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October 22, 2014 / 28 Tishri, 5775
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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-Seven: Hodel Leaves Perchik

Overnight, Tevye's new cottage became a warm, haimisher home...
Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

   Overnight, Tevye’s new cottage became a warm, haimisher home. In reality, the hastily built structure was merely a hut with a roof, but in the eyes of the newlyweds, it was a royal abode. The morning after the wedding, as if in a dream, the aroma of freshly baked bread awakened the groom. With a feeling of wonder, Tevye watched his beautiful wife prepare him a breakfast of goat’s cheese, olives, and the traditional Yemenite bread, malawach.      “You missed the morning minyan,” she said.

“That’s to be expected,” Tevye answered with a smile. “After all, I am a new chatan.” Indeed, he felt like a groom.

“Are you happy?” she asked.

“Very,” he answered. “I am the happiest man in the world.”

Carmel blushed and went back to the tiny brick oven in the corner of the hut which served as a kitchen. Tevye pulled a curtain along the cord which divided the sleeping area from the salon. He dressed and stepped outside to wash his hands and his face in a basin of water. Nachman and Shmuelik were learning in the synagogue when Tevye stepped in to pray. They stood up and shook Tevye’s hand and wished him more mazal tovs.”

“May your own wedding be soon,” Tevye said to Shmuelik.

“From your lips to God’s ears,” the bachelor responded.

“Why didn’t you wake me to pray with the others?” Tevye asked as he donned his tefillin.

“A chatan is a king for the first year of his marriage,” Nachman answered. “And a king deserves his rest. So we decided to go ahead without you.”

“Some king,” Tevye answered. “There is work to be done.”

“A one-day vacation won’t kill you. Take it easy. Go on a long walk with your wife. Don’t worry. Your work will be waiting for you.”

Tevye grumbled. It was true, he needed a rest. He felt like a ragged shmatte. With all of the tumult leading up to the wedding, his mind was as drained as his body. But, thank God, the demon had fled. Blessed with new insight, he realized that even that madness and the crazy scheme of the Muktar had been sent by the Lord, to rescue him from the barn and bring him to wed. Praise be the work of the Lord.

After davening, he returned to the house. With a shy, nervous blush, Carmel set his breakfast before him as if she were serving a king. Silently, she poured him a hot cup of tea. Before he had finished eating, she had already swept the floor. Then, without stopping for a moment, she hung a yellow curtain in the window and spread an embroidered quilt on their bed. Tevye had to rise up his feet as she unrolled the hand-woven rug which the Muktar had given them for a present. Not to sit idle and stare, Tevye unpacked the candlesticks he had brought from Anatevka and set them on the dresser which Reb Shilo had made. Originally, the candlesticks had belonged to his mother. When Tevye had married, she had given them to Golda.

“Every Sabbath evening, my wife, Golda, would light the Sabbath candles and say a special prayer, recalling my father and mother,” Tevye told his new wife.

“I will recall them also,” Carmel said softly.

Alongside the candlesticks, Tevye placed his Bible and the six volumes of Mishna which Nachman and Ruchel had given to the newlyweds as a gift. To help bring the blessing of Torah into Tevye’s new house, Reb Guttmacher had volunteered to come over every evening to study with the “chatan” as he liked to call Tevye. And, amazingly, Tevye felt like a groom. For the first time in ages, he looked forward to the mornings, as if he had a new lease on life. After all, would God have given him such a tender young ewe if his own end was near? Overnight, he felt strong and invincible, as he had as a youth. The Lord God of Israel was with him, filling him with a confidence and joy that he wanted to share with the world.

He even accomplished twice as much work in the field. Miraculously, his back stopped aching, and instead of crashing to sleep on the floor of the barn immediately after the evening prayers, the whole first week of the wedding, he and his bride feasted and celebrated with friends hours into the night. His joy was so great, he failed to notice that behind his Hodel’s smile was a deeply troubled heart. All through the week, she was silent, not wanting to spoil her father’s great joy. Of course, when Carmel’s brother, Yigal, had come to Shoshana to fetch her to the wedding, she had been astonished and pleased with the news. But it was hard to wear a smile when her own marriage was falling apart.

Not until Tevye was driving her back to Shoshana in his wagon did he remember that in addition to being a newlywed husband, he was still a father too. Suddenly, as they were riding along the bumpy road to the north, Hodel broke down like a baby and cried. The reason that Perchik hadn’t come to the wedding was not only because of the fast-approaching winter, and the work which had to be done, but because of their terrible fights.

Tevye tugged on the reins of his horse and brought the wagon to a halt. Weeping, his daughter fell into his arms. Ever since the family’s visit and Tzeitl’s untimely death, her relationship with her husband had soured. Hodel decided that she wanted their house to have a more Jewish feeling. When her baby was born, and she had started to think of his future, her conviction had become more and more vocal. In reaction, her husband had turned into a monster. Judaism, he claimed, was a primitive relic which had to be buried if the Jews of today wanted to build a modern socialist state. The obsession with family, Perchik said, had to be replaced by a selfless devotion to the kibbutz. Their child was to be raised, not at home by his mother and father, but in the children’s nursery. Perchik even wanted to pass a law in the kibbutz forbidding husbands and wives from living together. Married life, he claimed, was “erotic selfishness.” To him, a home was “a petty bourgeois cell.” A child was not private property, but a “commodity of the collective.” Somehow, Hodel managed to live with his gibberish, but when he took the child out of her arms and carried him out of the door to the nursery, she realized she had married a golem without any feelings. Hodel had been so enraged, she refused to let her husband back in the house. Either he came back with the baby, or not come back at all. Once again, to Tevye’s chagrin, his daughter broke down and wept. Their argument had even come to blows.

