Who Wants Life?

Tzvi Fishman,

לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
Tzvi Fishman
Tzvi Fishman is a recipient of the Israel Ministry of Education Award for Creativity and Jewish Culture. His many novels and books on a variety of Jewish themes are available at Amazon Books. Recently, he has published "Arise and Shine!" and "The Lion's Roar" - 2 sequels to his popular novel, "Tevye in the Promised Land." In Israel, the Tevye trilogy is distributed by Sifriyat Bet-El Publishing. He is also the director and producer of the feature film, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman," starring Israel's popular actor, Yehuda Barkan. www.tzvifishmanbooks.com ...

Who Wants Life?

It is told that the great Torah sage, the Chofetz Chaim, traveled from one Jewish community to the next to distribute his book, “Shmirat HaLashone,” about the mitzvah of speaking in a kosher fashion. Like a common peddler, he would walk down the streets of the Jewish ghettos, calling out, “Who wants life?! Who wants life?!” When curious people approached him, he would show them his book. He didn’t do it to make money, or to make himself famous. He peddled his book to help Jews come closer to Hashem.

In peddling my own books, I don’t make money, and whatever fame it brings me is here today and gone tomorrow. I do it to bring Jews closer to Hashem. You can ask, “A series of novels, historical fiction, about the saga of Modern Zionism and the rebirth of the State of Israel – how can that bring anyone closer to Hashem?” The answer is simple. Not only is the character of Tevye filled with great faith, when a reader absorbs himself in the drama of Jewish History, from a Religious Zionist point of view, and attaches himself, or herself, emotionally to the Nation’s struggle to return to the Land of Israel, he or she automatically forms a deeper connection to Hashem, who appears in the world, not as a faraway figure in outer space, but as the behind-the-curtains Conductor of Jewish History, faithful in His promise to return His exiled children to their eternally Promised Land. Rabbi Kook, a main character throughout the novels, teaches that the person who is most connected to the Land of Israel, and to the settlement of the Land, is the closest to perfection in the service of G-d, and the first to be blessed in the World to Come.        

With that introduction, here is an excerpt from “Arise and Shine!” – the new sequel to “Tevye in the Promised Land,” dramatizing the famous last stand of the one-armed hero, Yosef Trumpeldor, at the battle of Tel Hai.

[The “Tevye in the Promised Land” series is available at Amazon Books, and, in Israel, at www.beitel.co.il.]

In the morning, Tevye, as usual, put on his tefillin. He recited the blessing and wrapped the leather straps along the length of his arm. To his surprise, secular settlers eagerly lined up to perform the precept, as if he were giving away fresh milk. One after another, he showed them how to position the phylacteries and tie the straps. The discovery pleased Tevye. Scratch a Zionist and you find a frume Yid! A woman called Annie stepped forward and held out an arm. Tevye stiffened. A woman? Gevalt! She stood waiting, not understanding the delay. Tevye was speechless. “Well?” she asked.

“You’re a woman,” he said.

“Is that a curse?”

“Women don’t put on tefillin,” he explained.

“Why not?” she wanted to know, with a note of defiance in her voice.

Tevye didn’t know what to answer. He didn’t know the reason. That was the way it was. The question had never arisen. She waited for his response, staring at him in annoyance.

“It’s our tradition,” he said.

It was Trumpeldor who saved him. “Women are more spiritual than men,” he explained. “They don’t need all of the rituals that men do.” Then, stepping in front of her, he said. “As for me, I need all of the mitzvot I can get.”

Without further argument, Annie walked away. The colony commander held out his only arm.

“You’ll have to strap them on for me,” he said.

Later in the morning, Tevye was in the tower, taking a turn at guard duty with one of the settler women when a line of horse-backed riders appeared out of the forest. Holding a white flag, a rider galloped forward, flanked by a six-man escort. The line of Arab troops waited in the distance. Quickly, Tevye rang the warning bell. Settlers hurried into the courtyard. In a cautious, yet determined fashion, the riders proceeded closer to the fort. Their white flag of peace fluttered in the breeze. From the courtyard, Trumpeldor called up to Tevye in the tower.

