Word of the Day / O Sheha’kelev Yamut, a Shaggy Dog Story

Procrastination goes down the ages, as attested by a story of an old Jew, a tyrant and man's best friend.

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Procrastination is a way of life. Done well, it can be an art form. Not a particularly admirable or useful one, perhaps – more like the way aficionados of the Dutch Old Masters would view a Lichtenstein. And this is no disease of Modern Man as he faces, or fails to face, the trials and intricacies of Modern Life. Procrastination goes down the ages, as attested by a story of an old Jew and a tyrant that's been making the rounds for decades or possibly centuries.

"O sheha'kelev yamut o sheha'paritz yamut" literally translates as "Either the dog will die, or the tyrant will die." This is a rare story where procrastination is being used as a tactic, the hope is, to save life.

How? Because a tyrant somewhere or other – the origin differs - loves his dog. He doesn't love the Jews. He therefore has a brainstorm and orders an old Jew to teach the pooch to talk.

If he can't and the dog doesn't become conversant, the old Jew will be killed.

The old Jew asks for a year's time and the tyrant agrees.

But the old man's son is appalled. "What good will that do?" he wails after they leave the great and terrible tyrant's presence. "You could take a hundred years and the dog won't speak a syllable."

"Probably," says the old man. "But a year is a long time. In that time, maybe the dog will die. Maybe the tyrant will die. Or, maybe, the dog will learn how to talk."

Can this dog learn to talk? Doubtful, but it could buy his teacher some time.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

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