I finished reading the portion about Abraham in “Legends of the Jews.” Now, this is a retelling of midrashim about the Bible. However, I found to folktales about a mysterious visitor–the Father of the Jews–who came just when his children needed him, in Hebron. And I thought I would place these stories here, separated by a few words of my own. The first one is about the need for a minyan–I hope that isn’t too much of a spoiler.
Once upon a time some Jews lived in Hebron, few in number, but pious and good, and particularly hospitable. When strangers came to the Cave of Machpelah to pray there, the inhabitants of the place fairly quarreled with each other for the privilege of entertaining the guests, and the ones who carried off the victory rejoiced as though they found great spoil.
On the eve of the Day of Atonement, it appeared as though, in spite of their efforts, the dwellers at Hebron could not secure the tenth man needed for public Divine service, and they feared they would have none of the holy day. Toward evening, when the sun was about to sink, they descried as old man with silver white beard, bearing a sack upon his shoulder, his raiment tattered, and his feet badly swollen from much walking. They ran to meet him, took him to one of the houses, gave him food and drink, and, after supplying his name was, the stranger replied, Abraham.
At the end of the fast, the residents of Hebron cast lots for the privilege of entertaining the guest. Fortune favored the beadle, who, the envy of the rest, bore his guest away to his house. On the way, he suddenly disappeared, and the beadle could not find him anywhere. In vain all the Jews of the place went on a quest for him. Their sleepless nights, spent in searching, had no result. The stranger could not be found. But no sooner had the beadle lain down, toward morning, weary and anxious, to snatch some sleep, than he saw the lost guest before him, his face luminous as lightning, and his garments magnificent and studded with gems radiant as the sun. Before the beadle, stunned by fright, could open his mouth, the stranger spake, and said: I am Abraham the Hebrew, your ancestor, who rests here in the Cave of Machpelah. When I saw how grieved you were at not having the number of men prescribed for a public service, I came forth to you. Have no fear! Rejoice and be merry of heart!”
I believe I saw a version of this story in Dan Ben-Amos’ Folktales of the Jews (but I don’t recall which of the three volumes it is in; I am not sure). Anyway, in the book I am quoting now, there is another story, which is like so many stories in which the Jews are miraculously saved (the most famous being “The Golem” of the Jews of Prague, or arguable, the Biblical book of Esther, or the apocryphal book of Judith). However, I suppose that is another spoiler.
On another occasion Abraham granted his assistance to the people of Hebron. The lord of the city was a heartless man, who oppressed the Jews sorely. One day he commanded them to pay a large sum of money into his coffers, the whole sum in uniform coins, all stamped with the same year. It was but a pretext to kill the Jews. He knew that his demand was impossible of fulfillment.
The Jews proclaimed a fast and a day of public prayer, on which to supplicate God that He turn aside the sword suspended above them. The night following, the beadle in a dream saw an awe-inspiring old man, who addressed him in the following words: “Up quickly! Hasten to the gate of the court, where lies the money you need. I am your father Abraham. I have beheld your affliction wherewith the Gentiles oppress you, but God has heard your groans.” In great terror the beadle arose, but he saw no one, yet he went to the spot designated by the vision, and he found the money and took it to the congregation, telling his dream at the same time. Amazed, they counted the gold, precisely the amount required of them by the prince, no more and no less. They surrendered the sum to him, and he who had considered compliance with his demand impossible, recognized now that God is with the Jews, and thenceforth they found favor in his eyes.
Anyway, these two stories, though not about the central moments in the life of Abraham, were particularly fun to read to me.