The man smirked as his host strode off to the kitchen, whistling. Then his smile faded as he looked once more into his sorry supper.

The next morning, the man followed the innkeeper through the village, past the market, past the synagogue and the schoolhouse, past all the houses, into the forest. "Where are you taking me?" His guide might not be foolish after all, but mad, criminal, or cruel.

"To the lamed vavnik," the innkeeper said without breaking his stride. "His cottage is only a little way from here. We must be quiet, though. He does not like to be disturbed at his work."

Perhaps so, the man mused. Some scholar who chooses to be alone with his thoughts, or who wishes to avoid the temptations found where wealth and people congregate.

Ferns and fallen branches cluttered the way. Finally, the man saw a low stone structure with one window, its wooden shutter open to the forest light and air. His eyes sparkling, the innkeeper put his finger to his lips and motioned the man to come closer.

The man peeked into the window and saw a figure with a white scraggly beard, crosslegged on the dirt floor, bent over a stained cloth, stitching. Beside him was a jumbled heap of fabric. There was little else: a table, a candlestick, a pallet for sleeping.

Molten fury surged through the traveler's body. How dare this lout mock him and his quest? Just before he turned to berate his antagonist, however, the man felt a sharp yank in his chest that drew his breath up tight. The pain pierced him at his core, a pulling up up until at last he felt the momentary release of a tugging into place. Every time the tailor's yellowed fingers pushed the needle into the fabric and drew the thread through, the man felt it, that pain he opened himself to, binding what had been broken.

So, you have the stitch.

And why the winding stitch, and not the binding one?

Well, you see how long it took me to get to the stitch. I am not a lamed vavnik, and therefore I have a lot of traveling to do before I come to understand how things can be bound up together.