A Garment for the Moon: A story for the fourth night of Chanukah
Now it’s known that at the beginning of the world there was some envy from the moon about how brightly the sun shone. But all that was long ago, and a story for another time. Today I am going to tell you about how the moon came to the sun one day, and begged for a dress to keep her warm as she circled the outer heavens, for, although she appreciated the sun’s light, she had none of her own.
So the sun went to a village of tailors – some of the best in the world, if I am honest – and asked them to sew a garment for the moon. They agreed, and took on the task. But, as the best tailors in the city sat around drinking tea and stroking their beards, they realized that the task was beyond them. After all, the moon was constantly changing shape. Sometimes it was round and full, and at other times of the month it was nothing more than a thin sliver, a silver crescent in the sky. How on this earth were they to sew a garment that could withstand such expansion and contraction and still keep its shape? (Please remember lycra had not yet been invented … ) And even if such a material were available, it would be so expensive, and so much of it would be needed. They threw up their hands and declared the task impossible.
Now it was the turn of the poor tailors. They wanted to prove it could be done, and that their skill was equal to that of the rich tailors. Sometimes necessity makes us more determined and more inventive, and these tailors sat and chatted and talked and thought, until one of them said:
“I remember a story my Bubba told me long ago about a material that seemed to be made of light. Indeed it expanded and contracted and was subject to the whim of light. Very magical it was, and very rare.”
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The others nodded sagely, until one tailor in the corner said, “And very unlikely! Who has ever sewn, or even seen, such material?” And, again, the other tailors all nodded in agreement. The first tailor said that he would go in search of this material – after all, what harm could it do to just try? So they waved him off, and that was the beginning of a quite remarkable journey for our hero.
He walked, rode, limped and strode across the land, through cities and villages, up mountain tracks, and along roads and paths, always asking, and always being told that nobody had heard of such material. But still he continued, until, one day, he took a boat across a vast river, and as they sailed, he asked if anyone had heard of this material that he was looking to buy.
The captain of the boat said yes! The tailor could not believe it, and began to ask where it could be found, and how much it would cost, and so on. The captain said that there was a garment made of such material in the city he had been brought up in, and gave the tailor directions. When the tailor asked where in the city he would find the fabric, he said that it was the dress owned by the queen.
The tailor’s heart sank. If the only material in existence had been used to make a dress for a queen, its price must be far beyond the little bag of coins he carried with him. Nevertheless he continued on his journey. “It would be a shame to come so far and not to even see it,” he said to himself. He thanked the captain, gave him some strong needles to sew his sails, and continued on his way.
Eventually he came to the city that the captain had described and was amazed to find everyone moping about their daily business, depressed and very sad. When he asked why, he was told “How can we be happy when our queen is in such distress?” It turned out that the queen’s daughter was due to get married, and she was supposed to wear her incredible dress, as was the custom. They called it a dress of light. The problem was that the dress had been in the family for so long it was falling apart; it was quite unwearable, and the queen could not attend the wedding as custom dictated, and the princess would not get married without the queen being there. Nobody knew how to repair the dress of light; the secret had been lost to the tailors of that land. So, you see, it was all a terrible mess.
Our little tailor stroked his beard and thought, “You know, it is a shame to have come so far without even trying.” So he went to the queen and offered to help. She was very grateful, but explained that it was worse that he thought.
“You see, the material is made of light, and as it unravels – well, the light just disperses and disappears so it cannot be mended. The dress is literally disappearing before my eyes!” She put her head in her hands and wept great, salty, unqueenlike tears. The tailor said he would try, and she nodded her thanks through red eyes.
He took the dress to a room they had prepared for him to work in. He studied the cloth carefully, running it through his hands, amazed at how light, how beautiful, delicate yet strong it was. But he could see what the queen had said was true. Each time he moved the dress it would unravel a bit at the hem, and, instead of being left with threads, they simply sparkled for a moment and then disappeared into the air! He pondered the problem through most of the day and long into the night. Leaving the food and drink they had bought him completely untouched.
Finally, he moved to the window to get a better look at the garment, to see if there was any way he could at least stop it unravelling. As he held the dress to the window, a marvellous thing began to happen. As the moon’s rays touched the threadbare hem, it began to grow. The material began to replenish itself as the tailor held it. “Of course!” he thought. “The garment is made from moonlight itself! How else could it grow and contract?” Without wasting a moment he snipped off a corner, and popped it into his pocket. Then he began to stitch and grow, and stitch and sew until the entire dress was finished and as good as new.
Needless to say, the queen and the princess were delighted, and the queen said he could have whatever payment he required. At that point, the tailor just asked to be able to keep the corner of cloth he had cut. The queen agreed, and gave him a bag of coins as well.
Well, it took the tailor months to get home. But every full moon he would take out the little piece of cloth, and hold it beneath the moon’s light. By the time he got home, he had more than enough cloth for him and his fellow tailors to stich a garment suitable for the moon.
The sun was delighted and delivered the gift to the moon, who wore it gladly. It kept her warm, expanded and contracted over the course of the month, and shone in the reflected light of the sun so perfectly that it was as if the moon itself glowed with its own special light each full moon. And as for the tailors – well, the moon rewarded them by shining brighter on that little village than any other, so they could stitch well into the night and thus provide for their wives garments that would fit them however much they expanded or contracted. There was a harmony in those homes – perhaps the greatest gift of all!