|Wise Men of Chelm|
The townspeople of Chelm, Poland, have been made famous for their bizarre wisdom through Jewish folktales.
As the saying goes, “It’s not that the people of Chelm are fools; it’s just that foolish things keep happening to them.” Of course, another saying announces that when two angels were delivering souls, the bag ripped open, and all the foolish souls landed in Chelm.
Tracing the age of the tales about the wise men of Chelm is difficult. A comprehensive collection has never been compiled, and there is no solid proof of their origin.
Scholars guess that some of the tales date from the late Middle Ages, while others are almost certainly more recent. And since new tales are constantly being added to the repertory, it has become almost impossible to separate the old tales from the new.
A few examples of the wise men of Chelm’s way of thinking follow:
The wise men of Chelm began to worry about how much they were worrying. So they decided to each pay a man one ruble to do the worrying for them. But, they thought, if he had all that money, why would he worry?
One of the wise men of Chelm went to his doctor, worried because he talked to himself. The doctor told him it was no real problem. After all, he was only talking to himself. The man complained, “But I’m such a bore!”
When the wise men of Chelm appointed one among them as chief sage, they decided he must have golden shoes to wear to show how special he was. But the ﬁrst time he wore them, mud covered the gold.
So the wise men made leather shoes to cover the golden shoes. But now the golden shoes could not be seen. So the wise men cut holes in the leather shoes to let the gold show through.
But now mud seeped into the holes! So the wise men stuffed straw into the holes. Now the gold could not be seen. At last they came up with a solution. To show how special he was, the chief sage wore his golden shoes on his hands.
A house caught fire in Chelm on a dark, moonless night. Everyone agreed that it was fortunate that the fire was burning so brightly, or they would never have been able to see to put it out. Fortunate, indeed: If nothing else, the wise men of Chelm are eternally optimistic.