“What are we going to eat?” Shmuelik asked Tevye as they changed into their Sabbath clothing.
Tevye did not understand the question. “What do you mean?” he asked.
Before Shmuelik could answer, Hillel spoke up in a bard’s satirical manner. “He means that though you may be overjoyed to be reunited with your daughter, the Lord has commanded the Jewish people to observe certain dietary laws like eating properly slaughtered meat. And while we have only been here a short time, I have not seen the likes of a God-fearing butcher.”
“So we won’t eat meat tonight,” Tevye responded. “There is no sin in that.”
“Not eat meat on Shabbos?” Hillel asked. “Even when my mother, God bless her, didn’t have a kopeck to buy a new pair of shoes for me or my brother, we still had meat on Shabbos.”
“That’s the way it goes,” Tevye answered. “The Almighty is in charge of the menu. Whatever He gives us is more than we deserve.”
“The meat is not the only problem,” Shmuelik observed. This is the Holy Land. There are laws of priestly dues and tithes. Before we can eat vegetables and fruits which Jews have grown in the Land, the proper portions must be set aside as commanded in the Torah.”
Tevye sighed. Whoever said it was easy to be a good Jew? Your thoughts had to be holy. Your deeds had to be holy. Your food had to be holy. Your day of rest had to be holy. Even your Land had special religious laws of its own which no one ever thought about in Russia.
“This is one of the reasons why Moses begged the Almighty to let him enter Eretz Yisrael” Shmuelik informed them. “So he could fulfill the mitzvos which we can only perform in the Holy Land.”
“If it was important to Moses, our teacher, than it certainly is important to us,” Tevye agreed. “But how does one take these tithes?”
Because sundown was almost upon them, and a detailed explanation would take much too long, Shmuelik volunteered to hurry to the kitchen to prepare the food as required. Dressed in his Sabbath finery, he ran off across the kibbutz grounds in search of the dining hall. Kibbutzniks pointed the way, their eyes wide with wonder as they stared at the ultra-Orthodox Jew in his white stockings and knickers. Embarrassed, he tapped on the kitchen doorway, noticing that it lacked a mezuzah. The young women inside stopped their work to gape at the bearded, black-coated apparition with a fur shtreimel hat on his head.
“We are visiting Hodel,” Shmuelik explained. “That is, her father and sisters have arrived, and there are certain matters of kashrut which need to be performed.”
The girls stared at him brazenly, directly into his eyes, the way men look at each other. Shmuelik had never encountered females like this. Embarrassed, he looked away.
“Do whatever you have to,” one said. “You are a guest.”
Quickly, Shmuelik entered the kitchen and set aside small portions of the vegetables which the women had prepared. When he finished separating the trumah and maaser tithes as the Torah prescribed, he began washing leaves of lettuce in a bucket of water.
“We already rinsed them,” one of the young women said.
“Hold a leaf up to the light,” he answered.
The girl inspected one of leaves which had already been washed. The green stalks were speckled with insects.
“Yeech,” the girl said in disgust.
“A Jew isn’t supposed to eat crawling creatures,” Shmuelik explained.
He asked for some vinegar. Soaking the leaves in the bitter liquid was the best way to make them bug free. “After soaking the leaves in the vinegar, they have to be washed again so that the taste isn’t spoiled,” he taught.
“Oh, nonsense,” said a girl with long braided hair. “Bugs are so small, what harm can they do?”
Once again, with the Sabbath only minutes away, Shmuelik didn’t have time to answer the question. “Did you bake any loaves of bread?” he asked.
“Certainly we did,” the girl named Sonia answered. “What do you take us for?”
Shmuelik broke off some pieces from the bread which the women had baked and said a blessing over the special challah portion. As it turned out, kosher meat wasn’t a problem at all. The evening’s main course was fish. Meat was a luxury which the kibbutz could not afford even on the Sabbath.
“Tevye arrived in the dining hall clutching a small bag in his hands. Lovingly, he withdrew two silver candlesticks and a white Sabbath tablecloth which his Golda had sewn. They were Tevye’s most cherished possessions. He had brought them from Anatevka just for a moment like this, though in his wildest dreams, he never thought he would be setting up the candles for his Hodel to light in the Land of Israel.
