The Jewish Fairy Book (Gerald Friedlander)/Joseph, the Sabbath Lover

The Jewish Fairy Book by Gerald Friedlander
XXII. Joseph, the Sabbath Lover (from the Talmud)



IN Ascalon in the Holy Land there once lived a poor peddler named Joseph. His greatest pleasure was to keep the Sabbath Day holy. He was a good Jew, loving God and man. The precepts of the Law were his delight and by them did he live. He was not ashamed of his religion. In fact he was very proud of being a Jew. He had a neighbor who was a heathen, very wealthy and selfish. They often met and conversed with one another. This was especially the case on Saturday when Joseph abstained from his business. They would talk about religion, especially about the Sabbath. Joseph would dwell on the value of the Holy Day, pointing out that of all the gifts bestowed by God upon humanity the most precious was the weekly day of rest. Man is not a mere machine, he needs rest and recreation. To those who observe the Sabbath and call it a delight, its weekly advent is like the arrival of a dear and intimate friend.

Joseph was wont to put by part of his daily earnings in order to spend the Sabbath Day in a festive manner. He often would stint himself and forego necessities on week days so as to have better garments than his working clothes for the Sabbath and a fine spread of food on his table in order to pay honor to the Sabbath. The poor were always welcome guests at his table on Friday nights and Saturdays. He not only honored the Sabbath, he also sanctified it. People called him "Mokir Shabbe," Sabbath Lover. He seemed to forget all his cares and troubles as soon as the Sabbath came. He never omitted to have a spotless white table cloth spread over his table. Then there was the Sabbath light burning in a beautiful silver lamp. Fresh bread and sweet wine were at hand for the Kiddush or Sanctification. Meat and fish were abundantly provided. Joseph imagined himself to be a king and his fancy turned the Sabbath into a lovely princess, his bride. "Welcome! Queen Sabbath," he cried, "come, my beloved." What a delight it must have been to hear the Sabbath hymns sung at Joseph's table. He and his guests thanked their Heavenly Father for the Holy Day, the day of peace and repose. A gracious gift it was, leading the children of men to their Father in Heaven. It is a day for man whereby he can rise above material things and see something of the Divine vision.

One Sabbath Day the heathen neighbor, who was a miser, lacking nothing in the way of worldly material things, reproached the Jew for keeping his Sabbath. "How could any one," said he, "waste a valuable day by abstaining from work? No wonder you are poor. See, I am rich and possess more than I need. I am not only prosperous but I am also happy, for my motto is 'Live to-day and let to-morrow take care of itself.' You, and I suppose all the Jews are like you, think otherwise. You slave all the week for the sake of your Sabbath Day. I know you are kindhearted. Personally I don't believe in that sort of thing. I daresay you judge me to be callous and coldhearted, without any love for the poor. I certainly despise the poor, for it is generally their own fault if they do not get on in life. They are idle, foolish and careless."

"Good neighbor," replied Joseph, "I do not quite see the point of your lengthy remarks. You begin by blaming me for keeping the Sabbath Day holy, and you then say that because I do this I am poor. You are rich because you do not keep the Sabbath. Now I admit that I am a poor man, but what of that? I am as happy to-day as a king. I have feasted well and I am resting. What more could I desire? You seem to think that the only pleasure in life is hoarding money. I differ and believe the best pleasures can be obtained when we spend money in a wise and good way. Perhaps you will always be rich and perhaps I shall always be poor, but if the question were asked: 'Who is the happier of the two?' I doubt whether you would be the one. Good-day, my friend! I must attend Synagogue for Sabbath prayer."

Joseph went his way trusting in God and loving to do His holy will, well knowing that the Sabbath was more precious than all the money in the world. "No man liveth by bread alone," thought he. Whilst Joseph was in the Synagogue his neighbor had fallen in with a brother heathen who was well known in Ascalon as a famous astrologer. They greeted one another and Joseph's neighbor asked him: "What dost thou read in the stars?"

"I read that thy fortune is on the wane."

"What dost thou mean?"

"Thy wealth will pass from thine hand to the hand of thy neighbor. This will happen within thirty days."

"Dost thou know why this must be?"

"Well do I know. The gods are very fickle in dealing with wealth. The poor man of to-day may be the rich man of the morrow. What use dost thou make of thy enormous fortune? I fear thou dost neither enjoy its benefits now nor wilt thou do so in the future. Tell me, who is thy neighbor?"

"Joseph the Sabbath lover, a Jew very poor and industrious."

"Of him have I heard. He will, so the stars seem to indicate, own all thy wealth."

"Here is a silver coin for thy evil prognostication. I fervently hope it will not come true. Now, farewell." They parted and went in opposite directions.

Fear took hold of the miser, and as he sat in his room that night staring at his gold and silver he cried: "Never shall the Jew Joseph have this money. I could not bear to see him rich and proud—and I should be poor. Horrible thought. It shall not be. I will defy fate and prevent my fortune going to the beggar Jew. He is a mean hypocrite; he deserves to be poor all the days of his life. I told him so this morning and now I am told that he is to have my money. This is ridiculous and far-fetched. The old Jew would say if he could read my thoughts: 'Man proposes but God disposes.' Well, I am going to propose and also dispose. Without delay I shall to-morrow sell all my property and buy precious pearls. I shall then leave Ascalon for good and settle in the fair lands of Italy."

Next day the miser converted all his wealth into a number of very beautiful pearls. He had them strung on a silken cord which he sewed on to his turban. That same day he left Ascalon and boarded a boat leaving the port for foreign parts. "I shall soon forget all about Joseph and the foolish astrologer," said he whilst walking on deck. At that moment a gale arose and his turban was lifted off his head and carried out to sea. At one fell blow all his fortune was gone forever. He cried and tore his hair out of his head, but all in vain. He was now a beggar.

Meanwhile Joseph was leading his usual life. On the next Friday he went, as was his wont, to purchase the best food for the Sabbath meals. He came to the fish-market and saw a very large turbot on the dealer's counter. Its price was very high and there was no one who would buy it. As soon as Joseph saw it he gave the full price without any discussion. In fact he felt very happy, for he did not remember ever having seen such a large fish. "It will not be wasted," he said to himself; "the poor will help me to consume it." He thought that it would be a sin to eat such a splendid fish on a week-day, but for the Sabbath nothing was too good. He hurried home in intense happiness and gave it with a happy smile to his dear wife. "Here, my love, we have a fish fit for a king," said he. "Yes, it shall be for a king, for you, dear husband." He kissed his wife and went to his bedroom to change his garments and to prepare himself for the Sabbath. He had barely reached the bedroom when he heard his wife's voice calling: "Come, dear Joseph, come quickly."

He hastened to her side and asked her: "Why have you called me back?"

"Look, Joseph, see what I have found inside this turbot."

"It is a string of lovely pearls," he cried in delight.

"What a lucky fish!" she said.

He rubbed his eyes to make sure that he was not dreaming.

"See, my love! God has blessed us. He has given us wealth and we shall no longer slave during the six days of toil."

"Did you hear anything about our heathen neighbor with whom you were speaking on Sabbath last?"

"I heard that he had left Ascalon after having sold all his property here. I have also heard a rumor that he bought pearls with his money. How do we know whether these very pearls of our neighbor are not the same you have taken out of the fish?"

"It matters not, good Joseph, to whom they formerly belonged. It is quite evident that God in His love has sent this fortune to us. We shall know how to use His gifts even as we know how to love and appreciate His gift of the holy Sabbath."

Babylonian Talmud, Sabbath 119a.