I. L. Peretz and Bruria; Rosh haShannah 5755

The traffic flowed past, seeming never to stop: from the ocean to the mountains and the desert beyond. Everyone seemed to pass along this small four-lane main street of a sleepy town, waking it to the possibilities of a mercantile paradise. The early morning fog and low clouds had not yet burnt off and a chilly dampness filled the air.

He sat there at the roadside cafe, his bulky body almost slumped over his mug. He liked his coffee thick and sweet (the East European way), but tears dripped from his eyes; such a strong stream that they fell from the edges of his bushy mustache and salted his drink. His body shuddered as he sobbed.

She reached across the table and placed her hand on his so that his trembling wouldn't spill the hot fluid and scald him.

"I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping." [Psalm 6:6]

"Tell me, Yod Lamed [Peretz]. Tell me."

His voice cracked as he began his story of two brothers he had known (or was it actually about himself?):

Across the sea, once, long ago,

There stood a hut, humble and low,

A simple hut that in the valley lay,

knocked together of wood and clay

A tiny window from which to behold

The sun streaming in with waves of gold,

And moon and stars with silver, stain

The little hut's one window pane.


Two brothers in the small hut dwelled

Their hearts with love for each other swelled

Their work was hard, but their love made it light

And whatever one did, the other found: right

The furniture was plain and their bread was bran

But each found joy in his brother-man

So time went on,

And a holy web spun.


But one day a visitor came to them

Her back glistened with gold and with many a gem.

The serpent flaunted her jewelry

The elder brother stared and to himself said he:

I never knew so much wealth could exist,

If I only had one of those diamonds in my fist

I would sell it and with the money

A good milk cow for myself would buy


Serpents know what men think,

So the serpent called him aside with a wink

I can make you rich she said to him:

You can have gold in barrels, full to the brim,

And corals, and diamonds, and pearls galore,

As much as you want and more and more.

Follow me to the forest now,

And I will tell you the secret how.


The serpent goes, and the younger thinks in his mind:

How God lets each creature beauty find,

But ask him, why all this glitter, why?

Lust blazes in the elder brother's eye:

"God, all this richness, these jewels, this gold?"

He looks where the trees in the forest shake,

And he steals out from his brother to the snake.


The sun goes down in a golden sky.

And under a tree in the forest lie

Man and snake. She repeats what she said.

And he trembles with joy and longing and dread.

She coils herself round his heart. "You will have gold,

As much as you want, if you do what you're told.

Your brother has everything," says the snake.

"You have only to take and to take."


"Look at your brother! He is the source

Of all the riches that will be yours.

He works and sweats, and the sweat on his brow,

He wipes away with his hand;-- you must stop that now!

For each drop of sweat is a precious gem.

You must make him word hard, and gather them.

For the harder he works, the more

Gold and diamonds will fill your store!


"Sometimes your brother at work drops a tear.

You think it is water? It is costly and dear!

And you like a fool kiss his tears away!

You don't know what a fortune you lose each day!

You scatter your riches! This must stop!

Let your brother weep! And gather each drop!


A tear is a precious thing!

Collect them like diamonds,

And you'll be rich as a king!


"Also your brother has a gentle skin.

Stick a needle, and you will a coral win.

You say, it is blood? What if it is?

His blood is your wealth. I am teaching you this!

You must forget your brotherly love!

If you want gold,

You must do as you're told!"


With fists clenched, and lips pressed tight,

The older brother comes home from the forest that night.

His eyes blaze and the fiery sparks dart.

But love of his brother struggles in his heart.

So he says: "I will prick him just once, not very deep,

Just one red coral, that I can keep.

He is my brother, I know!

But his sweat and tears make my riches grow!"


That night, when all the world sleeps,

The moon hears in the hut how one laughs and one weeps.

The stars look through the window again,

And see a brother laugh, at his brother's pain,

The sun next morning can't understand

How a brother can strike his brother with a heavy hand.

And the forest and stream,

Can't make it out,

What in that hut has come about.

