He paused theatrically, as if to heighten Tevye’s suspense. “Nu?” Tevye asked.
“He called himself Shmuelik.”
Tevye felt chills run up and down his body.
The man waved a hand and continued on his way, wishing the boy a complete recovery. Tevye watched him disappear behind one of the nearby houses.
“It’s nothing but superstition,” Bat Sheva said. “Shmuelik is
“The righteous don’t die,” Tevye told her. “Their souls go on living.”
With an urgent command to the horse, Tevye turned the wagon around in the road. Within minutes, they were back at the infirmary.
“You are not really thinking of taking Moishe to Safed?” Hava asked in disbelief when her father related the story.
“I certainly am,” Tevye said.
“He doesn’t have the strength for the journey.”
“You heard the doctor. There is nothing that medical treatments can do for him here, except maybe bleed him to death, God forbid.”
Nothing that Hava could say could dissuade him. She knew that arguing with her father was useless. Tevye was convinced that the dream had been a message from Heaven, and that the mysterious Jew was no other than the famed prophet of Biblical times, Eliahu HaNavi, who traveled from city to city, helping Jews the world over.
“Maybe father has the fever,” Bat Sheva whispered to Hava as Tevye carried Moishe out of the quarantine tent to the wagon.
“Guard your tongue,” Hava told her. “Who knows? Maybe the dream will come true. Anyway, father is right. There is nothing we can do here. Maybe fresh air will do Moishe more good than lying in a tent filled with germs.”
It seemed like craziness to Bat Sheva, but she couldn’t let her father travel alone with no one to look after the boy. Hava had to stay at the hospital. So she decided to go along on the journey to Safed.
Hava supplied them with enough water, cheeses, black bread, and fruits to last for a week. She even packed along a bottle of vodka which she found in one of the infirmary’s cabinets.
“Now that’s a good daughter,” Tevye said.
To reach Safed, they first had to travel north to Haifa, and then follow a long winding road high up into the Galilee mountains. The journey took them three days. Moishe slept most of way. Occasionally, he opened his eyes, but he had nothing to say. He lived off sips of water and tiny nibbles of cheese. Bat Sheva sang to him and told him stories, but much of the time, she wasn’t sure that he heard.
While Tevye had never studied Kabbalah, he had learned a few things here and there about the secrets of Torah. The influence of the Hasidic movement had spread throughout Russia, and mystics passing through Anatevka had often dined at his house, sharing with Tevye secrets revealed in the Tanya and Zohar. For a simple Jew like Tevye, the concepts had made his head spin. What good did it do knowing the secrets of Creation when you had to go back to milking your cows? The Kabbalists described the immersion in a mikvah as a mystical return to the womb. The person emerging from the ritual pool was like someone reborn. If he had sinned and repented, he could now be forgiven because he was like a new being. Though Tevye decided that the esoteric teachings weren’t for him, he had a steadfast belief in everything which the Sages had written. And among the great Kabbalists, the Ari, may his memory be for a blessing, was the top of the line. If he had left a special healing blessing in his mikvah, then Tevye was convinced that the boy would be healed.
The city of Safed was literally up in the clouds. As they ascended the mountain, gusts of wind swirled around them, blowing flakes of snow in their faces. The entrance to the city was guarded by a wall of fog and mist, as if only the privileged could enter. For several long moments, their horse disappeared in the vapor in front of them. Then the curtain of fog seemed to part, revealing a mystical enclave which seemed to hover in the sky on a platform of clouds high above the earth.