(a Polish tale)
Once upon a time in Chelm, a village in Poland not far from Lublin, there lived some of the wisest fools this world has ever known. The people of Chelm often did silly things, but they agreed that everything they did came from the heart. The people of Chelm loved each other, and they loved their town.
The people of Chelm also adored their moon that shone down on them every night — well, almost every night.
The people of Chelm often stood outside their doors – – no matter how cold it was, no matter how much snow had fallen. They didn’t mind because they loved to gaze at their moon. They stood out on the front stoops and stared up at the sky, watching in wonder as their moon waxed and waned. Some nights that moon was merely a silvery sliver. Other nights it was fat and full, blazing down on them like heaven’s spotlight.
But once a month there came a night when the moon disappeared altogether. On those nights the people of Chelm stood outside searching the dark sky in vain.
One night, when the moon had vanished, a wise man named Shlomo finally lost his patience.
“We love our moon!” he cried. “It’s lovely up there. Why does it do this to us every month? Why does it go away?”
The other wise men of Chelm stood beside him, and when Shlomo said these words, the others began to nod. They each had been thinking the same thing.
“Yes, why?” Mordecai asked.
“It should remain with us,” added Jerzy.
“We’ve always been kind to the moon; why does it hurt us so?” Morris complained.
At last, the wisest of the wise began to smile. “I have an idea,” Shlomo said softly. “I think I know how we can fix this problem.”
They gathered close to hear.
“We’ll capture the moon,” he said. “And once we have captured it, we shall have it forever — full and radiant every night of the month. Month after month.”
Naturally, the wise men all agreed. And since they were wise, they knew they needed a practical plan. They agreed to meet in the morning. Over a nice, big breakfast, they would come up with a scheme. The wise men of Chelm always thought best over a meal.
The next morning, the wives of the wise men of Chelm, understanding the important business at hand, prepared a fine breakfast — salmon and eggs, herring and bagels, honey and tea.
The wise men ate heartily. Thinking, after all, is hard work. And when they were finished, they wiped the crumbs from their lips and began to think.
At noon they were finished. And they knew just what to do.
The men had noticed a phenomenon. Each month, on the clearest night, the wise men had noticed the moon in the town well. They understood this must be the moon’s favorite spot to visit. This month, they decided, on the night the moon visited the well, they would gather round and clamp a great cement cover over the well. Thus, they would capture the moon!
The wise men of Chelm called a meeting of all the people to announce their plan.
“We shall be prepared,” Shlomo said. “We all must keep our eyes open. When the moon appears in the well, we shall capture it there!”
“Agreed!” the people cried, grateful for the wisdom of their wise men.
And so on the night when the moon was at its fullest, they hurried to the well, and there it was. They quietly gathered round, and the strongest among them, a fellow named Berek, lifted the cement cover and clamped it atop the well.
“We’ve caught the moon!” Jerzy announced, and the people began to celebrate. They sang, danced and feasted all through that wintry night. They didn’t mind the cold or the snow. After all, they had captured the moon!
The next morning, the wise men gathered at the well to visit their dear friend, the moon.
“We have captured the moon, but we need to tell it we wish it only joy,” Morris said. So, together, they lifted the lid and looked inside.
The moon was gone!
“What’s this?” Jerzy cried.
“Someone has stolen the moon!” Morris shouted.
Now they realized there was a thief among them. One of the people of Chelm must be responsible for the disappearance of the moon every month.
“Of course, that’s it!” they all agreed. “We have a moon thief in our midst. We’ll have to find him.”
They understood they would have to put their heads together to figure out a plan for finding the culprit.
“We’ll need another feast!” they agreed.
And so, once again, the wives of the wise men of Chelm went to their kitchens to work.