The Magician: A Passover Folktale
A magician came into the
village one day, just before
Passover. Although dressed in
tatters, he wore a top hat. A
wrinkled one, it is true, but a top hat
nonetheless. His face was drawn.
Hunger burned in his eyes.
Where did he come from? The
big city. Where was he going?
Another city. Then what was he
doing here? He had lost his way. If
people gathered too close around
him, suddenly he disappeared —
and turned up on the other side of
A strange man. And an
amazing magician! In front of the
whole community he swallowed live
coals as if they were noodles. He
drew all kinds of ribbons from his
mouth — any color you wanted —
each as long as the Exile. He pulled
16 pairs of turkeys from inside his
boot, and showers of gold from the
bottom. When he whistled, golden
loaves of halla flocked like birds in
the air and danced under the
ceiling. He whistled again, and
every marvel disappeared — no
breads, no ribbons, no gold, no
Some said that the magician
was the fifth question of the
Passover seder, this man who could
perform wonders yet seemed at the
same time to have nothing at all.
Who was he? What was he really
doing here? What did he live on?
Speaking of Passover, there is
another story to be told about this
village. One husband and wife, a
good and pious couple, had
become very poor through no fault
of their own. For several months the
man had been earning nothing at
all. They survived the winter, but
only barely. Now, with Passover
close at hand, they did not have
anything left to sell. How would they
provide themselves with food for the
FRIDAY, MARCH 25, 1988
seder? Still, the husband had hope.
"God does not desert you," he told
his wife. She only sighed.
With no money, she could not
buy beets to ferment for borscht.
She couldn't buy special Pesah
flour to bake matza. She cleaned
the house for Passover, but there
was so little in it that she was
finished almost before she had
begun. So she sat and sighed some
more, and wept quietly. She envied
her husband for his ability to stay
cheerful. And she prayed that he
would at last be able to find work.
When the neighbors asked
what was wrong, or offered to lend
her what she needed, she came up
with explanations. Explanations and
excuses. It was not their way to
borrow. "There are people who are
worse off than we are," the husband
would say. "We will manage
While it is certainly true that
they were not the poorest or most
miserable people in the world, when
the eve of Passover arrived there
was no food in the house. Not even
candles to make the blessing
welcoming the holiday.
The husband came home from
the synagogue and cheerfully
greeted his wife. She sighed, with
tears in her eyes. "This is a happy
holiday," he reminded her. "The
Exodus from Egypt! Mourning is
forbidden. And besides, "what is
there so mourn? If God doesn't
want us to have our own seder, so
be it. Come, put on your shawl. At
this very moment they must be
reading Ha-lahma anya, `let all who
are hungry come and eat' "
Before the wife could reach for
her shawl, the door opened.
Someone entered. "I want to join
you for the seder," a voice said.
"Will you welcome me?"
It was dark already, and they
could not see who had come in.
"With all my heart," the
husband answered. "But we do not
even have a seder for ourselves."
"No problem," said the voice.
"I have brought the seder with me."
With that, two lighted candles
appeared, hovering in the air. It was
the magician! Holding each other's
hands, the terrified couple stood
with their eyes and mouths wide
open. They saw the magician wave
his arms and watched their wooden
table move from the corner into the
center of the room. They gaped as
a snow white tablecloth dropped
from the ceiling onto the table, and
sighed when the silver candlesticks
settled down upright in the center of
the cloth. They blinked again and
again, hardly believing their eyes,
as their rickety wooden benches
become soft, velvet-covered
They listened to the magician
order a seder plate, and saw it
appear, followed quickly by the
maror, the parsley, the hard boiled
egg, haroset and salt water. Then
came the wine and wine glasses,
including a cup for Elijah, the
matza, and even Haggadot with gilt
edged pages. They could smell
delicious foods, although no food
was as yet in sight.
"Have you water for washing?"
the magician asked. "I can bring
Startled into action by his
question, the husband and wife
turned to each other with the same
thought. "Is this good magic or
evil? Are we permitted to enjoy this
seder or are we being tempted by
an evil spirit?" They turned their
backs on the magician and ran
together to ask the rabbi.
The rabbi told them that evil
magic, unlike evil in real life, is only
an optical illusion. It has no
substance. "Go home," he said. "If
you can break the matza, if you can
pour the wine, if you can sit on the
soft cushions, then your seder has
come from Heaven. It is real, for
you to enjoy."
Hearts beating, the couple
hurried home. Everything was just
as they had left it, but the magician
was gone. They patted the pillows.
They crumbled the matza. With
trembling fingers they took the
golden-edged Haggadot into their
hands. Everything was real.
Only then did they realize who
their guest had been. The magician
was none other than the prophet
Elijah himself, who had come to
visit their seder on Peash.
So may he visit ours.