In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: Leah’s Question
Leah was, in a way, like the other women of Vaysechvoos. She cooked the same food, wore the same home-sewn clothes from the bolts of material bought from the peddler of Vilna, and she sang the same Sabbath prayers. She enjoyed the gossip that travelers would bring from other villages, and smiled at the old stories that were told. Yet, there was a very serious side to Leah.
And no wonder, she was the only daughter of the wisest man in all of Vaysechvoos, maybe even the wisest man in the whole district–the Sage. He had raised her to appreciate and use her mind, and as her brothers studied the holy books in their home, she was included. Not many of the women of Vaysechvoos had such an advantageous upbringing. The Sage was very proud of his only daughter.
Leah married well. Her Mendel was the kind of man who could appreciate a scholar’s daughter. He marvelled at how much she thought and wondered and read–in Loshon ha-Kodesh, no less! She particularly loved to read Chumash, the holiest of all the books in the Tanach. And (like a godly woman should) when she wondered, she would ask questions of her beloved Mendel, even though she probably knew more than he did.
She was particularly puzzled regarding the comparison of worship in the shul of Vaysechvoos with the magnificence of worship described in the Chumash. Many times Leah was struck by the disparity. At first, Mendel shrugged her questions, away, saying,
Leah, if it was all that important Ha Shem would have given me an answer for you and I have none.”
“If it weren’t important, my husband, then why would the Almighty mention the altar 194 times and the tabernacle 93 times and the Temple 592 times?” she questioned. “Why does the Holy Book say so much about the high priest? What happened to change things so much?”
Yes, Leah knew well the portion of the prayer book that said that on account of our sins we were exiled from Jerusalem. On account of our trespasses was the Temple taken from us. But still, that answer didn’t satisfy her.
“How could sacrifice be so important in one era and In another age … well, we have almost nothing!” she went on.
“Why is it that we have a whole. synagogue service to remind us of the way that it was and should be, yet we have no way to return to what the heavens told us?”
Mendel studied and studied. With a wife who wants to know as much as Leah wanted to know, and with as much determination as she wanted to know it, the young man was driven to scholarship.
Finally, Mendel went to inquire of his father-in-law, the Sage of Vaysechvoos. He told him of Leah’s pressing questions. The Sage knew that Mendel wasn’t complaining. He himself had been driven to study by his daughter’s serious questions. But the Sage gave Mendel a word of comfort:
“She is asking the wrong person, my son-in-law.”
The Sage then told Mendel of the time when the Temple had been defiled by the wicked tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanes, and of the dilemma facing the Maccabees who sought to purify the Holy Temple in Jerusalem so that it could serve its purpose once again.
“As the story goes,” began the Sage, “the stones of which the altar was made had been desecrated by the sacrificed sow. Whereas the stones were utterly defiled and removed and newly consecrated stones put in their place, our people were unsure what to do with the defiled stones. They could not destroy them, since they had once been holy. Nor could they use them, since they had been used for unholy purposes and cleansing seemed impossible! They were perplexed with the question of how one should deal with what was once ineffably holy but had become utterly desecrated. To discard them might lead to further defilements by the enemies of God and his Temple. To use them was impossible. We are told that what they decided to do was set the stones aside on the Temple mount for a later time when an answer would be given. For they knew that there would arise unto Israel another prophet like Moses, who was to be the Messiah, and he would decide what to do with them.”
“But,” said Mendel, “when the Messiah comes, the Temple will have been rebuilt and Jerusalem will have been restored. And my Leah’s questions will not be pertinent. All of the things that Leah wonders about will have come to pass. So how will it satisfy her questioning to say that when the Messiah comes we will have an answer for her?”
The Sage thought for a moment and, recognizing his daughter’s tenacious character, shrugged and said, “It was sufficient for the Maccabees to be given such an answer and it will simply have to do for Leah!”
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.