The Jewish Fairy Book (Gerald Friedlander)/About Leviathan, King of the Fish
ABOUT LEVIATHAN, KING OF THE FISH
ON the left bank of the Jordan lived a pious old man and his only son. The father was a fisherman and caught sufficient fish to provide for the modest needs of his son and himself. He was accustomed every day after he had drawn in his net to throw a basketful of bread to the fish. He would say,—
"These little fish feed me and my son, and I in return must feed those that are left in the river."
One day it rained so heavily while he was fishing that he was drenched to the skin. He felt cold and ill and kept in bed next day. Towards evening he became very feverish, and calling his son to his bedside he said,—
"Dear son Samuel, I fear I shall not get rid of my cold. I shall soon trouble you no longer. You have been a very good and loving son and I bless you. I am so sorry I cannot leave you any fortune. Continue your studies of our Holy Bible. I give you my old net as your heritage. If you would prosper continue to observe my custom of feeding the fish. Stand, even as I have been wont to do for so many years, opposite our house on the bank of the river. Do not throw the bread to the fish before you have withdrawn the net. It is not fair to throw in the bread, and when the hungry fish come for their food to swoop down upon them and fill your net with them. First catch your fish, then feed the rest. You will one day understand the saying of our wise King Solomon: 'Cast thy bread upon the face of the waters, and after many days thou wilt find it again.'"
"Dearest father! do not think you will not get well again. I will look after you and by the help of the Almighty you will soon be about again."
"Good son! I fear not. My days are numbered and I shall soon sleep in the dust. I again bless you if you promise to carry out my wish."
"Of course I promise. Have no fear. I will faithfully keep my promise just because it is your wish."
That same night the good old man slept into death, for the angel of God kissed his lips. He was buried by his sorrowing son who loved him so truly. Every day Samuel went to the bank of the river to throw in his net. He stood just where his father used to stand. After he had drawn in his net, he took out of his basket handfuls of fresh white bread which he threw into the river. He was very much surprised to find that there was always a very large fish that appeared as soon as the bread reached the water. This fish managed to eat up very quickly the larger portion of the bread. Consequently there was very little left for the small fish. Moreover if one of the latter happened to be in the way of the large fish, the unfortunate little thing received a nasty knock in the back from the heavy tail of the greedy monster. This grieved Samuel, but what was he to do? The same thing happened every day since the burial of his dear father.
The more the big fish ate the larger it grew. This made the little ones fear it all the more.
"What's to be done?" said the latter one day, when they saw the greedy fish devour every scrap of bread thrown into the water by their kind-hearted friend. After very many prolonged discussions they resolved to send three of their wisest brethren as a deputation to Leviathan, King of the fish.
"Let his gracious Majesty," said they, "hear our just complaint, and he will know how to rectify our grievance. He will bring the horrid offender to book. It's high time the fat old fish had his greedy head chopped off by the public executioner. He will be a terrible example to all fish to be more careful and not to be greedy and selfish. He is a perfect disgrace to rob us of our lovely white bread."
Away the deputation swam till they came to the palace of King Leviathan, right at the bottom of the sea. It was such a marvelous palace, built of mother-of-pearl and corals. The King's body-guard were wonderful fish; their scales were luminous and they could be seen miles and miles away. When the three little fish knocked at the palace door, they were at once admitted; and when they said that they were a deputation to his Majesty they were immediately ushered into the royal presence. Directly King Leviathan saw them he began to smile and wanted to laugh in their face. He managed, however, to exercise just sufficient self-control so as not to betray his intense amusement.
"Well, little children! where do you come from?"
"O great and mighty King, we come from the Jordan."
"Where Jericho is."
"What's wrong that brings you all the way from Jericho?"
"We will tell your Majesty if you will listen to our tale. We live near the bank of the famous river Jordan. Every day a most kind-hearted man comes to bring us fresh white bread. He breaks it up into ever so many little pieces, so that every one of us shall have something to eat. Now near our homes lives a very big fish. As soon as the bread reaches the water, there he is with his big gaping mouth and he swallows up the lot. We are simply robbed of our daily bread by this wicked old fish. If your Majesty will not intervene to put an end to his tricks, he will at last become as big and as powerful as your Majesty. Would you like that? We should not, and we therefore most humbly beseech your Majesty to protect us and to punish the common enemy."
"We thank you for your concern and loyalty to our royal person. We do not approve of one of our subjects daring to become as big and as powerful as we are. Go, good body-guard, and accompany these three little fish to their home in the Jordan and see that our orders are obeyed. Now, little fish, listen to our commands. When you reach the Jordan burrow out the ground under the place where the nice man stands when he throws his bread into the water. Tell your enemy, the large and fat fish, to help you also in doing this work. When the kind man comes the next day to throw his bread into the water, the ground will give way, and he will fall into the water. Then my body-guard will catch him and bring him to our royal presence. When we see him, we will hear what he has to say. Of course the greedy fat fish is also to be present when we examine the nice man. Now, little children, do you understand?"
