In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Infant
It was winter and Shmuel the Cobbler had left Vaysechvoos to make the long journey to Warsaw. He knew the dangers of traveling at that time of year on unfenced roads. However, no one, not even the wisest man in all of Vaysechvoos, the Sage, could have anticipated the blinding blizzard that befell the cobbler.
Shmuel trudged forward with the fierce wind and the snow pounding against him, for he knew he was too far from Vaysechvoos to turn back. He could only hope that something lay ahead, and soon. Finally he bumped into that something, a wooden door. Carefully he pushed it open, sank down on the earthen floor and fell into an exhausted sleep. When he. awoke, he had no sense of how long his struggle had taken, nor how long he had slept.
Opening his eyes, he saw that the storm had been so violent and so complete that it had blotted out the sun. He smelled animals, heard their shifting and saw the customary lamp one would find in a barn. Its wick was trimmed and its flame was small, for it was used to light the larger lamps when the farm owner needed more light.
The presence of the animals warm bodies had undoubtedly kept Shmuel from freezing to death. In fact, he now felt so warm that he took off his outer garments and did the only worthwhile thing there was for a Jew to do. He prepared to recite evening prayer though, to tell the truth, he didn’t know if it was morning, midday or evening.
Just as he was about to begin, Shmuel heard a voice that sounded at once both near and far. It was a whisper, yet louder than a whisper–softer than a man talking to another man.
Shmuel, Shmuel,” the whisper called.
Shmuel felt warmth and reassurance in the timbre of the voice.
“Shmuel, Shmuel,” he heard the voice once more.
“Who are you and how do you know my name?” he answered in a louder voice, because he couldn’t tell if the person calling him was near or far.
And the voice answered, sounding no closer. “I am the owner of this place and the lands all around and I bid you welcome from the storm. I know you. I have watched you and I know that you are honorable, and a man of faith. I would welcome you into my home but it would be impossible for you to get there.”
Shmuel understood, or at least he thought he did. A man could get lost in such a snowstorm if he stepped outside even two full arm lengths distance. And no matter how nearby, it would be a miracle to find any house in the relentless storm.
“Please sit down and rest,” said the voice. “I would light the lanterns but then the livestock would become restless, thinking that I was here to attend to them.”
“Won’t you come into the light and sit with me?” responded Shmuel.
“No.” said the voice, “It is more comfortable for you to stay where you are and for me to stay where I am. Trust me.”
Shmuel accepted the words of his host. The storm grew worse. He could hear the wind howling and see the snow building up against the windows of the barn. “O Lord,” the fearful cobbler prayed. “Protect me from the ravages of the raging storm and deliver me from harm.”
Then he heard his host’s voice one final time: “Do not fear, my friend. This barn is safe. I built it myself and all who take refuge in it will see my sun another day.”
Shmuel the Cobbler sat silently, taking comfort in those words. It seemed to Shmuel that the King of heaven himself had descended that night and spoken to him through the voice in the barn. “Have I been dreaming?” he thought, “and if so, is it blasphemy to dream such a dream?”
By morning the storm had run its course. The cobbler awoke to the bright sun of a new day. As he stretched his stiff limbs his head hit against hard metal. Sitting up, he discovered an old coal bucket. What would a coal bucket be doing in a barn? He looked around and recognized the old shed just outside of Vaysechvoos–the one that was attached to . . . could it be? The place where the goyim prayed?
He looked around the shed and his eyes rested on a very familiar scene. It was the identical animals and the very same lamp he had seen last night–only it was in miniature and made of some kind of foreign, light-colored wood. There were also human figures he did not recognize. They were all looking at an infant who lay looking up at them with outstretched arms. Wasn’t that one of their idols? Could it be that the Almighty would have spoken to him in a place like that?
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.