Friday, August 17, 2018

The Most Valuable Merchandise

I recently came across A Treasury of Jewish Folklore by Nathan Ausubel which I am enjoying greatly. I cannot find an electronic version of it, which makes quoting passages laborious.

Full of delights. Each story has a point but it is challenging to integrate them into an overarching system of thought. Often, while true, they seem incomplete.
The Most Valuable Merchandise

A great scholar went on an ocean voyage together with a number of merchants who were conveying goods to sell in distant lands.

“What kind of merchandise do you carry?” they asked him.

“My merchandise is more valuable than yours,” he answered.

But what it was he would not say.

The merchants were astonished and looked high and low in every part of the ship. But there was no sign anywhere of his goods. So they laughed at the scholar.

“He is a simpleton!” they said.

After they had sailed several days pirates attacked them and robbed the passengers of all their possessions, including the very clothes on their backs.

When the ship reached port at last, the merchants found themselves without any money or clothes. Being strangers in a foreign land they were in a sorry plight and endured great hardships.

The scholar, on the other hand, had no sooner disembarked than he made his way to the House of Study and sat down to expound the Law. When the people saw what a learned man he was they showed him great honor. They gave him clothing, food and lodging. When he went into the street the dignitaries of the town escorted him with great deference. Seeing all this, his fellow passengers, the merchants, were abashed.

“Forgive us for having mocked at yon,” they begged him. “Help us! Intercede for us with the Elders to give us a crust of bread, for we are hungry! Now we see that it was no idle boast when you told us that your merchandise was more valuable than ours. Learning is the best merchandise!”
Reminds me of the travels of Ibn Battuta in the Middle Ages, traveling the known world, making his way everywhere as a scholar and wise man.

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