In Rabbinic literature, in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds and the midrashim, we find many parables—some relating to plant life and others to animal life. These are, in fact, fables: very short stories in which plants or animals speak, feel, and act as humans in every way. The stories have a moral and teach a lesson. The Sages called these stories "fox parables" or "palm parables". Examples of this literary genre already existed in the Bible: the parable of Yotam (Judges 9:7-20), the parable of the Thistle and the Cedar (2 Kings 14:9-10) and the parable of the Vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7).
Fables were well-known in ancient Babylon, and Babylon seems to have been where the Story of Ahikar, a collection of parables, was created. That book was translated into many languages, including Syriac, Arabic, Aramaic and Greek. Fables flourished in Ancient Greece, where Aesop's Fables originated. The first anthology attributed to Aesop was known as early as the 3rd century BCE. The broad contacts between Greek and Israelite cultures in the Hellenistic period brought Aesop's fables into our literature as well.
The three stamps in this series are based on the Parables of the Sages, which are notably similar to some of Aesop's Fables.
The Fox in the Vineyard
A fox saw a vineyard of ripe grapes and wished to taste them. The hole he found in the fence was too small for him to pass through, so he fasted for three days, entered the vineyard, and feasted on grapes until he was full. When he then tried to leave, he was again forced to fast for three days in order to fit through the hole in the fence. What pleasure, then, did he derive from the vineyard?
Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 5:21, the language of the fable is a mix of Hebrew and Aramaic. The Hebrew translation is found in Ch. N. Bialik-Y.Ch. Ravnitzky, Sefer Ha Aggada, ed. with a new commentary by A. Shinan, 2015, pg. 1008. The Aesopian equivalent is found in Sh. Shpan, Aesop's Fables, 1961, fable 204, pg. 99 (Hebrew).
The Lion and the Heron
A bone got stuck in a lion's throat as it ate its prey. The lion promised a reward to anyone who could dislodge the bone. The Egyptian Ammoperdix (which is what the bird is called in the Midrash) used its long beak to perform the task. When he came to claim his reward the lion said to him: Is it not enough that you escaped the jaws of the lion, now you seek a reward, as well?
Midrash Genesis Rabbah 64:10, the language of the fable is a mix of Hebrew and Aramaic. The Hebrew translation is found in Sefer Ha Aggada (see above), pg. 1007.
The Aesopian equivalent is found in Shpan, Aesop's Fables (see above), fable 41, pg. 28.
The Reed and the Cedar
The mighty cedar with its many roots can be uprooted by a strong wind. The reed, which is supple and flexible, bends in the wind and suffers no harm. The moral: A Man should always be as gentle as the reed and never as unyielding as the cedar.
Babylonian Talmud, Ta'anith 20a, the fable is written in Hebrew
Sefer Ha'Aggada (see above), pg. 1010. the Aesopian equivalent is found in Shpan, Aesop's Fables (see above), fable 338, pg. 160.
Prof. Yair Zakovitch
Department of Bible, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem