There were many theories about the demise of Chaika that were bantered about in Vaysechvoos. Chaika the Wise was very old. How old, no one knew. But there was no one living who could remember her as a young person, even those who were now in their eighties and nineties.
She knew she was dying,” remarked Zlata the Dyer, “and being the private person she was, she decided to leave town so as not to make herself the center of attention.”
“No, that could not be true,” exclaimed Malkah the Tailor’s wife. “Chaika had no one apart from our little community here in Vaysechvoos. She would have had no place to go. I think she is lying dead in a field nearby waiting to be discovered.”
And on and on went the speculation, for Chaika was nowhere to be found. She had never absented herself from the women’s mikvah or the Shabbos festivities, yet this week she was present for neither.
The rabbi’s wife went to Chaika’s modest home to see if perhaps she was ill and needed help. To her surprise, the door was unlocked and as she pressed against it to knock, it swung open.
The rebbetzin shouted out the name of the elderly Chaika. Everyone knew that the woman was nearly deaf. But Chaika was not there to hear the shout. The house was neat and clean. The bed was properly made, the dishes were all put away in the cupboard and the floors had been swept. So where was Chaika? There was no note and no indication of where she might have gone.
The rebbetzin rushed home to talk things over with her husband. She told him that the gossip reporting Chaika’s demise must be true. There was no other possibility. “Wouldn’t it be right to sit shiva?” she inquired.
The rabbi thought it through and said, ” We can’t sit shiva until a Beth Din declares Chaika to be dead.” But the rebbetzin and the other women who loved Chaika grieved. No kaddish. No shiva. No Chaika.
“Will she pass away like a small cloud in a breeze?” they wondered.
All the town seemed to be grieving the loss, so the rebbe magnanimously called five other village rabbis to form a court of inquiry. They sat at the table in Chaika’s house and one villager after another came to give story.
“If Chaika were not dead, she would not have done this,” declared Rivkah, who considered herself to be one of Chaika’s friends.
Several of the young wives recounted the same story, “She always came to the mikvah to pray with us younger women, to urge us on to godliness. If there is no Chaika in Vaysechvoos, she must be dead.”
When the rabbis heard of her good works, her piety, her generosity, how she always visited the poor and the needy despite her tired and old bones, tears came to their eyes.
When the children of Vaysechvoos showed the court of inquiry the clothes she had made for them as well as what she had mended, there were more tears.
Chaika was a master of healing with herbs and poultices and when the people of the village imagined themselves afflicted and ill without Chaika, their tears were like a flood.
So you can imagine what a scene there was when Chaika arrived. No one saw the bal agolah drop her off. She quietly opened the door and saw all the visitors around her table. “It’s so wonderful that you all came to welcome me home, but who are these pious gentlemen here in my house?”
Still sobbing, Rivkah from the mikvah said “Chaika, Chaika, they came to declare you dead so that we could all grieve properly.”
Chaika grimaced. “Sooooo.”
“They just pronounced you dead and we were listening to the eulogies,” Rivkah explained.
“But Rivkah, friends, I’m not dead. I’m old, but I’m not dead.”
“Shah. Still,” the rabbi’s wife shook her finger at the saintly woman.
“If such august rabbis have declared you dead, who are you to contradict them?”