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Gerald A. Honigman
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Jasen James Butler
Life Lessons with Judy Simon
Torah Tidbits Audio
Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.
Kislev 9, 5772, 12/5/2011
I received an angry email from the Diaspora, written by a person who had been hurt by my recent essay, “Stamp-Size Judaism.” The writer and his family struggle by on a very modest income, and while they would like to make aliyah, they find it beyond their means. I sent them my sincere apologies, noting that many times in past blogs, I have made it clear that someone who cannot make aliyah because of some real and justifiable duress, does not have the obligation that applies to others who do have the capability (even if it should demand sacrifice and effort), especially young people who are starting out on their life journeys. Accordingly, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to other readers in the Diaspora whom I may have offended, who also are straddled with difficult circumstances, and who simply do not have the wherewithal to undertake the mitzvah of living in Israel.
For Tevye also, standing at the crossroads of his life, the decision wasn’t easy. The Holy Land was a great unknown, the journey was dangerous, while America seemed like a far more likely and profitable adventure. But, to use the words of a noted poet, “Two paths diverged in a snowy wood. I took the path less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
OFF TO THE PROMISED LAND
Tevye saw him when they reached the outskirts of the village. At first he wasn't sure, but when he saw Hava keep turning her head, his suspicions proved true. It was Hevedke Galagan, the Russian who had stolen his daughter, the gentile she was supposed to have left – he was following the procession of Jews as they made their way down the bumpy dirt road.
"What's this?" he said, tugging on the reins of his horse. The wagon stopped. Tevye turned a fierce eye on his daughter.
“What?" Hava asked.
"Don't what me," Tevye roared. He started to stand up in the wagon. His hand rose threateningly up in the air.
"I swear, Tata," she said. "I've left him, I have. I told him I can't be his wife. But he wants to come with us. He's ashamed of his people. I told him no, it can't be, but he wants to be a Jew."
"A Jew!" Tevye roared. "A Jew! Is our life such a picnic that he wants to be a Jew!?" Tevye stared up to Heaven. "I ask you, good Lord. Isn't exile enough of a punishment? Or is Tevye to suffer this disgrace as well?"
"It doesn't have to be a disgrace," Tzeitl said.
"Silence!" Tevye shouted. "The answer is no!" He sat down in his seat and whipped the reins of the horse.
The procession moved on through the dust. Wagons rattled under their loads. Golda's coffin bounced over the rocks in the road. Glancing over his shoulder, Tevye could still see the tall Hevedke, following at the end of the long march of Jews. His fleece of blond hair shone in the sun under his brown student's cap.
"No, I don't want to know what is written," Tevye brooded to himself, fighting to keep control of his thoughts. No, no, no. Hevedke could walk. He could crawl. He could die from hunger and thirst before Tevye would let him into his wagon.
Tevye, the guardian of tradition, refused to look at his daughter. He refuse to speak. For miles, they road in silence. Yet as they turned every bend, he could still see the lone figure of Hevedke Galagan walking determinedly after the Jews.
Suddenly, the procession came to a halt. Tevye's horse snorted. "What's the matter?" Moishe asked. "Why have we stopped?"
"Are we there already?" Hannie questioned.
"I'll go and see what the problem is," Tevye said, getting down from the wagon. He trudged off toward the head of the line. The caravan had stopped at a crossroads. One road led north to a stretch of Russian wasteland where pogroms had not yet erupted. Another road led to Europe, the Atlantic Ocean, and America beyond. And the third path led to Odessa and Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem.
Naturally, a lively debate was in progress. Everyone had an opinion on which direction to take. All of a sudden, Jews who had never ventured beyond the boundaries of Anatevka became experts in international travel. Yitzik, the woodcutter, advised journeying on to Broditchov, a distant part of Russia, where at least people spoke the same language. Leb, the ritual slaughterer, argued that Jews speak the same language wherever they live. Tzvi Hirsh, the tanner, had an uncle in America who wrote that all the Jews had houses as big as hotels and rode in fancy carriages just like the gentiles. But Shammai, the scribe, warned that ocean travel after the winter rains was a dangerous affair.
"Is that so?" Tzvi Hirsh retorted. "And since when did you become a Columbus? How many times has our village scribe sailed around the world?"
"Here's Tevye," Shammai said. "You can ask him."
Everyone turned to the milkman. Tevye looked up at the sign at the crossroad and gazed down each path, as if he could see the future at the end of the road.
"What do you say, Tevye? Which way should we go?"
Before the milkman could answer, Elijah, the town herald said, "The Midrash teaches that every road leads to Jerusalem."
"Well, the Midrash must have been wrong," the tanner responded. "Only one of these roads leads to Jerusalem."
"The meaning is that wherever a Jew wanders, sooner or later he is going to get beaten over the head until he ends up back in Jerusalem," Elijah explained.
"I have an idea," Tevye said. "Let's ask the Rabbi."
That was a suggestion that everyone agreed to. It was always wise to ask the Rabbi. It was even wiser to listen to him, but nowadays, less and less people did. Still, everyone agreed it was proper to ask, so the crowd walked back to the elderly sage, who was sitting in his wagon alongside his married son.
"Rabbi, where should we go?" Yitzik, the tanner, inquired.
The Rabbi squinted his eyes and peered down the road. "Where the Almighty takes us," he said.
"Yes, of course, but in which direction?"
"In which direction?" the Rabbi asked.
"Yes, there is a crossroad, and we have to decide which direction to take."
The Rabbi nodded his head. "Go in the direction... which will take us as far away from the Czar as possible, may his name be erased from the earth."
Just then, a loud burst of singing turned everyone's head. A group of twelve beardless Jews, knapsacks on their backs, were marching down the road, singing a spirited Zionist song, "Zion, Zion, Zion, won't you ask how your exiled people are faring?" A few wore small caps on their heads after the manner of students and peasants, but the majority had no head covering at all.
The Jews from Anatevka stared at the Zionist contingent in wonder. They marched down the road like soldiers on parade, their arms swaying in time with their steps. There was a feeling of boldness and zest in their singing, and brazenness in their upright gaits, as if there weren't a King in the heavens to whom every head had to bend.
"Shalom," their leader called, holding up his hand.
He was handsome with a rapier-thin moustache that made him look like a swashbuckling pirate. The group came to a halt behind him.
"Greetings, fellow Jews," he continued in Russian. "Permit me to introduce myself. Though I was born to the family Poprinchkov, my name today is Ben Zion, and my companions and I are off to reclaim our ancient homeland. Where, may we ask, are our comrades heading?"
"Fellow Jews, yes. Comrades, that's a topic for a debate," Hershel, the sandal maker, answered.
"Are we not comrades in having been uprooted from our once beloved Russia?"
"That only makes us brothers in our shared misfortune, not in our beliefs," Elijah called back.
"I see that we have come upon the guardians of tradition. By all means come with us. Join us on our journey. You are welcome to share in the modest provisions we have. Come with us to Zion, the land of our past, and the land of our future – to live as free Jews in our own Jewish land."
"Jews go to the Land of Israel to die," the woodcutter said.
"Not anymore," the spirited youth responded. "Look at us for example. We are going to the Land of Israel to live!"
Tevye noticed that his daughters had joined the crowd, with other curious women. The milkman frowned. Wasn't curiosity the very trait that had led Jacob's daughter, Dina, to disaster? As the Torah says, she went out to see the daughters of the land. By the time her father, Jacob, realized she was missing, an uncircumcised heathen had raped her.
"Naftali," Ben Zion called. "Sing us the song you composed."
A thin, moustachioed minstrel stepped aside from the group. His first notes wavered, and his voice seemed to crack, but then he found his range and sang out the words from deep within his heart. Everyone stood in silence and listened, spellbound by the gentle, haunting tune. Even the little children stopped playing to hear the beautiful song.
“As long as in the inner heart,
The soul of a Jew beats,
To the ends of the east,
The eye gazes toward Zion.
Our hope has not been abandoned,
The hope of two-thousand years.
