A Children's Bible Story of Jerusalem
Translation Copyright 2001 by Morris Rosenthal
Translations from Hebrew
Copyright 2002 by Morris Rosenthal
All Rights Reserved
The Children's Path or A Story from
By Sarah Feige Foner of the House of Menkin
A wonderful story to draw the hearts of youth, set in the days of Herod, King of Judah during the Second Temple. For children learning the Hebrew language. - Published in Vienna, 1886
A word to the reader
Honorable readers. I wrote this story in memory of the honored name of the tzaddik and leader, the prince of God who was amongst us. He was Moses Montefiore, may he rest in eternity. Behold, I saw that as long as this lofty leader was in the vigor of life, all the writers and authors sent him their books and wrote articles in his honor, filling their mouths in praise and admiration of him. They knew that they weren't doing this for free, but that he would pay every one in full coin for his trade. At the time when I also did this, and sent him my story "A Righteous Love," this friend of God and man had almost closed his eyes and returned his soul to the God of recompense, to enjoy the good fate he could expect. Then followed many days of lamenting and mourning Moses, but now he is almost forgotten from the mouths of all the Hebrew writers, each of them wandering off in his own direction, this one hating that, like the scholars of Babel. There are also those who undermine and destroy others who don't direct their fire along with them, testifying falsely and bare-headedly, each man condemning and reviling his brother. When I realized this I cried out and said, "Where is his eminence, that esteemed man who was apart from and conspicuous above the myriad. All the sorrows of your people were also your sorrows, you took notice and rescued them. While many rich men lay sprawling on their divans and didn't give anything to the remnants of Joseph, you went over, you and your gentle wife so like you in her righteousness, journeying completely over the seas, the roar of their waves and breakers were like a game to you. From Damascus you ransomed thousands of your covenant from the gates of death and removed the fetters from their souls. In Morocco you changed the condition of your people from shadow to light, and wrote yourself an eternal name, and more and more. Who can list all the good deeds and kindness you did for our people and our fathers." In order to place before young people the praise of an exalted man, I present this lofty man so that your children will ask tomorrow, "Who is this excellent man?" and you will tell them about all the charity and kindness Moses did in the eyes of Israel. Then the hearts of the youth will be filled with the love of their people and their kings and they will follow in his path. This story is set in the holy mountains with excellent people who learn Torah and wisdom, serve in the army and work on the land. They all appear in this story, since the actions of this lofty leader promoted the holy city and people like these. Therefore I wrote this story to honor his name and eternal memory. I hope that the honorable readers will not judge me guilty and say that I did this only in order to receive a reward, because Moses is dead and who is there like him who knows and understands this precious language? I will also present the letter he sent me for my story, "A Righteous Love," which I published five years ago while I was living in my youth in the house of my father, of blessed memory. I hope to produce an appetite in the community of wise readers that they will approve of my work as they did my first story. Then I will seek, with the help of the Lord, to also bring to the publisher the rest of the stories that are with me in manuscript. Aside from the second half of "A Righteous Love" and this story that I will place before you now, I also have four large stories written in pure and easy language that will cheer the hearts of the readers. I hope that with open arms you will gather them into your homes, as is the wish of the Author.
Letter from the Honorable Sir Moses Montefiore
Sir Moses Montefiore, Bart.
With the help of the Lord, Ramscott, Monday, Parsha Devarim, 1881
Blessings and salutations to the lover of the language of our holy Torah, a dear modest maiden in her deeds and praiseworthy in her wisdom, Miss Sarah Feige Menkin of the District of Riga, Russia.
Included in this letter you will receive my gift of four pounds sterling for the book that you sent me. You will please be kind to inform me and confirm for me that the money arrives safely in your hands. May the Lord in his great mercy speedily have mercy on all the remnants of Israel.
As a soul pleading for the good of his people,
In Memory and Thanks
To the prince of God who was in our midst.
The honored minister and elevated man who stood by the right of his people for more than 100 years and saved them many times from sorrow.
Moses Montefiore, resting eternally.
