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Two Brothers

The story, "Two Brothers," in this session is based on a story from the Jewish Talmud. Other contemporary versions of the story include "Brotherly Love," in Angels, Prophets, Rabbis and Kings, from the Stories of the Jewish People, by Jose Patterson (New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1991); The Two Brothers: A Legend of Jerusalem, retold and illustrated by Neil Waldman (New York: Athenaeum Books for Young Readers, 1997); and "Two Brothers," retold by Elisa Davy Pearmain in Once Upon a Time: Storytelling to Teach Character and Prevent Bullying (Greensboro, NC: Character Development Group, 2006).

Read or tell the story.

Once upon a time in the land of Israel, there lived an old farmer. When he died the farmer left his land to his two sons. They divided the land evenly and built their own houses on opposite sides. The younger brother soon married and had a family. The older brother did not marry but lived alone. Both brothers remained the best of friends and often helped each other on their farms.

One year at harvest time, both brothers undertook the process of harvesting their crop of (barley). They bundled the stalks of grain into sheaves, counted them, and took them into their barns to store. (Later, they would take some of it to the market to sell.) After a long day of work, the brothers usually slept well. But on this night, the elder brother lay awake.

"It is not right," he thought, "that I should reap as much grain as my brother. He has a family to feed and I have only myself. He needs more barley to sell so that he can buy all that he needs for his family." Making up his mind to set things right, he dressed and slipped out to his barn. There he took as many sheaves as he could carry across the field to his brother's barn. Feeling better, he returned to his bed and slept well.

The younger brother also had slept badly that night. He awoke and lay worrying. He too thought of his brother. "It is not right," he thought, "that I should reap as much grain as my brother. I have a family to help me, and to care for me in old age, while he works alone." So saying, he too rose, dressed, and went to his barn, not long after his brother had left. There he took as many sheaves as he could carry and walked across the fields to his brother's barn. Feeling better, he returned to his bed.

The next day the two brothers each went to their barns. They looked and looked again at their grain. There was as much there as there had been the day before. The two brothers worked again in their fields all day and did not speak of what had happened.

The next night they did the same thing. First, the older brother, taking as many sheaves of grain as he could carry to his brother's barn, and then the younger brother, narrowly missing him, did the same. Again, the next day both brothers stood in awe and counted their grain, which was as much as before they had given it away. Again, both kept their thoughts to themselves.

Then on the third night, both brothers rose late. The moon had gone down and they went to their barns. Again, they gathered as much grain as they could carry and headed out across the field to their brother's barns.

It was so dark, that they almost collided in the middle of the fields. They both stopped and peered at one another. What they saw made them smile, and then laugh. They dropped their bundles, and hugged one another for a long, long time. They promised one another that there would always be help for each other, no matter what. Then they each knelt down right there in the field, and thanked God for giving them such a thoughtful and generous brother.

It is said that King Solomon, who was the ruler of that place, could understand the speech of the animals. They told him of the two brothers and their tale of generosity. The king was much moved and decided to build a great temple on that spot where the two brothers had met. The temple became the center of Jerusalem. It still stands there today.

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Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.

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