Dear Avigail,

My husband and I are hard-working shepherds. We toil the land and guard our sheep with love and care, and have managed to eke out a comfortable living. Not to say, we are going to sell our ploughshare, and stick a big tent in the sun and sell shade to heatstroke victims, but just put a little extra aside, to set the Shabbat table with a linen tablecloth and ceramic olive pit holders.

The problem is my brother, Stanley. He is a ne’er do well, with a whining, jealous wife and six wretched children. He has always got a “get rich quick” scheme, and expects us to be his venture capital. We do not have any extra money to venture. He wants to buy olive presses to de-hull the shells off pumpkin seeds. Presses grind and crush; they don’t de-anything. I just feel awkward to say no.

Signed,
De-part Stanley

Dear De-part Stanley,

There are very few ways to politely say no to a business schemer/dreamer, especially if he is family. But, please take heed.

Almost everyone falls prey to one bad business deal, all because of the same basic reason: everything should be signed and agreed by both parties, preferably witnessed by someone sober and non-related. The logic behind this — if the witness is family, and you have a falling out, who is going to bring the roast lamb for the Feast of the Mannakiss — the holiday in which we praise Hashem for all those fine manna meals, delivered daily to our tent flap. We also sing praises to the Ministering Angels, who left 2 jugs of wine to be taken with food. Our evening prayers sounded like: “Uhh…I know I should tanks You…You, who have over 70 names, but I just can’t seem to remember one (giggle)! Well, Happy Mannakins! Hippie Manic kiss (hiccup).

Anyway, before I digress further, don’t be so hard on yourself, but try to learn from my own personal fiasco. ..

One could have mistaken the falling manna for snow, on that frosty, desert night. Hebrew mothers had made their children put on animal fur skins, whether the animals complied, or not. Some of the animals wheezed, and complained that they were sensitive to human dander! Then, the children counter-kvetched that they were being used as human tissues by their furry throws. From the heavens, another blast of snow manna amazed both children and animals, alike.

The stars told their stories in the black, matte sky. Tonight, the half man/half horse, with the poised arrow, bickered with himself, as to which end would get top billing. The seventh child of the Tuttlebaum family was crying, uncontrollably. Only Great-Grandfather Tuttlebaum wept, along with the little one. They both instinctively knew that the point of the arrow was aimed at them. Baby dreams and aged dementia were bound by one psychotic, drooling, but charming thought.

Something was different in the air. Children played in the manna; they made snow sculptures of angels and wildebeests. The cacti, in desperate need of prickly derm abrasions, seemed to reach to the sky in ambivalent greeting…Distant gnu mistook cacti shadows for potential mates and did the annual ritual dance, I’ll be your coat rack baby, tonight .
Do I belong over there in the disposable wipes section (hard to come by, pre- Exodus!!?) No, something was different. If you listened carefully, or even if you listened with reckless abandonment, the hyenas seemed to be hysterically howling in a major chord, not in their usual melancholy, minor funk. It is as if something were going to happen, something strange. Stranger than that kishke-shaped cloud that hovered over that old woman’s tent, over there? I don’t know. We took it as a divine reminder to stock up on yeast, before the Sabbath.

If your eyes glanced in the direction of the pyramids, you would have been astounded at the sight of the first pyramid’s regal, majestic eyes gazing at an an open copy of EXOTIC TRAVEL & LEISURE TODAY. The travel magazine was nestled on its stone stumps, and it was thumbing through package vacation tours, everything combined, including tipping.

Then, the Tuttlebaums, both senior, junior and toothless, smiled and rocked, cooed to the characters that inhabited their retrospective worlds…

It happened! The word was out. The theme from the old TV Western, Gunsmoke, was somehow transmitted through a ram’s horn, and the entire encampment came to life: ROLL’M ROLL’M ROLL’M…

Suddenly, my Egyptian neighbor, Bulima, came over with a big embrace and an even bigger hernia…

Bulima: “I am so sorry to see you go, girlfriend. We are like sisters…Who will do the kohl around my eyes? Who will draw my oil resistant beauty marks? Ok- not quite the Cleopatra look we were going after, but Joan Crawford and Gene Simmons (KISS) are nothing to ccccchhhaaayyk at either!!!!”

Abigail: “What did it matter that I was your slave; you were my master; go know. I had to teach YOU to walk like an Egyptian.”

Bulima: “Can’t I go with you…I can adjust anywhere…make the best of any situation. I am Egyptian. I believe in many gods. They are lightweight and portable. Abigail…I am not the religious zealot I seem to be…”

Abigail: “Are you saying you are a faith flaker?”

Bulima: “That’s a good term for it. Yes. I do have my doubts. “

Abigail: “ I think everyone has their moments. You are so brave to actually say it.”

Bulima: “Look, it’s you who are sooo brave. Many Egyptian kids in our waxing class would love to go with you. We could make the transition from embalming the dead to enhancing bikini lines, unibrows and mustaches that make one hesitate to address one as Habib or Habibi…I just can’t imagine having to leave behind ALL THIS…and for what? Because some shrieking shrub said so? Such a waste…look at your house…an opening on each flap…you’ve got CROSS VENTILATION. If two tent walls are torn down by any conquering army, and two still remain, you’ve still got CROSS VENTILATION…

You’re sitting on viable income, my friend…I promise I will do something with it; let’s draw up a verbal contract based on trust…your word is as good as mine, your language, my language, any of the known seventy languages, even pork Latin.”

I stopped her. “THAT might not be the most appropriate language for me…actually, Bulima, I would prefer any agreement, but it has to be in writing…”

Bulima: “Don’t worry my friend, the sand is my paper; my index finger, I save for my official signature on important documents…my middle finger, my personal Italian diva, she’s volatile, never mind, it doesn’t matter what I do, or who I do it to, may it all come to be true (spit spit).”

“Bulima, I really don’t have much time to take care of all this…if you want to keep an eye on our tent, by all means. I trust you, and there is nothing of value left behind…a few old straw pallets? I doubt if we will be coming back, even for a short hiatus. What I need from you is to borrow something of value that I can readily use to trade for, in a dire necessity…like food or deodorant…”

“I shall give you gold-plated dental floss, don’t worry. “

Two words that you don’t want to hear your lawyer whisper to you, before he pleads your case in front of a public stoning tribunal. Two words that usually precede an event of cataclysmic proportions, ex: The Flood.

To be Continued.