For more than an hour, Tevye stood outside the yeshiva watching the learning. When the time came for the afternoon prayer, he faced in the direction of Jerusalem like the students inside the building and started to pray in the alleyway. Spotting a Jew swaying back and forth in prayer outside of the building, Hevedke rushed outside to invite him into the study hall.
“You’re a Jew?” Hevedke asked.
Keeping his head down, Tevye silently nodded.
“Come inside and join us.”
Tevye shook his head no.
“Come in. Please. By all means,” the gracious student insisted.
Again Tevye shook his head no. He glanced up to Heaven and moved his lips in silent prayer, as if to remind the yeshiva student that it was forbidden to speak in the middle of the silent Amidah prayer. Even if a snake were to coil around a Jew’s feet, it was forbidden to interrupt the holy supplication.
Unless the snake was poisonous, of course. Hevedke, or rather Issac, had learned the law. Nodding his head, he put his feel together and began to pray beside Tevye. When they had finished, and the shaliach tzibor inside the yeshiva began to repeat the prayer aloud for the congregation, the kindhearted student once again invited Tevye to Join them inside.
Waving a hand, Tevye shook his head no. He didn’t want to speak and betray his thick Russian accent. A piece of his turban unraveled, and he nervously stuck it back into place.
“I can take you to a Sephardi synagogue if you prefer,” Hevedke offered, thinking that was the reason why the oriental Jew didn’t want to enter the Ashkenazic yeshiva.
Lowering his head, Tevye waved no again. As he was mounting his horse, a hand grabbed his garment.
“Can’t you speak?” Hevedke inquired.
Tevye shook his head no. He made a slicing motion with his thumb just under his beard.
“Oh, no. You’re throat has been cut?” his son-in-law asked in alarm.
Tevye answered with a nod.
“By the Arabs?”
Tevye shook his head no.
“By the Turks?”
“Devils. May they be chased from our Land. Wait here,” the saintly youth said. “I’ll bring you a glass of water.”
When Hevedke ran off, Tevye mounted his horse. But just then, as he was planning to bolt, a Bedouin shepherd led a flock of bleating sheep into the alleyway. Tevye tugged on the reins of his horse to turn it around, but the sheep swarmed all around them, pinning the horse where it stood. Nervously, the creature reared up on its hind legs with a neigh. Taken by surprise, Tevye tumbled backwards out of the saddle. Sheep bleated and scattered as the horse’s rider crashed down on their backs. Luckily for Tevye, his fall was absorbed by the animals. But before the alley had cleared, a stampede of hooves battered his bones. Their scratches drew blood from his face. As Hevedke ran back to the alley, Tevye quickly adjusted his fallen and disheveled turban.
“Are you all right?” his son-in-law asked.
Holding the cloth head-covering in place, Tevye nodded.
“You’re bleeding. Let me help you. You can come to my place and rest. I have a room down the street.”
Hevedke put his arm under Tevye’s and helped him up to his feet. A sharp pain in the back made Tevye groan. He could hardly stand straight. His old milkman’s spine had been knocked out of place.
“Can you walk?” Hevedke asked.
Tevye took a careful step forward and froze. The nerves in his back screamed out in protest. His boot remained implanted in the sheep dung in the alley.
“Don’t worry,” his son-in-law said. “I’ll carry you. It isn’t far to my room.”
“Put me down,” Tevye wanted to yell, but he couldn’t without revealing his sham. Hevedke bent down and, with a grunt, lifted his crippled father-in-law on his back. Calling inside the yeshiva, he yelled for someone to tie up the horse in the alley.
What could Tevye do? He was paralyzed. He had to continue the luckless charade. The minute Hevedke left him alone, he would flee from the city.
“This is what I get for having suspected a fellow Jew of committing adultery,” he thought. Didn’t the Torah command a Jew to judge others in a favorable light? More than that. A Jew was to be especially kind to a convert. As it says, “For you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” And this was no ordinary convert. Hevedke was truly a tzaddik, as moral and straight as a plowshare’s furrow. Tevye was no skinny chicken, yet Hevcdke carried him on his back all of the way down the street and up a flight of stairs to his room in an old boarding house.
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." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.
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