Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It's Better to Be Zimri

In a recent issue of the Ensign, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf shared a tale about two brothers named Abram and Zimri:

An old Jewish legend tells of two brothers, Abram and Zimri, who owned a field and worked it together. They agreed to divide both the labor and the harvest equally. One night as the harvest came to a close, Zimri could not sleep, for it didn’t seem right that Abram, who had a wife and seven sons to feed, should receive only half of the harvest, while he, with only himself to support, had so much.
So Zimri dressed and quietly went into the field, where he took a third of his harvest and put it in his brother’s pile. He then returned to his bed, satisfied that he had done the right thing.
Meanwhile, Abram could not sleep either. He thought of his poor brother, Zimri, who was all alone and had no sons to help him with the work. It did not seem right that Zimri, who worked so hard by himself, should get only half of the harvest. Surely this was not pleasing to God. And so Abram quietly went to the fields, where he took a third of his harvest and placed it in the pile of his beloved brother.

The next morning, the brothers went to the field and were both astonished that the piles still looked to be the same size. That night both brothers slipped out of their houses to repeat their efforts of the previous night. But this time they discovered each other, and when they did, they wept and embraced. Neither could speak, for their hearts were overcome with love and gratitude.[1]
It's a great story which illustrates the importance of serving others. However, as I pondered the tale, I concluded that it's better to be Zimri.

To make the math easier, let's suppose both Zimri and Abram have 81 bundles in their piles. Zimri gets up first. He takes a third of his pile (27 bundles) and puts it on Abram's pile. Zimri has 54 bundles left and Abram now has 108. Zimri goes back to bed.

Now Abram gets up. He takes a third of his pile (36 bundles) and puts it on Zimri's pile. Abram has 72 bundles left and Zimri now has 90. The next night they discover each other, so the piles remain as they are.[2] Final tally: Abram 72, Zimri 90.

It's better to be Zimri.

[1] Clarence Cook, “Abram and Zimri,” in Poems by Clarence Cook (1902), 6–9. Quoted in Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “You Are My Hands,” Ensign, May 2010, 68–70.

[2] Had they gone another night before discovering each other, it would've become: Abram 68, Zimri 94. If they keep going ad infinitum, it eventually locks in at: Abram 64.8, Zimri 97.2.

Image attribution:

Wheat bundles are by Jugni, available at


  1. I had the same thought when I heard that story. Of course, if they took them at the same time it could still come out even, but it's not likely that they could do that without seeing each other.

  2. Or perhaps they both had poor eyesight. After all, the next morning they both thought their piles still looked the same, even though Abram's was smaller and Zimri's was larger.

  3. Or perhaps they ended even...if when Abram came out he thought "I have 81 bundles, so I will give him 27 bundles."

  4. Or maybe the cow got in the field and ate a few bundles. :-)