To be a free people in our Land,
The Land of Zion
All of Tevye's daughters had tears in their eyes when he finished the anthem. Even their father, who never cried in public, had to wipe a bit of moistness away. The Jews of Anatevka were speechless. The words and the melody had struck a deep-seated chord in them all. Almost in unison, they turned to the Rabbi. His eyes, weary from a lifetime of candlelight study, were also filled with a nostalgic sparkle.
"Why don't we join them?" Shammai asked.
"Where are their skullcaps?" the Rabbi responded.
"God looks on what's in the heart, not what's on the outside," their leader, Ben Zion said.
"Has God spoken to you that you know what He judges important?" the white-bearded scholar retorted.
"God doesn't have to speak to us in words for us to understand His message. How many times must the Russians chase us out of our villages until we realize that we don't belong in their land? Haven't we been exiled enough? God wants us to have our own country."
"God wants us to live by the Torah," the Rabbi said.
"We have a new Torah," one of the other Zionists called out. "The Torah of freedom, and the will in our hearts to work the soil of our own Jewish land."
Tevye looked from the young heretics with their uncovered heads to the old, wizened face of the Rabbi.
"We will return to our land when the Mashiach takes us there," he said, pronouncing his final decision. As if to emphasize his resolve, the Rabbi took the reins out of the hands of his son and gave their horse a flick. The wagon jerked forward. The tanner yelled out "Mashiach!" Others echoed his cry. Soon, the Jews of Anatevka were singing a song of their own, a lively Hasidic ballad filled with longing for the Mashiach, the Jewish messiah and king:
"Mashiach, Mashiach, Mashiach, la, la, la, la, la.
Mashiach, Mashiach, Mashiach, la, la, la, la, la.
Even though his coming may be delayed,
We will wait for him every day
With the hope that he will come, la, la, la, la, la."
The tanner, the woodcutter, the scribe, and the slaughterer all returned to their families and wagons, and the procession once again moved onward, on the road to other lands and other foreign rulers. Only Tevye stood in his place, dust on his shoes, deep in ponderous thought.
"What about you, old man?" Ben Zion asked him. "Do you have the courage to stand tall and be a proud Jew in our own Promised Land?"
There was something in the words of the young Zionist pioneer that tugged at Tevye's heart. True, his daughter, Baylke, was in America, and everyone knew that even an incompetent shlimazl of a milkman could become a millionaire in New York overnight, but how long would it be before persecutions began even there? At least in the Land of Israel, a Jew could feel like a Jew! After all, three times a day in his prayers, a Jew faced Jerusalem, not New York.
The words of the Rabbi echoed in Tevye's mind as if in rebuttal. "Where are their skullcaps?" he had pointedly inquired, meaning that everyone enjoyed a nice Zionist song, but where was their tradition; where was their love and reverence for God? Hadn't Tevye suffered enough from free-thinkers when Perchik had stolen away his daughter? Perchik too was brimming with slogans and highfalutin ideals, and where had it led but to prison? Who knew if Tevye would ever see his wonderful Hodel again? Did he want to take the same chance with another one of his daughters? Tevye wasn't blind. He had seen the look in their eyes when the cocky, young "Herzl" had exchanged passionate words with the Rabbi.
Tevye stared after the Zionists as they marched in formation along the road to Odessa. There was a confidence, a pride, a spirit, and a purpose to their movements that Tevye recalled from his youth. They held their backs straight, actualizing the prayer which a Jew said everyday of his life, beseeching the Almighty “to shatter the yoke of foreign rulers and return us upright to our Land.” It was happening in front of Tevye's eyes! The Zionists marched upright, their heads held high, envisioning a more hopeful future. What a different picture from the Jews of Anatevka who trudged along on their journey, bent over from the burdens of exile, dragging their tired feet in the dust, heads bowed like cattle, not knowing what lay ahead, where they were going, nor what they would do when they got there.
Tevye reached down for his tzitzit. The thin strings hanging down from his ritual undergarment were like lifelines, reminding the dreamer in him that he was a simple milkman, and not a young pioneer. "Thou shall not wander after pulling of your heart, nor after the sight of your eyes," the commandment instructed. His daughters were staring at him. Tzeitl, Hava, Ruchel, and Bat Sheva. Little Moishe and Hannie gazed up at their grandfather too, as if to say, "Nu? What are we waiting here for?"
Tevye glanced up to the Heavens. "What now?" he asked. "How can Your servant, Tevye, please his Master and King? Haven't our Sages taught us that even a man with good eyesight is blind before his future. You are my shepherd. Send me a sign. Tell us, dear Lord, which way should we go?"
Hershel, the sandal maker, drove by in his wagon.
"Waiting for Mashiach?" he asked.
"May his coming be soon," Tevye said. "And what about you? Where are you off to?"
"I have a distant cousin in London. They say there are more than a million people there. That's two million feet for my shoes. I am going to be a multi-millionaire. What about you?"
"I am a millionaire already. Look at my daughters. Can a man be wealthier than that?"
"That's what they say: `Tevye is known for his beautiful daughters,' but they also say, `Happy is the man who does not walk in the council of the wicked' – meaning the Zionists."
"Wasn't God a Zionist?" Tevye asked. "Didn't He tell Abraham and Moses to go and dwell in Israel?"
"God is God, and Abraham and Moses are Abraham and Moses. What do Hershel, the sandal maker, and Tevye, the milkman, have to do with them?"
"What about your Shendel and my Golda?" Tevye asked. "Are you going to bring her to London when you could bring her to the holy soil of Eretz Yisrael?"
"My Shendel, may her soul rest in peace, always talked about going to London to visit her cousin. Now she will have her chance."
"My Golda, may her memory be for a blessing, wouldn't have know where London was even if you had shown it to her on a map. Such a pure soul never existed. She lived only for her poor beast of a husband and her seven daughters. Doesn't a woman like this deserve to be buried in the Tomb of our Forefathers? In the Cave of Hevron? Or on the way to Efrata, in Bet-Lechem, beside our mother, Rachel?"
"Think of your daughters, Tevye. Who will they find there to marry? The Zionists? The blasphemers of our holy Torah? It can only come to no good."
Tevye nodded his head. His friend, Reb Hershel was right. All his life he had struggled to build a protective wall around his daughters, so that the evil of modern times would not lead them astray. And now, in a weak moment, he was thinking of following the Zionists on their journey, like a shepherd who abandons his lambs to packs of roving wolves. The sandal maker's warning was filled with common sense. Tevye had to think of his children. It would be better to take them to their sister, Baylke, in New York. Hadn't she written that she wanted them to come to America to help her pick the gold off the streets? And if it meant stomaching her good-for-nothing husband, so be it. Tevye was ready to swallow his pride for the sake of his family. In America, he could get a matchmaker to find kosher husbands for Bat Sheva and Ruchel, and two kosher suitors for Tzeitl and Hava too.
"Onward, Reb Hershel," Tevye said. "You lead the way, and we shall follow."
As Tevye mounted the wagon, he could see the poet, Galagan in the distance, waiting to see which direction their wagon would take. Behind him, a lone figure came running along the road, waving a hand in the air and shouting something which was lost in the wind. When his family was secure in the wagon, Tevye urged on his horse. With a tug, the four-legged creature inched the heavy load forward. The wagon squeaked. Grudgingly, the wheels started to roll. "What was the hurry?" the horse seemed to say. Though he wasn't a Jew, the beast had been listening to Tevye's soliloquies for years, and he had learned the difference between the Sabbath and an ordinary day of the week. With an animal's sense, he knew it would be a long journey. So he took his time catching up to the wagons ahead of them.
It wasn't long before Tevye heard someone calling his name. He glanced around to see Borsky, the Russian mailman, running after the wagon, out of breath, a letter held aloft in his hand. Once again, Tevye pulled on the reins. The mailman collapsed by the seat of the wagon. He handed Tevye the letter. Compassionately, Tzeitl handed him some water to drink.
"This letter arrived just after you left," he said between pants. "I figured it was the decent thing to do, to bring it to you, after you've been delivering our milk for so many years."
"My appreciation," Tevye said. He handed the letter to Hava, his reader of books.
"It's from Hodel!" she exclaimed. "From Palestine!"
"From Palestine?" Tevye mumbled, unable to believe what he heard.
Quickly, she opened the envelope. Her lips silently read through the letter. Impatiently, Tevye grabbed it and held it up to his eyes to see for himself. It was truly from Hodel. He recognized her handwriting. Unable to decipher her swirls, he handed the letter back to his daughter. Her eyes raced over the feminine script.
"Well?" Tzeitl asked. "What does it say?"
"Perchik was let out of prison on the condition that he leave Russia and never return. They've been in Eretz Yisrael since the beginning of the winter. Perchik is busy working the land and organizing a worker's committee which he says will be the beginning of the new Jewish State."
"Skip all of his crazy meshugenneh slogans," her father impatiently said.
"We are living in a new settlement called Shoshana with another thirty families,” she read. “We have heard of the pogroms in Russia and want you to come. The Land of Israel is beautiful, and the skies are like out of a dream. And there are several religious settlements for you, father, that the Baron Rothschild has built."
"Religious settlements?" Tevye inquired.
"That's what she writes," Hava answered.
"Is that all?" Tevye asked.
"No. There's one other thing," Hava said with a smile. "Hodel is pregnant."
A big grin lit Tevye's face. "Mazal tov!" he said. "Baruch Hashem, thank the good Lord."
"Mazal tov," the Russian mailman said. The two men shook hands. They had been good friends for years until the Czar and the dark clouds of history had declared the Jews traitors.
"Tzeitl, get me the vodka from out of the crate," Tevye commanded.
A pregnant daughter was reason to celebrate. A grandchild meant that Tevye would survive on in the generations to come. But that wasn't all. A grandchild born in the Promised Land was something much greater. It was a fulfillment of prophecy. It was the hope of new life not only for Tevye's family, but for the Jewish people as a whole. How many Jewish fathers in the last thousand years could boast of an achievement like that?
Tzeitl dutifully opened the chest and handed a bottle to her father. Tevye pulled out the cork. With a hearty "L'Chaim! To life!" he took a deep slug. Then he handed the bottle to the mailman.
"You have brought us this happiness," Tevye said. "May the Almighty reward you with healthy children of your own."
The mailman drank a "L'Chaim" and handed the bottle back to the Jew.
"Are we going to Palestine?" Bat Sheva asked. "I want to see Hodel."
"So do I," Ruchel said.
"We all do," Tzeitl agreed.
Everyone waited for an answer from Tevye. He looked to his right, and he looked to his left, as if judging his options. What was more important? Money, or the promise of milk and honey? On one side of the world, there was Hodel. Only a Jacob, who had lost his son Joseph, could know how much Tevye had missed her. Since the day she had left Anatevka, not an evening had passed without her memory flashing before him as he fell off to sleep. Then again, on the other side of the ocean were Baylke, and the gold of America's streets. But the thought of her husband, Pedhotzer, turned Tevye's stomach. True, Hodel's heretic was no bargain either – the young revolutionary could make a listener dizzy with his mishegoss notions about saving the world. But though his head was stuffed with goose feathers, he had a good heart. A few children of his own would teach him that before a man can save the world, he has to be sure that there is bread on the table at home. And finally, Tevye knew that if he wanted to keep the chain of tradition and Torah intact in his family, he himself would have to be on hand in the Land of Israel to teach his grandchild the beauty of the "Shema Yisrael" prayer.
"Tata," Tzeitl said. "You asked for a sign from the Almighty. Isn't Hodel's letter enough, or do you want a burning bush too?"
The girl had a point. Tevye took another drink and wiped his mouth with his hand. If Golda were present, she would have pointed toward Zion. To see her Hodel again, she would have given the world. But had Tevye forgotten? Golda was with them, in the coffin in the back of the wagon. Could he give his wife a more precious gift than to bury her in the Holy Land? And if it demanded strenuous labor to rebuild their ancient land, when was Tevye ever afraid of hard work? With the help of God, he had some productive years left, and when his time came to retire, he would sit in the shade of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and spend his days learning the holy books. Hodel had written that there were religious Jews in the land. The Rabbi, may he live a long, healthy life, must have had the wrong information. And if the Baron Rothschild were financing the Zionist endeavor, no doubt Tevye could move his family into one of the villas that the billionaire surely had built for the new pioneers.
Tevye held up the bottle. "To the Land of Israel!" he proclaimed. His daughters and grandchildren cheered. The mailman, Borsky, smiled. Even Tevye's horse felt the excitement when it heard about their new destination. It didn't have to wait for Tevye's command. With an enthusiasm it hadn't shown for years, the beast swung the wagon around in a half circle and galloped off after the parade of pioneers.
"My Nachson!" Tevye called to the steed as the wagon thundered toward Zion. "As the Lord led the Jews through the wilderness, may He lead Tevye and his children to Israel!"
Up ahead, the poet Hevedke Galagan stood in the path of the gallopping horse and wagon. He stared at Tevye, and Tevye stared back at him. Fired by the vodka and joy of his decision, the thought flashed across Tevye's mind, "What a good chance to teach him a lesson!" What a fitting last memory of Russia on their way to the Holy Land – to trample the devil himself under the wheels of the wagon!
"Yaahaaa!" Tevye shouted, whipping the reins of the horse. Hava cried out. The blond-headed Hevedke stood frozen, as if his long legs were stuck in his boots. "Yaahaaa!" Tevye yelled.
"Father!" Hava screamed.
Tevye's eyes were aflame with revenge. At the very last minute, the youth showed enough sense to leap out of the way of destruction. The wagon sped by. Tzeitl clutched onto her children. Golda's coffin bounced in the air as if it were bursting with life.
"Am Yisrael Chai!" Tevye shouted at the sight of Hevedke sprawled in the dust. "The nation of Israel lives on!"
Kislev 8, 5772, 12/4/2011
In the original Sholom Aleichem stories, upon which "Fiddler on the Roof" was based, Golda died of a broken heart after one daughter was drowned and another ran off with a goy. I chose to base my novel on the original stories, and not the watered-down version of the musical and movie that altered Tevye's defiant stand against intermarriage by having him finally give in with a sad Jewish shrug, as if to say, "What are you going to do - she's my daughter?"
Tevye in the Promised Land
All of that night, Tevye was unable to sleep. He rose from his bed, paced around the tiny room where his family had shared their modest meals, said a prayer over his sleeping children, and walked outside, holding his aching head from the after-effects of the vodka he had imbibed earlier in the day. The winter was ending, and the night was cold and black. Rays of moonlight shone now and again from behind a thick quilt of clouds. A thin layer of snow remained on the ground like manna, the wafers of food which God provided six days a week to the Jews in the wilderness. Tevye glanced up at the clouds.
"My God, and God of my forefathers," he said, as if speaking to someone close by. "I know you are Master of everything. I know that a blade of grass does not grow unless you give it an order. I know we are like sheep in Your hand. I know that Tevye, Your servant, is a worm and not even a man. But what great sin did I transgress that You, in Your very great kindness, are throwing me out of my house? Haven't I tried to please you all of my miserable life? Haven't I woken up before dawn to milk the cows You gave me? Haven't I trudged off to work day after day, pausing only at sunrise to don my tefillin and say morning prayers – just as You have commanded us in Your Torah? And though I could not always pray in a minyan with nine other men, and though I do not study Talmud as much as I might, haven't I always tried to be a good Jew? And for my reward, I am given three days to abandon my house and my village. Yes, I know, Tevye is not the world's biggest saint and tzaddik, and sometimes my neighbor's horse looks a lot healthier than mine. But what, may I ask, do You want from us here in tiny Anatevka? Instead of uprooting us from our homes, don't You have something more important to do in some other part of the world?"
Tevye walked through a familiar path in the forest. The night was as dark as the exile of the Jews from their land, but Tevye knew the path's windings by heart. How many thousands of miles had he traveled back and forth through the forest, bringing his milk products to the neighboring villages, and to Boiberik and Yehupetz, where the aristocrats lived? Usually, he would lead his horse and wagon along the main road, but when the four-legged creature was sick, Tevye would drag the cart behind him in order to delivery his fresh milk and cheeses on time. And that meant taking the less traveled path through the forest.