Presented with sincerity and thanks on behalf of her people,
In the Village of Yochani in the land of Judah there lived a man for many days. On account of this, he was called Yochanan the Villager. This man had worked the land since his youth, and he was wholesome, straight and God-fearing. Each day in the morning, he rose from his bed before the sun began to shine and put on his garment. He went out to the field and prayed a short prayer, that the Lord should send blessings on all the works of his hands so that he should be able to support himself and those of his house. After this he returned home and ate the breakfast that was prepared for him by his wife and companion, then he returned to the field to work and stand guard. Thus he did all the days of the summer. During the winter he wove open wicker baskets from reeds or poplar in preparation for the days of the Holiday of the First Fruits. All the poor pilgrims (the rich would bring gifts of gold or silver in place of first fruits) bringing offerings in honor of the Lord God, bought baskets from him the to present their first fruits before the Lord. Neither did his wife sit in idleness, but she prepared all the needs of the house for herself and for her husband and children; also the flocks and herds were under her hand. In the long nights of the winter she spun and wove the fleece from the sheep, and she sold it at such a high price that the man was greatly enriched. This man had also four sons, Natanel the first born, Y'honatan the second, Oved the third, and Atzel the fourth. When they were little children they went to their father in the fields or to the servants with the flocks, but as they grew they became divided in their opinions and thoughts, each one by himself. Their father constantly reproached them about their undertakings because they hated work and loved idleness, but they always answered that they were yet young boys and they needed more time to become accustomed to work.
Two A Conversation between the Brothers
The sun shone with all her splendor and glory on perfect Zion. She cast her majestic rays also on the towns and villages that surrounded her, as if she were saying, "From Zion and from all her beauty the Lord will also appear to you, and with her blessings He also blesses you." In the village of Yochani the day was different from all other days. All the workers from the fields and the flocks came and gathered at Yochani's house, and a few from the surrounding towns came to his house also. An elderly priest came from Jerusalem to say the blessing over the bread and take his portion of the shearings of the sheep. That day was a holiday for Yochanan because he sheared his flock and set aside the Terumah of his fields. Rachel, the wife of Yochanan, stood by the pots to prepare the meal for the guests. The priest arrived, and all those sitting rose from their places and received the elderly priest with honor, and he blessed them all and sat at the head. And it happened that after they ate and after they drank, every one of them returned to his place. Yochanan went to see off the priest and to cause him to pass him through his fields that he should bless them. There he saw his sons arrayed, the four of them, under one of the trees, and he went slowly after them and hid under a different tree from whence he could hear all of their words. "Listen now, my brothers," said Natanel the first born to the rest of the brothers, "Did you know that in the time since our father took us to Jerusalem for the Festival of Matzot, I decided to become a Rabbi and head of the Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem? At first I longed to be High Priest when I saw all of the honor bestowed on the High Priest from all of Israel, like a god he was thought in their eyes. But when one of the young men of Jerusalem told me that the High Priest can only be one who is a descendent of the priests, and as our father is from the tribe of Shimon, I therefore decided to become a Rabbi and the head of a Yeshiva. Then I saw the two great Rabbis, Hillel and Shamai, one the Nasi and the other the head of the Rabbinical Court, and how their students sat before them in terror and fear, sitting at their feet, it almost took away my breath. More than this, I saw people come to Hillel that he should judge them because they have a quarrel and suit, then Hillel said, "God of my people! Why do you quarrel with each other, are you the children of Cain that you wish to murder your brothers? Are you not the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov who lived in peace even with those who hated them? When there was a quarrel between the shepherds of the flocks of Avraham and the shepherds of the flocks of Lot, Avraham told his nephew to choose for himself a place to dwell as was goodly in his eyes, while he would remain in his place in order that there be peace." The plaintiffs, on hearing the sweet language of the exalted man, addressed each other in peace. I stood then next to my father and watched him without pause, and he said, "Perchance thy face is a lamp," and he passed two fingers over my right cheek. "And what do you say my son? Do you think it better to be a Rabbi like me or a tiller of the soil like your father?" My cheeks reddened like scarlet and fear and trembling seized me on seeing the importance of the answer. I was like a stupid brute then and I couldn't respond with a single word. When I return for the yearly Festival of the Harvest in Jerusalem, I will go to the house of study and fall before his feet and I will plead with him that he teach me Torah in order that I become a Rabbi like him.
"Why don't you want to learn Torah in the house of study of Shammai?" Y'honatan asked him when he concluded. "Is he not also a great Rabbi?"
