Once upon a time in a small village there lived an old tailor and his three sons, Judah, Yarin, and Isaac. One day the old man called his boys together. “My sons,” he said. “I have worked hard. Now I wish to spend my days resting in the shade of the olive trees. I am giving the shop to you.”
Judah stepped forward. “Thank you, Papa. We hope that we can live up to your teachings.”
The old man smiled. “How splendid it will be to see my sons working together.”
Yarin picked up some cloth. “I can design the garments,” he said enthusiastically.
“I will cut the patterns,” added Isaac happily.
“And I will sew the pieces of cloth together,” said Judah eagerly.
“Good!” said the old man, beaming. “You have made my heart sing.”
A moment later, there was a knock on the door. Judah opened it. A messenger handed him a letter for his father. “It is news from the Rabbi’s wife,” he said. Then he bowed and left.
Judah gave the letter to his father. The old man quickly opened it and read aloud:
On the first day of next week my daughter will marry Ganseh the gabbai [synagogue trustee], cousin of the hazan’s [cantor’s] daughter. A prize of fifty shekels will go to the tailor who makes the most beautiful dress in Jerusalem before sunset this Friday. The Rebbetzin.
“Our fortune will be made!” said Yarin.
“We will become known throughout the Holy Land!” exclaimed Isaac.
“Everyone will buy our finery!” rejoiced Judah. “Let’s get busy and make the dress. We have only two days’ time.”
The old man stepped forward. “I am going to the marketplace to buy more cloth. I will return tomorrow. Good luck, my sons. I know you will do well together.”
And he left.
As Yarin picked up some paper and a quill, he thought, I should win the prize because I will make the pattern. He quickly drew some sketches.
“Show us what you have drawn,” said Judah.
Yarin hid the paper behind his back. “No,” he replied. “Not unless you both agree that the prize shall be mine!”
“That’s not fair!” cried Isaac. “If anyone should have a prize, I should, because I shall cut the pattern with great precision.”
“Wait!” protested Judah. “I shall sew the fine white linen with delicate stitches, so the prize should be mine!”
The brothers argued all day and night and into the next morning. When the old man returned, he heard their angry voices and hurried inside. “What is the trouble?” he asked them.
Enraged, the sons told him that each of them felt that he deserved the prize. The old man sadly shook his head. “As of this moment, I do not even see the beginning of a dress, yet you all expect to be rewarded.”
The old man fetched a broom from the doorway and removed three twigs. “Yarin,” he asked, “can you break this twig?’
“Of course, Papa,” he said, and he did.
“What about you, Judah?” asked the old man. “Can you break a twig too?”
“Easily,” replied Judah, and he did.
“Can you do the same, Isaac?” asked the old man.
“Certainly,” replied Isaac as he snapped the twig in two, “but what does this prove?”
The old man smiled and picked up the broom. “Now,” he said, “break the twigs that are bound together.”
Each son took a turn, but not one of them could do it.
The old man held the three broken twigs in his hand.
“Surely you can see that there seems to be more glory and riches in standing alone,” he said, kindly. “But like these bound twigs, working together brings strength.”
The sons looked at each other shamefacedly.
“We have wasted precious time being greedy,” said Isaac. “Now it’s too late, Papa.”
“Nonsense!” countered the old man. “Yarin, place the pattern on the table so that Isaac can cut the cloth so that Judah can sew it. Together you will make a fine gown.”
The brothers worked together all night and most of the next day to finish the gown before the Friday deadline.
When the rabbi’s wife saw the dress, she was very pleased with it. However, she liked another gown better, and she awarded the fifty shekels to someone else.
On their way home, the sons remained silent.
“I know that you are disappointed,” said the old man, “but together you made a very fine gown. Because it is so fine, others will buy the garments you make.”
The next day, many people came to the tailor shop.
One of them was the hazan’s daughter.
“Oh,” she said, admiring the dress, “what a beautiful design! Such delicate stitches! And it is cut so beautifully that I’m sure it will fit me.”
She was so delighted with the dress that she bought it and ordered several more. So did her friends and others, until the three brothers had earned fifty shekels many times over.