Posts Tagged 'vaysechvoos'
Category: Issues Volume 11 Number 06
Published on Wednesday, 06 July 2011 19:24
Written by Jews for Jesus
There were many theories about the demise of Chaika that were bantered about in Vaysechvoos. Chaika the Wise was very old. How old, no one knew. But there was no one living who could remember her as a young person, even those who were now in their eighties and nineties.
She knew she was dying," remarked Zlata the Dyer, "and being the private person she was, she decided to leave town so as not to make herself the center of attention."
"No, that could not be true," exclaimed Malkah the Tailor's wife. "Chaika had no one apart from our little community here in Vaysechvoos. She would have had no place to go. I think she is lying dead in a field nearby waiting to be discovered."
And on and on went the speculation, for Chaika was nowhere to be found. She had never absented herself from the women's mikvah or the Shabbos festivities, yet this week she was present for neither.
The rabbi's wife went to Chaika's modest home to see if perhaps she was ill and needed help. To her surprise, the door was unlocked and as she pressed against it to knock, it swung open.
The rebbetzin shouted out the name of the elderly Chaika. Everyone knew that the woman was nearly deaf. But Chaika was not there to hear the shout. The house was neat and clean. The bed was properly made, the dishes were all put away in the cupboard and the floors had been swept. So where was Chaika? There was no note and no indication of where she might have gone.
The rebbetzin rushed home to talk things over with her husband. She told him that the gossip reporting Chaika's demise must be true. There was no other possibility. "Wouldn't it be right to sit shiva?" she inquired.
The rabbi thought it through and said, " We can't sit shiva until a Beth Din declares Chaika to be dead." But the rebbetzin and the other women who loved Chaika grieved. No kaddish. No shiva. No Chaika.
"Will she pass away like a small cloud in a breeze?" they wondered.
All the town seemed to be grieving the loss, so the rebbe magnanimously called five other village rabbis to form a court of inquiry. They sat at the table in Chaika's house and one villager after another came to give testimony.
"If Chaika were not dead, she would not have done this," declared Rivkah, who considered herself to be one of Chaika's friends.
Several of the young wives recounted the same story, "She always came to the mikvah to pray with us younger women, to urge us on to godliness. If there is no Chaika in Vaysechvoos, she must be dead."
When the rabbis heard of her good works, her piety, her generosity, how she always visited the poor and the needy despite her tired and old bones, tears came to their eyes.
When the children of Vaysechvoos showed the court of inquiry the clothes she had made for them as well as what she had mended, there were more tears.
Chaika was a master of healing with herbs and poultices and when the people of the village imagined themselves afflicted and ill without Chaika, their tears were like a flood.
So you can imagine what a scene there was when Chaika arrived. No one saw the bal agolah drop her off. She quietly opened the door and saw all the visitors around her table. "It's so wonderful that you all came to welcome me home, but who are these pious gentlemen here in my house?"
Still sobbing, Rivkah from the mikvah said "Chaika, Chaika, they came to declare you dead so that we could all grieve properly."
Chaika grimaced. "Sooooo."
"They just pronounced you dead and we were listening to the eulogies," Rivkah explained.
"But Rivkah, friends, I'm not dead. I'm old, but I'm not dead."
"Shah. Still," the rabbi's wife shook her finger at the saintly woman.
"If such august rabbis have declared you dead, who are you to contradict them?"
Category: Issues Volume 06 Number 08
Published on Wednesday, 06 July 2011 19:24
Written by Jews for Jesus
Mysterious things always seemed to be happening in Vaysechvoos: a cow might stop giving milk or a bird might plummet from the sky for no apparent reason. Can you imagine, a seemingly healthy bird dropping dead in front of you. Stranger things yet were known to have happened--like the time the three thousand finely crafted tiles arranged in neat stacks presented themselves right next to the rabbi's house. Or the time that all of the cobbler's leather was found spread out on the synagogue floor. Of course, such things did not happen every day, just often enough to remind people that there are demons, dibbuks, evil spirits and specters of all sorts, lurking about unseen, but not unknown.
