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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Plague

Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

Needless to say, the Baron Rothschild never showed up. For the time being, Hodel and her baby, Ben Zion, moved into Ruchel’s cottage. The newcomers shared the curtained-off corner with Bat Sheva, Moishe, and Hannei. Goliath went to work cutting planks in order to add on another room to the house. Tevye told Nachman that he hoped the arrangement would be temporary. He confessed that he had a secret plan to interest Shmuelik in his daughter, Hodel. Of course, as long as Hodel was still Perchik’s wife, remarrying was out of the question, but if her rotten husband didn’t show up in a hurry with a promise to repent in his ways, Tevye was determined to demand a divorce.

Nachman didn’t complain about the overcrowded cottage, nor about the hard work, nor about having had to give up his job as a teacher. Even when his soft scholar’s hand turned calloused with blisters, he didn’t regret his decision to leave Rishon Le Zion for the remote and windy Morasha hillside.

“Blisters of redemption,” he called them.

“My tzaddik of a son-in-law,” Tevye called him.

While Tevye’s faith was as deep as any man’s, he wasn’t ashamed to complain now and again about injustices he saw in the world, especially when they were directed against him. But Nachman would never dream of such an irreverence. He turned everything into a mitzvah in the supreme commanment to settle the Holy Land. Guarding the yishuv in the middle of the night was a mitzvah. Walking two hours for a bucket of water was a mitzvah. And the back-breaking work in the fields was a mitzvah too. Why should his overcrowded cottage disturb him? Often, he let his sister-in-law, Hodel, sleep in his very own bed! He preferred sleeping outside under the stars just like his great forefather, Jacob.

Even when Nachman had to give up his morning learning to labor in the fields alongside the Arabs when a settler was sick, he didn’t complain. How else were the Jewish People to be redeemed from exile in foreign places if not through the strenuous work of rebuilding their own land? The Almighty was ready to do His part, but they had to do theirs. The Jews had to prove that they wanted the Land of Israel more than anything else in the world. A long time ago, their ancestors had abused the privilege of living in the land of milk and honey, and so, in punishment, God had taken it away and scattered them amongst the gentiles. Now that the Almighty was leading them back to the land of their forefathers, the Jews had to prove that they had learned their lesson.

As Shmuelik said, “What was better? Suffering in exile for

whatever crumbs a Jew could gather, or suffering for your own dearly loved soil?”

During his first year in the Holy Land, Tevye was more of a pragmatist. True, he had lived like a dog all of his life in Russia, but not every Jew lived off crumbs. The Baron Rothschild, for instance, with all of his billions, could hardly be said to be suffering.

“How do you know what headaches he has?” Shmuelik asked. “Haven’t our Sages taught us, ‘The more possessions, the more worries; the more money, the more thieves?’”

“That’s true,” Tevye admitted. “But all the same, I would be willing to change places with the Baron and worry about his railroads and yachts, while he sits here and tends to my cows.”

“Not me,” Shmuelik answered. “I would much rather have a wagon and mule in the Land of Israel than all of the railroads in France.”

The wonderful thing was that Shmuelik truly believed what he said. His optimism was a pillar of strength not only to Tevye, but to everyone in the settlement. If anyone had a personal problem, they would seek out Shmuelik’s advice, even though he was still a young man, If it were a matter of Jewish law, Nachman, the more serious scholar, was the person to ask. But if you needed someone to listen, then the good-natured Shmuelik was the address. And when people weren’t coming to him, he was going to them, always seeking to help others and to lend a neighborly hand.

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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