The Jewish elders say that God commissioned an angel to spread a set of foolish souls throughout the Earth. The angel put those souls in a sack and headed for Earth, with such bad fortune that he tripped and all the souls fell in the same place. This is said to be the origin of the town of Chelm. It had long since that unfortunate incident had happened, but at the beginning of the 20th century, the inhabitants of Chelm continued to retain the reputation of fools, of which they were extremely proud. One day a peddler came to Chelm loaded with a sack full of imperishable goods which he exhibited in the town square. Inside the sack there was a book that by force of habit the peddler placed among the rest of the merchandise. If he had stop and think, he would not have bothered to take out the book from the sack, for everyone knew that the inhabitants of Chelm presumed not knowing how to read. However, a villager named Elijah insisted on buying the book. It was useless that the peddler advised him that it was filled with letters. On the contrary, the more he advised, the more Elijah wanted it. And after a tense bargaining, he ended up buying the book.
When he got home and showed his wife his acquisition, she reprimanded him. And when he told her what he had paid for it, she punched him.
“But woman, this book is filled with letters!”
And very carefully so that the letters did not escape, Elijah opened the book. But behold!, instead of letters, the book turned out to be full of papers stacked on top of each other. Feeling ripped off, Elijah ran back to the square to meet the peddler.
“Where are the letters?” he said to the peddler while opening the book. “I only see a stack of papers.”
“You fool! Don’t you see that the letters are on the papers?!”
Elijah was stunned.
“You mean this book must be read?”
“Of course it must!”
“So why do you sell a book that is still to be read? That’s not honest.”
“You uncultured man! Do you think a book is like a chicken that, by selling it dead and plucked, saves you work? The fact that the book has already been read does not save the new owner the job of reading it.
“Oh, bobkes! This blows my mind!”
“Look at my merchandise and exchange it for anything else”
But Elijah became intrigued. “What does that say?” he asked showing him the cover.
The peddler read the title with difficulty: “Se-fer-ha-Zo-har… Gut Shabbes! The Zohar! This is Kabbalah! You better change it for something else. How about this gas lamp?”
“Neyn! I am interested in Kabbalah.”
“But if you can’t read!”
“What has that to do with it?!”
Precisely at that moment one of the village elders passed by and was surprised to see Elijah with a book in his hands:
“What are you going to do with that book?”
“I am gonna learn Kabbalah.”
“Hoo-ha! The study of Kabbalah would be beneficial for all of Chelm’s householders. Why don’t you bring the book to the town hall this afternoon? We’ll discuss the issue.”
That afternoon, all of Chelm’s elders were gathered at the town hall. The book was passing from hand to hand under Elijah’s watchful eye.
“It’s clear: we need someone who can read”, says one of them.
“What language is it written in?” asks another.
“What does it matter? When you can read, you can read any language.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“It’s common sense.”
“I think your common sense is stunted.”
At this point there was a bitter discussion that would be lengthy to detail here. Suffice it to know that in the end it was decided to send an emissary to Lublin with the task of hiring someone who could read the language in which Kabbalah was written.