In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Junk Dealer
Motl the Junk Dealer had first visited Vaysechvoos many years ago. He had come from Lodz in a broken-down cart led by a broken-down horse. Beside him on the cart was a sackful of worthless items that the enterprising Motl had peddled to each of the shopkeepers in Vaysechvoos.
To Eleazer the Butcher he sold a clock that didn’t work. Motl had explained, “Any clock can tell time, but this clock will tell you when the Messiah has come. For when Messiah comes, all things will be restored. So, if you observe the clock every day, when it begins to tick, you will know that Messiah has come!!”
To Mendel the Shoemaker, he sold a lamp which could not hold oil and to Yankel the Tailor he sold a violin without strings. Nahum the Blacksmith purchased a bellow with holes and as for Avi the Storyteller, well, it was a book with blank pages. Motl the Junk Dealer had handled each item as though it were a priceless treasure as he explained to one customer after the other how they could be the first to know when the Messiah would come. He would restore all things, especially their new purchases!
Well, several years had passed and the people of Vaysechvoos had long since ceased to feel foolish over the purchases which they regretted almost as soon as Motl’s rickety old horse and cart were out of sight. So naturally you can appreciate the tumult which occurred on the day when the clock that Eleazer the Butcher had bought from the Junk Dealer began ticking!
“Can you imagine? The clock we bought from the Junk Dealer years ago is ticking!” shrieked Zlata, the butcher’s wife.
The eyes of Pesha, their daughter, widened: “Could it be?” she wondered as she recalled the story her parents had told of the Junk Dealer. “Is it possible that the Messiah is here … now … today … in Vaysechvoos?” Eleazer, seeing the astonishment of his wife and daughter, hastened to remind them:
“When the Messiah comes, all things will be restored. Who knows what might cause an old clock to begin ticking.
“Zlata, the alterations on my Shabbos suit, they should be finished?” His wife nodded. “Good. Peshale, you’ll go to Yankel the Tailor’s and pick it up, yes?”
Pesha obediently set out to do her father’s bidding, but she could not seem to push the idea of the Messiah’s possible arrival from her mind. The “tick-tock” of the clock seemed to echo in her ears, and the more she recalled the sound of it the more she imagined that the clock might be saying “he’s come, he’s come.” She searched her memory for the pieces of the story her parents had once told her as she set out for the home of Yankel and Chaika Gorelick, but a ten-minute walk from her parents’ home. And she remembered! Her parents had told her of the many items the Junk Dealer sold to the shopkeepers of Vaysechvoos … including Yankel the Tailor.
Though her stated purpose was to retrieve her father’s altered suit, the thirteen-year-old girl’s heart was pounding as she ever-so-casually inquired about the violin Reb Yankel had bought from the Junk Dealer years earlier. He barely remembered the encounter, but Chaika, his thrifty wife, remembered it all too well. At Pesha’s childlike insistence she went to fetch the broken instrument from among the other “someday to be repaired” items they had stored in the back.
Well, seconds later the young girl and the tailor heard such a geschrei that they went running to see if Chaika was hurt. Instead, they found her frozen in place. In one hand she held a violin with a full complement of strings. In her other hand was a magnificent bow.
“Could it be?” the tailor and his wife murmured as one. He continued, “Has the Messiah come? Are all things restored?”
Pesha ran out the door, dashing off to the homes of the shoemaker, the blacksmith and the storyteller of Vaysechvoos. And at each place, the same astonishing thing happened. The items Motl the Junk Dealer had sold them had regained their usefulness. The lamp could burn oil, the bellows sucked in and blew out great gusts of wind, and the pages of the book were filled with stories of the glory and majesty of the Almighty, blessed be his name!
Word of these miracles spread quickly throughout the shtetl of Vaysechvoos. Everyone crowded into the shul which also served as a meeting place. The sage of Vaysechvoos, the rabbi, the melamed and the students of the holy books all were there … along with everyone else … for there was no one who did not have something to say or to ask about the matter!
All the restored items were brought to the shul and inspected, and indeed each was in excellent working order.
