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

Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

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His greatest joy was his garden. To Shmuelik, overturning the soil in his garden with a hoe was a religious act just like putting on tefillin. Every new blossom, every new flower, every first fruit was a cause of great celebration. Didn’t the Talmud say that when the mountains of Israel give forth their fruits in abundance, then the promised redemption was near? This was the long-awaited redemption itself, in his very own garden! The prophecy of his forefathers was unfolding before his eyes! His cucumbers and carrots were proof!

When Shmuelik worked in the garden, he sang. As if in reward for his love for the soil, every seed he planted seemed to grow with a magical touch. When his first melon sprouted and ripened, he took it around in his arms like a baby to show everyone his great pride and joy.

Mazal tov,” Tevye said. “Is it a girl or a boy?”

The New Year holidays arrived and work temporarily came to a standstill. The Jews of Morasha set down their hoes and their plows to remember that all of their success depended, not on their own work and strength, but on the kindness and mercy of God. Certainly a man had to toil, but the bounty of his harvest depended on Heaven.

On Rosh HaShanah, Tevye was given the honor of blowing the shofar. If the Satan was lurking anywhere near their village, the warlike blasts of his ram’s horn surely drove him away. After the Yom Kippur fast, everyone set to work building succot. In many cases, the flimsy huts were almost as strong as the tiny cottages they lived in. The important thing was that this year they were building their holiday booths in Eretz Yisrael! No longer did they have to erect the temporary dwellings at the back of their houses, in the fear that the goyim would come tear them down. More incredible than that, the branches they used for the roofs of their succot were not merely branches pulled off any available tree, but rather the long, elegant branches of date palms from Jericho, which they had bought from the Arabs. And to make sure that the festival of the harvest would be filled with God’s blessing, Nachman made sure that they received a shipment of the finest four species available: shining yellow etrogim, splendid hadas stems, lulav palm branches, and long, green aravot leaves, all freshly harvested at Rishon Le Zion and approved by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook. Everyone, even the women, joyfully rushed to the wagon which brought them to Morasha. With excitement in their eyes, the men opened the crates as if there were treasure inside. Occasionally in Anatevka, the four species never arrived and the holiday passed joylessly, since without an etrog fruit and lulav, the Jews could not perform the festival’s cherished commandments. One year, Tevye had spent a fortune of money to buy an etrog in Yehupetz. It was the only etrog in Anatevka that Succot. Every day of the week-long holiday, except for the Sabbath, of course, all of the Jews in the village stood in a long line outside of his house waiting for a turn to hold the sweet-smelling fruit in their hands. But here, in Eretz Yisrael, there were etrogim for everyone. Gasps of pleasure surrounded the wagon as each bright pear-shaped etrog was held up for inspection. The lulavim were equally beautiful, all as long and straight as swords. Each hadas twig had the characteristic three-fold leaf of the myrtle, and the willow fronds glistened with a deep green color which showed no signs of wilting in the heat.

When the holiday passed, the settlers left their succah huts standing to serve as extra rooms. Then, as if in direct response to the supplications for rain, which the Jews began reciting at the end of the holiday, the first rains of winter began to fall. In Russia, rain had poured down in buckets all year long, summer, autumn, winter, and spring, but in Israel, rain only fell in the winter season. On cold, rainy nights, the children who had moved into the succot had to return to sleep inside of the houses. Crude stoves were fashioned for all of the cottages, and Goliath made sure that a huge stock of wood had been stored in the barn. But the fierce cold of the winter was a surprise to all of them, and their stoves proved no match against the winds which blew through all of the cracks of the hastily carpentered houses.

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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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