In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Pauper
Pelte the Pauper was not lazy or stupid, nor did he suffer any physical ailment which would prevent him from earning a living. It was just that Pelte had no luck with business. People of Vaysechvoos used to say, Ach, poor Pelte. If he could scrape together the kopeks to buy a few chickens, all the horses in Vaysechvoos would begin laying eggs.”
Pelte the Pauper had no brains for business, but his head was not exactly filled with sawdust. He made up with cleverness and imagination what he lacked in skill. His wife, Sheynste, used to say, “What a dreamer I married. Come down to earth, Pelte. Your wild imaginings cannot put bread on the table.” But in the end, Pelte proved her wrong–with the help of Yossel the Miser.
Yossel the Miser could not even be generous with himself, much less with those around him. He and his wife lived in a drafty wooden shack. He could afford to fill his empty fireplace with wood and repair the cracks in his roof. Instead he would mutter, “Warm house? Feh, who needs it? Make it too comfortable and before you know it, half of Vaysechvooos will be at our door, looking for a warm place to pass their idle hours and hoping for a free meal. Better to keep the cold in and the neighbors out.”
Yossel’s wife, Pini, would have preferred to keep the cold out and the neighbors in, but what could she do? She pleaded, “Yossel, for your own good, don’t be such a miser. A little charity, Yossel, so you should know the joy of helping others.”
“Ha!” Yossel would answer.” I help others by teaching them that a man does not get something for nothing. They should heed my example.
“A wall. I am speaking to a wall,” his wife thought. She would walk away, shake her head and mutter, “What am I saying, a wall? A wall at least has some purpose in life, if only to hold a roof over one’s head.”
Many of the villagers harbored grudges against Yossel, but not Pelte. “I’m telling you, Sheynste,” he would say, a miser is the most dependable man on the face of the earth. “And one day, he said, “At last, my dear, I have devised a plan that will be our relief. We can depend upon Yossel the Miser for help.”
“You’re delirious,” his wife replied. Pelte smiled to himself and thought, “We shall see about that!” That night, after the family was sound asleep, Pelte stole into the tiny room that served as their kitchen. He tiptoed past his youngest children and quietly pulled a small parcel from behind the ice box.
A moonbeam shone through a crack in the roof and cast its light on the floor where Pelte examined the contents of his little package. Three small goppels gleamed as prettily as could be, caught in the silvery light of the moonbeam. These were all that remained of the silverware Sheynste’s mother had left her. When hard times had come, Sheynste had begun selling the silver, a few pieces at a time. It was genuine silverplate–not fancy enough for a tzar, perhaps, but quite impressive for the common folk of Vaysechvoos. Over the years, the set had dwindled. Now there were only three goppels. They were small and delicate, the kind rich folk would use with sweets after supper.
Sheynste had been very matter-of-fact about selling the silver, but Pelte knew that in her heart she mourned the loss. He could not bear to see her sacrifice the last three pieces, so he had hidden them. Sheynste thought the goppels had been stolen by a gonif who once had passed through Vaysechvoos.
To her, they were long gone. Pelte had nothing to lose by using them to persuade Yossel the Miser to share some of his wealth. The next morning, he dressed, kissed his wife and left in an unusually good frame of mind. He went to the house of Yossel the Miser and knocked on the door. Pini answered. She was surprised to see Pelte, for she and Yossel had few visitors.
Pelte smiled pleasantly. “Good morning. I have come to see your husband. He is at home this morning?”
“Certainly, yes. Please come in,” Pini replied. “Yossel! Yoselle! visitor for you,” she called.
“Send him away, whoever he is. I’m busy,” came the reply.
“Well then,” Pelte announced loudly. “I’ll just sit here and wait until Yossel has a free moment. After all, I have nothing better to do. Pini perhaps you would be so kind as to make for me a glass of tea?”
Pini smiled. “Of course, and maybe you would like a little something to eat while you wait?”
“No need for that,” Yossel interrupted gruffly. “I won’t keep him waiting. Why, it’s Pelte the Pauper. You should know better than to come here for a handout.”
“Handout? Far be it from me, Reb Yossel. But I would like to ask for a favor.”
“And what is the difference between a favor and a handout?” Yossel growled.
“Simply this,” Pelte replied, “a handout, you give away. A favor would be to lend me something for one night, which I will return in the morning.”
Yossel looked at him suspiciously. “And what do you want me to lend you, money? And you would return it to me in the morning? Ha! I have refused better beggars’ stories than that.”
“Oh no,” Pelte assured him, “I would never borrow money I cannot repay. All I need, dear neighbor, is the use of one goppel, a silver-plated goppel, for the evening. My uncle’s wife has a cousin whose son lives in Kiev and is now in Vaysechvoos. He will stay for Shabbos and I am hoping he will take a liking to my daughter, Rachel. She is 14, and should be wed soon. Sheynste is a fine cook, but she is a proud woman. She ashamed to have the young man eat from a tin goppel, especially since he is from a wealthy family. So Yossel, could you lend us the goppel? I promise to return it in the morning.”
“A silver-plated goppel is no trivial matter, said Yossel the Miser. “How do I know you do not plan to sell the goppel and keep the profit?”
“You have my word, and besides, your wife is a witness. If I do not return it in the morning you can bring me before the rabbi.”
“Oh Yossel,” Pini implored, “it is a small thing. And he gives you his word.”
“So get the goppel and leave me in peace,” Yossel grunted. “But remember, what’s mine is mine and if it’s not returned to me in the morning, you’ll regret it.”
“Have no fear,” Pelte chuckled, “you’ll certainly receive back what is due you.”
The next day, when Pelte the Pauper came to return Yossel’s goppel, he also brought one of the three small goppels from his wife’s set.
