“Zusha, what’s going to be with my father’s vodka? If you drink it all up there’ll be nothing left for the rest of the winter!”
Zissy was a good person, with a strong personality. However, as she grew older, it became hard for her to stop herself from rebuking the needy who came into the house.
“Shmelke, do you trek mud across the floor in your own home, too?”
Shmelke the pauper put down the hot tea he was sipping and glanced at the trail of mud prints he had left across the kitchen floor.
“How long would it take for you to wipe your feet at the entrance, Shmelke? I must have reminded you a hundred times this winter alone… Who cleans it up at the end of the day? My poor mother, and myself! It’s simply not fair. And Yankele, do you plan on leaving over any of that babka for anyone else? The pan was meant as a serving dish, not your personal plate. Whenever my mother bakes that babka, you don’t leave over any for the rest of us. What will be? Should we started calling you Yankele the Miser?”
Yankele wiped the crumbs hanging from the ends of his beard and stared sorrowfully at the babka that was now restricted.
“And Zusha, what’s going to be with my father’s vodka? If you drink it all up there’ll be nothing left for the rest of the winter!”
Zusha, the third pauper who, like his friends Yankele and Shmelke, spent most of their day hiding from the bitter cold and hunger in the shelter of Fishel’s home, shrugged and finished his glass of vodka.
“Zissy, what would you rather, that Shmelke freeze outside while taking time to remove all the mud from his boots, or that Yankele starve to death from lack of food, or that my ailing, cold bones fall apart without a sharf drink to bring me back to life?” Zusha smiled, his eyes sparkling like they always did. “You get the sechar for keeping us three nudniks alive, aren’t you happy with that?”
Zissy did not smile back, nor did the iciness in her heart thaw. She was fed up with sharing her home with others, with putting up with the extra strain her parents went through to extend themselves for the sake of the poor and needy.
“Nu, so how much longer are you three going to stay, then?”
“For as long as your father allows us to, I think.”
“Well, I’ve had enough.”
Zissy stormed to her father’s study, but found it locked. She knocked twice and the door swung open.
“Excuse me, but I’m busy here,” said a man. “I’m talking to your father about some problems in my business. Can you come back later?”
“Come back later? I live here!”
“Of course you do. But right now, I need your father’s attention. Give me a few more minutes, okay?”
The study door swung shut.
Zissy stomped her way through the house to where her mother was busy rummaging through a large closet full of clothes.
“Ma, what are you looking for?”
“For clothes!” A disheveled woman, bent over from age and hardship, spoke from the corner of the room where she sat wrapped in a thick, tattered robe as she drank tea from a glass.
“Will this fit?”
Zissy gasped as she recognized the dresses her mother was laying out on the table in front of the hunched over woman.
“Ma, those are some of my old dresses! I’m not giving those away!”
“And why not? You don’t wear these anymore, Zissy. And she needs clothing for the winter.”
“True, but I loved those dresses. Can’t we give her money to buy herself some simple dresses? She doesn’t need such expensive clothing!”
Although their conversation was spoken in a whisper and the old lady heard nothing, Zissy’s mother looked reprovingly at her daughter.
The old lady gathered up the dresses, her eyes gleaming with excitement.
“I need three more, please.”
“Three more!” Zissy stared at the number of dresses already loaded into the lady’s arms.
Zissy’s mother fetched three more expensive, barely worn dresses from the closet and handed them to the lady.
“I can fetch a good amount for this one… and this one…”
Zissy heard the lady making calculations as she sifted through the dresses, a huge smile on her gaunt face.
When the old lady left, Zissy faced her mother.
“Just as I thought — she’s not even going to wear those dresses! She doesn’t need them! You heard her, right? She’s selling these for profit!”
“Of course, she needs them! Have you seen her home? There’s no one else in this city who helps her or takes care of her needs. Let her sell them all she wants. She needs the money.”
Zissy returned to the kitchen. The babka was gone, just a few crumbs remaining in the pan. An empty bottle of vodka lay on the counter, and there was now a fresh set of muddied footprints leading out the door alongside the first set.
“I can’t take it anymore!”
Zissy ran into the living room, to throw herself onto the couch and relax, but there was someone already sleeping on it.
It was too much for her. Zissy found herself staring with disgust at the needy who frequented her home. She felt guilty for having such negative feelings toward them, but she felt like she couldn’t help herself.
Her parents reminded her repeatedly about the great merit of giving to others, and how tzedakah saves one from harm. Still, Zissy’s attitude worsened by the day, and it would only be a matter of time until all of the resentment would bring her to cause real pain to someone else.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 935)
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