His daughters, Tzeitl, Bat Sheva, and Ruchel, stared at him as he sank into his chair. They had witnessed the degrading spectacle from the doorway of the house. They had watched the Commissioner rear his horse and almost knock their father down when Tevye had grabbed the stallion’s reins in an effort to plead for his people.
“Where will we go?” Tzeitl asked.
“Where the Almighty leads us,” Tevye answered.
“What will we do when we get there?” Bat Sheva, the youngest, inquired.
“What the Almighty decrees.”
“Who will buy our house?” Tzeitl continued. Her two small children, Moishe and Hannie, ran over to hug her. They gazed up at their grandfather with big, searching eyes.
Tevye didn’t have an answer.
“Is it true, Tata,” Ruchel said. “Do we really have to leave Anatevka?”
Their questions were giving him a headache.
“Am I the Almighty?” he asked, slamming a hand on the table. “Do I decide what will be in the world? Do I stand in the place of the Creator that I know His secret plans?”
Tevye stood up from his chair. In painful situations, a father had to appear confident. When the ship was sinking, the captain had to keep firm command. In times of crisis, children needed the example of a father’s unwavering faith.
“Enough pointless chatter,” he said. “Haven’t our Sages warned us that a man who talks at length with women brings calamity down on his head? The Almighty will provide for us, just as he has for the last four-thousand years. Pack up what you need for a journey. The rest I will sell in the city. In the meantime, your father has important business which he needs to transact.”
In the barn, Tevye saddled his horse. He didn’t have the heart to tell the creature the news. They had been companions through rainstorms and blizzards, through famine and blight. Together, they had shared life’s burdens for thousands of miles. The old mare had been as faithful to him as his wife.
“Oy Golda,” Tevye said, sighing at her memory. “May your soul rest in peace.”
Finally, he understood why God, in His kindness, had taken Golda away from him while she was still in the prime of her life. To spare her the humiliation of being chased out of her house by the soldiers of the Czar.
In his crestfallen state, the journey into Yehupetz seemed to take longer than usual. Tevye’s horse must have thought it strange to travel such a long distance in silence, but Tevye was not in the mood for conversation. His thoughts were so jumbled, his usual erudition escaped him. A lone verse of King David’s Psalms echoed in his thoughts: “Some with chariots, and some with horses, but we in the name of the Lord our God call out.” There was some consolation in that. Even if the authorities took away his house, his wagon, and even his horse, Tevye would still have his God.
Luckily, the milkman’s mazel was with him. The tax collector agreed to buy Tevye’s house. Out of all the Russians Tevye knew, the tax collector, Karamozky, was the man he most trusted. Like clockwork, every three months, on the first day of the week, the punctual civil servant would arrive in Anatevka. After paying his village taxes, Tevye would invite him for a drink in his house. The tax collector seemed to enjoy Tevye’s discourses on the Bible, and Tevye cherished nothing more than drinking with someone who was willing to listen. Golda was less enthused.
“It’s not your wisdom he likes,” she said. “It’s your vodka.”
Like the experienced salesman he was, Tevye set forth the advantages of buying the house as if it were a splendid estate. The tax collector himself could testify to its sturdy construction. Hadn’t he sat there himself, a guest of the family, year after year, through winter snowstorms and the summer’s scorching sun? Tevye even advised Karamozky to buy six or seven houses in Anatevka. That way he would become a principle investor in the village, like a baron with properties all over town. Finally, Tevye begged him.
“If not for me, your devoted milkman, then for my daughters.”