“I am grateful for your kindness,” Tevye said.
“May your coming be a blessing,” the pious youth said.
“May our going also be a blessing,” Tevye answered. “I have been a Jew all of my life, but until today, I have never had a rabbi throw me out of a synagogue dedicated to the worship of God.”
The young man blushed. He hung his head toward the ground. “My father probably mistook you for a Zionist.”
“Your father!” Tevye said in surprise. The boy didn’t answer. He bent down to lift the empty bucket of oats and replace it with a bucket of water. A rabbi’s son, Tevye thought. A Torah scholar, no doubt. And a mensch to boot, who went out of his way to perform acts of kindness toward strangers. Tevye approved. It was a suitable match for his Ruchela. If the lad cared for his daughter half as much as he had cared for Tevye’s horse, then the girl had found an excellent husband.
“Since when is loving the Land of Israel a sin?” Tevye asked.
“It isn’t a sin if you love Torah too,” the boy answered. “My father isn’t against Zion. He is against those who throw off the yoke of the Torah and go there. He is afraid of their influence on the minds of our youth.”
Just then, Ben Zion appeared in the entrance.
“Greetings fellow comrades,” the flamboyant Zionist exclaimed.
“Greetings,” Tevye said. “Were your ears just burning? We were just now speaking of you.”
“In a complimentary fashion, I trust. Though there are those who say that it is better to have bad things spoken about you, than to have nothing said about you at all. I understand we have been invited to leave this holy conclave of Branosk,” the capless adventurer quipped.
“We have a journey to continue,” Tevye said.
“Then we should start out before dark,” Ben Zion suggested.
“Tell the others I’m coming,” Tevye answered.
Sensing that he was interrupting the discussion in the barn, Ben Zion dramatically bowed and departed. Tevye slipped the reins of his horse over the animal’s head.
“You are invited to join us,” he told the Rabbi’s son. “I am a widower with unmarried daughters, and the companionship of a Torah scholar like you will help shorten the journey. As our Rabbis teach, when two men discuss matters of Torah, the Divine Presence is with them.”
The youth did not answer.
“In addition, the Baron Rothschild has extended an open invitation to all Jews to join his religious yishuvim-settlements in the Holy Land, and as his representative on this journey, I hereby extend his kind offer to you.”
“I thank you,” the lad said. “I will think about it. But now I have to go home.”
“We will be camped down the road,” Tevye said.
“May your camp be guarded by angels, just as they guarded our forefather Jacob as he journeyed back to the Land of his fathers.”
Tevye’s horse snorted as if to answer “Amen.” The men parted ways, and Tevye returned to the wagon. As he hitched up the horse, he glanced up at Ruchel who was anxiously waiting to learn what had transpired between them.
“I invited your new friend to join us,” Tevye said.
“And?” Ruchel asked.
“As our Rabbis say, `Many are the thoughts in a man’s heart, but it is the counsel of the Lord which will stand.'”
“What does that mean?” Bat Sheva asked.
“It means I left my crystal ball back in Anatevka. In the meantime, like in the story of Abraham and Lot, we are parting ways with our brethren in this village.”
With his rump still hurting from his fall down the synagogue stairs, Tevye flicked the reins of the wagon and the pioneers once again took up their journey.
“If the hospitality in this village is an example of religious behavior, I’m glad I’m a heretic,” Ben Zion said.
“They believe they are doing the right thing,” Tevye sorrowfully answered.
“So does the Czar,” Naftali quipped.
“That’s awful,” Tzeitl exclaimed. “How can you dare compare them?”
“What’s the difference?” Peter answered. “A Russian boot in the rear, or a Jewish boot in the rear, it hurts the same, eh, Tevye?”