In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Gaon of Vilna
All were astir; the Gaon of Vilna was coming to Vaysechvoos! He would be staying in their modest village for one night on his way to Minsk.
Who could have imagined that such a prince among Jews would want to visit this muddy little place?” marveled Lazar the Milkman.
“Such a wise and holy man in our village!” exclaimed Feivel the Tanner.
“We must prepare for such a honored guest, ” remarked the rebbetzin.
And did they prepare! Vaysechvoos never looked so good. The cracks in the cabins were caulked, the mud floors were tamped and stucco whitewashed. The wooden floor of the synagogue was scraped and oiled. The townspeople even managed to lay a few cobblestones in front of the shul.
Then the people waited for the Gaon’s arrival. No one could do their work, or talk about anything else. When the big carriage pulled by a team of six matched horses arrived, there was a great gasp from the crowd. Three footmen, two secretaries, two drivers and a fretful little man stepped out of the carriage before the Gaon appeared. He was taller than anyone expected, with deep eyes and a bemused smile. The Sage of Vaysechvoos greeted him.
“So many questions we have, great Sage, questions only you can answer. Please favor us with a session.” The Gaon nodded and proceeded into the rabbi’s house. One of his secretaries emerged to say the Gaon would hear the questions in two hours’ time. And he did.
Some of the queries were quite ordinary. “How can I know that my husband really loves me?” asked one. “How much is too much or too little money to loan to a friend in need?” asked another. But the most important question that the Gaon heard that day came from Moishke the Cobbler.
“Most venerable Sage, your wisdom is renowned and we are so in need of wisdom when it comes to our relationship with the Almighty,” he began. “Therefore, what advice would you offer us in preparing for the coming of the Messiah?”
The Gaon smiled, looking directly into the eyes of the cobbler. “Young man, that is a good question, worthy of a thoughtful answer. In the morning, I shall tell you.”
The next morning all of the Gaon’s party had settled into the carriage but the Genius stood by it with the door open. The crowd gathered close, eager to hear his answer to the cobbler’s question.
He raised his hand an all were hushed. “You prepared for me by washing your homes, repairing the streets, wearing your very best clothing. These are the outward ways to welcome a person,” he acknowledged. “But the most important preparation, certainly for the coming of the Messiah, takes place where only God can inspect–in one’s heart. Messiah will come when all hearts are clean and pure.”
At that, most of the townspeople looked at their feet with shame, knowing that the Messiah might not be coming all that soon.
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.