If the comings of such things were strange, the goings were even stranger. Where did the 3,000 tiles go? Who knows. They disappeared just like they came. No one in Vaysechvoos would have taken them. Maybe such tiles were proper for a nobleman or for a gentile synagogue, or whatever you call one of their places, but no Jew had use for such fine building materials. But that's another story for another day.
One thing that was strange, was the fact that there were a lot of bees in Vaysechvoos. They were there to stay whether the people wanted them or not. And to tell you the truth, they were not entirely bothersome. From the bees one got honey. However, the people of Vaysechvoos used little honey, except, of course, for Rosh Hashanah. How else could one usher in a year of sweetness? Then the people would take big juicy apples, cut them up and dip them into the honey and, aah, it would be like heaven. But that too is another story.
During the year, most of the honey was sold to gentiles; they used a lot of it. And as for the people of Vaysechvoos, the women used the leftover beeswax, to make holiday candles.
They did not use paraffin because who could be sure it was kosher. And they did not use oil because they were poor and oil was very scarce and very expensive. But beeswax--they had plenty. Apart from their own use of candles, once a year the women would send their candles to the marketplace for use at Hanukkah. In return, they would get some remnants of fabric and a little money; enough to have some midwinter festivities.
When the Bal Agolah said that he could get more money for beeswax candles if they were red or green, it didn't occur to the women that he might be selling them to some other people to celebrate some other holiday than Hanukkah. They preferred bluish candles or variegated colors and those were the ones they kept for themselves...to celebrate the Festival of Lights.
Nevertheless, if it could be said that Vaysechvoos did have an industry, it was the industry of the older women and their candle-making. The process was as follows: first, they would roll the beeswax out on the marble slabs that they used for pounding their bread dough. Then they'd sprinkle dye to give it color, not that there were so many choices; a little bit of beet juice for a reddish color, a little yellow saved from the carrots, and so on. All year long they looked to this and to that to make bright colors. Then, after they sprinkled, they would with the sharpest of knives, carefully scrape the wax off into a very thin, yet soft layer. Next, they would place a linen wick on one edge and slowly roll up the beeswax. By cutting the beeswax in a triangle, they were able to create a spiral, tapered appearance to the candles. The ladies would then take three of these narrow spiral candles and braid them into one. The final product was nothing less than a fine work of art, a masterpiece!
But just a few days before Hanukkah, there was another strange happening in Vaysechvoos--all of the newly made holiday candles disappeared. A rumor spread that the teamster stole them to sell to gentiles. No one believed anything like that. Only a demon could work so fast. The people were more inclined to believe in all sorts of dibbuks and things that whistle and laugh at night than in dishonest Bal Agolahs. And besides, what would gentiles do with Hanukkah candles?
At any rate, whatever demon, spirit, specter, or for that matter, angel, took the finely made, lovingly crafted Hanukkah candles--they were gone for good! And like the tiles that appeared and disappeared, they never came back.
Oh horrors! Of all the tragic things that could befall a town: drought and plagues and pogroms and pounding hail stones, nothing could draw as much moaning and groaning and despair and disappointment as the mysterious disappearance of what made Hanukkah so bright. Where could they get beeswax to make even a few candles in midwinter? Where could they get paraffin? It did not seem that this Hanukkah would be a very joyous one for the people of Vaysechvoos.
To make matters worse, a fast and frantic rider came to tell them that a band of Cossack raiders might be coming near Vaysechvoos. At this point, you might find it interesting to hear about this particular band of Cossacks.
As peace loving and as placid as the Jews were, so the Cossacks were easily agitated and fierce. Or, at least they wanted to seem fierce. But so many years had passed since these particular Cossacks had gone out for raiding that their excitement over war had not only become dulled, but they had become very poor.
And in the camp where Ermak was hetman (which means he was the elected general, ruler of the band), they were poorer than the Jews of Vaysechvoos. Their holiday was coming and without money one could not buy presents from the peddlers. And Ermak had a young wife, Natasha, who complained that she was dressed in rags more properly worn by a goatherd than a could-be attractive wife of an important Cossack ruler.
