In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Rabbi’s Son
Shavuos was approaching, and the people of Vaysechvoos were making preparations. The young girls were out in the fields, gathering plants with bright green leaves and selecting gaily colored flowers to adorn their parents’ homes for the harvest holiday. Shlomo the Milkman was doing a hearty business. The women of Vaysechvoos needed all of his rich milk and cheese so they could grace their holiday tables with a fine milchig meal.
Mendel the Melamed was busy, too. He was getting the cheder room ready, for it was on Shavuos that the children of the age of five or thereabouts were to be introduced to Hebrew School. They would sit at the reading desks for the first time and attempt to read the alef bais. Mendel’s lips curved upward as he thought of the ceremony that would initiate these young ones into the study of Torah. After each child made a noble effort to read the Hebrew alphabet, Mendel would give him some cake and honey, sweets that the Torah might be sweet on his lips.” The melamed could hardly wait for Shavuos. It was not only the Feast of First Fruits; it was the anniversary of God’s revelation to our people at Sinai. Yes, Shavuos could not arrive too soon.
On the other hand, little Aaron Levi was in no hurry. As the only son of the rabbi of Vaysechvoos, Aaron felt an awesome responsibility to do well at his formal initiation into reading the Word of the Lord. It was true that he was only five years old, but from the day he was able to speak, his father had begun teaching him the words of the Holy Scriptures and the wisdom of the early sages. “My son,” Rabbi Levi would say, “you must make the study of Torah to be most important in your life. There will be time to play in the world to come. For now study, study, study!” And Aaron did study. He wanted to obey his father. Not only that, he enjoyed learning!
Aaron remembered Pesach almost seven weeks earlier when, with the Haggadah before him, he had chanted the mah nishtana with perfect intonation. He could see the proud, affirming eyes of his father upon him as he took his seat after the fourth question. He was sure his father hadn’t detected the awful truth.
However, now the problem was becoming a little more difficult for Aaron to disguise. He thought to tell his mother, but he knew it would break her heart, so he kept silent. He couldn’t tell his two older sisters either. He was sure they would start to cry, and his father would find out. What a dilemma for a child of such tender years!
As the sun set over Vaysechvoos on this, the eve of Shavuos, Aaron sat at the table and ate the sweet delicious cheese blintzes his mother had prepared to welcome in the holiday. They were as tasty as ever, but Aaron could not enjoy them.
“Tomorrow they will all know what has happened to the only son of the rabbi,” thought the downhearted child.
The rabbi interrupted his thoughts, “Do you know why it is that we eat only dairy foods on Shavuos?” he asked his son.
Aaron cleared his throat and sat up in his chair, for he was expected to respond with a voice that was firm and sure. “Yes, Papa. We remember the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, and we eat of milk products for the Torah itself is compared to milk in the writings of King Solomon.”
The rabbi nodded.
“But, Papa, I heard another reason why we do this. When our people returned to their tents after having received the Torah, they were so tired and so hungry that they would not wait for the women to fix a meal of meat. Instead, they ate whatever dairy foods were about. Is this true?”
The rabbi stroked his full wiry beard. “It might be true, my son. But your first answer was the correct one.”
Still, Aaron could see that his father was pleased that he had offered the second reason. A rabbi’s son must exercise the mind given him by the Almighty.
Then, as was the tradition, after the evening meal the men of Vaysechvoos proceeded to the shul to read from the Scriptures and the Talmud and even the Zohar. On this one day of the year they would stay awake all night. But young children, like Aaron, were sent to bed. Aaron watched from the window as his father headed in the direction of the shul. “Tomorrow will be here much too soon,” thought the boy.
Despite his nervousness, Aaron fell into a deep sleep–a welcome rest for the little “scholar.” But, alas, morning came and now he would have to make his way to cheder and to Mendel the Melamed.
As Aaron opened his eyes, his father was standing over him. The rabbi’s face revealed his lack of sleep, yet there was an exuberance in his countenance. There was a quiet joy in his tone as he whispered to Aaron, “My son, it is time to begin this wonderful day of Shavuos; the day when the Torah was given to our people–a beginning for us and today a beginning for you!”
Aaron tried to show a sense of excitement and glee at the pronouncement, but a father knows when something is very wrong.
The rabbi laid his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Aaron, you seem fearful. Are you not happy to receive the first Hebrew lesson of your life? Are you not eager to read from the reading desk in the cheder, to read in Hebrew, the language of heaven? I know you are far advanced for your years, and the other boys will stumble and read less eloquently than you. Still, you should not hold back. Your pursuit of knowledge will serve to encourage the others to revere the Word of the Almighty.”
“But, Papa,” Aaron’s voice faltered, “there is something I must tell you. I have wanted to tell you for months and yet I was afraid. I did not want to hurt you.”
The rabbi looked puzzled as Aaron continued: “You know, Papa, how much I enjoy the study of the Scriptures. You have told me how proud you are that I have put to memory the Five Books of Moses and the Psalms of David. What I haven’t told you is that I have memorized all of the Tanach as well. I had to, for I found that as I read and read and read some more, my eyes began to fail me. I can see from afar, but I cannot read things close at hand like the Hebrew letters on the pages of the Tanach.”
By now, Aaron was sobbing and he dropped his head, for he could not stand the thought of looking into the pained eyes of his father. The rabbi knelt down and cupped the boy’s face in his hands. Aaron could see that his father’s cheeks were also wet with tears. Yet the rabbi’s face was aglow. He was not angry, nor was he sad. He pulled the boy to his chest and uttered words of thanksgiving to the Almighty:
“Baruch atah adonai elohenu melech ha olam… Blessed art thou O Lord, Our God, King of the Universe, .who has given me a son who needs not to read Your words of Truth for they are written on his heart.”
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.