SALADIN, the Caliph of Egypt, came to like Moses Maimonides, the philosopher and physician, very much. Indeed, so much did the Caliph think of him that he told Moses all the secrets of the court. Therefore, all the courtiers became very jealous of Moses.
Now there was one courtier, Dijy, by name, who was so jealous of Moses that he began to stir up trouble against him. One day, when Dijy was alone with the Caliph, he began to talk about Moses in this manner:
"Your Highness," he said, "your Jewish physician may not be a traitor to the country, but I know he has said some very unpleasant things about you."
"Oh, Dijy, I have no time to waste listening to your nonsense," Saladin scolded the courtier. "You don't like Moses because he is a great man, a great philosopher, and a great physician. And what hurts
you courtiers most of all is that he is a Jew." As he ended his speech the Caliph was about to go about his business. But, just then, Dijy looked about slyly and said:
"Well, perhaps you will change your mind, when I tell you that Moses told me that he finds it very hard to speak to you because of a bad odor that comes from your mouth." On hearing these words, the Caliph who had been walking down the court-room, stopped suddenly and turned pale. The Caliph was a simple, kind man and he was deeply hurt by Dijy's words. Flushing with anger, he commanded:
"Order Maimonides to come here at once and I will find out whether you are telling the truth, and woe to you if you are not."
Now that same morning the mean courtier had made sure to speak to Maimonides. To Maimonides the courtier had said:
"You think that because the Caliph has chosen you to be his physician, and maybe tells you how much he likes your books too, he really likes you. Well, let me tell you, you are all wrong. The other day he said to me, 'You know, Dijy, it's becoming quite impossible to speak to Maimonides; the odor from his mouth is so unpleasant.'" Maimonides who had listened attentively to Dijy's words, was deeply hurt.
Now when the Caliph sent for Maimonides that evening, Maimonides held a big handkerchief in front of his mouth so as not to annoy the Caliph. But the Caliph too had prepared for Maimonides' arrival, and he, too, had put a large handkerchief in front of his mouth.
When Maimonides entered, the Caliph thought: "Ah, so it's true! This Jew is two-faced. There he comes with his handkerchief over his nose." (The Caliph didn't notice that the handkerchief was over his mouth.) He grew angrier than ever.
Seeing the Caliph holding his handkerchief to his mouth, Moses' knees began to tremble so that he had to hold on to the furniture to keep from tottering. At last Moses reached the throne of the Caliph. The Caliph was so angry he could hardly speak. But he had already made his plans. So at last he said:
"You go to the outskirts of the city where they are burning lime in the big lime pit, and ask: 'Has the Caliph's bidding been carried out?"'
At another time Moses might have asked his friend, the Caliph, what he meant by such a peculiar question. But now, he felt altogether too embarrassed to say more than he had to.
The sun was setting, and it was getting dark. Many patients were waiting for Moses at his home. Nevertheless,
without any complaint he turned to do the bidding of the Caliph.
Meanwhile the Caliph had sent a messenger to the head of the lime pit and ordered him to burn to death the man who would come within an hour and ask: "Has the Caliph's bidding been carried out?"
As Maimonides went on his way, he was met by an old woman who threw herself at his feet begging:
"Oh, please Doctor, please come in and see my daughter. She is dangerously sick, and only you can save her."
What was Maimonides to do? He had two duties to carry out. It was his duty to do the Caliph's bidding, but surely it was clearly his duty to save a human life. If he carried out the Caliph's command, the woman's daughter might die in the meantime. So what was he to do?
It did not take Moses long to make up his mind. He quickly turned to the woman and asked her to lead him to her home. There he gave the sick girl some medicine--and soon she was sleeping peacefully. Maimonides assured the mother that when her daughter awoke she would be on the road to health. This duty done, he went to the lime pit.
Meanwhile, the jealous courtier who had heard of the king's command to kill Moses, was very impatient.
Click to enlarge
[paragraph continues] He could not stay home, and await the good news of Maimonides' death. So, as the sun was setting, he hurriedly left for the lime pit. Upon his arrival he asked:
"Has the Caliph's bidding been carried out yet?"
When the lime burners heard the question they quickly fell on the courtier, tied him and threw him into the pit, where he was burnt to death.
A short while later, Maimonides, too, reached the pit and asked:
"Has the Caliph's command been carried out?"
With a smile and a twinkle in his eye, the head of the pit answered:
"Oh, yes, and a good job it was too." Saying no more, Moses turned homeward.
The following day Moses went to the court, as he always had done. As he approached the Caliph, Moses noticed that Saladin was pale and trembling.
"What is wrong, Your Majesty?" Moses asked greatly alarmed.
"Why didn't you go to the lime pit yesterday as I ordered you?" the Caliph asked, his eyes flashing with anger.
"I did, Your Majesty," Moses replied quietly. "And they told me that your bidding had been carried out, and that it had been a good job too."
"Oh, Allah, Allah!" the Caliph cried out. "A
poor innocent man must have been burnt alive--instead of you."
"Instead of me?" Moses called out in horror.
"Yes, I sent you to the lime pit yesterday to be burnt."
"You, Caliph,--me--to be burnt? Impossible! You wanted to kill me?" (Moses didn't know just what to say--He couldn't believe it all.) "Why, what evil have I done to Your Majesty?"
"Enough," said the Caliph. "You are not a true friend. If my mouth odor is truly bad, why couldn't you have told me instead of mocking me behind my back?"
A light dawned on Moses.
"Oh, was it Dijy who told you that?" he asked the Caliph.
"Yes, it was Dijy. If anyone else had told it to me, I wouldn't have believed him. But Dijy was your friend, and so I thought he was surely telling the truth. Then when I called for you, you came holding a handkerchief to your nose. How could I do anything but believe him? It was then that I made up my mind to kill you."
When Maimonides heard this he began to laugh. "Oh, that courtier is sly! You know, O Majesty, he told me the same about you. He said you told every
body that you wished you didn't have to speak to me so often, because you couldn't bear the odor from my mouth."
"Oh, how shameful," called the Caliph, who was really a kindhearted man. "To think that I was ready to believe him and take your life for that. Moses, can you forgive me?" The Caliph almost cried.
"Oh, I've forgotten about it already. Only I wonder who it was that met such a sad death at the lime pit." Moses was wrapped in thought.
"Moses," the Caliph cried, with great appreciation, "you are indeed the great philosopher, the great Moses Maimonides," and the Caliph embraced him affectionately.
Just then the Caliph's butler announced: "Two lime burners to see you, Your Majesty."
"Let them come in."
And the two lime burners came in holding a ring and a watch in their hands. The head of the lime burners spoke:
"We removed these things from the man whom you ordered to be burnt yesterday. Here, they belong to Your Majesty." As the men held them out, the Caliph exclaimed:
"Oh, these things belong to that jealous courtier who made me plan all that. He wanted to hear of your
death and so he reached the pit before you did. By the way, Moses, where were you then?"
"Oh, God is good," Moses smiled. "An old lady came and asked me to heal her sick daughter. I hope Your Majesty will pardon me, I stopped to attend the sick girl before going to the lime pit, because I feared that she might die if I did not go immediately."
"Oh, how impossible it is for us to understand the ways of God!" the Caliph exclaimed. Again they embraced each other, and Moses and the Caliph remained friends for the rest of their lives.