In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Nightmare
No! No! It could not be, could never be, we can’t allow ourselves to think it true!”
“Lebye, wake up! Wake up, it is only a dream.”
That is the way Sarah Gitl the wife of the Sage roused her husband. In all their 49 years of blessed marriage she had never heard such a shriek of alarm. Well, perhaps there was almost as much panic the time that their daughter Leah Chaya wanted a match with the good-for-nothing son of the gonif, Shlomo from Chelm. But even then, when the Sage had been what one might call “slightly horrified,” there was not such terror in his voice.
Despite the chill of a Vaysechvoos winter, the Sage bounded from his bed like it was a hot stove top. “It was the worst dream, an ordeal like Job, but much worse,” he explained to his startled wife, who gravely stared at his ashen face with her own horror.
The Sage was too agitated to consider returning to the featherbed. He paced agitatedly. He would not have been able to restrain himself from narrating the horror.
“The cursed dream began with a celebration, a birthday party. All of Vaysechvoos was there. The musicians played beautifully and the schnapps was the best–and honey cakes tasted ‘like they were baked by angels.”
“So,” Sarah Gitl asked, “who was the guest of honor, the czar?”
“Me. I was the guest of honor!”
“This you call a nightmare? Did you dream you got indigestion from too much cake? Come back to bed, it was probably that extra onion you insisted I put in the soup.”
“It was a nightmare, I tell you,” Lebye insisted. “I was eating the honey cake, thinking that even though life has its bitter moments, mine has been, BaruchHa Shem, as sweet as life can be for a yid in the land of the Czar. Then, one by one, each of our neighbors made speeches to thank me for the wise counsel. First Shimmon got up and thanked me for the time I made him apologize to Mendel. I helped to save a beautiful friendship, he said.”
“Yes, so? You always get more gratitude from people in your dreams than you ever will get in your waking hours!”
“No, just listen,” her husband pressed. “Each one in the room stood to speak of their appreciation for me. And all this time, the music is playing. I’m feeling like the most blessed Jew in the world.
“Just when I thought this celebration could not possibly get any better, our little Leah stood up and announced, ‘Papa, I’m so thankful to the Almighty for you and your wise intervention that kept me from a shidduch with the no-goodnick son of Shlomo the Gonif. I am so glad you didn’t allow the match, and I want to say in front of all these people that I have the best, the wisest papa in the whole world.'”
“Our Leah said that?” the Sage’s wife asked. “I’m so relieved! You know, Lebye, I’ve been wondering if she would ever get over that no-good son of Shlomo from Chelm.”
“She didn’t get over him. This is a bad dream I’m telling you, remember?”
“Oh, yes, of course, a dream. A nightmare. A hideous outpouring from the pit. No wonder you woke up screaming and thrashing like a chicken who saw his destiny to be the occasion of Shabbos rejoicing.”
“Don’t joke, Sarah. Go back to sleep already. I don’t think I should tell you the rest of the dream anyway.”
Sarah Gitl sighed. After all, who could sleep with an unfinished dream and an upset husband on her conscience? “Tell me, what happened next?” she prodded.
The Sage went on. “In the midst of the celebration there was a solemn knock at the door, and I wondered who it could be, since everyone was already celebrating with us.”
“Ah, a stranger at the door, so it does take a turn for the worse. Was it a Cossack? One of the czar’s horsemen?”
“They don’t knock, they break the door down. It wasn’t a Cossack and it wasn’t a goy,” said the Sage, his voice trembling and his face turning ashen.
“So then, who? A ghost from beyond?”
“Well, a ghost, one might say, but not a ghost.” The Sage of Vaysechvoos lowered his voice and his eyes as he whispered, “Moshe Rabeynu.”
“Moshe Rabeynu appeared from beyond to come to your birthday party?” his wife asked in reverent tones. “What did be look like and what did he say?”
“He looked well for a man who hasn’t been around for a few thousand years. His robe was in excellent condition and the sandals on his feet weren’t worn out, just like our Scriptures teach. And he said, ‘A blessed birthday. May you live to be 120, Lebye.'”
By now, Sarah Gitl was utterly exasperated. “You dream of a wonderful party in your honor. Moshe Rabeynu himself comes to wish you well, and this you call a ‘nightmare’?”
“Just listen! Use your ears instead of your tongue and you will have understanding. Rabeynu made a speech. ‘Lebye,’ he said, ‘I have come to commend you.’ His voice was as sweet as the honey cake, and his words were more beautiful to my ears than the music that still filled the air.
“Our great rabbi smiled at me and said, ‘For the study of Torah and the reading of many books, I commend you, venerable Sage of Vaysechvoos.'”
“Ahh,” his wife sighed.
“But that’s not all,” the Sage continued. “He went on to say, ‘Your piety and patience have come up before the throne, and so I was sent to commend you.'”
“Ooh,” his wide-eyed wife gasped.
“And there is more,” the Sage continued. “He also said, ‘For your pious life, your many mitzvot and your wisdom in dealing compassionately with the people, I commend you, judicious Sage of Vaysechvoos.'”
Seeing that his wife was speechless, Lebye went on, “I was so filled with joy, it felt like I was floating higher and higher, and I wondered if I would find myself in the presence of the Almighty. But it was as though Moshe Rabeynu had read my mind, for he said, ‘No, Sage of Vaysechvoos, you are not ready to come into the Creator’s presence. For many things I can commend you, and yet, you are not without sin. You cannot appear before the Holy One until these have been expiated. But do not be afraid, for there is a way.’
“‘How?’ I asked, ‘just tell me and I will do whatever I must do.’
“The great prophet smiled at me and said, ‘My son, do you remember as it is recorded that the Lord said to me, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.”?’
“‘Yes, Rabeynu, I remember,’ I answered.
“‘And do you know him of whom it is written?’ he asked. Then,” said the Sage, “he recited a passage from a book unknown to you:
Coming to his village, he began teaching the people in their shul, and they were amazed. ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous Powers?’ they asked. ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Miriam, and aren’t his brothers Yakov, Yosef, Shimmon and Yehudah? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?’ And they took offense at him. But this one said to them, ‘Only in his village and in his own house is a prophet without honor.’
“Moshe Rabeynu awaited my response.
“‘These words are strange to me, Rabbi.’ I responded. ‘I do not know of whom you speak, nor have I read the book from which you tell his story.’
‘Truly, you have not read the book from which I have spoken,’ the Rabeynu replied. ‘But you have heard of him. He lived in Eretz Yisrael almost two thousand years ago. Of all the Jews in history, his name is the only one spoken more often than my own. It is this one whose words you must heed and who holds the key to forgiveness of sin.’
“Suddenly, I knew of whom Moshe Rabeynu spoke. I wanted to wake up, but instead I was compelled to ask, ‘You are speaking of Jesus of Nazareth?’ Moshe Rabeynu nodded. Then I awoke.
“Now, now, Sarah Gitl do you understand why this is the worst nightmare of my life?”
“My poor husband,” she soothed. “It was truly a nightmare. A temptation from Satan, or worse. But now you are awake. It is over.”
‘A nightmare, a temptation from Satan,” the Sage of Vaysechvoos agreed. But with a strange sense of wonder, in a moment when his fears parted like clouds through which a ray of light shines suddenly and for a moment, he thought to himself, “but maybe not . . .”
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.