Long ago in the village of Chelm there lived a poor teacher whose name was Herschel, and his wife, Dvora. They were so poor that sometimes they ate only stale bread and radishes from their tiny garden. Sometimes the butcher gave them chicken feet or bones for a soup, but theirs was a meager diet indeed.
One night Herschel and Dvora sat down to eat their meal and began to talk of all the food that they might one day eat -- matzo balls and eggs, apples and leg of lamb, nutmeg and cinnamon.
"Oh," Dvora sighed, "and cake. I would love a sweet cake like the one we ate at the rabbi's daughter's wedding."� Herschel smiled as he remembered the cake with honey and almonds. He licked his lips. "Ah yes," he sighed. "A cake is something to dream about."
That gave the teacher a grand idea. "Wait," he told his wife, and he went to fetch his father's chest. Because the chest had wheels, he rolled it into the sitting room and there he smiled happily at Dvora. "You see this?" he asked. "We will use this chest to save our pennies."
He drilled a hole in the side of the chest, and into this he inserted a lock. Then, taking the key, he went to his neighbors' house and asked them to hold the key for him.
When he came back home, he said to his wife: "Here's what we will do. Every Friday, just before you light the Sabbath candles, we will each put one penny into the chest. We are poor, but surely we each can spare one penny. At the end of the year, we will fetch our key, open the chest, and with our pennies we will buy the makings of the grandest cake imaginable."
So the couple agreed, and that very day they began this new ritual. First Herschel put his penny into the chest. Then Dvora put in her own. Afterward they sat and dreamed of the cake they would bake the next year, with plums and nuts and honey.
The next week Herschel woke up with a startling thought. "I am poor," he thought. "I cannot afford to spend even one penny every week on a cake. After all, if Dvora puts her penny in the chest each week, next year we will have plenty of money for cake. I will not waste my penny. No, I will keep my money and say nothing to my wife." And that evening Herschel went to synagogue without adding his penny to the chest.
Three weeks passed.
One Friday afternoon as Dvora was preparing the Sabbath meal, she too began to think. "Heaven knows I have few pennies to spare," she thought. "Herschel's pennies should add up to quite a few by the end of the year. I think I will keep my pennies. Our cake may be smaller, but it will taste wonderful still. I will spend my pennies on bones for our soup."
So Dvora stopped putting her pennies into the chest.
Weeks passed, then months. At last spring came again.
"It is nearly a year since we began collecting pennies," said Dvora one day. "Let us open the chest and count our pennies. Then we can make plans for our cake."
Dvora went to fetch the key from the neighbor. Together Herschel and Dvora went to the chest. Herschel proudly unlocked and opened the chest.
They both stood and stared.
"We've been robbed," Dvora cried. "Look, there are only five pennies here. Who could have stolen our money?"
Now Herschel was not particularly clever, but he could put two and two together, for after all he was a teacher. He frowned. And then he turned to Dvora and said angrily, "No one could have taken our money. You saw with your own eyes. Our chest was locked all year. Wife, I believe you have tricked me. You have not been putting your pennies in the chest each week, have you?"
Dvora began to weep. "I? You say I tricked you? You are a scoundrel, husband. You have not put in your pennies either. Now we have nothing. No pennies, no cake. And a whole long year is lost!"
Their argument grew more heated. They stamped their feet. They ranted and raved. All of a sudden, so full of frenzied fury were they, that they both fell right into the chest. Herschel's hand flew out and knocked the lid. Boom! The lid fell down on top of them, and the chest was closed tight.
They began to struggle and push to open the lid. Pretty soon all their pushing and shoving sent the chest rolling on its wheels. It rolled right out of the house, for they had left the front door wide open. And as they lived on a hill, the chest just went rolling right on down into the center of the village of Chelm.
When the people of Chelm saw the rolling chest, they were amazed. When they heard the shouts and cries coming from inside that chest, they grew alarmed. "It's the devil himself," someone cried, and soon all the citizens of Chelm were running after that rolling chest. Herschel and Dvora went on shrieking, and now all the people of Chelm were shrieking too as they chased the chest through the village.
Well, that chest stopped rolling when it reached the flat ground near the synagogue. When the rabbi saw the crowd, he rushed outside to see to the trouble.
"What's this?" he asked.
"The devil in a chest," the people cried. And so the rabbi, being the wisest man in town, sent for the locksmith. When the locksmith had opened the chest, the people found Herschel and Dvora inside. They were disheveled and terribly upset. The rabbi called together the wise men of Chelm to discuss this problem over supper inside his house.
During the meal, the council of wise men listened carefully as the teacher and his wife told their tale. The wise men of Chelm decided just how to solve the problem. They passed two laws. The first was that no teacher should ever live at the top of a hill. And the second was that from now on, no one in Chelm would ever be permitted to own a chest with wheels.
Then the wise men of Chelm nodded happily, for they knew that they always passed wise laws.
And as luck would have it, just that day the rabbi's wife had baked a sweet cake to serve for supper. So Herschel and Dvora got to enjoy their cake after all!
"Tell Me a Story 2: Animal Magic," the second CD in the audiobook series, is now available. For more information, please visit www.mythsandtales.com.
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