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Pichifkes - Hanoch Teller

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With the passing of their father, Yisrael, Zev, and Aliza Stein inherited a 40,000-shekel debt and a week of mournful togetherness in their dear departed’s rented apartment. Whereas family tragedies usually have a way of uniting family members, senior Stein’s death veered from this commonplace.

Yisrael and Zev had never been close, but at least they put up a cordial front. In that house of mourning, however, something turned their relationship irremediably sour, and neither their wives nor Aliza could dislodge the wedge that was driven between the two brothers.

They say time heals all wounds, but not this one. For three decades, relations stood at a standstill of dissociation and non-communication. Over the years, influential outsiders sought to catalyze a reconciliation, or at least an understanding — but to no avail.

Ironically, when one of the warring parties finally made a noble attempt at brotherhood, the impetus came from within. Yisrael had the distinct “privilege” of chairing a tenants’ committee meeting in his Jerusalem apartment building. The committee was charged with overseeing building maintenance and collecting the dues used to finance these repairs. Although this may sound like a prosaic enough activity, such meetings are generally convened atop a powder keg of emotions. The confab in Yisrael’s modest home was no different. In minutes it turned riotous, with tempers flaring, accusations flying, and insults rising to a crescendo of disharmony and bedlam.

Perching himself atop a chair, Yisrael issued an earnest plea for peace. For three straight minutes he lectured a suddenly attentive audience on both the virtue and the utilitarian advantage of shalom. “God’s name is peace,” he concluded dramatically. “Let us not desecrate His holy name.” With that, order was restored.

Suddenly, a light bulb illuminated in his head. Not only does charity begin at home, a sobered Yisrael Stein pondered, but peace must as well. If he made no diplomatic overture towards his brother now, his inner voice instructed, then he would be guilty of felonious hypocrisy. But how? Thirty years of animosity had fortified, not softened, the enmity between Zev and himself.

Before Yisrael could think of an appropriate gesture, the calendar suggested one for him. In eleven days was Purim, the holiday of charity and friendship. With wholehearted fraternity, Yisrael Stein overcame his well-harbored scorn and lovingly assembled a package of mishloach manos for his estranged brother.

Yisrael’s nine-year-old son, Avner, was to be the courier and his father impressed upon him the importance of the task. Purim only came once a year so the opportunity had to be seized now. By the time Avner left the house, it had become dazzlingly clear to him that no mishloach manos delivery he would ever make would be as significant as this one.

Obviously, the assignment was not destined to be uneventful, for as the young boy alighted from the bus he tripped over some bricks discarded from a nearby construction site, and his precious cargo went sailing into the mud. Avner didn’t know what to do. After his father’s stern warning he was petrified to return home with the package in shambles. Thus, Avner Stein did what any conscientious nine-year-old in his situation might have done.

He gathered all the contents of the mishloach manos — dirt-coated chocolate, chocolate-coated dirt, broken bottles, and wine-soaked cookies — clumps of mud of various consistencies et al, and reinserted them in what was left of their ripped box. Fortunately, he figured, the name of the sender had not sustained any damage. Like a good little soldier, Avner Stein completed his mission.

When Zev Stein discovered the garbage his brother had sent him, he didn’t view it as a Purim jest. In fact, the pitiful peace offering became a provocation and he felt obliged to respond in kind and at the same time one up him. Mud was the least of the trash Zev Stein dispatched to his brother.

Suffice it to say that it wasn’t a merry Purim for the greater Stein family.

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