A Jewish tale from Afghanistan.
Once, on a summer night in the country Afghanistan, the ruler Shah Abbis changed out of his fancy robes and left his palace dressed as a peasant to enjoy the evening air and to wander through the streets unnoticed. He walked and walked until he reached the poorest section at the edge of the town. He soon heard joyful singing coming from a dimly lit cottage. As he peered in the window he saw a man sitting at a table. He was eating and singing and giving thanks to God. The shah was astonished to see such a poor man in such good spirits and so he asked if he might come in as a guest.
After accepting food and drink the shah asked the man how he earned his living. “I am a poor Jew,” he said. “I wander the streets and fix shoes, and in this way I earn enough money to buy all the food I need for one day.”
“But what will happen to you when you are too old to work?” asked the shah.
“Oh, I do not have to worry about that,” the man said happily. “God blesses me day by day, and I know that somehow there will always be enough.”
The shah returned to his palace and took off his peasant disguise. He was determined to test the faith of this man. The next day he proclaimed: “No one is allowed to fix shoes for pay!”
When the Jew went to work, he was astonished to learn of the new law. “What is he going to do if he can’t fix shoes and earn money?”
Here’s what he did. He lifted his eyes to heaven and he prayed, “God, the Shah has made it against the law for me to fix shoes. But I know you will help me to find a new job.” He looked around and saw some people carrying water. He decided that he too would become a water carrier.
The Jew carried water to and from the town well and sold it to people, for the rest of the day. And in that way he earned just enough money to buy food … for one day.
The shah again disguised himself and returned to the man’s house. He was very surprised to find the man again singing joyfully and eating. “How are you?” he asked upon entering. “I heard of the law and had to see how you had survived the day.”
“God did not abandon me today,” the Jew answered happily. “The shah closed one door, but God opened another to take its place. I am now a water carrier.”
The shah took his leave again. He issued another proclamation: no one was to carry water for pay. Again the Jew wondered how he could earn money if it was against the law to carry water. But again he prayed and this time he saw that men were going into the forest to cut trees to sell for firewood. So he decided to cut trees and sell firewood also, and that’s just what he did. And in that way he earned just enough money… ”
Again the shah came in disguise and learned of the man’s continued faith and good fortune. The next day, he issued a command that his soldiers stop all the woodcutters coming from the forests and bring them to the palace to work. He dressed them all as guards and gave them swords. He told them that they would not be paid until the end of the month.
The Jew was perplexed indeed, for he had no money for dinner that evening, and it would certainly be difficult to wait a whole month for his pay. But he trusted God. So he prayed and he prayed for an answer to his problem. How would he be able to buy food tomorrow, if he wouldn’t be paid for a full month?
On the way home from the palace, while examining his sword and sheath, the Jew had a clever idea. He would make a sword out of wood, the same size as the shah’s metal sword that would look just like it. Then he could sell the shah’s sword. So he made a wooden sword and sold the real one and he had just enough money for food for a month!
The shah, in his peasant disguise again, was much surprised to find the Jew singing and eating that night. When he heard the Jew’s story about the sword, he asked him, “What will you do if the shah finds out what you have done?”
“Oh, I do not worry about such things,” the Jew replied. “Every day my life is filled with blessings from God. I know that somehow everything will come out all right.”
The next day the Shah ordered all the guards to report to the centre of the city where there was to be an execution of a man who had stolen from the royal palace. All the guards came, including the ones who used to be woodcutters and including the Jew. All the townspeople came to see.
The shah ordered his officer to call the Jew to come forth to cut off the man’s head. “Do not ask this of me,” the Jew cried. “I have never even killed a fly.” The officer said that it was the order of the shah and he must obey or risk his own life.
The Jew asked for a few minutes to pray to God. Then he stood up in front of all of the townspeople and said out loud, “God, you know that I have never killed anyone in my whole life. Please, God, if this man is guilty, let my sword be so sharp as to kill him in a single blow. But if he is not guilty, let my sword turn to wood, as a sign of his innocence.”
With all eyes on him, the Jew reached for his sword. He pulled it out of its sheath and held it high. The crowd gasped, then clapped and cheered when they saw the wooden sword, for they thought a miracle had taken place.
The shah was delighted when he saw the wisdom of the Jew. He called him near. He told him that he had been the visitor those four preceding nights. “And now,” he said, “I hope that you will come and stay with me in my palace and be my advisor, for I see that you are a man of wisdom and unwavering faith, and I have much to learn from you.”
So the Jew went to live in the palace with the shah. If you went by there in the evenings, you would hear them singing.