There was once a thriving little town in Central Europe where almost everyone was Jewish and they all had a job. The single exception, it seems, was the Village Idiot who, when offered work, refused to take it. What was the job? It was to wait at the outskirts of the village for the arrival of the Messiah, whom he would then greet and escort into town. “The pay isn’t much,” he was told, “but the work is steady.”

It’s a wonderful story, of course, full of sly Jewish humor but, at the same time, steeped in a pathos so profound that one is left with little reason to smile. Why that should be so is what prompts this reflection. 

So, why exactly would he have turned down the job? Was it because, as the Village Idiot, he hadn’t enough sense to know even what a job was, never mind the one he’d been offered? On the other hand, it looks as if no one else wanted it either, which is why they offered it to him. And why is that? Because, to be a Jew in the modern world means, in effect, to have long since given up waiting for the Messiah. He’s not coming, you see, and not even an idiot would think otherwise.

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