The Jewish Fairy Book (Gerald Friedlander)/The Magic Apples
THE JEWISH FAIRY BOOK
THE MAGIC APPLES
ONCE upon a time, a long, long time ago, there lived a happy family in some little town, the name of which I have forgotten. The family consisted of a good Rabbi, his wife and an only daughter. The girl was exceedingly sweet-tempered, and as she grew in years so did she grow in beauty. Every one who saw her fell in love with her at first sight. As is the rule in Jewish homes the girls are never allowed to be out of their parents' sight, and the Rabbi's daughter was no exception to the rule. She was always with her mother or father. The years sped on their course, and one day she was keeping her twentieth birthday. No one till then had had an opportunity of speaking to her, unless her father or mother had been present.
"'Tis time," said the Rabbi to his wife, "to think of our darling daughter's future. She is now twenty years old, and it is not good for a young woman to remain a child. We must let her see just a little of the world, and if the call of love comes to her—why! let her answer; even as you did when I sought your heart and found it."
"Good husband! have you not noticed how very fond our dear daughter is of her cousin Jacob, my sister's only son?"
"Yes, I have seen that they like one another as cousins usually do, but I have also noticed that she seems to prefer her other cousin, David, my brother's only son."
"I cannot say," exclaimed the wife, "that I have noticed this preference. I certainly think that my nephew would make her an excellent husband. Jacob is, as you well know, a most learned man, fit to be a Rabbi, and he is a very good man."
"Yes, yes, dear wife! but I prefer my nephew David as our future son-in-law. He is very clever, and will one day make his mark in the world."
"That is quite likely, dearest husband! but I do not like him as much as I like Jacob."
"But, Dearest wife! you know I always preferred David."
"Now listen, best of husbands! I don't want my only daughter to marry David."
"Dear me! sweetest of wives! don't you know that I really do not wish our lovely child to marry her cousin Jacob?"
In this strain they argued till long past midnight, discussing the pros and cons of the two nephews. They could not, however, come to a final decision.
At last they agreed to call together their friends and relatives and to take their advice and to let them settle the question.
Next evening a large party of relatives and friends, including David and Jacob, came together at the Rabbi's house. An excellent repast was provided and in the middle of the meal the Rabbi arose and addressed the company in the following words:—
"My dear wife and I are most happy to see you all at our table. I have brought you together to give us advice. As you know, our dear daughter is now of a marriageable age. The question which perplexes my good wife and me is, whom is she to marry? I have every reason to believe that her cousin David would be an ideal husband. My wife seems to prefer her nephew Jacob. What shall we do? Please help us to decide this very difficult problem. See, here is my daughter at my side, and here are her two cousins. What do you suggest?"
The Rabbi resumed his seat. One of the oldest of the guests arose and said,—
"Good host and hostess! The matter seems to be in my opinion exceedingly simple, so much so that there was really no occasion to put yourselves to all this trouble in inviting us here to-night. All that you have to do is to put your two nephews before your sweet daughter and to tell her to pick and choose. Let her settle the matter."
The advice appealed to all the company, and the Rabbi asked his daughter to decide between Jacob and David. With a crimson blush on her beautiful face she replied, "I love both my cousins alike, and I cannot show any preference."
"Now," cried the Rabbi, "what are we to do? She cannot marry both."
Again the old guest arose and said:—
"Good host and hostess! It seems after all that you did well in calling us together to help you to find a solution to the problem of your daughter's marriage. What we advise you to do is to give a sum of money, say one hundred pounds, to each of your nephews and to send them out into the wide world to seek their fortunes. Your daughter will wait one year from to-night, and then she will marry the one who returns with the larger fortune."
"Hear! Hear!" cried the guests, and the nephews also appeared to be satisfied.
The Rabbi expressed his entire approval. All present agreed that this was a fair and proper solution.
The party broke up and all went home satisfied with the result at which they had so unanimously arrived.
