In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: Mazel the Dog
Reb Heshl shook his head and muttered, Shver Mazel.” Mazel was the family dog, so named in the hope that he would bring Reb Heshl’s family some luck. The dog wasn’t really so bad, but he had an annoying habit of burying things in Reb Heshl’s potato patch. Sometimes instead of a potato Reb Heshl would dig up a worn-out shoe or a broken cup that Mazel had buried as though it were a treasure. At that moment he was whining because Reb Heshl kept pushing him away from the place where the poor dog wanted to dig.
“Bad Mazel,” Reb Heshl repeated, this time more sternly. He knelt down to begin his task and had no intention whatsoever of yielding his place to Mazel. “First let me dig potatoes for the family and then I give you permission to dig.”
Mazel’s excitement mounted and his whines were interspersed with frantic barking. Before Reb Heshl could stop him, Mazel shoved his nose right where his master had been working and began to dig fast and furiously. Clods of dirt flew out from between the animal’s hind legs as his front quarters sunk lower and lower into the hole he was digging. Soon all you could see was Mazel’s belly, hind legs, rump and tail.”
Reb Heshl was just about to give Mazel a poch en toches when the dog scrambled up and out of the hole. His muzzle was black from digging and whatever he had in his mouth was also covered with dirt–yet beneath the dirt it glistened in the sunlight as Mazel proudly dropped it at Reb Heshl’s knees.
Reb Heshl brushed away as much of the dirt as he could and gave a low whistle. “Good Mazel,” he murmured, half to the dog and half to describe what had just happened. For surely it was good luck to find a golden mezuzah in one’s potato patch!
Reb Heshl’s wife Yentil washed and polished the mezuzah case. She and her husband gazed in wonder at the beautiful craftsmanship which was far more intricate than any metalwork they had ever seen. This was indeed a mezuzah fit to be hung from a Czar’s palace, if there would be such a thing as a Jewish Czar, which everyone knows there wouldn’t.
“What shall we do with it?” Heshl whispered. Yentil had never seen anything so beautiful in all her life.
“I suppose we can’t keep it,” she half said and half asked.
“No,” her husband sighed. “We can’t.” After all, it wouldn’t do for them to hang such a mezuzah on their humble abode. Their friends, who all had plain wooden mezuzahs on their dwellings, would think they were putting on airs.
A meeting was held in Vaysechvoos to decide what to do with the golden mezuzah. People oohed and aahed when they saw it, and Reb Heshl and his wife blushed with pride. It had, after all, come from their potato patch.
As the meeting began, all the villagers seemed to think it was their turn to talk. Each raised his or her voice to be heard. As was the custom, when the noise became unbearable, old Shloime began moaning, “Stop, stop already. I’m getting a headache. Let our Sage speak.”
Unfortunately, the Sage of Vaysechvoos was far away–at the wedding of a cousin by marriage to his brother’s daughter–and would not return for at least two weeks. His son, who was practicing to be the next Sage, decided to try his hand at “saging.”
The clamor died down as the son of the Sage cleared his throat and began speaking. “It seems to me that we must determine the significance of the thing before we decide what to do with it.” A murmur of approval rippled through the crowd. Such wise-sounding words. The Sage’s son continued, “Each of you, one at a time, tell what you think is the significance of the mezuzah that Mazel the dog dug up from Reb Heshl’s potato patch.”
It took a long time for everyone in Vaysechvoos to voice their opinion. But a common theme developed. Zlota remembered how she had been ill and Yentil had brought a casserole made with potatoes from Reb Heshl’s potato patch. The next day, Zlota was well. Duvid, the newest father in Vaysechvoos, remembered that his wife had eaten a potato from Heshl’s patch the day before she gave birth to their fine, healthy son. Each was able to think of some good that had happened to them soon after eating potatoes from Heshl’s patch. It was amazing. Why hadn’t they ever noticed the healing effects of Reb Heshl’s potatoes before?
The Substitute Sage cleared his throat to speak again. “The significance of the golden mezuzah which the dog Mazel dug up from Reb Heshl’s potato patch is this: It is a holy thing which possesses special powers bestowed by Ha Shem, blessed be He. How long it has been in the earth we don’t know. The potatoes which shared the soil with the mezuzah have been a source of blessing. The Almighty has seen fit to appoint this dog, Mazel, to bring forth the source of this blessing where all may see and be blessed by it.” He took a deep breath and continued. “Now that we know the significance of the golden mezuzah, it is plain to see what must be done. Its blessings are to be shared throughout Vaysechvoos so it must be available to all of us. The dog Mazel was chosen to bring the golden mezuzah into our midst, so it stands to reason that the dog Mazel should be the Bearer of the Mezuzah among us. Therefore, let it be hung by a cord around the animal’s neck. And let the animal be free to wander and roam from house to house. For wherever Mazel enters with the mezuzah, that household will certainly be blessed.”
