(a Yiddish folktale)
Once upon a time there lived two brothers, Yitzhak and Avram. Both brothers were intelligent, and both brothers worked hard, but Yitzhak was rich, and Avram was poor. No matter how hard he worked at his trade as a tailor, Avram made little money. Often people came to him begging a suit, and Avram could never say no, even to the poorest man. And so some weeks he didn’t have enough money to feed his family.
On those weeks, Avram would visit his brother on Friday afternoon, just before the Sabbath meal. “I am so sorry,” he would say to Yitzhak, time and again, “but this week was a rough one for us, and I have no money.”
“What is wrong with you?” Yitzhak would ask.
But Avram could only shrug. “I work hard, but many people do not pay me for my work,” he would answer. “But I swear, one day I shall be rich, and while I wait for that day, might you help your brother?”
And so the years passed, and most Friday afternoons Avram visited his brother, and his brother gave him enough money to make his way through the week.
One day Yitzhak’s wife, Rachel, said, “Enough. We work hard for our money. Why do you give it away?”
“He is my brother,” Yitzhak answered.
“If he deserved money, he would earn it,” Rachel said.
Still, that Friday afternoon when Yitzhak saw his brother’s sad face, his heart melted, and so again he offered some coins.
But Yitzhak began to think about what his wife had said, and one afternoon he said to her, “I am rich because I deserve to be rich.”
“That is true,” Rachel said. “You are a brilliant merchant.”
“I am brilliant,” Yitzhak said. Soon he believed this deeply, and he decided his brother must not be brilliant.
That Friday when Avram visited, Yitzhak shook his head. “Enough is enough, brother,” he said. “I can give you nothing more.”
Avram hung his head, and when he returned home, he thought for a long while. At last he decided he would move his family to a different town. He no longer cared to live near his brother, and he thought he might find more business in another place. The family packed their wagon with all their belongings, and just as they were about to depart, Avram remembered something he had forgotten. When he ran inside, he saw a stranger leaning against a pillar. “Who are you?” Avram asked, alarmed. He had never before seen this man, and by his disheveled appearance, Avram thought he might be a tramp.
The man grinned. “I am your bad luck,” he said, “and I’m glad to see you haven’t forgotten me. Wherever you go, I will find you, and wherever you are, there I shall be.”
“Why not stay here?” Avram asked.
“I choose not to,” the stranger said, and he followed Avram to the wagon and leaped inside.
As they were driving along, Avram came up with an idea. “Let’s stop the wagon and chop some wood. When we reach the next village, we can trade it for food.”
“A fine idea,” his bad luck said, though he knew nothing Avram tried would work.
Avram got out of the wagon and began to chop down a tree, but presently his axe stuck in the tree. “Come,” Avram called to the stranger. “You may be bad luck, but at least you can help me chop wood. Stick your fingers in the crack and pull it open so I can take out the axe.”
The stranger shrugged and figured it couldn’t hurt. He jumped out of the wagon and put his fingers in the crack and pulled. Avram quickly pulled out the axe, and the crack snapped shut on the fingers of the stranger.
Avram’s bad luck was stuck. “Help!” he cried, but Avram was already back in the wagon, driving away as fast as he could.
Avram, his wife Sarah, and their children settled in a town not too far away, and before long Avram’s business was thriving. Soon he was known as one of the richest men in town.
Naturally, word spread, and when Yitzhak heard of his brother’s good fortune, he decided to go see for himself. “Perhaps he will repay me for all my kindness,” Yitzhak said to Rachel.
He set off down the same road Avram had traveled, and before long he heard someone weeping loudly. “Help me, help me!” cried the stranger who was still stuck in the tree.
“What happened to you?” Yitzhak asked the shabby-looking man in tattered clothing.
The stranger told Yitzhak the story. “I am your brother’s bad luck, but he has run away. Please, drive your axe into this tree and free me.”
Yitzhak thought about this for a while. “I’ll gladly help you so long as you promise to return to my brother.”
“Of course,” the stranger said.
So Yitzhak freed the stranger. The moment he did, however, the stranger threw his arms around Yitzhak and cried, “My endless gratitude to you! From now on I will live with you. And since you are brilliant and wealthy, I know I shall live a fine life!”
And that is how brilliant Yitzhak became a poor man.