"The Tale Of Finkel"
by Jason Endfield © 2003
Chaim Finkel - just Finkel to those few who knew him - was a
thoughtful man. He pondered life's mysteries while he went about
his everyday business. He was around middle aged, tall and with
pronounced, and not very flattering, features. His black hair was
good and thick, though here and there a little grey.
Each day, as he walked to work along the banks of the Vistula River,
he would throw bread to the ducks and swans and with each piece
that he threw he would ask the bird a question: "why are we here,
bird?", "why do we grow old?", "why must we lose loved ones?". He
listened for their answers and imagined the Great One would answer
him through these lovely creatures.
When he reached the small bookshop in town where he worked, he
would ponder some more and he gazed for long periods deep in
thought. Often the shop's owner, Reb Perlmann, would scold him,
"Finkel! Stop dreaming and stack books! The world moves too fast for
In the evening, Finkel would walk home again along the Vistula's
bank, though now the ducks and swans were gone, preparing to roost
on the islets in the river. Now, depending on the time of year, there
may be hundreds of frogs croaking excitedly, or a few fish leaping in
and out of the water; this fascinated Finkel - how was it, he
wondered, that these simple creatures had such unbounded joy in
life? Did they not know that they would one day die? Did they
merely act on instinct? Finkel didn't think so - put a fish in a jar
the joy is gone; it is the freedom that provides the joy.
Finkel would often go to see the Rabbi. He would visit the Rabbi
burdened with a question and, usually, after nodding thoughtfully,
the Rabbi would give the same answer: "Finkel, you should stop
thinking and start living; when you have started living you will let
the Almighty take care of such matters as suffering, death and
injustice. These are His concerns."
Finkel didn't really understand
this but he would thank the Rabbi and leave. In his prayers he would
sometimes ask the Almighty for answers but mostly he asked for
health for his family. He had no wife, but elderly parents who loved
him dearly and whom he loved more than anything else in the world.
Finkel had wanted a wife but it had never happened; there were
many matchmakers in town but he had only once been offered a
match and she was, may we be forgiven for saying so, not a beauty
and had neither brains nor the ability to cook. Finkel turned her
down gracefully and she married a gentile woodcutter and bore him
two ugly, stupid children. Occasionally Finkel wondered what his life
would have been like had he married this woman but he knew that
marriage cannot change a person's traits and she would have retained
her own particular faults.
Finkel was aware that he was no handsome brut
but he wasn't a toad either and, as his mother had said at the
time, why should he settle for less than the best?
So it was that Finkel had reached middle age and had ever more
questions on his mind.
Then it happened one day as Finkel walked to work. As usual he had
with him some bread and many questions for the birds. He threw a
piece of bread to a small brown duck and asked it a question, "what
is the secret of happiness, bird?" To his astonishment, the duck fixed
Finkel in it's gaze and swam to the water's edge; it stepped out of
the water, shook itself and marched up to Finkel, who was so taken
aback that he felt his legs give way and he found himself sitting on
the wet grass by the river.
The little duck purposefully approached
him and perched on Finkel's lap. It began to quack and Finkel found
that he could understand what the duck was saying! Finkel sat open
mouthed and stared at the little brown duck.
"Finkel," said the duck,
it's eyes staring into those of the amazed man, "you want so many
answers and you have so many questions, but the answer to all of
them is the same - Finkel, your Rabbi is right, life is for living. You
have been given a most unusual gift, the gift of life; the animals, the
birds and the trees - we all have been given this gift, and we are
enjoying it. So you should be too Finkel. Only the Great One knows
how long we each have here before we are taken or some mishap
befalls us, so Finkel we all must enjoy what time we have and live our
life to the fullest. Finkel, that is the answer to all of your
With that, the duck winked at Finkel, turned around and waddled
back into the river. Finkel stood up, brushed himself down and
shook his head in disbelief as if waking from a dream.
He didn't make it into work that day.
The next morning his parents received a note from him and a large sum of
money. Finkel himself was never seen again.
Jason Endfield is a UK based Jewish writer. Currently he is seeking a publisher for his collection of short stories.
He can be contacted via: firstname.lastname@example.org
from the March 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine