In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: Feivel’s Sons
It all started with the yerushah that Heshie and Mendel received from their father, Feivel the Tanner. While Feivel was not a man of great wealth, he did have three precious jewels–rubies–given to him by his father, and they were to be his gift to his two sons.
Feivel was very proud of his sons. They were good children who showed love and respect for their parents. They genuinely liked one another, and as young children they helped each other with their chores so that they could have more time to play. And that they did. Heshie and Mendel would run in the fields and swim in the watering hole not very far from their home. The boys enjoyed doing all the sorts of things that boys enjoy doing, like digging holes and climbing trees.
Feivel remembered the words of his own father regarding the gems. Hold on to these, Feivel. Do not sell them for frivolous pleasures,” his father had cautioned, “for if hard times come, you will have what you need through the sale of the rubies.”
In truth, the original inheritance was four rubies, but Feivel had used one of them several years earlier to pay for the dowry of his daughter, Rivka. It was necessary inasmuch as Rivka had not found a suitable mate and was not getting any younger. The sizeable dowry provided the impetus needed to make a match while she still had many child-bearing years before her.
But now Feivel’s two sons were grown, and with their father’s passing they were left with the dilemma of having to divide three rubies between them. The provisions of the inheritance were such that the three gems had to remain intact; none could be sold unless the owners were in great financial need.
Over the years, the tanner’s two boys had grown apart. Their childhood friendship had waned and each had gone his own way (which in a shtetl as small as Vaysechvoos wasn’t too great a distance). And now, after their father’s death, greed seemed to overpower all other considerations.
Heshie, the elder of the two, reasoned that he should get the larger inheritance because he was the firstborn. And of course his wife, Sara, agreed.
Mendel, on the other hand, reasoned that he should inherit the two rubies and his brother just one. “After all,” he said, “I am a poor student and need more security, whereas my brother has married very well and lacks for nothing.”
The brothers were so angry with one another over the third ruby that they wouldn’t walk on the same side of the road. They forbade their children to play with one another. And they wouldn’t even acknowledge one another when they came to shul each week.
Their quarrel became the subject of much discussion in Vaysechvoos.
“Such a shanda!” exclaimed Yetta the Dyer. “Feivel is probably turning over in his grave at what has happened.”
“Yes,” agreed Dvora, the wife of Shimmon, “he probably would rather have given away the jewels as tzedakah instead of having the two who carry his name be at war with one another.”
All agreed that Feivel was not resting in peace.
Time passed and still there seemed to be no solution. The rabbi took charge of the inheritance for safekeeping until such time as a decision could be rendered. Meanwhile, Heshie and Mendel grew in their anger and hatred toward one another.
Then a curious thing happened. The grave of Feivel the Tanner started sprouting weeds at an incredible rate–beyond anything one could expect in the cemetery of Vaysechvoos.
The sons, who had agreed to alternate weeks in visiting their father’s grave, would bring cutters with them each time they went. But the weeds seemed to grow just as fast as they cut them, and finally the brothers all but gave up on attending to the grave.
At last, it was coming up on one year since Feivel’s death–the time of the unveiling of the gravestone. Both sons and their families would be present, and everyone was concerned over the state of the gravesite. It was then that the Sage of Vaysechvoos stepped in with this advice: “Don’t you think that this is a matter of great need that would warrant the sale of the odd ruby? The gravesite and its upkeep would be taken care of in perpetuity with the proceeds from the sale.” Heshie and Mendel begrudgingly agreed, and the ruby was sold. Then they were each given their one gem, the very morning of the day of the unveiling.
They had left it up to the sage to take care of the arrangements. Though they could agree over little else, they both knew that providing for a fit gravestone and a groomed site in which their father could rest in peace was the proper thing to do.
Many of the townsfolk showed up for the setting of the matzebah over the grave of Feivel the Tanner, alav ha-shalom. Heshie and Mendel and their families were the last to arrive. Each had supposed that the other would come early and by arriving late they thought that they would not have to stand near each other. But they walked up the graveyard path together. The crowd that gathered around the grave was several people deep. The brothers had to inch their way in to see the stone the sage had procured with some of the proceeds from the ruby.
When they got close enough to read the inscription, they gasped.
Here lies buried
Feivel ben Avraham
Too long have I lived among
those who hate peace
And the brothers wept.
Postscript: By the time the yahrzeit for Feivel was observed the following year, the brothers had become reconciled. They had taken to tending the gravesite together, and where weeds once grew, wildflowers with ruby red petals had sprung up. These flowers were unlike any ever before seen in Vaysechvoos.
Director of Communications, Missionary
Susan Perlman is one of the co-founders of Jews for Jesus. Susan is the associate executive director of Jews for Jesus and also director of communications for the organization. She also serves as the editor in chief of ISSUES, their evangelistic publication for Jewish seekers. She left a career track in New York City to help launch Jews for Jesus in San Francisco in the early 1970s. See more here.