Now in the moonlight, he could see the Jewish cemetery. A glow seemed to shine off Golda's small tombstone. Careful not to step on Lazar Wolf, the butcher; nor Mendel, the cantor; or Shendel, the wife of the sandal maker; nor on the grave of the poor tailor, Motel, his son-in-law, Tevye walked to the only resting place his Golda had ever enjoyed.
He sighed a loud, weary sigh, a sigh of centuries, the sigh of a gypsy who has to wander on to yet another temporary home. A sob shook his body. He was not a man to break down like a woman and cry, but if he could not share his feelings with Golda, if she was not at his side to listen to his complainings, kvetchings, and moments of despair, where would he find the strength to carry on for the children? Hadn't she been his helpmate since the day their fathers had brought them together under the canopy of the marital chuppah? True, she always moaned that she had been a fool to agree to the match, yet, dutifully, she had borne the pain of seven childbirths, and raised up seven daughters. As it is written in the Holiest of Books, "And they became one flesh." She was his wife. Even in death. How could he leave her? How did he dare?
He bent down and placed a small stone on her grave, a sign that someone had visited.
"Oy, Golda, my Golda," he groaned. "Forgive me for bothering you in the middle of the night, but the whole world has turned upside down. Your Tevye does not know whether he is coming or going. Sometimes, I say to myself, Tevye, enough. You've been punished enough. Give some other milkman a chance to be chosen. It's time to join your wife, Golda. But, of course, you are right – who will look after our children?"
Tevye heard footsteps. In a graveyard, in the middle of the night, who could it be? From a distance he wasn't certain, but as the figure came closer, the bearded face became clear. It was Hershel, the sandal maker, with a shovel in his hand.
"Greetings, Reb Yid," he called to the milkman. "May the Mashiach come soon so that we may be finished with grave yards."
"Amen," Tevye answered.
"You also could not sleep?" the little Jew asked. Not that the sandal maker was short of stature, but his back was bent over from a lifetime of hammering heels.
As was his custom, whenever he could, Tevye answered with a verse of Scripture. "Like it is written, `And Achashverus, the King, could not sleep,' may his name be erased. But tell me, my friend, why are you carrying that shovel? Has somebody died, God forbid?"
"Millions of people have died, but, thank God, not anyone I know of today," came the philosopher's reply.
"Nu?" Tevye asked, "Why are you here?"
"What do I look like to you, some kind of animal that I would leave my beloved Shendel behind? Who knows what the Russians will make out of her bones? Perhaps a church will be built here, or a pub for their drinking."
Tevye had not thought of that possibility. What about his Golda? Did he love her less than the sandal maker loved his wife? Perish the notion.
"Where's your shovel?" Hershel asked.
For a change, Tevye was speechless.
"No matter," Hershel said. "There should be another one in the undertaker's shed. You help me, and I’ll help you. That way the work will go faster."
“You plan to take her with you?" Tevye asked.
"That's right," the sandal maker answered. "Don't you?"
"Well...." Tevye stuttered.
"After all, our wives are already crated. All we have to do is load them on our wagons."
“Where are you going, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Wherever God takes me. Is it a problem for the King Who created the world to find another six feet of earth for my Shendel? Besides, haven't our Sages told us, `Change of residence, change of luck?' Maybe our mazel will improve. Take my shovel. I'll find another in the undertaker's shed. And hurry. The faster we work, the less we wake up the dead."
Tevye took the shovel and started to dig. The earth was hard from the winter, but after breaking through the frozen topsoil, the ground became looser below. Whoever would have dreamed of Tevye digging up his Golda, may her soul rest in peace?
"Forgive me, my queen," he beseeched, "Our good friend, Reb Hershel, is right. Who can tell what our friends, the Russians, might build here? How would you feel with a beer hall over your head? As it says about Laban, `And Jacob beheld the face of Laban, and behold, it was not the same towards him as before.'"
Tevye dug with all of his strength. The exhausting work helped take his mind off of his problems. Soon he reached Golda's coffin. Lovingly now, he scraped the dirt away from the wood. Then he began to dig a wide pit so he could get in the grave to lift the heavy crate out. He wasn't quite sure what he would do with her, but he was certain that Hashem, the Almighty, would help out. Wasn't it a mitzvah to prevent the desecration of the dead? And when a Jew does a good deed, the Almighty always stands ready to help.
After an hour, Tevye was finished. A short distance away, Hershel continued to stab at the earth. Tevye called him to come over. Hunchbacked, he climbed into the grave to help lift Golda's coffin. Bracing his feet in the dirt, Tevye gave a push and the box slid out of the pit. Then Tevye helped the sandal maker rescue his Shendel. After catching their breaths, they agreed that Hershel would stand guard in the cemetery while Tevye fetched his wagon. Before the morning sun had risen over the village, Tevye had picked up his precious cargo and driven it back to his barn. To make the crate seem like any other piece they were taking, he spread a large blanket over its sides to disguise its distinctly rectangular shape.
"Don't you go anywhere, my Golda," he said, patting his secret treasure. "Before you know it, we will be on our way."
Outside the barn, the sun was beginning to shine in the treetops. Tevye hurried to the house to see if his Hava had truly come home. She lay sleeping with Tzeitl's children, her blanket characteristically thrown at her feet. Tenderly, Tevye pulled the patchwork quilt up to her chin, just as he had done when she was a girl. Then, letting all of his angels sleep a little longer, he went off to the synagogue to say his morning prayers.
All of that day, Tevye ran around in circles like a slaughtered, headless chicken, selling the belongings they were leaving behind. It was no easy task to squeeze a whole lifetime into a wagon. The girls worked all day in the house. By the following morning, the packing was finished. Tevye took down the mezuzahs from the doorposts of his house, hoisted their last crates of memories onto his wagon, fastened the heap with a rope, and climbed aboard alongside Tzeitl and the children. Hava, Bat Sheva, and Ruchel sat in the rear with their mother's coffin. Where were they going? Only God knew. Once again, the wandering Jews were heading off to an unknown destination.
Tevye coaxed his horse into the procession of wagons. On the third day of the decree of expulsion, the caravan set off, leaving the village of Anatevka behind. Other Jews had sold their wagons and horses and were beginning the exodus on foot. Villagers bent over, carrying heavy satchels and bundles on their backs. Expressions were downcast and grim except for Tevye's smile. On that blackest of days, Tevye at least had the solace that his long-lost daughter, Hava, and his cherished Golda were traveling with him. As the great Rabbi Nachman had taught, it was a mitzvah to always be happy, in good times and bad. So to cheer up his family and friends, Tevye put on a smile and looked bravely out toward the future.
Hanukah is coming! If you'd like to send a really meaningful gift to a loved one or friend, "Tevye in the Promised Land" makes a wonderful and inspiring present. The 600 page, large paperback version is available at Createspace, or the low-priced Kindle version at Amazon, along with my other books.
Kislev 5, 5772, 12/1/2011
As I related in my interview on INN’s wonderful and inspiring “Tamar Yonah Show,” when I was a youth in America, very far away from Judaism, I saw the movie, “Fiddler on the Roof,” which struck a deep Jewish chord of my soul, just as it did to millions.
Though it was years later that I became a baal t’shuva, when the Almighty bestowed upon me the unsurpassable blessings of returning me to Torah and to the Land of Israel, I fondly remembered Tevye, as if he were calling out to me from the pain and darkness of exile, and I decided to use the talents the Almighty had given me to bring the beloved milkman from Anatevka to the Holy Land. So I wrote “Tevye in the Promised Land,” a sweeping, 600 page, historical family saga, set during the years just preceding World War One, at the time of the second aliyah of Jews from Russia. Through trial after trial, Tevye clings to his unquenchable faith and becomes a pioneer builder of the Land. The novel was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture, and is truly an inspiring and Torah-filled novel for the whole family. Many people have told me that their copies at home have become rumpled and coverless from having been read again and again by their kids.
