The people of Vaysechvoos had a simple and childlike faith in the Almighty. Occasionally, their innocence would attract some self-seeker from a nearby town who would take advantage of them. And so it was on the day that Motl the junk dealer from the village of Lodz arrived in Vaysechvoos. Motl was a cynic who did not believe in the power of the Holy One. He mocked the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea; he laughed at those who insisted that God had, as the Good Book said, created the world in seven days. He was widely known in his district for his brazen unbelief.
The junk business had been going poorly that season, and this idleness gave opportunity for Motl’s evil imagination. He got an idea that took him to the neighboring shtetl of Vaysechvoos where no one would ever suspect that he was up to no good. Motl arrived in town at mid-day, driving a broken down cart led by a broken down horse. In the cart was a curious-looking sack. Heading straight for the center of the village, Motl proceeded to visit the shopkeepers one by one.
He entered the store of Eleazar the butcher, who was just finishing with one of his regular customers.
I have heard, Reb Eleazar,” Motl began, “that you are a very holy man. So I wanted you to be the first to be offered this very special clock.”
“A clock? A special clock? Let me see this clock of yours.” Eleazar wound the time piece and listened, but heard nothing. “The only thing that is special about this clock,” he informed Motl, “is that it doesn’t work!”
Motl put a finger to his lips. “Quite true,” he said, grinning at the butcher. “Any clock can tell time, but this clock will tell you when the Messiah has come. We know that when Messiah comes, all things will be restored. So, if you observe this clock every day, when it begins to work, you will know that Messiah has come!”
Eleazar’s eyes lit up at this astounding treasure in his shop. A clock that tells the time of the coming of Messiah! This indeed was a special piece of merchandise. He gladly parted with ten rubles (a small fortune for Eleazar) as the stranger walked out the door.
Next, Motl came to Mendel the shoemaker. “My dear Reb Mendel,” he began, “I have here a very special lamp.”
Mendel examined the lamp. “But it’s broken,” he observed. “It cannot hold oil or remain lit.”
Motl explained, as he had done with Eleazar, that any oil lamp could burn oil, but only this particular lamp could tell the coming of Messiah. “For when Messiah comes, all things will be restored. The day that light shines forth from this lamp, you will know Messiah has arrived.”
A special lamp, indeed, thought Mendel. He, too, parted with his rubles and was delighted with the purchase.
And so it went that day. Motl sold Yankel the tailor a broken violin, promising that the day a tune could be played upon the faulty fiddle, would mark the day of Messiah’s arrival. He sold Zvi the dairyman a dry cow, swearing that the cow would give milk when the Messiah came. To Nahum the blacksmith he sold a bellows with holes; to Avi the storyteller, a book with no pages.
Finally, Motl, so taken with himself and with his lucrative enterprise, decided to entertain himself one last time before leaving the shtetl of Vaysechvoos. He went to the rabbi himself. Upon arriving in the rabbi’s chambers, Motl produced from his sack a menorah with only six branches. But even after Motl had assured the rabbi with long explanations of the value of this particular treasure, the wise man politely refused. After that, he brought out a prayer shawl without fringes. “Certainly,” Motl insisted, “when the Messiah comes, fringes will grow from the ends of this garment.” Again the rabbi declined. Frustrated, Motl asked the rabbi, “Isn’t there anything I can offer you as evidence of the coming of Messiah?”
The rabbi looked at Motl thoughtfully. He stroked his long beard and knit his brow.
“I will know,” he said, “that Messiah has come…when unbelieving thieves no longer take advantage of the faith of poor people like us.”