In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Blind Painter
The citizens of Vaysechvoos were not known for their artistic achievements. But then, among our Jewish people, the precept against the making of images didn’t exactly encourage masterpiece painters. Besides, there was not really anything to see around the shtetl that would inspire the aesthetic sense, unless you thought mud and dust to be beautiful! Yet the town did have one artist, Shlomo. Shlomo was unique, for he was blind from birth.
How, you ask, can a blind man paint? In Vaysechvoos, all things are possible.
Shlomo had never seen any color, but he was a precise listener and he knew from others that the sky was blue, grass was green, snow was white, blood was red and so on. And he fashioned notches in his paint containers so that he could select and blend colors. Some of the children, by voicing comparisons, taught him about shades and hues. Shlomo learned to estimate placement on the canvas and moved his brush with self-taught skill.
He would touch the objects he wished to portray, seeing” them with his fingers and measuring them with his hand. Shlomo could draw a bowl of fruit, a chair, even a cow, with astonishing accuracy.
The townspeople were amazed at what the blind man could do, and those who were superstitious believed that Shlomo had been given this gift by the Almighty to compensate for his handicap. He was forever asking questions of the villagers and all were happy to contribute to the blind man’s “sight.”
“Yes, Shlomo. Yonkel’s nose is longer than yours, and broader, too,” responded Yetta, the shoemaker’s wife, to one of Shlomo’s many inquiries. She then let Shlomo know precisely how much longer and how much broader by holding her fingers apart to the proper measurement. After all, those who learned to sew had to know how to use their fingers.
One day, the sage of Vaysechvoos paid a call on Shlomo.
“I would like to ask you to make a drawing of our shul. It occurs to me that should, God forbid, there be a pogrom here in Vaysechvoos, and should, God forbid, our shul be burned to the ground, we would have no way to know how to rebuild it.”
Shlomo listened carefully to the sage.
“My dear maggid, I am very honored that you would ask me to do a painting of our shul, but I have never attempted so large an endeavor. I can’t span it with my hands. I will need much help from the townspeople in order to accomplish this.”
“I’ve already anticipated your needs,” responded the sage. “Zeidel the Tanner, Feivel the Carpenter, and Mendel the Merchant have all agreed to help.”
Shlomo consented and began his work the next morning. With his three helpers assembled, Shlomo began:
“Feivel, would you bring your ladder to the shul right now?”
“Zeidel would you bring a notebook?”
“Mendel, I’ll need you to lead me to shul.”
By midday, the four men were busy at their tasks. Feivel held the ladder on which Shlomo stood. The artist moved his hands around the edifice, feeling the form on all sides.
“Tell me, Zeidel,” asked Shlomo, “what does the wood look like on this section?” Zeidel, as best he could, explained the gradations of color and was surprised at how they varied from one plank of wood to the next.
Shlomo then descended from the ladder and did a sketch, noting the information given by Zeidel as well as his own impressions from touching.
He then explained to Mendel how to mix the paints so that he would have the proper colors for the final painting. Mendel, too, was surprised at how a little yellow or white added to the existing paints could make such a difference in the colors.
The rest of the town also took an interest in the project. Different ones would walk by the shul to survey the progress. And since they were already at the house of prayer, the people felt they might as well go inside and daven. As a matter of fact, each day of the several weeks that Shlomo labored, there was always a minyan for worship in the morning, afternoon and evening!
The sage smiled as he watched the shul come alive with worshipers.
Finally, Shlomo was finished with his research.” He worked alone at home for one more week and then all was ready. The sage, along with the three helpers, came to the blind man’s home to see the final painting.
When Shlomo removed the cloth that draped the canvas, the men gasped.
“This is incredible!” said Feivel.
“A miracle!!” exclaimed Zeidel the Tanner.
Mendel the Merchant just wept, for he could not find words to express his feelings at the sight.
And the sage, he just smiled a knowing smile.
Instead of an architectural sketch with four walls, a root and a doorway, Shlomo had painted the people of Vaysechvoos entering the building for worship. How the blind man could depict with such detail all those who entered the house of prayer is a mystery to this day. Some say that all of Shlomo’s research over the years about this one and that one was embedded in his memory. All he did, they say, is recall it all to mind.
But if that was the case, how could he know that Yossel had a rash on his forehead or that Menachem was missing the second button on his coat? Neither had spoken with him before entering or after departing from the shul. And none of Shlomo’s helpers had even mentioned that Yossel or Menachem were there. So, it will probably remain a mystery!
Shlomo had done exactly what the wise sage had hoped for. He was truly a great painter, for he had captured a glimpse of the Almighty in his people. As it is written: “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (Psalm 46:7).
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.