In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The New Rabbi
Something was happening in Vaysechvoos. The butcher was whispering about it to the baker. The baker was whispering about it to the egg man. And the egg man’s wife, Chava, was beside herself with excitement. A new rabbi! A young widower was coming to Vaysechvoos! And he would be staying with Chava and her husband Mottel until more permanent lodging could be found for him–or who knows, maybe he would even find a wife? Well, whichever one came first. The rabbi was to arrive the week before Rosh Hashanah, but to tell the truth, everyone was a little afraid he wouldn’t make it in time. In those days one never could say exactly how long it would take to get from here to there or from there to here. All they could do was wait and hope and pray.
Yossel, the egg man’s eight-year-old son, was oblivious to the excitement, for he was busy creating some excitement of his own. He had just traded his life’s collection of feathers for a shiny new whistle. It was such a special whistle–its silvery sides fairly glittered in the sunlight. Yossel was so taken with how the whistle looked that he just about forgot to blow it to hear how it sounded. But even before his friend Chaim had taken off with Yossel’s prized feathers, Yossel knew he had made a mistake. It was not a fair trade at all. For no matter how hard or how long Yossel blew on the whistle, there was absolutely no sound that could be heard coming from it. You might say, the whistle had no whistle.
But Yossel was a smart little boy. When his friends heard that he had traded his most treasured collection for such a tiny whistle, they all gathered around him, demanding to hear how the whistle sounded. Surely it must be something special, if Yossel had given up so much for it! Yossel thought quickly and made up the tallest tale you or I have ever heard. The whistle could make a special sound–so special that it was exactly the same sound the shofar made when it was blown in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah.
Now, would you believe such a story? You might if you were an eight-year-old boy living in Vaysechvoos. But only some of his friends believed him–the other half didn’t. Well, Yossel assured them, they would just have to wait until Rosh Hashanah to see that he was telling the truth: the whistle could only be blown on that day. And that was that.
In the meantime, the rabbi arrived only one day later than expected. And what a rabbi! So young! So handsome! So thin! Chava quickly got him settled in their home, and were her hands busy day and night! What with the rabbi’s arrival, and with all the cooking and cleaning for the holiday, and with her son Yossel carrying around some story about a special whistle–oy … there was so much to be done! She barely had time to listen to Yossel, and she was too busy to notice that as the holiday grew closer and closer, her son grew quieter and quieter.
But the rabbi noticed. Besides being young and handsome, he was also very wise. He knew when little boys were troubled. Yossel was ready to tell someone, anyone, the truth if it would only give him a way out of his problem. The rabbi listened as Yossel explained how he had lied about the whistle, how he had been fooled and how he was now trying to fool others to cover his mistake.
Suddenly the rabbi’s eyes lit up. Are you absolutely sure the whistle can make no sound at all?” he asked. Yossel blew the whistle as hard as he could to show him it was true. “Then, Yossel, this is what you must do. You know that the sound of the shofar is holy, and that it is only used to call the Almighty’s people to repentance. No whistle could absolutely ever produce the same sound. But, since the only sound that is allowed to be heard during Rosh Hashanah is the sound of the ram’s horn, and since your whistle doesn’t make any sound–well, it won’t be against God’s law if you blow the whistle at the same time that the shofar is sounded!”
Yossel immediately felt relieved. It was a smart plan–a good plan! It was a great plan. He would sit with his friends in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and make sure that they were watching him when the shofar was blown. They would never be able to tell that Yossel’s whistle wasn’t making any sound at all.
The holiday arrived, and Yossel was seated with his father in the synagogue, in full view of all his friends. As the time for the blowing of the shofar drew near, the rabbi’s eyes searched out Yossel’s, and met them in a wink. As the first teki’ah was blown on the shofar, Yossel blew with all his might into the whistle, and of course, only the ram’s horn was heard. With each sound of the shofar, Yossel pretended to sound his whistle. His friends were astonished. A whistle that sounds like a shofar! Surely there was no finer, more special whistle in all of Vaysechvoos than this one!
And to this day, the rabbi of Vaysechvoos always wears that whistle on a string around his neck, for it was given to him by a little boy named Yossel who was only too glad to be rid of it.
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.