In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Three Strangers
Everybody in Vaysechvoos noticed them–the three who showed up just before market time on Friday. And if perchance someone didn’t show up at the platz where market was done, they received the word about the strangest travelers to ever arrive in Vaysechvoos. Of course, none of the villagers wanted to be too obvious as they satisfied their curiosity, so they sauntered back and forth as if they had real business and were going about it.
The three were as different from each other as they were from the villagers. The one they called Aintz was thin with long black hair bound in one braid. His eyes looked as though he had squinted all his life, and he had a long coat that seemed very smooth. One woman whispered that Aintz’s coat material was silk, but nobody in Vaysechvoos had ever seen silk. They only heard of it as a cloth that the Czar used for his blouses. But the crimson longcoat of the stranger was not from the Czar’s household, for it was made with a design of strange serpentine animals embroidered with gold thread.
Tsvei, which is what they called the second stranger (though this was nobody’s name–just a number to enable the people to whisper to one another), was equally strange. While his clothing was more conventional, he only stood a little taller than a goat. His complexion was bronze, and his hair was the thickness of wool. This slender, wiry man smiled a lot–as if he wanted to make friends.
The third stranger was taller than anyone the people in Vaysechvoos had ever seen. His head was wound with a fine white cloth held together with a clasp in a sort of crown. And his clothing seemed to fit without buttons or hooks. Instead of conventional shoes, he wore only the shoe soles and thick straps to hold them on his feet. Him they called Drei.
And together they were Aintz, Tsvei, Drei–One, Two, Three. Though the people tried not to be so obvious in their sauntering and staring, so wondrous was the presence of these three that no one could talk of anything else!
Heshie, the yeshiva bocher, was the first one to see them and gave them their names, or numbers.” He also came up with a theory as to who they were, and asked his melamed if perhaps his theory had merit.
“Couldn’t they be the same three that visited Avram in his tent in Mamre? Maybe they’ve come to tell us that the modern Sodom where the Czar lives is about to be destroyed!”
The melamed thought for a moment and then, for lack of a better explanation, accepted this rather tenuous theory as certainly possible. Many in the village accepted this explanation, at least until the terrifying trio made their next move.
Aintz approached Chaya, the seller of hard boiled eggs for those who needed to eat quickly without going home, and, in perfect Yiddish, he asked her the price for six eggs and three bowls of borscht. It was the kind of Yiddish that was spoken just two villages away, but one of the outlander brides who came from that village to marry and live in Vaysechvoos, while verifying the dialect, said no one from her village ever looked like that.
Chaya was so startled by the inquiry to buy that she forgot to charge the “stranger’s price” and sold the eggs and borscht for the same price she would have charged one of her neighbors, which caused all three of them to nod graciously toward her.
Aintz, Tvsei and Drei sat down at the table after having washed their hands in the manner of Jews. Drei then said all of the appropriate brachas. It seemed like the whole village surrounded them, but they ate their eggs and drank their borscht, along with the crust of bread provided by Chaya, in the same manner that the people of Vaysechvoos ate. First was the bread and the salt, then each lifted and drank the borscht from the bowl. They cracked the eggs and threw the shells on the ground according to proper etiquette. They then chewed up the eggs, their noon meal, before saying the concluding brachas that any Jew would say.
Afterwards, Drei turned to the boy, Heshie, who was standing there with his mouth opened as wide as his two big brown eyes. He inquired if possibly there was the home of a righteous man with whom they could spend the Sabbath since they couldn’t journey. Heshie didn’t respond. He simply ran and told what he had been told and within seven minutes everyone in Vaysechvoos not only had a full description of the strangers but knew every single word that they had uttered, what they had eaten and where they were now disposed to sit. But not a person said anything else to them.
At sundown, they went to the house of prayer to welcome the Sabbath with a before-dinner service. It was there that the three introduced themselves. Aintz was Shlomo ben Avram. Tsvei was Nachum ben Avram. And Drei was also Shlomo ben Avram. By this admission the people of Vaysechvoos now knew that they had come from different places and it was obvious that since they were all “ben Avram” (proselytes) they didn’t necessarily come from the same people.
