Bucking the Tradition
“A fiddler on the roof sounds crazy no? But here in our little village of Anatevka you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask; why do we stay up there if it is so dangerous. Well – we stay because Anatevka is our home. (And) How do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word – Tradition!” – Tevya – Fiddler on the Roof 1964
If, as Tevye says, tradition balances life – what balances tradition? For Tevye, with tradition firmly into place, perhaps love can certainly find its way into the custom of pre-arranged marriage. But then there is Motel a poor tailor who together, is in love with his daughter Tzeitel. But Tevye has already arranged to marry her to someone he has chosen but she does not love. Certainly, God would not oppose even a poor tailor being entitled to some happiness – and what about his daughter’s happiness? Thus, we forget that while laws may become traditions, traditions don’t necessarily have to become laws.
So what happens then to the traditions? Are they thrown out or tossed aside; only to be used when the need arises to justify one’s own moral rightness or position and authority? This was the challenge of Tevya with his daughter. It was the challenge to the Pharisees by Jesus – and it is the challenge for us today. In Tevye’s little town of Anatevka tradition had evolved into merely a functional exercise that had a high level of authority, which ruled their every day lives, while “Love” in every sense of the word had merely become more like an acquired taste that not everyone would eventually acquire. It soon becomes evident however as it did for Tevye, that the further away we separate ourselves from “Love” by inserting a series of traditions, the harder love becomes to acquire, the longer it takes for love to grow within us, and the harder it is to move forward. Tradition takes the place of God. This was the issue Jesus had with the Pharisees.
Is it not sometimes our own issue? We fight these battles all the time and we have to wonder if in those times whether the tradition is more important than the relationship. That relationship is love for God and for one another. If we make the decision to treat tradition as law we run the risk of losing the relationships. Tevya wasn’t willing to take that risk with his daughter. Christ was not willing to take that risk with his disciples and I believe he ask us not to take that risk with one another. Who knows that the tradition we resist today won’t open the door for someone to experience love tomorrow. This is the risk God wants us to take, that those things that come forth from us encourage instead of discourage, makes free instead of binding up, and creates love and not dissension.
Jesus did not come because he wanted to see how well we kept our traditions. Jesus came because he wanted us to have life, a life that involves a relationship with God our creator and one another – not a relationship with traditions. Jesus came that we might have life abundantly and encourage others to abundantly live. Because life isn’t just about our traditions and us alone. But also, that we don’t simply move forward for the sake of God but understand that even through the challenges God himself moves forward for the sake of us. The moment we begin to settle into those traditions, Tevye’s story reminds us that God’s relationship with us and God’s relationship with our children is not in the traditions. Through time, how do we keep our balance? That, I can tell you in one word – Love. Because without love, our lives are as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.