That same night the Rabbi in the presence of his wife and daughter gave the two nephews one hundred pounds apiece and blessed them, wishing each one good luck. Next morning the two nephews set out on their quest of gaining a fortune. They traveled all the morning together and at noon they came to a market town. They resolved to buy something with their money and on the morrow they would part and each one try his luck. David invested his money in a large stock of silk. "I will," said he to himself, "be able to sell this at a good profit and I will buy a further supply, and by the time the year is round I shall have put by a good sum." Jacob bought a number of jewels which he put in his pocket. They had agreed to spend the night together at the inn in the market-town. David had his bales of silk brought into the inn and carried into their bedroom. After they had enjoyed a good supper they retired to their room, both very tired after their day's tramp.
Unknown to themselves they had been watched by a gang of thieves, who broke into the inn in the middle of the night. They found their way to the bedroom where the cousins were fast asleep. The thieves emptied the pockets of both men, and glad in having secured the precious jewels they hastened away. They did not remove the bales of silk, for this might have attracted attention in the streets. With the break of dawn the two cousins arose and said their morning prayers, asking Heaven to prosper them on their way. Whilst David was arranging with the host for the removal of the bales of silk, Jacob cried aloud,—
"Cousin David! I have been robbed. I showed you the jewels last night just before we went to bed, and you saw me replace them in my pocket. Now my pocket is empty. Do not think I grieve because I have been robbed, but I am overwhelmed with sorrow, for I fear I have now lost the hand of our beautiful cousin whom I love with all my heart. What shall I do?"
"Now, good cousin, do not lose heart. You have a whole year in which you can make a fortune. Of course I now have a great advantage over you, but that is not my fault. Should I return home I will tell our uncle and aunt that you have gone on a long journey, but that you will return within the twelve months. Now go in God's name, and may good luck attend you."
Thus they parted and each went his own way. David was happy and confident, whilst his cousin was sad and despondent. He said to himself: "Uncle is always right in saying that cousin David is very clever. I also believe that he will become a rich and great man. Dear me! What a fool I was to put all my money in a handful of jewels. Alas! before twelve hours have passed I am penniless. I was never born to be a merchant. I am a student and I ought not to meddle with things which I do not understand. David will, I suppose, marry my lovely cousin, and I shall be unhappy all my life."
David prospered and at the end of six months he returned home. He went to visit his aunt and uncle. They inquired after Jacob and were satisfied to learn that he had gone on a long journey. The Rabbi's daughter asked David when did he think Jacob would return. David replied that he did not expect to see him for another six months.
Meanwhile Jacob knew that the only hope for his future peace of mind lay in his pursuit of knowledge. He realized that he was hardly likely to become a rich man. He therefore determined to spend his year of probation in study. "This," said he to himself, "will be my comfort and I may be of use to my fellow beings."
On and on he trudged till he arrived at last at the Jewish College at Sura in Babylon. He entered the College hall and sat by himself in a dark corner, for he was ashamed to show himself before the teachers and pupils owing to his shabby appearance. His boots were worn out and his clothes were threadbare. He listened to the lecture given by the head of the College and followed every point with the deepest interest. The pupils were asked to solve a difficult problem arising out of the lecture, and to be prepared with their solution on the following day.
At sundown all the pupils left the College and poor Jacob remained behind. He had nowhere to go for the night's shelter. He thought he would spend the evening in reading the Talmud so as to be able to solve the problem set by the lecturer. He was so very tired and hungry that it was not long before he fell fast asleep over the book in front of him. It was a sleep of sheer exhaustion. His eyes were barely shut by the bands of sleep when he began to dream. He saw the beautiful girl in his uncle's house and she looked more lovely than he had ever seen her. This vision faded away and he saw a very old man with a snow white long beard and such a noble face. He heard the old man's voice, it was like an angel's song, so winning and so gentle. The voice said, "I am Elijah, the prophet. I come to give thee the greatest treasure on earth, knowledge and understanding. Make good use of it and thou wilt be blessed. Farewell." The vision faded and Jacob awoke. He felt refreshed and happy, for he had seen his beloved and the great prophet Elijah. Elijah, like the good fairy, is always at hand to comfort the sorrowful, to cheer the despondent and to help those in distress.