“Thank you God,” he said. “Thank you for bringing me to Hodel, and for giving us the blessed Sabbath day.”
More than the Jews had kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath had kept the Jews. Like a beacon in the night, the Sabbath came to remind a man that God, not the Czar, was the Ruler of the world. A Jew rested on the Sabbath, not because he was tired from the labors of the week, but because God had commanded him to make it a holy day. It was a day when every Jew, even the most downtrodden and humble, could feel like a Rothschild.
Spreading the tablecloth, Tevye recalled the Sabbath feasts which his Golda had prepared. Her challahs were baked with so much love, they seemed to drip with honey. And her Sabbath soup was so rich, a guest at their table would have thought that Tevye was really a millionaire! Even if it meant starting out the coming week without a ruble in the house, Tevye didn’t care – to honor the Sabbath, he would bring home the finest piece of meat he could find. And to top everything off, his Golda’s freshly baked cakes were more delicious than the desserts in the fanciest Boiberik hotels. The feast she prepared was her way of saying she loved him. It did not matter that come Sunday, she would curse him for being a hopeless bumbler and shlemeil - on Shabbos, he was her king.
Hodel appeared in the doorway clutching a set of candlesticks of her own. Her father remembered them. They too had been a gift from Golda. When Hodel had set off to join Perchik in exile after his arrest for subversive activities, her mother had handed her the candlesticks with the admonition to always remember the Sabbath. Though Hodel had chosen a path far different from the life of her parents, she always lit the Sabbath candles and preserved their message in her heart. Even though her husband, Perchik, was not religious in the sense of observing the rituals of Jewish law, he was an earnestly principled man with a love for all of humanity, and a dream of universal brotherhood and peace. For Hodel, that was the essence of religious belief. Though her husband disapproved of “meaningless customs,” Hodel continued to light the Sabbath candles out of respect for her parents and the tradition they cherished.
She set down her candlesticks on the familiar white tablecloth next to the candlesticks she remembered from Anatevka.
“You brought them with you,” she said.
“Certainly,” Tevye answered.
“Do you remember these candlesticks?” she asked.
“How could I forget? They were your grandmother’s.”
“I have lit the Sabbath candles ever since I left Anatevka,” she said.
Closing her eyes in deep concentration, and gently waving her hands, Hodel beckoned the holiness of the Sabbath to descend over the kibbutz, just like her mother had done when reciting the Sabbath blessing. Tevye watched her light the candles which had brought blessing to Jewish homes for thousands of years. Then he placed his hands on her head and pronounced the traditional paternal prayer, “May the Lord make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah…. may the Lord bless you and grant you peace.”
Hodel felt the warmth of her father’s love radiating out of his fingers as he sang the words of the blessing. A sob welled up within her, reminding her how much she had missed his fatherly caring and his monumental faith. There was an aroma of history to her father, like the smell of dusty old books. True, the books which her father valued were different from the books her husband loved, but she felt an inner bond with her father which nothing could weaken, like her love for God Himself. She wanted to tell her father that the chasm wasn’t as deep as he thought. She wanted to tell him that she still believed in the things he had taught her. But as he closed his eyes in a reverent Sabbath melody, she couldn’t find the words to express the emotions she felt in her heart.
In retrospect, looking back at her marriage, she understood it was the exciting novelty of Perchik’s personality which had swept her heart away, and not his revolutionary speeches. Because she loved him, she followed after him like a dutiful wife. What he thought, she thought. What he believed, she believed. The Torah that she had inherited from her father and mother, she had hidden away in her heart.
Just as the candle-lighting ceremony was finished, Shmuelik appeared and told Tevye that everything was ready in the kitchen. There was no synagogue on the non-religious kibbutz, so the newcomers prayed in the spacious dining hall before the kibbutzniks arrived for the meal. As Herzl gazed down upon them from a picture framed on the wall, Tevye and his friends chanted out the time-honored tunes which accompanied the arrival of the seventh day of the week. Tevye was particularly joyous this Sabbath Eve in the Holy Land. With a proud, soaring spirit, he sang the “Adon Olam” at the end of their prayers. Soon, every bench in the dining hall was filled with hungry settlers. Everyone in the kibbutz ate together, in accord with their goal of building a classless society, free from the evils of private ownership and capitalist gain. Surprisingly, the kibbutzniks came formally dressed for the meal, the men in high-collared shirts and ties, the women in floor-length dresses with ribbons tied in bows at the neck. In his deepest baritone, Tevye held up his cherished goblet and chanted the traditional Kiddush. Out of respect, many of the men covered their heads with their caps or their hands as Tevye sang out the blessing. One striking figure with a great white beard and balding countenance turned his chair to the side as if in disdain for the ceremony. Tevye remembered the words of Rabbi Kook that with time these Zionists would return in joy to the Torah after their secular enterprises and idealistic experiments failed to provide food for their souls.
