The Wise Father’s Possession

Midrash Tales

There is a story of a man blessed with learning, wisdom, and riches, who had an only son, to whom he naturally gave the best education, and whom he sent to Jerusalem for the purpose of completing his education. He had all arrangements made for his bodily comforts and took every care that the young man, who was very promising and on whom he loved, should want for nothing. Shortly after his son’s departure, he took to his bed, from which he rose not again.

His death caused immense regret in the place of his residence, for in him the poor had lost a real support, and many a man a wise counselor and adviser. It was felt that the town, in general, had lost one whom it would be difficult to replace.

The funeral and the days of mourning over, a friend who was known to be the executor of the dead man’s last will, and who had duly informed the son by letter of the sad death of his father, proceeded to break the seal of the will and see its contents. To his great astonishment, and no less to the astonishment of everyone who learned the nature of its contents, the whole of the dead man’s property, personal and otherwise, movable and immovable, after leaving considerable amounts to various charities, was left to his slave; there was but a saving clause that his beloved son should have the privilege of choosing one thing, but one only, out of the whole estate.

Midrash StoryThe son, though duly informed of the details of this strange will, was so immersed in grief at the loss of his father that his mind could not be diverted to anything else; and it was only when his teacher alluded to his father’s death and the inheritance which he might expect and advised him to use it for the same laudable purposes, that the young man informed his beloved master that by his father’s will he had been reduced to a beggar.

Meanwhile, the slave of the departed man, having gone through all the formalities and proved his title, lost no time in taking possession of his dead master’s property. He was ready and willing enough to grant the son one thing out of his late father’s goods, whenever he should come and claim the object of his choice. The acute rabbi, on reading the will, saw at once the drift of the testator’s intention and told his pupil that he should proceed to his native town and take possession of his property.

“But I have no property to take possession of,” pleaded the young man, “except one article of my late father’s goods.

“Well then,” replied the teacher, unable to conceal a smile, “choose your late father’s slave out of his estate, and with him will go over to you all he possesses, since a slave can own nothing, and all he has belongs to his master. That, indeed, was your father’s clever device. He knew that if the will were to state that all was left to you, the slave, being by the force of circumstances in charge of everything that was left, would probably in your absence take for himself and his friends all the valuables on which he could lay his hands; whereas if he knew or thought all belonged to him he would take care of everything that was left. Your wise father knew that the one thing he gave you the power to choose would be no other than his slave, and with him, you would become the just and rightful owner of everything.”


1. Midrash Tanhuma – Genesis 15:4 “And behold, the word of the LORD came to him (Abraham), saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.”