“I should know better than to think You could not read my thoughts,” I said, wagging my finger at the stars. “He who planted the ear, shall He not hear? He who formed the eye, shall He not see?”
It’s frightening to consider that God knows everything we are thinking. Not even our greatest sages could have had pure thoughts all the time. God must balance the good and bad thoughts, and know what’s in our hearts. He also watches to see how we behave. When I think about it, it’s a wonder God hasn’t struck me down with a thunderbolt.
Well, maybe I’m not such a bad person. God knows I try to observe His commandments.
“You also know I wasn’t thinking about company,” I said when I detected the sound of hoof beats. They were getting louder.
I kicked my horse and he jumped as though he’d stepped on a scorpion. The wretched beast nearly threw me, but I clung to the reins and grabbed the pommel of the saddle as I started to slip off. It must have been quite a sight to see poor Tevye with one leg over the top of the horse and the other under him while it raced down the road. I couldn’t see where we were going; my eyes were pressed against the horse’s neck as I vainly struggled to climb back to the saddle.
As the sound of dozens of hooves grew louder, I wasn’t sure what was more frightening, the thought of falling and being trampled, or being caught by whoever was chasing me.
The fetid hot breath of an animal blew against my neck and I had a new fear, that I might be squashed between two beasts like a gnat between two human hands.
Suddenly I felt a tug against the reins and my horse began to slow. When it finally came to rest in a cloud of dust, I managed to pull myself back upright and discovered that my rescuers were a band of Arabs.
“Dear Lord, have You spared me death under hooves so that I might be slain at the hands of the children of Ishmael?”
The thought passed quickly when I recognized some of the men as members of Sheikh Jabber’s clan. I just hoped he had not become less hospitable since I last saw him.
“Thank you,” I said to the one whom I remembered as the leader. “I’m afraid my horse is a better runner than I am a rider.”
He said nothing, but the look on his face reminded me of the Rabbi’s in Anatevka when I asked him if it was permissible to have sexual relations with my wife in a barn.
Without speaking, my Arab friend began to lead my horse off toward the hills, just as he did the first time I was “invited” to meet the Sheikh. I was surrounded by the rest of the Arabs and felt a little like a Jewish Tsar with a Cossack escort. After riding over a series of rocky knolls, which had not changed throughout the years, we reached the Sheikh’s tent. The silent leader beckoned me to enter. He was sitting in the same place as the last time I saw him, sucking on the end of a hookah. His son Ali was again seated next to him.
As I sat, a woman covered from head to toe in a robe and veil placed a cup of tea in front of me, while a second woman set down a plate of lamb and rice.
“Shokran,” I said.
“Tevye, as a friend I must warn you,” Ali began, speaking warmly, as though I was his closest friend in the world.
“Warn me. About what?”
“You know I have always spoken the truth to you. And from the first time we met, I told you that my people would never accept you and your fellow Jews.”
It occurred to me that it was not such a blessing to be told you are hated and will be killed.
“I have always appreciated your candor, Ali.”
“These are not my words,” Ali interrupted. “I speak only for my father.”
“Yes, of course. And I am grateful, Sheikh Jabber. It is no longer any surprise to me to hear that the Arabs want us to disappear into the sea.”
“It is our land that you are stealing.”
“Our land that we have returned to claim,” I corrected. “And that we have bought and paid for with large sums of money — and with our blood.”
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.