"Of course we do, and we thank your gracious Majesty for your kindness in taking such an interest in our affairs. We will do exactly as we have been commanded and we will soon return with our friend, the good man, and our enemy, the greedy fat fish. Farewell! Long live your Majesty!"
"Farewell, little children."
The little fish were mightily pleased with their audience with their mighty King.
"Wasn't he most charming?" said they to one another. Away they swam, accompanied by the royal body-guard.
"What will the greedy monster say," they whispered, "when he sees us with such a fine body-guard? He will be mad with jealousy. How he will splash when we give him the King's order to assist us in our work and to return with us to the palace!"
When they reached home they called on their enemy and told him all that the King had commanded. He rolled his eyes and opened his enormous mouth as though he would swallow them up alive, and then he said,—
"His Majesty's orders shall be obeyed."
The greedy fish did not like this turn of affairs at all. The whole business displeased him very much. In fact, it made him feel very ill and despondent.
"Where shall I now find my daily bread? It was so easy to come down here every morning and to find all I needed thrown into my mouth. So much to eat and so little to do. I wonder when I shall again eat such beautiful and delicious bread, fit for old Leviathan himself. These wretched little fish have added insult to injury by their audacity in asking King Leviathan to order me to assist them in the wicked task of undermining the ground whereon my charming friend stands when he throws his lovely bread to me. Talk about justice, is this not murder? He is bound to fall into the water. He will sink and be drowned like a rat. I wish I could save him, but I fear I must obey the King's orders. I wonder what the royal body-guard are doing here? I do not like to ask them any questions. They always say,—'Wait and see'—a very safe rule in the kingdom of the sea."
Without any further delay all the little fish, together with the large one and the body-guard, swam to the place where the kind man was accustomed to stand. They burrowed for all they were worth and never ceased till the royal body-guard cried out: "Enough."
Next morning when the good man came with his net on one shoulder, and in his hand the large basket full of bread, he at once took up his position on his usual spot. When lo! the ground beneath his feet gave way and he was thrown into the Jordan, net and all. At that moment the large fish opened his enormous mouth and swallowed up the man. The body-guard were very vexed at this mishap, but they merely told the fat fish that they were now to swim to King Leviathan's palace. The little fish followed, for they were very curious to know what would happen at the King's court.
When they came to the palace the doors were opened to admit them and they all entered. King Leviathan was sitting on his throne with his golden crown on his head and all his courtiers were around him. The large fish came straight before the King and said,—
"I have been as quick as I possibly could in obeying the orders of your gracious Majesty. I have brought with me the man whom you desire to see. Let me tell your Majesty that he is one in a million; he is so kind-hearted. He feeds your Majesty's subjects, and I do hope your Majesty will not suffer any harm to befall such a splendid man. I have now much pleasure in presenting him to your Majesty."
He thereupon disgorged the poor fellow, who felt more dead than alive. His terrible experience had almost frightened him out of his wits. He thought that his last moment in life was at hand when he saw King Leviathan glide off his throne and come nearer and nearer to him. The King's jaws were apart and before the poor fellow could count "one"—he was right in the Leviathan's mouth and down into his inside. Thereupon Leviathan closed his jaws with a terrific bang that made the ocean tremble.
Now the poor man thought of his dear father's blessing and wondered what was coming next. All of a sudden he heard these words:
"I welcome you, son of the children of men; your presence here is most heartily and cordially welcome. I know just a little about nice human beings. It was my great pleasure some long time ago to entertain Jonah, when he came down here on a short visit. I had the privilege of showing him my palace and some of my treasures. I have since been told that he returned to earth, all the better for his visit down here. He had been sent to the bottom of the sea in order to learn the lesson of obedience. You need have no fear. Just answer my questions and I promise to deal kindly with you, for you are now my guest. It was at my special order that you were brought here. Now tell me, Why do you daily throw bread to my subjects, the fish? What is your object and what is your motive in doing this kind and thoughtful act?
Samuel replied: "One thought only filled my heart and soul, and that was to obey my dying father's last injunction. On his death-bed he commanded me to go daily to the bank of the Jordan to throw a basketful of nice fresh white bread into the river for the hungry fish. I have done this every day since my dear father's burial. I may tell you that my good father also did the same every day of his life."
"Now tell me," asked Leviathan, "what do you do for your living?"
"I am a poor fisherman, even as my dear father was before me."
"Where do you live?"
