In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos
Gedalia was only a kid. He wasn’t a kid in the common sense of the word, meaning “child” or “offspring.” On the other hand, I suppose one could say that Gedalia was the child of Malka the nanny goat, who provided milk for the largest family in Vaysechvoos, for Duvid the Tanner and his wife, Yetta, were the proud, if not somewhat overwhelmed, parents of eleven “kids” of their own. Of course, Malka’s kid was not a child, though the feat he performed could make you wonder. But we don’t want to get ahead of our story.
Gedalia was a kid with no future—no future, that is, other than being passed on a platter from one guest to the next at the Passover seder of Yossel and Shayna Rabinovitch. They were not wealthy people by ordinary standards, but in a town as poor as Vaysechvoos, they set a table most of the townsfolk only dreamed about—a Passover “feast.”
A Kid with No Future
But before making his appearance—between the carrots and the potatoes at the Rabinovitch homeGedalia’s schedule included a trip to the town shochet. Poor Gedalia. A label was hung around his neck and he was led to a pen behind the shop of Shimmon the Shochet, who declared the sentence of the goat’s demise to be the following day!
And then something as rare as a kindhearted Cossack came to Vaysechvoos—a thief. A thief in Vaysechvoos? This was indeed a rarity, because, after all, there was nothing to steal in Vaysechvoos! Oh, one could strip some of the clothing from a clothesline, but who would pay anything for such rags? Or one could haul away the pots and the pans, but, like most worldly goods in Vaysechvoos, they were so old, so bent and so just plain used up, that only a fool would exert the energy to carry them off.
A Schlemiel of a Thief
But to tell you the truth, this thief who came to Vaysechvoos wasn’t much of a thief. First of all, he was a Jew and he couldn’t bring himself to steal on the Sabbath. If he had been a little more articulate, he would have aspired to be a beggar. But as it was, all he could do was sneak from one village to the next and try to steal a couple of chickens or perhaps even a goat. Yonah the Thief was too terrified to try stealing anything bigger, like a cow or a horse.
Gedalia the kid was just the right size for Yonah the Thief, who crept into the pen and slipped a rope around the neck of the doomed animal. He pulled Gedalia out of the shochet’s pen, out of the town and down by the stream which runs on the eastern border of Vaysechvoos.
Perhaps Gedalia sensed that Shimmon the Shochet’s pen was not the safest place for a goat just before Passover, so he allowed Yonah to drag him off without any protest. However, when Gedalia stepped into the stream, he was not prepared for its cold current. He bleated and he jumped and in his confusion and terror, he began prancing around in circles. Yonah was caught off-guard, but was determined to hold onto his end of the rope. The other end, of course, was tied around the hapless he-goat’s neck. As the foolish thief turned round and round in an attempt to keep an eye on his captive, he entangled himself in his own rope. And before you could say, “Oy vey!” the klutz tripped and fell into the stream, which felt like ice to his pupik. He made a quick apology to the Almighty for being such a schlemiel and then he fainted.
The Goat Becomes the Hero
Poor Yonah. Poor Gedalia. They were quite a sight. The stream was not so deep, but it held enough water to drown a man who was tangled up with a rope, lying flat on his pupik!
Now Gedalia was just a little tiny goat, but Yonah didn’t weigh much either. Well, Gedalia’s only thought was to escape from the cold stream and from the awful weight around his neck. So when the thief came to, he found himself being inadvertently rescued by the goat, who had somehow managed to pull himself and the thief up on the bank. The poor bedraggled Gedalia was bleating so piteously that all of Vaysechvoos, including Shimmon the Shochet and his apprentices, came out to see who was making such a racket.
Upon seeing the still entangled Yonah, one of the apprentices surmised what had happened and shouted, “He deserves a good beating for trying to steal the little he-goat!”
“How can we beat such a pathetic nudnik?” retorted the shochet. “We’ll take him to the Sage; he will know what to do. He’ll mete out the proper punishment for this pitiful excuse of a thief.”
And a wise decision it was which the Sage of Vaysechvoos handed down: Yonah was required to clean the pens of the shochet for three months. Of course, the shochet paid him a nominal amount and put him up in the little shed next to the pen. Yonah, who had repented just prior to passing out in the stream, liked the punishment so well that he begged to be allowed to continue, and he has been working there ever since.
You might be wondering about Gedalia the goat. Ahhh, well let me tell you. He didn’t grace the Rabinovitch table that Passover or any other. No, Gedalia was not to be slaughtered, but was treated with honor and allowed to live out his life in peace. After all, the Sage explained, the Talmud said of Pharaoh’s daughter, who withdrew Moses from the water, “He who saves a life, it is as if he saved the whole world.” And, the Sage reasoned, though it would be irreverent to compare Yonah the thief with Moshe Rabeynu, the whole experience not only saved the life of the thief, but brought his soul to repentance. The goat had been used by the Almighty for a noble and lofty purpose, and was therefore deserving of honor.
shochet: the authorized slaughterer of animals
klutz: a clod; a clumsy slow-witted, graceless person; an inept blockhead
pupik: navel, belly button
schlemiel: a foolish person; a simpleton; a consistently unlucky or unfortunate person, a born loser; a clumsy, butterfingered, all-thumbs, gauche type
nudnik: a pest, a nag, an annoyer, a monumental bore
Moshe Rabeynu: Moses our Teacher