First Fruit

THE PORTION

By Daniel M. Jaffe

Published July 09, 2004, issue of July 09, 2004.
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‘Heartburn — raisins I don’t eat. Take mine.” Jed offers his packet of raisins to the young man in the window seat beside him.

“Thanks,” Ron says, “I’m not really hungry.”

“Who knows when we’ll get lunch? It’s a long flight. I’m Jed, by the way.”

“No, thanks, maybe later.” The two men shake hands. “Name’s Ron.”

Jed adjusts his yarmulke, returns to his reading.

Ron sips from his plastic cup of Coke, chews ice cubes.

At the ice crunches, Jed asks without looking up: “You brought something to read maybe?”

“Can’t concentrate on reading,” Ron says.

Jed looks up, shifts to better see Ron’s brown eyes. “So what’s on your mind, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“What’s in your book, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Ah — mind your own business, old man. OK, fair enough. Not just a book, by the way, but Torah. A Chumash. Pinchas is this week’s portion. You know Pinchas?”

“The Torah’s in Hebrew, right, not Greek?”

Jed pauses, contemplates, replies: “Excuse me for asking, but you’re on an El Al flight to Israel, with a face so Jewish you could be a Forefather, but you don’t know the Torah’s in Hebrew?”

“Sorry I asked.” Ron turns his face to the window.

Jed leans forward, looks out the window, too. Clouds. Hadn’t meant to annoy the boy. “Sorry I asked,” he says. “Rude of me. Yes, the Torah’s in Hebrew.”

Ron sips more Coke, crunches more ice.

“There are translations if ever you’re interested.” Jed watches as Ron’s eyes move from the window back to his tray. “I didn’t mean to be rude,” Jed says. He fingers his packet of raisins, tosses it playfully onto Ron’s tray.

Ron chuckles, shakes his head.

Jed winks. “I’m not a bad man. A little pushy sometimes, maybe. Especially about Torah. A person knows something good, a person wants to share.”

Ron opens Jed’s packet of raisins, eats.

“So you want maybe I should tell you a little about Pinchas?”

Chewing quietly, Ron says: “Why not? What’s Pinchas about?”

Index finger in the air, Jed says: “A boy who asks questions offers hope. Pinchas is more important than many people think. First, there are rules for celebrating certain festivals, like the first fruits — Yom Habikurim. Also known as Shavuos. You know Shavuos?”

Ron stares blankly.

“Never mind, not important.… Well, it’s important, but never mind. Also, Pinchas reminds us to know where we come from. Genealogies. Rules of inheritance.”

“Rules of inheritance?”

“This interests you?”

Ron stops eating, puts down the packet of raisins. “My mother was Israeli. In her will —.” His voice catches.

“So this is what’s on your mind.” Jed extends a hand, pats Ron’s forearm. “Recently?”

Ron nods, swallows hard.

“My condolences.”

“In her will,” Ron says, “she left me an apartment building in Haifa. I never even knew she owned it.”

“A good Jewish mother, preserving a piece of the Promised Land for her son. You have people there?”

“A great-uncle. My late grandpa’s brother. He’s been managing the building all these years. And pocketing the rent since Mom died.”

“Your mother’s gift to him maybe?”

“Not according to her will.”

“A curse, money.”

“Mom inherited the building from Grandpa, but my great-uncle says Mom had no right to inherit because she emigrated. I’ve hired an Israeli lawyer.”

“Your mother had brothers?”

Ron shakes his head.

“Then you should tell your lawyer to read Pinchas.” Jed opens the Chumash, flips pages, finds, translates: “If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter.”

“That’s in the Torah?”

“And nothing about emigration making a difference. Yes, in the Torah. In Pinchas. Right here in black and white. In Hebrew even.” Jed smiles.

“I’ve heard people say the Torah was still relevant, but.…” Ron shrugs.

“You know, you don’t have to read Hebrew or go to shul to read Torah. It’s on the Internet in English now for you young people.”

“I should take a look sometime.”

Jed’s face takes on a serious cast, the wrinkles in his forehead deepen. “Listen, my boy, there are many kinds of inheritance. Maybe your mother, blessed be her memory, wanted you to travel to Israel not really to find some apartment building, but to find something else.”

Ron, his eyes searching now, stares into Jed’s eyes.

Jed pats his Chumash. “You want maybe I should translate a little?”

Ron nods.

Jed opens the book, and he begins.

Daniel M. Jaffe, the editor of “With Signs and Wonders: An International Anthology of Jewish Fabulist Fiction,” lives in Santa Barbara, Calif.






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