In reading the Sefer ha-Aggadah, I have read many kind of stories. Some of them build on Biblical characters; others define the sages who wrote the Talmud; still others are stories that are almost–but not quite–secular. Of these secular stories, I decided to over several days to copy a few of them out, and then perhaps explain why I like the story. So here it goes:
It is related that, during the year of scarcity, when a certain pious man gave a denar to a poor man on the Eve of New Year’s Eve, his wife scolded him. So he went and spent the night in the cemetery, where he overheard two spirits, conversing with each other. One said to her companion, “My dear let us roam the world, and learn behind the Heavenly Curtain what suffering is coming to the world. Her companion said, “My dear, I cannot roam buried as I am in a matting of reeds. But you go, and whatever you hear, come back and tell me.” So the other went about, roamed about, and returned. When her companion asked, “My dear, what have you heard from behind the heavenly curtain?” She replied, “I heard that whoever went and sowed before the first rainfall will be smitten by hail. So the [pious] man went and sowed before the second rainfall, with the result that everyone else’s crops were smitten, but his was not.
The next year, he went again and spent the night in the cemetery, where he again overhead the two spirits conversing with each other. One said to her companion, “Come and let us roam about the world.” Her companion replied, “My dear, have I not already told you I cannot roam because I am buried in matting reeds. But you go, and whatever you learn, come back and tell me.” So the one went off, roamed about the world, and returned. When her companion asked, “My dear, what have you learned from beyond the Heavenly Curtains?” she replied, “I learned that whoever sows before the second rainfall will have his crop smitten with blight. So the [pious] man went and sowed before rainfall with the result that everyone else’s crops were [blighted] but his [were not].
The man’s wife asked, “How is it that everyone’s crops were smitten and yours were not?”… So he related to her all these happenings.
The story goes [on] that, a quarrel broke out between the wife of the pious man and the mother of the young woman [buried in the cemetery]. The wife of the [pious] man said to the other, “Come, and I will show you that your daughter is buried in the matting of reeds.
The next year, the [pious] man again spent the night in the cemetery, when he overheard the same two spirits conversing with each other. When the one said, “My dear, come and let us roam about the world, and learn from beyond the Heavenly Curtain what suffering is to come to the world, and learn from behind the [Heavenly] Curtain what suffering is to come into the world,” her companion replied, “My dear, leave me alone. Our conversation is already [heard] among the living.”
I like the eerie ambience of the graveyard in this story, and it doesn’t hurt after so many pious stories to read something that is only questionably edifying. Ostensibly there is a moral, but I do not know what. Anyway, this arguably “secular” story is one of several I plan to type, along with hints of wisdom from the Sefer ha-Aggadah–I am almost finished reading it.