Hava took her father’s hand and felt for his pulse. ‘Thank God,” she said. “His heart is as strong as a lion’s.”
Tevye looked at his wife.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “You probably just caught a chill.”
Comforted by her words and her smile, Tevye fell back to sleep. Carmel stayed awake all night to watch him. Occasionally, she would change the wet cloth on his forehead to keep his fever down. When he opened his eyes in the morning, her face was the first thing he saw.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“The sun is just rising,” she said.
“I have to go pray.”
“Do you feel strong enough?” she asked.
“That’s what gives me strength,” Tevye answered.
Hearing his words, Tevye realized his response was the kind of thing that Shmuelik would say. Now that the youth was gone, Tevye would require a double dose of faith to make up for the loss.
Still somewhat dizzy, he sat up from the mat on the floor. He had taken it upon himself to say the mourner’s Kaddish for Shmuelik, and he could only recite the prayer if he prayed in a minyan with nine other men. Thank God, his fever had passed like the rain. Feeling as if he had been given a renewed gift of life, he headed for the roofless beit haknesset, carrying his tefillin and tallit under his arm. Things which he had taken for granted just yesterday seemed like a miracle now. What a blessing it was to be able to walk, to be able to breath, and to be able to see!
With a heart filled with gladness, he sang out the morning prayers. The Torah scroll was brought back to the synagogue from the toolshed, where it had been housed during the rains. Within a short time, there was almost a minyan. Yankele, Munsho, Shilo, Reb Sharagi, Elisha, Ariel, Yigal, Nachman, and Tevye. Only Goliath was missing. Nachman had tried to wake him, but the big lumberjack said he felt sick.
Tevye guessed that it was just a passing fever, a one day bout with the Satan, like the chills he had suffered the previous night. After all, what damage could germs do to such a mountain of a man? When he finished his prayers, he went to the barn to visit the sick Alexander, the name Tevye used in the blessing of heath for the ill. As he entered the door, his knees turned to soup. Goliath lay sprawled on the ground in the center of the barn. His prayer shawl lay near him. Chickens hopped over his body. Cows bellowed and mooed. With a shout, Tevye shooed away the fowl and knelt down beside the faithful giant. He raised the lifeless head and stared into the now vacant eyes.
“My God, my God,” Tevye whispered, recalling a verse from the Torah. “How the mighty of Israel have fallen.”