The whole town cheered. The Sage’s son was a hero. Heshl and Yentil were heroes. And perhaps most of all, Mazel was a hero.
Never in his life had the dog been so petted and praised. Parents would send their children to play with Mazel in hopes that the dog would follow them home. Everyone’s door was always open to Mazel. He had only to look inquiringly at the supper table, and the lady of whatever house he found himself in that night would feed him generous scraps. And everyone who was visited by the animal found something good happening within the next day or so which could be attributed to Mazel’s Mezuzah.
The real Sage arrived back in Vaysechvoos to find the town in a strange state of affairs. Each person he spoke to either remarked on where Reb Heshl’s dog, Mazel, had last been seen, or speculated about where the dog was likely to take supper that evening. The perplexed Sage made his way home and asked his wife what had transpired in his absence.
Upon hearing her explanation, the poor Sage didn’t know what to do. Already it seemed the people of Vaysechvoos had grown so enamored of the idea of Mazel’s Mezuzah that it would be worse than useless to speak against it. But he knew in his heart that his son had made a grave mistake and that no matter what blessings people felt they were receiving from Mazel’s Mezuzah, no real good could come of it. How could making a fuss over a dog and a piece of gold be a blessing? The Sage shuddered as he thought of the golden calf.
So the Sage did what he always did when he didn’t know what else to do. He went off by himself and prayed. What did he pray? No one knows. After all, he went off by himself to do it.
The next night Reb Heshl awoke to the sound of loud barking coming from the potato patch. He hurriedly dressed himself and grabbed a lantern before going out into the dark. He flashed the light to see if there were any intruders but saw none. “What is it, Mazel?” he called out. Two weeks ago he would have hollered at the dog to shah! But that was before Mazel had become such an important person in Vaysechvoos.
No sooner had Heshl come outside than Mazel turned tail and ran off. Heshl followed Mazel, for after all, the last time the dog had barked so frantically he had ended up unearthing the golden mezuzah. Every few yards Mazel would stop and bark, but before Heshl could catch up, he’d be off again. He was leading the way to Yakov’s house. Yakov and his wife Zelda appeared at their door with a lantern. “What’s this?” Yakov bellowed. But when they saw it was Mazel, they calmed down. “Here Mazel, good Mazel,” Zelda beckoned. But Mazel was already halfway to the next house. Yakov and Zelda figured since they were awake, they might as well follow Mazel, too.
On Mazel went, from one house to the next. Soon a night parade of people and lanterns were following the barking dog. Finally Mazel came to the last hut in Vaysechvoos. Out came the Sage and his wife, plus their son and two daughters. Mazel finally stood still and stopped barking. Every lantern shone brightly upon the dog as the whole town waited to see what extraordinary thing he would do next. All at once there was a gasp throughout the crowd.
Mazel’s Mezuzah was gone! They couldn’t tell what was dangling in its place, but it was clearly not the golden mezuzah case they had come to trust as the harbinger of good luck. “What can it mean?” one whispered. “May God protect us!” said another, a bit more loudly. Soon all the villagers seemed to think it was their turn to talk. When the noise became unbearable, old Shloime began moaning, “Stop, stop already. I’m getting a headache. Let our Sage speak.”
The Sage (the real one) cleared his throat and approached Mazel. “Let us see what we have before we decide its significance.” He took the cord off of the dog’s neck and removed the object which was tied to the end of it. The townspeople shone their lanterns so he could see it. The Sage’s solemn face broke into a broad smile. It was a scroll. He unrolled it to be certain of the words he felt sure were written on it, then he held the opened scroll up to the people and sang, “Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad” (Hear Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One). The notes rang out mellow and rich like pure gold. No one had to discuss their significance.
Nor did anyone know what had happened to Mazel’s Mezuzah. And no one really cared. For as the Sage’s son put it, “Who looks for the shell when the egg is on the table?” So maybe it’s not such a poetic saying. But the Sage’s son was learning. And better that the wisdom should come first and the tongue catch up later than the other way around.
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.