The Shtarker and The Shnorrer. A Tale of Two Woodcutters.

With a cold front coming in, it was time to split some more firewood.  As I sharpened my axe, my mind turned to a well worn joke my father shared with me more than once.  The one about the skinny Jewish logger who astounds the camp boss by felling huge trees with just a few swings of his axe.  

“Where did you learn to to cut timber like that?” he asks. 

“In da Sahara forest.”  

“Don’t you mean, The Sahara Desert?” 

“Feh..Dat vas Before!”

With that tale in mind, and enough wood split for the next few weeks, I turned to another woodsy tale, and have enjoyed putting my own twist on it.

The Shtarker and The Shnorrer.  A Tale of Two Woodcutters

Listen.  Do you hear it?

The ring of an axe against the hard trunk of a tree.

Instantly there follows a great groaning grunt. UNHHHH! And now a plaintive call….Oy Vey!

Listen again. The pattern repeats. The ring of the axe, the grunt, Oy Vey! The axe, the grunt, Oy Vey!

Now a new sound…

The creaking, cracking and thunder of a great tree as it falls to the forest floor.

Come closer… what do you see?

Two men. One is large and burly. He is the one swinging the axe.  Another man, skinny and pale. He sits on a stump eating a half sour pickle. He is the grunter and from his lips comes the Oy Veys.

They are Herschel and Schlomo.  Herschel the shtarker( that means strong man.)

Schlomo the schnorrer. You ask, what is a schnorrer? I’ll tell you. A panhandler,  a moocher, a bum. And not just part time. No!  A schnorrer has has his pride.  He considers himself  a professional!  A member of an occupational group.

The ring of the axe, the grunt, Oy Vey! The axe, the grunt, Oy Vey!

Soon it will be winter. Beryl the village innkeeper has contracted with Herschel to bring him a donkey load of firewood.  

Sensing “opportunity,” Schlomo has tagged along with Herschel deep into the forest.

All day long it goes like this. The ring of the axe, a grunt, Oy Vey!

It’s later now. The sun hangs low in the sky.  Herschel has strapped and secured the heavy load of wood to his donkey’s back. Slowly, walking by the  faithful animal’s side, he makes his way to the Inn. Schlomo shlumps along, a few yards behind.

Now the wood is stacked against the side of the inn.

Beryl the Innkeeper drops 20 copper kopeks into Herschel’s palm. It’s a fair price for a hard days work.

Herschel heads for home where his wife waits for him with a steaming bowl of cabbage soup and thick slices of dark rye bread.

Schlomo now is close by his heels. His palm is out.

“ And what about me?  Where is my share of the profits for our hard work? “ 

Our work? Our work? You meshuggener! Are you crazy? What work did you do while I broke my back all day?

“What work?” Schlomo is incredulous. “I matched every stroke of your axe with a grunt! to encourage you. Oy Vey! Don’t tell me you are going to cheat me now after all I did for you.  A 50/50 split is more than fair.  But if you object, fine, I won’t stand on principle. I’ll take  40% and call it a day.”

What was Herschel thinking?  He was remembering the words of his dear mother.

“Don’t approach a goat from the front, a horse from the back, or a fool from any side.”

“ Go home now partner,” says Herschel. “Tomorrow we will go to the Rabbi, and ask him how we should divide our pay.”

And so it was that the next day finds shrtarker and schnorrer, Herschel and Schlomo
in Rebbe Pinyas’ rabbinical court, each making their case.

“I earned every kopek of it myself,” Herschel argues. “I did every stroke of the cutting.  I loaded the wood onto my donkey. I drove to the inn. I unloaded and stacked every stick of the wood.

“He forgets!” Schlomo  interrupts. “He forgets how I cheered him at his work. I had a grunt and an OY for every swing of his axe. Now he refuses to pay me what I have rightly earned.”

First one talks. Then the other. Now they both talk at the same time. The Rebbe listens. He nods wisely, till both men talk themselves out. He furrows his brow. He strokes his beard. The onlookers in the court hold their breath to see what he will decide. 

Not for nothing is Reb Pinya is known for his wisdom. He is ready with the verdict.

“I see now that this is a very clear cut case. One man worked at cutting. The other at grunting and groaning. They both must be paid. Schlomo, rest easy.You will receive a fair and honest wage.

Reb Pinya orders the court attendant to bring to him a brass money tray.”

 “Herschel. Give me the coins that the innkeeper paid you for the firewood.”

Herschel’s heart sinks.” He pleads his case one more time. 

“But….but…I did ALL the work!”

“Nu? You’re arguing with the court? The money please. Now.”

Herschel’s shoulders slump. Schlomo’s eyes brighten.

The onlookers wonder. Has the rabbi lost his wits?

Reb    beckons Schlomo to his side. Cling! Clang! One by one, he drops  each coin onto the money tray. 

“Do you hear that, Schlomo? Such a rich beautiful sound!

“Yes Rebbe, I heard.”

“You heard it all? Every coin?” 

“Yes. Yes. Every one.”

“Excellent then. Our business is finished. You have been paid in full.” The sound of the kopeks is a proper payment for the sounds you made of working.”

The rebbe returns the coins to Herschel.

Herschel lets out a huge sigh of relief.

And Schlomo?  What did Schlomo say? Listen! Can you hear him?

“Oy Vey!”


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