Malkah Moscovitz was loved and admired by all the people of Vaysechvoos. Perhaps it had to do with the shy and winsome smile that she had for everyone who crossed her path. Or, it could have been because she had a generous heart and gave of her time and sustenance to those who were needy.
One time the widow Moscovitz was tending to her garden. She grew all sorts of vegetables, more than she needed for herself. Yossel, one of the town schnorrers came by just as she was digging potatoes from the earth.
Widow Moscovitz, could you spare a few potatoes for a poor and needy soul?”
“Certainly,” she replied, as she handed him two large potatoes.
“Perhaps,” he continued. “You could spare a pot of boiling water that these beautiful potatoes might get cooked and then I could fill my empty stomach.”
While Malkah Moscovitz knew that Yossel was a schnorrer, her heart was so good she could not refuse. She knew Yossel wanted her to prepare the potatoes along with whatever else she had in her home.
“I suppose it would help if I had some meat to go along with the cooked potatoes, maybe some carrots, too?” she asked.
The schnorrer’s eyes lit up. “This is better than I thought,” he said to himself.
“Come back at the dinner hour and I will have a feast prepared for you, Yossel. After all, how can I turn my back on such a poor and needy soul?”
Malkah was true to her word. When Yossel returned, she had a meal such as he imagined fit for the Czar laid out on her table. Yossel ate and ate until he could eat no more.
“Thank you for your kindness and now I must be going,” he said.
“Don’t leave just yet,” Malkah replied, “I couldn’t think of depriving your needy soul of the opportunity to do a mitzvah.”
Yossel wondered, “What does she have in mind?”
She interrupted his thoughts. “Poor man, even a schnorrer must perform a mitzvah once in a while. Do one for me, please! Without a man in this house I haven’t been able to repair the roof. Would it be possible for you to be able to climb up there and re-fasten some of the shingles?”
Now Yossel was not an ordinary schnorrer. He was a very proud beggar — proud that he had never done any kind of work. Though it would only have taken him a few moments to re-fasten the shingles, he was filled with consternation. Then he did something that even a fool would know not to do. He began his story by saying that he was a very, very sick man, nigh unto death.
The widow Moscovitz believed him, of course. And so did the aynhora, who lurks everywhere, all the time. Since he confessed his illness and readiness for death, the aynhora summoned the Malach Ha-Moves who had to come from such a long distance that he didn’t really inspect Yossel carefully before he grabbed him to take him out of the world of the living. However, in his haste, the Malach Ha-Moves did not do a complete job. For though Yossel took on the appearance of being stricken in death, his soul yet lingered within him.
Malkah called the other villagers to come and help attend to Yossel’s corpse. Together with some of the other women, Malkah prepared the burial shrouds of a fine white linen, yet not too costly a linen. They prepared the shirt, breeches, an overgarment for the girdle, white stockings, a white cap and an additional garment to be placed on the dead man’s shoulders…
Then the men washed Yossel’s body in warm water. His hair was washed with an egg mixture and then combed. When all was ready, he was attired in the burial shrouds.
“Poor Yossel!!” everyone said. “He wasn’t even of age to be a grandfather.”
Then came the night watch. A candle was lit and some of the villagers stayed with the corpse should he for any reason awake from his eternal sleep.
It was during that night that Yossel, with his soul still within him, had a vision. He saw himself upon a cliff looking about. “Ah, this must be what heaven will be like,” thought Yossel. “Now only to find the Keeper.” Yossel searched and searched, but did not see anyone until he looked across the precipice. Across the chasm there stood a lone figure of a man, with his arms outstretched.
“Ah,” thought Yossel, “Could that be Moses, or maybe Abraham?” As he squinted his eyes to see better, he realized that it was neither of these great Jews of history. Then the reality of who that lone figure was became clear and it was almost more than Yossel could bear.
“It couldn’t be,” he wanted to cry out. “You were their God,” he wanted to shout. Yet Yossel could not deny the identity of the One who stood there, nor could he deny that One was indeed the Holy One of Israel.
At this point, the vision faded, as the Malach Ha-Moves realized that he made a mistake in taking Yossel prematurely. He put life back into the proud beggar. The villagers standing watch were amazed as they saw color come back into Yossel’s face and limbs. Breathing resumed and Yossel was not only alive but he was healthy.
“A miracle, a miracle!” they all shouted. The whole town was awakened to the news. “Yossel was dead, but now he is alive. God has brought him back to life for some unique purpose.”
The villagers all crammed into the room where Yossel lay in bed, adorned in the burial shrouds. The sage of Vaysechvoos was the first to speak to him: “Yossel, my son, tell me. You were there in that strange place between life and death; now you are back here among us, the living. What words of wisdom, Yossel, do you have to share with us that we might know more of what to expect in the hereafter?”
Yossel answered slowly, “Most honored sage and fellow townspeople, what I have to say is just too unbelievable, but I will attempt to express it. You see, I saw my Maker. Yet He was beyond a chasm, out of my reach. His beauty and brilliance shone so greatly, it was difficult for me to look in His direction. Yet I could make out His features.”
Yossel was afraid to go on any further, but the sage implored him: “Tell us, Yossel, what did the Maker say to you?”
“He didn’t say anything,” Yossel replied, “He just showed me His hands.”
“He showed you His hands?” questioned the townspeople.
“Yes, He showed me His hands, and…and…they were pierced. ”
“Do you know what you are saying?” shouted the sage.
“Only too well,” replied Yossel.
The townspeople were in a flurry. What to do? How could they allow Yossel to continue sharing his incredible story, for they knew what he would ultimately say about the Maker. The sage decided that the only course they could take would be to expel Yossel from Vaysechvoos. After all, in his transitional state of life and death, he had become susceptible to being inhabited by a dibbuk. A dibbuk in this poor man’s soul.
Yossel was made to leave Vaysechvoos for the people were afraid. Rumor has it that the beggar is now living in another little village in the province. No longer a beggar, Yossel has taken to the study of Torah and doing mitzvot. In his new home, the villagers have not detected the slightest hint that a dibbuk is inhabiting his body. However, he is looked upon with great curiosity. You see, Yossel is forever quoting words of wisdom that the townspeople cannot attribute to any rabbi they have ever read about. Words like, “Blessed are the poor in heart, for they shall see God.”