In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Healer
The tiny, one-room house was dark and musty. Narrow sunbeams poked through the cracks around a small draped window, and near the bed a solitary wick flickered in a little bowl of oil.
Ruchelah lay in her bed. She had been infirmed for years, barely able to move or sit up, much less stand or walk. She heard a rapping at the door—two knocks, a pause, and then three quick taps. It was Leah, the rebbetzin.
“Ruchelah, are you awake?” the elderly rebbetzin queried as she showed her head through the door. The sickly woman nodded. Leah came to see Ruchelah three times a day. She would come in, give Ruchelah a bowl of broth, adjust the pillows, and in the winter wrestle a log on to the hearth.
“Your healer hasn’t come yet?” Leah asked as she helped Ruchelah sit up and gave her a bowl of chicken soup. Ruchelah just smiled faintly.
“You’re still waiting for him?” Leah continued. Again, Ruchelah just smiled.
“Go ahead, eat; it will give you strength,” Leah urged. She watched as Ruchelah took a few spoonfuls of the hot nourishment.
“I’ll see you again in the morning,” Leah promised as she turned towards the door. “Make sure you rest; rest. Don’t you stay up all night reading.” Leah adjusted her wig and softly closed the door behind her.
Ruchelah sighed. Leah had been taking care of her for how long? It seemed too many years to count since the accident. A horse had gone crazy in the market place and knocked down everything—and everyone—in its path. Ruchelah had found herself lying flat on the ground, a sharp pain shooting up her spine.
“Rest,” the doctor had urged her, “stay off your feet and you’ll be better in a few weeks.” The weeks became months and the months made themselves years, but the pain had never left her. Ruchelah developed a lump beside her spine, and not long afterwards the lump grew and began spreading. Then she began to lose her strength.
Her husband, Leib-Duvid, had seemed a good enough man and a fair provider, but when he realized that his wife would be an invalid for who-knows-how-long, he packed his bags and left. Who could blame him for not wanting to bear such a tragic burden? Dishonorable, true! But understandable. She heard from him again only once when a messenger brought the get.
Ruchelah’s daughter, Shayna, had taken care of her at first, but it wasn’t long before she was able to escape into marriage. She and her new husband soon moved away. They brought their first child to visit but now they found it too cumbersome to do much traveling. Yet who could blame them?
It was after this that Leah came; was it six years ago, or seven? From the beginning Leah had always been faithful; it was “hesed shel emet,” an act of true loving-kindness, as Ruchelah knew she would never be able to repay the rebbetzin for her care. Leah even used to bring Ruchelah books with stories of far-away places. But the only one that Ruchelah cared for was the tattered old Yiddish Bible. Leah had let her keep it. It sat on the table beside her bed, right next to the bowl of oil.
Ruchelah, feeling a bit stronger, reached for the Bible and opened its yellowed pages, almost automatically, to the middle of the book of Isaiah. This was Ruchelah’s favorite passage, a slightly obscure incident about how Hezekiah, one of the kings of the ancient Jewish nation, had become mortally ill. He had prayed to the Lord, and the prophet Isaiah had come to him, saying, “Thus saith the Lord . . . I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears. I hereby add fifteen years to your life” (Isaiah 38:5). God, Isaiah explained, was going to work a miracle to let Hezekiah know that he would be healed; the shadow on the sundial was going to go backwards ten degrees. Of course, the Scriptures recorded that the shadow did go backwards, and King Hezekiah recovered from his illness.
Ruchelah had come across this story by chance several years ago. “If God is God,” she had reasoned, “then he can do whatever miracles he pleases. If God could cure old King Hezekiah, why can’t he heal me?”
“Ribbono shel Olam,” she had prayed, “Master of the Universe, I know you are the great Healer; please, heal me as you healed King Hezekiah.”
She had barely finished her prayer when a flood of golden sunlight streamed through the window, making everything as bright as a summer afternoon.
“It’s a sign,” Ruchelah had gasped, “a sign that God has heard my prayer. He’s going to heal me; God is going to heal me!” And she hung onto that hope because she had nothing else.
Not too long after she read about Hezekiah’s miracle, Ruchelah’s eyes had lighted on another passage, also in the book of Isaiah. “Surely, our disease he did bear,” the prophet had written, “and our pains he carried . . .” Ruchelah continued reading. She discovered that God had sent a “righteous servant,” someone who took upon himself the sickness and hurts of others and bore their sins. “A healer,” she murmured. But who was this healer? Ruchelah didn’t know, but she knew that God had sent him. And since God had said he would send a healer back then, doubtless, he could certainly send a healer to her now.
Ruchelah had been so overjoyed with her discoveries that she couldn’t wait to tell Leah. At first Leah even shared her hope and looked for a miracle. But as time went on, Ruchelah, instead of getting better, declined. She was weakening; her already slight frame was wasting away, and her once healthy complexion was turning pale and gray. And the years had continued to drag by.
Now a sudden draft blew out the wick in the oil bowl. The sun had already set, and the room was swallowed up in darkness. Ruchelah wanted to recite the confession of sins and say the Sh’ma, but she found that she didn’t have the strength to remember all the words.
“Ribbono shel Olam,” she prayed, “please forgive me my sins, and quickly send the Righteous One, the Healer, to me.” Ruchelah prayed and then soon fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
She awoke to the sound of a rapping at her door—two knocks, a pause, and three quick taps. The room of her dream was flooded with a stream of golden sunlight, just at it had been the day she first asked God to send the healer. When the door opened, she thought she would go blind, the light was so bright. But instead of Leah, a man entered the room. He was dressed in white and was neither young nor old.
“Come, daughter,” he said, as he held out an ugly, scarred hand, “your faith has made you well.”
Ruchelah took hold of that hand, and with a quickness that surprised her, she leaped out of bed, jumped to her feet, sprang out the door and started running—running and skipping for sheer joy— through a lush, green meadow that was bursting with springtime.
Morning came. Leah entered the dingy room and shook her head sadly at the sight of Ruchelah’s gaping jaw and wideopen eyes that would never see anything on earth again.
“Poor thing,” Leah said out loud. “She really thought that God would heal her. . . .”
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.