Each appeared in the synagogue in the same kind of clothing they had worn on the streets except a little finer, as would be appropriate for the Sabbath. It was obvious that they had changed in the bath house as they prepared for the Sabbath. During the service, each did his praying in the cadence and after the manner most familiar to the Jews of the Vaysechvoos district. So it seemed that they were strangers, but not quite strangers. On the women’s side of the synagogue there was more gabbling than usual. And some of the questioning carried over to the men’s section.
“Could they be spies?” muttered some. “Perhaps the Czar sent them!” said others.
Labl, the Cloth Merchant, listened to the speculation. Labl, who did the biggest business and had cause to leave the village occasionally to buy his wares, was the most knowledgeable and astute about the goings on of the outside world. He was also the wealthiest man in the village as attested by the fact that his house had a wooden floor and an iron stove. Not to mention that his children were the fattest in the village. And he had more geese and poultry in his pen than anyone else. It was Labl who quashed the “Czar’s spies” rumor by saying, “Don’t be foolish. Don’t you think the Czar would pick less conspicuous spies?”
But Labl was more curious than almost anybody, because in his travels he had never met anyone who looked like these men. It was almost inevitable that the three strangers would stay in Labl’s home. The merchant’s children would not even have to be put out of their beds, since he had two extra and Shlomo and Nachum (Aintz and Tvsei) could stay in the same bed, as was appropriate for two small men, and Shlomo Drei could have the other bed for himself.
But first was the joyous Sabbath meal at the merchant’s home, to which all three strangers added an extra measure of joy with the blending of their fine voices as they ushered in the Sabbath with song. After dinner was the usual table talk, with many quotations from Mishnah and Gemara having to do with that week’s Scripture reading. So animated and fascinating was their interactive discourse that Labl couldn’t find a place to interject his question about who they were and why they came to such an out of the way place as Vaysechvoos.
The next morning the three strangers presented themselves at the synagogue and took part in the Sabbath service, praying and chanting as was the manner of the Jews of Vaysechvoos. Again there was much speculation about this most unusual threesome. And again, after services they were invited for a repast at the home of Labl the Cloth Merchant.
Instead of the usual intricate discourses on the morning Sedra readings, which would have been conventional conversation during and after the noon meal, the three guests told stories to Labl’s children, who were eager to sit at their feet. “Tell us another story,” pleaded Mendl, the eldest of the children. Aintz cleared his throat, tossed his long braid backwards and proceeded to tell of a boy in his teenage years who was carried off into exile, and of the adventures he had in the faraway land he was taken to, and how he remained faithful to the God of Israel. Mendl, who was a good student in cheder, immediately recognized the story of Daniel. Yet he had never heard it told with such clarity and the details that the visitor knew were most fascinating.
Gittl, the middle child, wanted to hear more from the lips of the strangers, so she sweetly asked if another story could be told. Tsvei accommodated this time and told of a beautiful young Jewish woman who was also in exile, and how she married the king of the land she resided in and saved her people from evil plotters. Gittl, too, recognized the story as coming from the Tanach: her favorite heroine, Esther.
The final story came from Drei and was told to the youngest child, Baruch. This time the stranger related the story of David and Goliath. By now it was too late for Nahum and the two Shlomos to travel, and Labl did what was expected and invited them to stay another night.
The next morning, as they stood about with their packs, it was obvious that they were ready to go on their way. Labl was absolutely perplexed. He had invited them to enjoy his hospitality because he, like everyone else, was maddeningly curious about the strangers. He had hoped, from their conversation, manners or stories, to be able to discover them, but now he knew little more than when they arrived. Though he tried, he never found a proper place in their conversation to ask: “Who are you? Where are you from?”
Finally, he set aside his good manners and succumbed to his curiosity and blurted out those very questions in the midst of the leave-taking ritual, to which Shlomo Aintz stopped the departure prayers and blessing on the household to say simply, but firmly, “We are three Jews, like you, on our way to the same place as you.”
He then ended the prayers and benedictions and the three took their leave of Vaysechvoos.
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.