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The Magic Palace

from Jewish Fairy Tales And Legends





Ibrahim, the most learned and pious man of the city, whom everybody
held in esteem, fell on troubled days. To none did he speak of his
sufferings, for he was proud and would have been compelled to refuse
the help which he knew would have been offered to him. His noble wife
and five faithful sons suffered in silence, but Ibrahim was sorely
troubled when he saw their clothes wearing away to rags and their
bodies wasting with hunger.

One day Ibrahim was seated in front of the Holy Book, but he saw not
the words on its pages. His eyes were dimmed with tears and his
thoughts were far away. He was day-dreaming of a region where hunger
and thirst and lack of clothes and shelter were unknown. He sighed
heavily and his wife heard.

"My dear husband," she said to him gently, "we are starving. You must
go forth to seek work for the sake of our five little sons."

"Yes, yes," he replied, sadly, "and for you, too, my devoted wife,
but"--and he pointed to his tattered garments--"how can I go out in
these? Who will employ a man so miserably clad?"

"I will ask our kind neighbors to lend you some raiment," said his
wife, and although he made some demur at first, she did so and was
successful in obtaining the loan of a cloak which completely covered
Ibrahim and restored to him his dignified appearance.

His good wife cheered him with brave words. He took his staff and set
out with head erect and his heart filled with a great hope. All people
saluted the learned Ibrahim, for it was not often he was seen abroad
in the busy streets of the city. He returned their greetings with
kindly smiles, but halted not in his walk. He had no wish to make any
claims upon his fellow citizens, who would no doubt have gladly
assisted him. He desired to go among strangers and work so that he
should not be beholden to anyone.

Beyond the city gates, where the palm trees grew and the camels
trudged lazily toward the distant desert, he was suddenly accosted by
a stranger dressed as an Arab.

"O learned and holy man of the city," he said, "command me, for I am
thy slave." At the same time he made a low bow before Ibrahim.

"My slave!" returned Ibrahim, in surprise. "You mock me, stranger. I
am wretchedly poor. I seek but the opportunity to sell myself, even as
a slave, to any man who will provide food and clothing for my wife and
children."

"Sell not thyself," said the Arab. "Offer me for sale instead. I am a
marvelous builder. Behold these plans and models, specimens of my
skill and handiwork."

From beneath the folds of his ample robes, the Arab produced a scroll
and a box and held them out to Ibrahim. The latter took them,
wonderingly. On the scroll were traced designs of stately buildings.
Within the box was an exquisite model of a palace, a marvelous piece
of work, perfect in detail and workmanship. Ibrahim examined it with
great care.

"I have never seen anything so beautiful," he admitted. "It is wrought
and fashioned with exceeding good taste. It is in itself a work of
art. You must indeed be a wondrous craftsman. Whence come you?"

"What matters that?" replied the Arab. "I am thy slave. Is there not
in this city some rich merchant or nobleman who needs the services of
such talents as I possess? Seek him out and dispose of me to him. To
thee he will give ear; to me he will not listen."

Ibrahim pondered over this strange request for a while.

"Agreed!" he said, at length.

Together they returned to the city. There Ibrahim made inquiries in
the bazaar where the wealthy traders met to discuss their affairs, and
soon learned of a rich dealer in precious stones, a man of a multitude
of charitable deeds, who was anxious to erect an imposing residence.
He called upon the jeweler.

"Noble sir," he said, "I hear that it is thy intention to erect a
palace the like of which this city has not yet seen, an edifice that
will be an everlasting joy to its possessor, a delight to all who gaze
upon it, and which will bring renown to this city."

"That is so," said the merchant. "You have interpreted the desire of
my heart as if you had read its secret. I would fain dedicate to the
uses of the ruler of this city a palace that will shed luster on his
name."

"It is well," returned Ibrahim. "I have brought thee an architect and
builder of genius. Examine his plans and designs. If they please thee,
as assuredly they will, purchase the man from me, for he is my slave."

The jeweler could not understand the plans on the scroll, but on the
model in the box he feasted his eyes for several minutes in speechless
amazement.

"It is indeed remarkable," he said at last. "I will give thee eighty
thousand gold pieces for thy slave, who must build for me just such a
palace."

Ibrahim immediately informed the Arab, who at once consented to
perform the task, and then the pious man hastened home to his wife and
children with the good news and the money, which made him rich for the
rest of his days.