Jacob now thought of the problem set to the pupils. The solution flashed through his mind; he saw the whole problem in all its bearings. He wrote out the answer on the table in front of the teacher's seat. When the class assembled next morning the teacher asked whether there was any one who could answer the question set the previous day. No one replied. His eyes fell and he read with no little surprise the correct solution written on the table.Turning to his pupils he asked, "Who has written this answer?" There was again no reply. The
"'I COME TO GIVE THEE THE GREATEST TREASURE ON EARTH'"—page 10
answer was perfectly correct and he added: "I feel very proud to know that one of the class has been so very diligent. I rejoice to think that this pupil is so modest, for he is not anxious to disclose his identity. The true scholar is always humble."
Again that day he set a new question, more difficult than the one set on the previous day. Again the same result ensued. The correct answer was written on the table opposite to the teacher's place. He again asked, "Who has written this answer!" The pupils were silent. For a third time a fresh problem was set. The teacher now determined to find out the intelligent and modest pupil whose answers had been so accurate. He bored a small hole in the wall and watched events from the next room. When all the students had left the class-room he saw a stranger leave the corner and advance to the table. He was dressed in threadbare garments and looked very famished. He saw him write out the answer and then return to the comer, where he fell asleep. The teacher had seen enough. He now knew why his own pupils had not been able to admit that one of them had written the answers to his questions.
Next morning he repeated his usual question, "Who has written this answer on my table?" Once more there was silence. He now requested the stranger to come forward. The latter immediately did as he was bidden.
"Did you write this answer to my question?"
"I did, honored Rabbi!"
"Why did you come here?"
"To learn, good master! I wish to stay here three months and then to return to my home."
"You are most welcome, but not as a disciple."
"Why not, may I ask?"
"You are wise enough to teach these my pupils. If you care to stay with us we shall be not only thankful but also honored. As long as you remain you will please do me the favor of being my guest.
"These kind words, great master! touch my heart, but I have really journeyed here in order to sit at your feet and learn. I left home nearly four months ago and I must be back within one year. Pray accede to my wish and accept me as a pupil."
"Your extreme modesty is very becoming. You are a master in Israel, and there is nothing that I can teach you. I shall yet find that you are able to teach me. To-morrow you will begin your duties as a new teacher in our college."
That day the Rabbi took Jacob home with him to live.
Next day Jacob began to teach. The disciples were greatly surprised at his vast knowledge and admired his marked ability as a teacher. He was soon beloved by all who knew him. At the end of three months he told his good friend, the Rabbi, that, much to his regret, he would have to take his leave and return home.
"Stay with me and you shall wed my daughter, who loves you!" the Rabbi said.
"I greatly appreciate your extreme kindness and I am glad to think I have found favor in the eyes of your good daughter, but my heart is entwined with the heart of my cousin. I have pledged my word to see her in less than five months." He then told the kind-hearted Rabbi of the circumstance that led to his being there. He told him how his cousin David and he had received ₤100 each and that the one who should have at "the end of twelve months the larger fortune would receive the hand of the beautiful daughter of their uncle. "I have determined to be home in time for the wedding, even though it may not be my good fortune to be the lucky husband," he added.
"Go in peace," said the Rabbi, "and God prosper your way."
Jacob started on his return journey in a happy mood. He was returning with a treasure far more precious than the jewels which had been stolen from him. Elijah's blessing was indeed something worth having. On and on did he tramp for the best part of the day, for he stopped neither to eat nor to rest, so fiercely did the desire to see the face of his beloved burn within him. At last his feet refused to carry him any further. He was also very faint; hunger and thirst began to claim attention, and he did not know how to satisfy them. He looked about and saw on his left a fine tree with very large apples, as bright as silver. He dragged himself to the tree and picked off an apple. He then seated himself under the tree and began to eat the fruit. The taste was very bitter and he had barely eaten half when he noticed a strange feeling coming over him. He felt sick, and his skin seemed to grow cold. His hands were as white as snow, like a leper's skin. He looked at his feet and legs and they were also white. He knew that it was leprosy.