After finishing a bottle of Rothschild wine, Tevye felt so spirited, he imagined seeing a group of Sabbath angels enter the dining hall to join them for the repast. In keeping with the local custom, the minstrel, Naftali, stood up and led the kibbutzniks in a romantic Zionist song, which exalted the work on the Land.
“Here I built a house
In Eretz Yisrael.
Here I planted trees
In Eretz Yisrael.
Here I built a road
In Eretz Yisrael.
Here I sang a song
In Eretz Yisrael.”
Then, with eyes shining brightly with love, the women sang in a chorus. Their mellifluous voices, together with the Torah prohibition of hearing a woman sing, caused Shmuelik to blush and turn to sit facing the wall.
“Eretz Yisrael, my land
Eretz Yisrael, my love
Eretz Yisrael, my dream
Eretz Yisrael, my world
Before the women could continue their singing, Hillel stood up and sang a haunting solo which received an appreciative applause, and not a knife or fork moved in the hall when little Moishe stood up to accompany him in a stirring Sabbath duet. When the kibbutzniks called for an encore, Hillel began singing a spirited Hasidic melody. He grabbed Tevye by the hand and dragged him up from his bench. Soon they were dancing with Goliath in the middle of the hall. Not to be upstaged, Ben Zion grabbed the hand of the pretty young girl whom Shmuelik had met in the kitchen. With his usual flair, he started to swing her around. Swirling the girl past Bat Sheva’s table, Ben Zion winked, and the milkman’s high-strung daughter nearly fell off of her bench in a faint once again. Then with Perchik’s encouragement, the kibbutzniks got up from their tables to dance a spirited hora. This was too much for Shmuelik. The sight of the young men and women holding hands and dancing soured the food in his stomach. He stood up and hurried out of the hall, as if someone had set it on fire. Tevye too was distraught. If a man and wife wanted to dance in the privacy of their own home that was one thing, but mixed dancing in public was strictly forbidden!
“Oy, the Jew who does not listen to his Rabbi,” he thought, remembering the scene at the Anatevka crossroads and the Rabbi’s stern warning against linking up with those who had defiantly thrown off the yoke of the Torah. In the Holy Land, this brazen behavior could only be a portent of evil, leading to even worse breaches. When the hora continued, he gathered his family and led them outside. Besides the dancing, Bat Sheva’s dizzy spells had Tevye worried. He kept thinking about the plague in Tiberias, God forbid. But when the girl recovered immediately in the fresh air outside of the dining room, and a reddish glow returned to her cheeks, Tevye guessed the real cause of her distress. He did not have a degree in psychology, but he was a father to seven daughters, and he recognized the pangs of young love.
“Forget the scoundrel,” he told her. “He will give you nothing but heartache.”
“It’s none of your business,” she said.
Tevye stiffened. “It is true that I am a milkman by trade, but I am also a father, and that makes my daughter my business.”
“I am not a cow that I don’t have a will of my own,” Bat Sheva answered.
“In a woman, that can be a very dangerous thing.”
“Don’t preach to me, father.”
“Very well, my princess. If I have learned anything in my life, it is that one doesn’t argue with Tevye’s daughters. However, advice is something that a father is required to give, as it says, `Do not turn aside from your father’s advice.’ Between a husband and a wife, there has to be trust. Trust in each other, and trust in God. In a marriage, that is the most basic foundation.”
“Hodel and Perchik are happy,” Bat Sheva retorted.
“True happiness is in doing God’s will.”
“That’s what you believe. Hodel and Perchik believe something else.”
“It isn’t only what I believe. It is what my father believed, and what my father’s father believed, and what his father believed for four-thousand years, ever since God first spoke to Abraham.”
“Maybe they were all wrong.”
