Mitzvah in the Jungle
AnalysisYou Can do a Mitzvah Anywhere

Mitzvah in the Jungle

“I know people who offer to give the shirt off their back, but never their pants."

Allen H. Lipis

In 2006, my wife and I had a great trip to Peru. The night before we left the jungle, our group was the only one in the dining room except for a man about 50 and a young girl. As we got up to leave, the man approached me and introduced himself in English with an accent that suggested he was Spanish.

He said his name was Señor Leon. He continued in a gracious manner that he had just arrived in Iquitos. He had three pieces of luggage, but only two arrived: his daughter’s and presents. His luggage was back in Madrid, and he had only the clothes on his body to last the 22 days he expected to spend in Peru.

He was wearing a pair of wool pants, a short-sleeve shirt and a beautiful leather jacket. A smooth talker, Leon was a big, burly man with a white beard and a girth the size of mine.

Leon then said: “I am going to make you an unusual offer. I am wearing heavy wool pants, as you can see, much too heavy for the jungle. My guide took me around Iquitos yesterday, and we couldn’t find pants large enough for me, since I wear Size 46 pants. You are about my size, and I think your jeans, the jeans you are now wearing, are the only pants in a hundred miles that could fit me. Would you consider selling those pants to me? I am desperate for a second pair of pants, so I will pay any price you name. I have no other choice. Please consider this offer seriously. What do you think?”

I was dumbfounded, but I could appreciate the man’s situation.

I told him: “I know people who offer to give the shirt off their back, but never their pants. Your request is taking the matter to a whole new level.” We all laughed.

I told Leon I had another pair of pants and two pairs of shorts, and I would consider his request. That evening, after much discussion, I agreed to sell my pants, but a straight sale didn’t seem enough, for Leon’s problem was a result of being overweight. I was overweight too. That led me to write a contract for Leon and me.

The next morning, I approached him at breakfast and read him the contract, and he promptly signed it. The contract read as follows:

  • Señor Leon must try on the jeans.
  • The price is $40 in cash.
  • Leon and I both agree to lose 40 pounds, one pound for each dollar of this agreement.
  • When either party reaches the 40-pound goal, that party will cut his jeans in half and send half to the other as a sign that the weight loss has occurred.
  • If we come to Madrid, Leon will provide a tour and dinner.
  • If Leon comes to Atlanta, I will provide a tour and dinner.
  • The contract falls under Peruvian law.

Leon put the pants on in a bathroom and concluded not only that they fit, but also that they were a tad too big on him, which was disconcerting to me, for Leon was a big man. Thereafter, we both signed the contract with a smile, and Leon paid me $40 on the spot.

There was one final point. Since he was buying my pants, would he consider selling me his jacket? He indicated that it was a custom-made leather jacket that he had designed for himself, but he agreed to have his tailor in Argentina make me a similar jacket. I thanked him, and we parted good friends.

I never lost the weight, and I doubt that Leon lost it either because he kept the pants. However, he cut a small piece off the cuff of the jeans, made it into a tiny pair of pants and sent it to me in a plaque with the remark “Allen’s pants sold in the jungle.”

Eventually, Leon sold me a new leather jacket similar to his. I still have the jacket, but it barely fits. The bottom line: You can do a mitzvah almost anywhere.

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