“It’s a stone house,” said Penina, “sturdy and nice. I like it very much.” She was carrying a plate of flat bread, and Simeon, walking behind her very carefully, held a jar of olives tightly in his two little hands. They placed the food on the center of the mat spread on the floor. A plate of lentils mashed in olive oil and mixed with spices and vinegar was already set there, surrounded by some greens. They sat down to their breakfast on the second story, the area where the family usually lived in this type of home. The lower level was devoted to storage, and also for the care and feeding of domestic animals, if the family owned them.
“We have figs for dessert!” Simeon said proudly.
“It’s a lovely breakfast,” said Hillel. “Best food I ate in the three months I have been here.”
“I like it here,” said Simeon.
“Do you like the house, Simeon?” asked Penina. “We are going to make a special place of your very own to play.”
“I like the roof best,” said Simeon.
“Well, you can play there in summer,” said Penina. “It’s a grand place to play. But for winter, we’ll think of a place indoors for you.”
“Does the roof have a parapet wall all around it?” asked Hillel.
“Yes, of course,” said Shebna. “I made it clear to my contacts that it must be secure. I know how Simeon runs around.”
“It’s perfect for us,” said Penina. “It has a shade booth in the corner, so I won’t have to sit in the sun when the children play. And during really hot weather, we can take our mats and sleep there.”
“Still… I really don’t know what to say…” said Hillel.
“Stop it,” said Shebna. “I know what you are struggling with, but it’s just a house, Hillel. I am not depriving you from working for a living. I don’t understand why you won’t allow me to share in your scholarship while helping you with the essentials. That's what brothers are for.”
“But you do share it, Shebna, always; that is a given,” said Hillel. “Anything I learn belongs to you, free and forever. It’s just that I so strongly feel that learning the Torah should not be financially rewarding, that it should be done for its own sake.”
“I will work too, Hillel, of course,” said Penina. “The type of needlework and weaving I do is probably going to be highly saleable. I brought all my tools except the large loom.”
“You know you can’t really set up the same kind of business you did in Babylonia,” said Hillel. “As I explained before, the Judeans respect women, but they don’t treat them exactly as equals and so women’s work capacity is limited.”
“I don’t plan to set up a business,” said Penina. “I would prefer to make the products at home, and give it to an established store to sell for me. It will be easier anyway, since I’ll have to look after the children myself.”
“Yes,” said Shebna. “I will talk to my contacts and see about a store that will show your work. They are not likely to have anything as beautiful as the complicated work you do, Penina. They don’t have Babylonian craftsmanship.”
“Thank you, Shebna,” said Penina. “Please tell them I can also string and knot elegant pearl necklaces, as well as needlework, if they need such work.”
“I am sure they would,” said Shebna. “The Romans adore pearls. You’ll do very well, no doubt.”
“But…” said Hillel and was cut off by Shebna, who said, laughing, “Hillel, if I don’t argue with your wood chopping work, would you be so kind as to shut up about the house?”
Hillel smiled at his brother. “I don’t have a choice, do I?”
“Not really,” said Penina. “You have to allow Shebna to help us, Hillel. The children and I can’t live in an inn.”
Suddenly something occurred to Hillel. “Penina, you keep saying ‘children’ as if…”
Penina laughed. “Yes, I am trying to tell you something.”
Hillel felt the blood draining from his face with shock. “You are pregnant? You went on this journey, pregnant?”
“It was better than taking a newborn, isn’t it?” said Penina. “I am perfectly healthy; the roads were safe with the Romans, why not?”
Hillel looked at Shebna, who shrugged and said, “She wanted you to see the baby when it’s born, not years later. I can understand that; I did not argue.”
Hillel took Penina’s hand between his hands. “You are the most courageous woman I have ever known. How can I ever thank you for taking such a chance for me? If something had happened to you I would have never been able to live with myself.”
“We are all safe, and nothing happened,” said Penina. “So why think about it? Besides, I want a big family.”
Hillel laughed, knowing he was defeated and too happy to resent it. “Thank you for the house, my dear Shebna,” he said. “You are a brother in a million.”