Reb Yaakov was known as the Schlimazel of Vaysechvoos. Misfortune seemed to follow him everywhere he traveled. Why, as the Sukkot Holiday approached, he was unable even to build his sukkah without pounding his thumb instead of the nails. It seemed like everything he did went sour.
When it came to providing for his family he tried several trades. He learned to bake bread, but his dough wouldn’t rise; he tried working as a candle-maker, but his wax wouldn’t harden. When he attempted winemaking, his grapes wouldn’t ferment and when he bound books, the glue wouldn’t stick. He tried being a tailor, a tanner, an egg sorter, but he failed again and again. The only trade he did not attempt was carpentry–for very obvious reasons.
Reb Yaakov might have been the clumsiest man in Vaysechvoos but his mind was as sharp as a scribe’s quill and just as flexible. He was probably one of the most imaginative thinkers in that shtetl as well as the whole district.
And it was not unusual to find him with an audience of youngsters who were ready to learn about the more important things of life. The one trade from which his clumsiness did not bar him was teaching. His lessons were from the holy books and his pupils were many.
One day Yossi, his brightest pupil, interrupted the lesson and asked, I have a question, teacher, from Bereshis.”
Now the children were already studying Gemara. But being a good teacher, Reb Yaakov allowed the distraction.
“So ask!” he invited.
“What are the stars made of?” asked the wide eyed eight-year-old Yossi.
Reb Yaakov didn’t exactly know, but he put to use his creative imagination. “When we look up and we see the dark part, it’s like a huge cloth canopy that has holes in it,” he explained. “And beyond the canopy is the Almighty in his Shechinah radiance and the stars are the holes in the cloth.”
“No, no, no” said Yossi, “That can’t be so.”
“So skeptical?” said Reb Yaakov. “Why can’t it be true, my young genius?”
“Because,” said Yossi, “the stars move around. Besides, everyone knows that nobody can see the Shechinah and live.”
“Aha,” said Reb Yaakov. “You raise two good questions. But there is an answer for each. The canopy which is like cloth is like a thick bed blanket, a fine sheep’s wool. Now when a person has a blanket on them during their sleeping time, does the blanket stay in the same place? Of course not! The blanket moves! And so it is with the sky!!”
“But, but, but…” stammered Yossi, “the blanket moves because I’m underneath it and I move.”
“Quite true!” acknowledged Reb Yaakov. “We do move. But the earth does not move. Imagine it this way, my son. The Almighty is leaning and reclining with his feet, on top of the earthly canopy. As the Scripture says, ‘The earth is his footstool.'”
“And as far as the second part of your question is concerned,” continued the melamed, “the light you see is from behind the foot of the Almighty. As he showed his backside to Moses, so he lets some of the glorious light of the heel of his foot shine through for us.”
“But,” said Yossi, “What about the moon? If it’s a hole, why does it change shape?”
“Another good one,” smiled Reb Yaakov, his patience not at all showing the strain of such a barrage of questions.
“Because the moon was not entirely cut through, it hangs on a thread. And like a flap it is sometimes mostly closed and at other times almost completely open. So you see, Yossi, it gives the appearance of changing its shape.”
“But, but … why does it change shape the same time of the month each and every month?” continued the prize pupil.
Reb Yaakov sighed a heavy sigh. “Yossi, do you know the proper prayer of grace after meals on the appearance of the new moon?”
“I’m not certain I do, teacher.”
With that, Reb Yaakov stood and chanted the special blessing: “Our God and God of our fathers! May our remembrance rise and come and be accepted before thee, with the remembrance of our fathers, of Messiah the son of David thy servant, of Jerusalem the holy city, and of all thy people the house of Israel, bringing deliverance and well being, grace, loving kindness and mercy, life and peace on this lay of the New Moon.”
“Now as to why the moon changes its shape at the same time each and every month, I suggest that when the Messiah, the son of David, comes, he will repair the canopy and your question will no longer need an answer! Isn’t the Almighty wonderful in all of his ways!”
No longer skeptical, Yossi smiled and nodded his head in agreement. And Reb Yaakov smiled with relief He knew at least one part of his explanation was true. Surely, Messiah, Son of David, would come!