In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Doctor
The rumors raced around Vaysechvoos like field mice. Could it be? A doctor was making a visit to the little shtetl!
Nobody paid more attention to this rumor than Shosha, the wife of Mendel the Tanner. For weeks, their son Avram had lain in bed, suffering from what they at first thought was just a severe cold, but time passed and his condition worsened. Shosha faithfully fed him barley soup, her mother’s recipe, and the boy rested. Yet he did not get better, and in her heart Shosha feared that her son really had something as serious as the scarlet fever or-she shuddered to think-typhus.
Don’t worry,” her mother told her. “I’ve nourished a few sick children in my lifetime. Avram will be running around driving you crazy in a few weeks, mark my words.”
The members of the Bikkur Holim also tried to comfort Shosha. It was their responsibility to the sick people in Vasyeschvoos. Everyone believed, as the sages had taught, that to visit the sick was a mitzvah. The “committee” prayed with Shosha for Avram’s health. “Don’t worry,” they, too, told her.
Yet, Shosha was worried. Avram was her only child and her labor with him had been difficult. If he were taken from her, God forbid, she was sure she would not be able to have more children.
So when she heard that the Sage of Vaysechvoos was to receive a guest, and that this guest was a doctor, she took it as a blessing from God. “From your mouth to God’s ears,” she said to the friend who reported the rumor.
Mendel, however, was not so impressed. “Doctors and their fancy equipment we don’t need. What’s a doctor going to fix that your mother’s soup cannot?”
The day the doctor arrived in Vaysechvoos, the entire shtetl was astir. The Sage went to meet him and personally escorted him home. People found excuses to go outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of the doctor. “He’s here, he’s here!” the wind seemed to whisper.
Shosha first saw him as she was bidding farewell to the Bikkur Holim. Just as she was about to shut the door, she saw the Sage pass by. With him was a man with a bag over his shoulder. The man did not appear especially learned or dignified. Still, Shosha knew this had to be him. As they moved past her house, the doctor turned and saw her watching him. Embarrassed, Shosha shut the door.
She lit the fire. Avram coughed. Shosha decided that if Avram did not feel better by the morning, she would go to the Sage’s home and beg to see the doctor.
Morning came, and Avram was weak from a restless night. Shosha smoothed her skirt and made her way to the Sage’s home.
“I know you are here for a social visit, not to work,” she apologized to the doctor when she saw him. “But my son has been sick for weeks now, and . . . I must be doing something wrong, Doctor . . .”
“What are his symptoms?” the doctor asked. He listened as she told him of Avram’s illness.
“It sounds to me like he needs this,” the doctor said as he reached into his pocket, and pulled out a scrap of paper with writing on it.
“What?” Shosha looked surprised as she saw what appeared to be a list of ingredients.
“It’s a recipe for barley soup,” the doctor replied.
Shosha couldn’t believe her ears. The nerve! “But I’ve been giving him soup!”
He raised his hand. “Ah dear woman, I tell you there are two kinds of soup. There’s soup that makes you feel better, and then there’s soup that actually heals. I promise, if you prepare this soup, it will cure your son.”
Shosha discussed it with her husband that night. “For this, he gets to be called a doctor, so he can prescribe soup,” Mendel scoffed.
“But if there’s a chance it might heal him, Mendel . . .”
“Fine. You do what you want anyway,” Mendel grudgingly relented.
The next afternoon, Shosha followed the directions the doctor had given her to the finest detail. She waited impatiently for the soup to warm. Just as she was about to pour Avram a bowl, there was a knock at the door.
Shosha was surprised to see the doctor standing in the doorway. “I’m making the soup,” she told him.
“Good,” he replied. “There’s just one more thing.”
“What now?” Shosha asked.
“The most important step is not written down. Before you give him the soup, you must thank and bless the Creator of the barley, who gave you the elements of the soup to begin with.”
Shosha stared at the doctor. “Do you understand?” he asked her gently. She nodded. The doctor said good-bye and left.
Shosha ladled the barley soup into a bowl. She prayed and thanked the Creator of the barley, who had blessed her and given her a beautiful son to love. Then she knelt by Avram’s bed and put the bowl to his lips. He groaned at the all-too-familiar scent of barley soup, but as his lips touched the bowl, he began to gulp the liquid hungrily. Then he leaned back on his pillow. “More, mama,” he whispered.
Shosha was no longer worried. She knew that little Avram would be just fine.
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.