In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Dry Milk Cows
Vaysechvoos had its good times and its bad times. It was not a prosperous town but neither was it poor. Most people accepted their fate. They knew that each would have his or her share of simcha and sorrow. And now was one of those seasons of sorrow.
The clouds had been spattering on the fields for months, teasing the land, but there was no rain in sight. Not only that, but for some reason the dairy herds were being uncooperative when it came to providing their daily toll of milk!
First, everyone thought it was only his own cow that had dried up, but word spread and before long the people of Vaysechvoos realized that they all had a problem on their hands. One evening after supper, the men of the town gathered together at the shul to hatch a plan of action. As often happens, the pessimists were the first to speak.
Hershel the Milkman moaned, What will ever become of me? It’s not only my family that doesn’t have milk on the table; my business is gone. I have nothing to sell tomorrow or the day after or the day after that. There’s no point in even hitching up my horse. I have nothing to haul.”
And Shimmon the Butcher reasoned that no one needed to buy meat from him since their own cows might be visiting the shochet that week. “Everyone knows that you can’t keep feeding a cow that isn’t feeding you!”
Mendel the Shoemaker spoke up next, “Silence everyone! This kind of talk is doing none of us any good. We must come up with a plan. My dear Hannah told me that she always sings while she does her morning milking, and she insists that our cows have produced more milk because of her singing. Maybe we could all sing the same bracha tomorrow morning, and our cattle will be relieved of the trouble stopping them.”
“I don’t think that’s a very good idea. I love my beautiful Batya but you should hear her sing the Shabbos zemiros. I don’t think her voice will coax any milk from our cows,” lamented Shimmon. “Maybe we could have Karpl the Fiddler come and play some soothing melodies tomorrow morning.”
All the men agreed to follow Shimmon’s suggestion. “After all,” they reasoned, “it couldn’t hurt.” The next morning, Karpl was a busy fiddler indeed. He began his music in Shimmon’s yard at three-thirty in the morning and he didn’t reach the last cows until ten o’clock that night. By then his fingers were throbbing, his arms were stiff, his neck was cramped and he was nearly falling off of the fence. Hershel the Milkman came and fetched him in his empty wagon and gave him a cup of tea and a nice warm meal. “At least my chickens are still laying the best eggs in Vaysechvoos and my wife can still bake the fluffiest, sweetest, most fortifying cakes in the district,” boasted Hershel.
That night all of the village waited eagerly for the lowing of their milk-filled animals; some had even cooed to their cows continually throughout the day. But by the second evening, their cows were quietly and contentedly lying in the grass with empty udders–unaware that they hadn’t been milked for two full days! Another meeting was called, and the men met together after supper to try again to find a solution to their current dilemma.
Shimmon began this time: “First of all, I think we should thank Karpl for his superb efforts yesterday. If anything at all was troubling our animals, his music at least soothed them.” He then turned to the Fiddler and asked, “Karpl, did you notice anything unusual about our cows today?”
Karpl stood up but needed the help of two other men. His soreness had turned to solid stiffness, and even if no one was milking the cows, Karpl was milking everyone for as much sympathy and good will as he could gain. He offered his opinion: “I did notice that all of the cows were lying down. I thought maybe they were chilly. We have had a cold autumn this year. Or maybe they are just tired.”
“Hmmm,” some said.
“Aaahh,” others pondered.
With Karpl’s insights in consideration, the men decided to cover all their cows with blankets the next morning. And just to make sure the cows had some peace and quiet, the townspeople shut their chickens up in their houses so the cows wouldn’t be bothered by their constant clucking. But by the end of the day, not one drop of milk was drawn from any of the cows in Vaysechvoos.
That evening, they consulted the Sage, for such a serious matter was beyond the consideration of ordinary people!
The Sage chided the people: “Didn’t the God of Israel grant Abraham a son in his old age? Didn’t Moses’ staff become a serpent and swallow up all the staffs of the Egyptian magicians? Didn’t the mighty waters of the Red Sea part for us as we left Egypt and close up again when our enemies pursued us? Didn’t God provide manna every day in the wilderness, even on Shabbos? Didn’t the walls of Jericho tumble with the mere sound of a trumpet blast? Don’t you think our God can work a little miracle on our behalf? Are a hundred dry milk cows too much for the Almighty?”
They could see the wisdom in the Sage’s remarks. So all the people of Vaysechvoos prayed for a miracle. By dawn, every faithful villager was outside with buckets in hand ready to receive milk from the Almighty. But it was not to be. And to make things worse, it was market day. So the people trudged off to market wondering what happened to their earnest supplications and their miracle.
An answer came as dark clouds overshadowed the whole town of Vaysechvoos and rain poured down on every field. The land was thirsty and dry; no one in the village had hoped for an abundant harvest that year but now just maybe it was a possibility. They might be bringing bushels of beans to market. Frowns turned to optimistic smiles in several stalls.
Hershel the Milkman visited every stall with his empty wagon–but his heart was filled with joy. His daughter Ruchel, who had been barren for six years, blessed him with the news that morning that she was with child. She and her husband were praising the Almighty for the miracle in their lives. The situation of the dried-up cows and failing business seemed insignificant.
Shimmon the Butcher was in a state of elation as well. His daughter had been a widow for ten years without a shidduch in sight. That very morning, the butcher’s son from Lodz arrived at his home to request his daughter’s hand in marriage. Shimmon wasn’t thinking about the price of his meat at the market anymore. He was praising the Holy One for remembering to take care of his daughter.
That evening, the townspeople once again consulted the Sage to tell him the strange news of the day’s events. Mendel the Shoemaker was the designated spokesman, and he asked the question: “Why didn’t the Almighty answer our prayers for our milk cows? We know that he is capable of miracles in our lives. Look at Ruchel who is pregnant after six years. And Shimmon’s daughter who waited ten years with little hope for a husband. And the pouring rain right before harvest time on our parched fields. Well, most learned Sage, what can you tell us? We are not greedy or ungrateful, but we would appreciate some insight.”
The Sage looked at their eager, questioning faces and said, “His ways are not our ways; neither are his thoughts like our thoughts. He is the all-powerful, all-knowing Master of the Universe; he owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He is the giver of life and the source of all joy; he answers our prayers in his own perfect time. His answers are not always what we imagine, yet he hears all of our supplications. Let us let him be God.”
The villagers returned to their homes somewhat puzzled but not entirely unhappy. They had a good harvest that year and were able to sell extra produce to nearby shtetls. Their milk cows lay contentedly chewing their cud, and all of Vaysechvoos had enough rubles, with some left over, to buy milk, butter and cheese from the neighboring village.
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.