It was somewhat out of the ordinary–a distinction that the shtetl of Vaysechvoos would have preferred to do without–but it was true nonetheless. Vaysechvoos had a resident atheist. Actually, Simon the Atheist didn’t live in Vaysechvoos proper; his hut sat on the very outskirts of the town. Still it was closer to Vaysechvoos than to any other place in the district.
Now it wasn’t that the villagers of Vaysechvoos were the most religious of Jews, but even the least pious among them agreed that it would be a disgrace to miss going to shul on Shabbos. Further, it would be disrespectful to do any sort of business on the day of rest. And even if someone didn’t feel especially religious on the High Holidays they would at least go through the motions. But not Simon.
People who believe in God were born with weak brains,” he mused to himself. “They talk to the air and they expect it to listen. They are like children.” Simon the Atheist not only absented himself from anything that might be considered religious, but he would watch from afar as the townspeople prepared for the Sabbath. Sometimes he shook his head and wagged his finger as if to scold them. Simon made no secret of his disdain for those who participated in what he called “acts of senseless worship.”
Those who ventured to speak to Simon about such things all received the same answer. “I believe in rubles…” he would boast, “…therefore I don’t need to believe in a creator.”
What made Simon so cynical about religion no one knew. He lived alone and was an independent sort. Rumor had it that he had a small inheritance. Simon did not know a trade and he was no great scholar either, (although he did like to read books by some philosopher called Spinoza). Therefore, people reasoned that a departed relative must have left him a little something to live on.
Actually, Simon had some hens and a small potato patch to provide for his sustenance, and then of course, there was his pride and joy, a cow whom he affectionately called, “Yetta” after his departed mother. She was not just any cow, she was the finest milk cow in the area. Yetta produced so much milk, Simon was even able to earn some rubles from her output. And since, according to his own religion, he believed in rubles, Yetta, the bringer of milk, cheese and yes, a few rubles, was the sole recipient of Simon’s devotion.
But then it happened. He woke up one bright clear morning and stepped outside to greet the day and his dear Yetta. Yet he could see right away that something was wrong.
You see, Yetta was lying down a distance away in his small pasture. And it wasn’t a sleeping or a resting kind of lying down. Simon ran to his milk cow and as he got closer he was horror stricken to see her on her back, her legs heavenward. Yetta was still. Yetta was dead.
Simon the Atheist was beside himself. “How could this happen? I took such good care of my Yetta. And she had not yet reached her prime.”
There was no indication that Yetta had been attacked by other animals or harmed in any way by humans. Being a man of reason, he eliminated all the possibilities but one. “It had to be God who did in my Yetta,” he concluded. “He was jealous of her and angry with me since I don’t believe in him.”
When the townspeople of Vaysechvoos heard Simon’s logic, they smiled. But the Rabbi of Vaysechvoos did one better. He invited Simon to shul so that he could express his disappointment to the Creator first hand.