I was barely within sight of the house when the clamor began to hurt my ears.
“What’s this?” I shouted, entering the house and seeing Rachel and Abraham having a tug of war with a sapling.
The room instantly grew silent.
“What’s going on here?”
“They’re fighting over who will plant the tree,” Golde said.
“Children, come here.” The twins ran over and hugged me. Abraham kept a tight grip on the tree.
“I’m glad that you are so excited about planting a new tree for Tu b’Shevat. I’m sorry that we only have one, but the committee said we could only afford one per family. Now, I could choose who will plant the tree, but I would rather that you decide.”
“I should get to plant it, Abba, because I can dig the hole. Rachel’s too weak to shovel.”
“I am not weak.”
Rachel started to swing her fist at Abraham and I caught it before it reached its target.
“None of that,” I said, taking the seedling from Abraham. “Why do you think you should be the one to plant the tree, Rachel?”
She looked up at me with her big green eyes that she knew could get almost anything she wanted from me.
“I think we should take turns. This year I get to plant the tree and next year Abraham does. That would be the fair thing to do.”
Golde was sitting silently, apparently content to let me resolve the dispute. She knew how her daughter’s mind worked. Golde told me more than once — she tells me everything more than once — how Rachel reminded her of herself as a little girl.
“Rachel, do you think you’ll remember that it’s Abraham’s turn next year and let him plant a tree without making a fuss?”
“You could write it down to be sure.”
“Well, that sounds reasonable. What do you think Abraham?”
“No way. She’ll forget all about it and start fighting all over again. Besides, why should I have to wait a whole year before I get my turn? Why can’t I go first and she can plant it next year?”
“I want to go first. He always gets his way because he’s a boy.”
“Now Rachel that’s not true.”
“It is.” She broke into tears and ran to Golde.
“Abba, she always starts crying when she doesn’t get what she wants. Maybe I should cry too.”
I watched Abraham try to force himself to cry, but all he could do was make tearless sobbing sounds.
“All right. Stop crying, both of you. Rachel, come here.”
Rachel wiped her face with her sleeve and slowly came over to me, whimpering softly and looking unsure if she had succeeded in making me feel badly enough to give in to her.
“Children, what do you think King Solomon would decide?”
Abraham scratched his chin as though he had a beard. “He would probably say we should cut the tree in half and each plant part.”
“I want the top half, the pretty part,” Rachel shouted.
“No, I want the part with the leaves,” Abraham said, making a grab for the tree, but I pulled it out of his reach.
“Well,” I asked, “what happened in the story of Solomon and the child who was claimed by two mothers?”
“One mother agreed to split the child, but the other wouldn’t because it would have killed the baby,” Rachel answered.
“Right. So, King Solomon knew the real mother was the woman who would rather give up the child than see it harmed.”
“But the tree isn’t a baby, Abba,” Abraham protested.
“I understand, Abba,” Rachel said. “It’s a baby tree and if we split it in half it will die. So, I prefer that we don’t cut it in half. That makes me the person who should get it, right?”
“You are right that the tree would die if we cut it in half, but that doesn’t mean it’s yours. You know what I think Solomon would do in this case? I believe he would say that one person should dig the hole for the tree and the other should plant it. And since Abraham said he was the strongest, I suggest that he dig and Rachel will plant. Is that all right?”
I could see them both considering the solution. Abraham opened his mouth to protest. I raised my eyebrow.
“I think that’s fair,” Abraham said.
“Me too,” said Rachel.
“Good. Come and give me a kiss.”
The children kissed me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Golde smiling.
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevye Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.