In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Great Sage
Vaysechvoos was buzzing with activity as Hanukkah approached. Every yom tov brought its share of extra chores that everyone complained about but nobody really minded–but this year there was preparation on top of preparation, and the villagers were so excited they forgot their usual complaints. You see, Leah (the butcher’s wife) heard from Malkah (the tanner’s daughter) that Mottel (the tavern keeper) found out from Yossel (the traveling bookseller) the startling news…that the Sage of Sages would be paying a visit to Vaysechvoos. Now some might consider such hearsay to be nothing more than a string of rumors. But in the little shtetl everyone sensed the ring of truth to the rumor and so it became a well known fact that the Great Sage was coming.
No one in Vaysechvoos had ever seen the Sage or, for that matter, known anyone else who had. Well, Shlomo the Blind One claimed to have seen the Sage once, but as Zeidel the Tanner pointed out, Who would believe a blind man who said he could see?” Still, sight unseen, everyone knew that the Sage of Sages existed.
The Great Sage would wander from village to village, imparting a wisdom some said was even greater than that of King Solomon. And legend had it that those households that were ready to receive him would be richly blessed. As for those who weren’t ready for the Sage, well…the stories of what happened to them were often used to frighten little children into obeying.
So this Hanukkah in Vaysechvoos was to be unlike any other. The people set about making improvements in their homes and in their workplaces. No one wanted to be excluded from the Great Sage’s blessing. And certainly no one wanted to be caught unprepared.
Menachem the Dairy Farmer repaired a fence that had broken long ago, and his wife Fruma discovered that the milk containers could use some polishing. Reuven the Peddler discarded some old stock as well as some frivolous items that he felt the Great Sage might frown upon. Chaya’s eggs were sold warm–that’s how fresh from the nest they were. Hershel started delivering his milk so early that sometimes even the cows weren’t awake yet. And there were other kinds of improvements. Yossel the Philanthropist became even more generous. Feyvel the Beggar, one of the laziest men in Vaysechvoos, managed to make his excuses for not working slightly more convincing.
Every evening, the men studied the Holy Books with more zeal than before, and even Vaysechvoos’s own Sage–who was known for his deep wisdom–was studying his books more fervently.
But inevitably, questions arose. “How can we know he is coming to Vaysechvoos now?” asked Reuven the Peddler.
“What better time is there for him to come than for the Festival of Lights, when we are celebrating the great miracle of the rededication of the holy Temple?” replied Yossel.
Menachem the Dairy Farmer pointed out, “And not just any Hanukkah, but one in which so many good things have happened in Vaysechvoos.”
The others agreed and were amazed that they hadn’t realized earlier what a perfect time it was for the Great Sage to come. Hadn’t the harvest been especially plentiful this year? Hadn’t old quarrels finally been resolved? Weren’t the rabbi’s students younger and brighter than ever before? And hadn’t one of Menachem’s cows had twins this past year? No one could deny that these were all signs that something great was about to happen. Perhaps a great miracle would happen here in Vaysechvoos. Now there could be no doubt, and the villagers awaited the Sage with unbridled excitement.
Only Malkah the Widow went on with her life in the usual way, as though nothing extraordinary were about to happen. Malkah lived alone in a small house on the outskirts of Vaysechvoos. Because of her shyness, the others considered her kindhearted but simple. Kindhearted she was; simple she wasn’t.
Malkah the Widow had no need to rush about as the other villagers did. She had no milk containers to polish, no tasks left unfinished, no habits grown slack over the years. She simply made her preparations as if it were any ordinary Hanukkah.
Malkah the Tanner’s daughter approached her namesake, fearful that no one had told her about the coming visit of the Great Sage. Malkah the Widow smiled and said that indeed, she had heard of all the excitement. This perplexed the younger Malkah even more–if Malkah the Widow knew, how could she be so calm?
With a glow of hope in her eyes and a voice tempered by years of patience and wisdom, the widow explained, “My child, I have always known that the Great Sage would come some day. Perhaps on Hanukkah. Perhaps some other day. Whatever day seems best to him, I will be ready.” The Tanner’s daughter was thoughtful as she trudged home to help her mother with the evening chores.
Finally the holiday arrived, and the townspeople celebrated. Each home had a menorah in the window, in a sense, lighting the way to their door. Every house was sparkling clean, every face was bright, and every table was festive with latkes for the occasion. Only one thing was missing–the Sage.
But even Great Sages are late once in a while, so they reasoned, “He must be waiting for more light.” But by the eighth day of Hanukkah when all the homes in Vaysechvoos were brilliant with the light of the fully lit menorahs, the Great Sage was still nowhere to be found.
The people of Vaysechvoos waited that last night. And they waited some more. Some stayed awake all night, fearing the Sage might come, find them asleep and move on to another village. But he did not come, not that night, not the next day. The snows came, yet no Sage. Purim came and went, and then Pesach. And still no Great Sage.
Eventually the people stopped expecting his arrival. Little by little they returned to their old habits. Menachem’s fence broke again and went unrepaired. Fruma decided that shiny milk containers weren’t worth the trouble. Now and then the Peddler would sell something he knew was not terribly useful at a price his customers could ill afford. Yossel decided it was maybe not such a good idea to be quite so generous, Chaya’s eggs were sometimes bad, and the children went without milk for breakfast from time to time when Hershel slept in.
By the next yom tov, the people hardly remembered that there was a Great Sage. When reminded, they would say they were expecting him any moment, but no one really believed he would come.
Except for Malkah the Widow. She kept on living as she always had–never frantic, never forgetting, always hoping. After all, she knew that someday the Great Sage would indeed come to Vaysechvoos. And she would be ready to welcome him.
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.