In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Wise Stranger
In the little shtetl of Vaysechvoos, there lived a Gaon. Everyone called him Rabbi Ben Reuben, but he wasn’t the rabbi that the synagogue hired, nor was he the rabbi who taught the children. As he himself explained, “Some are rabbis to lead congregations. Some are rabbis to slaughter animals. Others are rabbis to teach children. And some are rabbis to be judges. I shall be none of those kinds of rabbis. Instead, I’ll be a rabbi to study and to know so that I find the key to all wisdom. That central truth, when it is discovered, will bring down the Shechinah to dwell with men.”
Because of the rabbi’s vision, his wife and seven sons had to work very hard in the fields of the landlords. Devorah, his wife, trusted him to know what was best. “After all,” she would say, “would the rebbe have us work so hard if not to benefit all in the end?”
For Devorah knew that her husband was the wisest man in all of Vaysechvoos. Even the paid rabbi told how wise Rabbi Ben Reuben was. In return, whenever anyone came to Reb Reuben with a question, he would say, “Go to the rabbi who is the head of the congregation. I’m not a question-answering rabbi.” Then he would bury himself in the holy books, especially the Kabbalah, for he knew that the time would come when he would be the wisest man in all of the Empire.
One evening at the supper table, Herschel, the eldest son, asked the rebbe if he might speak with him. Reb Reuben had intended to get through a most difficult passage in the Kabbalah, but told Herschel he could give him “only a few minutes, no more.”
“Now, my son, what is it that is so important to take me away from studying?” Herschel looked at the impatience in his father’s eyes, then proceeded. “Nothing, except that a man came to town yesterday and everyone is talking about how wise he is. They say he is the wisest man ever to come to Vaysechvoos.”
The rebbe was inwardly agitated, but outwardly placid. “See if this stranger will come to me. If he will not, then for the sake of wisdom, I will go to him and we shall see how wise is this wise man.”
The stranger could not come, because he worked in the fields. So, the next morning, Reb Reuben went to him. His name was Yitzak Ben Joseph, the Wise One. Reb Reuben asked him question after question from the Talmud and the Mishnah and even the Kabbalah. It was apparent that Yitzak Ben Joseph knew the answers. Reb Reuben was perplexed. This man didn’t even look like other Jews. He was clean shaven.
“I see that you’ve discovered the key; the secret, “said the rebbe.
“Yes, I’ve discovered the secret of the Shechinah from my rabbi. And it wasn’t Kabbalah that pointed the way. It was Tanach.”
“Who is your rabbi?” queried Reb Reuben.
“You wouldn’t know his name. His name is like mine, but we are aeons apart. His name is Yeshua Ben Joseph.”
“I’ve never heard of Yeshua Ben Joseph. If he could bring the Shechinah down upon your face, your heart, tell me, in what book do I find his writings?”
“You’re not ready to know yet,” said the Wise One, “but I’ll be back next harvest season and then I’ll tell you.”
The conversation was finished and there was no more Reb Reuben could say. All he could do was wait until next harvest season. The year went slowly and Reb Reuben, not to be lazy, went to work with his sons in the fields of the landlords. Then one day, as he was looking down the road, there came Yitzak Ben Joseph through fields ‘neath the sickle. The rebbe ushered him into his home.
“Now, Yitzak Ben Joseph, the Wise One, please tell me the secret. “
“I have brought you a book which will reveal the secret,” he said.
“Can it be more profound than the Kabbalah?” asked the rebbe.
“Indeed, it is.”
“Can it be as holy as the Torah?”
Again the answer was yes.
“And I’ve never heard of it?” said a puzzled Reb Reuben.
“Not with your heart,” the visitor replied.
“Is it in some language unknown?”
“Not at all. Sometimes it’s in Hebrew, Yiddish or Russian.”
“I must have this book,” the rebbe declared. “How much must I pay for it?”
“One was given to me freely, so I’ll give this one to you. It’s called ha-Brit ha-Hadashah.”
Gaon: an exceptional rabbinic scholar; literally, a genius
Shechinah: the presence of God dwelling on earth, often in a visible form
ha-Brit ha-Hadashah: the New Testament
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.