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

Tevye in the Promised Land

“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.”

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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