“Who am I to forgive?” Tevye answered. “Do I sit on God’s throne? Is a milkman in charge up in Heaven? It is written in the Torah, `A daughter of the children of Israel shall not take a husband from among the foreign nations.’ I didn’t make the rules. Why do you come weeping to me now?”
But in the very next moment he thought, “Is it not also written in our prayers, `Lord, Lord, God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in kindness and truth. Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, forgiver of iniquity and error…?'”
Tevye stared down at his naive, errant daughter as she sobbed at his feet.
“Tevye,” he asked himself. “In all fairness, are you not commanded to imitate the ways of your Creator? Just as He forgives, aren’t you commanded to forgive also?”
Yet another voice asked:
“But what about Golda? What about my Golda who died of a broken heart? Can her death be forgiven? Oh, Golda, who deserved to be buried in the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in the sacred cave in Hevron next to Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah. Oh, Golda, the saint of a woman who suffered with her poor husband, the incompetent shlimazl of a milkman, for so many years – would she herself forgive this weeping, penitent daughter?
“She wants to come back, Tevye,” he heard Golda say, as if she were standing with them in the house. “She’s ashamed she didn’t listen to us. She’s ashamed of what the Russians are doing to the Jews. She’s a good girl, Tevye. She just was confused.”
Tevye glanced down at his daughter. The way she said “Tata” shattered Tevye’s doubts. Her tears on his hands melted his long frozen heart.
“Hava,” he answered. A sob shook his body. Not just any ordinary sob, but a sob of a lifetime, a sob of generations, not just the pain of Tevye the milkman, but the anguish of Jewish fathers and Anatevkas all over the world.
“Hava, my daughter,” he said.
“Father,” she answered, her cheeks shining with tears. Tzeitl was weeping along with little Moishe and Hannie. Bat Sheva and Ruchel were crying too. Even Tevye’s horse was moved by the reunion. Hearing their sobs, he stuck his head in the window to see what new misfortune had befallen his master. The whole house was in tears. Only Golda was smiling. For a moment, Tevye saw her, standing like an angel in the kitchen, gazing happily upon her brood.
“Golda,” he mumbled.
“Enough crying, my husband,” she scolded. “Act like a man!”
True, Tevye thought. There was work to be done. Packing, selling, deciding what treasures to take. But all of that tumult could wait for the morrow. Now was the time for a hearty L’Chaim! A wandering daughter had found her way home! This was no private simcha. This was the joy of the community! The victory of tradition! The homecoming of everyone’s child, reaffirming the ancient covenant between God and the Jews.
Tevye stood up, grabbed a bottle of vodka, and strode out to the porch.
“My Hava’s come home!” he shouted. “My Hava’s come home!”
His daughters tried to stop him, but their father’s happiness was not to be bottled. He strode down the main street of the village, yelling out the good news. People came out of their houses to bless him with mazal tovs and congratulatory kisses. Tevye’s joy was infectious. The news spread through the village like the smell of hot soup. As the Purim verse says, “The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy!” Soon, Jews were dancing with joy in the street. A fiddler stood on a porch, head tilted over his fiddle, filling Anatevka with music. For the moment, Tevye and his friends forgot the Czar’s decree. A daughter had returned to the fold. Even in an hour of danger, there was reason to give thanks. The God of Israel was with them!