“It’s a miracle!” Pelte shouted. “Your goppel gave birth to another. Did I not say you would receive back your due? I am an honest man, and since it was your goppel that gave birth, I return to you both mother and child.”
“But that is preposterous!” said Yossel the Miser. “I never heard of a goppel giving birth. What foolishness.”
“It is a rare occurrence, ” Pelte admitted, “but how else can I explain it? All our goppels are tin. Therefore, your goppel must have given birth to this one. Don’t ask me to explain; only take what is yours.” The astonished Yossel was only too glad to add the little goppel to his collection.
Pelte went home, whistling a happy tune. The following Friday morning, he returned to Yossel the Miser. This time, Yossel was a bit more cordial, and when Pelte told him Rachel’s suitor was back for another Shabbos, Yossel quickly agreed to lend him the goppel once again. As before, Pelte returned the next day with two goppels, marveling aloud how Yossel’s silver had given birth. The miser was elated. A week later, Pelte repeated the whole procedure, and after receiving back two goppels for the third time, Yossel told Pelte, “You may depend on me to lend you my silver as needed.”
And so on the following Friday morning, Yossel eagerly awaited Pelte’s visit. “Ah Pelte,” he said, “come in, come in. I suppose Rachel’s young man is coming to dinner tonight?”
“Yossel, how perceptive you are, ” Pelte exclaimed, feigning a look of surprise. “I think, Yossel, that very soon I will become a father-in-law if all goes according to plan, they will be betrothed this very Shabbos. And then I promise, I will never borrow from you again. Only please, for such a special occasion, I was hoping….”
“Yes?” Yossel interrupted impatiently. “What do you wish to borrow?”
“Well, Yossel, it is asking a great deal, but I thought for such an occasion you would lend me perhaps goppels for the whole family and maybe even….” (He paused for a moment.) “No, it is too much.”
“What?” Yossel demanded. His temper was beginning to show, but he was striving to hide it for the sake of his greed. If this was to be the last time Pelte the Pauper was going to borrow, the miser wanted to make the most of the opportunity to increase his possessions. “What is too much to ask from your friend, Yossel? Have I not obliged you these past three weeks? Do not offend my generous spirit by hesitating to ask for whatever you desire.”
“Yossel, you are the picture of generosity, a prince, no, a saint. My wife wonders if we might borrow a pair of silver candlesticks in addition to six goppels to lay on the table.”
“Is that all?” Yossel exploded. “You are hoping to impress a future son-in-law from a wealthy family, and all you can think of is six measly goppels and a pair of candlesticks? If it were my daughter, I would ask for the spoons and knives also. In fact, if it were my daughter, I would ask to borrow the entire set of silverware, a beautiful kiddush cup, a silver tray for the challah and three pairs of silver candlesticks, one for every room in your house.”
“Reb Yossel, I could not possibly….”
“Nonsense. I have taken a liking to you, Pelte. Yes, I feel almost as though you are a brother to me. And that would make Rachel my niece. And Pelte, upon my word, nothing is too good for my niece. Therefore, you shall borrow from me every item I have just described. Who knows? Perhaps we will both get lucky.”
“Oh, but we couldn’t, Reb Yossel,” Pelte protested.
“Nonsense!” bellowed Yossel the Miser. “I insist, so let that put an end to the matter.” So Yossel the Miser went throughout his house gathering his most prized possessions. He wrapped each item in a linen napkin before placing it in a large burlap sack. “There and there,” he mumbled, placing the last of the three sets of candlesticks in the sack. He handed the sack to Pelte the Pauper and wondered if treasures ever gave birth to twins.
“Why thank you, Yossel; you may be sure I will treat them as though they were my own.” Pelte the Pauper left, singing a song and not minding the weight of his burden at all. True to his word, he treated Yossel’s treasures as though they were his own. He sold everything except three of Yossel’s goppels, and the three from Sheynste’s set. Before the sun had set, Pelte had a tidy fortune. He came home and presented the money to his wife, who was fearful that he had committed some act of desperation that would land him in jail.
“Don’t worry, Sheynste,” Pelte said, as he gently smoothed the worry lines from her forehead. “Yossel the Miser has developed such a liking for me that he called me his brother and gave to me every piece of silver he owned.”
“Oh Pelte,” she gasped, “how could you expect me to believe such a story? You did not come by the money honestly, what will the children and I do?”
“If you like,” Pelte remarked, “I can return the money to Yossel. He will store it under the floorboards to gather dust with the rest of his wealth.”
“You will do no such thing!” Sheynste cried. When the children need shoes and the cupboard is empty, it is foolish to ask too many questions.
The next day Yossel the Miser was in a furor when his possessions were not returned. “What have you done with my beautiful silver?” he demanded of Pelte.
“Yossel, oh Yossel, ” Pelte lamented, “why did I let you talk me into borrowing all your beautiful silver? The first three goppels boasted of how they had given birth and how pleased you were with them. When the rest of your possessions awoke the next morning with no children, they could not bear the shame. Yossel, they all ran away, except the three goppels which boasted. I’m so sorry, Yossel.” Pelte handed Yossel three large goppels and the burlap sack.
“Fool!” Yossel screamed, “how can a sackful of silver goods run away?”
Pelte shrugged. “If silver can give birth, it can also run away.” Then Yossel, realizing he had been deceived, brought Pelte before the rabbi. After each had told his side of the story, the rabbi laughed so hard the tears came rolling down his cheeks. After composing himself, he turned to Yossel and cautioned:
“If you believed in nonsense when it lined your pockets, you cannot rid yourself of it so easily when it empties them.”
And so it went. Yossel became a victim of his own greed, and Pelte’s children had warm coats for the winter.
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.