In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Milkman
Shimmon the Milkman was one of the beloved residents of the little shtetl of Vaysechvoos. He always had a smile, a word of comfort, a kind and pleasant countenance, so that when he delivered the milk of his cows to the villagers, it was more than a mere business transaction.
From his milk deliveries, Shimmon made a better than modest living. Eshke, his wife, had no complaints. They had no trouble feeding and clothing their four daughters and two sons. The girls would each have a dowry that would ensure good shidduchs and the boys would not suffer when it came to having holy books and the like which they needed for cheder.
Yes, life for Shimmon the Milkman was what one would call sweet, until that Shabbos day two summers ago. It was the most curious of happenings. The milk cows were grazing in the upper field and Shimmon was in the shul, davening. Eshke was putting out the good dishes and silver for the evening meal.
My Shimmon should be coming home soon. His Shabbos rest is almost over,” she mused.
Then the sky turned dark and thunder began to roll with an abruptness that startled her and interrupted her thoughts. The girls ran inside the house as the ominous clouds hurried over the horizon.
“Mama, mama, the black clouds frighten me!” cried Shandela the youngest. Just then a geschrei bellowed from the heavens itself, or so it sounded. And in that moment a flash sliced through the dark sky and lit up their patch of meadow where the cows stood like statues in the gentile church. But then no one ever saw a statue of a milk cow in any church they ever heard of.
“Mama, mama, is the Almighty angry that he should make such a shout and shine such a light?” asked Miryam, the next oldest, her voice an octave higher than normal.
Eshke could not remember a time when the elements were so imposing but she tried to assure her two youngest that all would be fine and the darkness and the thunder and the lightning would soon pass. The two older girls, not wanting to appear frightened by the situation, comforted their younger sisters as well.
“When you grow up like Beryl and me…” said Channah the eldest daughter, “…you will not be so scared so easily. Just pray that papa and our brothers get home from shul without getting drenched from the downpour that is sure to begin any moment!”
As if it heard from Channah, the rain began to pelt their walls that very moment. And another boom exploded from the heavens, and another, and another as if the King of Heaven were shouting his displeasure.
The downpour continued throughout the early evening hours. Shimmon and his soaked sons finally came. Their shoes were clods of sticky mud with straw sticking out like scarecrow’s feet needing to be restuffed. Once Shimmon and the boys saw that Eshke and the girls were safe, they changed from their Sabbath clothes and went into the field to bring the statue-like cows to the milking barn.
At first, Shimmon saw only two of his four milk cows. They were no longer still, but were moving about, first in one direction and then another. “The lightning must have given them a real scare,” he thought. As he approached the two cows, he could make out the other two lying in the high grass. “How strange?” He spoke aloud as his sons walked to each side of him. “How could the cows sleep during such a noisy storm?” queried the younger of the two boys. Before Shimmon could respond, their eyes had fixed on the fallen cow nearest them. A scorched wound between the eyes of the animal told the story. The cow had been struck dead by the lightning. A survey of the other cow, not ten meters away, revealed a similar entry point of the lightning bolt–right between the eyes!
“Half of my livelihood, taken away, just like that. And while I’m in shul no less! How could the Creator have allowed this to happen? Why me? What did I do to deserve such misfortune?” All of these questions ran through Shimmon’s head as he disposed of the animals and assessed the consequences for his family. Being a good provider was very important to the milkman and he knew that it would be some time before he could give them those things he felt were necessary for a secure and worry-free existence.
That night Shimmon could not sleep well, not at all. He tossed this way turned that way and rose and paced. “Come to bed, my husband…” said Eshke softly, “…there is plenty of time tomorrow to worry.” Shimmon knew she was right. But instead of a restful sleep, Shimmon had a dream. Or was it a nightmare? Sometimes it is difficult to know the difference.
In the dream, Shimmon, Eshke and their six children were sitting around the table eating the Shabbos meal. Instead of the traditional barley soup, boiled chicken, carrots, potatoes and challah, the food before them was a large plate of halvah and a jug of honey!