Please, Ermak" she said, "I need something to wear. Couldn't we sell your sabre? After all, no one has ever attacked us."
Ermak explained, "A sabre for a Cossack is not to defend oneself, but to gain honor in the field of battle and to use in a raid on the faraway statue worshippers and Jews. With this sabre, we get what we need! The money, the clothes, the jewelry!!"
"But when?" Natasha shouted, "...when shall we have these things?"
"Before the feast of our Savior's nativity," he said so solemnly that it could only be taken as an oath. He then realized what he had said, but it was too late. Natasha had already run out the door shouting, "The men are going on a raid. The men are going on a raid!"
Soon the men were gathered planning how they would travel west to the land of the false church with the beardless priests who never marry. They would teach those false Christians a lesson, carry off their goods and be back in time to buy presents and liquor and have a merry holiday. Every man of the camp, who was a man, was determined to go, even the one legged Vladimir.
And thus they commenced their adventure. Ermak was proud to see that each remembered his horsemanship. After all, they were all in the Czar's militia as auxiliary cavalry men. For days on end they marched, avoiding the towns, crossing the rivers, not on the Czar's bridges, but on God's own bridge of ice that could have held a whole battalion of Cossacks.
They spent their evening hours in the villages where many Russian peasants reluctantly hosted them. They did not have the heart to protest the Cossacks' consumption of fantastic amounts of food, provender for the horses and harmless flirtation with the women of the household.
Ermak's strategy for a raid was to pick a village not too well defended. If he could frighten the villagers with a show of terrifying fierceness, perhaps he might be able to minimize the bloodshed. Frankly, in his heart, Ermak was secretly terrified, not of getting killed, but of seeing blood. The thought of it made him sick and started his stomach wrenching violently. So he prayed and he hoped that there wouldn't be any violence, or if there had to be violence, that he wouldn't see it. Or if he did see it, that he would be among the first killed so that his men would never learn of his distaste for violence.
After they came to the country of churches with statues, it took several days of scouting to find the right village. But the wisdom of warfare and raiding started to come back to Ermak and he remembered what he'd been taught as a boy. He found a small village at a crossroads where there was a small market and a small contingent of constables who didn't belong to the Czar and thus were fair game for the raid. The village had an inn and barns for storage and freight wagons would stop at the inn. Teamsters would unload the goods there until the customs collectors would inspect the cargo.
Ermak's strategy was simple. The attack would be noisy and boisterous with much shouting and screaming. But the Cossacks would not ride as swiftly as they knew they could, thus giving the villagers, the constables and the able-bodied teamsters a chance to "escape." Along the journey those without swords had carved wooden ones from birch trees. The swords looked almost authentic unless one got too close. So, just before the raid, they killed a farmer's pig and completely bloodied the wooden swords.
And Ermak and his men charged into the village at what could hardly be called a gallop.
With swords held high they screamed and yelled, "Yowie, Zowie, Bowie." The dogs barked and the cattle lowed and the horses and goats all protested as if they knew they too would be slaughtered just like the poor pig who gave his life to camouflage the swords. The townspeople were terrified. So were the constables and teamsters. Everyone ran for their lives.
Not a soul was left in the village except one defiant rooster who shouted back at the Cossacks, "Cockadoodle-doo on you and you and you!!"
Ermak and all the Cossacks drew up short; so complete was their victory they didn't know what to do next.
"Let's go through the houses and take what we will," the one legged Vladimir said to Ermak.
"And" he added, "could I have a freight wagon? That way, I could sleep on it and wouldn't need anyone to help me in or out of the saddle." And his two sons who customarily did that task emphatically added their assent to that petition.
Now these Cossacks didn't know a lot more about looting than they did about fighting, but if they had too little fighting for their self-respect as Cossacks, they were going to make up for it by showing their prowess and looting everything in sight.
"Hooray!" shouted a 15 year-old, as he came out of the home of one of the villagers holding up a brand new sabre with a gold hilt and a leather scabbard. That was enough to get everything started.
Each of the Cossacks began building his pile of personal loot, swords and knives, clothes and coins, dishes and harnesses, farm implements and furniture. And in the storehouse inn, they found many barrels.
Now every Cossack, whether or not he'd been on a raid, knew what is kept in barrels--whiskey and wine!! And with one barrel open and a spigot found, they tasted some spirits that were as smooth as wine and as potent as brandy. It was unanimously decided that they would take every single barrel of this wonderful stuff with them. That meant that they'd have to use all the freight wagons to cart their booty.
Ermak and his men now headed toward the steppes, tired but happy. Ermak wouldn't have been nearly as self-satisfied if he knew what he was to discover many days later, namely, Cossacks moving cross country on their horses travel four times as fast as slow freight wagons. And by Ermak's reckoning, at this pace they would reach their camp on the steppes early in the month of February, at least a month after the holiday over which he made his promises to Natasha He tried to urge his men to lighten the load, but with little success.
So Ermak reluctantly planned the first act of violence that he would ever commit in his life. The freight wagons would catch fire along with their cargos. From the top of the hills, he would personally see columns of cavalry pursuing them. And they would have to ride like lightning to escape those troops. It was all to happen early in the morning, after one good night of drinking and sleeping. And little did he know that he chose the sight for this violence near the little Jewish village of Vaysechvoos.
A watchman from Vaysechvoos was posted up in a tree at the outskirts of the town. Sure enough, he spotted a huge band of strangers coming with pack horses and wagons. He hastened back to warn the people. Those few who had root cellars, hid in them. Most of the people did what they had done before and huddled in the synagogue waiting for the worst to happen.
However, instead of entering Vaysechvoos, Ermak and his Cossacks stopped for the night at a stream by the leafless trees outside of the village. It came time to open another barrel of the liquor that they'd stolen but when they put it to their lips it tasted horrible. It was some sort of oily wine, nothing they had ever tasted before. The hetman examined all of the barrels and found that four of them out of the dozen were, in fact, this oily wine that was not fit to drink. As a prank, they decided to roll the barrels into the Jewish village and leave them standing there. They laughed as they envisioned the Jews getting sick from drinking the "oily wine."
Meanwhile, they consumed what was left of the good liquor and in a drunken stupor made their way to the little huts in the village where they fell soundly asleep. When they awoke the next day, everyone had terrible headaches. Ermak changed his strategy as he saw his men stumble over one another, with heads that were clouded from the drink the night before. Ermak shouted orders to his men to pack up the booty because soldiers were coming. Meanwhile, he had taken the most valuable of the small pieces of booty during the wee hours of the morning. The heads of the men were pounding. They were confused as they abandoned the freight wagons and rode off on their own ponies with as much as they could pack. Ermak's plan worked. He and his men headed eastward toward the steppes, their mood slightly improving as they thought of the stomach aches the Jews would have when they drank the awful "oily wine."
As for Vaysechvoos, the Jews came out the next morning to see the Cossacks gone. They breathed a sigh of relief that the huts were still standing and they gasped in amazement, for instead of the expected destruction, they found a small fortune: some livestock, well crafted furniture, bolts of fabric, crates of anvils and hammers and nails, freight wagons, a solid silver time piece and spices.
"All these treasures before us!" Zlata the Widow exclaimed.
"What spirit was this which seemed to bring ill tidings, but brought instead, good holiday cheer?" Feivel the Tanner asked of no one in particular. And in addition to the gifts, the villagers quickly gathered up, there were the four huge barrels.
Now Jews knew the difference between wine and olive oil. Olive oil was indeed a very expensive commodity! While they couldn't use it for cooking since it might have been contaminated by the gentiles, the Sage of Vaysechvoos reasoned, "It's true that we cannot use the olive oil for food, but it might be mixed with the animal provender or we could use it for illumination."
"Illumination?" asked the cobbler.
Yes, illumination!" replied the Sage. Have you forgotten the miracle of the oil at Hanukkah?"
A gasp came from the crowd. And then a smile appeared on each and every face for light would come to Vaysechvoos this Hanukkah. Every vessel in the village was needed, cups, bowls, even chards were equipped with a wick for the gentile oil.
