There’s a story the rabbi in Anatevka once told me about the great sage, Rabbi Akiva. Once, he went on a long trip. When he reached a village and asked for lodging he was refused. He said, “Whatever God does is for the best.”
He spent the night in an open field. He had with him a lamp, a donkey and a rooster. The wind came and blew out his lamp, but he said, “Whatever God does is for the best.” Then a lion came and ate the donkey, and a cat killed the rooster. Nevertheless, Rabbi Akiva said, “Whatever the Merciful One does is for the best.”
That night, the town was ransacked and the inhabitants were taken away and made slaves. Rabbi Akiva repeated that “whatever God does is for the best.”
You might ask, “How could he say such a thing?”
Well, Rabbi Akiva explained, “the light of the lamp, the braying of the donkey and crowing of the rooster might have disclosed my whereabouts to the robbers.”
That’s a long way of getting around to the news. The Sabbath after I finally broke through Golde’s grief, I comforted her as the Bible commands a husband to do. I would like to say that it was my nocturnal charms that helped her come back to life, but it took several more weeks before Golde was ready to work again. Fortunately, her appetite quickly returned. Boy did it return. She began to eat like my horse. Sarah was worried that Golde was having a wild mood swing and was going to stuff herself to death instead of starving. But I could tell she was starting to recover, to the extent anyone can ever really recover from the shock of losing a child. Hopefully, the great sage Ibn Gabirol was right when he said, “Everything that grows begins little and becomes big, except for grief: it starts big and becomes little, until it disappears.”
Golde was in the middle of a midday feast of apples, yogurt, cucumbers, bread and jam when Sarah came into the house with a letter. Golde stopped eating and suddenly grew pale. I could tell she was frightened that it would be some new catastrophe that would throw her back into the abyss. She wouldn’t even touch the letter.
Sarah started to hand it to me. “No, you read it,” I said.
“Okay. It’s from Tzeitl,” Sarah said softly, sensing our anxiety.
“Please God, bring us good news this once,” I prayed quietly.
“Dear Mama and Papa: How is everyone? You can’t imagine how much we miss you and long to be in your arms again. The political situation in Russia is growing worse each day. We worry that it will spill over here to Poland. The Jews who thought the worst was over when Lenin died are finding out that Stalin has no greater love for the Jews than either Lenin or the Tsar; he may have less than both.”
Sarah looked up at me. I was afraid to hear what might come next, but it was too late to halt the messenger from delivering the message. I smiled and nodded.
“But this is not what I wrote to tell you. You remember that Motel had fallen ill. The hours he works — oh Papa, you should see how hard he works — in the dark, damp basement took a toll and he developed a horrible cough. Thanks be to God, he has recovered. And now I make sure he gets rest and fresh air. The children are growing like weeds. I can hardly believe I’m a mother. It seems like only yesterday I was playing the games that they now play.”
I looked over at Golde. Her whole body sagged as if her bones had dissolved. The tension escaped like the air from a balloon. Now a hint of a smile was on her face. It’s the happiest she’s looked since Shoshana’s engagement was announced.
“I can’t believe it either. My big sister a mother,” Sarah said before continuing to read. “I have wonderful news. Hodel has just arrived!”
“Hodel, ah!” Golde brought her hands to her mouth and shook her head.
“Mama, listen. She is in a surprisingly good mood and has quite a tale to tell. I will let her relate it herself. I can say she looks fantastic and her spirit is unbroken. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have her here with us.”
I could see Sarah fighting back tears. I knew how much she missed her sisters, but she was sensitive enough not to say anything in front of her mother.
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.