“My dearest Eshke, why do you serve me halvah and honey for a meal. It’s true that I like sweet things, but this does not seem right.”
“Shimmon, how can you say that. Halvah and honey is all we ever eat for any meal at any time. There are no other foods, at least on this whole world!”
“And how do you think I make a living?” Shimmon retorted, his patience giving way to confusion and annoyance. “Perhaps my cows produce honey instead of milk? And the chickens out in back lay halvah instead of eggs? And are you to tell me that the earth yields up no grain for bread? Or that the animals provide no meat for a good Shabbos chicken or, on special occasions, a pot roast?”
“Stop talking foolishness, my husband, I don’t even know the strange words of things you think we can eat. I think the storm last night must have affected your head. Maybe one of those lightning bolts came too close!! What is this cow or chicken thing you are talking about? Acchhh, you are just playing games with me, Shimmon. Eat your halvah while it is still warm.”
Shimmon, weary from the argument, just ate the strange Shabbos meal his wife had prepared. Tomorrow was work. He would have to be up well before dawn to milk his cows. He was feeling tired already and by the time he left the dinner table, Shimmon was ready for bed. He slept soundly that night and woke up before the sun had risen, as was his custom on the first day of the week.
The milkman made his way out toward the barn where the cows were bedded. Something was different and he couldn’t exactly put his finger on it. Then he realized that he was not walking on the familiar earth of his patch of land in Vaysechvoos. The “earth” below him was not earth at all. It crumbled beneath his feet and parts of it remained on his shoes in sticky clumps. It was halvah!
“How can this be?!?” thought a very perplexed Shimmon. As far as he could see, the land was made of halvah. He reached down and took a small piece of the halvah landscape to his lips. “It tastes like halvah,” he conceded to himself. Shimmon walked some distance, actually he walked to the eastern boundary of the village. He thought if he could sit down by the stream that served as a dividing line between Vaysechvoos and the next village, it would help him to think things through. The sound of the water flowing downstream had always had a calming effect on Shimmon.
When he reached that place, instead of sweet and clear water bouncing over rocks, he saw a placid pool of golden honey! It was moving slowly, almost imperceptibly, over the rocks.
“Could this be?” Shimmon wondered. “Is our world made of halvah and honey?” Shimmon did more investigating and discovered that all of Vaysechvoos was indeed built of halvah and honey. He also discovered from talking to familiar villagers that the place was growing smaller day by day. Let me explain. As people ate of the earth and the streams and rivers, the halvah did not replenish itself.
This was a real problem, not only for Vaysechvoos, but for the entire planet. It was a fact that the earth grew smaller and smaller with each passing minute. Rabbi prophets were saying that within a year, there wouldn’t be enough halvah left for but a hundred people to stand on, and at that they would only be able to manage for another six months before the remaining halvah crumbled. The honey problem was no less severe. As the rivers and oceans were depleted of their honey, they dried up. It was a true crisis. The world grew smaller as it gave itself as sustenance for the people.
Nobody told Shimmon where the people were planning on going when they ate up the place they lived…and dreams aren’t logical enough to furnish answers, only dreads.
He then smelled his hand and realized that he too was made of halvah and honey and mercifully he startled himself awake.
Eshke was only a moment behind him in bolting up to full awareness. She was puzzled by the twinkle in Shimmon’s eyes. He smiled, reached for her hand, and said, “The all wise one has shown me the meaning of this tragedy. As a cow begets a calf, so the world replenishes itself. I’ll get a couple of calves from Yoinah, the dairy man in the next village. Then, I’ll give him back other calves in an exchange next year. And before we need much, the calves will be giving good milk. Not honey, but milk. In the meantime, I have a new prayer to teach the boys, which is,
‘Blessed, praised and glorified art Thou, O King of the Universe. You alone have the power to kill and to make alive. In Your mercy and goodness, You give bread to the eater and seed to the sower and dost cause the earth to renew and replenish itself. From dust comes life and so life shall go to dust and become life again. From morning to morning to morning, may our faith be renewed as Your earth is renewed.'”
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.