The Story of the Fish

Introduction

This somewhat rambling folktale is taken from a chapbook apparently designed as a gift for good children. The main story, on a "Taming of the Shrew" theme, is taken from the Arabian Nights. To this is added the midrashic tale of the man who discovered a herb for reviving the dead, and was foolish enough to try it out on a dead lion. The book begins with a curious dispute among various species of fish as to which is the most tasty:
If you stay on the river banks
When you get me, you'll sure give thanks
sings the carp. The continuation is a moral tale, extolling the virtues of obedience to one's superiors, and the application of proper discipline to one's inferiors.

The Story

There is a tale of a man who enjoined his son at the time of his death: "My son, so long as you live, throw some of your bread in the water, and do not eat it all yourself." When his father died, the boy fulfilled his injunction. There was a certain fish which used to come and eat the bread, until it grew very big, and was catching the other fish and eating them. When the other fish saw that this was so, they went to Leviathan and said to him: "Sir, a certain fish has grown up among us, and we cannot live with him." He sent for the fish, and said to him: "Why did you grow more than your friends?" He replied: "Some man comes to me, and throws bread, and I eat it." He said to him: "Bring that man to me, and I shall find the truth of your answer." He went and brought him to Leviathan. He said to him: "My son, for what reason do you throw your bread in the water?" He answered: "Sir, so my father commanded me: 'Throw your bread in the water.' And I am carrying out my father's command." He said to him: "Are you really carrying out your father's command?" He said: "Yes." Leviathan said: "Open your mouth." He opened his mouth, and Leviathan spat in it three times. At that moment he acquired knowledge, and knew and understood the speech of birds and animals, and he knew seventy languages. After this, Leviathan commanded the fish to take him to dry land. Two birds came. One bird said to the other: "I am going to peck out his eyes." He said to him: "Man is crafty." He did not listen, he went and bit him in the leg. He did not react. When he came to his eye, he said: "He wants to peck out my eye," and he caught him. The bird's mother said to him: "Let him go, and I shall show you a big treasure belonging to King Solomon which includes a big crown." When he heard this, he understood what she said, and said: "I shall not let you go until you show me the treasure." Then the man took the bird's wing and walked with it, until they reached the treasure. Then he let him go. Then the bird's mother started hitting him saying: ""Why did you not believe me when I told you 'Do not go down to him, man is crafty'? You went down and he caught you, and I disclosed to him the treasure because of you." She hit him until he died. Then she brought a kind of herb, and put it in his mouth, and he came back to life. A certain man saw that herb and said: "Indeed, this herb revives the dead." He took the herb and said: "I will go to Jerusalem, and revive the dead with it." As he was walking along the road he saw a dead lion. He tapped it with the herb, and it stood up on its legs and ate him.

Meanwhile, the man to whom they showed the treasure went back to his house, and hired ass drivers to bring the treasure to his house. He led them to the treasure, and loaded them with silver and gold as much as they could carry. Among these donkeys was a donkey which was wild and badly behaved. He said to his friends: "If you listen to me, we shall do a piece of mischief which will deprive him of the treasure, because he made us carry more than usual." His friends said to him: "What shall we do?" He replied: "Exactly as I do. When I go through the gate of the city, I shall pass out and people will come and help me and they will find the silver and gold and steal it from me." His friends said to him: "We are afraid that this man is crafty, and if we do so, he will beat us with his whip, and make us get up from the ground without assistance." The donkey said to them: "See when I do it. If they help me, you pass out, and all the money will be spirited away." But the man understood all the conversation, and remained silent. When they entered the city, the donkey passed out. People came to help him, and the man said to them: "I beg you not to help me, for I know the works of the wicked." He took the whip, and kept on beating him until he stood up by himself. His friends told him: "If we had listened to you, he would have beaten us like that too." At that time he took the treasure to his house and hid it away. His wife caame and said to him: "Where did you get this money?" He said to her: "The Holy One, blessed be he, sent it to me." She kept on bothering him every day and every night until he decided he would tell her. On that day, he entered the stables and he found his mule sitting crying. A rooster came into the manger and he found the mule sitting crying, and said to her: "Why are you crying?" She said to him: "Because my master decided to tell his wife, and when he tells her, she will go and inform on him, and they will kill him and take the treasure." The rooster answered and said to her: "I have ten wives, and they are all afraid of me and do not contradict me, and my master has one wife. If she asks anything from him, he should beat her. Do you want to see how they fear me?" He took barley and he called to his wives, and they came to eat, and he screamed at them and they ran away. He said to him: "Do you see how they fear me? So should my master do to his wife." The man understood what was going on, and he went to his house. His wife started to bother him. He got up, brought the whip, and beat her with it. She started screaming: "All right, all right, I shall never say anything to you." Come and see how he got this honor, and what brought him intelligence, as the verse says: "Wisdom gives life to those who possess it." Ecclesiastes 7.12 The reason for all this was they he obeyed his father's command and followed the commandments.

So may he give us merit to observe, do and fulfil all the commandments until the coming of the Messiah. Amen. May such be his divine will.


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Alan D. Corré
corre@uwm.edu