"The young men of Jerusalem told me," said Natanel, "that the students of Hillel outnumber the students of Shammai, because Hillel is extremely humble and receives every man in joy. Shammai is very prickly, and if a man doesn't impress him in speaking to him, he will drive him away with rebukes. I am very dismayed by rebukes, and on account of this I will be a Rabbi like Hillel and not Shammai."
"It is different with me," said Y'honatan, "When I walked in the beautiful and splendid streets of Jerusalem, I saw from afar a great gathering of many people. I asked of them, "What is this?" and the people told me that in a little while Herod the king, in all his beauty and splendor, would show himself to us. Then I saw in the distance people dressed in expensive clothing with coats of mail on them and golden swords girded at their hips. Some of them rode on horses and some of them went on foot and all of them ran from every direction and shouted, "Clear the way for our lord king. He will soon show himself to us, because he is on his way to the Temple to go before the Lord in the festival gathering of the people." Each man jostled his neighbor to see this fine view. Many of the upper class of Jerusalem ran before him and spread blue and purple cloth on the road from the palace to the house of the Lord, in order that the soles of his feet not tread on the ground, but on the blue and purple cloth. In their passing they cried, "Long live the King, Long live the King!" and the earth split at their voices. The king acknowledged them all with a beaming visage and went on. All of the generals dressed in armor and swords accompanied him on all sides, and they are in the king's presence always. He spoke with them, bestowing honor on them, and all of the people were jealous of them and also honored them. Therefore I decided to become a general and intimate of the king. Next time I am brought to Jerusalem I will go to one of these generals and beseech him that he take me into his service. So I have decided," said Y'honatan, "And I hope that in the near future I will be a great general like those generals I saw in Jerusalem."
"Verily you are correct in the choices you have made," said Oved. "Natanel, he will be a Rabbi like Hillel, and Y'honatan will be a great general and intimate of King Herod. But with me it will be different. Behold when our father brought the tithe and Terumah to Jerusalem, the priests received him with love and honor. When my father said, "What am I that I am so valued and honored by you," they said to him, "Who is deserving of honor more than you? Did not David, the King of Israel, say, "He will that you will eat and rejoice and it will be good with you." How could we not honor a man who has won himself two worlds by his toil." Therefore I will be a worker of the land like my father and I will eat by means of my toil and I will also win myself two worlds." Then the two older brothers rose and hugged their third brother and they said, "Be happy, our brother, in your lot, because he who works his land will eat his fill." And he said to them, "Also you my brothers be happy in your lots, rise and be successful, and the Lord God will be with you." They embraced again, each man his brother, and they swore to live in harmony, even in the time that their status should separate them one from another. In their great happiness they forgot that they had another brother, the youngest of them all, that hadn't told them what he desired to choose for the days of his existence. Natanel the first born spoke to his youngest brother Atzel and said, "Pray tell us your mind, Atzel, what will be with you?" "With me there won't be a thing," answered Atzel. "Behold my father is a very rich man, so why should I stint myself any pleasure. Shall I be a rabbi? Would I not be required to sit day and night without giving sleep to my eyes or rest to my eyelids for long days, and then only maybe would I succeed in becoming a rabbi, because not all students are ordained. If I aspired to become a great general like Y'honatan said, then I would have to serve in the army and go down to war, then maybe the hand of an enemy will reach me and his sword will take me before I become a general. Or, should I become a servant of the earth like my father, is this good? Do not the consuming dryness by day and the frost by night rob the sleep from his eyes? Sometimes, when he hears tortured cries of the shepherds with the flocks of sheep and cattle, he strings his bow and runs into the midst of the flocks to shoot at the wolves or the lions, taking his life in his hands. Therefore, my soul also finds this repugnant. Behold, my needs are provided for every day that I may do as I have done until now, leaping from mountain to mountain, hill to hill. I will play with the shepherds and the flocks and I will be free always, and I will go wherever the wind bears me." The brothers began to argue with him and rebuke him on his path, because he was up to no good and his end would be bitter. But he had set himself apart, and who could bring him back? Their father remained hidden under a leafy tree the whole time the brothers were talking, and he saw all and heard all of their words. When they finished speaking he returned to his place and didn't tell them that he had heard, but on his youngest son he looked now with penetrating eyes. And he chose for himself the part of voiding the bad intentions of his son that he not be lost for eternity. But who can stop the flood of desire in the hearts of youths when they follow their own ideas, whether good or bad?
