“Can we go for a ride on your horse?” the little girl asked.
Bat Sheva appeared in the doorway. Tevye stared at her without saying a word. He had not yet decided how to deal with his youngest daughter. She was like a prancing young colt who longed to escape its corral. To tame the streak of wildness in her, a gentle, yet firm grip on her reins was needed.
His grandchildren were waiting for an answer.
“That is a very good idea,” Tevye said.
He lifted the two kinderlach onto the animal’s back, then climbed up beside them.
“Hold on tightly,” he said.
Bat Sheva disappeared from the doorway and Hava appeared in her place.
“Be careful, Abba,” she called.
“Don’t worry,” Tevye answered. “I used to take you and your sisters for rides.”
He clicked his tongue and gave a slight tug on the reins. The horse started off on a slow, easy walk. Goliath appeared with an axe on his shoulder and waved with a melancholy expression. Ever since Tzeitl had died, the happy-go-lucky giant had acted like a different person. He spent most of his days alone, chopping wood. Soon, towering stacks of firewood sprang up alongside the barn. He rarely ate in the dining hall with the settlers, and while he could not be called skinny, his face became almost gaunt. With Tevye at work in the fields every day, the two men barely found time to speak. This coming Shabbos, Tevye decided, he would find time to have a heart-to-heart talk with the woodcutter.
Guiding the horse up the hillside, Tevye was glad to have some free time with Tzeitl’s children. His long hours in the field kept him away from the house, and by the time he returned home from the evening lesson in Hebrew, Moishe and Hannie were already asleep. When the horse reached the peak of the hill, Tevye set the children down on the ground. In the stillness of the late afternoon, with the day’s problems behind him, he paused to remember the true splendor of the Land, the beautiful azure skies, the tranquility of the hillsides, the feeling of rest and eternity which saturated the Biblical landscapes. With joy in their eyes, the children watched the fiery orb of the sun slip below the distant horizon. As the sun sank out of sight, the sky turned an artist’s palette of colors.
“Saba,” the girl asked, using the Hebrew word for grandfather. “Where does the sun go when it sets?” the girl asked.
“To sleep,” Tevye answered.
“No, really,” Hannie said.
“It keeps on traveling through the sky to shine on different places in the world. Right now, it is shining on your Aunt Baylke in America.”
Thinking of her, Tevye plucked a few blades of grass out of the ground. He would put them in an envelope with the letter he was intending to write to his daughter, so that she could see with her very own eyes that the Promised Land was real.
“Why don’t the boys in Shoshana have peyes like I do?” nine-year-old Moishe asked.
Tevye was taken aback by the question. While he was chagrined by the sacrilegious lifestyle he had found on the kibbutz, his main concern was the harmful influence it was sure to have on Bat Sheva. Now he realized that his grandchildren were being confounded too. If the boy was asking about side-locks, he probably had a dozen other questions and doubts in his head.
“They are not as religious as we are,” the grandfather answered.
“They are not religious at all,” Hannie corrected. “That’s what Shmuelik said when he left.”
“They will all be religious one day,” Tevye said. “They just haven’t learned.”
“Why not?” Moishe asked.
“Because their father and mother did not teach them the Torah.”
“Why not?” the boy asked again.
“Because no one taught them either.”
“They want to live like the gentiles,” Hannie said.
No doubt, Tevye thought, she had heard that from Shmuelik also.
“Are all gentiles bad?” Moishe asked.
“No, certainly not. Not all gentiles are bad,” Tevye answered. “There are many good gentiles too. The tax collector in Anatevka was a good, honest man, and the blacksmith would remove stones and nails from the hooves of my horse without charging me money. The good Lord has created all of the world’s people, and we are commanded to love them all – except for our enemies, of course.”
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." 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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