Tuesday, June 24, 2008

In which I begin translating Sholom Aleichem's first Tevye story.: "A Groyse Gevins."

I'm working on this project for my friend Scott Davis, proprietor of and author of "Souls are Flying," with the sage counsel of Musia Lakin.

The Big Windfall
Sholom Aleichem

A wonderful story of how Tevyeh the milkman, a poor Jew, a man burdened with many children, is suddenly blessed. A wildly strange story, which would be worth writing in a little book, as told by Tevyeh himself and given here word-for-word.

If a big windfall's going to come your way, Mr. Sholom Aleichem, it'll come straight into your house, as they say: "as it goes, it runs" (once it gets started, it gains momentum). It has nothing whatever to do with brains or talent. And what if - God forbid - it's the reverse, well you can just exhaust yourself talking, it'll help you as much as last year's snow. As they say: "Cleverness and advice won't help at all with a bad horse."

A man slaves, he's beside himself, try as he might, he suffers, practically (let it happen to the anti-Semites) lies down and dies! Suddenly, one doesn't know why or from where, luck comes galloping in from all sides, as it says in the book: "Then shall enlargement and deliverance come to the Jews." I shouldn't have to translate that for you, but the literal meaning is: that as long as a Jew breathes and has a pulse, he's forbidden to lose hope.

My own example illustrates this - the Supreme One led me to my present occupation. How did I come to sell cheese and butter, seeing as how my great-grandmother never handled milk? It'll be worth hearing out the whole story, from beginning to end. I'll sit down here for a while on the grass, near you, while the horse chews a little something, as they say: "every living thing has a soul," he's also God's creature.

Briefly, this happened around shavuos-time, that is, I won't lie to you, a week or two before shavuos. And maybe, oh, a couple weeks after shavuos. It's been a while - well, I'll tell you accurately, as much as a year with a Wednesday, exactly 9 years ago, or 10, maybe a little bit later. I was then the same as you see me now, only not completely, you know, really the same Tevye, only not really the same. As they say: "The same old woman in a different kerchief." That is, what? Not what I seem to be now. I was (it shouldn't happen to you), a poor man seven times over.

(Although actually, as you might want to talk it over again, I'm certainly not a rich man now, either. I've got a ways to go to be Brodsky [a millionaire of the time]. But we have this in common: he and I both want to prosper from now until Sukos.)

However, compared to how I was then, today I am, you know, a rich Jew, with his own horse and wagon, with (thank God) two cows giving milk, and a third cow about to calve. And we've got, not to complain, cheese and butter and sour cream fresh every day. That's its own drudgery. So we all work. Nobody sits idle. My wife, long should she live, milks the cows. The children carry little pitchers and churn butter. And I myself, as you see just now, travel every morning to the market, I visit all the dachas in Boyderik. I sit down with the wealthy householders in Yehupetz. One talks a bit with those people and feels one is also a little stick of a somebody in the world, as they say, no worn-out (limping) tailor.

And talk about Sabbath - then I'm completely a king, looking into the prayer book, a section of Khumash, a little of the philosophers - you'd take a look at me, Mr. Sholom Aleichem, and you'd be thinking in your heart: "Here, this Tevye is really something, he's truly a man who's somebody."

So in short, what have I begun to tell you. Yes, I was then, with God's help, bitterly poor. Starving (it shouldn't happen to any Jew), with my wife and children, three times a day, except suppertime. So I slaved like a donkey. I dragged branches from the woods to the railway station, a whole wagonful (this disgrace shouldn't happen to you) for two gildn a day, and at that - not even every day! And that little bit had to maintain, God bless them, a house with little beaks to fill (they should be healthy) and (forgive the comparison) also a horse for whom I provide room and board ["af kest" was the term for a family supporting a poor son-in-law so he could study torah even though he contributed nothing monetarily to the household - they considered him to be doing something important], the horse doesn't care what Rashi says, he needs to chew every day, no excuses.

So what does God do? He really is, as they say, "a God who nourishes and supports all life." He manages his little world cleverly, with brains. He sees how I struggle for a bit of bread, he says to me: "You really believe, Tevye, after all, that the end of the world is come, that the heavens are falling on you? Feh, you big numbskull! You'll see how, if God wills it, luck will in a minute turn you right around and there will be lightness in every corner."

It comes out, as we say at Yom Kippur: "Who shall be raised up and who shall be brought low" - who will ride and who will go on foot. Above all - faith. A Jew should hope, always hope. Ay, what? Suppose one becomes, meanwhile, ground down. It's exactly for this that we are, of course, little sticks of Jews planted on this earth, as they say: "Thou hast chosen us" - it's not for nothing that the world envies us...

Why am I saying this? It's in regard to the way God brought me a miracle and wonders. You should hear it out.

"And it came to pass," once, before nightfall, in the summertime, I was traveling in the woods, already on the way home, without the logs, my head hanging low, desolation and darkness in my heart. My poor horse, his feet were faltering/stumbling. "Crawl, you luckless beast (shlimazl)," I say, "straight into the ground with me! You better know what it means to fast the whole long summer day if you insist on being Tevye's horse..."

It's quiet all around. Every crack of the whip speaks up in the quiet woods. The sun sets. The day is dying. The trees' shadows stretch out, long as the Jewish exile. It starts to get dark and powerfully gloomy in my heart. Miscellaneous thoughts crawl into my head. I see before me all kinds of images of people already long dead. And here, I recollect my home - oy vey! It's dark in the house, gloomy and very dark. The little children (let them be healthy) naked and barefoot, looking out the door, poor things, to see if their dad, that shlimazl, has come. Hoping he will bring home a little fresh bread, maybe a roll. And she, my old lady, a typical Jewess, grumbling: "Children I had to bear for him, seven in fact, one might as well take them (God shouldn't punish me for saying so) and throw them alive into the river!" Nice words to hear.

One is really, obviously, no more than just a man, as they say, a living being. You can't distract the stomach with words. One grabs a bit of herring, then wishes for some tea, and naturally folks like a bit of sugar with their tea, and sugar, well, sugar's something a millionaire has.

"With at least a piece of bread," says my wife (God bless her), "it's bearable for the guts. But without a little glass of tea," says she, "I'm a goner in the morning. The kid," she says, "sucks the glue from me the whole night through!"

And meanwhile, one is, of course, still a Jew in the world. One can't escape it - one has to pray. Picture this, the beautiful praying that can take place when, exactly as I start the shimon-esre, the horse lets loose all crazy-like (it could be the Devil's work). One had to run after the wagon, pulling back on the reins, singing "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob..." - nice way to pray the 18 benedictions! And just now, when I really precisely wanted to be praying tastily, from the heart, that things would go more simply for me on this earth...

So in short, I flew after the wagon this way and said the shimon-esre loudly, with a nign, as (forgive the comparison) the cantor in the synagogue: "Who provideth life with His bounty..." - it's God's deed to feed/nourish/maintain all his creations/creatures - "who keepeth faith with them who slumber in the earth..." even the one who lies in the earth and bakes bagels...

Part Two...

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At 6:59 AM, Blogger NinaK said...

This is a great job, Melinama. You must have a very advanced knowledge, because you have gone further than a simple translation and made it a good read.


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