Happiness (A Fairy Tale)
Original tale by Hersh Dovid Nomberg, translation by Daniel Kennedy
Through infinite space, through the immensity of the cosmos, there flew an angel.
For many long years he had not rested his wings; for many long years he had flown and flown without pause. Whenever he encountered a sun or a star or a lost comet, he would stop and ask: ‘Excuse me, please. You don’t happen to know where the earth is, do you?’
And on hearing the answer, ‘no,’ he would fly on. He did not have a minute to spare, nor a second to waste.
Many, many years ago the angel had heard about the terrible plight of the unhappy earthlings, about how hard and bitter their lives were, and his angel-heart was filled with sympathy. He had fallen, in tears, before the divine throne and begged for happiness on behalf of the humans. God accepted his prayer, entrusting the angel with happiness to be delivered to the wretched people of earth.
Coming down from the seventh Heaven, the angel has wandered ever since, through suns, stars and comets, in search of the earth. In his right hand he holds the happiness and his white wings move effortlessly through the thin ether. Thousands of years have passed; he has flown through millions of systems. But no one knows where the earth with its unhappy people is to be found.
Sometimes a tear falls from the angel’s eye. Who knows if his bright wings were carrying him away from the earth? And yet, he is an angel. He sheds those tears not on account of his long exile or his drawn out, futile toil, but for the poor humans who thirst and strive for the happiness, that he carries in his right hand.
‘Tell me, please, you don’t happen to know where the earth with its unhappy people is?’
He flies on, driven by his own idealism. Meanwhile the earth grows old and new. Civilisations, ideologies and religions come and go, and misery continues to reign.
‘Where can happiness be found?’sigh the unhappy humans.
Once, an old stargazer, an astronomer, was watching a wandering comet. For a long time he did not take his eye off the lens of his telescope, following the comet’s every move. He did not abandon his watch, even when he was eating and sleeping, he would put his young son in his place and no sooner had he finished his meal, than he would hurry back to continue peering through the lens.
The comet was not pleased:
‘What does he want from me, that old wizard? What is the meaning of this? Am I a thief that cannot be left out of one’s sight?’
The comet became even angrier.
Suddenly, the angel flew by and asked in his soft, sad voice: ‘Tell me please, Reb Comet, you don’t happen to know where the earth with its unhappy people is?’
‘People, on the earth?’ answered the comet angrily, ‘there are only wizards and young thugs there…’
‘Oh! those poor people,’ sighed the angel, ‘all because of unhappiness! No, Reb Comet, you cannot get angry, it is a sin to hate.’
And the happiness in his right hand shone and sparkled so brightly that even the comet’s mood was lifted when he saw it, and his gloomy, misanthropic soul felt lighter.
‘Where is the earth?’
The comet showed him, pointing with a long, thick beam towards the place where the earth was to be found.
‘Oh, how far from heaven the earth has wandered!’ sighed the angel to himself, ‘and all because of unhappiness.’
He immediately set off on his way again.
Meanwhile, on earth, the astronomer had noticed the angel, spotting, through his telescope, the radiant object in his right hand. And because there was a prophet who had long been predicting that an angel would come to deliver happiness, the stargazer immediately recognised that it was the angel come to bring happiness to the people of earth.
The newspapers soon spread the news throughout the whole world.
‘An angel is flying our way with happiness,’ they said, wherever there were people to talk about it.
All the stargazers adjusted their telescopes and saw clearly how the angel was getting closer and closer towards the earth. They started to calculate, and estimated that the angel would land on a specific day, hour, and minute at specific coordinates.
When the day finally came, people from every country gathered at the preordained spot. The place was crowded; people started pushing and shoving one another, getting into arguments. Punches were thrown. It soon came to the point where they started killing each other with knives. Rivers of human blood flowed there, and the wailing and moaning of the dying reached up to the heavens.
The angel saw from afar how the people pushed and crushed each other, and from on high he started to scream with the last of his energy:
‘Don’t fight! I have enough happiness for everybody, for everybody!’
But they did not hear.
As the angel got closer to the earth, his bright eyes saw the stabbed corpses and the pools of blood, and when his ears heard the wailing and moaning, a tear fell from his glowing eye, landing on the happiness.
From then on the happiness was stained.
The crowd watched as the angel – who was tired and weary from his long journey and from what his eyes witnessed on earth – fainted, and the happiness fell from his right hand.
Hersh Dovid Nomberg (1876–1927) was a Yiddish writer, essayist and political activist, born in Mszczonów near Warsaw. “Happiness” (Warsaw 1900) was Nomberg’s first publication in prose, taking elements and motifs from the genre of mayses (Yiddish folk tales) and weaving them into a fable of his own.
Daniel Kennedy is an Irish-born literary translator based in Paris. He specializes in Yiddish literature.
This translation was made possible thanks to the Yiddish Book Center translation fellowship