And it was the brightest that Vaysechvoos had ever been. The huts and the homes were so warmed by the many brightly burning lights, there was no need for afire inside to take away the chill. Yes, there was laughter and singing that Hanukkah. And Jews from surrounding villages were invited to come and witness the miracle and share in the blessing! (The Cossacks and other strangers probably had a merry something else, somewhere else.)
It was a little too big for a babushka and a little too small for a waist sash. The dark brown, ancient pattern against the lighter background seemed like something the Turks might have designed. The repeated lines and angular letters looked, at first glance, like the heathenish language. Yet upon closer inspection, the word Baruch" appeared to be woven into the pattern, again and again. The scarf commanded a certain respect from all of the villagers. They called it "the scarf of blessing."
It was not like any other. The scarf was made of fine wool, and years of wear had given it a shine so that at first glance, one might mistake it for silk. But when the rains came, the smell was the smell of wool. Still, it was so soft and shiny, some wondered if perhaps it contained mixture. Of course, the rabbi proclaimed that a scarf of miracles certainly could not contain mixture!
The people of Vaysechvoos rarely spoke of the blessed scarf, yet everyone in the shtetl was more than a little aware of its presence. It belonged to no one, yet in a sense, it belonged to everyone...but let me explain.
The scarf was indeed a blessing when the person who wore it at the time of the Rosh Hodesh was pure of heart. When such a person would recite the prayers, the desires of their heart would be granted...provided that they did not speak that desire to another living soul.
There are stories told of the most marvelous miracles--of barren women who became mothers. And of spinsters who became brides, and of those with prolonged grief who could smile. As for the impoverished, well, it would be an exaggeration to say they had become prosperous. After all, who in Vaysechvoos prospers? But they found there was a little more bread on the table and a little more wine in the kiddush cup.
Now the scarf was passed on from one person to another as a gift. It was not given to help celebrate a birthday or a shidduch. It was passed along rather unceremoniously, sometimes even surreptitiously from one to the next, lest any pure in heart be tempted into evil speculations and greed.
According to tradition, the blessed scarf could be in one person's possession for only one New Moon. After that, it had to be given to another. The story is told of a man who forgot to pass it on at the appointed time. His house burned own, his wife ran away with the merchant from Kiev and six of his eight milk cows dried up. No one in Vaysechvoos cared to test the potency for "unblessing." Everyone took great pains to make the scarf a blessing to someone else at the appointed time.
When Perele the Widow was seen wearing the scarf of blessing, the townspeople smiled. Here was a woman who was truly pure of heart. For though she had little of this world's gods, she was always ready to put an extra table setting out for a stranger who might be passing through town. When a child was confined to bed with a head cold, it was the widow who offered to come and cheer up the kind with a little something sweet. And when the rabbi of Vaysechvoos appealed for alms for the poor, it was the widow who was the first to give and give generously from what seemed to be nothing. She would do anything to help the poor, not realizing that she herself was impoverished. The Almighty knew that if ever a woman deserved to have her prayers answered, Perele the Widow did. Everyone in Vaysechvoos would have concurred with the Almighty, until the strangest things began to take place.
At first there were "little" things that one might call troublesome. The widow lamented that her hen laid only three eggs a week instead of the customary seven. All of Vaysechvoos clucked their tongues sympathetically, but felt that the blessed scarf would more than compensate the widow. But when her son wrote from Kiev and said that he and his bride could not afford to come home for the holidays as planned, there were some eyebrows raised. Surely if Perele the Widow was truly pure of heart, a prayer to have her son and daughter-in-law home for Pesach would not go unanswered?
One mishap after another continued to befall the poor widow. People who had at one time praised her to the heavens now wondered what evil things she had been hiding all these years, that would account for the punishment the Almighty was meting out.
Strangers who passed through town were warned not to accept her meager hospitality for she was a woman of "mysterious" ways and perhaps not to be trusted. Mothers accepted sweets for their children from the Widow. But after she had left, they would say a prayer to guard against the evil eye and then proceed to bury the treats behind their houses.
