Dan Yashinsky shared the following story with many years ago. Not long after the first Gulf War, as matter of fact. A woman he had met in the airport in Tel Aviv had learned the story in Baghdad and had written it down on some very wrinkled loose leaf paper. I volunteered to decipher the tale. And now, after so many years of Baghdad dominating the news and as the US occupation continures, I feel it’s worth remembering that this ancient city has been a centre of culture and learning for many centuries.
Once upon a time, in the city of Baghdad, there lived two friends and their names were Eliezer and Abdalla. They had grown up together since childhood, gone to the same school and they loved each other very much. Their souls were close and their friendship knew no borders.
When they finished their studies, they both decided to go into business. Eliezer opened a carpet store in Baghdad and Abdalla went to Bocara in the south where he opened a shop to sell goods. Now, in those days, long-distance communication was difficult and even the closest friendship was hard-pressed to thrive. The separation was hard on Eliezer and Abdalla and, as the saying goes, "far from the eyes - so, far from the heart." And that is how each of them forgot the other.
Time passed, the years went on and Eliezer's business prospered. He became more and more wealthy until he had much gold and money, buildings and land. Eliezer's name was renowned and, in Baghdad, they called him "Eliezer Effendi." Fate was not so kind to Abdalla, and his situation worsened. In time he lost all his money and before long he had to return to his own city of Baghdad with nothing in his hands.
One day Abdalla's wife told her husband, "listen to me, and God will listen too. You know, God helped your good friend, Eliezer, and gave him all that is good. Go to his place, tell him what you have gone through all these years from the time you separated until today and he will see you and he will be happy. He will help you with good heart."
At first Abdalla was unsure about taking his wife's advice because 'the full belly doesn't know how the hungry belly feels.' Because that is the way of human beings - when you become rich you are far from the poor. But finally, when hunger knocked at his door, Abdalla decided to visit his old friend. Abdalla went to Eliezer's palace and requested permission from the doorman to enter and speak with the owner of the palace. The doorman passed the message to his master and when Eliezer heard that his best friend from childhood had come to visit him he went himself to open the door and give welcome.
From across the courtyard Eliezer could see Abdalla's face and he realized that face was not the face of their youth - Abdalla's clothes were ragged; his skin was bruised and reddened; he looked like a poor man in a desperate situation. Eliezer retreated and told the doorman to send the visitor away and to say that he wasn't in the palace.
But Abdalla had seen his friend from the distance, and he understood the meaning of this answer all too well. He returned home feeling ashamed and he was angry with his wife whom he blamed for suggesting that he go to the palace where he only suffered great humiliation. In his heart he felt the truth of the saying: 'one day honey, one day vinegar, don't ask anything from men.'
This episode weighed heavily on him and he took all his hurt and humiliation and he put it all in his heart. After a few more days Abdalla had still found no work and his family was hungry. He had only a few coins in his pockets and he couldn't decide what to do with this bit of money. Buy food or buy clothes? Abdalla sat, read from a book and prayed day and night asking for God's mercy.
One day a young lady knocked on Abdalla's door and said to him, "Oh righteous man, I am a widow. Since my husband died I have been lonely and abandoned. My husband, may he be remembered and blessed, left nothing except this brilliant stone. But what can I do with it? Eat it? Put it in water and drink the water? Have mercy upon me and buy this stone and you will save my soul from death."
Abdalla looked at the stone and could see that it was a good one, likely worth a great deal of money. He thought that God must have sent this woman to him so that he might make a bit of money. He said to the woman, "all I have is a few coins, not enough to buy the stone."
The young woman looked desperate.
Abdalla said, "I will give you these few coins now and take the stone to the market place to sell. Come back tomorrow and I will give you the profit from this."
The young woman looked relieved and thanked him for his good heart and went her own way. Abdalla sold the stone and waited the next day for the young woman's return. When she failed to appear he went in search of her but could neither find her nor find anyone who had ever heard of her. The next day, another young woman came to Abdalla's house and she had with her all her jewelery. She said, "I have heard that you are an honest man. Have mercy upon me for once I was very rich; but now I do not have enough money even to support my children. My husband sailed to the ocean countries and now many years have passed and I have received no message. Help me and buy my jewelery so I will have something to feed my children."
Abdalla bought the jewelery and explained that the jewels were worth much more than he had to offer but that if the woman would return tomorrow he would give her the profit he could make. The woman thanked Abdalla and went her way.
Abdalla waited the next day in vain to share the profit with the woman for she never showed up. And, as before, he sought her with no success. The next day Abdalla met a good-looking young man who offered to sell him 50 robes for a very good price. Abdalla knew this was an unusually good deal and the young man explained that he had to sell his wares quickly because he had far to travel and little time. Abdalla bought the robes.
These opportunities encouraged Abdalla's spirit, he sold everything and began a thriving business. Fortune looked favourably upon him and he opened more stores and became wealthy. And one day Abdalla's wife said to her husband, "The time has come for you to go to Eliezer, your friend who betrayed you. You must scold him for his behaviour towards you in our days of poverty."
These words entered his heart and Abdalla went to Eliezer's palace and requested entry. This time Eliezer came out himself to receive his childhood friend. He hugged and kissed him, and invited him to enter the palace and be served special food and drink. But Abdalla said to Eliezer, "not for your love have I come to you this time, but to scold you for how you treated me the first time I came to see you. Now I know that you do not love me. You love my money. When I needed your help you avoided me."
Eliezer said: "Forgive me, my good friend, but please do not judge me so fast."
"You are not my friend," said Abdalla with pain and anger. "You are not my true friend and this is the last time I will be in your home. From now I have no intention to see you again, ever!"
Eliezer said "Wait, I want you to meet someone." Eliezer spoke to a servant who went out of the hall and returned with two young women and a young man. "I wish you to meet my children," Eliezer said to Abdalla.
When Abdalla saw them, he fainted and fell on the floor for he recognized them immediately. They were the ones who had come to him to sell the precious stone, the jewelery and the robes. When Abdalla's spirit came back to him, he bowed to his friend and asked for forgiveness. He apologized for his rude words and the favours he didn't return. He asked, "But if you wanted to help me, why did you hide this from me, and why didn't you offer your help on my first visit?"
Eliezer said, "My dear friend and soulmate, Abdalla. The first time you came here I saw your face from a distance and I knew immediately what had happened to you. I said in my heart, 'If I help him openly, he will feel inferior in front of me, and he will surrender to me.' You would always see that money as charity. But that is not true now. You took the money, not as a beggar but to help others and you made a profit from it. These miracles strengthened your spirit to live again with ambition. Believe me, my dear friend," continued Eliezer, "from the first day I saw you until today all my thoughts have been with you. I made all the effort I could to help you. It pained me to see you in your poverty and I rejoice now to see you in your wealth."
Abdalla put his head in his hands with shame. The two friends embraced with love in their hearts for each other.