"[sigh...] Brothers and precious gifts.... So many stories." She had wept softly as he spoke and now her eyes too showed the moistness of the pain. "No wonder that God made the first beings without brothers or sisters, or we might never have even had a second generation of humans. Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and all the rest... generation after generation." She almost laughed: "If, in each generation our parents only had one child, we'd solve the problems of brothers, but quickly run out of people!"

She was older than he. From a different time, in fact. But the serenity of her wisdom gave her a glow that radiated a comforting, youthful beauty. "It does not have to be so painful. I know of two other brothers and their tears of joy."

"They each had a small farm on opposite sides of a small mountain and raised just enough to feed his own household. But the older brother had a wife and children while the younger lived alone. After a particularly bad year of drought, their harvests nearly failed. One night, the elder said to his wife after they said good night to their sons who had helped in the fields."

"'My brother Josh lives alone on the other side of the mountain, if the drought has been as bad for him as it has been for me, he must be suffering terribly. After all, I have your help and the help of our two strong young sons, but my brother lives alone and must rely only on his own strength. Tonight I'll take a few bushels of our wheat harvest over to him.'"

"Little did Joe know, but at that very same moment, Josh, while walking in from his field and washing his hands, said to himself (since he lived alone): 'My brother Joe has four mouths to feed while I only have myself to look after. Certainly I can spare some of my yield to help him get through this year of drought.'"

"And so each brother hoisted some wheat onto his back and started the trek to the other side of the mountain. The night was dark, as the moon had not yet risen and along their way by a large flat outcropping of rock that had been used for ages--already in their day--as a threshing floor, the two brothers met."

"Both Josh and Joe explained to each other where they were headed and why. There they embraced, exchanged their gifts and their tears of love. Years later, the place where they met and embraced had a city built over it, known today as Jerusalem."

"Ahy... Bruria, Bruria... why didn't they call that place Philadelphia? But that is good, almost like O. Henry's Gift of the Magi only with a happier ending and without the ironic twist. That's good, very good."

This time Yod Lamed chuckled at his wise crack, but as he looked over at Bruria he saw that her composure had broken. She shook and placed her head down on the table before them.

"'Hear my prayer, Adonai, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am your passing guest, a traveller, like all my fathers.' [Psalm 39:12] But why?"

Meir approached the table with a tray of fresh cups. He gently stroked her hair as he sat beside her.

Her thoughts were of two other brothers: gifts: jewels that had been entrusted to them.

Meir explained: "One Shabbat many years ago, both our young sons were very ill. When I came in from the house of study, I asked as usual when I returned home: 'Where are our children?' Only this time I asked with more urgency because I knew they were not out playing."

"In response my wonderful, caring and wise wife offered me yet another gift, the gift of a parable: 'Once, many years ago, a traveller on his way from the desert to the ocean left a package of precious jewels with a young couple starting out in life together. They were a gift for safe-keeping. The couple derived great pleasure from the jewels: they watched the sunlight dance and show off their many facets. The couple grew deeply attached to the jewels. But then one day, the traveller returned from the sea, back toward the desert and reclaimed the jewels. Would the couple have to return them?'"

"Bruria did not need to take me to their room to show me that our sons had died while I was away."

Meir raised her hand in both of his and lovingly brought it to his lips. "My wife has often led me to wisdom, still... the pain persists. The wisdom cannot erase the pain. You know from the story of your two brothers that our tears are not diamonds, yet they are precious to those of us who shed them so freely."

They had shared their tales into the heat of the day and the sun began to draw pearls their brows to join those they gave freely from their eyes. They sat for a time in silence watching the constant flow of traffic as it raced through their lives. Each vehicle carried its own brothers and sisters, each with its own jewels, its own pain.

Meir picked up the thread. "We still travel along our way. Some of us climb... with blood, sweat and tears. We can hope that we strive toward the light and not darkness. Our tears can blind us or we can sing as our ancestors did when they returned from captivity to our little jewel of a land: 'When Adonai restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, "Adonai has done great things for them." Indeed, Adonai has done great things for us; and we are glad. Restore our fortunes, Adonai, like the watercourses in the desert! May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy! The one who goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.'" [Psalm 126]

Yes, may this be Your will.

©Mark Hurvitz