“Tevye!” he boomed.
All of the students looked up. The clamor of their learning turned to a hush. Hevedke rushed over to Tevye, grasped him in a bear hug, and lifted him off of his feet. “Tevye,” he said. “Reb Tevye!”
When Hevedke returned him back to the floor, Tevye stared into a strange, unfamiliar face. Hevedke’s smooth, angular jaw was now bearded. A yarmulka covered his head. But the very great difference lay in his eyes. Tevye couldn’t explain it, but they were not the same eyes he remembered. A beautiful light shone within them, as if a candle had been lit from inside. The face of Hevedke, the Russian, had vanished. Confronting Tevye was the face of a Jew.
“How is Hava?” he asked. “You must tell me, please. I am dying to know.”
The other students continued to stare at them.
“Come outside,” Hevedke said. “We are interrupting their studies. How long are you here for? Is Hava with you? Is everything all right?”
Tevye assured him that everyone, thank God, was fine. For the moment, they were living in Zichron Yaacov. Hava had completed a course in nursing and was now working in the infirmary.
“Did Hava ask you to give me a message?” he asked. The youth spoke with such genuine hope that Tevye himself was disarmed.
“She asked me to send you her greetings.”
Hevedke beamed as if Tevye had handed him a bagful of rubels. His eyes shone with delight.
“You can tell her that I am enjoying my studies more than I have enjoyed anything else in my life.”
A forced, crooked smile formed on Tevye’s lips. “Oy vay,” he thought. “He likes learning Torah!”
“Better yet,” Hevedke said. “I will write her a letter. How I have longed to know where you were living. You have another few minutes, I trust, my kindly Reb Tevye?”
Kindly Reb Tevye? After all the trials which Tevye had forced this daughter-robber to bear, he addressed him as “kindly” Reb Tevye? When had Tevye ever been kind to him? Either Hevedke was still a glib talker, or else a miraculous transformation was indeed taking place inside the youth’s soul.
Hevedke hurried back into the study hall of the yeshiva and grabbed a piece of paper. Excitedly, he sat down and started to write. He scribbled at a furious pace, looking up now and then to make sure that Tevye was still waiting. The other students in the room kept on with their studies. The vibrant sound of debate filled the air. Study partners, or hevrutas, as Tevye remembered they were called from his days in Talmud Torah, sat facing one another, entangled in lively Halachic discourse.
When it seemed that Hevedke was never going to finish the long Megilla he had started to write, Tevye sat down at a table. Absently, he flipped open the book of Psalms before him, and placed his finger on some random verse, knowing that the Lord’s Providence watched over every movement in the world, from the movement of clouds in the sky to the path of a leaf falling to earth. His fingernail landed on a verse from the Hallel prayer: “He raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap; to sit him with the nobles, with the nobles of his people.”
Tevye looked around at the study hall. These impoverished students of Torah, who labored day and night to master the intricacies of the Biblical texts, these were the true Jewish nobles. The Torah scholars were the true barons and guardians of Am Yisrael, the nation of Israel. It was they who had kept the nation intact for thousands of years. Foreign armies and rulers had swept over the Holy Land, boasting of their might and their glory. The pages of history were filled with their sound and their fury. Each succeeding conqueror had declared the final defeat of the Jews. And yet, long after these emperors and empires had collapsed, long after their temples and palaces had all turned to rubble, the Jews had returned to their homeland. The Jews had survived because of these very same scholars who had clung, through persecution and plague, to the sacred code of law which God had given to their forefathers thousands of years before.