Pied Piper: Yosef and Our Children

In 1283, while the town of Hamelin was suffering from a rat infestation, a pied piper appeared, claiming to be a rat-catcher. He promised the mayor a solution to their problem with the rats. The mayor, in turn, promised to pay him for the removal of the rats (according to some versions of the story, the promised sum was 1,000 guilders). The piper accepted and played his pipe to lure the rats into the Weser River, where they all drowned.

Despite the piper’s success, the mayor reneged on his promise and refused to pay him the full sum (reputedly reduced to a sum of 50 guilders) even going so far as to blame the piper for bringing the rats himself in an extortion attempt. Enraged, the piper stormed out of the town, vowing to return later to take revenge. On Saint John and Paul‘s day, while the adults were in church, the piper returned dressed in green like a hunter and playing his pipe. In so doing, he attracted the town’s children. One hundred and thirty children followed him out of town and into a cave, killing them. Depending on the version, at most three children remained behind: one was lame and could not follow quickly enough, the second was deaf and therefore could not hear the music, and the last was blind and therefore unable to see where he was going. These three informed the villagers of what had happened when they came out from church.

Other versions relate that the Pied Piper led the children to the top of Koppelberg Hill, where he took them to a beautiful land,or a place called Koppenberg Mountain, or Transylvania, or that he made them walk into the Weser as he did with the rats, and they all drowned. Some versions state that the Piper returned the children after payment, or that he returned the children after the villagers paid several times the original amount of gold. (All taken from Wikipedia)

The notion of the “pied piper” comes from this legend called “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” Colloquially when we say Pied Piper we mean someone who is gifted at leading children. It is interesting that something so negative could become so positive. From this story we also have the expression that it is “time to pay the piper”- to mean we have to pay our debts.

Various iterations of this tale appeared in the writings of The Brothers Grimm and Robert Browning. What is most interesting to me how we all ignore the meaning of the piper being pied. He came wearing a multicolored (pied) coat.

I was thinking about this in the context of Vayashev, this week’s Torah portion. There we read of Yakov giving Yosef, his chosen son, a pied jacket. We also see the brother’s discussing the benefit of selling their brother into captivity. Ultimately they need to pay Yosef his due. Yosef, like the pied piper, leads the children of Israel away to Egypt.


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