As weeks passed, Tevye felt more and more invincible. An inner transformation was taking place which he himself couldn’t explain, as if a new soul had entered his body. He felt like he was not only Tevye, but someonc much greater, as if the spirits of Goliath and Shmuelik, Bat Sheva and Golda, Tzeitl and Guttmacher, along with the heroes of history, had all become a part of his being. The strength of generations impelled him forward in his tasks. He was tireless in his labor. In addition to draining the swamps, he dug ditches throughout the night. When a wave of hot desert winds made work in the swamps too dangerous, he plowed fields and planted, sawed wooden planks and hammered the foundations of buildings. Unable to sleep more than a few hours a night, he did double shifts of guard duty, chased away snooping Arabs, and greeted the sunrise, wrapped in tallit and teffilin. Instead of mourning, he worked and he built. On the Sabbath, he rested, just as God had commanded. But come Motzei Shabbos, with the appearance of the first three stars in the sky, Tevye rushed back to his labor.
Busy with the endless work on the settlement, Tevye fought off moments of doubt and philosophical reflections. He knew that thinking too much could get a man into trouble. Why the Almighty did what He did was something no human could grasp. Nothing could be gained by complaining. It was God’s world to run things the way He saw fit. It was a mortal man’s duty to accept his fate in contentment and song. As Nachman always reminded them, that was man’s task and trial on earth, to trust in the Lord, in good times and bad, whether we understood God’s mysteries or not.
Which isn’t to say that Tevye turned into a saint. Many times he was angry. And often, there was more fury than joy in his work. And he was still wont to turn a questioning eye up to Heaven, and occasionally, even to sneer. But, for the most part, he kept his lips sealed. If anything, he shared a private battle with God. Like a boxer dizzy with blows, he was determined not to fall down. And if he fell down, he was determined to get back on his feet. He wouldn’t be beaten. His faith wouldn’t die. His body could ache and become food for mosquitoes, but his soul couldn’t be touched by a swamp. Where once he had been cautious, now he didn’t feel any fear. Tevye wasn’t worried about meeting the Angel of Death. “Come and take me!” he roared.
Like the Jewish People, he would live on forever. Tevye’s revenge was his work. He became an example for everyone. Summer arrived, bringing along hot, sandy winds from the desert. There were days a man couldn’t open his eyes without being blinded. While the settlers sought shelter in their tents, Tevye stood in the swamp, his eyes tightly closed, scooping buckets of water out of the swamp. The heat was scorching. There were no cool drinks to quench the nagging thirst, no ice, no shade, no air to breath in the oppressively humid lowlands. Even the ocean was warm. And nights were so still, no relief from the merciless desert sharav could be found, even by sleeping outside of their airless tents.
Still, work in the swamp continued. If not by the settlers, by the fiery rays of the sun. As if the Lord was pitching in some help of His own, the swamps began to evaporate and dry. By late August, the canal to the sea approached completion. Only a pipe-length section remained. When that last piece was set into place, the remaining swamp water would be drained off into the ocean. Only one small obstacle stood in the way. The pipe had to be laid in the most dangerous part of the swamp, where the mosquitoes had built their main encampment. Whoever connected together the last two sections was sure to be eaten alive. Descending into the nest of mosquitoes meant almost certain death. A general meeting was called which everyone had to attend. Lots were to be drawn to determine the unlucky hero.
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. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Jewish Press
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