To the Arab the jeweler said, "Thou wilt regain thy liberty if thou
wilt succeed in thy undertaking. Begin at once. I will forthwith
engage the workmen."

"I need no workmen," was the Arab's singular reply. "Take me to the
land whereon I must build, and to-morrow thy palace shall be
complete."

"Tomorrow!"

"Even as I say," answered the Arab.

The sun was setting in golden glory when they reached the ground, and
pointing to the sky the Arab said: "Tomorrow, when the great orb of
light rises above the distant hills, its rays will strike the minarets
and domes and towers of thy palace, noble sir. Leave me now. I must
pray."

In perfect bewilderment, the merchant left the stranger. From a
distance he watched the man devoutly praying. He had made up his mind
to watch all the night; but when the moon rose, deep sleep overcame
him and he dreamed. He dreamed that he saw myriads of men swarming
about strange machines and scaffolding which grew higher and higher,
hiding a vast structure.

Ibrahim dreamed, too, but in his vision one figure, that of the Arab,
stood out above all other things. Ibrahim scanned the features of the
stranger closely; he followed, as it were, the man's every movement.
He noticed how all the workmen and particularly the supervisors did
the stranger great honor, showing him the deference due to one of the
highest position. And with grave and dignified mien, the Arab
responded kindly. From the heavens a bright light shone upon the
scene, the radiance being softest wherever the Arab stood.

In his dream, it so appeared to Ibrahim, he rose from his bed, went
out into the night, and approached the palace magically rising from
the waste ground beyond the city. Nearer and nearer his footsteps took
him, until he stood beside the Arab again. One of the chief workmen
approached and addressed the stranger--by name!

Then it was Ibrahim understood--and he awoke. The sun was streaming in
through the lattice of his bedroom. He sprang from his bed and looked
out upon a magnificent spectacle. Beyond the city the sun's rays were
reflected by a dazzling array of gilded cupolas and glittering spires,
the towers of the palace of marble that he had seen builded in his
dream. Instantly he went out and made haste to the palace to assure
himself that his dream was really over. Ibrahim and the jeweler
arrived before the gates at the same moment. They stood speechless
with amazement and admiration before the model of the Arab grown to
immense proportions.

Almost at the same moment, the gates, ornamented with beaten gold,
opened from within and the Arab stood before them. Ibrahim bent low
his head.

The Arab addressed the merchant.

"Have I fulfilled my promise and earned my freedom?" he asked.

"Verily thou hast," answered the merchant.

"Then farewell, and may blessings rest on thee and the good Ibrahim
and on all your works."

Thus spoke the Arab, raising his hands in benediction. Then he
disappeared within the golden doors.

The jeweler and Ibrahim followed quickly, but though they hastened
through the halls and corridors of many colored marbles, in and out of
rooms lighted by windows of clearest crystal, and up and down
staircases of burnished metal, they could find no one. Emerging into
the open again, they saw a huge crowd standing in wonderment before
the gates.

"Tell me," said the jeweler, "who was the builder of this magic
palace."

"Elijah, the Prophet," said Ibrahim, "the benefactor of mankind, who
revisits the earth to assist in their distress those deemed worthy.
Blessed am I, and blessed art thou for thy good deeds, for we have
been truly honored."

To show his gratitude, the merchant gave a banquet in his palace to
all the people in the city and scattered gold and silver pieces among
the crowds that thronged the streets.




The Sleep of One Hundred Years


It was at the time of the destruction of the First Temple. The cruel
war had laid Jerusalem desolate, and terrible was the suffering of the
people.

Rabbi Onias, mounted on a camel, was sorrowfully making his way toward
the unhappy city. He had traveled many days and was weary from lack of
sleep and faint with hunger, yet he would not touch the basket of
dates he had with him, nor would he drink from the water in a leather
bottle attached to the saddle.

"Perchance," he said, "I shall meet some one who needs them more than
I."

But everywhere the land was deserted. One day, nearing the end of the
journey, he saw a man planting a carob tree at the foot of a hill.

"The Chaldeans," said the man, "have destroyed my beautiful vineyards
and all my crops, but I must sow and plant anew, so that the land may
live again."


and minarets. (P. 191).]

Onias passed sorrowfully on and at the top of the hill he stopped.
Before him lay Jerusalem, not the once beautiful city with its
hundreds of domes and minarets that caught the first rays of the sun
each morning, but a vast heap of ruins and charred buildings. Onias
threw himself on the ground and wept bitterly. No human being could he
see, and the sun was setting over what looked like a city of the dead.

