The Jewish Fairy Book (Gerald Friedlander)/Chanina and the Angels

The Jewish Fairy Book by Gerald Friedlander
VI. Chanina and the Angels (from the Midrash Rabbah)



WHILST the Temple was still standing it was the custom of all the Jews to bring their sacrifices and gifts to Jerusalem. Rich and poor vied with one another in bringing offerings to the Holy House of God. Now there was a very poor man named Chanina who lived far away from the Holy City. In his own town he saw his fellow townsmen preparing themselves for their pilgrimage to Zion where the Temple was. Each one had an offering or present and he alone had nothing. He asked himself: "What can I find worthy of God's acceptance?"

He looked around in his humble home, but he could not find anything of value.

"All my neighbors," said he to himself, "will set out next week for Jerusalem taking their offerings with them and I, alas ! will appear before the Lord empty-handed. This will not do, it must not be."

He then betook himself to the stone quarries near the town where he lived. He gazed around and saw a huge block of marble which had been placed on the rubbish heap, because its surface was too rough for polishing. He resolved to make its surface smooth, be the trouble never so great. From sunrise till sunset he worked. At last his patience and labor were rewarded. The surface of the stone became smooth and fit for polishing.

When this task was accomplished, Chanina rejoiced greatly.

"Now," he exclaimed, "this shall be my gift to God's Temple. The difficulty which now confronts me is, How am I to get this beautiful block to Jerusalem? I vow to give it to God's service and it must be taken to the Temple."

He returned to his town to look for carriers. He found a dozen men who could easily transport it. He asked them whether they would take the marble to the Holy City. They replied,—

"We will do what you want, if you pay us."

"Tell me, good friends, how much do you want?"

"One hundred golden coins."

"Where can I find such an immense sum of money? See," cried he, "this is all I possess; let me count. One, two, three, four, five pence. This is my total fortune. If you will trust me and should kind Providence help me to earn money, I will gladly pay you all you demand. Now you are going to Jerusalem for the Festival and you might at the same time transport this marble, which I have vowed to give to the Sanctuary."

They laughed at him, as though he were joking, and went their way, leaving him alone. After a while he saw an old man coming along. When they met the stranger greeted him and said,—

"What a fine block of marble! Do yon know to whom it belongs?"

"I found it here some days ago cast on the rubbish heap. I have polished its surface and I have vowed to give it to the Temple."

"You have done well, my son. How will you have it removed to the Holy City?"

"That is just the difficulty which is troubling me at the present moment."

"Well, perhaps I can help you. I have five servants yonder. If you will lend a hand, I think we can transport it."

"Most gladly will I do as you say, and in addition I will pay you five pence, all I possess at present."

"So be it."

At that moment five tall men came forward and at once placed their hands on the marble. As in a blinding storm they rushed along, carried by the huge block, and before many seconds had passed Chanina found himself beside the marble in the Temple Court. He rubbed his eyes, for he thought that he was dreaming, but when he saw the priests and the Levites coming towards him he knew that he was wide awake.

"The Lord be with thee, Chanina," they cried.

"May the Lord bless you!" he answered.

He then turned round to look for the old man and his five men, but they had vanished. He wanted to give them the five pence which he had promised to pay. He then asked the priests to accept the marble as his gift for the coming festival, and he also handed to them the five pence, asking them to distribute the money to the poor. With great joy in his heart he thanked God for the miracle which had befallen him. He said to himself,—

"I believe the old man was Elijah the prophet, and the five men with him were ministering angels. The wonders of the Lord never cease."

Chanina felt his coat pressing rather heavily on his shoulders. He put his hands into his pockets, and he was amazed to find them full of golden coins. He rejoiced at this fresh token of Heaven's favor, and when he returned home he had sufficient money to spend his days in comfort.

Canticles Rabbah, Canticles i. 1.