The stories of Sholom Aleichem stand as masterpieces of Yiddish literature. Like a gifted artist, he painted his characters with a rich palette of colors. His Tevye lives on in the imagination, defying all duplication. Therefore, before beginning, the reader will have to excuse the present writer’s inadequacies and make do with the miniature Tevye which he has fashioned. However, if even a small part of this saga survives in the memory, then we are certain that Sholom Aleichem himself would be pleased and would forgive the liberties which the writer has taken with the lives he has created. Different times and different challenges bring out different qualities in people. Just as the Jewish People have undergone a transformation in the last hundred years, so too has Tevye. From being oppressed and downtrodden wanderers, without a permanent home of their own, the Jewish People, and Tevye with them, have struggled to achieve a new hope, stature, and independence in the Promised Land.
We are happy to begin serializing Part One of the novel, covering Tevye’s unforgettable journey to the Promised Land. If you enjoy it, please share it with your friends. And thank you for taking the time from your busy schedules to read it.
TEVYE IN THE PROMISED LAND
Nemerov, the district Police Commissioner, reared his horse in the air.
"Three days," he warned. "The Jews of Anatevka have three days to clear out of the area."
Tevye spat in disgust at the ground. "Three days," he brooded. Three days were all the authorities were giving the Jews to sell their belongings and evacuate the village they loved.
It didn't matter that the Jews had lived in Anatevka long before the Russians. The Police Commissioner didn't care that Tevye's great-grandfather, may his memory be a blessing, had cleared the forest by the lake and built the first house in the region. It didn't matter to the Czar and his soldiers that for as long as anyone could remember, the Jews had dutifully paid the taxes which had laden the Czar's table with food, while the pantries of the Jews remained bare. Nor did it matter to them that the Jews had cleaned out the stables of the Russian landowners, chopped their wood, sewed their garments, and delivered their milk. It didn't matter that a Jew would bow in respect when a Russian passed by, just to keep peace. Nor did it matter to them that the decent folk of Anatevka had no other place to call home. They were Jews, and that was that. The Czar, may he and his loved ones be cursed, had made his decision in the interests of the motherland. His order was final. The Jews had three days to get out. The butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers of Anatevka had been declared enemies of the state.
The usually goodhearted milkman spat in anger as the Police Commissioner and his soldiers rode out of the village. Then he looked up at the heavens and prayed.
"My Father and King, Whose ways are perfect and just, and Who does only good to His people – even if we can't understand Your kindness in throwing us out of our homes – after the Jews of Anatevka have journeyed to some faraway land, may the Czar and his Cossacks be swallowed up into the earth."
Not that all Russians were as wicked as the Czar and his soldiers. After all, the same God had created all people, Jews and Russians alike. Loving God meant loving all of His creation. But sometimes, it wasn't so easy. When someone kicks you out of your home, and treats you like dirt, it's hard for a man to be grateful.
Where would they go? Tevye didn't know. To Broditchov, in a distant part of Russia, where the pogroms had not yet struck? To America? To Poland? To the Land of Israel? To England? Or France? Tevye didn't have time to think up a plan. He would simply go along with everyone else in his village, wherever the Almighty led them. After all, had Abraham known his destination when God told him to leave his birthplace for some faraway land? As the Torah says, "And Abraham believed!" He trusted in God. Without complaining, he packed up his belongings and went.
Tevye's head kept spinning like it did when he drank too much vodka on Purim. There were so many things to arrange. How do you pack a lifetime into three days? Maybe he should have pulled the Police Commissioner off of his horse and given him a good thrashing. Maybe he should have rallied the Jews to rebellion. But what would that have accomplished? Reports of pogroms had reached them from all over Russia. Burnings, lootings, evacuations, the slaughter of innocent women and children. Just because they were Jews. How could they rebel? Did the Jews have an army? Did they have weapons with which they could fight? Was Tevye Judah the Maccabee, that he could rally people to follow him? What kind of resistance could the lowly Jews muster?
Tevye trudged back to his tiny castle, the home he had built long ago with more youthful hands. Was a house merely pieces of wood that a man could so easily sell it? What about all of the years, the memories, the joys, and the sorrows? True, Tevye thought, he could have survived just as well without all of the sorrows, but that was the life of a Jew. There were good times and bad. A house could be sold, but what about all of the memories engraved in the planks of the walls? Well, he supposed he could take his memories with him.
His daughters, Tzeitl, Bat Sheva, and Ruchel, stared at him as he sank into his chair. They had witnessed the degrading spectacle from the doorway of the house. They had watched the Commissioner rear his horse and almost knock their father down when Tevye had grabbed the stallion's reins in an effort to plead for his people.
"Where will we go?" Tzeitl asked.
"Where the Almighty leads us," Tevye answered.
"What will we do when we get there?" Bat Sheva, the youngest, inquired.
"What the Almighty decrees."
"Who will buy our house?" Tzeitl continued. Her two small children, Moishe and Hannie, ran over to hug her. They gazed up at their grandfather with big, searching eyes.
Tevye didn't have an answer.
"Is it true, Tata," Ruchel said. "Do we really have to leave Anatevka?"
Their questions were giving him a headache.
"Am I the Almighty?" he asked, slamming a hand on the table. "Do I decide what will be in the world? Do I stand in the place of the Creator that I know His secret plans?"
Tevye stood up from his chair. In painful situations, a father had to appear confident. When the ship was sinking, the captain had to keep firm command. In times of crisis, children needed the example of a father's unwavering faith.
"Enough pointless chatter," he said. "Haven't our Sages warned us that a man who talks at length with women brings calamity down on his head? The Almighty will provide for us, just as he has for the last four-thousand years. Pack up what you need for a journey. The rest I will sell in the city. In the meantime, your father has important business which he needs to transact."
In the barn, Tevye saddled his horse. He didn't have the heart to tell the creature the news. They had been companions through rainstorms and blizzards, through famine and blight. Together, they had shared life's burdens for thousands of miles. The old mare had been as faithful to him as his wife.
"Oy Golda," Tevye said, sighing at her memory. "May your soul rest in peace."
Finally, he understood why God, in His kindness, had taken Golda away from him while she was still in the prime of her life. To spare her the humiliation of being chased out of her house by the soldiers of the Czar.
In his crestfallen state, the journey into Yehupetz seemed to take longer than usual. Tevye's horse must have thought it strange to travel such a long distance in silence, but Tevye was not in the mood for conversation. His thoughts were so jumbled, his usual erudition escaped him. A lone verse of King David's Psalms echoed in his thoughts: "Some with chariots, and some with horses, but we in the name of the Lord our God call out." There was some consolation in that. Even if the authorities took away his house, his wagon, and even his horse, Tevye would still have his God.
Luckily, the milkman's mazel was with him. The tax collector agreed to buy Tevye's house. Out of all the Russians Tevye knew, the tax collector, Karamozky, was the man he most trusted. Like clockwork, every three months, on the first day of the week, the punctual civil servant would arrive in Anatevka. After paying his village taxes, Tevye would invite him for a drink in his house. The tax collector seemed to enjoy Tevye's discourses on the Bible, and Tevye cherished nothing more than drinking with someone who was willing to listen. Golda was less enthused.
"It's not your wisdom he likes," she said. "It's your vodka."
Like the experienced salesman he was, Tevye set forth the advantages of buying the house as if it were a splendid estate. The tax collector himself could testify to its sturdy construction. Hadn't he sat there himself, a guest of the family, year after year, through winter snowstorms and the summer's scorching sun? Tevye even advised Karamozky to buy six or seven houses in Anatevka. That way he would become a principle investor in the village, like a baron with properties all over town. Finally, Tevye begged him.
"If not for me, your devoted milkman, then for my daughters."
What was left of his daughters, Tevye mused. On the road back to Anatevka, waves of pent-up sorrow poured out of Tevye's heart. The milkman, had been known for his beautiful daughters. Seven more radiant creations could not be found. Their graces were praised all over the Pale. "Vanity of vanity, says Tevye, all is vanity." What did their beauty bring except endless trouble? Did not the wise Solomon teach, "Grace is deceptive, and beauty is vain – a woman who fears the Lord is the one to be praised?" It would have been better if his daughters had all looked like him, with his big shnoz of a nose, and not like his beautiful Golda. Not that Tevye was complaining. After all, who is a man to complain? Doesn't everything he have belong to his Maker? As it says, "The Lord giveth, and the Lord takes away."
