Folktales of the Jews - Vol. 2

By Dan Ben-Amos | Go to book overview

36
A Poor Man's Wisdom Is Scorned

TOLD BY YEHUDAH HERMANN TO YIFRAḤ ḤAVIV

In the Middle Ages there lived a great poet, Abraham ibn Ezra, who was dreadfully poor. He had absolutely nothing except for his staff and his bag, with which he wandered from place to place. All his life, Ibn Ezra was troubled by the verse "A poor man's wisdom is scorned."* "Why is the wisdom of the poor man scorned?" he kept asking himself. "Why did King Solomon write that?" He never could find an answer to his question until the following incident occurred.

Once, during his wandering from city to city, through mountains and wastelands, he met a man who, like him, was traveling with a bag. But with one difference—this fellow had two purses tied together, one on his back and another on his chest.

Ibn Ezra fell into step with him. As they walked, he asked the man, "Who are you?"

"I am a very rich man," he replied, "from very far away. I sold all my property and everything I owned and used the money to buy precious stones. I am carrying these gems in the bag on my back. The other one, on my chest, is full of rocks, of the same weight as the gems."

"Why?" asked Ibn Ezra.

"So that the weight will be equally divided and the gems on my back will not weigh me down."

Ibn Ezra said to him, "Wouldn't it be better to divide the gems into two equal parts? Half in front of you and the other on your back? The weight would still be balanced but your burden would be lighter."

"You're right!" replied the rich man. "Why didn't I think of that? But tell me, are you poor or rich?"

"The poorest of the poor! No one is poorer than I!" Ibn Ezra answered.

"I have learned from my ancestors," the rich man said, "never to heed the advice of a poor man!"

Ibn Ezra was astonished by this answer, but said nothing. The two kept

* Ecclesiastes 9:16.

-269-

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