What could Tevye do but nod his head and agree? He had never heard a rabbi speak before in such an exalted manner. Usually, you went to the rabbi to ask him how to slaughter a chicken, not for a philosophical discourse on the salvation of the whole human race. In a way, Rabbi Kook spoke in the visionary style of Perchik and Ben Zion, but where they were full of senseless babble, the Rabbi was unquestionably graced with the word and spirit of God.
“With the honorable Rabbi’s permission,” Tevye ventured to ask. “It is true that in Russia, we common Jews never thought much further than making a living and getting to sleep at the end of the day. We were content to receive whatever crumbs we could from the Czar, and observe the Sabbath in peace. I was blessed with seven wonderful daughters, but to put bread on the table, I spent more time with my horse and my cow. When I looked up from my milking, modern times had set in, and my daughters had been seduced by its charms. One girl is in America. Another, may God shelter her, has drowned. My poor Tzeitl’s husband dropped dead. My Hodel ran off with a Marxist free thinker. And Bat Sheva, I am afraid, has fallen in love with a Zionist Rasputin. Only Ruchel, who has just married Nachman, has merited a life filled with Torah. The girl you saw outside, my Havala, ran off with the Russian you saw in your salon, breaking my heart and the heart of my tortured wife, Golda, may her memory be for a blessing. Now, against all of my wishes and threats, this very same Galagan has followed us here, at the risk of his life several times over. All he talks about is properly marrying my daughter and becoming a Jew. I ask your advice. What is a father to do?”
The Rabbi glanced over at Nachman.
“His heart is set on converting,” Nachman answered. “Not only because of the girl. The pogroms in Russia seemed to have affected him deeply. Even when some of our traveling companions gave him a beating, he still insisted on following us. I told him he would have to study, and he agrees, even if it means being separated from Hava.”
“We can find him a place in Jaffa if he is truly willing to learn for a year,” the Rabbi said, turning toward Tevye. “The heart must be filled with a love for all people. Feelings of hatred must be directed against wickedness only, not against people. We must always remember that there is a spark of godliness in everyone.”
Tevye was not certain that the Rabbi’s answer was the solution he wanted to hear. But at least a year in some yeshiva would keep Hevedke away from his daughter. Before they left Rabbi Kook’s study, the Rabbi gave Tevye his special blessing as a Kohen, a member of the ancient priestly class.
“Perhaps, your honor, the Rabbi, could give a poor milkman a blessing that I find suitable husbands for the rest of my daughters?”
Once again, the Rabbi’s eyes glimmered when he gave Tevye the blessing he asked for. Nachman lingered for a few extra minutes to tell the Rabbi about his teacher’s position in Rishon LeZion. The sage seemed especially pleased with this news. It meant that the light of Torah in the Holy Land was growing along with the orchards and vineyards. As Rabbi Kook led Nachman out of the room, he invited the young scholar to visit him on the holidays so that they could learn Torah together. More than anything else in the world, this was what Nachman wanted to hear.
Rabbi Kook escorted them to the porch, said good-bye, and called for Hevedke to enter. With a look of surprise on his face, the tall Russian walked up the stairs, glancing back for a last look at Hava. When the door closed behind him, Tevye told his daughters to climb back into the wagon.
“What about Hevedke?” Hava asked.
“Hevedke is becoming a yeshiva bocher,” her father said.
“What do you mean?” Hava demanded.
“He’s starting his studies today.”