In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: Eliahu at the Door
In Vaysechvoos, as for Jews everywhere, Pesach was a very special occasion. Each house was made spotless and bright. All chometz was removed and all the special Passover dishes and utensils were brought out. The families eagerly awaited the celebration with its lengthy and elaborate telling of the Exodus story. The youngest sons spent hours in practice, chanting the mah nishtana. The girls helped their mothers with preparations for the delicious Passover meal. So it was in each home in the shtetl of Vaysechvoos as Passover approached.
Sholem, the son of Shimon the butcher, was walking home from cheder when he happened by one of his friends, Duvid, the son of Lazar the Boot Maker. Duvid was a few years older than Sholem. He was already working as an apprentice in the craft of boot making.
“Sholem,” Duvid asked quietly, “do you really believe that Eliahu Ha Navi could come this Passover to announce the coming of Messiah?”
Sholem wondered if Duvid’s question was sincere. “Duvid may be testing me,” he thought. “If I say yes, he may laugh and call me a baby for believing fairy tales. On the other hand, he continued, if I say no, and he really is serious, he may run and tell the rabbi and then I will really be in trouble.”
After a while, Sholem answered, “Well, Duvid, it really doesn’t matter what I think, does it?” Pleased with himself for evading the question, Sholem continued home, dismissing the matter from his mind.
The night of the first seder came at last, and as the men made their way home from the synagogue to begin the celebration, they passed a stranger in the shadows along the road. They sauntered by him, engrossed in conversation, each wishing him a “good yontif,” but paying little attention to him otherwise. The stranger did not speak and soon was the only one left out in the cold spring night.
Sholem’s mother had laid out with all the Passover finery. The wine cups all shined with the brilliance of newly polished silver. The seder plate, handed down from Sholem’s great grandmother, Zlata, seemed to convey its rich history to all who were seated around the table. The pillows at each seat were filled with genuine goose feathers. And what could one say of the meal to come? After all, if the town butcher didn’t eat the finest meat available, who would? Yes, Sholem was to celebrate the Passover with much splendor.
All that night the stranger stood outside the house of none other than Shimon the Butcher waiting for the traditional invitation, “Let all who hunger, come and eat,” for he was hungry, but, more than that, he knew that if only Shimon’s son, Sholem, would see him, then faith would be kindled in the heart of this small boy. And if Sholem would believe, then who knew but that the heart of every person in the village might also be stirred. And with that faith, what miracles might come to Vaysechvoos?
Then the time came for the family to stand and sing, Eliahu Ha Novi, Eliahu Ha Tishbi… This was the signal for Sholem to open the door to invite Eliahu, Elijah the Prophet, to enter. As he approached the door of his home, Sholem thought again about the question his playmate Duvid had asked. Did he really believe that if he opened the door Eliahu would be standing on the outside, waiting to come in, to take his place at the table, to herald the coming of Messiah? He thought of the answer he had given Duvid, “It really doesn’t matter what I think, does it?”
Sholem left the kitchen and walked to the outer room and to the door. He gripped the latch, but his hands froze upon the handle and the muscles in his arms grew suddenly weak. “It really doesn’t matter what I think,” echoed loudly in his thoughts once again. “It doesn’t matter at all.” His hand dropped from the handle of the big wooden door. He shook his head and ran back to his family in the kitchen.
“There’s no one, Papa,” he said, matter-of-factly. “No one is outside.”
The stranger remained outside the door until all the lights went off in the house of Shimon the Butcher. Then, grieved beyond telling, he sadly left the little village of Vaysechvoos. The next morning Sholem was the first to awake.
Although the Passover feast had afforded the rest of the family a heavy night’s sleep, he had slept poorly. Still wearing his nightshirt, Sholem left his bed and tiptoed to the door hoping that a breath of spring air would clear the sleepiness from his mind. Instead he found himself distressed. Somehow, he reasoned, it would be better to go back to sleep than to be troubled by restless thoughts of a door and of an ancient prophet whose message of hope brought no peace to his heart that Passover season.
Chometz: Leavened bread
Ma Nishtana: Four Questions
Cheder: primary school
Good yontif: Happy Holiday
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.