Three The Festival of Succot in the Days of Herod
The Festival of Succot arrived and all of Israel gathered to come and see the presence of the Lord God, to celebrate the Festival of Succot, and to hear the king himself as he read the Torah before the assembly. Yochanan the villager and his four sons also went up to Jerusalem. Natanel went to the house of study of Hillel the Nasi and said, "Please my lord, my teacher, my rabbi, our teacher of Torah, I am the son of Yochanan the villager, but the deeds of my father are not right for me and I will never be a farmer. Only a rabbi like you shall I be, and in your path I will go if you do not reject me from your presence and teach me Torah." "Good, my son, good is the thing you have chosen," said Hillel. "The Lord blesses Zion that from her will come out Torah and you will go up, and up, and up and become great in Torah and posses a name like the names of the great ones in the land." And from that day on Natanel was a student of Hillel the Nasi. And his second brother Y'honatan was taken to serve in the army. Oved and Atzel, the remaining sons, returned with their father to the village Yochani. Oved began to work the land of his father, and the Lord blessed all the labor of his hands and he succeeded in all he did, but Atzel remained idle all his days.
Four The Death of Yochanan
Many days passed and Yochanan grew old. And he came to the end of his days and summoned his sons. Natanel came with fifty students who heard their lessons from his mouth because so great was Natanel in the Torah of the Lord. When he came to his father he fell on his neck and kissed him. And Natanel's students spoke to Yochanan saying, "Happy are you Yochanan that you merited this, you sowed in charity and reaped in kindness." Next approached Y'honatan, his neck and breast were spread with gold medals that he received from Herod the king for his heroism and mightiness of spirit. A thousand men came with him to honor him and to honor his father, because he was a general of a thousand. He fell on his father's neck and kissed him and took out a letter from his pocket. As his men stood by to hear the words of the letter, he read,
"Behold I send you your son that he cheer your spirit in these, your final days, as you have asked of me. But, do not delay in returning him to me because I need him very urgently."
Herod, King of Judah
The old man embraced and kissed his sons, weeping from great happiness, and afterwards Oved and Atzel also came and stood by their father. And Yochanan said to his sons, "Hearken me now my children. Behold the day of my death has come, now listen to me as I proclaim my words. All the time you dwelled with me I took care of you and you were not lacking a thing. But I also chastened you when I saw that you were straying a little from the straight path, and you in your good nature lent your ears to my admonishments and you went in the correct path. When you took counsel under the tree and each one spoke about his desires, what you chose to be, I heard all your words and determinations and I didn't seek to restrain you. I knew that it's not in the power of man to stop the flood of desire in the hearts of boisterous youth, more so when I saw that everybody chose for himself a good path, except for Atzel the youngest. Behold, I return in thanks to the Lord. You have settled in the right path, and behold, you have become men before my eyes."
"But what can I do with Atzel who will continue to give himself to his wicked tendencies and his evil ways? If he continues doing as he has done, in his end he will be cut off. One last piece of advice occurs to me. I will divide my estate in five parts and every one will take his part, and to Natanel there will be double as is written in the Law of Moses, because he is the first born. But the portion of Atzel will be under the hand of one of you and you will appoint a trustworthy man who will work Atzel's fields faithfully. And each and every month he will give Atzel all that he requires for himself and his household, and the remainder will be brought under the hand of the guardian to be kept in trust. In this manner he will be able to exist as any man lives and not turn to evil or crime. But, if you give him his portion, then he and his inheritance will be lost forever, as if I had not charged you."
And they all answered, "As your words we will do, our father, your command is holy to us," and afterwards he blessed each one with his blessing. Also his son Atzel he blessed and commanded to go in the path of good and to hearken the voices of his older brethren. He finished charging his sons and he drew his feet up on the bed and died an old man. For seven days his sons mourned him and they buried him on his estate. Then each one of his sons returned to their work.
