Jewish Values: The Wooden Sword

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“Can a poor man be as happy as a rich man?” asks this Jewish folktale from Afghanistan. The shah doesn’t think so and wanders through Kabul, stopping when he hears laughter coming from a house in the very poorest section in town. There he finds a Jew who is happy with his lot as a shoemaker, despite having very little money. When the shah asks him what he would do if he couldn’t earn enough money to buy food, the Jew tells him that “If one path is blocked, God leads me to another, and everything turns out just as it should.” Deciding to test the man’s faith, the shah sets up a series of setbacks for him, each forcing him to assume a job that pays less and less. Still, the Jew’s faith in God remains strong; his outlook, optimistic. Finally, the shah makes him a member of the royal guard and gives him a silver sword which he promptly sells and replaces with one he makes from wood. When, to his horror, he is ordered to kill a man with his sword, the peace loving and pious Jew outdoes himself in resourcefulness, because his faith in God saves a life and earns him the shah’s everlasting respect. This familiar tale is told with folkloric directness, a lively style that builds suspense, an attitude of kindness, and a respect for its traditional sources, discussed in an author’s note following the story. The handsome jewel-toned illustrations depict setting and characters in a way that invites readers into the tale, traveling down the dusty streets of Kabul with “a ragged band of woodcutters” or gasping with wonder in the shah’s opulent courtyard. The physical differences between the Jewish man and the Afghans are slight, with the distinction appearing in their headgear: the Jew wears a kippah; the Afghans, turbans.
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