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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-Four: Morasha

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“God could have created the world all at once,” he said, “all complete at the start, but the story of Creation spans seven days to teach that a man has to have patience. Great undertakings take time. Hasn’t the settlement Company promised to build us a canal to bring the water to our homes and our fields? Savlanut, as they say in Hebrew. Patience is the secret to our success.”

Invigorated by the spirit of freedom which swept over the windy mountain terrain, Shmuelik agreed.

“All of us knew that this adventure wouldn’t be easy,” he said. “Yet, we all volunteered. Isn’t it better that we break our backs, and not leave the hard work to our children? Did Abraham, our forefather, demand to live in a castle? No. He was happy to live in a tent.”

Hearing this rallying speech, Tevye was surprised at the young scholar, as if some other person were speaking. These were the passionate words of a Perchik or a Ben Zion, not of a lad who had spent most of his life learning in a backwoods, Russian yeshiva. When had Shmuelik become such a Herzl? But the spirit of their mission, of the Land, and of the pioneers themselves, even seized Tevye. As the first tent stakes were hammered into the ground, he found himself one of the settlement’s leaders. In addition to being put in charge of the livestock and stables, he was appointed chief of defense. Tevye, the general! After all, he knew how to ride a horse, and he had learned how to shoot.  God forbid that the Jews of Morasha would ever have to fight, but if they were attacked, they had to be ready. How could Tevye refuse the trust which his comrades were placing in him? As the Sages had taught, “In a place where there isn’t a man, be a man.” Immediately, he appointed Elisha’s eldest sons, Ariel and Yigal, to be his lieutenants. They would be in charge of guard duty and training, while Tevye would provide the overall army strategy and command. As far as the embarrassing incident with Elisha’s daughter, Tevye blamed his infatuation on the dizzying liquor and put the matter out of his mind.

The first month, the women and children remained behind in Zichron Yaacov, while the men set up the compound. Goliath and Reb Shilo, the carpenter, cut wood for fencing and for the walls of the barn. Reb Guttmacher, the undertaker; Munsho, the blacksmith; and Hillel, the musician, started digging the canal which would bring the spring water down from the mountain to the more fertile plateaus. When Hillel’s blistered hands prevented him from playing his accordion at the nightly campfire, he was replaced by Ariel and Yigal, and assigned lighter work looking after the animals. Chaim Lev, the fixer, made furniture, while Shraga, the scribe; Yankele, the butcher; Pincus, the storekeeper; and Elisha went to work clearing the rocky soil for seeding. Lazer, the tailor, was set to work repairing the second-hand tents which the Company had provided. By virtue of a unanimous settlement vote, Nachman and Shmuelik were to set up a Beit Midrash, where their job was to sit and learn Torah all morning. In Russia, the Rebbe had told his Hasidim that wherever they went, they were to make sure that a yeshiva was the cornerstone of their community. In the afternoon, the two scholars worked alongside the others outdoors, and in the evening, Nachman led a class in the writings of the famous Baal HaTanya, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady. He explained the Kabbalistic mysteries in simple metaphors which the settlers could grasp, but exhausted from their day-long labor, his students would often fall off their benches and sleep at his feet. On the Sabbath, two settlers would be left to guard the Morasha site, while the others returned to Zichron to be with their families. Though the land had been purchased in accordance with all of the Turkish mandate laws, one could never be sure when nomadic Arabs would appear to contest the settlers’ claims to the property.

The task before them was staggering. Like shipwrecked sailors thrown onto a desert island without means or resources, they literally had to dig with their hands when there were not enough shovels for everyone. But they all set to the work like true pioneers, determined to prove that they could conquer the land before the land conquered them. Every morning, Tevye got down on his hands and knees and kissed the holy soil.

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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Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/the-book-shelf/tevye-in-the-promised-land-books/tevye-in-the-promised-land-chapter-twenty-four-morasha/2013/01/28/

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