“What can it mean?” asked one of the villagers.
“How can we know if indeed the Messiah has really come?” added another.
The discussion went on for hours and hours as the learned men of Vaysechvoos each offered differing opinions.
The debate had neared a fever pitch, when who was to walk into the shul but Motl the Junk Dealer, a bit older, a little grayer, still a man strong enough to carry a sackful of goods.
“It’s the Junk Dealer!!” cried out Nahum the Blacksmith. Others gasped, and then a hush fell over the meeting room. Every eye was fixed on the Junk Dealer who had come to Vaysechvoos so long ago and had now returned.
He stepped up to the bimah where the sage and the rabbi and the melamed and the students of the holy books were seated.
“May I say a few words to the good people of Vaysechvoos?” he petitioned the rabbi in a voice that was loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. The rabbi nodded and Motl cleared his throat; then he began his speech:
“The items which you purchased from me many years ago have been restored as I promised they one day would. This is not only true in Vaysechvoos but in all of the villages where I have stopped to sell my wares. ” Murmurs of “ooh” and “ah” rippled across the room like waves of the sea. Motl nodded appreciatively and continued, “This is a momentous time, for once all is restored, the Messiah himself will come.”
“Are you saying that he has not yet come?” asked one of the students.
“Young man, that is exactly what I am saying. Not all has yet been made ready for his appearing. That is why I have been compelled to come to your shtetl on this most holy of all errands. I perhaps neglected to mention on my previous trip, that when the Messiah comes, not only must items which have not breath like clocks and violins be restored, but so must all the living of God’s people be restored. If one has aches and pains, he is not yet restored. If one has lost his hair, or had his hair lose its color, he is not restored. If one needs a walking stick or eyeglasses, he is not yet restored.”
Then the people of Vaysechvoos despaired and were downcast, for indeed there was not a family in all of the shtetl that did not have at least one member in such condition as Motl had described.
“Friends, do not be disheartened,” the voice of Motl resonated throughout the room, ” I come to you with good news. The first part of the miracle you have already witnessed in the clock, the violin, the bellows and the book which have been restored. I have brought with me the means of the second part of the miracle. Each of you can be restored to full health and hence hasten the final steps necessary for the coming of Messiah.” With that pronouncement, Motl untied his sack, reached in and pulled out a bottle of what he called, “Restoration Elixir.”
“I’ve brought enough for everyone in Vaysechvoos. If you but take a spoonful a day for seven days, it will restore you to excellent condition. And my friends, the price is small compared to the results. For as you know, when all things are restored, Messiah will come!”
The people were ecstatic and before the rabbi or the sage or the melamed or the students of the holy books could speak, the room was filled with shouts of joy as people were climbing over one another to purchase their bottles of the Junk Dealer’s restoration elixir.
Meanwhile, young Pesha – who had not been welcome to take part in this discussion because she was a youngster, and a female – stood outside the shul and had listened to every word of the Junk Dealer’s speech. She had seen him pull up in his broken-down cart led by a broken-down horse. She had watched as he made his way into the shul and had listened as he held the people of Vaysechvoos spellbound with his words. And she had sensed in her innermost soul that something was not at all right.
And so the butcher’s daughter summoned her courage and walked over to the Junk Dealer’s cart. Her eyes surveyed the many sacks that were tied with cord. She knew it wasn’t her place to touch what did not belong to her, but she was unable to resist the compulsion to untie the cord on one of the sacks, which had a different size and shape than the rest.
“Oh no!” she cried as she looked at the contents. Instead of more bottles of “Restoration Elixir,” the sack contained a broken clock, a deficient lamp, a violin without strings, a bellow with holes and a book without pages.
Pesha wept as she dragged the sack into the shul. She wept as she displayed its contents before the people of Vaysechvoos. And then the people wept, not because they had almost been swindled by a broken-down old Junk Dealer. They wept because their hopes for a soon coming Messiah had also been broken.
- Bima: pulpit, platform
- Geshrei: shreik, yell
- Melamad: teacher
- Shul: synagogue
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.