The Jewish Fairy Book (Gerald Friedlander)/The Wonderful Slave
THE WONDERFUL SLAVE
THERE was once upon a time a very poor man who had a wife and five children. It happened one day that there was no food in the house. The wife told her husband that she had nothing to give the children.
"And I am sorry to say," he cried, "I haven't a penny. I cannot find any work and I don't know what will become of us. God help us, I cannot see any way out of our misfortune."
"Cheer up, dear husband; go down to the marketplace and perhaps you will be in luck's way and find some job. You are no fool, and you often say, 'God neither slumbers nor sleeps' but watches over all of us."
"To whom can I turn when I get there? I don't know a soul there. As you know we haven't a relative in the town, and as for friends, well we know what they are worth. When we had money we had plenty of friends, but when we lost our wealth we also lost our friends."
"There is, good husband, still one Friend left."
"You mean the good God?"
"Of course I do. Now don't waste time, for we are all starving; go to the market-place and see what happens."
Away he went. Meanwhile the poor children came to their mother and cried for bread. This distressed her very much. She wept and prayed to God to help them in their hour of need.
When the poor man reached the market-place he stood still for a few minutes looking around. It was full of people, hurrying hither and thither. Not a soul did the unfortunate man recognize. Passers-by just looked at him, and he felt very lonely and sad. He walked across the market-place and sat down behind some bundles of hay, where he would be hidden from view. He began to pray, saying,—
"Lord of the Universe! Thou knowest that I have neither relative nor friend to whom I can go and pour out my heart's troubles. Thou seest the dire poverty and distress which have befallen my family. My only hope is in Thee; take pity upon us, not for my sake, but for the sake of my poor wife and helpless children. I beseech Thee send us Thy help, or if it seem good in Thine eyes let us die, for we know neither peace nor rest."
The man then arose and was somewhat taken aback to see a young man at his side. The stranger was Elijah the prophet, who is like the good fairy in the story-books. His mission is to comfort all who are in trouble. He champions those who cannot find any one to help them. He defends lost causes and helps all those who need succor. He reclaims the lost and seeks those who stray from the highway of life through no default on their part. He is ever moved by a passion of pity and hastens to the side of all who have faith in God, even when all else fails.
"Good-day, good friend," cries Elijah; "peace be unto you."
"Peace be unto you also," replies the poor man.
"Why are you so downcast, what's your trouble?"
"How can you help me?"
"I certainly cannot help you if you do not tell me why you look so forlorn and miserable. Have you lost anything?"
"Yes, I have lost everything."
"Explain, please; do not hesitate to confide in me. You can really trust me."
"Good stranger, since you speak so kindly I will trust you and tell you all about my misfortunes. I have at home a dear wife and five sweet children. They are all starving. There is not a crust in the house. I am penniless and out of work. I will gladly do anything if I can find any one who will employ me. My will is good and no toil will be too hard or too much for me. If you would really help me, find me work or recommend me to some one to give me employment."
Elijah took hold of the man's hand and said,—
"I think I can do something better for you than you suggest. I will do the work for you which will enable you and your dear family to live in comfort. Do not worry and just do what I tell you."
"What do you wish me to do?"
"We will go at once to the slave market, which adjoins this market. When we get there you are to offer me for sale as a slave. The money you will get for my purchase shall be yours. Henceforth you and your family will know want no more."
"How could I do such a thing as you suggest? You are not my slave. You are a perfect stranger, and it would be far more reasonable to reverse the proposition. We will go to the slave market and you shall offer me for sale. Whatever I am worth will suffice to keep my poor wife and children from starvation. Come, let us do as I say, and I shall be ever so grateful to you for obliging me in this way."
"No, no," cried Elijah, "you are to sell me as your slave, and within twenty-four hours you will see me again. When you receive the money from the buyer in the market, do not forget to give me a coin. You do not know who I am. Continue to trust in God and follow my instructions. I assure you all will be well and you will be happy and contented. Now for the slave market."
They came there and all the buyers thought that the poor man was the slave and the stranger his master. They were surprised to hear the poor man call out in a bold voice,—
"I have here a most valuable slave for sale."
The bidders began to make offers. At that moment one of the Princes of the King of the land passed by, and when he saw Elijah he returned and resolved to buy such a noble-looking slave for the King his master. The bidding went on and the Prince offered eighty pieces of gold. Whereupon Elijah whispered to his poor friend,—
"Sell me now to this bidder: do not accept a higher price."
He did just as Elijah told him and accepted the eighty pieces of gold and immediately gave one to his generous benefactor. The latter returned it, saying,—
"Now take this coin and live by means of its blessing; it will enable you and all your family to exist in comfort. Want and poverty shall never again trouble you all the days of your life. We will now part, and I wish you God's blessing."
The poor man thanked Elijah with tears in his eyes. He said,—
"I grieve to think you should allow yourself to become a slave just to help me and my family. I have done just as you told me because I seem to feel that you are wiser than I am. You said I should see you again within twenty-four hours. I do not see how that will be possible now that you are a slave."
