The Demons and Spirits
under the Fingernails
TOLD BY AVIGDOR REEDER
In the village of Wiela̧cza, which lies between Szczebrzeszyn and Zamosc, there lived a village Jew, a simple, hardworking, and God-fearing man. Like all village Jews, he did not sin by knowing too much Torah. When they first met him, people quickly sensed a Jew who smelled of the field and stable. He spoke with three R's—r-r-r—which sharply marked him off from the city language. In the morning, he put on his tallit*and tefillin** and spent a long time saying "Mah Tovu"—the verse recited when you enter the synagogue§—because he hardly knew Hebrew. The man supported himself by dealing in pig bristles, a rough commodity and, more important, one that involves animals. In fact, people called him "the animal dealer."
He had four daughters and one son. The son, as should be, was his magic ring: The man wanted his son to ensure his own portion in the world to come, too. He had him study with a teacher from Szczebrzeszyn, so he would learn what a Jew should know: to pray a little and say Kaddish,§§ after 120 years,*** for his father and to write a little Yiddish.
The village Jew took his son, Yoshke, to all the fairs to teach him to earn his own bread. Yoshke took to his apprenticeship in business well. He soon was expert at touching an animal and reckoning how much it was worth. He was more successful at business than at learning Torah.
One fine Friday, Yoshke came home to get himself ready for the Sabbath Queen. He bathed in the brook in honor of the Sabbath, cleaned his Sabbath boots and smeared them with grease, and trimmed his nails—
**Small black leather prayers boxes, wrapped around the head and arm, containing passages from the
§See Numbers 24:5.
§§The mourner's prayer.
***That is, after the father has lived a full life (see Genesis 6:3).