Five The Breaking of the Will by Herod
Many days passed after the death of Yochanan and nothing new occurred. Natanel earned a name as good as the greatest names in the land. From the entire land of Israel many people came streaming to hear lessons from his mouth, and his name was very esteemed. Y'honatan rose from height to height because he showed Herod his fierce courage and the king raised Y'honatan high. Oved worked his land and was a man of worth. Atzel went in crookedness and apostasy, and every month when he received from the trustee his legal portion, he would lose it in some bad matter. His wife and children were left lacking everything and then it was incumbent on Oved to be a support for Atzel and his family. He was worthless and a drunkard, always going to his brother and quarreling with him that he should give him his part of the land from their father. Then he would no longer be under Oved's hand and he alone would manage his portion and not a stranger. But Oved didn't regard his words with favor, because his father had commanded him before his death not to give the inheritance into Atzel's hands.
One time Atzel came to Jerusalem when Herod was out riding with his servants, and the beautiful Miriami rode on his right on a pure white she-ass. All of Israel, from the least to the greatest, went around them shouting and cheering because king Herod had proclaimed throughout the land of Judah that he would return the crown of the High Priest to Aristobolus, the brother of the Queen. He would serve in the Sanctuary in place of Hyrcanus his father, in order to cheer the hearts of the people mourning for the honor of the Hasmoneans, who had almost expired from our midst. Herod sent him from the palace of the king to the Holy Temple to restore him to the appointed office, because these were the days between the full moon and the tithing. The Queen rode to the right of the King and Aristobolus, the brother of the Queen, sat to the left of the king. The sons of the king, Alexander and Aristobolus, rode to the right of the Queen. Y'honatan rode to the right of the children of the King to guard them because they were then seven and eight years old.
Atzel saw his brother Y'honatan from a distance and broke through to him.
He grasped him by the back of his neck and cried aloud, "Bitter son, why
do you transgress the commands of our dead father! Here you sit on the heights
of the world and do not give your waiting brother his inheritance. You stole
my land from me, the inheritance that our father left for me, and I am dying
from hunger and a lack of everything." All the people gazed at the two brothers
in wonder and the sons of the king stared at Y'honatan in contempt and cried
in a regal voice, "Is it true,Y'honatan? Could you have done even one of
these things to your brother? Will you be a retainer of our father the King
and will you ride beside us? Will it be so?" One of the servants of the king
approached Atzel to remove him by force from his brother, but Herod gave
him a sign to desist. The Queen looked at the King in supplication, as if
she feared lest he command that Atzel or Y'honatan be slain because they
delayed him in the street. Y'honatan was stunned to the point where he could
not get a word out of his mouth in his awareness that this thing had occurred
before Herod the King. But Herod, on seeing his fear, said cheerfully, "Shame
on you, a leader and a mighty man of valor. In the field of combat you stood
your ground and weren't cowering in the rear, nor did you retreat. Now you
are dismayed before your brother and aren't able to remove him from your
sight. ("Release me and I will fulfill your desire," said Y'honatan to his
brother bitterly, and he put him aside and stood before the king.)
"It is true, my Lord King," replied Y'honatan to the king in answer and fearful respect, "That when I stand on the field of combat, my thought is to fall or to triumph. But here my courage vanishes, for fear of the splendor and royalty of my King is always upon me. The command of my dead father is strong on me. My regrets are kindled towards my lost and unfortunate brother who has acted perversely since his youth and fell in love with idleness, but if I now transgress the command of my dead father and return to him his inheritance, then it will be lost forever." The words of Y'honatan found favor in the eyes of the king and he said, "Verily your father commanded before his death not to give Atzel his inheritance, but to feed him with his allowance of bread in order that his hand not raise to do evil. However, I will keep the words of the wisest king of all men, "Remove dross from silver when setting out to smelt a vessel." Therefore, you will give him his inheritance and he will do with it as is good in his eyes. If he improves his ways, it will benefit him, and if he sins, he will be sent away for his crimes." The words came from the mouth of the king, and a couple of his servants took Atzel and brought him to the village of Yochanan and gave him his inherited fields and the flocks that his father left him before his death. The king and his nobles continued on and came before Temple Mount where they all dismounted from their horses and went on to the house of the Lord. Many priests stood there to receive the king and the new High Priest, son of Hasmoneans, to whom were given all the properties and advantages that wise men attribute to the High Priest: grace and beauty, richness and honor, wisdom, might and breeding. The wise men raised a cheer to greet the king and the High Priest Aristobolus. The High Priest remained in the Holy Temple to dwell there until after Yom Kippur, in accordance with the law, and Herod the King with all his nobles returned to their palaces.
