Arriving in Jaffa, they traveled straight to the house of Rabbi Kook. Once again, the Rabbi’s kindly wife led them into his study. Once again, Tevye was amazed by the aura of holiness which seemed to surround his saintly figure and suffuse the whole room. Rabbi Kook’s eyes shone with both a mystical light, and a kind, compassionate smile. He listened as Nachman explained the dilemma. Tevye waited anxiously for his answer.
“While it is true that the money is legally yours,” the Rabbi decreed, “to be clear of any possible doubt, it is, as you suggest, a prudent idea to write the Baron himself and hear what he has to say.”
Tevye frowned, but he didn’t dare refute the Rabbi’s advice. There was nothing to do except pray that the Baron would stand by his benevolent gesture.
“As to your decision to leave Rishon LeZion, you should not harbor any doubts,” the Rabbi said to Nachman as if sensing the uncertainty in his heart. “Thank God, Rishon LeZion is an established community, and another teacher of Torah can surely be found. But what you and your family are doing, venturing forth to build a new settlement, this is an act of supreme importance. The person who most sacrifices himself for the rebuilding of our Land will receive the most bountiful blessing in Heaven.”
Nachman blushed and lowered his head. Then, Rabbi Kook turned a profoundly serious glance at Tevye. Instinctively, the milkman looked around to see if the Rabbi were gazing at someone more important behind him. But there was no one else in the study. The words of the Rabbi were addressed directly to him.
“Until all of our scattered brethren come to settle in our uniquely Holy Land, each of us has to demand all that he can of himself. We must always remember, that the Land of Israel is only acquired through trial and suffering. However, the Almighty does not test a man with more difficulties than he can bear. On the contrary, He gives us the strength and the courage to persevere. If we encounter problems, tragedies, and setbacks, it does not mean that the path we have chosen is wrong, but rather that the Almighty, in His great love, is providing us with a test to strengthen our faith. When we cling to Him with love and with joy, even in difficult times, like our Forefathers did in the past, we rise up in His service to the holiest levels which a person can reach. And this closeness to God is a greater gift and blessing than all of the comfort and wealth in the world.”
Tevye nodded. His palms moistened with sweat. Was he made out of glass that the Rabbi could see all of his inner doubts and fears? He remembered Golda’s words, “Be strong, my husband, be strong.” All he could think about was getting out of the room before the scholar’s searing gaze transformed him into a pile of ashes. Then, a kind smile flashed over the Rabbi’s face, putting the milkman at ease.
“Your family is depending on you to be strong, Reb Tevye, and to show them that our allegiance to God and our holy traditions will forever be a beacon to light up whatever temporary darknesses that life sets in our path.”
Tevye turned the conversation to Hevedke. Rabbi Kook reported that he was learning day and night in a small yeshiva nearby, and his progress was truly astounding. Hearing this, Tevye was not overjoyed. In his heart of hearts, he harbored the hope that rigorous discipline of Talmudic studies would prove too much for the Russian poet’s mettle. Rabbi Kook said that the secret to life lay in a man’s will, and that Hevedke was driven by a passionate desire to overcome the barriers which lay in the path of every soul who sets forth to climb up the ladder of holiness.
“A passionate desire for my daughter,” Tevye thought, still unconvinced of Hevedke’s sincerity in becoming a Jew.
While Nachman lingered to converse with the Rabbi, one of the Rabbi’s disciples escorted Tevye from the house to the yeshiva where Hevedke was learning. Standing in the doorway of the Beit Midrash study hall, it wasn’t hard to pick out the blond Russian from the other dark-haired students. Sitting with his back facing Tevye, Hevedke’s head and broad shoulders towered over the lot. Bobbing back and forth like a Jew davening in prayer, he listened in fervent concentration as the scholar across from him explained a polemic of Talmudic law. Hevedke’s study partner made a movement with his hand and his thumb, as if he were scooping up some insight from the pages of the large volume of Gemara which lay on the table between them. He glanced up at Tevye just long enough to cause Hevedke to turn and look up at the visitor. Seeing Hava’s father, the young Russian leaped up with a bright happy grin.