In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Beggar
Every town had its beggars, and the little shtetl of Vaysechvoos was no exception. As a matter of fact, in Vaysechvoos, being a beggar was considered as respectable an occupation as any other. In a way, those who were in need felt they had permission from the Lord Almighty to go door to door and make their collections. After all,” they reasoned, “those who serve as our benefactors will be accumulating good deeds and will be rewarded in the world to come.”
Yet being a beggar was not easy. It involved a great deal of organization and timing. For instance, Pinya the Pauper would start his collection at 6:00 in the morning. One day, his first stop was at the home of Shimmon the Butcher. He knocked on the door, awakening the whole family. Shimmon, upon seeing it was Pinya, cried, “You couldn’t come at a more reasonable hour?”
Pinya replied, “Listen, I don’t tell you how to kosher your chickens; you don’t tell me how to run my business!”
You see, Pinya took his “business” very seriously.
Occasionally, there would come a beggar from another town or village; but never one like the one who came the week before Purim. This particular beggar looked poorer and needier than any they’d ever seen. His threadbare garments were a pitiful sight. Yet, he carried himself in such a way as to suggest that perhaps he wasn’t as poor as he looked.
The people of Vaysechvoos were very generous with the stranger, especially when they found out he was a Goy; for not helping a Jew in abject poverty is one sin, a wrong to a human being; but not lending a hand to a Gentile involved another sin as well — desecrating God’s holy name in the eyes of strangers.
The people of Vaysechvoos extended themselves to this stranger, even finding him lodging in the shop of Avrum the Barrel Maker. Avrum lived above the shop and was in need of a “Shabbos Goy” to attend to all the necessary functions the Barrel Maker could not do on the Day of Rest.
The beggar did his chores well, yet Avrum was a little perplexed by him, for he realized the beggar was younger than he first appeared. Also, in passing conversation, the beggar showed an acquaintanceship with things that would not be known to a man of his lowly position. For instance, the beggar spent a great deal of time writing in the Russian language, a language which nobody in Vaysechvoos could read. That is, except for Zvi the Peddler.
Avrum’s curiosity about his “guest” became so aroused that he summoned Zvi the Peddler to his shop and sent the beggar out on an errand. “Zvi, I need for you to translate something.”
With that, he took the book in which the beggar had been writing and set it before his neighbor. Zvi started reading, his eyes widening as he translated the dedication at the beginning of the book. It read, “THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO MY FATHER, THE CZAR.”
As he continued to read, it became apparent that the beggar was not calling the Czar his father in the way that all the subjects of the land would regard the Czar as their “father.” The beggar related stories of his upbringing in the palace and how it was beneficial for him to have taken the time to learn the language of the Jews, to study their customs, to even live with them; for it better prepared him to govern over the people. He wrote that he hoped to return shortly to the palace with all the impressions he had taken in.
The two men were so taken with the words in the book that they almost didn’t notice the beggar-prince returning from the errand on which he’d been sent. However, out of the corner of his eye, Zvi saw from the window the form of the beggar as he was approaching. They quickly put the book back in its place.
That evening, the tradesman and the peddler went to synagogue and shared with the rest of the good men of Vaysechvoos what they had discovered. The people “oohed” and “aahed” at the thought that royalty was in their midst. The sage of Vaysechvoos determined it was best that no one let it be known that their Shabbos Goy was really a prince, the son of the Czar. However, by the next day every family in Vaysechvoos was looking to do some extra kindness for this beggar.
That Sunday, every family in Vaysechvoos brought the beggar some sweets or cakes, all sorts of delicacies. Had he eaten all he was given, he would have weighed as much as Motke’s prize bull. Others offered to lodge him in their homes. He was even given a lovely woolen scarf, which would come in handy for the cold winters of Vaysechvoos.
However, when Monday came, the beggar said he had to take his leave, and he asked the tradesman to give all the delicacies bestowed upon him to the good people of Vaysechvoos because it was too much for him to carry. He did, however, take a few cookies and the woolen scarf, then went on his way.
He headed on the only road leading to and from Vaysechvoos, his figure becoming smaller and smaller as the townspeople gazed through their windows, watching the prince depart from among them. They only stopped looking after he became a small speck on the horizon.
The people of Vaysechvoos celebrated that Purim like never before. They celebrated for days and days. There was gladness and joy in the town because somehow they had reason to hope that one day things would go better for their little village because of that royal son.
Director of Communications, Missionary
Susan Perlman is one of the co-founders of Jews for Jesus. Susan is the associate executive director of Jews for Jesus and also director of communications for the organization. She also serves as the editor in chief of ISSUES, their evangelistic publication for Jewish seekers. She left a career track in New York City to help launch Jews for Jesus in San Francisco in the early 1970s. See more here.