Tevye Serialization #2

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 ...

TEVYE IN THE PROMISED LAND

Tevye in the Promised Land (Tevye in the Promised Land Series) (Volume 1)

Serialization Part 2

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 prayer book, 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 straight-forwardly 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!

To be continued.

The “Tevye in the Promised Land” Series is available at Amazon Books:

https://www.amazon.com/Books-Tzvi-Fishman/s?ie=UTF8&page=1&rh=i%3Abooks%2Cp_27%3ATzvi%20Fishman

In Israel:

http://www.beitel.co.il/?q=tzvi+fishman