“What do you see?” he wanted to know.

“Seven Arabs on horseback, carrying a white flag,” Tevye called down. “And an army of ‘Comanches’ in the distance.”

Trumpeldor hurried to a slat in the high wooden gate. He peered out at the long-gowned riders. Mukhtar al-Hussein held up a hand and the delegation came to a halt twenty meters away from the fort. In the distance, Trumpeldor could see a long line of horse-backed tribesmen waiting for orders.

“We come in peace!” the Mukhtar called out, tugging at the reins to calm his nervous steed.

Trumpeldor turned toward the settlers who had gathered in the compound.

“Everyone to their battle positions,” he ordered.

A few of the colony leaders approached him.

“It’s a delegation of Arabs carrying a white flag, led by the Mukhtar Kamal al-Hussein,” he reported, allowing them to see for themselves. “I am going out to talk to them. Keep me covered.”

A settler stepped forward and withdrew the long piece of lumber that was used to bar the gate. Tevye watched from the tower as Trumpledor walked out of the fort and approached the Arabs. His partner on guard duty raised her rifle and aimed at the group in precaution. Two men with rifles hurried up the stairs and took up positions beside her. Feeling that his presence in the crowded turret was no longer essential, Tevye decided to join the settlers by the gate.

“We come unarmed,” the Mukhtar announced.

Trumpeldor spoke to him in Arabic. When he had finished hearing their story, he returned to the compound to report to the colony’s leaders.

“He says he is willing to declare a truce between us,” the experience soldier explained. “He says their fight isn’t with us, but with the French troops who shelled his village. He thinks that we are hiding French soldiers here and wants to search the compound. If none are discovered, he promises to return to his village without further attacks.”

The leaders reacted in favor. One said there was nothing to lose. Another said that everyone was tired and that the peace offer was surely worth a chance.

A hatless kibbutznik with a beard longer than Tevye’s asked Trumpeldor a question. “As our visiting military advisor, what’s your opinion of this unexpected development?”

“I wouldn’t trust an Arab as far as I could throw a mule,” Trumpeldor bluntly responded.

“I agree,” Tevye said.

In the encounters he had had with Arabs since his arrival in the country, first in Shoshana, where they had murdered Ben Zion and stolen the kibbutz’s crop of tomatoes, and then, in the outpost of Morasha, which a tribe of neighboring Arabs had burnt to the ground after swearing to abide by a pact of friendship, Tevye had learned that the descendants of Ishmael continued to live by the sword, just as the Bible attested.

After hearing Trumpeldor’s response, the third settler leader sided with the famous fighter, but since the colony of Tel Hai was founded on democratic principles, the decision followed the majority.

Trumpeldor stood in pensive silence. He glanced at Tevye with a look of concern. With a deep breath, he nodded his head, then returned to the waiting Arabs and communicated the decision. After a brief debate, it was agreed that four of the Arabs would enter the compound unarmed to carry out the search for any hiding Frenchmen, while the Mukhtar remained outside the fort on his horse, flanked by two of his guards. 

One of the settlement leaders called out to crowd in the courtyard.

“The Arab delegation has come to search the compound for Frenchmen who they claim are hiding here in our colony. Don’t interfere in their search. When they discover that the people whom they are seeking are not to be found, they have promised to depart from the area and leave us in peace.” 

Inside the courtyard, there was a general murmur of agreement. Trumpeldor led the four Arabs through the gate of the fort. Two of the Arabs headed toward the barracks while two climbed up the stairs to the tower. Tevye could feel the tension in the air. Trumpeldor’s hand held fast to his pistol.  When the Arabs reached the tower lookout, one of them grabbed the young woman on guard duty. Swiftly, from under his robe, a dagger appeared in his hand. Threateningly, he held it across the frightened girl’s neck. “Drop your rifles,” he ordered in Hebrew.

Startled, the other two guards in the tower let their rifles slip from their hands. As the second Arab pounced on the guns, his friend slit the young woman’s throat. “Allah Akbar!” he shouted.

