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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter 13: Tzeitl’s Last Wish

Tevye in the Promised Land

“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.

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


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