What was a man, Tevye thought, that one moment he could be so filled with power and seemingly invincible force, and the next moment a motionless pile of flesh? He knew that the body on the ground wasn’t the real Goliath, but only the oversized suit which his giant soul had worn during his wanderings on earth. The real Goliath was on his way to Heaven and a world where size was measured in good deeds and Torah, not in physical power and strength. That’s what the Rabbis taught, and who was Tevye to disagree? The mysteries and secrets of life were beyond his understanding, but he was certain that the lifeless imposter before him wasn’t Goliath. His faithful companion couldn’t be gone. The Divine energy called life didn’t just disappear. Goliath simply had slipped out of his bulky lumberjack’s costume to journey to a less cumbersome world.
“Blessed be the true Judge,” a voice said.
It was Nachman.
“When will it end?” Tevye asked.
Nachman could only shake his head as he gazed down at his lifelong friend.
“I told him not to sleep in the barn. Like always, he worried about everyone else without thinking about himself.”
Nachman turned away and held on to Tevye.
“He was like a brother and father to me.”
Tevye let his son-in-law silently weep in his arms. He remembered how the giant had watched over Nachman, like a mother hen guarding its chick.
“He’s in a better world now,” Tevye observed.
Nachman nodded, wiping the tears from his eyes. “I know,” he said. “I know. But he was such a good friend.”
Tevye himself felt like crying, but he had to stay strong for the boy. Death had robbed him of his best friends from the past, and he needed someone to remind him that for a Jew, life always had a happier future. That was the steadfast belief which had kept his People going for the last two thousand years, throughout endless persecutions and wanderings.
“Everything God does is always for the best, even if we can’t
understand,” Tevye told him. “Do you remember on the boat to
Israel, when they turned us away from landing, you had to remind me that everything turns out for our good?”
“I remember,” Nachman replied.
“Someday, when we gaze down from Heaven, we will understand these great secrets. But right now, you had better call Guttmacher,” Tevye said.
Nachman nodded. He walked out of the barn to fetch the undertaker, leaving Tevye alone with the toppled Goliath. “Alexander, the son of Rivka,” Tevye said, saying a prayer for the departed man’s soul. Tevye bent down and closed Goliath’s eyes. When he stood up, a rooster leaped onto the dead man’s chest and perched there like a vulture. Tevye shouted and kicked at the bird. Squawking, it flew into the air. Angrily, Tevye raced around the barn, scaring the chickens away. For Nachman’s sake, he had spoken strengthening words of faith. But alone with the very great loss, he succumbed to the more mortal feelings of anger and pain.
“Is this fair?” he called out toward the roof of the barn. “What did Goliath ever do to hurt a flea in his life? Is this the end he deserves – to drop dead amongst the cows and the chickens?!”
The roof didn’t answer. Neither did the animals. They were silent, hushed by Tevye’s outburst.
“You won’t break us!” Tevye shouted, raising a fist. “You won’t break us!”
A few pigeons flew out from the rafters.
“If Your judgment has to fall on someone, then leave the others alone. Let it all fall on me!”
Sighing, Tevye lowered his arm. He bent down and grabbed Goliath’s boots, thinking to drag the corpse out of the disease-ridden barn. As he gave the great hulk a tug, he heard a vertebra pop out of place in his spine. Tevye cried out in pain. Bent over double, he staggered to the door of the barn, shuffling his feet on the ground like a hunchback. Leaning against the barn wall, he looked up at Heaven and groaned.
“Okay,” he said, clutching his aching back. “You win. I shouldn’t have opened my big mouth.”Tzvi Fishman