In a village, there lived a mother and a son who were incredibly devoted to one another.
Once, they had been well off, and had many friends. But now they were poor. The father had died suddenly when lightning struck their house, leaving the mother bedridden and causing considerable fire damage. Whatever was salvaged from the fire was gradually spent on doctors’ bills in a vain effort to cure the poor stricken woman. Her only solace was her son, Yosef, who was a fine young man of whom everyone was proud. Yosef was a very intelligent and religious boy, and his devotion to his mother was rare and beautiful.
“Why don’t you go to town and get a good job?” his mother often said. “You know our small farm here means hard work and little in return.”
“And who will take care of you, my dear mother?” Yosef would reply. “We can manage all right. When you will be healthy again, please G‑d, we’ll move to town.”
Yosef had attended yeshivah until his father’s death, but then he had to take care of the farm and of his mother. He missed the yeshivah very much. In the evening, when he came in from the field, he would take out a Talmud and forget fatigue. Sitting by his mother’s bedside, Yosef would begin learning in his sweet, soothing voice, and the whole room would change. It became so homey and cozy that his mother would begin to feel a strange sensation of happiness, calm and peace. She would then fall asleep with an expression of serenity and contentment. That sleep, the doctor said, was her best cure.
To Yosef, this nightly study of Talmud was a sacred custom, and after his lesson was over, he would take out the Book of Psalms and recite many chapters. Many a tear did he shed, for he could not get over his grief, the loss of his father, his mother’s illness and the interruption of his studies, all of which weighed heavily upon his young heart. Yet reciting the Psalms always helped him regain his cheerful spirit.
One day, Yosef received a package from the city. It was a little gift from his uncle, an old and rare edition of the Book of Psalms which he had bought in an old curiosity shop. Yosef marveled at its old script written on parchment, which was well-preserved and quite legible.
Yosef carefully turned its pages, and when he came to the back cover, his eye caught some writing, dim with age. The lettering was very small and blurred in places, as if some drops of water had fallen on it. The writer must have wept when he wrote that mysterious inscription. Yosef took his father’s magnifying glass and began to study the writing. It took him some time to piece the first sentence together, which read something like this:
“To you, happy reader of the sacred Psalms, this message will unfold a tale of horror. But if you read it to the end, you shall have your reward well earned . . .”
Yosef became quite fascinated by this writing, and with the magnifying glass in one hand, he labored hard to decipher the message from beginning to end. By the time he pieced the whole message together, dawn was breaking. Yosef was pale and shaky, for he had read a tale of horror.
It was the story of the once-flourishing Jewish community of the nearby town, driven into the forest by the threat of a wicked and cruel mob clamoring for their lives and wealth. The poor, frightened, defenseless men, women and children . . . Their gold and silver and precious stones hidden in a big chest in the earth . . . The terrible mob discovering their hideout and giving them the choice of saving their lives through giving up their faith . . . Unanimous refusal to betray their religion . . . a brief battle . . . blood, and cries of “Hear O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is one!” . . . The writer, the son of the scribe of the community, was left for dead with a gushing wound in his head, but regained consciousness and recovered only long enough to record this tale of horror.
After Yosef had recovered from the profound effect of this sad reading, it suddenly dawned upon him that there was some hidden treasure in the vicinity. It was buried at the foot of a young oak tree, some two hundred yards from a brook in the woods. Of course, he thought, there is no woods here now, but there is a brook right in the center of the village, not more than two hundred yards from the gates of their house! And there is a huge and ancient oak tree in the garden outside the house!
He decided to snatch some sleep, and he would later make inquiries of the oldest villager.
Old Peter said, yes, there had been a wood here once. It was a notorious wood that people said was haunted on account of many Jews having once been massacred there!
The sky was getting overcast, and a big storm was in the making. Yosef bade old Peter farewell. He was just in time, before the storm broke loose. His mother had been terrified, for the sound of thunder revived in her mind that horrible day when she lost her husband and became bedridden.
Yosef calmed his mother. He forgot about his excitement of the previous night, about old Peter and about the treasure. The house shook with thunder and lightning. But Yosef read the Psalms in his calm, soothing and enchanting voice.
Suddenly there was a terrible crash, and both Yosef and his mother found themselves on the floor, greatly shaken. Yosef rose quickly and wanted to rush to his mother’s aid, but stared in amazement as he saw her rise and run to the window. “Look, the oak tree!”
Yosef was weeping with joy when he saw that his mother had miraculously recovered and was walking unsupported as if she had never been paralyzed before. Only then did his mother realize too, and the two embraced, murmuring thanks to G‑d.
“Go out and see whether any damage was done by that fallen oak tree,” his mother said.
Yosef went outside, and immediately rushed in, reporting breathlessly: “The huge oak tree was uprooted and split in two. The fallen tree left a huge crater in the earth. And there lies an ancient chest with its lid torn off. Coins, silver candlesticks, golden necklaces and other precious treasures lie strewn about.”
Yosef and his mother became very wealthy. They distributed the greater part of the treasure to charities, and still had many precious things left. But to Yosef, the most precious remained his ancient Psalm book. And to his mother, the greatest treasure was still her Yosef.