The Poisoned Cake
TOLD BY DVORA FUS
The nobleman's castle was in a village near the shtetl. His widow lived there with her only son. The steward and his assistants handled all her business affairs; her son was at school in a distant city. He never came home except during the summer vacation, when his sole pleasure was to go hunting in the nearby forests.
The son was the noblewomen's only comfort, and she expected that he would bring her great honor and satisfaction. On his account, she was extremely devout, to the point of fanaticism. Every Sunday, she went to church and distributed very large sums in alms. She never turned away a beggar and was accordingly much beloved in the village.
Among those to whom she gave alms was a certain Jewish woman, who came to the noblewoman once a week and received what she needed for an entire week. But this Jewish woman never thanked the noblewoman. Instead, she repeated the same Yiddish phrase: "Everything you're doing—you're doing it for yourself and not for me." (In other words, the reward of a good deed is a good deed,* and the true reward is tendered in Heaven.)
The noblewoman did not understand what the Jewess was saying, of course, and kept giving her what she needed every week. Many years passed this way. Throughout this time, the son came home each year for his holiday, and he grew into a handsome young man. He continued to go hunting every summer when he was home. The Jewish woman continued to receive her weekly stipend from the noblewoman.
The noblewoman was curious to know what the Jewess was saying. When she finally found out, she was furious. She decided to pay back this ungrateful Jewish woman, who had never once said thank you to her benefactor. The next time the Jewish woman came she would give her a poisoned cake.
*Mishnah Avot 4:2.