Thursday, September 3, 2015

THE MAGIC PURSE

Suggested by the Jewish Fairy Tale, 'The Black Dwarf'

Once upon what we in the industry often refer to as “a time,” there lived a tailor named Jacob. Now, Jacob was a very good tailor and, what’s more, he was a very good man. Kind, compassionate, honest, cheerful and charitable. Unfortunately he was also poor. Quite poor. He worked very hard but, for whatever reason, he hardly ever seemed to have enough money. It was an effort just to keep a roof over his family’s head, not to mention food in their bellies.

One day after making all the clothes he was going to try and sell, he found he had some material left over. Not enough to make another suit, but too much to throw away, so he made a tee shirt out of it. It was a pretty small tee shirt and he doubted anyone would buy it since it probably wouldn’t fit anybody, but he put it in his pack and took it with him.

Before he got to town to try and sell the clothes he had made, Jacob was set upon by a band of robbers. “Give us your money!” they demanded.

“I don’t have any money!” insisted Jacob.

They snatched away his purse which, indeed, was empty. So they took the only thing he did have: clothes. They tore through his pack and took every shirt, jacket, pair of pants, skirt, sock and every last set of underwear. In the end they left him only the tiny tee shirt, which they knew was too small to be of any use to him anyway.

Poor Jacob was distraught. Now he and his family were sure to starve. The only thing he had left in the world was that tiny little tee shirt.

“Who in the world would ever want a shirt this small?”

“I do!” said a voice from behind. Jacob spun around and was rather surprised to see a dwarf…with no shirt on. “It just so happens I need a shirt, as you can see. And that one you’ve made looks like it’s just my size. Here,” he said, putting a hand in his pocket and bringing up a gold coin. “Do you have change?”

“Well, no, I’m afraid not.”

“Oh, that’s okay. Keep it.”

“A gold coin for one shirt? No, that’s too much.”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re really saving my neck selling me this shirt. If I show up at home half-dressed again, my wife is really gonna lay into me. Besides, you seem like a nice guy. I’m sure you’ll put the money to good use. Oh, I see you don’t have a purse to put it in. Here, take this one. No, I insist. I have tons of them at home. My  brother is an arts and crafts nut. I keep telling him ‘We have enough purses!’ but he doesn’t seem to hear. Anyway, have a nice day!”

So Jacob accepted the gold coin and the dwarf ran home at once with his new tee shirt. Jacob just stood and gazed at the coin. He had never held this much money in his hands before. On one side, he read these words:

Money used wisely will surely grow.

On t'other side, it read:

Money used poorly will quickly go.

He didn’t really know what that meant, but he put the coin in his purse and went home to tell his wife and son all about his adventure. But when he took the coin back out of the purse, to show it to them, a most peculiar thing happened. Jacob put his hand in the purse and felt not one but two gold coins! Barely daring to believe it, he put the two coins back in the purse, tied up the top, waited a few seconds, then opened it again. Sure enough, now there were four gold coins.

“This is a magic purse!” Jacob declared. “However much money we put inside will double!”

“We’re rich!” cried Jacob’s son, Benjamin. His mind filled with images of dozens, hundreds of gold coins pouring out of the little purse.

“No, son. We are not going to squander this gift. We shall use the purse to make only as much gold as we need. And we must all swear right now that however much we spend each week, an equal portion goes to the poor.”

Jacob and his wife swore to the oath (as did Benjamin, though less enthusiastically) and from then on life for the tailor and his family was good. They never lived in the lap of luxury, but they never again had to worry if they would starve to death. And, true to their word, however much money they needed, they always took twice that amount from the magic purse, so they could give half to charity. And because they used their money wisely and shared their wealth, Jacob and his wife lived happily ever after…

No, come back! This isn’t the end! Yeah, I know it sounds like the end, but trust me, it’s not.

See Jacob and his wife were able to live happily ever after. What they weren’t able to do was live forever. After reaching a ripe old age, they both died and the magic purse became the property of Benjamin, their son. And if you’ve been picking up on the subtle foreshadowing I’ve been laying down these past few paragraphs, you’ll know that he did not use the purse as wisely as his father.

Benjamin used the purse to produce massive amounts of gold all at once. He used them to buy a big mansion, expensive clothes, rich foods, the finest imported servants and a stable full of Arabian cows (which are not as famous as Arabian stallions, but still nice in their own way). And he never, ever, not even once, gave so much as a penny to those less fortunate.

After six months of this kind of thing, a very strange thing happened: the magic of the purse started to work in reverse. One night before bed, Benjamin put twelve gold coins in the purse. When he awoke the next morning there were only six. As a test, he put two gold coins in and took out only one. He threw the purse away, lest it wipe out his fortune completely, and started keeping his gold in his pockets. But they too started to work in the same way as the purse, and every time he took out his money, he had half as much as he expected.

It didn’t take long for Benjamin to be down to his very last gold coin. As a matter of fact, though he had no way of knowing this, it was the exact same coin that had started all this so many years ago. He lost the mansion, the clothes, the food, the servants and the finance company repossessed his Arabian cows. He was kicked out into the streets, all alone.

Shortly after being kicked out, as though the forces of nature (or a vindictive writer) were conspiring against him, it started to rain. Benjamin decided to use his last gold coin to buy food and lodging for the night and then find work in the morning. But on his way to the inn, a little old woman walked up to him and asked if he could spare a little money.

Benjamin was about to say that, no, he had no spare money, when he looked down at the inscription on the coin:

Money used wisely will surely grow
Money used poorly will quickly go

Benjamin felt that he understood that message for the first time in his life. With a weary sigh, and the unpleasant thought that he’d have to spend the night in the rain, he handed his very last coin to the old woman and said, with a sad but sincere smile, “Here you are, madam. I only hope it brings you more happiness than it brought me.”

“Silly, Benjamin,” said the old lady. “Haven’t you learned by now? Money cannot buy happiness. Don’t you remember your father? Jacob was happy all his life before he even got this coin.”

“Wait, how do you know me? And my father?”

By way of an answer, the little old lady started to glow. So brightly, Benjamin had to shield his eyes. When the light dimmed, however, the little old lady had changed into a dwarf with a tee shirt that looked really cool. “I’m sorry I had to take away my gift,” said the dwarf, not unkindly, “but you were not honoring the promise you made. You used the money foolishly and selfishly, so I had to take it back. But now, since you were willing to give your last possession in the world to a stranger, I see that you have learned your lesson. So, here, take the coin back. Oh, and I think you mislaid this.”

Benjamin’s eyes widened when he saw that the dwarf was holding up the magic purse. “I give you my solemn word, o dwarf,” said Benjamin, “to use the purse’s magic as my father did from this day on.”

“Glad to hear it! But now, if I were you, I’d see about getting a room for the night. This rain’s not gonna let up any time soon.” And the little man disappeared as mysteriously as he had come.

With a new feeling of purpose and a much lighter heart, Benjamin went to the inn, bought dinner for all the poor children in the village then went to sleep. But when he woke up the next morning, he was not in the inn, but back in his mansion! He had all this clothes, food, servants and even his Arabian cows back! But he kept true to his promise and didn’t squander the money he got from the purse. And even if he did splurge every now and then (after all, he’s only human), he made sure to give an equal amount to the poor and needy.

Okay, now it’s the end. No wait! Sorry, not quite. I forgot the bit about how he lived happily ever after and nobody ever saw the dwarf ever again. Okay, we’re done. Bye!

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