In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: Pavel the Shabbos Goy
Chaike, the matchmaker of Vaysechvoos, exclaimed, What a shidduch I could make if he only were one of us.”
By “one of us” she meant Jewish. And the person she was talking about who would make such a good match, if he were only Jewish, was Pavel.
Since anyone could remember, Pavel would come to Vaysechvoos on market day every Thursday and stay over the Sabbath. He was what one called a Shabbos Goy.
If the fire were to go out, or something were to happen that would require diligent hands on the Sabbath, Pavel was there to attend to it. Of course nobody would ask him to do anything on the Sabbath, but a person could stand within his hearing and speak to nobody in particular and say, “I don’t know what I’ll do! My fence got knocked over by the wind. Some of the chickens are five villages away and if I don’t put the fence up in a hurry, the cows, the horse and the rest of the chickens will take a journey also.”
It would be against Jewish law to suggest that Pavel do anything to violate the Sabbath. But since he was a non-Jew he was the only one in the village who could act. And, since he knew everybody and where they lived and what their fences were like, with dispatch Pavel would go to the rescue.
If a cow got sick or a horse got lame, they could ask his help even up to sundown on Friday and on the Sabbath he was there. Pavel didn’t ask for any compensation for what he did for the villagers. He graciously accepted whatever they wanted to give him.
The villagers didn’t call him a Shabbos Goy; that appellation seemed derogatory in his case. He was just Pavel. Pavel, who would take off his cap to say, “Good Shabbos, Mrs. Cohen!” Oh, yes, Pavel knew Yiddish as well as any Jew, but no one knew from where. He was just a bright young man. And though the rabbi knew the prohibitions on discussing the holy writings with non-Jews, somehow Pavel had an innocent way of asking profound questions. And for the rabbi, it seemed a sin not to teach, not to answer.
“Pavel was born with a Jewish heart,” commented Leah, the butcher’s wife. Blond-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned Pavel with a Jewish heart? But, then again, what complexion is a heart? And what is a Jewish complexion? It was obvious that Pavel belonged. No one doubted that.
What he did the rest of the week was barely known except that it was noticed that he dressed well, had good manners and was very interested in everything Jewish. He adopted Vaysechvoos about the time that most young men start growing beards.
“How long ago was that?” said the Matchmaker. “Ten, twelve, fourteen years?”
“Ah, he always belonged,” said Nahum the Water Carrier. “Don’t you know, he’s the guardian angel for this town.”
Chaike laughed, “Yes, yes. Gentile angels. Next thing you know, there will be a goyisheTorah.” But in a way Pavel was like an angel–there when you would need him.
More than one of the villagers puzzled over Pavel’s behavior, asked, “Why aren’t you like the rest of your people? How come you want to do for the Jews?”
To which, Pavel would just smile and say, “It’s a privilege to serve God’s chosen.”
After a while, some started wondering out loud, “Wouldn’t it be good if Pavel really was one of us? Who could want a better son-in-law or a better husband? He already talks our language, knows Torah, respects the God of Israel. Maybe we should invite him?”
“No, no,” said Shlomo the Carpenter. “It is not our custom. He has to ask.”
“And then we have to say no,” said another.
“But maybe he hasn’t asked because he doesn’t know that such a thing is possible?” Chaike inquired.
So some of the elders of Vaysechvoos hatched a scheme. If he wouldn’t ask to become a Jew, they would just have the rabbi tell him what it would be like to be Jewish and how to become Jewish, and then, maybe, if he knew he would ask. The rebbe thought that this was a good idea; it was within Jewish law. So he let it be known that Pavel could come see him at his convenience.
“Sit, sit,” said the rabbi. “My wife, Zlata, will make us some tea. You know, Pavel, we all appreciate what a fine young man you are. There is a real nobility about you, and some say–and this is not to reflect against anyone else–but they say you have a heart like a Jew.”
“Got tzu danken,” Pavel replied in Yiddish.
“I wonder if you wonder how hard it is for a non-Jew to become Jewish?”
“I can’t say that I ever thought about it.”
“Well, let me tell you. First you have to request that we make you Jewish.”
“Yes,” said Pavel.
“And then we have to say no because it should not be easy to be joined to our people,” continued the rabbi.
Pavel listened intently.
“So you have to ask again. But then we would have to decline again. But you should not give up. You should ask again.”
“Then?” Pavel asked.
“If you’re serious, we will teach you.”
Pavel said, “In the holy language?”
“Well, since you already understand Yiddish, you’re well on your way. And we would also prepare you for a circumcision. You would have to undergo mikvah as well. And you would have to renounce your parents.”
Pavel was obviously disappointed.
“And we would give you a new name and of course you would have to renounce your former religion.”
“I would?” he asked in almost a whisper.
“Yes, your belief in ‘you know who.’ The one they display on the front your churches.”
Pavel looked grave. He said, “You know, rabbi, I really love the Jews and I believe that the Jews are God’s chosen people and to a small extent I’ve devoted my life to do good for God’s chosen people. But I need to tell you, rabbi, that I could never renounce him–it’s because of this One (I believe in the holy language he is called Yeshua) that I have come to love the Jewish people in Vaysechvoos and everywhere.”
And somehow the rabbi didn’t seem in the least bit disappointed and didn’t doubt Pavel’s love.
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.