Go Eat Kreplach
By Jacob Dinezon
Translated from Yiddish by Jane Peppler
Dear reader, it’s not her goodness, her piety, her benevolence that I want to tell you about. Her name was Deborah, and in Bodovitz you only needed to say, “According to Deborah,” and everybody knew which Deborah you meant—that’s how well-known Deborah, of blessed memory, was throughout the little town of Bodovitz! It’s not her goodness, her piety, her benevolence that I want to talk about, because she never wanted to hear people praise her when she was alive, so she certainly wouldn’t want it now that she’s dead. Consequently, I’m just going to tell you about the virtue she herself always boasted about, and it’s that she never cursed in her whole life, never used a swear word.
“A curse,” she used to say, “is worse than anything in the world.”
Somebody asked her once, “Deborah, long life to you, we find curses in the Holy Torah itself, a whole section on curses, in fact, two, one longer than the other, so there probably must be something to it. It’s natural and human to curse one who deserves it!”
“Ah, my children,” she used to answer. “The Torah may curse those who deserve to be punished; such a curse has power! But we sinners, what’s the point of our swearing? Don’t we know that God isn’t waiting for us to tell Him what and who to punish? Feh, curses are not suitable for people!”
But Deborah did use one curse when she was greatly agitated or angry (if that were even possible). The curse was, “So go eat kreplach!”
Deborah really loved little children—she’d never had any of her own—and her greatest pleasure was the little schoolboys who walked past her house on their way home from kheyder. She’d call them in, stuff their pockets with nuts, give them little cakes, and ask them to make a blessing so she could answer, “Amen.”
There wasn’t one schoolboy in Bodovitz who didn’t know her house, who didn’t seek out her little cakes. She didn’t just love to make a blessing; she also loved to watch their antics and joke with them. Nowhere else could the children play as freely as they did at her house. While fooling around, often a boy would break a glass or a plate by accident and get scared. Then Deborah would go console him and say, “Ah, go eat kreplach! Never mind, don’t be afraid. God willing, I’ll break a pot at your engagement party. Go eat kreplach!”
Deborah had one single cow. She gave all the milk left over from her own use to poor people, she’d make fresh butter for a sick person somewhere. At one time, the Bodovitz Rabbi was one of these sick people. His wife, the rebitsin, came to Deborah and told her this story: “Since the doctor has given strict orders that the rabbi should drink several a few glasses of milk every day—however, only fresh milk straight from one cow—and, moreover, whenever possible, he should go for a walk, the village leaders assembled a big meeting to discuss whether a cow should be bought for the rabbi or merely rented until he became completely healthy again. And whenever there’s a meeting, there are always sides strongly disagreeing with each other, and neither side has given an inch yet. So it’s been decided that the matter will be brought before an even bigger meeting, God willing, during the middle of Pesach, and that, meanwhile, the rabbi should try out the doctor’s advice. He should go for walks and if they see this really helps him get better, they won’t be stingy about the other advice, that’s to say, the drinking of fresh milk.”
“Oh, let them eat kreplach!” Deborah shouted, and told the town benefactors they’d better hope never to experience for themselves the pain of having to ask others for help. She then told the rebitsin, by her love of God, not to be embarrassed: she should take all the milk Deborah’s cow gives in hopes the rabbi will drink it and be cured.
From then on the rabbi began coming to Deborah’s courtyard with one of his best students. Coming in, the rabbi washed his hands and Deborah herself gave him the hand towel, showed him to a chair, and brought him a footstool. She also invited the student to sit and rest from the journey while the cow was being milked. Unfortunately, her cook was away at a wedding just then because it was Lag B’Omer, and Deborah herself had to milk the cow. This didn’t bother her at all. She was perfectly good at it and not embarrassed at all, though she’d always considered herself a rich woman.
When the milk pail was full, when she’d set the milk aside and run into the house with the glasses, a big pig (I beg your pardon for mentioning it) came from the end of the courtyard and stuck his big snout into the milk-pail, snorting down the milk as only a pig can. Deborah’s face grew as pale as death when she came upon this scene and saw what was going on; her heartache and misery were easy to imagine. Nevertheless, she still didn’t sin with her mouth, she wouldn’t curse even the pig, but with a stifled voice and clamped-down heart she said, “What a disappointment! Shame on you, see what you’ve done? Akh, go eat kreplach!”
From then on, when someone in the little town of Bodovitz wanted to call someone a pig in a genteel way, they used the catchphrase, “Go eat kreplach!”
This curse, “Go eat kreplach,” once caused some sorry business between a Bodovitz man and his wife, bringing them to the brink of divorce. The story goes like this:
A woman, really a completely innocent young Jewish wife—not one of the modern Bodnitzer women—a pious and God-fearing Daughter of Israel, had just prayed and beat the myrtle branches for Hoshana Rabbah and was happily coming home certain she had earned her good inscription in the Book of Life.
She’d prepared a festive table, as she had the previous year and for ten years before that. It happened that her husband, very absent-minded that day, had completely forgotten about Hoshana Rabbah and the holiday feast featuring kreplach. His wife reminded him many times: it was time to come to the table for lunch; absentmindedly, he just stayed where he was, his eyes on his calculations. Unfortunately, the kreplach were cooked to perfection, completely ready in their pot, and the good wife’s heart was aching. She feared, God forbid, that the kreplach would be overcooked from staying so long on the stove, that they’d lose their kreplach flavor, get doughy, God forbid, and be no good at all.
“Just tell me,” the wife asked her husband in anger, “are you going to go eat kreplach?”
“You’re a pig yourself, and so was your father, may he forgive me for saying so—and if he won’t, who cares?!” the husband replied angrily to his wife’s innocent words, forgetting that it was Hoshana Rabbah (when the custom is to actually eat kreplach).
“What? My father is a pig?” his wife shouted with tears in her eyes. “You’ve got the nerve to say my father, may he rest in peace, was a pig! Gevald, somebody save me! I’m fainting! I’m dying!”
Hearing this clamor, Deborah ran in, half dead, half alive. “Sha, what’s going on here? God be with you!” Deborah said.
“Oy, Deborah, my dear! He’s pelted me with mud! He said that my father, may he rest in peace, was a pig!”
“Oh, go eat kreplach!” Deborah turned to the young man. “What’s this about? And in the middle of a holiday?”
“What holiday?” the young man asked.
“What do you mean? Go eat kreplach! Today is Hoshana Rabbah, of course! You mean to say you haven’t eaten any kreplach today?”
No, not her goodness, her piety, her benevolence did I want to tell you about, dear reader. There’s too much to say about those virtues of hers! And if I have now taken the trouble to share with you just this one of Deborah’s virtues, it’s just because during her lifetime Deborah herself hated to talk about the others. Not cursing—and discouraging others from cursing—was the least of this simple, honest Jewish woman’s virtues.
I see her happy, clear, good countenance, her good, radiant eyes, and I regret that there are few such women in Bodovitz or in other cities. And I know in today’s practical life people don’t speak any more of such trivialities, and so I gaze ever more often into this lovely, unforgettable scene.