Heftziba trudged through the burning sand. A hundred and twenty degrees was definitely not her idea of pleasant weather. But what could you expect in the heat of the summer? Relieved to have finally reached her destination, she entered the tent and Chuma bowed her in.
“Heftzi, so good to see you! You look so hot! Here; have some refreshing goat’s milk.” She handed her a goat-skin canteen.
“I can’t,” Heftzi smiled, holding up her hand. “I’m lactose intolerant.”
“Oh well; have some water then.”
“So what brings you here?”
“Well, I have found someone for your Gidiya.”
“Oh, really!! So tell me, tell me!” Chuma asked excitedly.
“Avraham ben Terach,” Chuma said victoriously.
The smile slipped off Chuma’s face.
“Avraham? Don’t you mean Avram?”
“He changed his name.”
“Ah,” Chuma said knowingly. I’ve heard that can help with a shidduch.”
“No, that wasn’t the…”
“Listen Heftzi, I appreciate the suggestion but I don’t think it’s for us.”
“Why not?” Heftzi asked, nonplussed.
“Well for one thing, he’s a baal teshuva.”
“He’s not just a baal teshuva; he started the Teshuva Movement,” Heftzi said, exasperated. “And Chuma, he’s rich as Malkitzedek! And such a kind man!”
“I hear you. He moves around a lot though. I want Gidiya close to me.”
“Of course’ well, maybe you could go with them, if they move,” Heftzi offered.
Chuma hesitated. “Well, I heard the stars say that he can’t have children. That’s a serious concern.”
“Chuma, I’m surprised at you! We don’t put our faith in stars. Besides, the Master of the Universe Himself promised Avraham progeny. You’ll be kvelling with grandchildren, I promise you.”
“Bli neder,” Chuma corrected.
“Bli neder,” Heftzi sighed.
“How about some fried pita with zaatar?” Chuma asked, stalling. “It’s a new recipe!” When Heftziba shook her head, she added. “I’m sorry, Heftzi, I know you mean well. But I have to think of Gidiya’s future. Money isn’t everything, you know.
Heftziba made her way through the narrow alleyways of Goshen. It was quiet in the streets after a long day’s drudgery. But a sweet breeze was wafting off the Nile and soft sounds of family life were spilling into the nooks and crannies.
Heftziba knocked on the door and a woman answered immediately. Her body was bent and her face was tanned and wrinkled, but a smile lit up her eyes as soon as she recognized her guest.
“Heftziba, how nice to see you!” she exclaimed.”Please come in, before anyone sees you.” Heftziba wasn’t sure whether she was referring to Pharaoh’s henchmen or other women wanting to marry off their sons.
Heftziba settled herself on the rickety chair she was offered. “Listen Yotvata, I have a wonderful suggestion for your son, Mendy.
“Oh?” Yotvata sat straighter. “Who?”
“Yocheved and Amram’s daughter?”
Can’t do better for yichus!”
“That’s true,” Yotvata said slowly, considering, “but…”
“And she’s very responsible… and musical,” Heftzi added, cutting in. “And she helps her mother out a lot, well, you know,” she said lowering her voice.
Yotvata smiled indulgently. “Yes, I know; Miriam’s a wonderful girl.”
“So what’s the problem?” Heftziba asked, sensing a lack of enthusiasm.
“Well,” said Yotvata, suddenly businesslike. “She comes from a broken home. Her parents were divorced.”
“Oh, come on,” Heftzi said, irritated. “You know what that was about. They got back together in like 5 minutes.”
“”Well, yes, because of the children. And then there’s her brother, Moshe.”
“What about her brother?”
“Well, he stutters. What if that’s genetic? And where is he anyway? No one’s seen him for ages.”
“Stuttering is not genetic.” Heftzi said, dodging the second question. “I’m telling you Yotvata, if you don’t take her, someone else will. You’re making a big mistake!”
“Perhaps; but I don’t think so. Actually,” Yotvata said leaning closer, “I was thinking of someone else for Mendy. What can you tell me about Serach’s great-great-great-great granddaughter?”
Heftziba was feeling her age. Her legs ached as she climbed the hill carrying a few provisions. She saw Poriah enter her stone dwelling up ahead and decided to pay her a visit. She’d been considering a suggestion for her. In any event she could have a little rest.
Poriah invited Heftziba in and made her a place at the table. After bringing her a cool drink of water from the well in the courtyard and giving her some dried fruit, she sat down next to her for some conversation.
“Heftziba, a woman your age shouldn’t be carrying groceries home yourself! I could ask one of my 14 sons to help you.”
“Hard work is good for the soul. It keeps me young,” she said. Poriah smiled indulgently. “It is actually about one of your sons that I’m here,” Heftziba said.
“Oh, which one?”
“Em…” Heftziba tried to remember. “The seventh one.”
“Ah, Issachar! Such a talmid chacham!”
“Right. Anyway what about Ruth, Naomi’s daughter-in-law?”
“Ruth, the Moabite?”
“Poriah, she’s Boaz’s widow, you should speak with some respect. She left Moab ages ago.”
“Sorry,” she backtracked apologetically.
“Anyway,” Heftziba continued, Ruthie’s a very devoted mother and daughter-in-law. I’m sure you’ve heard some of the stories of her modesty and righteousness.”
“Yes, of course, her story is well-known.”
“And she’s got wonderful ma’alot – she’s refined, gracious, hard-working…”
Poriah averted her eyes.
“Poriah, sweetheart; why aren’t you jumping for joy at this wonderful opportunity?”
“Look, Heftziba, I’m sure she’s pure gold but look at the facts: 1) Ruth’s a convert. Not everyone wants to marry a convert; 2) she buried two husbands; and 3) she’s a single mother with a child! That’s quite a package for a young man like my Issachar to take on. You understand.”
“Poriah, Boaz was a judge, a righteous leader. Surely a woman good enough for him should be good enough for your son.”
“Isn’t she a bit older also?” I mean I think Issachar would prefer a girl who is well… she’s got a lot of history in both senses of the word.”
“Even though he’s an older single?”
“He’s a boy. He can wait for the right girl.”
Heftziba picked up her packages and left, her heart heavier than her load.
Heftziba walked the streets of Morocco’s shuk, eyeing the pastries warily. She had put on a lot of weight in the last century and she attributed it to the baklava she so loved and her neighbors generously plied her with when their daughters came of age. As she was looking at the pastry, she literally ran into Fela eyeing the pastries coming from the other direction.
“Ah, Fela, so glad to have run into you,” Heftziba smiled. Both women laughed at the joke. “I think I found a match for your daughter, Simcha.”
Fela smiled warmly but took a step back. She was well familiar with Heftziba’s unusual suggestions.
“Okay,” she said gamely. “Who is it?”
“Moshe ben Maimon.”
“You mean the young man from Cordoba? The one studying medicine?” she uttered the last word with distaste.
“Yes, but he’s also a great Torah scholar and very…”
Fela didn’t let her finish. “Simcha is only interested in men learning full time; certainly not anyone who studied at the university and kal vachomer, not secular studies. And, he’s from out of town. How would we even check him out? Sorry Heftziba,” she said more kindly, “we’re definitely not interested. My husband only wants a talmid chacham for our Simcha.”
“But he is a great talmid cha…”
“Nothing doing. Come on Heftziba, what Jewish woman in her right mind would want a doctor for a son-in-law?”
Hephziba’s days are growing short. She spends most days in her small Jerusalem apartment, watching the sun rise and set as the years swiftly flow by, as one season follows another. And as her old friend King Solomon a”h would say, there’s nothing new under the sun.