Before the Jews could react, the Arab kneeling on the floor lifted a rifle and fired at one of the guards. The gunshot sounded loudly over the compound. Lunging forward, the Arab with the dagger stabbed the other Jew in the chest. Below in the courtyard, Trumpeldor aimed his pistol and fired, killing the Arab with the knife as he stood up over his fallen prey. Before the one-armed sharpshooter could fire again, the Arab with the rifle fired down into the courtyard, hitting Trumpeldor in the belly. The valiant soldier doubled over in pain, then straightened and fired up at the tower, hitting his assailant in the head. Outside the fort, the Mukhtar and his guards galloped off. Bullets flew around them, fired by the settlers at the gate. Upon the very first shot, the cavalry of Arabs by the forest charged toward Tel Chai. Bleeding from the wounds in his stomach, Trumpeldor ran out to meet them, firing his pistol at the Mukhtar who was now out of range. Another bullet hit Trumpeldor in his arm. Bleeding profusely, he collapsed to his knees. Tevye was the first to reach him. He grabbed the stricken and fallen warrior. The hooves of the stampeding horses shook the bowels of the earth as they galloped toward the Zionist stronghold. Tevye’s hand turned crimson as he tried to seal the gushing abdominal wound. Bullets flew by around them.

“In my pocket,” Trumpeldor whispered. “The grenade.”

Tevye reached inside the wide jacket pocket and pulled out the miniature bomb. Yanking out the pin, he waited three seconds, then hurled it with all off his strength toward the advancing horde. A deafening explosion echoed through the valley. Tevye fell over Trumpeldor to shield him from the shrapnel. Searing flashes of pain, like the sting of angry scorpions, bore into his flesh from the fiery fragments. Horses neighed wildly in fear. Arab riders were tossed into the air. Limbs fell down from the sky like rain. Rising to his feet, Tevye grabbed Trumpeldor and started dragging him back toward the compound as settlers ran out to help.  Arabs who hadn’t been wounded in the explosion, retreated in haste under a heavy barrage of fire from the defenders of Tel Hai.

The settlers carried Trumpeldor back to the courtyard. Tevye knelt on the ground, bracing the dying man in his arms.

“The enemy is in retreat!” a settler cried out.

A thin stream of blood flowed out of Trumpeldor’s lips, but he managed to smile.

“It is no matter,” he whispered, encouraging his troops to the end. “It is a good thing to die for our country.”

Who Wants Life?

It is told that the great Torah sage, the Chofetz Chaim, traveled from one Jewish community to the next to distribute his book, “Shmirat HaLashone,” about the mitzvah of speaking in a kosher fashion. Like a common peddler, he would walk down the streets of the Jewish ghettos, calling out, “Who wants life?! Who wants life?!” When curious people approached him, he would show them his book. He didn’t do it to make money, or to make himself famous. He peddled his book to help Jews come closer to Hashem.

In peddling my own books, I don’t make money, and whatever fame it brings me is here today and gone tomorrow. I do it to bring Jews closer to Hashem. You can ask, “A series of novels, historical fiction, about the saga of Modern Zionism and the rebirth of the State of Israel – how can that bring anyone closer to Hashem?” The answer is simple. Not only is the character of Tevye filled with great faith, when a reader absorbs himself in the drama of Jewish History, from a Religious Zionist point of view, and attaches himself, or herself, emotionally to the Nation’s struggle to return to the Land of Israel, he or she automatically forms a deeper connection to Hashem, who appears in the world, not as a faraway figure in outer space, but as the behind-the-curtains Conductor of Jewish History, faithful in His promise to return His exiled children to their eternally Promised Land. Rabbi Kook, a main character throughout the novels, teaches that the person who is most connected to the Land of Israel, and to the settlement of the Land, is the closest to perfection in the service of G-d, and the first to be blessed in the World to Come.        

With that introduction, here is an excerpt from “Arise and Shine!” – the new sequel to “Tevye in the Promised Land,” dramatizing the famous last stand of the one-armed hero, Yosef Trumpeldor, at the battle of Tel Hai.

[The “Tevye in the Promised Land” series is available at Amazon Books, and, in Israel, at www.beitel.co.il.]

