It wasn’t that Tevye felt lonely. He had other men to talk to, and, like in the past, he still enjoyed a good conversation with a horse or a cow, but neither a man nor a beast was a woman, and a mattress of hay could never take the place of a bed.
“Why don’t you marry again?” Hillel asked him during one of their frequent late evening walks.
It was one of those magical nights that are so unique to the Holy Land, when you feel like you can reach out and touch thousands of stars. It was during these tranquil nocturnal strolls, or during his secluded night hours of guard duty, that Tevye most felt the full wonder of life. Under the vastness of the heavens, when the labors of the day gave way to peaceful contemplation of night, a man could feel his smallness in the universe, and experience the greatness of his Creator.
“Marry again?” Tevye asked. “What for?”
“A wife is better than a cow, is she not?”
“That depends on the woman, and the cow,” Tevye answered. “Fortunately, I was married to an angel. No woman could ever replace her.”
“The Torah says that it is not good for a man to live alone,” Hillel reminded.
“So why don’t you marry?” Tevye asked.
“What woman wants a lame minstrel like me?” Hillel said with a sigh.
“What woman wants a broken down horse of a milkman like me?”
“You’re still as strong as an ox,” the musician said.
“An ox with one foot in the grave,” Tevye tiredly answered.
“In this world, we all have one foot in the grave.”
“Comfort me with your music instead of your speeches,” Tevye said. “Besides, if I were to marry, my angel Golda would haunt me the rest of my life. Do you think she wants a strange woman sharing my bed? I’d rather sleep with the cows than awaken the wrath of my Golda.”
Hillel took up a tune on his harmonica, and the two bachelors walked on accompanied by the lonely chords of his song.
Weeks passed. Spurred on by the challenge of transforming the rugged terrain into fertile orchards and vineyards, the Jews of Morasha kept to their mission with a passionate fervor. As Tevye guided his team of horses and plow along the long furrows which would one day sprout bushels of corn, he thought of his children and grandchildren. Everything he was doing, he was doing for them. And for Golda. Often he would talk to her out loud, to take his mind off of the pains in his back. He didn’t remember his Golda speaking about the Land of Israel, but in his imagination, he built it into her dream. This is what she would have wanted for her children. Her voice rang in his ears, encouraging him, helping him to hold the plow in line, helping him to believe that the seeds he was planting would truly grow into corn stalks and wheat. With her great faith in him, nothing could break him, nor dampen the spirit of optimism which he put into all of his labor.
Not that everything was all roses. Almost nightly, there were discussions about abandoning the area to search out a better irrigated site, but the settlers decided to stay with the hope that their work would be blessed from Above. Whenever LeClerc visited the new settlement to see what progress had been made, all of the settlers crowded around him with a chorus of demands and complaints. They were short of manpower, short of horses, and short of tools. They had been promised 150 square dunams of land apiece, but had received only seventy-five. Shipments of meat which were supposed to be sent from Zichron Yaacov rarely arrived, and their stock of medicine and bandages was depleted. Finally, the distance they had to travel to their fields, day after day, was a punishment that was taking a toll on everyone, including their mules and their horses. LeClerc made notes in a pad and promised to pass on the information to the appropriate officials in Paris.
“Paris?!” Tevye exclaimed. “We’re the ones living here. We know what we need. What do our problems have to do with some clerk sitting on his tochis in Paris?”