Moishe the Beadle.
“A jack of all trades in a Hasidic house of prayer.”
Poor, but liked. “He stayed out of people’s way. His presence bothered no one. He had mastered the art of rendering himself insignificant, invisible. Physically, he was awkward as a clown. His waiflike shyness made people smile.”
“As for me, I liked his dreamy eyes, gazing off into the distance. He spoke little. He sang, or rather he chanted, and the few snatches I caught here and there spoke of divine suffering, of the Shekhinah in Exile, where, according to Kabbalah, it awaits its redemption linked to that of man.”
Sometimes it takes a poor beggar to see such things.
Moishe was also a foreigner – and one day all the foreigners were expelled from the town, “crammed into cattle cars by the Hungarian police,” they cried quietly. Over the horizon they went, quickly forgotten. “That’s war…”
Time passed. Life was normal again.
And then one day there was Moishe, sitting outside the synagogue, “the joy in his eyes was gone, he no longer sang…he spoke only of what he had seen”:
The train with the deportees had crossed the Hungarian border and, once in Polish territory, had been taken over by the Gestapo. The train had stopped. The Jews were ordered to get off and onto waiting trucks. The trucks headed toward a forest. There everybody was ordered to get out. They were forced to dig huge trenches. When they finished their work, the Gestapo began theirs. Without passion or haste, they shot their prisoners, who were forced to approach the trench one by one and offer their necks. Infants were tossed into the air and used as targets for the machine guns. This took place in the Galician forest, near Kolomay. How had he, Moishe the Beadle, been able to escape? By a miracle. He was wounded in the leg and left for dead…”
He told his story day after day, night after night.
For over a year.
No one believed him.
“Moishe wept and pleaded: ‘Jews, listen to me! That’s all I ask of you. No money. No pity. Just listen to me!’ he kept shouting in the synagogue, between the prayer at dusk and the evening prayer. Even I did not believe him. I often sat with him, after services, and listened to his tales, trying to understand his grief. But all I felt was pity. ‘They think I’m mad,’ he whispered, and tears, like drops of wax, flowed from his eyes.”
And the last time they saw him? The night the Jewish leaders of the village were arrested and the rest of the town was ordered to stay indoors on pain of death. Moishe the Beadle appeared one last time at the door of the house. “I warned you!” And then he dashed off into the night.
Seeing Moishe the Beadle I see Isaiah, Jeremiah (especially Jeremiah!), Zechariah, or any of the prophets. Poor, mad, weeping men and women whom no one takes seriously.
I’m also going to remember Moishe when I encounter any of the “four blood moons” people with their eschatology obsessions, calculations, and warnings.Though it would help to take such warnings more seriously if the leaders of such movements weren’t published authors with their own followings and all the trappings of affluence – and if they hadn’t been at this business for decades (centuries!) with ever new signs in the offing.
But wisdom seems to be whispering, “Perhaps you should listen to the next poor beggar you encounter.”
It just may be Moishe.