The Klauvitch family had, for as long as many could remember, been the principal milk dispensers in the shtetl of Vaysechvoos. Menachem Klauvitch owned a nice dairy herd, and each day he would take the milk cans and go to the homes of the villagers. It was a hard life and Menachem was not a well man. One day, his health got the better of him and he took very ill. As Fruma Klauvitch tended to her ailing husband, their son Yaacov began taking the wagon out himself.
Now Yaacov was no boy. He was long past marriageable age, yet he would not consider marriage. It seemed he had a passion for wagers that far outweighed any passion that he could feel for a woman. Yaacov, unbeknownst to his family, had a terrible gambling habit. What little money he had, he would squander on games of chance, card playing and dice.
The elder Klauvitch followed the beckoning of the Angel of Death. This left Yaacov in the position of supporting his widowed mother. With Yaacov tending to the milk route and his mother milking the cows, the income that was generated seemed sufficient for the needs of the family. However, one after another, Yaacov sold the calves off. Then came the milkcows themselves. He kept saying to his mother that he was going to get new cattle but she noticed that the money from the cows wasn’t being put in the sugar bowl. For as Yaacov went along the milk route, he would entice one of the other villagers to partake in a wager. For example, one day he met up with Shmuel the cobbler.
My dear friend Shmuel, wouldn’t you like to be twenty rubles richer?”
“Yes, my friend Yaacov, but if it involves gambling, I’ll have no part in it. My Sarah would shame me in front of the children if she even caught the slightest hint of my doing something like that.”
Yaacov assuringly responded, “No need to worry, my good friend. You can make this little sum of money without wagering a kopek. All you have to do is guess how full this milk can is, and I will give you twenty rubles. If you don’t, you will have to do my deliveries for me today and make me a fine pair of boots! So you see, you wouldn’t be wagering any money, just your time and a bit of leather.”
Shmuel thought on the matter.
Meanwhile Yaacov went on, “Because I like you, Shmuel, you can even lift the can and get an idea of how heavy or light it is. Your chances are very good that you will guess how much is in it.”
“Alright, I’ll try,” said Shmuel. And at that he lifted the milk can.
“Hmm,” pondered Shmuel. “The weight seems great, but if I know you, Yaacov, you’ve placed a heavy item at the bottom of the can to throw me off. Therefore, I would guess that the can is only one quarter full.”
Yaacov’s face paled as he handed over the twenty rubles (a fortune for a man of his mean circumstances). Yet, since wagering was a sickness with Yaacov, this incident did not deter him from making similar wagers over and over again. Before long, Yaacov had made so many wagers and lost, that he resorted to selling off his father’s entire herd. Yaacov had to buy his milk from neighboring farmers. Yet, he would muse to his mother, “At least being a milkman, we can always eat cheese.” Fruma Klauvitch was not consoled by her son’s words. She felt that something was wrong, very wrong.
Then one Saturday night, Yaacov left the house, not telling his mother where he was going or when he’d be back. She waited and waited as the hours passed. Knowing that her son was not the type to go drinking or to take up with a woman, she began to worry of an even worse fate for her son. “Perhaps he was robbed, beaten up and left for dead on the road somewhere?” she dreaded. The night was long and Fruma Klauvitch grew weary, but she could not sleep. Then at dawn, she heard the sound of cow bells. A few minutes later, Yaacov came into the house.
“Come with me, mother, and see what I have done!” he said with excitement in his voice. Yaacov led his mother outside where she saw five young, healthy, prime milk cows, the most beautiful milk cows she’d ever seen.
“My dear mother, look what I have brought you,” he exclaimed. “Here are five beautiful milk cows that we may prosper in our business again. There is no farmer in this village with milk cows that have such full udders,” he continued to brag.
Fruma Klauvitch stared at her son. There was grief in her voice as she exclaimed, “You are a thief. You stole these cows. You have disgraced your father’s name. You have dishonored our household and shamed the Holy One, blessed be He!” Then she began to weep.
This caught Yaacov off guard. “How do you know that, Mama?” he stammered, his voice trembling.
“Someone saw you and he told me,” she said between sobs.
Overcome with his mother’s statement, Yaacov blurted out the whole story. “It’s impossible that anyone saw me. First of all, I went over twenty-five kilometers away to the gentile village beyond the hill. And while all the peasants were at church, not a soul in the village, I took the cows. I was so certain no one saw me. I went to each door of each house to make sure no one was at home. I lay out in the fields for hours until each villager had left for church. I planned what I did so carefully, how could anyone have seen me? I checked in the barn, I checked everywhere!”
He looked into his mother’s eyes: “Not everywhere, you didn’t look up,” she said with her finger pointed toward heaven.