The Jewish Fairy Book (Gerald Friedlander)/The Goblin and the Princess

The Jewish Fairy Book by Gerald Friedlander
XVII. The Goblin and the Princess (from the Talmud)



ABOUT seventeen hundred years ago there lived a very famous Rabbi named Simeon ben Yochai. His home was in Palestine. He spent all his time in teaching the word of God to the Jews who came to listen to him. In those days the Romans were the rulers of the Holy Land, for they had conquered the Jews. At that time the Roman Emperor disliked the Jewish religion because it taught its believers that there was only one God, the great Creator of all things. The Romans did not understand this simple belief. They had ever so many gods and goddesses, a god of the sea, a god of the sky, and so on. The Emperor even believed that he was also a god. All his subjects, except the Jews, prayed to his image. He thought that the only way to make the Jews worship him and the Roman gods would be to forbid them to keep their holy ceremonies. He therefore made a law telling the Jews that they must no longer keep their Sabbath as a holy day of rest. All the other Jewish laws were also forbidden to be kept by them.

When the Jews in the Holy Land heard of the Emperor's law they were deeply grieved. In their distress they cried to God for help. They also turned to their great teacher, Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai, and begged him to go to Rome to ask the Emperor to withdraw his cruel and unjust law, so that they might worship God as their fathers had taught them to do. They knew that God had so often worked miracles on behalf of Rabbi Simeon. Had he not indeed deserved this Divine mark of favor? Did he not spend day after day in reading the Holy Word of God and in teaching its great lessons? The good Rabbi consented to go to Rome if one of the teachers, named Eleazar ben Jose, would be his companion. The latter agreed to do as Rabbi Simeon desired.

Without any delay they set out on their journey to Rome. They prayed to God for His protection and blessing. At last they reached the great city of Rome, when Rabbi Simeon said to his companion: "Let us well consider what we have to do here. First of all we must see the Emperor. Then we must try, with the help of God, to persuade him to withdraw his harsh law. Let us face our difficulties and overcome them. When we get to the palace we may not be admitted. In that case we shall not be able to do anything. Again, if we should be brought before the Emperor, how do we know that he will listen to us and consider our petition? Is it likely that he will consent to cancel his own law? To do such a thing is unheard of in mighty Rome. Well do we know how the Romans rule the world. They rule according to their own ideas and not according to the wishes of their subjects."

"True, indeed," replied Eleazar, "are thy words. Perhaps the good God will help us. Whenever Israel is in distress He also grieves with them. Their sorrows are also His. Come what may, we will present ourselves, if God will, at noon to-morrow at Cæsar's palace. The rest we will leave in the hands of our Heavenly Father. Now let us look for the Jewish quarter of this great city and find a lodging for the night."

They found what they required and sat down together to eat a very modest supper. They were alone. Suddenly they were startled to see in their room a little Goblin. It came near to Rabbi Simeon and said to him with a bow of its body: "Peace be with you, O masters of the Law. Ye know me not. My name is Ben Temalion. You will probably not believe me when I tell you why I am here. The purpose of my visit is to help you. I know you have a most difficult task to perform. I think you know that this task is almost an impossible one. Is it not so?"

"It is as thou sayest," replied Simeon.

"Do you care to employ my services?"

"I do not like to make use of thy evil power."

"Stay, Master!" cried Eleazar. "Who knows whether the Heavenly Father has not sent this goblin to help us!" Turning to the Goblin, he cried:

"Speak, Ben Temalion."

"Command me, and I will try to obey."

"Tell us how thou art able to help us."

"I have all my plans fully prepared."

"What are thy plans?"

"I cannot tell you unless you both agree to let me be of service to you."

"We agree," they both exclaimed.

"Well, my plan is as follows. Know that the mighty Cæsar here in Rome has an only daughter, whom he loves more than his own life. She is, indeed, the most beautiful princess in the world. Her mother died when she was a little girl. Perhaps on account of this fact her father never refuses to fulfill her least wish. Now I intend this very night to go to the palace."

"What for?" they cried.

"I will tell you. I propose to enter her body. The princess will at once become mad. She will continue in this sad condition as long as I am in her body. When her father learns of her terrible misfortune he will do anything to have her restored to health. You two men must play the part of physicians. Go to the palace to-morrow at noon and demand to see the Cæsar."

"The guard may refuse to admit us."

"Not so. Say that you have heard that the lovely Princess has suddenly become mad. This knowledge of a Court secret will impress the guard. You must then say that you undertake to cure the princess there and then. You will at once be admitted and taken to the presence of the Emperor."

"But I am not a physician," says Rabbi Simeon. "I have never heard that my friend here is skilled in the art of healing."

"That matters not."

"How can we cure the princess?"

"Listen, Rabbi Simeon. I will now give thee the power of healing her disordered mind. All that thou hast to do is to go to her and whisper in her ear my name, Ben Temalion. I will then leave her body, and moreover, I will give a sign that I have done so."

"What sign wilt thou give?"

"Of course the madness will disappear. But to convince you that I have really left the body of the princess, I will cause all the glass in the palace to break in pieces."

"Now, Ben Temalion, how shall we be able to see the princess?"

"When ye come before Cæsar to cure his daughter, he will cause the girl to be brought before you. She will call for thee, Rabbi Simeon."


