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An Hasidic tale

For no reason whatsoever, here’s an Hasidic tale, recounted by Walter Benjamin in his essay “Franz Kafka”, in Illuminations, translated by Harry Zohn.

In a Hasidic village, so the story goes, Jews were sitting together in a shabby inn one Sabbath evening. They were all local people, with the exception of one person no one knew, a very poor, ragged man who was squatting in a dark corner at the back of the room. All sorts of things were discussed, and then it was suggested that everyone should tell what wish he would make if one were granted him. One man wanted money; another wished for a son-in-aw; a third dreamed of a new carpenter’s bench; and so everyone spoke in turn.

After they had finished only the beggar in his dark corner was left. Reluctantly and hesitantly he answered the question. “I wish I were a powerful king reigning over a big country. Then, some night while I was asleep in mu palace, an enemy would invade my country and by dawn his horsemen would penetrate to my castle and meet with no resistance. Roused from my sleep, I wouldn’t have time even to dress and I would have to flee in my shirt. Rushing over hill and dale and through forests day and night, I would finally arrive safely right here at the bench in this corner. This is my wish.”

The others exchanged uncomprehending glances. “And what good would this wish have done you?” someone asked.

“I’d have a shirt,” was the answer.

6 Responses to “An Hasidic tale”

  1. Does this mean that the beggar was a king? Or he is begging for someone to give him a shirt? It would be weird for a King to sacrifice his kingdom and his power so that he could acquire a shirt. Also, I believe he is the real owner of the shirt that he is wearing inside the story. Oh, I am complicating things again.

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