The Pancakes of Strife
Once an old melamed lived in Chelem. His wife sewed stockings. And because of this melamed and his wife, the town of Chelem received a great honor: for evermore, for the edification of posterity, four important decrees were issued there.
It happened like this. Once the melamed said to his wife:
“I have lived on Earth for 70 years, but on the holiday of Shavuot I have never eaten pancakes stuffed with cottage cheese and fried in butter.”
His wife sighed and replied:
“I have never eaten them either.”
The melamed stroked his long beard and said:
“This is what I’ve decided. We have a large chest with a sturdy lock, in which I was once given your dowry. Let’s make two holes in the lid – one on the right, one on the left. And let’s agree that every day I’ll put one coin from my earnings in the right slit, and you’ll put one coin from your earnings in the left. And before the holiday, with God’s help we’ll open the chest, take out the money, and buy flour, eggs, butter, cottage cheese and cook pancakes that only the wealthy eat.”
His wife nodded her head in approval:
“Amen. May this be the Lord’s will!”
But when he got up from the table where they had talked, the melamed thought: “My wife can put her coins in the chest, but I, who teach children the word of God, have the right not to do so.” And the melamed’s wife, as she got up from the table, also decided to play a trick. “My husband can put in his coins,” she thought. “But I will keep the pennies from my labor, which I earn with such difficulty, for something else.”
Winter passed, and spring approached – the holiday of Shevuot neared. The melamed and his wife took the large key from the chest, put it in the lock, turned it, opened the lid and looked inside. Alas! The chest was empty. There was not a single coin in it.
The stocking-knitter grew angry, clutched her husband by the beard and shouted:
“Deceiver! Where is your money?”
The melamed also grew angry, grabbed his wife by her wig and yelled:
“Where’s your money, witch?!”
So, standing by the open chest, they pushed each other until they both fell into the chest. And the lid shut on top of them.
The melamed’s house stood on the same street as the synagogue, and the door was wide open, as had always been the custom in Chelem – on warm days all the doors were kept wide open. And the chest, ever since it had been finished at the workshop, stood on four wheels, which made it easier to move. And so when they found themselves in the chest, the melamed and his wife began to push each other, and the chest began to move around the room – from one wall to the other. And then they rolled up to the open door. There was no threshold in the house, and the chest rolled into the yard, and then out on to the street. It rolled along the pavement and with a crash went straight into the synagogue.
The people of Chelem, seeing a large chest rolling down the street by itself, crowded around. Fearing some danger, they did not even dare to touch it. But when the chest entered the synagogue and continued to move, from the wall to the ambon, from the ambon to the stove, everyone became terribly afraid.
The rabbi came along, and his assistant joined him – the spiritual judge, and along with them all the experts of the sacred writings appeared. They consulted among themselves and ordered the synagogue servant to sacrifice himself for the glory of God and open the mysterious chest. The servant agreed to this high mission; he washed himself, put on a shroud and donned a talit, and loudly blessing the name of the lord, he approached the chest and raised the lid. And what did he see there? The melamed pulling at his wife’s wig, and his wife tugging her husband’s beard…
And although this took place before the holiday, and everyone was very busy preparing for it, the wise men of Chelem held a special meeting with the rabbi, the spiritual judge and experts on holy scripture.
And the wise men decreed:
Firstly, from now on chests for dowers would not be made with wheels.
Secondly, all entrance doors should have high thresholds.
Thirdly, melameds should never live on the same street as a synagogue.
Fourthly, an old melamed and his wife should not even have the desire to eat pancakes on the holiday of Shavuot.
These decrees were written down in a special memorial book, so they were preserved in it for the edification of posterity, until the coming of the Messiah.
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