A Father’s Wager

Libat sat cross-legged in her tent, knitting a multicolored blanket. Her small fingers pulled the threads nimbly, with a family skill that had been passed down from generation to generation. She hummed a merry tune. Her husband, the tall, dark and grey-haired Gavri, opened the flap to their canvas tent. He was sweating from the long, hot summer day. When he noticed Libat on the dirt floor, his smile turned to a frown, smoothing out the deep dimple on his left cheek.

“What’s wrong?” Gavri asked. “Why aren’t you working outside with the other tribeswomen?”

“I did not want to share this news with the daughters of Ephraim, nor with the rest of the Israelite camp,” Libat answered, concentrating on her knitting.

“What news? What’s the secret?”

Libat put the unfinished blanket aside, stood up, smoothed and dusted her robe, looked into Gavri’s dark brown eyes and smiled. “I am with child.”

Gavri’s dimple reappeared. He smiled broadly, hugged the petite Libat with his substantial arms and twirled her around their tent. “That’s amazing!”

“Easy, Gavri,” Libat requested.

“You’re right.” Gavri set Libat down tenderly. Streaks of white adorned her long, auburn hair.

“Are you sure?” Gavri asked. “We’ve had so many false signs and failures. Are you sure this time it will happen?”

“With God’s help, yes.” Libat patted her belly. “This child is strong and full of life.”

“God bless. May it be a boy,” Gavri pronounced.

“A boy? I want a girl. Who will carry on my knitting tradition? Who will take care of us in our old age?”

“We must have a boy to inherit me. He must take over the land we are promised in Canaan.”

“How can you wish for a boy? You know how important my knitting is to me. This is our last chance. It must be a girl. I pray for it to be a girl.” Fat tears streamed down from Libat’s green eyes.

“Wait, Libat. Let’s not be hasty. I know you want a girl, but think of the importance of having a son.”

Libat laughed through her tears. “Look at us, Gavri. Arguing about whether it should be a boy or a girl, as if we could control the outcome. We should just pray that it should be healthy. That alone would be a miracle.”

“Yes. But I swear by God, that if you give birth to a boy, I shall give you two hundred silver pieces.”

“Two hundred? Where will you get so much money from?”

“I will work harder on my blacksmithing. There are always paying customers available for my work. The Benjaminites have taken a special liking to my copper tools.”

“And I get nothing for a girl?”

“I will give you a hundred pieces if it’s a girl.”

“Very well. It is in God’s hands.”



Months later, Gavri was pacing the dry desert floor outside his tent, with a finished multicolored blanket draped over his shoulder. The sun had reached its midday mark and was now making its quick journey west on the short winter day.

“You’re sure it’s yours?” his younger brother Miben asked.

“What sort of question is that?” Gavri turned dark, flaring eyes toward Miben.

“So many years have passed; we were certain Libat wasn’t able to have children.  Now, in her senior years, she’s giving birth. The problem obviously was not her capability, but yours. Perhaps she found some younger seed.”

Gavri slapped Miben across the face with his large, calloused hand.

“If you ever talk like that or even think like that again, I will kill you.” Gavri tightened his jaw and clenched his fists.

“I’m just saying what everyone is thinking.” Miben touched the stinging red finger-marks on the left side of his face.

“Libat is a loving and honorable wife. This child will be a gift from God. He has finally answered our prayers. Leave me. I will forget you said such a thing, but if I hear you repeat it, I swear you will regret it.”

The right side of Miben’s face risked to redden as badly as his left side. He scurried away from Gavri.

Gavri continued to pace in front of the tent. He heard women inside yelling ‘push’. He heard Libat scream.

The silence that followed frightened Gavri.

Moments later the wailing of a healthy baby pierced the afternoon sky.

A midwife appeared at the tent entrance and motioned to Gavri to enter.

“Is it a boy?” Gavri blurted as he rushed into the tent. Libat was lying on her cot with an infant snuggled comfortably in her arms. Two midwives tended to her. Libat looked up at Gavri with contentment in her tired green eyes, her drenched, white-auburn hair plastered to the sides of her face.

“You have a son, Gavri, just as you requested.”

“Then I am two hundred silver pieces in your debt.” Gavri’s feet danced to Libat’s side. “Can I see him?”

Libat lifted the bundled baby to Gavri’s large hands. Gavri took the baby gingerly and looked at the boy’s wrinkled face. He had his mother’s features. Pale skin, light greenish eyes and auburn hair. There was not a hint of the dark features that characterized Gavri.

With a tight smile, Gavri handed the baby back to Libat. “He’s beautiful. How are you feeling?”

“I’m tired, but so grateful for a healthy child.”

“Here.” Gavri removed the multicolored blanket off his shoulder. “This is for him. You rest and I’ll be back soon.”

“You seem troubled.”

“It is nothing. I just need some time to think.”

“Ow!” Libat exclaimed.

“What’s the matter?”

“I just felt another birth pain.”

One of the midwives examined Libat. “There is a twin,” the midwife announced. “Gavri, please leave. Libat’s work is not over.” The second midwife took the boy from Libat’s arms while Gavri stepped out of the tent, dazed.

Gavri sat heavily on the ground as if he were a puppet whose strings had been cut. He stared blankly at the dirt in front of him, contemplating his younger brother’s words. Fellow Ephramites from neighboring tents approached Gavri to congratulate him. Men patted Gavri on the back. Women approached the tent, but were turned back by the midwives’ shrill warnings.

“Is it a boy?” one neighbor asked.

Gavri nodded dumbly.

“Who does he look like?” another neighbor asked.

“Like his mother,” Gavri said tonelessly.

“Why aren’t they letting the women in yet?” the first neighbor asked.

“They are still delivering its twin.”

“Twins! That’s fantastic. What a blessing,” the second neighbor slapped Gavri on the back.

The midwife appeared at the tent entrance. “You can come back in now, Gavri.”

Gavri walked ponderously back to the tent.

“It’s a girl, Gavri!” Libat announced, holding a baby in each arm. “Now you owe me three hundred silvers,” she laughed. Though she was exhausted, her voice resonated with bliss.

“And we both got what we wanted,” Gavri said with some elation, as he wondered where he would get the money from.

“You don’t need to give me anything,” Libat said. “These children are blessing and joy enough.”

“I made a promise to you in God’s name, and I shall fulfill it.” Gavri paced inside the tent, wishing he and Miben had never spoken.

“You never imagined it would be both a boy and a girl. We can find a sage to annul your vow.”

“No. These children are precious to me too and I want to prove that to you, even if they don’t look like me.”

“What are you talking about? She looks just like you. Here, look.” Libat handed the bundled girl to a befuddled looking Gavri.

Gavri took the baby in both hands. She had thick dark hair and big brown eyes. A small but clear dimple graced her left cheek. A big tear rolled down Gavri’s face and paused in his matching, deep dimple.

* * * * * *

Notes: Case of 100 versus 200 inspired by Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Batra 140b

About the Author
Ben-Tzion Spitz is the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay and a candidate for the Knesset for the Zehut party. He is the author of three books of Biblical Fiction and hundreds of articles and stories dealing with biblical themes. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.