All of that night, Tevye was unable to sleep. He rose from his bed, paced around the tiny room where his family had shared their modest meals, said a prayer over his sleeping children, and walked outside, holding his aching head from the after-effects of the vodka he had imbibed earlier in the day. The winter was ending, and the night was cold and black. Rays of moonlight shone now and again from behind a thick quilt of clouds. A thin layer of snow remained on the ground like manna, the wafers of food which God provided six days a week to the Jews in the wilderness. Tevye glanced up at the clouds.
“My God, and God of my forefathers,” he said, as if speaking to someone close by. “I know you are Master of everything. I know that a blade of grass does not grow unless you give it an order. I know we are like sheep in Your hand. I know that Tevye, Your servant, is a worm and not even a man. But what great sin did I transgress that You, in Your very great kindness, are throwing me out of my house? Haven’t I tried to please you all of my miserable life? Haven’t I woken up before dawn to milk the cows You gave me? Haven’t I trudged off to work day after day, pausing only at sunrise to don my tefillin and say morning prayers – just as You have commanded us in Your Torah? And though I could not always pray in a minyan with nine other men, and though I do not study Talmud as much as I might, haven’t I always tried to be a good Jew? And for my reward, I am given three days to abandon my house and my village. Yes, I know, Tevye is not the world’s biggest saint and tzaddik, and sometimes my neighbor’s horse looks a lot healthier than mine. But what, may I ask, do You want from us here in tiny Anatevka? Instead of uprooting us from our homes, don’t You have something more important to do in some other part of the world?”
Tevye walked through a familiar path in the forest. The night was as dark as the exile of the Jews from their land, but Tevye knew the path’s windings by heart. How many thousands of miles had he traveled back and forth through the forest, bringing his milk products to the neighboring villages, and to Boiberik and Yehupetz, where the aristocrats lived? Usually, he would lead his horse and wagon along the main road, but when the four-legged creature was sick, Tevye would drag the cart behind him in order to delivery his fresh milk and cheeses on time. And that meant taking the less traveled path through the forest.
Now in the moonlight, he could see the Jewish cemetery. A glow seemed to shine off Golda’s small tombstone. Careful not to step on Lazar Wolf, the butcher; nor Mendel, the cantor; or Shendel, the wife of the sandal maker; nor on the grave of the poor tailor, Motel, his son-in-law, Tevye walked to the only resting place his Golda had ever enjoyed.
He sighed a loud, weary sigh, a sigh of centuries, the sigh of a gypsy who has to wander on to yet another temporary home. A sob shook his body. He was not a man to break down like a woman and cry, but if he could not share his feelings with Golda, if she was not at his side to listen to his complainings, kvetchings, and moments of despair, where would he find the strength to carry on for the children? Hadn’t she been his helpmate since the day their fathers had brought them together under the canopy of the marital chuppah? True, she always moaned that she had been a fool to agree to the match, yet, dutifully, she had borne the pain of seven childbirths, and raised up seven daughters. As it is written in the Holiest of Books, “And they became one flesh.” She was his wife. Even in death. How could he leave her? How did he dare?