"You will see me within the appointed time; till then farewell."
Elijah then went away, following his new master. The fortunate poor man hastened home after he had bought food in the market. When he reached his home he found his children and his wife famished with hunger. He spread the excellent food which he had brought with him upon the table and called his dear ones to see what the good God had given them. They ran to their usual seats at table and could hardly believe their eyes. For two days they had seen no food, and now the table was loaded with fish and bread, cake and fruit. They all said the Grace before eating bread and enjoyed their meal more than they had ever done in all their life. They recited the Grace after meals with gratitude in their hearts. Now a strange thing struck all at table. In spite of all they had eaten, and that was not by any means a small quantity, there was enough food left for a week's supply. This made them all the happier, and they praised God for His never-ending mercies.
"Now please," said the wife to her husband, "tell me how did you manage to obtain all this beautiful food? It is all so good and there is so much of it. I am dying to know what happened to you in the market-place. I know you have not obtained all this food by theft. It was I who urged you to go to the market-place, for I felt convinced that the good God would help us in our terrible misfortune."
He told her all that had happened to him. He described how the stranger came to him in the market-place and how he had allowed himself to be sold as a slave.
"This is a marvelous slice of luck," she cried.
"But it is not all."
He related how he had given the stranger one piece of gold and how it had been returned. The wonderful words which the stranger had said when he returned the piece of gold were also retold. Happiness filled the hearts of the good man and his wife. Henceforth wealth and prosperity never forsook them. They were spared all further worldly cares and troubles.
Meanwhile the Prince had brought his new slave before the King his master. The latter had long planned in his mind to build a wonderful palace in a wood adjoining his capital. He had already commenced the building. The foundation was completely finished. He had hired very many slaves to carry wood, stone and other material required for its construction. When Elijah came before the King he was asked,—
"What is your trade?"
"I am an architect and also a practical builder."
"Excellent!" exclaimed the King in great joy; "it is my ardent desire to complete the building of my palace in the wood near by. My architect died six months ago, and since then the work seems to make no progress. It must be built according to my wishes. There must be so and so many stories with so and so many rooms on each floor."
He then proceeded to tell him exactly what his wishes were. When he had finished Elijah remarked,—
"I will endeavor to carry out your Majesty's plan exactly as you have explained. May I ask, when is the building to be finished!"
"If the building could be erected within twelve months I should be exceedingly happy. If you achieve this result I will give you your freedom and present you with a handsome gift."
"I will do my best," replied Elijah; "and now may I ask your Majesty to order your slaves to recommence even at this very hour their tasks. There are yet four hours before sundown. The labor is great and the time is short."The King forthwith ordered his chamberlain to do as Elijah had requested. The slave architect went to the wood and watched the slaves carrying brick and mortar. At sundown they ceased their labor and went home. Elijah remained alone. He arose and prayed to God asking Him to cause the palace to be built there and then even as the King desired. The prayer of the faithful prophet was heard by the Great Architect of the Universe, who sent down myriads of His ministering angels to complete the building. The work was soon done, every detail was carefully attended to by the heavenly builders. Before sunrise next day the
"BEFORE SUNRISE NEXT DAY THE PALACE STOOD COMPLETE"—Page 74
At daybreak the people heard from the slaves who had gone to continue their tasks that the palace had been miraculously built overnight. The extraordinary news was at once communicated to the King. He went immediately to the wood to see the miracle. Needless to say he was mightily pleased with everything he saw. He rejoiced to see the wish of his heart realized in such a brief space of time. Everything was done in accordance with his plan. There was not a single defect to be seen.
"Bring me," he cried, "the marvelous slave who has performed the greatest miracle ever heard of in my kingdom."
The servants of the King searched everywhere for the slave, but he was not to be found. This was reported to the King, who remarked,—"This is another miracle."
He now saw that the slave was no ordinary one.
"I believe," he added, "that the slave was an angel."
Meanwhile Elijah had gone to visit the man whom he had befriended. When the latter saw him he cried,—
"You have indeed come to see me within the twenty-four hours as you promised. Tell me, good friend, who are you?"
"I am Elijah the prophet."
"What happened when you came before the King?"
"He wanted a beautiful palace to be built within twelve months. God hearkened to my prayer and within twelve hours the palace was erected."
"This is all very wonderful."
"Naturally; whatever God does is marvelous. I assumed the role of a slave, and as a good price had been paid for my services, I determined to give good value in return. The palace which has been built through my prayer is, of course, worth more than a thousand times the money paid to you."
"How, saintly Elijah, Man of God, can I repay you! You have saved my life and the lives of my wife and children."
"You can repay me by living a good life, ever helping all God's children in distress."
"This I faithfully promise to do."
The next moment Elijah had vanished, leaving the happy man full of joy and gratitude in his heart.
Beth Hammidrash (ed. Jellinek, v. pp. 140f.); see also Baer's Hebrew Prayer Book (pp. 316f.).