In this episode the origins of a classic Jewish folktale.
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Sixteenth Era, Part 2, 1280 C.E., Poland
Dinner. The rav and his wife and brood; Yakoob’s clan, all fifteen of them; plus servants and workers, not a few. We eat and do birkat* and then the rav pounds the table and silence descends and he starts to drash** the weekly sidrah***, and this be the gist of what he says, so wondrous strange I recorded it here, but excuse me if it ain’t quite right:
* blessings after meals; ** analyze the Torah portion;
*** weekly Torah portion read by all Jews
“Everyone knows a man must return whatever he finds that his neighbor has lost. *Ki Taetzay* is make this clear. But do you know that if you don’t return the thing that you have found, but cling to it like it’s your own, your soul will be swallowed into the earth and will never arise thru Adam’s house to its heavenly place, purified. How do we know? Come and hear.
*-* Torah portion that includes Devarim/Deuteronomy 22:1-3
“As everyone knows, nothing can happen in this world that doesn’t repeat the steps that Torah has already laid for us. Torah, the exemplar; we the derash*.
* same as ‘drash’, explication
“Last week as I studied in the beit midrash* this I seen: a poor man came in, Berel his name. He says to us all, he found a bag of silver denars. And here at my table a rich man sits, Shimas his name.
* house of study and prayer; same root as ‘drash’
“‘That’s my bag of silver denars! I’ll pay a reward of a silver denar for its return.’
“Up runs Berel to give it to him. Shimas takes it with many a thanks and looks inside. And then he says,
“‘I see you already took the reward. This bag had eight denars in it!’
“And there I were, hearing it all, argue and claim and denial and moan, til Berel come to me in dismay. I’m the rav and I’m the judge and I says to Shimas,
“‘Give me the bag.’
“All proud and offended, Shimas reproves:
“‘Rabbi, you know me. I’m straight as the wind. Surely you trust me and side with me.’
“as he slides me the bag reluctantly.
“‘Indeed I do,’
“I says to him. And he turns to Berel with a haughty smile.
“And then to Berel I give the bag, and the rich man blusters,
“‘What is this?!’
“And so I explain:
“‘No doubt you speak the truth. Your bag had eight denars. But Berel, if he be a liar and thief, he never would have shown us the bag at all. So this bag he found cannot be yours. If someone claims they lost a bag with seven denars, he’ll return it to them. But until that time it’s his to protect.’
“Then Shimas shouts,
“‘Then what of my coins?!’
“I shrug and say,
“‘When someone finds a bag with eight denars we’ll know it’s yours. Til then your silver’s lost.’
“This happened erev* B’Khukotai** where we learn the sentence for our sins.
* ‘erev’ can mean ‘evening of Shabbat’ or any time Friday before Shabbat
** Torah portion in Vayikra/Leviticus: 26:3 to 27:34
“And there it says, if you reject the Law
“‘*…the land your foe will devour you.*’
“And to what sin does this apply?
“‘**On your idol’s ruins your corpse will rot.**’
“And what are these idols? Jeremiah reveals in the Haftarah* to B’Khukotai:
“‘***The one who gets riches by unjust means, he shall depart in the midst of his days***.’
“‘****Those departed shall be written in dust****.’
*-* Vayikra/Leviticus 26:38; **-** Vayikra/Leviticus 26:30
* Each Torah portion has a specific reading from Prophets associated with it. This one is Yermiyahu/Jeremiah 16:9-17:14
***-*** Yermiyahu/Jeremiah 17:11; ****-**** Yermiyahu/Jeremiah 17:13
“And what does it mean to be expelled and be devoured and writ in the earth? In the end of days our soul will be judged by what we corrupted and what we made pure. The Book of our Life will read itself* and those whose purities exceed their sins, the Heavenly Judge will record their Name in The Book of Those Redeemed of Earth. And those who live in excessive sin, their name is written into the earth and their soul will dissolve in agonies. And who has not heard those agonies calling from ruins or from the grave, or trying to climb into your Soul thru your dreams before they dissolve away?
* see Unetanneh Tokef
“And how do I know that this be true? Come and hear. The following day after Shakhrit*, there comes a faint tap on my study door. Who can it be but Shimas, his fingers all in a knot.
* mornin’ prayers
“‘Rabbi, troubles are comin’ at me. I fear for my life. Last night I dreamed I could not move, I could not breathe all night long. Dream after dream. What is the tzedakah* and what the prayer to turn away this evil decree?’
* righteousness required in the form of charity
“‘Yesterday’ says I, ‘you heard the decree read from Torah in the synagogue.
“‘‘One who gets riches by unjust means, he shall depart in the midst of his days.’
“‘Did you withhold a silver denar from impoverished Berel just last week?’
“With shame and tears:
“‘I am exposed.’
“But wait! Just then, another knock at my door. It’s Berel, all fidgety.
“‘Rabbi, can you interpret my dream?’
“Not for weeks and not for months has anyone come to me with a dream, and now today these very two. We go to a bench beside my door in the beit midrash.
“‘Tell your dream.’
“‘A terrible hunger gnaws at me and there in the baker’s oven, a loaf. I reach for it and flames leap out and burn my hand, a scorchin’ burn. I reach my other hand for the bread and again the flames scorch my hand. See now. Both my hands are burnt and I can’t eat and I’m like to die. Twice I had this very dream, and I remember *Yosef and Pharaoh’s dreams*.
*-* Yosef tells Pharaoh his dreams are one and the same, meaning they’ll surely come true; Berraysheet/Genesis 41:25
“I say to him,
“‘You have seven denars. Are they yours? Have you spent them?’
“‘but woe on me, weak as I am, the urge be bitin’ me; what can I buy? A goat; a siddur*; a Shabbat feast! Such burnin’ urges a poor man feels.’
“‘Bring me the coins. I’ll keep them for you.’
“So I say. And such relief unbinds his face before my eyes. He ran and brought the coins to me.
“I say to him. And there, Shimas.
*-* ‘hello, friend.’
“What do we learn from B’Khukotai? For those who walk in Torah’s ways: security and prosperity. And so it were for these two men. Shimas paid the one denar and got the other six returned. But now he looks at Berel anew and sees an honest working man. Like Yosef were, in Potiphar’s* eyes, Berel now looks wise and true. Shimas hires him to run his house and now both men stand taller and straighter than either had in former days. May Torah guide us all like that.”
* Berraysheet/Genesis 39:1-6
And once again he pounds his fist upon the bench, but now, this time the room erupts with avid talk and laughter and song and jugs of wine, and late into the night it gone.
In the next episode Rav Susya proves that all Polish Jews are saints.