Atzel, when he came to the inheritance of his father, saw first to expulsion of all the servants and the overseer that his brothers appointed. He took new servants to work his fields and he went about idle as had always been his habit. When his servants saw that their lord wouldn't watch his inheritance, but he stretched out his hand with mockers, they also withdrew their hands and didn't keep it as was fitting. Oved saw this from a distance and his heart pained him. He sometimes went to the fields of his brother and shouted heatedly at his servants, on seeing that the fields of Atzel were grown over with thorns and covered with nettles and that his flocks were scattered on the mountains without shepherds. But the servants of Atzel always answered him that he was not their master, and that he couldn't command them. Then he returned in low spirits to his labor and to his brother he said, "Thy badness will chastise thee."
Chapter 6 Atzel's End
One time he heard one of the rabble say to the rest of his companions that were with him in the drinking house, "Go open the door because Atzel the son of Yochanan the Villager is coming here." Atzel arrived and Herod recognized immediately that he was the brother of Y'honatan who had stopped him in the street while escorting the High Priest to Temple, and he bent his ear to hear their conversation. He heard that Atzel was a rebel against the king, because he spoke revolt against Herod and his family. He cursed the king on account of his promoting his brother and raising him high, and on account of his instructing to return to him the fields that had been under the hand of his brother. His fields were now entirely spoiled and he was ashamed to seek refuge with his brothers because he hadn't heeded their advice. Therefore, he had no other choice but to weave together the mobs to rebel against their king or to form a marauding band outside the kingdom. They struck palms with him that he would go at their head and they would follow him. Herod went on his way and commanded his servants to be on guard, and they seized Atzel and his men as they went into ambush in order to fall on travelers in the forest of Lebanon. They brought them before the king and the Sanhedrin, and the king spoke before them.
"A man was in Abel, Sheba son of Bichri, and he raised his hand against King David, and no man dwelled in his house until he was put to death. This man, Atzel, was the son of an honorable man and a brother of honorable brothers, but he has gone in apostasy from his youth until now, following his heart. He didn't listen to the voices of his parents, nor to his teachers did he lend an ear. Behold he was wholly evil amongst the community and finally he lifted his hand against King Herod, not him alone, but he incited and pushed many others with him. If a king renounces his honor it is not renounced. He determined to be a marauder outside the kingdom, and faithful witnesses will be found in this matter." After the interrogation and investigation, the Sanhedrin found the man liable to the death penalty in this matter. But before they determined their judgement, it was seen that one of the Sanhedrin rose from his place. And he said, "Make your judgement without me because I am the brother of this man." The listeners gazed at him in astonishment and he went out. As he passed before Atzel his brother recognized him, and he cried, "Save me now, my brother, from bitter death!"
"A brother cannot redeem a man, nor pay his ransom to God," said Natanel and went out.
A momentary uproar rose in the court, then the still silence returned. The sentence was fixed that the next day he would receive his punishment, he with the rest of his cohorts on his estate in the Village of Yochani. The servants of Herod took the prisoner and returned him to the jail pending the next day.
Y'honatan, his brother, exited from before the Sanhedrin with the rest of the generals. In low spirits, he met his brother Natanel in the corridor, and he said, "What do you say, my brother, about the end of our brother?"
"His end was destined from his beginning," answered Natanel in tears. "But what is our guilt that we saw with our own eyes the sorrows of our brother, yet didn't raise our hands to save him?" asked Y'honatan. "God will surely chastise us that we didn't continue to reproach him on his ways." Behold, so end all bitter sons that don't listen to their parents and teachers and hate the learning and the labor that sustains their masters in honor, and who love idleness. On account of idleness they go from stumble to stumble until they are thrown down forever, and they will be an everlasting abhorrence to themselves and their entire family.
Not so for children who pay attention and are diligent in their studies and quick in their work. They become worthy and ascend from height to height, and every place they come they will earn respect and multiply honor on their houses. They will cause the hearts of their parents to rejoice and bestow honor to their children after them.
Riga, 11th of Cheshvan, 1885
I welcome and questions or comments.
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