The Jewish Colony Association had chosen the mountainous location not for its suitability as farmland, but because of its price. When more and more Jews began immigrating to Palestine, the Turkish government began doubling and tripling the cost of the land until parcels were often ten times more expensive than farmland in Europe. The Baron had learned that supporting a settlement through its first struggling years was a certain financial disaster. Having to pour relief funds down never-ending holes, he strove to keep his initial investment to a minimum. While the theory was sound, Morasha was a perfect example of the problems inherent in absentee ownership. True, the vast stretch of property sat on the strategic ledge of mountains which ran down the spine of the country. But if the Jews chose to live near the only spring of underground water, they would have to trek two hours to work every day to reach the cultivatable fields. Likewise, if they built their homes near the fields, then their water supply would be an impossible distance away. But that was their problem, not the Baron’s. “Some big metsia,” Elisha had said during a scouting trip to the site. It was one of the Yiddish expressions he had learned in the winery. The Yemenite had taken the words out of Tevye’s mouth – the tract of land was no big bargain. Once again on their second scouting visit, all of the settlers had protested, but Mr. LeClerc, the Company manager who was in charge of the project, told them to take it or leave it. What did he care? After a few years with the Company in Palestine, the unctuous gentile would return to Paris and a secure job in one of the Baron’s banks. He had come to Palestine, not for ideological reasons, but for the promise of advancement in the Rothschild empire after his two-year indenture. Unlike the Frenchman, the settlers were committing themselves for a lifetime. They were ready to sacrifice for the mitzvah of building the land, but shlepping two hours to work, or to fetch a barrel of water, that was a proposition doomed from the start.
“Surely there are other areas more suited for settlements,” Shilo, the carpenter, had argued, when a caravan of camels had dragged lumber out to the site in preparation for the approaching encampment.
“The Company has made its decision,” the redheaded LeClerc declared.
“Then let the Baron live here,” Hillel remarked.
“All of you Jews want to live like the Baron,” the Frenchman answered in disdain.
“We don’t have to live like the Baron,” Tevye said. “Give me a wagon and a horse and I’m happy. But the Lord created man with a brain, and He expects him to live with some intelligent sechel. We are not Bedouins that we can live without water.”
“Our agronomists have determined that this acreage comprises some of the best farmland in the country,” the manager asserted.
“That may be so, but if we have to travel two hours to work, and another two hours to return, so that four hours a day of work time will be wasted on traveling instead of plowing and planting, then it sounds like the Baron has been given some lousy advice on what to do with his money.”
“Therefore,” LeClerc said. “The main camp will be built in the middle of the property, equidistant from both the fields and the water. Thus, you will only need to travel one hour each way.”
Tevye had sighed. Could it be that the Almighty had brought him to the Land of Israel to take orders from this pompous Frenchman? But what choice did they have? To go back to Russia? That was out of the question. America? Who knew what troubles would be waiting him there? If a Jew was hounded by troubles and tzuris in Israel, in the place he belonged, he could be certain to find even more heartache in a foreign country.
At least, with hard work, the parcel of land would become their very own. A man had to look optimistically toward the future and trust that everything would turn out for the best. Nothing was built in a day. As Nachman reminded them, the Torah itself starts with the words, “In the beginning….”Tzvi Fishman