THERE was once a man who was exceedingly rich, but out of all measure avaricious, and who never had done a good deed in his life, and. never had given even the value of a farthing unto the poor.
It happened one winter's nights between the hours of twelve and one, that a man came and knocked loudly at the door of this miser. He opened the window, and saw a man at the door, and he asked him what it was he wanted. He. said that he wanted him to go with him to a village twelve miles distant from the town, to circumcise a young child that would be eight days old in the morning.
Now you must know, that this man of whom we treat was a Jew and a Moohel, that is, one whose office it is to circumcise the young children; and with all his avarice in money matters, he was not avaricious in his office, for he believed in the end of the world, and therefore he did this good action.
He accordingly agreed to go with the man, and he kindled a fire, and put his clothes before it, and. got ready the instruments he required for performing the ceremony. He then set out along with the strange man, whom he knew not, though it was winter, and dark and rainy; and they went along, journeying through the wilderness. This unfortunate Moohel, who did not know his way in the wilderness, and in the dark, every now and then fell over the stones on the way; but they still went on until they came to a great and lofty mountain in the midst of the wilderness, where people never passed, and where there are no people to be see; but only dark, dark mountains, that fill with terror those who look upon them.
The man who came with the Moohel now laid his hand on a great stone of the mountain, so large that five hundred persons could not remove or raise it; yet he raised it with only one hand. The place then opened, and they both descended. There were many flights of steps, and it was very deep within the earth, and below there was an entire city. They entered then into a palace that was very large and handsome; it had fine gardens, and there was a great deal of light, and music, and much dancing of men and women. When they saw this Moohel approach, they began to laugh and to mock at him; but the poor Moohel was greatly astonished at all the things that he saw, and as he stood looking on, he began to consider and reflect upon them; and then he saw that they were not human beings like us, and great fear came upon him; but be had no means of getting out, or of saving himself; so he constrained himself; and remained quiet.
Now the man who had brought him thither was one of their commanders, and a great personage among them. He took him then to the apartment of the lying-in woman, that he might view the child. The man then went away, and left him with the lying-in woman. But the woman groaned in great affliction, and began to weep. The Moohel asked her what ailed her? Then said the woman unto the Moohel, "How didst thou come hither? Knowest thou in what place thou art, and amongst whom thou art?" The Moohel replied that he did not, as he had not ventured to speak. The woman then explained, "Thou art in the land of the Mazikeen, and all the people that are here are Mazikeen; but I am a being like unto thyself; for when I was yet young and little, I was once alone in a dark place, and these people took me and brought me hither; and I was married to this husband, who is one of their great men, and who is, moreover, a Jew for there are different religions among them; and I also am a Jewess, and when this child was born, I spake unto my husband, and entreated of him, that he would get a Moohel to circumcise the, babe; and so he brought thee hither. But thou art in great danger here, and art lost; for thou wilt never be able to go out from here, and wilt be like one of them. Yet, as I have compassion for thee, and particularly as thou hast, out of kindness, come hither to circumcise the babe, and out of humanity, I will give thee a counsel that may be of service unto thee; and that is, when they ask thee to eat or to drink, take good heed not to touch anything, for if thou taste anything of theirs thou wilt become like one of them, and wilt remain here for ever."
The husband now came in, and they went to the congregation to perform the morning prayer. After the prayer, they returned to the house to perform the ceremony of circumcision. The Moohel took a cup of wine, and gave it to taste to the lying-in woman, to the babe, and to all who were invited to the ceremony, for this is the manner and the custom. But the man who had fetched the Moohel said unto him, "Thou also shouldst taste." The Moohel replied, that be could not, for he had dreamed an evil dream, and that he must fast; and by this excuse he escaped. But he waited for him till night, and then they brought him meat and drink; but he replied that he could not eat until he had passed two or three days fasting. When the man who bad brought him thither saw that he would neither eat nor drink for so long a time, he took compassion upon him, and said unto him, "What is the matter with thee, that thou wilt neither eat nor drink? "--" Sir," replied the Moohel, "I ask and desire no other thing but to go home unto my family; for this week we hold a feast, and I should be with my family. I therefore most humbly supplicate thee to take me unto my own house." He then began to beg and entreat him most earnestly, and the woman also entreated for him.
The man then said unto him, "Since thou desirest to go home unto thy house, come then with me; I will give thee a present for thy trouble. Come with me, where thou mayest see and take whatever will seem good unto thee." The Moohel answered, "I do not wish for anything. Thanks be to God! I am very rich--I want for nothing, but to return home unto my family."--" Nevertheless," said he, "come with me, till I show thee curious things that thou hast never seen in thy life." He was accordingly persuaded; he went with him, and he showed him divers apartments all full of silver, of gold, of diamonds, of all sorts of precious stones, and of other curious and magnificent things, such as he had never seen in his life.
He thus led him from. one chamber to another, and continually asked him if he wished for anything; for if he did, he might. take it. But he still refused, and would take nothing. At length they came to the last chamber, where there was nothing but bunches of keys hanging. The Moohel raised his eyes at seeing such a number of keys, and, lo! he beheld a bunch of keys that was his own. He began then to reflect deeply; and the man said unto him, "What dost thou stand gazing at? I have shown thee many precious and curious things, and yet thou didst not bestow so much attention upon them as upon these old keys, that are of little worth." "Be not offended, sir," answered the Moohel, "but these keys are so like mine, and I believe they are the same." He took the keys and began to examine them, and to point out each key separately to the man, who at length said unto him, "Thou art right, they are thy keys. Know that I am lord over the hearts of the people who never at any time do good; and as thou performest this good deed of circumcision, and riskest thy life in dangerous journeys, and goest with all sorts of people to do the commandment of the God of Israel, here, take the keys! From henceforward thy heart will be opened, [a] and will be good toward the poor, which will cause thee to live a long and a happy life with thy family. Come now with me; I will carry thee home to thy house and to thy family. Now shut thine eyes."
He shut his eyes, and instantly found himself in his own house amidst his family. He then began to distribute money to all the poor that were in the land, every week and every month. But the world is always curious to hear novelties and strange events, and the people, and even his own wife, as this was a very wonderful thing, pressed him and persuaded him, until at length he was obliged to relate the whole history of what had befallen him, from the beginning even unto the end; and it was a matter of great delight to all the world; and they did much good to the poor, and they all became rich, with great prosperity. And the Moohel lived very long, and spent a great and a happy life with his family, a pattern and an example unto the whole world. [b]
[a] The moral here is apparent.
[b] From a very ancient rabbinical book called R. H. It is needless to point out its resemblance to German and other tales.