The Talmud: Selections, by H. Polano, , at sacred-texts.com
Proving a Claim.
A citizen of Jerusalem travelling through the country was taken very sick at an inn. Feeling that he would not recover, he sent for the landlord and said to him, "I am going the way of all flesh. If after my death any party should come from Jerusalem and claim my effects, do not deliver them until he shall prove to thee by three wise acts that he is entitled to them; for I charged my son before starting upon my way, that if death befell me he would be obliged to prove his wisdom before obtaining my possessions."
The man died and was buried according to Jewish rites, and his death was made public that his heirs might appear. When his son learned of his father's decease he started from Jerusalem for the place where he had died. Near the gates of the city he met a man who had a load of wood for sale. This he purchased and ordered it to be delivered at the inn towards which he was travelling. The man from whom he bought it went at once to the inn, and said, "Here is the wood."
"What wood?" returned the proprietor; "I ordered no wood."
"No," answered the woodcutter, "but the man who follows me did; I will enter and wait for him."
Thus the son had provided for himself a welcome whey he should reach the inn, which was his first wise act.
The landlord said to him, "Who art thou?"
"The son of the merchant who died in thy house," he replied.
They prepared for him a dinner, and placed upon the table five pigeons and a chicken. The master of the house, his wife, two sons, and two daughters sat with him at the table.
"Serve the food," said the landlord.
"Nay," answered the young man; "thy art master, it is thy privilege."
"I desire thee to do this thing; thou art my guest, the merchant's son; pray help the food."
The young man thus entreated divided one pigeon between the sons, another between the two daughters, gave the third to the man and his wife, and kept the other two for himself. This was his second wise act.
The landlord looked somewhat perplexed at this mode of distribution, but said nothing.
Then the merchant's son divided the chicken. He gave to the landlord and his wife the head, to the two sons the legs, to the two daughters the wings, and took the body for himself. This was his third wise act.
The landlord said:
"Is this the way they do things in thy country? I noticed the manner in which thou didst apportion the pigeons, but said nothing; but the chicken, my dear sir! I must really ask thee thy meaning."
Then the young man answered:
"I told thee that it was not my place to serve the food, nevertheless when thou didst insist I did the best I could, and I think I have succeeded. Thyself, thy wife, and one pigeon make three; thy two sons and one pigeon make three; thy two daughters and one pigeon make three; and myself and two pigeons make three also, therefore is it fairly
done. As regards the chicken, I gave to thee and thy wife the head, because ye are the heads of the family; I gave to each of thy sons a leg, because they are the pillars of the family, preserving always the family name; I gave to each of thy daughters a wing, because in the natural course of events they will marry, take wing, and fly away from the home-nest. I took the body of the chicken because it looks like a ship, and in a ship I came here and in a ship I hope to return. I am the son of the merchant who died in thy house; give me the property of my dead father."
"Take it and go," said the landlord. And giving him his father's possessions the young man departed in peace.