Moshe unlocked the metal gate, edging aside the large purple
plastic crates full of still-warm loaves. He inhaled the
smell of the fresh bread and felt consoled that there were
others who started their workday even before he did. Moshe
fumbled through his keys. Yes, here was the one for the glass
door. He hitched up his pants and began shlepping in the
crates of bread and transferring them onto the shelves.
Flipping on the lights on his way back out to the sidewalk,
he paused to take a leben out of the refrigerator. If he'd
have the time to eat, it would be his first breakfast of the
day. Here were the milk crates, stacked up against the
One by one, he hoisted them onto his shoulders, brought them
inside and emptied the bags of milk into their chilly
temporary home. After the last crate was stacked in the
corner out of the way, Moshe wiped the sweat off his
forehead, gave the leben a hearty shake, made a blessing and
tipped it up to drink.
The door swung open and the Azulais' middle boy bounded in.
Quickly grabbing a loaf of bread and two milks, he barely
gave Moshe enough time to add up the bill and mark it down in
the index card before he was out the door again. Moshe could
picture the Azulais trying to prepare breakfast and ten-
o'clock sandwiches in time for the boys to arrive
Mr. Benshoshan sauntered in next. He lingered over the
yogurts, then drifted over to the baked goods section.
"Anything from today, Moshe?" he called.
"Only bread and milk, Mr. B.," Moshe answered, wiping his
mouth with a tissue. "This early in the morning, the delivery
hasn't come yet."
Mr. Benshoshan grimaced. Moshe started eating again. He
gulped down the last drops of leben, scrunched up the
container and dropped it in the garbage behind the
"Moshe, do you think my wife would mind day-old danishes?"
"Don't tell her and she won't ever notice; they're celophane
wrapped," Moshe advised. Mrs. Benshoshan was on bedrest;
otherwise, she would have come herself. When she shopped, she
ONLY bought day-old goods, two-day and three-day-old goods,
but if Mr. B. never realized it, Moshe wouldn't be the one to
Two Gershon children came in to select the usual bread and
milk, please, followed by a Dadash child getting the same.
For the next hour, Moshe rang up bread and milk almost
exclusively, with a stray cottage cheese or white cheese to
relieve the monotony.
The door swung open and Moshe groaned inwardly. Mrs. Haber
moved down the aisles, her bulk almost equalling his own. The
credit he extended her was two months overdue, and he knew
that today he would have to speak up. Before her groceries
even reached the halfway mark in the shopping cart, he forced
himself over and muttered, "The bill, er, it's overdue,
Mrs. Haber looked at Moshe frostily. "Certainly. Will you
take hundreds or must it be exact change?"
"Anything will be fine, Mrs. Haber," Moshe breathed,
relieved, and crept back to his cash register.
Late morning, the flow of customers slowed, and Moshe debated
whether to wash for his lunch of roll and leben. His high
point of the day was the nightly Daf Yomi shiur, and
he tried to plan how he could arrange his day to squeeze in
some rest beforehand.
Let's see. If I eat lunch now, then have dinner when I get
home, I could maybe get almost an hour of sleep before the
shiur. Of course, a lot depended on whether customers
would come right as he was about to close, how long it would
take him to tally up the day's sales and other semi-
He selected a roll and put it down on the counter, when he
heard the familiar hiss of Shia's truck. Moshe hurried to
open the door for Shia to squeeze through with the week's
delivery of frozen goods. Together the men worked to unload
the gefilte fish and frozen shnitzels into the freezers. Shia
went back to the truck to bring frozen pizzas and bourekas
while Moshe checked through the inventory sheets. Thinking
that he would be entering again with full hands, Moshe opened
the door just as Zev strolled in.
"Oho! Isn't this fancy — a five star makolet
with a doorman!" Zev teased.
Moshe smiled politely as his shoulders tensed. Two overdue
customers in one day. Mrs. Haber was intimidating, but
whenever Moshe finally got up the courage to ask her to
settle the bill, she'd pay up completely. With Zev, he'd get
excuses and, only if he were lucky, partial payment. When
Shia finished his delivery, he would be expecting to be paid
I'm not asking for charity, Moshe tried to convince
himself. Zev OWES me the money. I have every right to
remind him about his debt. Just hope he won't bite.
Hesitantly, Moshe edged toward Zev. "Uh, Zev? The bill,
Zev clenched his fists and rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"For heaven's sake, Moshe! You think I'm leaving town
tomorrow? Don't WORRY! You'll get paid." He slammed the can
of coffee on the counter, knocking Moshe's roll to the floor.
He allowed Moshe to record his `purchase' and stalked out.
Moshe retrieved his roll and gently placed it back on the
counter. Only eight more hours until the Daf Yomi
shiur, he tried to cheer himself.
That night, Moshe shifted eagerly on the hard, wooden bench.
On the walk over to shul, he imagined himself living
one hundred years ago in a colorful shtetl in Europe. He'd
have been one of the poshute, hardworking Yidden who,
after a long day eking out a living, would hurry off to the
local tailors' or butchers' beis medrash to hear a
shiur from the village Rav.
His eyesbrows lifted as Zev sauntered into the beis
medrash and sullenly hunted for a seat. Sometimes, a man
just looks like he's gotten into a fight with his wife
(finances, again?) and the words are still circling around in
his head like a poisonous snake seeking escape — or
another victim. Zev had never come to the shiur before
and with his eyes smoldering like that, Moshe decided he'd
better stay out of his way.
"Bovo Kamo, Daf Yud, Omud Beis," the Rav began
enthusiastically. "Five people were sitting on a bench, O.K.?
Along came a sixth one, sat down on it, and it broke. The
sixth one is chayov. Now, this is not so in every
case. Here, the gemora is talking about a certain
amora who was a baal bosor, a heavy person . .
"Like Moshe, here," Zev erupted.
Moshe's round face slowly turned as red as the tomatoes in
"Hey, Zev, what are you picking on Moshe for?" Chaim
"Yeah, lay off. Moshe didn't do anything to you," another man
Ignoring them, Zev leaned forward and turned to Moshe,
spewing out his poison. "How come you're so fat, Moshe? I bet
you eat everything that comes into the . . . "
The Rav interrupted him. "Let's get back to the learning,
Zev stood up abruptly and towered over Moshe. "So, nu, Moshe,
that's it, right?"
Moshe looked down and twisted his hands together. "Yeah, I
taste everything new," he mumbled.
"Ha! You see?" Zev crowed. "I knew it."
"Just a minute, Zev," the Rav ordered. Turning to Moshe, he
asked gently, "Moshe, tell us why you taste everything
new that comes in."
"So that when my customers ask me, `Is it good? Is it fresh?
Is it worth the 5.90?' I can answer honestly."
Zev tried to save face. "Yeah? Prove it!"
Moshe squirmed in his seat, but the Rav nodded at him
encouragingly. "I only taste each new item once. After that,
I never eat it again, even if it's good. My lunch has always
been plain leben and a roll for the past fourteen years since
I opened the minimarket."
The room was quiet. After a minute, Zev mumbled an apology,
the Rav resumed the shiur, and things returned to
Except that from that day on, the Rav called Moshe Reb
Moshe (and Zev finally paid off most of his bill).