The Old Man and the Figs

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Figs This Jewish tale is wise, witty, and very ancient.

The story comes from the Talmud and has been very lightly adapted by Bertie.

Read by Natasha. Duration 7.25
Proofread by Claire Deakin.

In Roman times, The Emperor Hadrian, was riding with his army through Galilee. As he passed down a lane, he noticed a very old man planting a fig tree in his garden. The Emperor ordered a solider to bring the ancient gardener before him.

He then spoke to him as follows... “Old man, why are you planting that tree? The time to plant it was in your youth, to bear you fruit for your old age. It’s too late now. At this stage of life, you can’t hope to live to taste the fruit from it.”

The old man bowed before the Emperor as best as his back would let him, and answered, “In my youth I worked, and I still work. With God’s good pleasure I may yet try the fruit of this tree I plant. I am in His hands.”

“Tell me your age,” said the emperor.

“I have lived for a hundred years.”

“A hundred years old, and you still expect to eat from the fruit of this tree?”

“If such be God’s pleasure,” replied the old man. “If not, I will leave it for my son, as my father left the fruit of his labour for me.”

“Well,” said the emperor, “if you live until the figs from this tree are ripe, I pray you let me know of it.”

Ten years went by, the tree bore fruit, and the old man enjoyed its figs for his breakfast. As it so happened, the emperor was again visiting Galilee. The old man resolved to visit him. He took a small basket, filled it with the choicest figs from the tree, and made his way to the palace. At the gate, he told the guard his purpose, and after some time, he was admitted into the presence of the emperor.

Again he bowed as deeply as his old back would permit him, and said, “Ten years ago, you saw an old man planting a fig tree. You said to him "If you live to eat its fruit, I pray you let me know." Behold I that same old man. I have come and brought you the fruit of that tree so that you may also taste it.”

The emperor was very much pleased to see that the old man had lived to enjoy his the fruit of his labours. He emptied the man’s basket of its figs, and he ordered it to be filled with gold coins.

When the old man had departed, the courtiers said to the emperor, “Your Excellence, why did you so honour this old man?”

“Heaven has honoured him, so why not I?” Replied the emperor.

Now, next door to this old man there lived a crafty woman. When she heard of her neighbour’s good fortune, she was filled with envy. She thought her husband should try his luck in the same quarter. She filled an immense basket with figs, placed it on his shoulder, and said, “Now carry it to the emperor; he loves figs and will fill your basket with golden coins.”

When her husband approached the gates of the palace, he told his errand to the guards, saying, “I brought these figs to the emperor.”

When this was told to the emperor, he ordered the man to stand in the hallway of the palace, and all who passed pelted him with his figs. He returned home to his wife, sore and crestfallen.

She looked at her poor bruised husband, and at last she chuckled and said, “Never you mind, you should look on the bright side. If had they been coconuts instead of figs you would have suffered harder knocks.”