"In a little house not far from Jericho on the Jordan. You have surely heard of Jericho. It had mighty walls, and when God's priests blew their trumpets the walls fell down flat on the ground."
"I had heard thereof. I believe the leader of the Israelites who conquered Jericho was Joshua."
"Yes, that is so."
"I have heard of Joshua in another connection. When he was quite a little boy he was swallowed by a whale, and as you well know, he did not perish. Did your father tell you anything else?"
"Yes, he said that if I feed the fish his blessing would always rest on me. Now I fear I have reaped the opposite to a blessing."
"Don't say that, please," said Leviathan in a very gentle voice. "We fish are very sensitive, we never forget a kind action. You and your father have always loved my subjects, and I their King will not prove myself to be ungrateful. I tell my little children, for thus I call my fish, that we are made by God to be a blessing even as all things which He has made are intended to serve the same purpose. To show you how much I appreciate your obedience to your dear father and your kindness, I will teach you the language of birds and beasts. I will also carry you immediately to the bank of the Jordan, not very far from your home. You will have but one hour's walk in order to reach your house."
Leviathan immediately carried out his promises. He taught Samuel the language of beasts and birds and brought him to the bank of the Jordan. Samuel thanked the kind-hearted monarch of the deep and rejoiced to tread the face of mother earth once again. He stood still for a few moments to gaze around. He could not but enjoy the beauty of the scene, the silver waters of the Jordan, the green grass on the banks, the play of light in the heavens, the song of the birds, the scent of the roses, the sound of nature awake and alert. He recalled the wonderful vision of the deep and the marvelous sights he had seen. He was glad, supremely glad, to breathe the sweet air, and his heart was full of gratitude to God. He suddenly felt very giddy. He had been fasting all the while he had been in the water, and this together with the lack of fresh air affected him for the moment. He put himself to rest awhile under a large tree. He closed his eyes for a few seconds and then opened them again, for the giddiness had passed. He sat still thinking of his strange experiences. He was suddenly startled to hear a little crow say to a large one at its side,—
"Look, father! I am going to enjoy myself now by eating the eyes of that man on the ground."
Samuel looked up and saw two crows sitting on a bough just over his head. He listened and heard the larger bird say,—
"Do no such thing, the man is probably alive."
"No, father, he is dead, for his eyes were shut."
"Well, they are open now, and he is looking at us. You always think you must have everything you fancy. Listen to your old father, I advise you to stay where you are. If you try to peck out his eyes, he will catch hold of you and kill you. Be wise and do not look for trouble."
Samuel understood the whole conversation, not a word escaped him. He felt very thankful to King Leviathan for the precious knowledge he had imparted to him. He thought that the little crow would follow his father's advice. He listened and then heard the little bird say,—
"I am going to eat the eyes of that man, even if I risk my life in the attempt."
Away it flew and came nearer and nearer to Samuel. No sooner had it placed its little feet upon his forehead than he caught hold of it in his hand. He then sat up, intending to twist its neck for being so disobedient to its father. The old crow saw this and flew to the ground and turning to the little bird said,—
"It would just serve you right, you wicked and disobedient child. You never will listen to me when I tell you what you should do and what you should not do."
The old bird then turned to Samuel and said,—
"If you spare my naughty child's life, I will give you a great treasure, which will make you as rich as King Herod. You will always be wealthy and you will be able to enjoy life."
"I agree," said Samuel, "to do as you say, if you tell me where the treasure is to be found. As soon as I see it, I will set your child free."
"The treasure," rejoined the crow, "is at the foot of this tree, it lies but a few inches beneath the ground. Remove the soil and you will see the treasure."
Samuel looked about for a piece of wood, and when he found it, he scraped away the earth at the foot of the tree. His labor was soon rewarded, for he saw a large box. He opened it and found it full of gold coins. His joy was indeed great. "Now I know," said he to himself, "why King Leviathan cast me ashore at this spot. I guess he knew all about the treasure."
He released the crow and told it to obey its old father in future. The two birds flew away, saying to each other, "What a lucky escape."
Samuel filled his pockets with the gold coin. He closed the box and covered it up with the soil. He then went home. He returned next day to the tree with a wheelbarrow upon which he intended to put the box with the gold. He did this and was now a rich man. His father's blessing had indeed brought him his wealth and his knowledge of the language of birds and beasts. He was very thankful to God for all these favors. He continued to feed the fish, and he was so glad to see that the little ones were no longer robbed of their share by the greedy big fish. Samuel lived a good and happy life, feeding and helping the poor and the unfortunate. He was beloved and honored throughout the land and ended his days in comfort and peace.
Maáseh Book (Chap Book), ed. Wilmersdorf.
- Eccles. xi. 1.