As far as most people in Vaysechvoos were concerned, Reuven Meyerov had every reason to be happy. To begin with, he was handsome, so handsome that the shidduch, for him was Golda the matchmaker’s dream. After all, what young woman in the village would have refused Reuven as her match? Not only was he a pleasure to look at, but by Vaysechvoos standards, he was a man of means. Now it’s true, nobody in Vaysechvoos was really rich, but if anyone could be considered well-to-do, it was the Meyerovs. The family was known throughout the region for their superior textiles. A finer material than Meyerov cloth could not be found for miles.
Eventually, much to the chagrin of all the other single women in Vaysechvoos, Reuven married Rivkah, one of the most beautiful women in the shtetl, and soon after, he took over his father’s business. It seemed like everything Reuven touched prospered. Every time he went to sell his wares in the nearby shtetls, he came back with many rubles. And all the townspeople loved him. He was a very generous man; good mazel seemed to follow him wherever he went-and of course, everyone likes to be around people of such good fortune.
Yet Reuven was not a happy man, and apart from Rivkah, nobody knew the depths of his despair. It all had to do with the children. When their twin sons were born, Reuven and Rivkah felt doubly blessed. Yaakov and Yosef were the best of friends, as thick as any two boys you ever saw. Each one wanted to be just like the other. If Yaakov got a new hat, Yosef wanted the same hat. If Yosef thought it was a good idea to tease poor Mendel’s horse, then Yaakov was right behind him. If…you get the idea.
But things change with time. Eventually, mutual admiration gave way to envy and each began to suspect that the other was always trying to outdo him. If Yaakov got a new hat, then Yosef needed a better hat. If they were with a group of friends and Yosef told a story, then Yaakov felt the need to tell a better story. It all came to a head over—what else—a girl.
Yosef was the first to fall for Batya. Her beauty and her gentle spirit captured his heart completely. But while Yosef was working up the nerve to let her know of his affections, Yaakov mentioned to his father that he was taken with Batya, and Reuven spoke to Golda the matchmaker, who spoke to Batya’s father and a shidduch was made. When Yosef heard the news, he confronted his brother: How could you ruin my one chance for happiness!” But Yaakov insisted that he had no inkling of Yosef’s feelings for Batya.
“What, are you blind as well as stupid?” Yosef cried. Stung, Yaakov replied, “Maybe, brother, but I’m the one who’smarrying Batya, so I guess I’m doing well enough.”
“Well, you may have gained a wife, but you’ve lost a brother,” Yosef retorted, his teeth clenched in anger.
Reuven despaired over the ever-growing rift between his sons. Even though they were civil to each other in public, privately, there was nothing but hostile silence between them. Reuven tried to reason with each of his boys. First he approached Yaakov, to try and get him to reconsider his marriage to Batya. “You can have your pick of any girl in the shtetl…must you choose the one your brother loves?” Yaakov felt a twinge of remorse, but his stubbornness prevailed.
So then Reuven went to Yosef, trying to console him. “Any girl in Vaysechvoos…even the Sage’s daughter…tell me a name, and I’ll do my best to arrange the match.” Yosef looked at his father and, with tears in his eyes, declared, “Never will I marry anyone but Batya.” Reuven wished with his whole heart that he had never spoken with Golda the matchmaker but being a man of his word, he would not go back on it.
And what of Batya’s heart in all of this? All she knew was that her father had told her she would marry Yaakov, son of Reuven the merchant. As you know, in those days women weren’t given much of a say in whom they married. Yaakov seemed nice enough, and he was certainly handsome and well off; love was something that would grow in time, she reasoned. And there wasn’t much time to think about these things, what with such a wedding to plan.
And then it happened. A rash of pneumonia cases swept through the village. It seemed as though every family in Vaysechvoos had at least one member suffering from the illness. Tragically, Batya was one of the first people to catch the disease, and she was too fragile to fight off the attack on her lungs. She died just two weeks before her wedding date.
Before Reuven, Rivkah, Yaakov and Yosef could properly mourn Batya’s death, Reuven himself became sick with the dreaded pneumonia. Because of his sorrowful state, it wasn’t long before he was on his deathbed. Both of his sons were extremely concerned for their father’s health. Each came and fed him barley soup and talked to him as he lay coughing. They even chanted the prayers for the sick together. But after they left their father’s bedside, they still refused to speak to each other.
And so Reuven’s condition became worse and worse. And he died, they say, more from a broken heart than from the pneumonia. Rivkah knew this only too well. And as she saw her sons say kaddish together at their father’s graveside and then embrace one another in forgiveness, she wept because Reuven would never know of their reconciliation.
Even today, it remains the saddest story ever told in Vaysechvoos.