Tevye the Dairyman
by Sholem Aleichem
Tevye the Dairyman Wisdom and Knowledge Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Story Number.Paragraph
I beg you, Pani Sholem Aleichem, not to be upset with me, as I am an ordinary man and you certainly know more than I do—who can question that? After all, living one's whole life in a little village, one is ignorant. Who has time to look into a holy book or to learn a verse of the Bible or Rashi? Luckily when summer comes around, the Yehupetz rich folk take off to their dachas in Boiberik, and every now and then I can get together with an educated person to hear some wisdom. Believe me when I tell you how well I remember that day when you sat with me in the woods listening to my foolish tales. That meant more to me than anything in the world! (1.2)
Tevye has a good racket going on here, seeming to flatter the dude who's going to ostensibly write about him while actually praising himself. For example, there is a deft little maneuver when Tevye says that small-time village shmoes really have no time "to look into a holy book"… which is really a huge self-pat on the back. You know who's just bursting with Bible references? Everyone's favorite dairyman.
Many are the thoughts in a man's heart—isn't that what it says in holy Torah? I don't need to interpret that verse for you, Reb Sholem Aleichem. But in Ashkenaz, or plain Yiddish, it means: "The best horse needs a whip, the smartest person—advice." […] Only when God showed his favor to Tevye, suddenly made me rich so I could finally make something of myself, put away a few rubles, only then did the world take notice […] Many good friends suddenly began to show up, as the verse says: All are beloved, all are elect—when God grants a spoonful, people offer a shovelful. Every person came with his own advice. (3.1-2)
You have to love Tevye's little explanations for the Torah verses he quotes. What makes it extra funny is that he seems to take everything in the Torah as somehow ironic or sarcastic. Think about it—in what universe does the pretty straightforward "All are beloved, all are elect" mean that people are out to shove their unsolicited advice down everyone else's throat?
And in the next three hours he gave me a song and dance about how he had made from one ruble three and from three ten. "First of all," he said, "you take a hundred, and you tell them to buy ten shares" or whatever he called them. "You wait a few days till they go up. You send a telegram and tell them to sell, and for that money you buy twice as many. Then you start all over again and again send off a telegram, until finally from the hundred, you have two; from the two, four; and from the four, eight; from the eight, sixteen—wonder of wonders!" (3.36)
And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen—this must be the exact speech that Ponzi schemers always give their investors to explain just how profits would always go up instead of ever going down. Love it.