How can I describe my grief? Is there any greater pain than the feeling a parent has after the loss of a child? I cannot sleep. I wander the fields at night alone, looking heavenward but knowing the Almighty Himself could not provide an answer to why this happened that would comfort me.
Shoshie was so full of life, so energetic and happy. How could the vitality be so quickly sapped from her?
I rage at Chaim for being a hypocrite, mouthing Marxist slogans and seducing my daughter, only to cave into the will of his father. A letter finally arrived from Chaim, but I burned it in the fire without opening it.
Listen to me, complaining that a son obeys his papa. So maybe I should direct my anger toward Danziger, whose self-righteousness knew no bounds. But how can I blame him for my daughter’s death? He could not know how she would react. If he had given it any thought, would it have affected his decision? Danziger was only following the tradition I myself grew up with in Russia, that children do not decide for themselves who they will marry, and what matches are suitable. The poor daughter of a dairyman would never have been an acceptable mate for the sons of the men in the dachas of Yehupetz.
So who does that leave me to blame? Only Tevye. Why couldn’t I have persuaded Danziger that Shoshana was worth a hundred daughters of Rothschild? Why couldn’t I comfort my Shoshie, to let her know it would be possible to find love again, to convince her the pain would go away?
Why? Why? Why?
I want to scream to the heavens that an entry in the Book of Life has been mistakenly erased. For what has my Shoshie been sacrificed? What?
Natan the Nudnik, of all people, told me a Midrash that was the closest thing to an explanation I was ever likely to get for this tragedy. He related that on the eighth day of the dedication ceremonies for the Tabernacle, the unbelievable happened. Aaron’s two eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, were suddenly struck by lightning while they were performing the Divine Service. Moses, their uncle, watched in horror as the two young men died instantly. Aaron wept and said, “I and my sons have sinned. This is why God has punished us so severely!”
Moses comforted Aaron, saying, “No, this is not true. The boys died because they were more holy than we are. God used them to sanctify the great Name, because they were among God’s most intimate friends. God had already hinted this possibility to me at Mount Sinai. They must have made some slight error in their service, but because God expected them to be perfect and on such a high plane, higher than any of the rest of us, they had to die.”
It was some comfort to think of Shoshana as holier than the rest of us, and one of God’s most intimate friends. Still, the funeral was unbearable. To see Shoshie in a box. I prayed she would suddenly sit up and tell me everything was all right, that I had just been having another one of my nightmares. But the coffin was as silent as my heart was heavy. I marched behind the casket half hoping the mosquitoes would suck the blood from my body so that I might join my daughter in the world to come, to ensure she felt no more pain.
The procession of mourners walked silently to the grave site. The only sound was a series of loud, slow clangs on Shmuel’s bell.
My feet were so heavy; I might not have been able to move if not for the necessity of holding up poor Golde. When Dr. Susser broke the news to us, she was inconsolable. For the entire shiva period she cried. The chaverim who shared our grief tried to speak to her, to remind her of the joyous times we spent together, as the Talmud instructs in times of mourning. But she would put her hands over her ears and scream over and over, “No! No! No!”
When it was time for the funeral, she suddenly stopped crying. She leaned against me, but did not react when Jonathan eulogized about Shoshana’s contribution to building the kibbutz and to the rebirth of the Jewish commonwealth. Shoshana’s actions, he said, were what God meant when he told Isaiah Israel would be a light unto the nations.
“I found a parable that I hope provides some comfort to Tevye and Golde and the rest of us,” Jonathan said, his normally booming voice just loud enough for all of us to hear. “A king gave one of his vassals a valuable object to hold for him. Each day this man would lament: ‘Woe is me! When will the King come and take back his possession so that I won’t be burdened with such a great responsibility?’”
“The same holds true for you, Tevye and Golde. You had a daughter who was beautiful, a hard worker, and an inspiration to all of us. She left the world unstained, pure from sin. Therefore, you must find comfort in the thought that you have returned unsullied the possession entrusted to your care by the King of Kings.”
At that point, I could no longer hold back my tears. Simcha came over to support me. It was the first time I could remember seeing him without a smile on his face. I wept like a baby on his shoulder.
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.