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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Thirty-Six: Tevye the Builder

The next chapter of the award-winning novel.
Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

“Unless someone wants to volunteer,” Shimon, the settlement leader, called out.

Eyes darted back and forth to see if someone would step forward. Without hesitation, Tevye raised up his hand.

“I volunteer,” he said.

“You know what it means?” Shimon asked.

“It means we’ll finally be rid of the cursed mosquitoes.”

“That’s the hope,” Shimon answered. “But it may also mean the end of our fearless worker, Tevye.”

“If the demons haven’t killed me yet, they won’t kill me now,” Tevye asserted. “But I’ll only do it on one condition.”

“What condition is that?” Sharagi asked.

“On the condition that when I go into the swamp, everyone in the settlement will stand on top of the highest sand dune and pray until I come out.”

The condition was unanimously accepted. Everyone stepped forward to shake Tevye’s hand. Tomorrow he might be a dead man, but for now he was everyone’s hero.

That night, before going to bed, Carmel spent more time than usual combing her hair. By the candlelight, her husband was cleaning his shoes.

“Why do you bother?” she asked.

“I really don’t know,’ he confessed, “Every morning they just get filled up with mud once again.”

“Are you sure about tomorrow?’ she asked.

“Somebody has to do it,” he said.

“Why does it have to be my husband?”

Tevye glanced up at his wife. In the darkness of the tent, her beauty was golden. He had noticed the same thing with Golda. Whenever she was pregnant, she seemed to glow with a joyful inner light.

“For one thing, I am older than everyone else.”

“A man is as old as he feels.”

“Then I am twice as old as everyone else.”

She set down her brush and came over to the bed where he was sitting.

“You do so much work already,” she said. “Do you have to do this too?”

He gazed into the fathomless pools of her eyes.

“Ah oh,” he said, as if her coquetish look was as dangerous as the depths of the swamp.

Blushing, she sat down beside him.

“Carmel, I need my strength for tomorrow.”

She put her hands on his shoulders and bent forward to kiss him.

“On top of everything,” he thought.

But what could he do? A man was commanded to make his wife happy. That was a mitzvah too.

 

The very next day, all of the settlers gathered on the summit of the sand dune which overlooked the area’s biggest swamp. Eyes filled with apprehension and suspense as Tevye descended into the marsh, dragging a long pipe behind him. The pipe was the last link in the canal which would carry the swamp water away to the ocean. Tevye had to set it in place and fasten the ring which would connect the last two pieces together. Already, as if sensing a battle, a squadron of mosquitoes rose up to greet him as he waded into the water. He waved at them with an arm, but his swattings were useless. Up on the sand dune, the settlers gasped as a cloud of mosquitoes surrounded Tevye and nearly hid him from view. On the hill where the women had gathered, Carmel turned away. Nachman opened his Psalm book and motioned for the others to follow. Swaying in his prayer shawl at the peak of the sand dune, the pious scholar chanted out a verse of King David’s Psalms.

“Out of the depths I cry to Thee, 0 Lord.

Lord, hear my voice….”

The settlers, men, women, and children, all joined in, echoing his words, raising their voices to Heaven.

“Out of the depths I cry to Thee, 0 Lord.

Lord, hear my voice….”

Once again, Nachman recited a verse and the others repeated his cry for salvation and mercy.

Tevye tried to pray too, but when he opened his mouth, mosquitoes rushed in, biting his gums and his tongue. Spitting them out, he continued the prayer in his heart.

“Though I walk through a valley of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me…”

As he stepped on the main nest of mosquitoes, swarms of insects buzzed furiously around him. They stung him on his hands, on his ears, on his nose, on his eyelids. They bit through his clothes and flew into his pants and his shirt. Growling, he slipped the ring over a pipe and pulled the two pipes together, determined to slay the beast once and for all. Far away, he heard the prayful cries of the settlers, like the shouts of a city under siege. As he twisted the ring over the pipes, he heard the blast of shofars. Elisha, Ariel, and Hillel stood on the hillside, blowing ram’s horns like trumpets with all of their might, to petition God’s aid. Carmel ran down from the sand dune, unable to look at the black cloud engulfing her husband. Only when the settlers cheered did she have the courage to stop and venture a gaze. The mosquitoes were flying away into the air. Tevye had fastened the pipes into place!

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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