[First try at a short story]
He was a small boy, no more than seven or eight years old. The middle child among so many. There were six children in all, three each boys and girls. His name was Moshe, or Moses as we would call him.
The oldest child was Sarah. Sarah at fourteen was getting to be very pretty and would hopefully not require much of a dowry. Their family was not rich. They lived in a two room shack, a memory of better times when Moses’ father was still around and making a living. But in those days any serious infection could end your life early and so it was for their father. Moses’ mother made do by taking in laundry and seamstress work and between that and keeping everyone as feed, clothed and clean as possible got six hours of sleep a night. Shabbat was a blessed respite.
Moses’ family also got some help from the religious community, not that anyone was really rich in their shtetl, but those with means tried to help out and some really needed help if they weren’t to starve.
When was this? Does it really matter, it was a few hundred years ago and during one of those times of relative peace when they weren’t being set upon by a pogrom. Happy times!
The boy went to a kheyder, a day school, where he and the other boys learned to read and write and learned Torah. In that day and age to be learned meant to know not only worldly things but specifically to know Torah. Yet it was not an egalitarian time and girls weren’t taught in school, their mothers taught them what they needed to know.
When they would be let out the boys would play simple games. Moses and his friends liked to roll hoops with sticks. They would compete to see how far they could roll them without having the hoop wobble and fall.
One day Moses’ hoop wobbled and turned off the road, and there was a slope right there that descended down a hill. Like any eight year old he ran after it. Soon he lost track of his friend’s voices because for some reason the hoop stayed up for a while.
At last the hoop came to a stop at the edge of a cliff overlooking a small valley. On the other side there was a rock wall. Looking around Moses saw a pile of stones and thought it would be fun to investigate, so he climbed up to them.
He stubbed his toe on the rock and said “Ouch!” and after a couple of seconds heard “ouch” come back softly. Then he tried saying other things. He noticed that only some words came back, not all of them:
“Is mother worried”
“Will I pass the test”
“How do I find my way home”
“Is the way home north, south, east or west”
Wow, thought Moses, this is amazing. I’ll have to tell people about this. It’s like the Oracle of Greek history he’d heard a travelling storyteller talk about once.
On his way back to the road he carefully cut blazes into the trees so he could find his way back from the road. He ran home and told his mother. First she was angry because he’d been gone for two hours and nobody knew where he’d gone, not even his friends who described him running off into the woods.
Once she had decided on his punishment, she realized that he really needed to tell his story. She listened carefully and said “Moses, that is a great story. Maybe you’ll become a storyteller one day!”. Moses tried to tell her that it was true, but she just wasn’t listening after that. She thought it was all a contrivance to try and get out of the extra chores.
A week later, the extra chores done and gone, Moses had thought of a way to convince people. He would take his twelve year old brother Sam with him and show him. After class they went for a walk in the woods, following the blazes Moses cut in the trees. Moses showed Sam the interesting echo and Sam nodded, it was really unusual.
On their way home they talked about how to tell the adults. Sam said “Let’s tell our teacher Rav Chaim, he’s very wise”. The next day after class they tried to tell Rav Chaim, he looked at the two of them and said, “So, you say something and the echo picks out the answer?”, they nodded, “no good can come of this. You should stay away, it is no work of Hashem”.
They talked some more and decided to talk to Mr. Goldberg the butcher, perhaps he would take a more practical and less superstitious view. Goldberg looked at them, “You expect me to believe this?”, they nodded, “well, I can’t see the harm in taking an hour off, business is slow today.”
They lead the butcher to the cliff and he asked his questions as the described:
“Should I stock more beef or chicken”
“Will I live a long life”
“Are my employees honest or not”
He turned to the boys, “Well, I got one answer, but that was it. Let’s see if it’s right about that”
The butcher buys up more beef than usual. In the next week he sells the usual amount of beef but not much chicken and has to donate the excess meat so it won’t spoil. He goes to the boys and is furious. Sam say: “But it was right, you sold more beef than chicken, you just didn’t sell more beef”.
The butcher says he isn’t going to get involved anymore. He’s learned his lesson.
The boys go to the rabbi and talk about the echo and the butcher. The rabbi says: “Maybe I should try asking it a question. What harm is there?”
They make their way to the wall and the Rabbi describes a long question from the Talmud and says:
“Who was right, Akiva or Tarfon?”