“You know what the Midrash teaches about Moses?” Shmuelik began.
“I have a feeling you are going to tell me,” Tevye said.
“When God refused to let Moses enter the Land of Israel because of a single sin, Moses got down on his knees and begged the Almighty to turn him into an ant if need be – just to enter the Holy Land. He didn’t demand to be king, or a leader of the people. So great is the privilege of being in the Land of Israel, Moses pleaded to cross the border even as a bug.”
“In other words, I should thank God for turning me into a bug who has to shlepp one-hundred-pound sacks on his back from morning till night.”
“Moses would have been thrilled.”
“We learn from this that Tevye is not Moses.”
“Moses was not Moses either at first. When the Almighty first appeared to him at the burning bush, Moses begged Him to send someone else. It was only by arising to the challenge was his greatness revealed. Come on. Get up. We will be late for our class in Hebrew.”
Leaning on Shmuelik like a staff, Tevye walked bent over to school, as if he were still lugging a sack of seed on his back. Within a matter of days, he learned how to shift the weight of the sacks to his legs, and the exercise actually helped strengthen his brittle milkman’s bones. When Lishansky showed up with an offer to put Tevye to work behind a plow, Tevye had second thoughts. But when he learned that the plow had wheels and a seat, he took up the offer. Once again, Tevye was back to what seemed to be his lot in life, staring at the rump of a horse.
Shmuelik worked in the vineyards. Hillel was a packer of grapes, and Goliath became a maker of barrels. Bat Sheva worked on a sewing machine in a room filled with talkative women. Like a flower which closes its petals at night, she remained in mourning for Ben Zion. She was quiet, moody, and bitter, as if life had betrayed her. Tevye invited Shmuelik to their quarters, ostensibly to teach Moishe the Torah. He secretly hoped that an interest would develop between the scholar and his sullen daughter. While Shmuelik was ready to pursue such a match, Bat Sheva refused to grant him a smile.
For the first time since their arrival in the Promised Land, Tevye and his family sensed that they were establishing roots. Once again, Tevye prayed every day in a minyan. Every night before his class in Hebrew, he sat with Moishe and Hannie, told them a bedtime story, sang them a song, and made sure they recited Shema Yisrael. He insisted that the children speak to him in Hebrew, and that his daughters address him as Abba, not Tata. The first opportunity he had, he wrote a letter to Ruchel, describing their wanderings and Tzeitl’s tragic death, including Tzeitl’s last wish that the children grow up with her sister and Nachman. In closing, he promised to bring them to Rishon LeZion the very first vacation he had.
To Tevye’s surprise, he received a reply from Ruchel a mere two weeks later. She wrote that they were very happy, and that Nachman was pleased with his work at the school. The news of Tzeitl’s death had upset them deeply, and Ruchel prayed that God would give them the strength to carry on as if Tzeitl were still with them. As for Moishe and Hannie, Nachman had spoken to the colony manager, Dupont, to receive his permission, and he had refused. Adoption was against Company rules. Their friend, Aharon, had also tried to persuade him, but the heartless manager wouldn’t be swayed. Ruchel herself had made his ears ring with an outburst of scorn, but his only response was that several other teachers had applied to him for jobs, and that if the children were so important to them, then she and Nachman could leave. Ruchel said she was seriously considering his suggestion. She had discussed her feelings with Nachman, and he was prepared to stand by whatever decision she made. Were there positions for teachers in Zichron Yaacov, she asked? She also inquired about the new Hasidic colony which her father had mentioned. When did he think the settlement would begin, and could he secure them a place on the list? While they were happy in Rishon Le Zion, they had left the Czar behind in Russia, and they were not going to let any Company clerk dictate the terms of their life. Lastly, there was a chance that Ruchel was pregnant.