In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: Yossele the Miracle-Worker
Everyone in Vaysechvoos said that they remembered Yossele. Most didn’t. Nevertheless, Yossele had lived in Vaysechvoos for a time, so each villager could claim an opinion, if not an acquaintance with this rabbi who was called a miracle-worker. Whereas nobody quite knew where he was born or where he came from, his mother, a young widow, brought him to live with a cousin who lived in Vaysechvoos. How long they stayed, no one knew.
On one point, however, there was no argument. Everyone agreed that Yossele was an unlikely miracle-worker. As a boy he was not particularly noticed for any special qualities. On the contrary, he was rather ordinary.
Miracles? Yossele?” Zlata the baker’s wife exclaimed. “He couldn’t even wash his face. I’ll tell you, I had to stop him on the way to the Talmud Torah just so that he wouldn’t be an embarrassment. I washed his face with my own dishrag. A miracle-worker? Ha!”
The melamed also had an opinion. “Yossele? He wasn’t a bad student and he wasn’t a good student. He was a boy who liked to daydream. If he hungered and thirsted for learning, I could understand why heaven might grant him the power to do miracles, but that boy? Nah, he was just a dreamer.”
Yosef the dairyman added his two kopeks. “Yossele? I remember his mother. It was all she could do to pay for the milk; and when she couldn’t, my wife was kind enough to let her do laundry. Maybe her son should have made a miracle and filled their dairy can with milk. Surely that would be a simple task for a miracle-worker, wouldn’t it?”
Shimmon the butcher perhaps remembered him best since they were in Talmud Torah together. “He was as good a student as anybody. He learned as much as the teacher could teach, which between you and me was not a whole lot. And when we played, he could toss more walnuts into the hole outside the cheder than anyone. He won so much and so often that we stopped playing with him and we called him ‘Nutty Yossele.’ But as for miracles? Listen, nowadays we have so many people working miracles. Even I do a miracle–I earn a living every day.”
Never mind that Yossele was two years older than Shimmon and attended the Talmud Torah before Shimmon started. Shimmon had a miraculous memory where the impossible happened often.
Whatever the people of Vaysechvoos thought about Yossele, they all said the same thing. “No miracles in Vaysechvoos, no miracle workers from Vaysechvoos. Our town is a humble town. Mystical things happen elsewhere.”
Then one day, a rather elegant-looking man came to town in a carriage with a driver and two fine-looking horses. He asked to talk to the rabbi. At first, the rabbi was concerned–what could it mean for such an elegant-looking man with such citified manners to want to talk to him? But when the rabbi met the stranger, he could sense the nobility of the man. The rabbi wanted to accord him every honor, but the visitor declined, saying that he really came to represent another who had made it his holy intention to visit Vaysechvoos.
“And who might that be?” asked the rabbi. The visitor replied, “Yossele the Miracle-Worker wants to pay a visit.” The rabbi was electrified. “Such a famous person wants to come here?”
“Yes,” explained the visitor, who was one of his many secretaries. “As you know, he once lived in this town. He has fond memories of Vaysechvoos. He wants to come and bring God’s blessings.”
The rabbi was stunned. “When will he arrive?”
“Yossele the Miracle-Worker never comes unless he is announced by someone like me. Now that the announcement has come, I cannot say when he will arrive. It might be in an hour or it might be in weeks; certainly not more than months, but he will surely be here.”
With that, the elegant stranger said the blessings on departure and went to his carriage, at which time the driver turned around to go back the same way that he came.
The rabbi hardly knew what to think. And being a small village, all the men of the town who had seen the carriage made their way to the shul to inquire of the rabbi regarding the elegant stranger.
“Well…,” they asked in almost one accord, “What is it, rabbi?”
“The man was an emissary from Yossele the Miracle-Worker, who is going to come here.”
“When?” they cried in unison.
“We don’t know. It could be any time or it could take a long while. He is coming to bless our city.”
“We sure could use some kind of blessing,” the butcher grumped.
“From Yossele?” the melamed humphed. “I’d be happy if he could make the dogs stop barking so much every time they see a bird go by.”
“Well, he’s obviously a wealthy man, by the looks of his secretary,” Shimmon commented. “He probably just wants to come and lord it over us.” Then he added sarcastically, “If I see him, I’ll ask him to fix my daughter’s cold; her nose runs more than the new pump we just installed.”
Only Feival the tanner seemed serious. “Well, my business hasn’t been so good lately. My wife can barely afford to pay the milkman. I’ll take whatever blessings Yossele might have to offer.”
Even those who didn’t believe in his miracles were excited that such a well-known, wealthy person was coming. Most of the men spent a fair amount of their time looking down the road. “How will he come?” they asked each other. Some said that he would come on a white horse with an entourage of secretaries and scribes. Others talked about a train of carriages.
Everyone looked over each stranger who came to town, but hardly anyone paid attention to the shabby man with a pack who walked as though he had traveled far. And when he came into the village, because it was almost Shabbos, he asked if there was a place where a Jew might wash up. “Of course,” said Chaike the tanner’s wife. “We have a mikvah in Vaysechvoos.” And so the stranger was shown to the mikvah where he took a bath. That evening he was in the synagogue. But there was nothing in particular to distinguish him. A Jew, an ordinary Jew, with an ordinary name, Yossele. As is the custom, some invited him home with them to stay the Sabbath. He chose to stay with Chaike, her husband and their three sons.
The following day, the poor man participated in the worship services. When the Sabbath came to a close, Yossele blessed the tanner’s household and then said, “I must be on my way; I have far to travel.” He went outside and raised his hands, uttering the priestly benediction and other prayers, and then he went back the way that he came. It was not until afterwards that it occurred to the townspeople that this was indeed Yossele the Miracle-Worker. They hadn’t expected much by way of miracles, but hoped at least to see some fine clothing. It seemed they were to have neither. Though some thought it strange that after he left, the dogs didn’t bark quite as much, and Shimmon’s daughter finally got over her cold. Oh, and one other thing. For some mysterious reason, after Yossele’s visit, the tanner’s milk can was always full–whether he could afford to pay the milkman or not.
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.