“He struck you?” Tevye asked.

Hodel’s weeping answered his question.

“If he learns that I’ve told you, he will kill me,” she cried.

“So the pacifist is really a wife beater,” Tevye said, feeling his blood boil.

“I don’t want to live in Shoshana,” Hodel confessed. “I want to be with my family.”

“You will, my princess, you will,” Tevye assured her. “We’ll go and get the child, and you will never have to see your heretic husband again.”

“Oh, Abba,” Hodel said. “Forgive me for spoiling the joy of your marriage.”

“Nonsense,” said Tevye. “The hoopla is finished and life must go on. How much joy can a poor man withstand? Isn’t it written, ‘In pain you shall give birth to your children? You are my child, are you not? Does a man turn his back on his family? Before anything else I am your father. And I want my grandson to be raised as a Jew.”

“I’m sorry, Abba,” Hodel wept. “If I had listened to you years ago, this would never have happened.”

“Cursed be the day that I brought that free thinker into my house,” Tevye said. “But what man today is a prophet? By falling down, a child learns to walk. This too will turn out for the best. As Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Fret not for God has brought all of this to pass.’ Wasn’t it your good-for-nothing husband who brought you to Israel? If you hadn’t come first, we never would have followed. So you see, good things can come out of bad.”

During the long journey, they had plenty of time to plan how to kidnap the child. They decided that the best time to arrive was in the morning, just after Perchik left for the fields. While Hodel favored giving her husband one last chance to reconsider the consequences of his stubbornness, Tevye was afraid that Perchik might sweet-talk his daughter into staying, and even swear to mend his ways. To Tevye, it was better to sneak into Shoshana after Perchik had gone off to work, pack Hodel’s belongings, take the baby, and head back to Morasha before the scoundrel found out. A divorce could be arranged later. The important thing at the moment was to rescue the child.

“Isn’t that like stealing?” Hodel asked.

“Certainly not,” her father answered. “You are the child’s mother.”

“It just doesn’t seem right not telling Perchik. Maybe if he sees that I am serious, his feelings will change.”

“He doesn’t have feelings. Only slogans and high-winded theories.”

“Maybe if you spoke to him,” Hodel said.

“What for?”

“Maybe you can persuade him.”

“Will he agree to keep the Sabbath?” Tevye asked.

“No,” his daughter admitted. “I don’t think so.”

“Will he send the boy to learn Torah?”

“Probably not.”

“Will he teach him how to put on tefillin?”

“You know he doesn’t believe in those things. But it isn’t his fault. No one taught him when he was a child.”

“That doesn’t mean that his ignorance has to be passed down to your son. Do you want the boy to grow up as if he belongs to a nation which has no tradition or past?”

“Of course not.”

“Then this is the only way,” Tevye said. “If he loves you so much that he can’t be without you, then he’ll know where to find you. But if you raise up your son amongst pig eaters, then he will become a chazzer fresser too.”

At first, Tevye’s strategy worked according to plan. Reaching the road to Shoshana in the evening, they camped along the roadside in order to get an early start in the morning. When the sun had risen over the mountains, they continued on to the kibbutz. In the distance, they could see workers at labor in the fields. While Tevye kept guard outside of the empty house, Hodel quickly packed her things into a suitcase. At the nursery, she kept the conversation short by explaining that she wanted to show her baby to her father, who was waiting outside. They were all in the wagon making their escape back toward the road, when Perchik came galloping up on a horse.

“Greetings,” he said with a smile. “And a hearty mazal tov to the groom! When I heard you were here, I came rushing. But where are you off to in such a big hurry?”

Hodel didn’t answer. Her face had turned white. She looked at her husband and clutched the bundled child in her arms. Immediately from her expression, Perchik understood.

“I am taking my daughter and my grandson away from here,” Tevye declared.

“Is that so?” Perchik asked. “And who the hell are you?”

“The fool who brought a godless knave into his house to steal away his daughter.”

“So now you are stealing her back?”

“When the great Rabbi Hillel once saw a dead man floating on a river, he called, ‘Just as you have drowned others, now someone has drowned you.’”

“Don’t quote to me your foolish sayings, old man,” Perchik said. He reached down and pulled his rifle out of its sheath.

“Perchik!” Hodel screamed.

“You shut up” he answered.

“Don’t blame my father. I want to go with him,” she said.

“He’s brainwashed you with all of his mumbo-jumbo.”

“He hasn’t brainwashed me at all. What normal mother doesn’t want to bring up her child herself?”

“That’s bourgeois sentimentality,” he said. “Women have to be free to work in the fields.”

