Senior pastor Trinity
Cambridge community theatre is doing a production of the classic “Fiddler on the Roof” play in February. I am humbled and honored to play the father in the story named Tevya. The play is much beloved and raises critical issues for our time. All traditions, moral imperatives and sociological certainties change from intellectual arguments to life altering events when personal relationships are involved. Such is the story of Tevya, who is an everyman. Nothing is more personal than a father/daughter relationship. It cuts across time and lands, religion and culture and leaves Tevya, a devout man of faith saying, “On the other hand there is this.”
Here it becomes personal for each and every one of us. Ask it of yourself, “What would happen if my child declared their intentions to marry somebody that defies my personal values?” Perhaps that person could be somebody of a different culture, different religion or the same gender. No one is immune, which is why this story of Tevya and his daughters is one of the greatest collections of short stories and has become one of the most popular musicals in history. When Tevya says to his third daughter, a young Jewish girl who marries a Christian boy, “If I try and bend that far I will break,” he is voicing the heart of one whose core identity is at stake. And he touches the fear within each one of us, that our identity will be pushed to levels that are unwanted. When identity is threatened, we all revert to what is familiar.
But in culture, all things change. And what is at stake on one hand are traditions and customs which create identity, and on the other hand a need for individual expression; in many cases basic human rights and dignity are on the line. We know in places around the world an arrangement for women to be married is of small concern. But there are traditions, some horrendous which damage every aspect of women’s dignity. Fiddler on the Roof places before us the basic question: “Which human traditions need to be questioned and even changed? What principle guides our traditions?” This is Tevya’s quest; for what is at stake for him is the very identity of God. His quoting and misquoting of scripture is symbolically real. It happens often in the use of religions to define cultural identity. If God is on my side, then my values must be right.
But there is no map, no book with clear easy answers, thus the title … our lives are like a Fiddler on the Roof. For Tevya in the end, despite what his daughter Havala has done (married outside the faith), he still musters up grace for her. Although now dead in his eyes, his last words to her are, “May God bless you.”
The final criteria must be this: all traditions must keep human dignity at forefront. All traditions must finally be … to life. LaChaim. May all our traditions lift a glass in honor of the great gift that is sacred life and keep the core identity of each person intact.