In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Milkman
Beryl the Milkman imagined he was the most unfortunate man in all of Vaysechvoos.
Certainly,” he concluded, “I’m the loneliest.” And the townspeople agreed with him. Skinny as a beanpole, Beryl was shy and withdrawn. He was an orphan, and the only creatures with whom he conversed were a few milk cows he inherited from his father. They were all he had in life. Being a milkman was not a bad life. In fact, it was said that a milkman would make a good husband and father. Of course, he would never become a Rothschild, but then again, his family would always have fresh milk and cheese (if he had a family, that is). However, Beryl was so particular–and so very timid–that he bypassed the most eligible young women of Vaysechvoos. He told himself that was because he could do better. But in his heart he knew it was an excuse for his cowardice. And so he remained alone.
Now he was almost past the “marrying age.” His work kept him busy, for he had increased his herd considerably. But when the work was finished and the sun went down, Beryl entered his little house and stared at the empty rooms. He didn’t have any friends, for he was too particular about who would make good company. And when someone did meet his standards, he would wait and wait, and then, fearing rejection, not extend a gesture of friendship. Instead, he spent his evenings moaning to himself about how he was the loneliest man in all the province.
One day when Beryl could stand it no longer, he went to the rabbi of Vaysechvoos to ask him to say a prayer. Beryl slipped a few kopeks into the rabbi’s hand and he awkwardly pleaded, “Pray that the Almighty might end my loneliness.” The rabbi agreed to pray, and as Beryl shuffled to the door to leave, the old teacher exclaimed in a mysterious voice, “Go and see the widow Fruma. She is very wise and can advise you how to solve your problem.”
Beryl took the rabbi’s advice and called upon Fruma the Wise Woman. Now Fruma had a pleasant way about her, and when it came to intelligence, there were few who were her match. Her figure was stocky, her face was round, but her eyes were penetrating. She listened to Beryl’s lament and advised him:
“You say you’re lonely. I tell you, you need not be lonely, but you must do exactly as I say. You have a number of fine milk cows and a house that is empty. Why not bring three of the cows inside your home? After all, they give you your livelihood, and they should share in your comfort.”
It made sense to Beryl and so he thanked Fruma and went home, and did as she said. But after a week, the skinny milkman was beside himself. He rushed over to the home of Fruma the Wise Woman and with urgency in his shrill voice, he complained, “With all due respect, Widow Fruma, I have to tell you that having the milk cows in my house is not working out well. They are breaking the furniture and making a shambles of my little dwelling. Cleaning up after them is exhausting. And the smell of these animals is almost unbearable. I really don’t think this is working out very well at all!”
Fruma listened intently, nodding her head at all the appropriate moments. She sympathized, “My dear Reb Beryl, I know this is difficult, but you have been too impatient. Come back in a month and I’m sure you’ll understand the wisdom of keeping the cows in your house. If you send them out now, this entire week will have been in vain in helping to solve your problem.”
She smiled at him warmly, and soothed by her sweet manner, Beryl grudgingly agreed to keep the milk cows indoors. But how he suffered. And the poor cows suffered too! They longed for the open pasture and the green grass floor it provided. And they made their complaints known by constant lowing. But Beryl’s moans almost matched the lows in their extreme sentiments. Yet he kept his word. And at the end of the torturous month he returned to the Wise Woman. Gaunt and haggard from lack of sleep, Beryl looked like a man who had lost a battle–one thousand years before–and he smelled even worse. The widow Fruma looked at him with doleful eyes.
“What you must do now, Reb Beryl,” she said softly, fixing her gaze on him intently, “is to remove one of your milk cows from the house and come back in a week.” He happily agreed and was back the following week looking a little sturdier and a little less frazzled.
“Now, Reb Beryl,” the widow instructed him, her eyes sparkling, “remove all but one of the cows and come back in another week!” Again, he did as she instructed.
This time, when he returned to the widow’s home, there was some color in his cheeks and his walk was not quite so stooped.
“Should I remove the last milk cow from my house now?” he asked in gleeful anticipation.
“Of course not!” said Fruma indignantly. “If you do that, your problem of loneliness will only get worse. You’ve learned to live with several cows. One cow should not be so terrible. It’s true, they’re not the cleanest creatures. And it’s true, cows are not known for being witty conversationalists. They won’t wash your clothes or cook your meals or give you sons. But a cow has friendly, big brown eyes. That should warm your nights for you.”
As she smiled knowingly at him, Beryl stared at the widow in astonishment.
“Is this to be my fate in life?” he thought. “This woman thinks that I should spend the rest of my life with a milk cow for company? As for those ‘big brown eyes,’ they’re giving me hateful stares. Who does she think she is!” Beryl was angry at this point. Very angry.
Fruma sweetly interrupted the agitated man’s thoughts. “Before you leave to go home to your companion, I’ve prepared a meal for you, Reb Beryl.” He didn’t have a chance to respond before she set out a meal that was fit for the czar. And the smell! Umm, it was like paradise itself! Beryl’s anger melted away as he feasted on the sumptuous meat and potatoes and barley soup. One would not have thought that such a scrawny fellow could eat so many helpings! And he even laughed as Fruma related the wittiest stories he’d ever heard told. And he actually glowed as his eyes met hers.
Need we tell you what happened? The milkman had met his match. Oh, and the cows–all of them were sent out to pasture. For the home that Beryl and Fruma now shared as man and wife was filled to capacity–filled with the love that Beryl for so many years had locked up inside his heart, and also filled with the wisdom of a plump, pleasant woman who found the key to unlock that heart. “Children?” you ask. Yes, they were blessed with several–some lean and tall like Beryl, some short and stocky like Fruma. And now the milkman’s home is filled with the sounds of laughter, not mooing cows.
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.