What could a father do? He had tried to raise his seven daughters in the traditions of his people. Like the four legs which hold up a table, there were four pillars to every good Jewish home. The honor due the father and mother; the honor due the Sabbath; the honor of Torah; and the honor of God.
But modern times had crept in, and newfangled notions, like termites, had begun to eat away the foundations of the past. First, Tzeitl wanted to pick her own husband. The match her father had arranged with Lazar Wolf, the butcher, wasn't to her fancy! She was in love with the poor tailor, Motel! In love! What did his daughter know about love? Living with a woman for twenty-five years – that was love. When you worked all day like a slave, and came home smelling like your horse, and your wife opened her arms to you and clung to you in the night, even though you didn't know if there would be food to feed another child – that was love. Not the beating of the heart that comes from a walk through the woods.
"But I love him!" Tzeitl had pleaded, with tears in her eyes.
What was Tevye to do? Was his heart made out of stone? Besides, Motel was a good boy. A bumbling shlemiel of the highest order, that was for sure, but he could read from a prayerbook, and it was certain from the way he looked at Tzeitl that he would burn their candles down to the wick, sewing garments all through the night to provide a decent life for Tevye's daughter.
But as the saying goes – when the milk begins to go sour, it soon begins to stink. His second daughter, Hodel, was even more of a beauty. Her features were stately, like the portrait of a queen hanging on an aristocrat's wall. Her flight from the nest had been Tevye's own fault. He himself had brought the free-thinking Perchik into their home to teach her to read. While the father was in the barn, milking his cows, the young revolutionist was in the house, milking his daughter's dreams.
"A new Russia! A classless society! A worker's state! Equality for all!" the young communist preached.
Tevye got headaches listening to his speeches, but to Hodel, he was a prince on a gleaming white steed. And his stock only went up with the girl when he was arrested. The memory haunted Tevye even now – the picture of Hodel standing at the railroad station, waiting for the train which would take her away to her Perchik in exile on the other side of the Pale. What a long wagon-ride home it had been for Tevye, not knowing if he would ever see his beautiful daughter again!
But at least Perchik had been a Jew. Tevye and Golda could thank God for that. A Jew with his head screwed on backwards, but a circumcised member of Abraham's faith. Their third daughter, Hava, hadn't been so lucky. In Tevye's mind, she was dead. His third daughter had ceased to exist. When she ran off with the poet, Hevedke Galagan, that was the end. Here the line had to be drawn. Hodel's sister's marriage to the heretic Perchik was a tragedy which had to be mourned, but there was always the chance that the Almighty would hear Tevye's prayers and open the misguided youth's heart to the Torah. But that a heathen poet should marry his daughter? To allow such a breach would mark the doom of his people. It was a rejection of Tevye's whole life, of everything he had ever believed. A gentile was a gentile, and a Jew was a Jew. The two shall not come together in marriage. When a priest informed Tevye of the secret elopement, Tevye ripped his shirt in anguish, the sign of mourning, as if his daughter were dead. He tore her memory out of his heart. The name, Hava, was never, ever, to be mentioned in his house!
You would think that a milkman had been punished enough for his sins. But the Almighty was only beginning. Oy, Shprintza, Shprintza, my pretty little bird, thought Tevye, as his horse automatically stopped by the lake. Tevye recalled the scene as if it were yesterday. The crowd of people. The running. The screams. With a voice of doom in his heart, Tevye had jumped down from his wagon. The crowd made way as he bent down by the girl's body. Shprintza, drowned! Heartbroken over the suitor whom Tevye had brought to the house. The wealthy Aaronchik had stolen the tender girl's heart, and then disappeared like a thief, may both he and his mother be drowned!
The shock proved too much for Golda. A more valorous woman never existed, but after Shprintza died, a part of Golda went with her. The light in Golda's eyes seemed to flicker and fade. Tevye brought her flowers and a new dress from the best boutique in Yehupetz, but nothing could lessen her pain.
"Why did you squander our money?" she asked. "Couldn't I have sewn a dress just as pretty?"
That was his Golda. That was why he loved her. Tevye spoke soothing words, sang happy songs, and even romanced her with a dance around the table, but nothing could bring her out of her mourning. One tragedy after another proved too much for her heart. Hodel had left home to follow her Communist into exile. Hava had run away with a sweet-talking Chekhov. And now Shprintza had drowned. The strong Golda simply shattered like crystal. Late one evening, Tevye came home from work and found his wife sprawled dead on the floor.
Why had King David composed his Psalms if not to help mortal man find strength in trying times like these? As the Rabbis teach, God's ways are not our ways. Who is a milkman to understand the mysteries of heaven and earth? With every tragedy, the sun still rises in the morning, the rooster crows, the Jew has his prayers, the cows must be milked. In short, life must go on.
And where was Baylke, the most beautiful rose of Tevye's bouquet? Already in America, with her good-for-nothing Pedhotzer. Who could have foretold it? Before her wedding, Baylke was certain she had found the key to the Garden of Eden on earth. And so, to be truthful, had Tevye. Wasn't Pedhotzer fantastically wealthy? A builder of houses, bridges, and roads. His house was a castle. His yard an estate. He had two silver carriages, with a team of Arabian horses for each. People said there was a servant in every room in his mansion. Even his ashtrays were gold. Tevye knew. He saw them himself, on the day Pedhotzer summoned him to appear at his home.
The extraordinary invitation came several months after the wedding. Tevye had not seen his little girl since the happy, regal affair. Finally, a messenger arrived with a call from her king. Pedhotzer wanted to see him. Finally, Tevye thought, his fortune was changing. His daughter had not forgotten her poor, aging father. Surely she had secured him a job of prestige and authority, with a servant, a driver, elegant new clothes, and summer vacations at Boiberik Lake with all of the other rich Jews from the city.
"Tevye," he said. "I know I can talk straightforwardly with you, because I know you are an honest man. You know I am wealthy, and I intend to give your daughter all of the treasures on earth. I have been informed from very private sources that the great Baron Edmond de Rothschild is interested in doing business with me. In fact, I expect him to come for a visit to our house very soon."
Tevye was anxiously waiting to hear the fantastic job offer.
"Tell me," his new son-in-law continued, "how do you think the Baron would react if he heard that my wife's father is a milkman?"
He said the word milkman as if it were something disgusting. Baylke stood by his side, looking like royalty in a dress the likes of which Tevye's poor Golda had never even seen in her dreams.
"That is why I think it would be better for everyone if you were to take a long trip to Eretz Yisrael. I'll pay all of your travel expenses, of course, and even help get you started in a business if you decide you want to stay there."
Tevye felt as if a demon had snuck up behind him and stuck a knife in his back. Pedhotzer wanted to send him away to the Land of Israel! And Baylke, his warmhearted Baylke, stood silently at her rich husband's side, staring at her father with a gaze as cold as a winter day. What had happened to her? What had transformed his sweet, loving princess into such a statue-like queen?
As Tevye's friend, Sholom Aleichem, would say, to make a long story short, money is not always a blessing. Carrying his wounded pride as nobly as he could, Tevye made his way to the door of the mansion. As things turned out, that was the closest he had gotten to Jerusalem. The winds of revolution in Russia changed the future for everyone. Suddenly, Pedhotzer's government contracts were canceled. His fortunes plunged. His building empire collapsed. Baron Rothschild found a different partner. Almost overnight, Pedhotzer was penniless. Baylke had to sell her silk dresses and furs to help buy them passage to America. Her husband was humiliated, just as he had humiliated Tevye. Measure for measure, the wise Rabbis teach. The doings of man do not go unnoticed. An Eye sees, and a Hand records. Not that Tevye felt any great satisfaction. True, his insult had been repaid, but at the expense of his daughter. Who knew if he would ever see his Baylke again?
At least Tevye still had his babies, Bat Sheva and Ruchel, to comfort him in his solitude. Both were as pretty as their sisters. They had not yet found husbands, though their turn under the wedding canopy had come. No doubt they had postponed their own happiness to look after their poor, widowed father. Not that Tevye needed any special attention. After all, he was a man, not a horse. But that was the nature of his daughters. They were kindhearted, just like their mother had been.
