The silence was deafening.
Hunched over a wooden cart, body bent in defiance, Tevye refuses to listen to his daughter Chava’s last effort to connect with her estranged father. Torn between his faith, his tradition, his love for his daughter, and his decision to treat his daughter as dead-to-him, Tevye utters a quick “May God be with you,” in parting with his daughter.
Tensions ease, as his daughter feels the weight of her father’s love, and as she gains appreciation for a person caught between the pulls of a changing time.
This is the concluding scene of Fiddler on the Roof, and was so brilliantly portrayed by our church community over the last few weeks. Despite the acting, the sets, the dance numbers and music, the thing that struck me deepest was the phrase, “May God be with you.”
It is a simple phrase but it bears the weight of the entire story.
When the main character, Tevye, a poor Jewish dairyman and father of five daughters finds himself dealing with the issues of his faith, the persecution of his people, and the changing times, he finds himself so stretched that he might break.
Like many of us, in one of these moments Tevye speaks in haste, estranging himself from one of his daughters as a way to stand his ground and salvage some part of his beloved traditions.
But in one last moment, in his own way, he lets his daughter know that he still cares, and that he wishes well on her regardless of what happens.
“May God be with you.”
As a church that finds itself founded on millennia of traditions, and as a denomination that comes from decades of others, I think we can identify with Tevye’s struggle. It’s easy to feel pulled by the tradition, the lessons our parents taught us, and the pull of forward “progress” (whether or not the progress is truly so).
The thing about Tevye’s words that sticks with me is not the words themselves, but the attitude that those words represent; instead of leaving his daughter in estrangement, Tevye gets a second chance to show his love for her, and bless her in God’s name, regardless of her decisions.
Isn’t that an attitude similar to Christ?
That attitude by which Tevye says to his daughter Chava, “No matter what, I still love you.” Even more so, it’s a phrase that Tevye says AFTER he already made the wrong decision.
How many of us find ourselves in that place? Having spoken too quickly when being overwhelmed by the stress and change in our lives? How many of us could learn from the attitude that gives us a second chance to show Christ’s love to those in our lives who we disagree with? To those who we love, but who have hurt us? To those who we should love even though our love might not change their mind?
To all of us, I hope that we might be able to learn not only the words, but an attitude, like Tevye, that is committed to God, but dedicated to loving others.
May God be with all of us