“A Jewish woman belongs in the home,” Tevye said.

“The Dark Ages are over, old man.”

“Get out of our way,” Tevye threatened.

“Hodel, get down from the wagon,” Perchik ordered.

“Not unless you agree to raise up the boy the way I want him to be raised.”

“He will be raised like every other child in this kibbutz, in the way which will most benefit the collective.”

“I don’t care about your collective!” Hodel yelled. “I am a person with feelings, not some kind of new farming machine.”

“Then you can go with your father. But the boy stays here with me.”

Husband and wife stared at each other with eyes flashing fire.

“Never,” Hodel said. “The boy comes with me.”

Trembling, Perchik pulled back the hammer on the rifle.

“Are you as brave without a gun in your hand?” Tevye asked.

Perchik was shaking. Carefully, he set the hammer of the rifle back into place and set it back in its sheath. Then he swung down from his horse.

“Come see for yourself,” he challenged.

Tevye set down the reins of the wagon.

Abba, don’t,” Hodel pleaded.

But Tevye was determined. He had waited a long time for a chance to wipe the smug grin off of his son-in-law’s face. While it was a very grave sin to hit a fellow Jew, Perchik was an exception. Didn’t it say in the Passover Seder that the fourth son, the scoffer, was to be given a smash in his teeth? With a smile, Tevye stripped off his jacket. Perchik was equally pleased. For him it was a chance to knock the yarmulka off his father-in-law’s thick, empty skull. Thrusting one leg forward, he raised both his fists in a statuesque stance.

“Be careful, father,” Hodel warned. “Perchik learned boxing at the university.”

“University shmurniversity,” Tevye said. “I’ll teach him a lesson he will never forget.”

“Come on then, old man,” Perchik called. You might have robbed your wife’s cradle, but I won’t let you rob mine.”

Angered, Tevye lunged forward with the first punch of the fight. Deftly, Perchik dodged to the side. Stumbling from the momentum, Tevye tumbled to the ground. Perchik chuckled as the older man rose and brushed the dust off his clothes.

“Go home, grandpa, before it’s too late,” Perchik teased.

“If you touch him, I’ll never speak to you again,” Hodel warned.

“If you thought I would let you take away my son, you were wrong,” he answered.

Again Tevye lunged. This time, Perchik stepped aside while delivering a blow. The punch caught Tevye in the forehead, and he fell once again to the ground with a groan.

“Stop now, dirty old man, and go home to your black, cushy wife,” Perchik told him.

Tevye stood up and growled. “You dog!” he said and spit. His temple was bleeding. He took a threatening step toward Perchik, but the younger man shot out a fist before Tevye could get his feet planted. The jab was stiff and stinging. Tevye’s beard helped soften the blow, but before he could defend himself, another jab landed painfully on his nose. Blood splattered over his clothes.

“Perchik stop!” Hodel pleaded.

Her plea went ignored. Perchik was having too good a time. His next punch was a surprise uppercut to Tevye’s belly. The milkman doubled over with a nauseated groan. Perchik merely had to give him a push to topple him onto the ground. Tevye lay moaning.

Nu, Tevye?” Perchik jeered. “Where’s your God now?”

Hodel climbed down from the wagon and hurried over to her father, holding her baby with one arm and lifting Tevye with the other. Mocking a milkman was one thing, but mocking the Lord was another. With the fury of a bear, Tevye pushed her away. Perchik was still laughing. With a roar that rang out to Heaven, Tevye grabbed Perchik’s shoulders and gave him a powerful butt with his head. Then he booted him square in the groin with his knee. The socialist’s mouth opened wide, but for once in his life, he had nothing to say. He doubled over in agony. Before he could straighten back up, Tevye lifted him in the air and hoisted him over his head as if he were a sack of potatoes. Taking a few strides forward, Tevye threw him over the fence of the pigpen. Squealing, the hogs scattered as Perchik landed with a splash in their muck. He lay flat on his back without moving. Hodel instinctively started toward him, but her father held out a hand to stop her.

“Leave him. That’s where he belongs.”

“Maybe he’s hurt.”

“You decide,” Tevye said. “Either you come with me now, or you spend the rest of your life with this swine you call a husband.”

Tevye picked up his jacket from the ground and climbed up into his wagon. He wiped his bleeding nose with his sleeve and lifted the reins. Hodel stared at her husband. A pig came over and licked at his face. His hands and legs twitched. Regaining consciousness, he squirmed in the mud. Tevye drew the wagon alongside her.

“If he ever matures and becomes a mensch, he’ll know where to find you,” Tevye said.

Hodel knew that her father was right. Maybe this would teach Perchik a lesson. Of course she still loved him, but she wanted to bring up her baby in the way she thought best, and she could never do that in Shoshana. Reaching out, she took her father’s outstretched hand. Tevye helped her up into the wagon beside him. Then he flicked the reins and pointed his horse toward the gate.

“That’s the end of that demon,” he said.

Hodel glanced back for a last look at her husband. Wobbling, he stood up, but his feet slipped in the muck. Once again, Perchik fell back into the mud with the pigs.

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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