Perele was not bitter over all this. Mostly she was puzzled. Daily she asked the Almighty's forgiveness. For what sin, she did not know, but she did not see it as unreasonable to think that she might well have done something to warrant the Almighty's anger. She prayed that her evil fortune would be turned to good.
As the time approached for her to think about passing the scarf along to another villager, she went out to the field and recited this Tehinnah:
"Lord of the world, Almighty God! In Your great mercy, You have created heaven and earth and all their creatures in six days. You have also given us New Moons. On the Sabbath before the New Moon we say the blessing and we pray that You bring us back to Jerusalem and renew our days of old. For now we have no Temple, and no altar, and no High Priest who can make atonement for us. We were called the children of our Father Abraham; how is it that today we are so desolate? Wash me thoroughly of my sins. Renew and bring about for us this New Month for joy and may all be turned around for us for good. You are truly our great King."
She wondered if God would hear her prayer, or if he would turn his face from her as he had seemed to do from the moment she received the scarf of blessing. As she pondered these things she caught the scent of something in the air. It was the smell of burning timber. Turning toward her little dwelling, she saw bright orange flames through the black smoke and she knew the worst had happened. Her tiny home had become an inferno!
She sobbed and trudged toward the holocaust that was formerly a hovel. "Oh God Almighty," she wailed, "what terrible thing have I done? Maybe I should just throw myself into the flames and perish!"
She didn't see through her tears that the rest of Vaysechvoos was alerted to the fire and many had already arrived to put out the blaze. By the time she arrived, Yonkel the Butcher organized a line of people passing tubs of water from one to the next and finally onto the flames. Others were stamping and yelling. There was such a hub-bub like you've never heard. Who knows, perhaps the fire left of its own accord to avoid the noise everyone was making!
In any case, the fire was doused, but not before it had completely destroyed the dwelling with Perele's few belongings inside. The widow hoped her neighbors would think it was simply smoke which caused her reddened eyes to water, instead of her suspicions that they had only come to her aid so that the fire would be contained and not damage their property. She quickly chided herself for having such unkind thoughts.
Actually, half the people of Vaysechvoos did shake their heads and say it was God's final judgment on the widow and they only hoped the fire would not spread. But the other half remembered her many mitzvot and they were ashamed. These neighbors attempted to comfort her.
The widow accepted their condolences with a nod as she roamed aimlessly through the ruins.
"Widow Perele!" the butcher exclaimed, "You're not wearing the blessed scarf!" Someone gasped. Another shrieked. Everyone was thinking the same thing.
"No," the widow responded, too shocked and bewildered to really care. "The blessings seemed to have turned to curses, so I left it home as I went out to pray. It must have been destroyed in the fire."
The townspeople shuddered for they all knew that it had to have been destroyed. How could a piece of cloth, no matter how well made, survive the flames that licked through the widow's home that day?
The widow looked down at the ground. "If only I had perished in the flames!" she mumbled quietly. As she surveyed the smoldering remains of what had once been a wooden floor, the only luxury she'd ever had in her entire life, she saw it. The familiar angular pattern on that special piece of cloth. She cried out, "The scarf of blessing!"
She had to dig a little to salvage it from the smoky, sooty mess. As she dug, she felt something beneath it that was hard and round and warm to the touch. What could have possibly survived the fire? Setting the scarf aside, she pulled a gold piece from out of the ground. There were oohs and aahs from her neighbors. Not many in Vaysechvoos had seen a gold coin before. And where one gold piece is hidden, there are likely to be more, true? True.
The widow continued to dig through the rubble and found, to her utter amazement, one coin after another. Actually, there were seventy gold coins! A small fortune!
And so the Widow Perele was not only able to rebuild her home and restore her possessions, she was able to purchase three new hens, a rooster and a milk cow.
Furthermore, she sent for her son and daughter-in-law from Kiev, and they arrived just in time for Pesach. She forgave those in Vaysechvoos who had treated her poorly, and for the others she prepared her most delicious tzimmis which everyone thoroughly enjoyed at their seder tables.
And you might be wondering what happened to the scarf of blessing. The widow passed it along to Feival the Tanner. She winked as she warned him--" May God grant you the desire of your heart--if your heart is strong enough to take it!"