Image may contain: 2 people, text

In the morning, Tevye, as usual, put on his tefillin. He recited the blessing and wrapped the leather straps along the length of his arm. To his surprise, secular settlers eagerly lined up to perform the precept, as if he were giving away fresh milk. One after another, he showed them how to position the phylacteries and tie the straps. The discovery pleased Tevye. Scratch a Zionist and you find a frume Yid! A woman called Annie stepped forward and held out an arm. Tevye stiffened. A woman? Gevalt! She stood waiting, not understanding the delay. Tevye was speechless. “Well?” she asked.

“You’re a woman,” he said.

“Is that a curse?”

“Women don’t put on tefillin,” he explained.

“Why not?” she wanted to know, with a note of defiance in her voice.

Tevye didn’t know what to answer. He didn’t know the reason. That was the way it was. The question had never arisen. She waited for his response, staring at him in annoyance.

“It’s our tradition,” he said.

It was Trumpeldor who saved him. “Women are more spiritual than men,” he explained. “They don’t need all of the rituals that men do.” Then, stepping in front of her, he said. “As for me, I need all of the mitzvot I can get.”

Without further argument, Annie walked away. The colony commander held out his only arm.

“You’ll have to strap them on for me,” he said.

Later in the morning, Tevye was in the tower, taking a turn at guard duty with one of the settler women when a line of horse-backed riders appeared out of the forest. Holding a white flag, a rider galloped forward, flanked by a six-man escort. The line of Arab troops waited in the distance. Quickly, Tevye rang the warning bell. Settlers hurried into the courtyard. In a cautious, yet determined fashion, the riders proceeded closer to the fort. Their white flag of peace fluttered in the breeze. From the courtyard, Trumpeldor called up to Tevye in the tower.

“What do you see?” he wanted to know.

“Seven Arabs on horseback, carrying a white flag,” Tevye called down. “And an army of ‘Comanches’ in the distance.”

Trumpeldor hurried to a slat in the high wooden gate. He peered out at the long-gowned riders. Mukhtar al-Hussein held up a hand and the delegation came to a halt twenty meters away from the fort. In the distance, Trumpeldor could see a long line of horse-backed tribesmen waiting for orders.

“We come in peace!” the Mukhtar called out, tugging at the reins to calm his nervous steed.

Trumpeldor turned toward the settlers who had gathered in the compound.

“Everyone to their battle positions,” he ordered.

A few of the colony leaders approached him.

“It’s a delegation of Arabs carrying a white flag, led by the Mukhtar Kamal al-Hussein,” he reported, allowing them to see for themselves. “I am going out to talk to them. Keep me covered.”

A settler stepped forward and withdrew the long piece of lumber that was used to bar the gate. Tevye watched from the tower as Trumpledor walked out of the fort and approached the Arabs. His partner on guard duty raised her rifle and aimed at the group in precaution. Two men with rifles hurried up the stairs and took up positions beside her. Feeling that his presence in the crowded turret was no longer essential, Tevye decided to join the settlers by the gate.

“We come unarmed,” the Mukhtar announced.

Trumpeldor spoke to him in Arabic. When he had finished hearing their story, he returned to the compound to report to the colony’s leaders.

“He says he is willing to declare a truce between us,” the experience soldier explained. “He says their fight isn’t with us, but with the French troops who shelled his village. He thinks that we are hiding French soldiers here and wants to search the compound. If none are discovered, he promises to return to his village without further attacks.”

The leaders reacted in favor. One said there was nothing to lose. Another said that everyone was tired and that the peace offer was surely worth a chance.

A hatless kibbutznik with a beard longer than Tevye’s asked Trumpeldor a question. “As our visiting military advisor, what’s your opinion of this unexpected development?”

“I wouldn’t trust an Arab as far as I could throw a mule,” Trumpeldor bluntly responded.

“I agree,” Tevye said.

In the encounters he had had with Arabs since his arrival in the country, first in Shoshana, where they had murdered Ben Zion and stolen the kibbutz’s crop of tomatoes, and then, in the outpost of Morasha, which a tribe of neighboring Arabs had burnt to the ground after swearing to abide by a pact of friendship, Tevye had learned that the descendants of Ishmael continued to live by the sword, just as the Bible attested.

