Of all the characters in A A Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” I have often been (I think unkindly) likened to Eeyore, the gloomy, pessimistic donkey, whose glass, far from being half-empty, has only a drop or two in it. Now do you see the likeness? The nearest modern equivalent to Eeyore is Marvin the Paranoid Android in “The Hitch hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” whose legendary pessimism is almost contagious. It has been pointed out to me, I think most unfairly, that a more modern equivalent is Puddleglum from C S Lewis “The Silver Chair”. Puddleglum, the bastion of gloomy fortitude, is thought of as a bit of a wet blanket by the children, but he does have a few memorable lines…”Puddleglum’s my name. But it doesn’t matter if you forget it.”
This being so, I have been amusing myself by reading a few Talmudic parables in recent times. The Jews are experts on suffering, so it was rather like returning home.
Once, Rabbi Akiva was asked to explain why people afflicted with disease sometimes returned cured from a pilgrimage to the shrine of an idol, though it was surely powerless. His answer was the following parable: “There was a man in a certain city who enjoyed the confidence of all his fellow citizens to such a degree that without witnesses they entrusted deposits to him, with the exception of one man in the city who always made his deposits before a witness. One day, however, this distrustful man forgot his caution, and gave the other a deposit without a witness. The wife of the trustworthy man attempted to induce him to deny having received a deposit from the distrustful man, as a punishment for his suspicion; but the husband said: ‘Shall I deny my rectitude because this fool acts in an unseemly fashion?’ Thus it is with the sufferings inflicted by Heaven upon man, which have a day and an hour appointed for their end. (I have to say, I did like this part) If it happens that a man goes on that day to the idol’s shrine, the sufferings are tempted not to leave him, but they say, ‘Shall we not fulfil our obligation to leave this fool, although he has behaved with folly?'” Emperor Antoninus asked Rabbi how there could be punishment in the life beyond, for, since body and soul after their separation could not have committed sin, they could blame each other (so Jewish…)for the sins committed upon earth, and Rabbi answered him by the following parable: “A certain king had a beautiful garden in which was excellent fruit; and over it he appointed two watchmen, one blind and the other lame. The lame man said to the blind one, ‘I see exquisite fruit in the garden. Carry me thither that I may get it; and we will eat it together.’ The blind man consented and both ate of the fruit. After some days the lord of the garden came and asked the watchmen concerning the fruit. Then the lame man said, ‘As I have no legs I could not go to take it’; and the blind man said, ‘I could not even see it.’ What did the lord of the garden do? He made the blind man carry the lame, and thus passed judgment on them both. So God will replace the souls in their bodies, and will punish both together for their sins”.
How very comforting. You will try to remember my name, won’t you.