The other night I turned on the boob tube, appropriately named because my mind was shot. I have been trying to stay away from TV, but I had run out of steam and needed something mindless to look at.
There in front of me was “Fiddler on the Roof”, one of my all-time favorite flicks. I decided to watch a little and then look for something new, but soon I was hooked.
I tuned in a little late so I missed the first 20 minutes or so, but it didn’t matter because I knew the story so well. I used to show “Fiddler on the Roof” to my English as a second language classes. (The song “If I were a Rich Man” is great for teaching second conditional.)
Although I had seen this story of early 20th-century Russian Jews numerous times, I felt drawn to the story once more. As happens when exposed to something encountered before, I obtained a new perspective on the film.
This time around I was entranced by the performance of Israeli actor Topol in the role of Tevye, the milkman peasant tasked with eking out a living for his wife and five daughters in the little town of Anatevka.
In particular, I was moved by his efforts to deal with the coming-of-age of his three oldest daughters. All three fall for young men from the village, and Tevye must navigate their choices while still trying to remain true to his beliefs.
As “Fiddler on the Roof” opens, he sings of his role as the master of the house, the man with the final word in his home. In addition, Tevye speaks of the importance of the traditions of his Jewish faith.
The oldest daughter Tzeitel is in love with a tailor named Motel, who doesn’t appear to have much prospects in life. She has already been promised to an older butcher, a marriage arranged by the elderly female matchmaker Yente.
When Motel and Tzeitel approach her father about marrying, Tevye is at first astonished. The arranging of their own marriage is unheard of.
But he is a reasonable man, and a good, discerning father. He begins to argue with himself and God, looking to the heavens after Motel promises to take care of Tzeitel. Tevye says:
Hmm. He’s beginning to talk like a man. On the other hand, what kind of a match would that be with a poor tailor? On the other hand, he is an honest, hard worker. But on the other hand, he has absolutely nothing. On the other hand, he is an honest, hard worker. But on the other hand, he has absolutely nothing. On the other hand, things could never get worse for him, only better.
But look at my daughter’s face. She loves him. She wants him. And look at my daughter’s eyes.
After all the back and forth with himself and God, Tevye finally agrees to the marriage.
The same scenario plays out with Hodel, the second oldest daughter. She comes to him about her beau Perchik. The young man is a communist revolutionary, but Tevye likes him.
After another internal argument complete with several “on the other hands” and the requisite glances to God, and the observation about how his daughter feels about the boy, Tevye also consents to their wedding.
This Jewish father clearly loves his girls. This love for them not only requires honoring their desires, but also imposes the responsibility to set limits when necessary, and Tevye finds he must do so when the third oldest wants to marry outside the faith. His daughter Cheva has fallen for Fyedka, a Christian.
Citing the Bible (which doesn’t actually contain a reference that he quotes), Tevya tells Cheva:
As the Good Book says, “Each shall seek his own kind. ” In other words, a bird may love a fish, but where would they build a home together?”
Cheva tells her Dad that she and Fyedka want to be married.
Tevye draws the line at this statement.
What? Are you out of your mind? Don’t you understand what that means, marrying outside of the faith? I said no! Never talk about it again. Never mention his name again.Never see him again. Do you understand me?
Cheva answers “yes, Papa” but elopes with Fyedka anyway.
When Cheva shows up in the fields to talk with her father, Tevye begins his usual ping pong match with himself and God. After a couple of his normal “on the other hand” statements, he yells “No! There IS no other hand.”
As a result, in accordance with tradition, Tevye (with a broken heart) disowns his daughter.
Even in our modern world, where it seems society’s traditions and bearings are broken, studies show that the protection of family is a top value. Every culture does this differently.
For instance, in the United States parents seek to train their children to become responsible adults, able to make good individual decisions. However, as with many things, the parents go to the extreme. They emphasize individual choice too much.
Tevye is an admirable character inasmuch as he sought balance. He wanted his daughters to be happy, but he held to traditions that would protect them and their family. These traditions are rooted in the ancient Jewish faith.
Fathers are important in the shaping of the human psyche. They have an impact on who we are all of our lives.
Because all of us are created in God’s image, you would hope that fathers would respond to their children well and make good decisions like our Father God. However, because of their own estrangement from their Heavenly Father, earthly Dads don’t always deal with their children as they should.
Yet, the door is still open for fathers to come to Him for wisdom. Dads can come to Him in prayer and He takes the words and creates a miracle. He creates something, sometimes out of nothing.
Jesus taught that our Father God gives good gifts to His children. He said:
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
When people receive Jesus we receive God’s Spirit. This is hard to understand outside of having faith in God, but through His Spirit our Father God guides and lead us.
Those who have not put their faith in Jesus do not have His guidance in this way. But they can.
Jesus is God the Son, who died and rose again and is living today to heal our estrangement from our Father God, which came due our rebellion against Him. If we don’t seek this restoration with our Father, we are cut off from Him.
This leaves us only able to rely on our own guidance. It also leaves us open to the wiles of the evil being known as Satan, a spirit being out to destroy mankind.
Would that more fathers be more like Tevye, who consulted his Father God when he had to lead and respond to his own children.