Yossele the golem
felt a bit dubious
about going to Chelm,
the village of idiots.
Menachem the blacksmith
pointed out that the residents
must need ironwork
as much as anyone else,
and so they took their wagon
down the road and through the gate.
Chelm was the strangest village
that Yossele had ever seen.
There were houses
with the doors hung backwards.
There were men dressed as women
and women dressed as men.
There was a fountain
of blue sand instead of water.
And the village golem
was lying in the middle of the road
instead of standing guard.
Annoyed by such laziness,
Yossele went over
and kicked the golem
with his iron foot.
"Oy!" shouted the baker.
"Kick him again, why don't you?
I don't think Amnon felt it the first time!"
But the other golem
grabbed Yossele's crutches
and yanked him off balance,
toppling him to the ground.
"Look at you tussling around
like a pair of putzes,"
"Get up and go to work."
Yossele tried to obey,
but Amnon only fought harder.
"How are we supposed to
get any blacksmithing done like this?"
Menachem said, throwing up his hands.
"Fine, lie there in the road like a log.
I'll do the work myself, already."
But Amnon sprang to his feet
and took the reins of the horse in hand,
leading the wagon to a corner of the square
where it was convenient to set up
the portable forge they carried.
Yossele gathered his crutches
and followed along behind.
It was a golem's nature to obey.
Why was Amnon being so contrary?
The villagers were just as contrary, though.
They brought whole pots to be mended
and cows to be shod instead of horses.
They took things without paying for them
and left payment without taking goods.
Yossele got more and more confused.
"Go make a nuisance of yourself,"
Menachem said to Amnon.
"You are too foolish
to be of any use in this village."
Amnon, who knew his people well,
soon sorted out the chaos
and got everyone moving briskly --
although the exchange
of services and payment
remained rather random.
It all worked out tolerably enough
and the job got done in the end.
As Yossele and Menachem
packed up to leave,
Amnon lay back down
in the middle of the road.
"Do not worry, my friend,"
patting Yossele on the arm.
"We are done with Chelm for now,
and surely the next village
will be more sensible."
Still, Yossele wondered
how the other golem
could possibly guard his village
while behaving in such a contrary way.
He looked back over his shoulder.
Menachem saw him pondering
and said, "Nu, what do you think
happens when raiders come
and shout at the golem
to get out of their way
and leave them alone?"
Yossele thought about that,
and then laughed his silent laugh,
imagining how the golem
would badger them
until they fled in frustration.
* * *
Chelm is an important part of Jewish humor, the customary setting of stories about foolishness. There actually is a city named Chelm, but it may or may not have anything to do with the humor. Here is a storyteller relating a story about three wise men from Chelm, which begins around 33:20.
Putz is a Yiddish insult.