"Woe, woe," he cried. "Zion, my beautiful Zion, is no more. Can it
ever rise again? Not in a hundred years can its glory be renewed."

The sun sank lower as he continued to gaze upon the ruined city, and
darkness gathered over the scene. Utterly exhausted, Onias, laying his
head upon his camel on the ground, fell into a deep sleep.

The silver moon shone serenely through the night and paled with the
dawn, and the sun cast its bright rays on the sleeping rabbi. Darkness
spread its mantle of night once more, and again the sun rose, and
still Onias slept. Days passed into weeks, the weeks merged into
months, and the months rolled on until years went by; but Rabbi Onias
did not waken.

Seeds, blown by the winds and brought by the birds, dropped around
him, took root and grew into shrubs, and soon a thick hedge
surrounded him and screened him from all who passed. A date that had
fallen from his basket, took root also, and in time there rose a
beautiful palm tree which cast a shade over the sleeping figure.

And thus a hundred years rolled by.

Suddenly, Onias moved, stretched himself and yawned. He was awake
again. He looked around confused.

"Strange," he muttered. "Did I not fall asleep on a hill overlooking
Jerusalem last night? How comes it now that I am hemmed in by a
thicket and am lying in the shade of this noble date palm?"

With great difficulty he rose to his feet.

"Oh, how my bones do ache!" he cried. "I must have overslept myself.
And where is my camel?"

Puzzled, he put his hand to his beard. Then he gave a cry of anguish.

"What is this? My beard is snow-white and so long that it almost
reaches to the ground."

He sank down again, but the mound on which he sat was but a heap of
rubbish and collapsed under his weight. Beneath it were bones. Hastily
clearing away the rubbish, he saw the skeleton of a camel.

"This surely must be my camel," he said. "Can I have slept so long?
The saddle-bags have rotted, too. But what is this?" and he picked up
the basket of dates and the water-bottle. The dates and the water were
quite fresh.

"This must be some miracle," he said. "This must be a sign for me to
continue my journey. But, alas, that Jerusalem should be destroyed!"

He looked around and was more puzzled than ever. When he had fallen
asleep the hill had been bare of vegetation. Now it was covered with
carob trees.

"I think I remember a man planting a carob tree yesterday," he said.
"But was it yesterday?"

He turned in the other direction and gave a cry of astonishment. The
sun was shining on a noble city of glittering pinnacles and minarets,
and around it were smiling fields and vineyards.

"Jerusalem still lives," he exclaimed. "Of a truth I have been
dreaming--dreaming that it was destroyed. Praise be to God that it was
but a dream."

With all speed he made his way across the plain to the city. People
looked at him strangely and pointed him out to one another, and the
children ran after him and called him names he did not understand.
But he took no notice. Near the outskirts of the city he paused.

"Canst thou tell me, father," he said to an old man, "which is the
house of Onias, the rabbi?"

"'Tis thy wit, or thy lack of it, that makes thee call me father,"
replied the man. "I must be but a child compared with thee."

Others gathered around and stared hard at Onias.

"Didst thou speak of Rabbi Onias?" asked one. "I know of one who says
that was the name of his grandfather. I will bring him."

He hastened away and soon returned with an aged man of about eighty.

"Who art thou?" Onias asked.

"Onias is my name," was the reply. "I am called so in honor of my
sainted grandfather, Rabbi Onias, who disappeared mysteriously one
hundred years ago, after the destruction of the First Temple."

"A hundred years," murmured Onias. "Can I have slept so long?"

"By thy appearance, it would seem so," replied the other Onias. "The
Temple has been rebuilt since then."

"Then it was not a dream," said the old man.

They led him gently indoors, but everything was strange to him. The
customs, the manners, the habits of the people, their dress, their
talk, was all different, and every time he spoke they laughed.

"Thou seemest like a creature from another world," they said. "Thou
speakest only of the things that have long passed away."

One day he called his grandson.

"Lead me," he said, "to the place of my long sleep. Perchance I will
sleep again. I am not of this world, my child. I am alone, a stranger
here, and would fain leave ye."

Taking the dates and the bottle of water which still remained fresh,
he made his way to where he had slept for a hundred years, and there
his prayer for peace was answered. He slept again, but not in this
world will he awaken.





Next: King For Three Days

Previous: From Shepherd-boy To King



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