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The Old Man, The Emperor, And The Figs

The Old Man, The Emperor, And The Figs

Planting is just as important as harvesting...

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The wicked roman Emperor Hadrian was not lacking a sense of humor, though it was rather a brutish sort. The story we are going to tell you here is both interesting and instructive, for it shows that envy can lead to disastrous consequences.

It happened during one of the Emperors tours through the Land of Israel; he was walking among the tree groves of Tiberias when he saw an old man digging holes in the soil, about to plant young saplings.

Looking at the gray hairs of the old man, the Emperor exclaimed: "You, graybeard. Surely you did not work in your youthful days, so that you have to work in your old age!"

"Nay, Sir," answered the old man, "I have worked in my youth, and I am not loath to work in my old age, as long as G‑d will grant me strength."

"But surely you do not expect to eat of the fruit of your labor?! Where will you be by the time these saplings bring forth their fruit?

"We are all in G‑ds hands, young and old alike," said the old man. "If it be His will, why, I might yet enjoy the fruits of these young trees."

"Upon my word, you are very hopeful. And how old are you, grandpa?"

"Its my hundredth birthday today."

"You are a hundred years old, and yet hope to eat the fruit of these newly planted trees? But why work so hard for so slim a chance?!"

"If it pleases G‑d, I might well eat of the fruits of my labor; but should He not spare me for so long, I will not have worked in vain. Have not my ancestors worked for me? Why then should I not work for the future generation in the same spirit of selflessness?" the man replied.

"Upon your life, sage," the Emperor exclaimed, "if you live long enough to eat of the fruits of the saplings you are now planting, you are to let me know about it."

"I will be glad to," the old man answered.

Years went by, and the young saplings blossomed and brought forth fruit. They were fig trees, and the figs were ripe, juicy and plentiful. The old man indeed enjoyed the fruits of the trees and decided it was time to keep his promise to the Roman Emperor. He selected a basketful of choice figs, and went to see the Emperor. After some difficulty, the guards finally admitted him, but the Emperor did not recognize the old man.

"What brings you here, old man?" Hadrian asked impatiently.

"I am the man whom you saw planting saplings near Tiberias a few years ago. You requested me to let you know if I should live long enough to enjoy their fruits. Well, here I am, and I have brought a basketful of these juicy fruits for the Emperor to enjoy, too."

The Emperor opened his eyes wide and stared at the old man in great astonishment. Yes, he remembered him now. He had been one hundred years old back then!

The Emperor ordered that a golden chair be placed before the old man, and begged him to be seated. Then he ordered that the basket be emptied of the figs, and refilled with golden coins.

The surrounding ministers of state could not bear to see an old Jew so richly rewarded. "Why bestow so great an honor and so much wealth upon an old Jew?" they said to the Emperor. But the Emperor answered them sharply: "If the Creator has granted this man such an advanced age, surely he is deserving!"

When the old man returned home with gold and glory, his neighbors came to congratulate him.

One neighbors wife became very envious. She turned upon her husband:

"You good-for-nothing lazybones! Dont you see that the Emperor loves figs? Why dont you take some juicy figs to him, and fetch home their weight in gold? Now, dont you be a fool like our neighbor! He took only a small basketful; you take a big sack, and take your donkey with you, and youll bring home more gold!"

Obediently, the husband did as his wife ordered him, and by and by he arrived at the gates of the Emperors palace.

"I heard that the Emperor is very fond of figs," he said to the guards, "and exchanges them for golden coins. So I brought a sackful of juicy figs. Wont you let me bring it in to the Emperor?"

"Wait here," the captain of the guard said, and went in to report to the Emperor.

"Have that silly man stood up by the gates of the palace," the Emperor commanded wrathfully, "and let him get a taste of his figs in a big way. Place the sack of figs that he brought at the entrance, and let everyone entering and leaving the palace throw a fig in his face!"

The Emperors order was carried out to the letter. The poor man was stood up there by the gates of the palace, a perfect target and the laughing stock of all passers by. Figs kept flying in his face, and rarely missed their mark. Towards evening, when the "ammunition" was exhausted, the man was released and sent home.

He came home with a swollen face and a big red nose, and received a fine welcome from his wife:

"What happened to you, you shlimazzel? Wheres the gold?"

"I wish you were there to share all my glory of wealth," the husband said, and then told her what happened. "You would have made a better target," he added, somewhat regretfully.

"You are lucky that they were figs, and not esrogim, and that they were fresh and not dried, for then they would have killed you," was his wifes unsympathetic reply.

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