The Treasure


To sleep, in summer time, in a room four yards square, together with a

wife and eight children, is anything but a pleasure, even on a Friday

night--and Shmerel the woodcutter rises from his bed, though only half

through with the night, hot and gasping, hastily pours some water over

his finger-tips, flings on his dressing-gown, and escapes barefoot from

the parched Gehenna of his dwelling. He steps into the street--all

uiet, all the shutters closed, and over the sleeping town is a distant,

serene, and starry sky. He feels as if he were all alone with God,

blessed is He, and he says, looking up at the sky, "Now, Lord of the

Universe, now is the time to hear me and to bless me with a treasure out

of Thy treasure-house!"

As he says this, he sees something like a little flame coming along out

of the town, and he knows, That is it! He is about to pursue it, when he

remembers it is Sabbath, when one mustn't turn. So he goes after it

walking. And as he walks slowly along, the little flame begins to move

slowly, too, so that the distance between them does not increase, though

it does not shorten, either. He walks on. Now and then an inward voice

calls to him: "Shmerel, don't be a fool! Take off the dressing-gown.

Give a jump and throw it over the flame!" But he knows it is the Evil

Inclination speaking. He throws off the dressing-gown onto his arm, but

to spite the Evil Inclination he takes still smaller steps, and

rejoices to see that, as soon as he takes these smaller steps, the

little flame moves more slowly, too.

Thus he follows the flame, and follows it, till he gradually finds

himself outside the town. The road twists and turns across fields and

meadows, and the distance between him and the flame grows no longer, no

shorter. Were he to throw the dressing-gown, it would not reach the

flame. Meantime the thought revolves in his mind: Were he indeed to

become possessed of the treasure, he need no longer be a woodcutter,

now, in his later years; he has no longer the strength for the work he

had once. He would rent a seat for his wife in the women's Shool, so

that her Sabbaths and holidays should not be spoiled by their not

allowing her to sit here or to sit there. On New Year's Day and the Day

of Atonement it is all she can do to stand through the service. Her many

children have exhausted her! And he would order her a new dress, and buy

her a few strings of pearls. The children should be sent to better

Chedorim, and he would cast about for a match for his eldest girl. As it

is, the poor child carries her mother's fruit baskets, and never has

time so much as to comb her hair thoroughly, and she has long, long

plaits, and eyes like a deer.

"It would be a meritorious act to pounce upon the treasure!"

The Evil Inclination again, he thinks. If it is not to be, well, then it

isn't! If it were in the week, he would soon know what to do! Or if his

Yainkel were there, he would have had something to say. Children

nowadays! Who knows what they don't do on Sabbath, as it is! And the

younger one is no better: he makes fun of the teacher in Cheder. When

the teacher is about to administer a blow, they pull his beard. And

who's going to find time to see after them--chopping and sawing a whole

day through.

He sighs and walks on and on, now and then glancing up into the sky:

"Lord of the Universe, of whom are you making trial? Shmerel Woodcutter?

If you do mean to give me the treasure, give it me!" It seems to him

that the flame proceeds more slowly, but at this very moment he hears a

dog bark, and it has a bark he knows--that is the dog in Vissoke.

Vissoke is the first village you come to on leaving the town, and he

sees white patches twinkle in the dewy morning atmosphere, those are the

Vissoke peasant cottages. Then it occurs to him that he has gone a

Sabbath day's journey, and he stops short.

"Yes, I have gone a Sabbath day's journey," he thinks, and says,

speaking into the air: "You won't lead me astray! It is not a

God-send! God does not make sport of us--it is the work of a demon." And

he feels a little angry with the thing, and turns and hurries toward the

town, thinking: "I won't say anything about it at home, because, first,

they won't believe me, and if they do, they'll laugh at me. And what

have I done to be proud of? The Creator knows how it was, and that is

enough for me. Besides, she might be angry, who can tell? The children

are certainly naked and barefoot, poor little things! Why should they be

made to transgress the command to honor one's father?"

No, he won't breathe a word. He won't even ever remind the Almighty of

it. If he really has been good, the Almighty will remember without being


And suddenly he is conscious of a strange, lightsome, inward calm, and

there is a delicious sensation in his limbs. Money is, after all, dross,

riches may even lead a man from the right way, and he feels inclined to

thank God for not having brought him into temptation by granting him his

wish. He would like, if only--to sing a song! "Our Father, our King" is

one he remembers from his early years, but he feels ashamed before

himself, and breaks off. He tries to recollect one of the cantor's

melodies, a Sinai tune--when suddenly he sees that the identical little

flame which he left behind him is once more preceding him, and moving

slowly townward, townward, and the distance between them neither

increases nor diminishes, as though the flame were taking a walk, and he

were taking a walk, just taking a little walk in honor of Sabbath. He is

glad in his heart and watches it. The sky pales, the stars begin to go

out, the east flushes, a narrow pink stream flows lengthwise over his

head, and still the flame flickers onward into the town, enters his own

street. There is his house. The door, he sees, is open. Apparently he

forgot to shut it. And, lo and behold! the flame goes in, the flame goes

in at his own house door! He follows, and sees it disappear beneath the

bed. All are asleep. He goes softly up to the bed, stoops down, and sees

the flame spinning round underneath it, like a top, always in the same

place; takes his dressing-gown, and throws it down under the bed, and

covers up the flame. No one hears him, and now a golden morning beam

steals in through the chink in the shutter.

He sits down on the bed, and makes a vow not to say a word to anyone

till Sabbath is over--not half a word, lest it cause desecration of the

Sabbath. She could never hold her tongue, and the children certainly

not; they would at once want to count the treasure, to know how much

there was, and very soon the secret would be out of the house and into

the Shool, the house-of-study, and all the streets, and people would

talk about his treasure, about luck, and people would not say their

prayers, or wash their hands, or say grace, as they should, and he would

have led his household and half the town into sin. No, not a whisper!

And he stretches himself out on the bed, and pretends to be asleep.

And this was his reward: When, after concluding the Sabbath, he stooped

down and lifted up the dressing-gown under the bed, there lay a sack

with a million of gulden, an almost endless number--the bed was a large

one--and he became one of the richest men in the place.

And he lived happily all the years of his life.

Only, his wife was continually bringing up against him: "Lord of the

World, how could a man have such a heart of stone, as to sit a whole

summer day and not say a word, not a word, not to his own wife, not one

single word! And there was I" (she remembers) "crying over my prayer as

I said God of Abraham--and crying so--for there wasn't a dreier left in

the house."

Then he consoles her, and says with a smile:

"Who knows? Perhaps it was all thanks to your 'God of Abraham' that it

went off so well."