"I have eaten," said he, "poisonous fruit. Woe is me! Surely this is not Elijah's blessing. I will rest here no longer; I will go on my way till I fall to the ground. To die would be a release." On he went, and after a few steps he came to another tall tree laden with very large apples with a golden hue. "I will taste," said he, "one of these apples, they look so lovely. If I die well and good, for what am I to do now that I am a leper?"
He plucked an apple and began to eat it. It had a most delicious taste, as sweet as honey, as juicy as a grape. He felt ever so much better, his faintness disappeared and, miracle of miracles! the awful white color of his hands vanished. His leprosy was cured. He thanked God for His wonderful mercy and love.
He felt himself renewed with vigor and life. "This is all indeed a blessing," he mused. "I must go back and fetch some of the silver apples," and he did so. He then picked off a few of the golden apples and continued his journey. At last he came to the capital of the kingdom where he had been born. His own home, where his lovely cousin also lived, was situated in a small town not very far from the capital. As soon as he entered the city he heard the sound of lamentation. All joy and happiness had fled; sorrow and weeping met his gaze. He feared that some dread disaster had befallen the city. He inquired of the first person whom he met concerning the misfortune.
"What's the meaning of all this sorrow?" he asked.
"Why, our dear old King," came the reply, "has a most terrible attack of leprosy. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head, his skin is leprous. Poor King, he will not live long, for all his doctors are unable to cure him."
Jacob listened with rapt attention and passed on. He now betook himself to the King's palace. When he came there he knocked at the door. He stood waiting for some one to come out and ask him what he wanted. At last the palace door was opened and the royal butler asked Jacob why he had knocked.
"I must see His Majesty at once."
"What is your business?"
"I will cure His Majesty."
"What and who are you?"
"I am Jacob the Jew, a Rabbi and a doctor."
The butler then brought him to his royal master. Jacob saw that the King's head and face were covered, for he did not like his servants to gaze upon him in his terrible condition.
"What is your wish?" cried the King. "Have you also come to torment me by promising to heal me, knowing all the while that you are deceiving me?"
"Nay, your Majesty; God has given me wisdom and understanding. I am sure I can help your Majesty to be restored to good health."
"If it be as you say, I will give you half my kingdom, and fifty thousand pounds. Should you fail, mark you, you will lose your head."
"I agree," cried Jacob, making an obeisance.
"One condition do I make," said the King, "and that is—you must not have recourse to any species of magical art or sorcery. I will not allow you to use any charms or spells."
"Your Majesty has already heard that I am a Jew. Our holy religion has always forbidden us to practice sorcery."
"Quite so, but how do you propose to cure me?"
"Your Majesty must first of all leave yourself in God's hands. I do not boast of any special skill, but God has given us mortals certain knowledge and insight. I will do my best, and if you trust in the Heavenly Father, I think you will be quite satisfied."
The King was greatly pleased by these modest remarks, and he told Jacob that he was satisfied with him.
"But," he said, "I should just like to know the nature of your treatment."
"At first your gracious Majesty will become worse, you will feel sick, weak and very depressed. This is the first stage, for leprosy must be very acute before it can be radically cured.
"Stay," cried the King, "if I become worse I shall die."
"Not so, your Majesty! You will die if you do not become worse; for there is no cure for your disease in its present form. I will cure your Majesty if you will submit to my treatment."
"I agree," the King said, "and now proceed with your cure."
Jacob asked for a supply of sugar, two knives, and two plates. When these things were brought to him, he took from his pocket one of the silver apples and cut it up into small pieces. He put sugar over these pieces and gave the plate to the King, saying,—
"Your Majesty will be good enough to eat this sour apple, every piece: I have added sugar to make the taste more palatable. You will feel very uncomfortable for a while, but as I have already said, this is absolutely necessary."
The King obeyed Jacob's order and ate the pieces of the apple. No sooner had he done this, than he began to moan. "I am much worse, I am dying," he murmured.
