In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Revolutionary Book
Berel the Bal Agoloh came back from one of his many trips, and as soon as he got his horses unhitched, fed and in their stalls, he hurried into the house to lay down those things that a Bal Agoloh takes with him on a journey. These included his leather purse, thongs, the carefully folded bags to carry kosher food and a little book. His wife was curious upon seeing the book. After all, her husband was not known for being a book man,” though Berel could read as well as anyone. She looked at the cover and saw that it was in Hebrew, and since she could not read Hebrew but knew it was the language of the holy books, she concluded that it must be proper. She would ask him about it later. She knew his mind was on other things.
Berel could hardly wait to get to the bath house and get clean from his long, arduous and dusty trip. Besides, the Sabbath was but a couple of hours away and, as always on an early Friday afternoon, some of the leading citizens would be there for their weekly bath.
Berel arrived at the bath house with his new acquisition in hand. Of course the inquiries began. “So what is contained in this book you have, Bal Agolah?”
“It is like the Holy Scriptures inasmuch as it tells about some of the same people,” Berel responded. “But the main character is a young man named Joshua that everyone seemed to be waiting for.”
“What is the name of this book?” inquired Feival.
“The Brit Hadashah,” said Berel matter-of-factly.
No one had heard of it, but all sounded interested.
“Well,” said Berel in a show of piety, “I can’t bring it to shul tonight because, as you all know, it is a sin to carry anything on the Sabbath. But when I come for morning prayers during the week, I’ll bring it with me.”
Now one must appreciate the fact that not much new ever happened in the town of Vaysechvoos. People lived out their lives doing the same ordinary things day after day. So when a new person or item or idea was introduced, it merited quite a bit of attention.
At any rate, Berel was true to his word. For the morning prayers he brought not only his tallis and his tefillin and his siddur (which he really didn’t need since he had all the prayers memorized) but also the new little book. Berel greeted the rising sun on his way to shul; he was there early. So were others, and the little book, hardly larger than the palm of one’s hand, was passed around, and different ones looked it over.
It didn’t seem to be a collection of rabbinical sermons. If it was, it would have been written in Yiddish rather than Hebrew. Nor was it simply a siddur. Berel started reading aloud from the pages of the Brit Hadashah about the central character, Joshua, and the others listened. About then, the rabbi arrived and asked what they were reading. Berel explained, “This wonderful little book is about a holy man.”
“But Rabbi, is it a holy book?” asked Shimmon the Butcher.
Now since rabbis are charged with the responsibility of answering, the rabbi of Vaysechvoos said he would have to study the issue and consult other rabbis before making a determination. So he took the book into his possession and spent several months studying it. It seemed to him that the book was Scripture. And after he read the stories about Joshua, he wondered why such a miracle worker who, among other things, rose from the dead was unknown to the Jewish people.
So he wrote a letter to the chief rabbi of Kiev. He packaged the book very carefully, and when Berel left town again with his freight wagon, the rabbi instructed him to take the book to the chief rabbi but not to wait for the response.
Well, after traveling hundreds of kilometers, Berel arrived at the home of the chief rabbi where he was received by the rabbi’s secretary. He handed him the package and the sealed letter and that was that. The answer did not make its way back to Vaysechvoos until several months later. In a very short letter to the rabbi of Vaysechvoos, the chief rabbi simply stated: “The book you gave me was written by some revolutionary-type Jews. Better not to get involved.”
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.