The next week, after the conclusion of Purim, Sarai had her horses hitched to the wagon and she and Alter drove to Podloz to get a divorce.
In twenty years the forest surrounding the road had been felled. Fields of wheat, corn, barley and oats spread to the horizon. Every now and again, they rode past a paddock of cows. At every crossroad was a small village with an inn, a cluster of houses, and a shul or church.
When they arrived at Podloz the entire town was there to great them. Word of Atler’s return had spread through the country like a brush fire. Everyone told the story of his disappearance, his captivity, his sojourn in the Holy Land, his mastery of Kabbalah, and his return to Poland. Some saw his tale as a birth pang of the coming of the Messiah.
Podloz had grown. The rabbi’s house had two stories, and the synagogue was no longer made of wood, but stone. When Sarai and Alter entered the rabbi’s house, several of the townspeople tried to enter with them, but the beadle begged them off.
The rabbi was waiting for them. He was a new rabbi who wore a short, modern gabardine, and who trimmed his side locks. He knew the story of Alter and Sarai, as everyone in the region did, but he had to ask the details for the court. Altered answered the rabbi’s questions, and reiterated that he wished to divorce Sarai to free her to marry again.
“For she is still a woman who can bear children, if the Lord wishes it,” Alter concluded. “But I am an old man. My time is passed. I wish to return to Safed and my books.”
“Have you tried to fulfill your obligations as a husband since your return?” the rabbi asked.
“No, Rabbi,” Alter answered.
“Then how do you know you are too old? Is your wife clean?”
“I don’t know Rabbi,” Alter answered.
“Sarai daughter of Gershom,” the rabbi addressed Sarai for the first time. “Are you clean? Have you visited the ritual bath?”
“Yes, Rabbi,” she answered.
“Do you still get your time?” he asked.
“Do you want to divorce your husband?” the rabbi pressed. “Speak up, daughter, now is the time!”
“Yes,” Sarai answered, “I do.”
On hearing this, the rabbi, who had been leaning forward in his seat, as if he was hearing a tale whose outcome he could not tell, sat back dejectedly.
“Impossible,” he muttered, and then again: “Impossible. This marriage was crafted in Heaven. You are back after all these years. Back from the grave even! I will not be the man who undoes the work of the Almighty, Blessed be His Name.
"Marriages are made by God for our sanctity. Once there was a pious man who married a pious woman, and they had no children. So they said 'We are no profit to God,' and were divorced. The pious woman went and married a bad man, and became bad herself. It did not matter how many children she had. The pious man married a bad woman, and he too became bad. It did not matter how many children he had. Without each other, they turned away from God. This is more grave a sin than not begetting children.
“God has tried you Reb Alter,” the rabbi concluded, “and Sara daughter of Gershom. You have suffered. Years have passed. Now God will bless you. Go harvest the fruit which God has sown. If God wills it, He will give you what you have longed for.”