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Winter 2005

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Love Conquers All


The German philosopher and scholar Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786) was born a hunchback. Despite this deformity, which could have soured him on life forever, Mendelssohn achieved a maturity and wisdom few people ever do.

While on a trip to Hamburg as a young man, Mendelssohn met a rich merchant who had a beautiful young daughter, Frumtje. The young man fell hopelessly in love with her. She, too, was mature beyond her years, and despite his obvious physical defect, she was attracted to his gentleness, charm and brilliant mind.

Mendelssohn stayed several weeks in Hamburg, spending much of his time with this lovely young woman. When it finally came time to leave, he worked up enough nerve to speak to her father. The rich and powerful merchant hesitated for a long time. Mendelssohn finally asked him to speak his thoughts frankly.

“Well,” said the older man, “you are known throughout Germany as a brilliant young man. And yet...I must tell you, my child was a bit frightened when she first saw you.”

“Because I am a hunchback?” asked Mendelssohn knowingly. The merchant nodded, sadly.

Downcast, but not defeated, Mendelssohn asked only one last favor — the privilege of seeing her once more before he left. Admitted to her room, he found her busy with needlework. He spoke at first of various matters, then carefully and gradually, he led the conversation to the subject that was nearest to his heart.

“Do you believe,” he asked, “that marriages are made in heaven?”

“Yes,” she said, “for that is our faith.”

“And it is true,” he said gently. “Now let me tell you about something strange that happened when I was born. As you know, at a child’s birth, according to our tradition, they call out in heaven that the birth has occurred. And when it is a boy, they announce, ‘such-and-such boy will have this-or-that-girl for a wife.’

“Well, there I was, just born, and I heard the name of my future wife announced. At the same time, I heard a great far-off voice say, ‘Unfortunately, the poor little girl, Frumtje, will have a terrible hump on her back.’

“Quick as a flash, I cried out, ‘O Lord God, if a girl is hunchbacked, she will grow up bitter and hard. Please give her hump to me and let her develop into a well-formed lovely and charming young lady.’”

Mendelssohn waited for her reaction. Slowly, Frumtje looked up. She dropped her needlework, rose and approached him with arms outstretched.

The merchant gave his consent and the couple was soon married and lived a long and fruitful life together.

From IdeaBank