For the next year, Sarai devoted herself to prayer. As a woman, she was not obliged to pray, but she took the Podloz rabbi’s words to heart and prayed assiduously to God for mercy.
She knew only a few prayers in Hebrew, but Alter heard her mutter each for many months. For the rest of her prayers, she used Yiddish, and even bought a small book which translated passages of midrash into Yiddish for just such purposes. Through the larder wall Alter could hear her recite such things as are said in the Talmud about Sarah’s victory over barrenness, when she “uncovered her breasts and the milk gushed forth as two fountains, and noble ladies of the nations came and had their children suckled by her, saying We do not merit that our children be suckled with the milk of that righteous woman.”
This went on for a year. Despite the nearly constant prayer, there was no child. So, after the conclusion of Purim, Alter hitched the horse and told Sarai that he wanted a divorce. They rode down the forest road to Podloz. But they never made it to the half way marker. Suddenly, a rider on a horse was coming from the opposite direction. Alter quickly realized it was Sarai’s brother, Feibush. He worked as a woodsman for a gentile family who owned many acres of forests. He was a burly man, with broad shoulders, thick arms, and round legs. When Alter saw him he quaked: it was a sign from the Almighty. There would be no divorce this year.
Feibush was pleased to unexpectedly see both his sister and brother-in-law. But he quickly scanned their downcast faces, and asked them what was the matter.
“Is someone sick?” Feibush pressed. Finally, Alter had to tell him. “Shame on you, Reb Alter,” the brother scolded. “Ten years have not even elapsed. Besides, my father can’t take her back into his home, even if you return part of her dowry. There is no room. Three of Sarai’s youngest sisters are still unmarried. And Sarai’s oldest sister Glukel has just become a widow. She returned to my father’s home with three young children!”
Alter tried to mount a defense, but it was fruitless. He feared the burly lumberjack would fell him as easy as a green sapling. So with great sadness and fear, he turned around and headed back to the village.