"Not so, your Majesty! The cure is already beginning to act."
"Look at my hand," exclaimed the King, "it is now as white as the driven snow; it is so cold, it is lifeless. "
"Patience, your Majesty! In one hour you will take another apple and your leprosy will vanish. I will stake my life on your Majesty's complete recovery.
Meanwhile he began to cut into small pieces one of the golden apples. There was no need to put sugar on this fruit. When, at last, he gave it to the King there was no more grumbling. The King ate it with relish and said he was sorry there was no more left.
"I never tasted such wonderful fruit in all my life," he cried in a happy voice. "I feel quite well again now. See my skin—it is no longer leprous. You are a great doctor and you have saved my life. I am so much better, I shall be able to get out of my bed. I am indeed grateful and I will keep my promise; fifty thousand pounds shall be paid to you this day and you now own half of my kingdom."
"Your gracious Majesty!" cried Jacob. "May God preserve your life and give you length of days. I do not desire to accept all you offer. I ask for a small gift, and that is—give me the right of owning the small town, not very far from your capital, where my uncle and aunt live, where my home is."
"Most gladly will I do this."
The King caused letters-patent to be issued declaring Jacob to be the Prince of that town. He also gave him a valuable gold chain as a mark of his royal favor.
"Now, Sire! pray let me go," said Jacob, "and take possession of my town."
"Go, and twenty knights of my retinue shall accompany you."
Away they went, a fine procession to behold. News spread far and wide that the new Prince of the town was about to enter his new territory. The inhabitants came forth to greet him. When he came to his castle he was met by a deputation consisting of the most respected of the citizens. Jacob was dressed in splendid attire with the golden chain about his neck. He had changed considerably since he had left home and he was not recognized. Among the members of the deputation was Jacob's uncle, the Rabbi.
Jacob began to speak: "I am right glad to see you all here in my castle. As the Prince of this town I will henceforth take up my abode within these walls. Your lives and mine must be identified. Your joys shall be mine and I will share your sorrows. You will be happy to learn that our gracious King is now restored to health. It was my good fortune to help His Majesty to regain his health and he in his kindness of heart has made me Prince and owner of this town. I shall respect all my friends, be their religion what it may, for the good of all nations and religions are sure to inherit eternal bliss. Please let me know when you are about to celebrate any family festivity, and I will be present."
"Now that is very fortunate," exclaimed Jacob's uncle. "In three days I shall have my only daughter married, and your presence will increase our happiness. "
"I hope so," said Jacob with a happy smile, "and now farewell till we meet at the wedding."
The deputation withdrew, well satisfied with the courtesy shown to them by their new ruler.
Three days later Jacob betook himself to his uncle's house, just as the wedding ceremony was about to commence. He was received with marked attention by his uncle and aunt, who had not the faintest idea that the new ruler was their nephew. Turning to the Rabbi, Jacob said,—
"May I be introduced to the bride before the ceremony takes place?"
"Of course you can," exclaimed the happy father.
No sooner did his daughter look at Jacob than she cried aloud,—
"Father! Mother! this is my cousin."
"True," exclaimed Jacob. "Listen, good friends. To-day is the anniversary of our last gathering here, when you, dear uncle, gave me one hundred pounds and you also gave my cousin David, whom I see here, a similar sum. I do not know whether David has turned his hundred pounds into a very large fortune. I, for my part, am the owner of this town and that means a fairly large fortune. Our sweet and lovely cousin has agreed to marry the one who has the larger fortune. His Majesty the King has even been good enough to promise to give me half of his kingdom as well as fifty thousand pounds. Need I say more?"
The remarks were greeted with applause by all present, and David agreed that the bride had been fairly won by Jacob. Every one was thoroughly delighted except David, who slipped away and was heard of no more.
Jacob and his wife lived a very happy life, blessed with worldly prosperity. Elijah's blessing was realized to the full, and Jacob never forgot his wonderful dream in the College at Sura in Babylon.
Ma'aseh Book (Chap Book),
ed. Rödelheim 72d-74b.