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April 18, 2015 / 29 Nisan, 5775
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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Ten: Rabbi Kook

Tevye book cover

“Being kicked out of your village, murdered, and exiled from country to country is not what I call redemption,” the willful girl responded.

“She has a point,” Tevye agreed.

“You’ll understand when Rabbi Kook explains it to you,” Nachman assured.

“Why must I understand? Aren’t the pains in my back and the aches in my feet enough learning for a lifetime?”

“That’s just the physical side of our life. There is a whole spiritual reality as well.”

Tevye didn’t see anything spiritual in milking a cow at four in the morning, but he didn’t want to get into a mystical argument with his new son-in-law. The milkman from Anatevka was a simple Jew, not a Kabbalist. It was enough for him to serve the Lord with gladness and a peasant’s simple faith, believing that everything was in the hands of His Creator. Life was a never-ending series of trials, with joyous occasions scattered like bread crumbs along the road, to give a man hope and the strength to continue. A Jew had to stick to the Torah and thank the Almighty for both the good and the bad. As King Solomon had said, “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the sum of man.” Anything more, like Nachman’s talk of redemption and the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, only gave Tevye a headache.

After several long hours of travel, they reached the port city of Jaffa. In contrast to the barren desert landscapes which they had left behind, the noisy congestion of Jaffa came as a welcomed sight. Narrow streets and alleyways were infested with man and beast. Arab porters scurried in every direction, laden with fleeces of wool, copper vessels, and Persians rugs. Caravan drivers led their camels toward the market. The aroma of oriental spices and teas perfumed the air. Vendors cried out, selling their wares from booths on the street. Turkish soldiers with bayonetted rifles strutted through the crowds, keeping order. Crippled beggars stuck out their hands for money, and dark-faced Africans and Moslems offered juice drinks from jugs strapped over their backs. The cobblestone pavement was soiled with sheep dung and donkey droppings. Flies swarmed everywhere. They stuck to Tevye’s beard, unfazed by his swats and his curses. Only when the Jews made their way through the teeming city toward the harbor did an ocean breeze rescue them from their furious attackers.

The roadway along the port was congested with carts loading and unloading merchandise. Dozens of sun-bleached rowboats were tied to the wharf, while schooners and four-chimneyed freighters lay anchored further out to sea. Tevye pulled alongside a wagon laden with wine barrels and driven by Jews. Nachman greeted them and asked the way to Rabbi Kook’s house. They answered in Russian and pointed down the roadway to a cluster of houses at the outskirts of the port.

Soon, more and more Jews could be seen as they approached the white-cottaged neighborhood. Many of the faces were so dark and oriental that Tevye wondered if they were Jewish. Some wore the same caftans and turbans of the Arabs. Other Jews, paler in complexion and recognizably Ashkenazim, were dressed like Russian workers with vests, caps, and bushy beards. Everyone they asked seemed to know where the Rabbi of Jaffa lived. In his excitement, Nachman jumped down from the wagon and ran on ahead. The Rabbi’s wife showed them into the house. She said that the Rabbi was resting, but he appeared in a doorway at the far end of the parlor, eager to greet his guests as if he had been expecting their arrival.

Nachman rushed forward and bowed, grasping the Rabbi’s outstretched hand. Rabbi Kook was dressed formally in a long black frock. A black fur-lined shtreimel covered his head like a crown. What astonished Tevye were his eyes. In the depths of their piercing blackness, a light shone with a mystical radiance. When he glanced at Tevye, the humble milkman felt that his secrets lay open before him like playing cards spread out on a table. The great Torah scholar smiled at the newcomers and wished them a pleasant shalom. His eyes glowed with kindness, but at the same time, they were incredibly serious. The Rabbi’s glance seemed to say, “My friend, Tevye, I love you like a brother, but we both know that being a Jew isn’t so simple.”

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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