After hearing Trumpeldor’s response, the third settler leader sided with the famous fighter, but since the colony of Tel Hai was founded on democratic principles, the decision followed the majority.

Trumpeldor stood in pensive silence. He glanced at Tevye with a look of concern. With a deep breath, he nodded his head, then returned to the waiting Arabs and communicated the decision. After a brief debate, it was agreed that four of the Arabs would enter the compound unarmed to carry out the search for any hiding Frenchmen, while the Mukhtar remained outside the fort on his horse, flanked by two of his guards. 

One of the settlement leaders called out to crowd in the courtyard.

“The Arab delegation has come to search the compound for Frenchmen who they claim are hiding here in our colony. Don’t interfere in their search. When they discover that the people whom they are seeking are not to be found, they have promised to depart from the area and leave us in peace.” 

Inside the courtyard, there was a general murmur of agreement. Trumpeldor led the four Arabs through the gate of the fort. Two of the Arabs headed toward the barracks while two climbed up the stairs to the tower. Tevye could feel the tension in the air. Trumpeldor’s hand held fast to his pistol.  When the Arabs reached the tower lookout, one of them grabbed the young woman on guard duty. Swiftly, from under his robe, a dagger appeared in his hand. Threateningly, he held it across the frightened girl’s neck. “Drop your rifles,” he ordered in Hebrew.

Startled, the other two guards in the tower let their rifles slip from their hands. As the second Arab pounced on the guns, his friend slit the young woman’s throat. “Allah Akbar!” he shouted.

Before the Jews could react, the Arab kneeling on the floor lifted a rifle and fired at one of the guards. The gunshot sounded loudly over the compound. Lunging forward, the Arab with the dagger stabbed the other Jew in the chest. Below in the courtyard, Trumpeldor aimed his pistol and fired, killing the Arab with the knife as he stood up over his fallen prey. Before the one-armed sharpshooter could fire again, the Arab with the rifle fired down into the courtyard, hitting Trumpeldor in the belly. The valiant soldier doubled over in pain, then straightened and fired up at the tower, hitting his assailant in the head. Outside the fort, the Mukhtar and his guards galloped off. Bullets flew around them, fired by the settlers at the gate. Upon the very first shot, the cavalry of Arabs by the forest charged toward Tel Chai. Bleeding from the wounds in his stomach, Trumpeldor ran out to meet them, firing his pistol at the Mukhtar who was now out of range. Another bullet hit Trumpeldor in his arm. Bleeding profusely, he collapsed to his knees. Tevye was the first to reach him. He grabbed the stricken and fallen warrior. The hooves of the stampeding horses shook the bowels of the earth as they galloped toward the Zionist stronghold. Tevye’s hand turned crimson as he tried to seal the gushing abdominal wound. Bullets flew by around them.

“In my pocket,” Trumpeldor whispered. “The grenade.”

Tevye reached inside the wide jacket pocket and pulled out the miniature bomb. Yanking out the pin, he waited three seconds, then hurled it with all off his strength toward the advancing horde. A deafening explosion echoed through the valley. Tevye fell over Trumpeldor to shield him from the shrapnel. Searing flashes of pain, like the sting of angry scorpions, bore into his flesh from the fiery fragments. Horses neighed wildly in fear. Arab riders were tossed into the air. Limbs fell down from the sky like rain. Rising to his feet, Tevye grabbed Trumpeldor and started dragging him back toward the compound as settlers ran out to help.  Arabs who hadn’t been wounded in the explosion, retreated in haste under a heavy barrage of fire from the defenders of Tel Hai.

The settlers carried Trumpeldor back to the courtyard. Tevye knelt on the ground, bracing the dying man in his arms.

“The enemy is in retreat!” a settler cried out.

A thin stream of blood flowed out of Trumpeldor’s lips, but he managed to smile.

“It is no matter,” he whispered, encouraging his troops to the end. “It is a good thing to die for our country.”