“God forbid,” Tevye said. He backed away from his daughter. “I see you only want to anger me, as if I were to blame for your wounded pride.”
“Why should my pride be wounded?” the young girl responded. “I am just as pretty as the girl he danced with. If I had some nice, modern clothes like she has, I am sure I would be even prettier.”
Tevye sighed. He had expected more from his daughter than the jealousies which her immature outburst revealed. Were pretty clothes and a pretty smile the most important things in life? Certainly, the girl had not learned this shallow narrishkeit from her mother, may her soul rest in peace, and certainly not from him. As the Sabbath song taught, “Charm is deceiving, and beauty is vain; only a God-fearing woman is to be praised.” How had such dangerous foreign notions found their way into her head?
While Tevye was still pondering this question, the answer suddenly appeared. Perchik, the university student whom Tevye had brought into his home to tutor his daughters, came running up to them in great haste. It was the stories he had read them, the literature of the “enlightened” free thinkers, which had poisoned their minds. Bat Sheva, the youngest and most vulnerable of his daughters, had not had the defenses to guard herself against such head-spinning tales. And Tevye himself was to blame.
“Tevye, come quickly!” Perchik said out of breath. “Tzeitl is ill.”
A feeling of hollowness gripped Tevye’s soul.
“Please, God,” he prayed, hurrying after Perchik. “Please save my daughter.”
Hodel was holding Tzeitl in her arms. At the start of the Sabbath, Tzeitl had felt too weak to leave the house. After lighting the candles in the dining room, Hodel had returned to sit with her. As if compelled by a deep inner need, Tzeitl had spoken on and on about Motel’s tragic illness, about the shock of Shprintza’s drowning, about Hodel’s leaving home to follow after Perchik, about the elopement of Hava and Hevedke, and about their mother’s subsequent death. Then the down-to-earth Tzeitl, in a strange flight of fancy, confided that in her fevers, their mother had appeared to her from Heaven, urging her to warn Hodel to alter her ways and return to a life filled with Torah.
Tzeitl had spoken with an urgency which seemed to have weakened her. Hodel tried to take her sister’s mind off of the past by talking about her pregnancy and asking her sister’s advice on how to take care of the baby. But before Tzeitl could answer, a sweat had broken out on her forehead, and she was engulfed by a burning fever. By the time Tevye arrived, she was struggling for breath.
“Don’t worry, Tata,” she said. “Mama and Motel are waiting for me.”
“Nonsense,” Tevye answered. “You just need to rest from the journey.”
Tzeitl smiled. “A long rest,” she said. Then she told her father to kiss Moishe and Hannie for her. “Take them to Ruchel and Nachman so they will grow up believing in God.”
That was Tzeitl’s last wish. She passed away in Hodel’s arms. This was the reason she had fought death away for such a long time on the journey. Before she left this world for the next, Tzeitl wanted to accomplish one final mission – to bring a message of faith to her sister. Her eyes closed in relief, with a smile on her lips, content that she had succeeded. With a last peaceful breath, Tzeitl’s soul returned to its Maker.
“Blessed be the true Judge,” Tevye said.
Gently, he helped Hodel lay Tzeitl down on the bed.
“She said that Mama and Motel appeared to her in her dreams,” Hodel told him.
“I believe her,” Tevye answered. “I have seen your mother myself, several times. May they be reunited up in Heaven.”
Tevye led Hodel out of the room. Perchik, Bat Sheva, and Hava were all standing in the doorway.
“What will become of the children,” Bat Sheva asked.
“For the present, they’ll stay with me,” Tevye said. “Later, I will bring them to Ruchel. That was Tzeitl’s dying request.”
“They can stay here with us on the kibbutz,” Perchik offered.
“We’ll see,” Tevye answered without further elaboration. This wasn’t the time to enter into an ideological debate about the education of children.
Tevye said he was going to look for Shmuelik. It was forbidden to bury a corpse on the Sabbath, and he wanted to make sure of the laws. Though a painful remorse filled his whole being, Tevye was determined not show his emotions. The Almighty had loaned him a jewel of a daughter for thirty blessed years, and now He was taking her back.
“The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." For the past several years, he has written a popular and controversial blog at Arutz 7. A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press
You might also be interested in:
You must log in to post a comment.