In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Holy Orator
The great, great, great grandson of the famous Maggid of Dubnow, Baruch, was making a trip to Vaysechvoos. It was said of this holy orator that what he had to say was so wise, so brilliant, that even the gentiles came to hear him and quoted him in their books.
Why he was coming to Vaysechvoos, no one knew. It seemed impossible that he should even know of the existence of Vaysechvoos since the village did not even appear on any of the maps made by the government. And not many people moved away…so who knows how he knew of the existence of this place. He knew. It was impossible to know how many hundreds, no thousands, of kilometers Baruch the Maggid would travel on his journey to Vaysechvoos.
The townspeople seldom had the opportunity to hear preachers. The rabbi would, of course, comment on the Holy Scriptures and answer questions. But most of the questions he was asked had to do with whether or not the blemish on a particular chicken made it to be kosher or if the chicken was not kosher, then could it be sold to a gentile?
Yet an honest to goodness maggid, a real darshon was coming! And it wasn’t even anyone’s wedding! Oh what an event to hear an orator speak; someone who had enough words to put in a book. Someone who could say those words well!!
Of course a dispute immediately broke out as to whose place Baruch the Maggid should stay in. You see, no one slept in a room by themselves in Vaysechvoos. Even the widows would have to take in another widow to make ends meet. And only three households in the entire village had a wooden floor.
The Sage of Vaysechvoos suggested the synagogue, which also had a wooden floor, and so it was that the maggid and his entourage would be housed in the shul. Everyone involved themselves in the cleaning and the plastering and the painting. No one knew how many would be in the group that travelled with this living saint, but everyone had an opinion. Some said hundreds.” Others said “thousands.” Even the most conservative said “dozens.”
So you can imagine how disappointed they all were when the day came and Baruch the Maggid, great, great, great, grandson of the Maggid of Dubnow, arrived in an ordinary cart with an ordinary driver and an ordinary friend. At the very least they had expected a fancy carriage. And instead of being dressed in finery, the preacher was wearing clothes not unlike those worn by the men of Vaysechvoos, only not quite so shabby. The driver and the friend had just as many patches on their clothes as any villager. Now in the cart was a tent which they set about erecting in a not-as-muddy-as-usual field.
“What was Baruch the Maggid like?” Yetta the butcher’s wife asked her husband who had just returned from the “grand” arrival.
“Did he say anything intelligent? A pearl of wisdom? Anything??”
“Well,” answered the butcher, “he did say that ‘if it wouldn’t cause you any trouble, could you tell me if there is a well from which I can draw a pail of water?'”
He then went about describing the cart, its passengers and the tent.
His wife interrupted, “What about the inside of the tent? Is it lined with jewels? Fine furs?”
“No, not at all. It’s made of not-so-new goat skins and sheep skins sewn together. It was done quite neatly, but not much better than Feivel the Tanner could do.”
The whole encounter was quite bewildering to the butcher, his wife and the rest of the villagers of Vaysechvoos. But the next day, everyone got up and went out into the not-as-muddy-as-usual field for Baruch the Maggid was to address them.
He began by looking heavenward, heaving a heavy sigh and fixing his gaze upon the whole crowd. The maggid was eloquent. He cited proverbs in Russian and Polish as well as in the mother tongue of Yiddish. Yet, one hour after his drasha, not a person in all of Vaysechvoos could repeat even a single sentence he had spoken because of what had happened.
They knew that he spoke about sin and repentance. He exhorted them about gossip and pettiness. He spoke to the women about being better wives to their husbands. And to the husbands, he admonished them to pay more attention to their children. But most of all he told the people that they should have God in their hearts and, instead, they had become too full of themselves. He told them that it wasn’t enough to say their prayers and keep kosher because they were Jews but that this should be done out of love for God. Yet no one can exactly remember a story, or even a saying told them by Baruch the Maggid, the darshon, that day, because of what had happened.
And what was it that happened, you might ask? Well, first you must understand that he gave his oration outdoors in the not-as-muddy-as-usual field. Everyone from Vaysechvoos was there. To his right were some birch trees and a few poplars. Things were tranquil apart from a gentle breeze. He began speaking of repentance. And the wind became much harsher. The trees to his right were now swaying forcefully. Baruch the Maggid hurried the pace in his drasha. He spoke louder but he wasn’t shouting. He compared Vaysechvoos to Sodom and Gomorrah; to Tyre and Sidon. The wind was howling now and it seemed to have its own eerie scream.
Then it happened. A bolt of lightening came down touching the top of the tallest birch tree and piercing all the way to the deepest roots so that it was flayed in four different directions. One-fourth of the tree went to the north, another to the south, a third to the west and the last to the east, towards the holy city of Jerusalem. At the same time it exploded into fire; a fire that burned and burned and would not be consumed.
Baruch the Maggid did not stop preaching during the episode. He roared above the wind, telling of the destruction to come. Then, hail stones the size of plums began to fall and people started covering their heads with coats. It was quite a display. Yet as quickly as the hail came down, it stopped. And when the villagers looked up at Baruch, his face was shining. The preacher looked to his right and everyone’s eyes followed him. The sun shone brightly on the birch tree that had been split by the lightening bolt and miracle of miracles it was still burning! This was all the more remarkable given the time of year for it was already late spring and all the wood was quite moist.
There was silence until one heard a single sob. Then another sound of sorrow joined in until there was a chorus of weeping and wailing.
“O God Almighty, forgive us,” they cried. Old men and children huddled together with the strong, all praying to the Lord and renouncing their sin, blubbering out promises to do better.
It looked as though things would never be quite the same in Vaysechvoos after that day. But they were.
Baruch the Maggid left and the ruts of the wheels of his cart were soon obliterated by the melting hailstones on the path. Soon the not-so-muddy-as-usual field was just as muddy as the other fields. Undoubtedly, some of the promises made by the villagers were kept. Some more prayers did go up. Some debtors did better by their creditors. Some of the men were more deliberate in putting on their tefillin to pray. Some of the wives were more mindful of their tongues. Some of the children were more respectful to their parents.
But no one spoke of Baruch the Maggid, the great, great, great grandson of the Maggid of Dubnow. No one spoke of the fire and the hail and the repentance. It was just too awesome.
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.