Not only were Bat Sheva and Ruchel still with him, but Tzeitl, the eldest, had returned to Tevye's house after her poor tailor of a husband dropped dead. Motel was taken from the world by the croup, his reward for mending clothes night and day in his damp basement workroom, in order to buy a decent piece of meat to honor the Sabbath.
Tevye laughed. Joke of all jokes. All of a sudden, with Motel's untimely departure, grandfather Tevye, the "Zaida" became Tevye the "Tata" the substitute father for Tzeitl's two little demons, Moishe and Hannie. Just when the old stud had been whipped and broken, when his legs barely could walk, and his heart could no longer pull the load of the wagon, when his horse had a nail in its shoe, just when he longed to be put out to pasture, Tevye became a father for Tzeitl's two wild little kinderlach!
"Not so fast, Tevye," God seemed to be saying. "You think I have no more surprises in store? You think your mission on earth is completed? No, no, my precious Tevye – your adventure is only beginning!"
After all, wasn't Rabbi Akiva forty years old when he started learning Torah? And wasn't Moses eighty years old when God first spoke to him in the wilderness? And wasn't Abraham 100 years old when Sarah gave birth to Isaac? For the Jews, the people of miracles, life was always just beginning. Who knew what tomorrow would bring? Tevye was not even allowed to feel sorry for himself, which was the only real luxury a poor man had. The Almighty had many more tricks up His sleeve!
He was at home, making last preparations for their departure from Anatevka when Tzeitl told him she had a surprise.
"A surprise," he asked? "What kind of surprise?"
"Please, Tata," she said, "Give her a chance."
Give who a chance, Tevye wondered? Tzeitl opened the door to the bedroom and who was standing there? A dybbuk? A ghost? No. It was Tevye's dead daughter, Hava! His beloved Hava who had run off with the Russian poet, Hevedke.
"Tata," she cried. "Tata!"
Before Tevye could react, his daughter rushed forward and threw herself in his lap. "Tata, forgive me," she tearfully pleaded. "Forgive me!"
"Who am I to forgive?" Tevye answered. "Do I sit on God's throne? Is a milkman in charge up in Heaven? It is written in the Torah, `A daughter of the children of Israel shall not take a husband from among the foreign nations.' I didn't make the rules. Why do you come weeping to me now?"
But in the very next moment he thought, "Is it not also written in our prayers, `Lord, Lord, God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in kindness and truth. Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, forgiver of iniquity and error...?'"
Tevye stared down at his naive, errant daughter as she sobbed at his feet.
"Tevye," he asked himself. "In all fairness, are you not commanded to imitate the ways of your Creator? Just as He forgives, aren't you commanded to forgive also?"
Yet another voice asked:
"But what about Golda? What about my Golda who died of a broken heart? Can her death be forgiven? Oh, Golda, who deserved to be buried in the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in the sacred cave in Hevron next to Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah. Oh, Golda, the saint of a woman who suffered with her poor husband, the incompetent shlimazl of a milkman, for so many years – would she herself forgive this weeping, penitent daughter?
"She wants to come back, Tevye," he heard Golda say, as if she were standing with them in the house. "She's ashamed she didn't listen to us. She's ashamed of what the Russians are doing to the Jews. She's a good girl, Tevye. She just was confused."
Tevye glanced down at his daughter. The way she said "Tata" shattered Tevye's doubts. Her tears on his hands melted his long frozen heart.
"Hava," he answered. A sob shook his body. Not just any ordinary sob, but a sob of a lifetime, a sob of generations, not just the pain of Tevye the milkman, but the anguish of Jewish fathers and Anatevkas all over the world.
"Hava, my daughter," he said.
"Father," she answered, her cheeks shining with tears. Tzeitl was weeping along with little Moishe and Hannie. Bat Sheva and Ruchel were crying too. Even Tevye's horse was moved by the reunion. Hearing their sobs, he stuck his head in the window to see what new misfortune had befallen his master. The whole house was in tears. Only Golda was smiling. For a moment, Tevye saw her, standing like an angel in the kitchen, gazing happily upon her brood.
"Golda," he mumbled.
"Enough crying, my husband," she scolded. "Act like a man!"
True, Tevye thought. There was work to be done. Packing, selling, deciding what treasures to take. But all of that tumult could wait for the morrow. Now was the time for a hearty L'Chaim! A wandering daughter had found her way home! This was no private simcha. This was the joy of the community! The victory of tradition! The homecoming of everyone's child, reaffirming the ancient covenant between God and the Jews.
Tevye stood up, grabbed a bottle of vodka, and strode out to the porch.
"My Hava's come home!" he shouted. "My Hava's come home!"
His daughters tried to stop him, but their father's happiness was not to be bottled. He strode down the main street of the village, yelling out the good news. People came out of their houses to bless him with mazal tovs and congratulatory kisses. Tevye's joy was infectious. The news spread through the village like the smell of hot soup. As the Purim verse says, "The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy!" Soon, Jews were dancing with joy in the street. A fiddler stood on a porch, head tilted over his fiddle, filling Anatevka with music. For the moment, Tevye and his friends forgot the Czar's decree. A daughter had returned to the fold. Even in an hour of danger, there was reason to give thanks. The God of Israel was with them!
Kislev 4, 5772, 11/30/2011
During our long and devastating exile from Eretz Yisrael, and from our own proud mighty Jewish nationhood in our Land, we forgot who we are. We became bankers, and accountants, lawyers, and doctors, businessmen, and entertainers, but we forgot who we are. We became successful Americans and Frenchmen and Englishmen, but we forgot who we are. During the long and exhausting exile, a downtrodden minority in other people’s lands, we forgot our true identity as G-d’s Chosen Nation, sons of Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov, sons of King David and Yehudah the Maccabee, sons of a Divine and mighty Nation, and we became Diasporians instead, a fallen Gulliver in the lands of the Lilliputians. We forgot our greatness, our royalty, our once exalted monarchy in our Land. And so when the time came to return to our homeland and get on the boat, a great many of us remained on the dock in New York, Montreal, Sidney, and Marseilles, and kept on as usual, being bankers, and lawyers, and entertainers, with no more idealistic vision than to make a respectable living.
As Rabbi Kook writes:
“It is a great mistake to turn away from our specialty, to cease to recognize that G-d has chosen us. Not only are we different from all the nations, distinguished by our history, which has no parallel amongst any other people or tongue, but we are more exalted and far greater than any other people. If we know our greatness then we know ourselves, and if we forget our greatness then we are forgetting ourselves, and a nation that forgets itself is certainly small and insignificant. By forgetting ourselves, we remain small and low. Forgetting ourselves, we forget our true greatness” (Orot, Orot HaTechiya 5).
Forgetting our greatness, we make a compromise with the exile. Since the Second World War, in the aftermath of the wholesale extermination of the Jews by the Germans, as the world stood by and watched, the gentiles, abashed by their own bloodlust, have abstained from their slaughter, and a false confidence has crept over many of our People, making us think that the persecution has ended and that we can now be at peace with the wolves. Thus, the exile has become pleasant in the eyes of many.
This perhaps is the greatest curse, as the idolatrous cultures of the gentiles, in whose lands we dwell, eats away at our special choseness, as we try so hard to be like everyone else.
But make no mistake, my friends. As our Prophets forewarned us, the exile is a graveyard, a place of dry bones, the bones of the House of Israel in exile. (Ezekiel, 37:1-12).
The Gaon of Vilna, certainly one of the greatest Rabbis of previous generations, describes the galut in precisely these terms: “Since the Temple was destroyed, our spirit and our crown departed, and only we remained, the body without the soul. For exile to outside the Land of Israel is a grave. Worms surround us there, and we do not have the power to save ourselves. They, the idol worshippers, it is they who devour our flesh. In every place there were great communities and yeshivot, until the body decayed, and the bones scattered, again and again. Yet, always, some bones existed, the Torah scholars of the Israelite Nation, the pillars of the body – until even these bones rotted, and there only remained a rancid waste which disintegrated into dust” (Likutei HaGra, at the end of Safra D’Tzniuta).