"She will fall in love with thee at first sight."

"Mad indeed will she be to do such folly. I am an old man, nearly eighty years old. My white beard is enough to frighten any girl and to make her look elsewhere for love and admiration."

"Now remember all I have said. You must ask the Emperor to reward you for healing his child by granting a petition you will present to him when the princess has been restored to health."

"To be sure, that is the object of our mission. What reward dost thou ask, Ben Temalion, for thy service?"

"To help the children of men is reward enough for a goblin. Now let us wait till to-morrow and all will be well." The next instant the goblin vanished.

Next day the two Rabbis betook themselves to the Emperor's palace and demanded to be taken to the presence of the Cæsar.

"What is your business?" asked the guard at the palace gate.

"We know that the princess is dangerously ill. In fact she has lost her reason in the last twenty-four hours."

"How do you know this?"

"Never mind how. We do know it. Do not waste precious time. We have come to heal the Princess. We are physicians staying overnight in this city. Now wilt thou lead us to the Emperor's presence?"

"Wait here, and I will have your message sent to my mighty lord, the Emperor."

After a brief delay the order came to admit the two strangers. When the Emperor saw the Rabbis he cried in a voice full of contempt: "How now! Do ye Jews dare to enter our palace and to come before our divine presence? Think ye that ye can work miracles better than the Roman physicians?"

"Tell us, mighty Cæsar, have the imperial physicians been able to cure the beautiful princess?"

"Thus far they have not been successful."

"We shall be successful even this very day. Know indeed that life and death are not in the hands of man, but only in the power of God in whom we believe. He has sent us, this is our belief, to heal the princess. Was not your Majesty's daughter so happy and well but yesterday? Was she not like a ray of warm sunshine on a cold winter's day? Did she not rejoice your heart with her bright and cheery smile?"

"Ye speak truly indeed. Come now, what do you demand as your reward if ye heal my beloved child?"

"Grant but one petition which we will put before your Majesty."

"I swear by all the gods to do this. Know ye that the oath of a Roman Emperor is never broken."

"So let it be according to your imperial word," said Rabbi Simeon.

"Stay. Mark ye well, ye wise men of Israel, if ye fail to heal my daughter, ye shall be thrown this very day into the arena. The famished lions will enjoy their meal when they devour your bodies."

"We hear your Majesty's warning. Have no fear. We will heal the sweet princess. Now let us see Her Imperial Highness, if it please your Majesty; otherwise of course we cannot cure her."

"Let the princess be brought before us at once," cried the Emperor.

After a few minutes had passed, she was brought before her father and the Rabbis. She was deadly pale and seemed to be terribly frightened. Her eyes were staring at the two strangers. Then she stretched out her hands towards Rabbi Simeon and in an excited voice cried aloud: "Happy am I to see thee at last, O my beloved! Of thee did I dream last night. Come quickly and save me, for I am nigh unto death's door."

"Hush! my beloved child," said the distressed Emperor with deep emotion. "Come to me and take my hand."

"Go away, I know thee not, O stranger!"

"I am thy father."

"I say I know thee not. Never have I seen thee before."

"Speak not thus, dearest child."

"I want to go to my beloved yonder. He is mine and I am his."

Rabbi Simeon gave the Emperor a knowing wink and went close to the princess. He laid his hand very gently on her arm and whispered in her ear the magic name "Ben Temalion." The spell was broken. She was once again the smiling princess. Turning to the Emperor she cried in a happy voice: "O dearest Father, how glad I am to see thy face. I have had a most horrible nightmare. I have only just awoke. Who are these venerable old men? Where do they come from and why are they here?"

Before the Emperor could speak there was a terrific crash. Every piece of glass in the palace was smashed into atoms.

"What is that?" cried the Emperor in alarm.

The imperial servants ran hither and thither. They seemed to be dazed, fearing some fresh surprise. They came to the Emperor and said: "There is no one to be seen."

"Never mind," said the Emperor, "about the glass. It will be replaced. Now let us rejoice. My happiness in seeing my darling daughter restored to health knows no bounds." Turning to the princess he said: "These learned men have cured thee. I am now about to grant them any petition they may desire to make.

"I also," said the princess, "will give them precious jewels."

"Nay, gracious princess!" cried the Rabbis, "we will only accept thy noble father's favor. We ask for neither gold nor gems. We seek neither honor nor worldly goods."

"What do ye then require?"

"As your Majesty knows, we are Jews from the imperial province of Palestine. Your Majesty has recently issued a law prohibiting the observance of the Sabbath, Festivals and other sacred rites of the Jewish religion. We desire to serve our God in our own way. If we are true to God we will also be loyal to Cæsar, for it is God who raises up kings to rule the children of men. We teach our people to fear God and the King. We now put our petition before your Majesty; it is this—pray cancel the imperial law dealing with the Jewish observances."

"I have promised to grant your petition. Ye have done your part in restoring my dear daughter's health. I will at once do my share by ordering the law to which ye have referred to be canceled. Go back to your brethren in Palestine and tell them that as long as I live I will give them my favor and protection. Farewell."

With bowed heads the two Rabbis withdrew. Their hearts were full of gratitude to their Heavenly Father for His love and mercy.

Babylonian Talmud, Mecilah, 17b.