The Talmud: Selections, by H. Polano, , at sacred-texts.com
The Lawful Heir.
A wise Israelite, dwelling some distance from Jerusalem, sent his son to the Holy City to complete his education. During his son's absence the father was taken ill, and feeling that death was upon him he made a will, leaving all his property to one of his slaves, on condition that he should allow the son to select any one article which pleased him for an inheritance.
As soon as his master died, the slave, elated with his good fortune, hastened to Jerusalem, informed his late master's son of what had taken place, and showed him the will.
The young man was surprised and grieved at the intelligence, and after the allotted time of mourning had expired, he began to seriously consider his situation. He went to his teacher, explained the circumstances to him, read him his father's will, and expressed himself bitterly on account of the disappointment of his reasonable hopes and expectations. He could think of nothing that he had done to offend his father, and was loud in his complaints of in-justice.
"Stop," said his teacher; "thy father was a man of wisdom and a loving relative. This will is a living monument to his good sense and far-sightedness. May his son prove as wise in his day."
"What!" exclaimed the young man. "I see no wisdom in his bestowal of his property upon a slave; no affection in this slight upon his only son."
"Listen," returned the teacher. "By his action thy father hath but secured thy inheritance to thee, if thou art wise enough to avail thyself of his understanding. Thus thought he when he felt the hand of death approaching, 'My son is
away; when I am dead he will not be here to take charge of my affairs; my slaves will plunder my estate, and to gain time will even conceal my death from my son, and deprive me of the sweet savour of mourning.' To prevent these things he bequeathed his property to his slave, well knowing that the slave, believing in his apparent right, would give thee speedy information and take care of the effects, even as he has done."
"Well, well, and how does this benefit me?" impatiently interrupted the pupil.
"Ah!" replied the teacher, "wisdom I see rests not with the young. Dost thou not know that what a slave possesses belongs but to his master? Has not thy father left thee the right to select one article of all his property for thy on? Choose the slave as thy portion, and by possessing him thou wilt recover all that was thy father's. Such was his wise and loving intention."
The young man did as he was advised, and gave the slave his freedom afterwards. But ever after he was wont to exclaim:
"Wisdom resides with the aged, and understanding in length of days."