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, son of Rabbi Kook and Rosh Yeshiva of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, explained this as follows:
“In the galut, we are in a graveyard. Our holiness is in the impurity of gentile lands. Worms and maggots devour us. For two thousand years, we have been in a place of maggots and worms. They surround us and encompass us there. The persecutions and pogroms of the gentiles, the gentile cultures, and their polluted spiritual worlds, are the maggots and worms which feast on our flesh and gnaw away at our spirit and holiness” (See “Torat Eretz Yisrael” p363-365).
This is not Tzvi Fishman ranting and raving, as some of you like to say. These are the holy words of giant Torah Sages of Israel.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzhal HaKohen Kook writes: “Were it not for the life-force it receives from the dew of life of the kedusha of the Land of Israel, Judaism in the exile would actually have no foundation at all – only a vision of the heart based on images of hope and reveries over Israel’s future and its past. However, there is a limit to the power of this imagination to support the life of the people, and it seems that this quota has already been filled. Therefore, Judaism in the exile goes down drastically, and there is no hope for it other than transplanting it in the source of its life, real life, of absolute holiness, which can be found only in the land of Israel” (Orot, Orot HaTechiya, 8).
Over the last generations, the dried bones have been returning to life with the return of our people to Israel. The dead spirit and scattered bones have arisen from the dust and re-gathered in the Land of our Forefathers, the Land of King David and Yehuda the Maccabee. The dried bones have come alive in the revitalized body of the Israeli Nation. The Alzheimers afflicting our minds in galut is slowly being healed, as little by little, we remember who we are, and long for our own Jewish Nationhood in our Land. In our time, we have witnessed the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy:
“Thus says the L-rd G-d, Behold O My People, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves (in America, Germany, England, and France), and bring you into the Land of Israel… and I shall put My spirit in you and you shall live, and I shall place you in your own Land” (Ezekiel, 37;12-14).
In the words of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook:
“Any intelligent person, who looks with open eyes upon what has happened to us in recent generations, will understand this as the work of Hashem. In the past generation, the impurity of the gentiles, and their greatest evil (the Holocaust) have reached a zenith, and now the time of the end of the exile has arrived.
“We must always remember that our true health is here in the Land of Israel, in this air. These hills, this sky comprise the Land of our life. Both spiritually and physically. In every mountain and valley in our Land, here in the Shomron, in the Golan, and in the Bashan, our living thrives. ‘The air of Your Land is the life of our souls.’ And we must remember that souls are joined to the body. Our Holy Land gives life to our body and to our soul, to our material life, and to our culture.
“To the extent that we prove that we deserve the blessing, ‘The L-rd grants strength to His People,’ we will return from the cemetery of galut, and from the gnawing of the maggots and worms which surround us. We reach the time of national rebirth, the revival of the Land and of our national spirit. The perfection of the Nation of Israel, in its physical body, and in its observance of Torah and mitzvoth, develops and steadily reaches completion. Not in one day, but little by little, our days are advanced and renewed like the glorious days of old.”
Kislev 3, 5772, 11/29/2011
Hoop hoop hurray! America and Canada are putting out postal stamps for Hanukah! Hoop hoop hurray! What a proud day for the Jewish People! What a great achievement! How proud we all should be that our gentile masters have allowed us a miniature stamp commemorating Hanukah!
Dear friends, before beginning our serialization of “Tevye in the Promised Land,” I feel compelled to comment on this news item which appeared yesterday on Israel National News, regarding the new US and Canadian postal stamps for Hanukah.
In the tsunami of impurity and spiritual pollution that is Christmas, the Jews have been given a tiny little stamp, much like a rich landlord tosses a scrap of food to his dog. This December, in the sea of Christian symbols, Christian mangers, Christian Santas, Christian bell ringers, Christian advertisements, Christian store windows, Christian floor displays, Christian commercials, Christian TV shows, Christian office parties, and Christian messages of Christian saviors and goodwill to men, the Jews will have a stamp commemorating Hanukah. Halleluyah!
Xmas, Everywhere You Go
Just to remind you, dear friends, what Hanukah is – Hanukah is the holiday that celebrates the NATIONAL ISRAELI VICTORY OVER GENTILE RULE IN ERETZ YISRAEL. Hanukah is the holiday that celebrates the VICTORY OF TORAH OVER REFORM JUDAISM AND ASSIMILATION. Hanukah is the holiday that celebrates the VICTORY OF HOLINESS OVER GREEK AND EUROPEAN HEDONISM.
Hoop hoop hurray! In this winter’s sea of red stockings, Xmas trees, and extra beefy Christmas editions of Playboy Magazine, the gentiles have given the Diaspora Jews a Hanukah stamp! Hoop hoop hurray!
How a Diaspora Jew can survive the month of December, I truly don’t know. With such a bombardment of Christian culture, as the song says, “It’s beginning to look like Christmas everywhere you go,” everywhere you look, to the point where you have to stare down at your snow-covered shoes to escape it – can there be a greater degradation than this?
Xmas in Paris
Xmas in London
Xmas in NY
In Israel, if you didn’t go to Bethlehem, you wouldn’t even know it was Xmas at all. Nothing. No red stockings and Santas, no reindeers and mistletoes. If for this reason only, every self-respecting Jew should say goodbye to the orgy of Christian culture in which he lives, in New York, London, Melbourne, and gay Paree, and make aliyah today! Bocer tov, heverim! The Almighty has given us back our own HOLY LAND! No more does a Jew have to suffer the omnipresent humiliation and spiritual pollution of Xmas. Just get on a plane, Jane, and get yourself free!
Wake up, my friends. You may say that all the unholy decorations and stories of Jesus don’t bother you, but it isn’t true – their messages seep in like deadly poisons, reducing Hanukah and the GIANT ETERNAL TRUTHS OF TORAH into a tiny stamp. That’s right, my friends. In the incessant bombardment of Christian culture, Diaspora Judaism is reduced to stamp-size Judaism. Jews come to think that Judaism is just like Christianity – Heaven forbid, a one-day-in- the-week religion, Jewish on the Sabbath and rubbing elbows with the Connellys and Cunninghams the other six days of the week. In the incessant bombardment of Christian culture in America, Canada, England, and France, Jews come to think that Judaism is a merely a bunch of rituals and holidays, and maybe keeping kosher. In the incessant bombardment of Christian culture in America, Canada, England, and France, Jews tragically come to believe that their religion is Jewish, but their nationality is American, Canadian, English, or French. But that isn’t the Judaism that the Maccabees were ready to die for. To them, the Torah was more than a Greek stamp. They went to war so that they, and their descendents after them, wouldn’t be Greeks or Americans or Frenchmen with baseball caps and berets on their heads. They went to war to be sovereign Israeli Jews in their own sovereign Land. They went to war so they wouldn’t have to suffer the humiliation of Greek holidays and Greek temples and Greek brothels and the humiliation of living in a tsunami of Hellenist culture, like the Hellenist culture that surrounds the Jew today in foreign gentile lands. The Maccabees understood that Judaism is more than a religion – Judaism is a NATIONALITY – the holy Torah constitution of the NATION OF ISRAEL, a holy NATION in its LAND, comprising religious rituals along with the holy AGRICULTURAL laws, and holy laws of GOVERNMENT, MILITARY, JUSTICE, FESTIVALS IN JERUSALEM, and NATIONAL ISRAELI SERVICE.
The Maccabees understood that Torah Judaism is being a proud sovereign Jew in your own HOLY LAND – not in someone else’s, where a Jew is fated to be a despised and temporarily tolerated minority under gentile rule, daily poisoned by the ubiquitous and pernicious gentile culture around him, which pollutes our understandings and transforms a holiday of NATIONAL LIBERATION into a holiday of pseudo Xmas gifts and jelly donuts, totally lacking the aspirations and goals the Maccabees fought and died for - to oust the Greeks and their poisonous gentile culture from Israel.
Yes, for 2000 years, we didn’t have the means at our disposal to re-conquer the Land of Israel, and we had to make do with Christmas time and the humiliation of the exile. But now we have our OWN LAND. Our prayers have come true! G-d has returned us to Israel! We no longer have to make do with miniature Hanukah stamps and striving to fit in with the gentiles.
This year – become a BIG JEW! This year – be a MACCABEE! Break free of your chains! Start a COMPLETE JEWISH LIFE IN ISRAEL!