When the wise men of Chelm learns from the Grand Rabbi Tzvi Krochmal Rapoport of Lizhensk that the key he so urgently needs is that of the attic of the old synagogue, they are perplexed. “But since when is there an attic in the old synagogue?”, they ask in surprise.
Only Fishel, the oldest of them all, seemingly has the answer to that question:
“That attic is there from time immemorial. Even from before the synagogue was built. Even from before the town was built. Even from before the world was built!…”
And perhaps he would have continued going back even further in time if Evron had not categorically ordered him:
“Shut up! You are saying nonsense!”
“The question is where the key can be”, Dudel says.
Then Fishel goes back on: “That key is lost from time immemorial. Even from before the attic was built. Even from before the synagogue was built. Even from before the town was built. Even from before the world was built!…”
Dovid, who is at his side, slaps him and Fishel stops in his tracks. Otherwise, who knows how far he would have gone back in time!
“Lost objects are able to be found”, Chatzkel reminds them.
“That’s true. They must be somewhere, ”Elijah says wisely.
“Objects don’t disappear”, Feivel adds. “They only move.”
“Yes indeed. But to locate a lost object, it’s necessary to look for it. Because lost objects don’t return on their own foot to their original place.”
It is because of this type of comments that the wise men of Chelm are so famous among Jews and so dismissed among Gentiles.
And then they start looking under the stones. Because all over Chelm and its outskirts, there are many stones with a key below. It’s a tradition: Chelm’s folks use to keep their keys under the stones. This tradition dates back to the times of the landowner Lech Polski V who, in order to prevent Chelm’s Jews from returning to their homes, had ordered a requisition of all their keys. When the landowner knew that there were no keys in Chelm because the Jews had hidden them under the stones, he ordered to confiscate all the stones of the region so that the jews had nowhere to hide their keys. But that was a strategy error on the part of the landowner, who died due to an avalanche of stones accumulated in the courtyard of his castle. This ephemeris is commemorated in the Yiddish calendar with one day of fast known as tog fun di shteyner (“the day of the stones”), in which the exchange of stones is typical and it is mandatory to keep in balance on the head a stone that cannot be smaller than a pebble nor larger than a rock.
After an exhaustive and unsuccessful search for the key, at the end of the day, the wise men of Chelm gather in the town hall.
“I wonder what the Grand Rabbi will expect to find in that attic”, Evron says.
Didn’t you ask him?
“I did, but he stuck his head in the hay.”
Suddenly, an old man with a long white beard bursts into the room:
“Shalom. But who are you? You’re not from this town. How can we help you, old man?”
“I don’t think you can help me. Unless you know where that chariot of fire that lift me up in a whirlwind came from. But I do can help you. Listen.”
And the prophet Elijah tells them the following story:
“The landowner who ordered the requisition of the Jews’ keys was contemporary of Rabbi Elijah Ba’al Shem and had also ordered the requisition of the Golem. Shortly before his death, Rabbi Ba’al Shem concealed the Golem in the synagogue‘s attic. But before, he withdrew from its forehead the magical word, the Shem, taking its life in this way. Then he locked the door and hid the key under a stone, but not without first wrapping the key in a piece of cloth where he had sewn the Shem able to bring the Golem back to life.”
All remain petrified before that old man’s wisdom.
“And how are we going to find the stone where the key is hidden?”, Chatzkel asks.
“Well, if you were to die and you had to hide a key under a stone, what stone would you choose?”
And suddenly the prophet Elijah disappears.
That very night, the wise men of Chelm go to the cemetery and find, buried just below the headstone of Rabbi Ba’al Shem, an old key corroded by rust and wrapped in a piece of cloth.