In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The New Magistrate
Everyone in Vaysechvoos was talking about it. After all, who would have expected Misha the Magistrate to go be with his Maker so soon? Yet, one cannot know all the reasons for the strange turns of fate. Why would Misha’s horse throw him down on the road leading to Vaysechvoos and why would he land on the ground in such a way that his head would hit a rock? And why would he not survive this mishap? Who knows why such things happen? All one knows is that they do happen and that there are consequences for the living. For Misha was a good and fair-minded man, as gentiles go. Vaysechvoos was not the recipient of any pogroms under his time as magistrate.
Of course, Jews could not hold political office in the czar’s lands and so it was that a gentile magistrate would be appointed to have oversight for the Jewish villages. It was the magistrate who saw to it that the czar’s taxes were collected and that disputes of a legal nature were adjudicated.
And now Misha was no more. And a new magistrate had to be selected. It was customary for the town officials to offer their recommendation for the new magistrate and this was by far the main topic of conversation in the shtetl. A town meeting was called for, and the Rabbi of Vaysechvoos presided. After all, the meeting was held in the shul, and who else should preside in the house of the Lord?
There were two likely candidates–Misha’s brother Sasha, who was as unscrupulous as Misha was honest and Vladimir, a young man, not politically astute, but one who treated the townsfolk respectfully.
Shimmon the Butcher was the first to speak, If Sasha gets the appointment, life will be very difficult for us. He’ll want my cows to produce more milk and for the proceeds to go into his pocket. But I know my cows and they will become anxious and not comply, and who knows what will become of me? What little dowry I’ve put away for my daughters will be used up to satisfy Sasha’s greed.” With that Shimmon buried his face in his hands.
“That could well happen,” continued Feival the Tanner. “I remember hearing a story about how Sasha sought his bride, based solely on what wealth she could impart to him. Remember how she died mysteriously not too long after the wedding? Nothing was ever proven, but. . . .”
Different ones continued to tell tales of Sasha’s less than honorable dealings and it became most apparent that it was in the interest of the safety and well being of the people of Vaysechvoos to encourage the appointment of the other choice, the political novice, Vladimir.
“But how?” they asked. “We’ve never had any influence on the czar’s appointments in the past.”
“But we have!” said the Sage, who’s face lit up as a plan became apparent that would answer their concerns.
“This is a matter of logic,” he explained. “Isn’t it true that the czar is an anti-Semite?”
“Of course!” all the people replied.
“And isn’t it also true that the czar would like nothing better than to see our lives in misery while his coffers grow richer and richer?”
“Of course!” all the people replied once more.
“Then wouldn’t it stand to reason that if someone would be good for the Jews, the czar would turn him down and if someone were bad for the Jews, the czar would appoint him on the spot?”
“Aaahhhh. We see. . . .” all the people responded.
And so it was that the people of Vaysechvoos extolled the virtues of Sasha, assuring the czar that this man would be an excellent magistrate who was good for the Jews. And wouldn’t you know, he did not get the appointment. Instead, it went to Vladimir, though the townspeople pleaded with the czar to be merciful and not to appoint him to the position.
There was relief in Vaysechvoos over the news. But even more than that, there was renewed hope when on the following Shabbos, the haftorah reading was from the writings of the prophet Isaiah. The portion ended with the prophecy of one who would come of who’s peace there would be no end; one who would sit on David Melech’s throne. One who would rule his kingdom forever.
And the people of Vaysechvoos longed for that day, when instead of magistrates and czars there would be truth and righteousness without end.
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.