Tales of Chelm


Tales of Chelm


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A Trip to Paradise

By Peter Frost

    Almost every culture around the world has developed stories about fools in their midst. It's a way of gently poking fun at themselves. In Jewish folklore we find a wonderful mythical town in Poland called Chelm, where all the residents are usually happy, gentle folk who also share another virtue - they are considered fools by everyone living outside of Chelm. But the Chelmites know they are the great sages of the world, the brightest of bright. Storytellers have been telling stories about these Jewish noodle heads of Chelm for many hundreds of years and here is another one.

Morris was born, married and always lived in the town of Chelm. He awoke one morning, more tired than when he went to bed. His eyes snapped open and he slowly shook his head muttering, "Why me?" He looked over at his sleeping wife, her mouth hanging open and snoring loudly next to him. "Why her! Of all the women in Chelm, why did I end up with her?" He climbed out of bed, careful not to wake her, and put on his shirt, pants, boots and long black coat. He tiptoed out of the bedroom and peeked into his children's bedroom. "Why them?" he muttered and left the house. He looked back at his old, wooden house and muttered, "Why that?"

The sun wasn't up yet, and the air had a frosty chill. Morris pulled his coat tightly around him, shook his head and gave a shiver. He lifted the latch on the drooping wooden gate and walked slowly down the street toward the town bakery where he worked. All the while he continued muttering to himself. "I'll never have enough money to fix up the old house.

My wife will never give me any peace, always angry and yelling at me. The children make too much noise; my head rings with their nonsense and chatter. I have to sweat and slave from dawn to dusk baking bread and rolls at the bakery. Old Jacob, who owns the bakery, is a crook and pays me almost nothing for my hard work. I drip sweat baking the bread that he sells and grows rich. He eats honey on his bread and lives in a fancy white house while my family eats stale crusts of yesterday's bread and we live in an old shack, with a broken gate."

Morris stopped walking and looked up at the still dark morning sky. He suddenly remembered what the old rabbi of Chelm had said only yesterday. "Someday we will all go to Paradise, a place of peace and plenty where everyone is always happy and content, where everyone eats his fill and no one will ever know trouble or pain again."

And where is Paradise, wondered Morris? And how do I get there? And when is Morris, the baker's helper going to Paradise?

"Now!" he cried out. "I shall go now!" So, instead of walking to the bakery in town, Morris started off in the opposite direction because didn't the old rabbi point in that direction when he talked about Paradise? This must be the road to Paradise, thought Morris. The sun came up and Morris continued walking.

He soon came to a mountain and without a second thought started up the path that led him up the mountain. The path took him higher and higher as he huffed and puffed his way up. It became so hot that Morris had to take off his black coat as he continued the climb. The afternoon came and went and Morris walked and walked.

As the sun set Morris began to feel hungry. Soon, he thought, soon I'll be in Paradise and have all the food and drink I want. The darkness covered him like a blanket and Morris had to stop his journey. He took off his boots and pointed them in the direction he was walking, so that when he woke up he would be able to continue his trip to Paradise and would know the direction to go.

While Morris slept on the ground, curled up under his long black coat to keep him warm, a strange thing happened. An angel of the mountain suddenly appeared out of the darkness. The angel moved closer and stood over the sleeping Morris. He listened to him snoring loudly under his coat. Then he noticed the boots pointing towards Paradise and gave a silent chuckle. He slapped his cheeks but his laugh never made a sound for fear of waking Morris. Angels love to play tricks on humans, so he turned the boots in the opposite direction and faded into the night, still giggling quietly.

Morris awoke with the morning sun. He was hungry but full of energy and ready to continue his journey to Paradise. He put on his boots and started off in the direction they were pointing. He thought he must be getting closer to Paradise, because the sun felt so nice and warm as he trudged along. Soon the path turned back into a road. It was much easier to walk on a road to Paradise then on a narrow uneven path.

Morris came to an old wooden gate that seemed to be an entrance to Paradise. He was surprised it wasn't made of gold and expensive wood. He lifted the latch and went into the yard. This yard in Paradise looked so much like his yard back in Chelm. The door to the wooden house in Paradise also looked familiar, just like the door of his own house.

The smells of Paradise food made his mouth water and his stomach rumble. He entered the house and sat down at the table in Paradise and a woman, so very like his wife, served him a large steaming bowl of soup and a fat roll. He ate everything put before him. The food in Paradise was wonderful. Two young children danced into the kitchen and smiled up at him. These children in Paradise were so nice, quiet and friendly that Morris had to sigh with happiness. Yes, he thought, Paradise was simply wonderful.


from the September-October 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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