Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Romanos Frank Gorny - Feb 8, 1951 - October 27, 2016

Dear readers of Eyewitnesses,

My name is Jacob Gorny, and I am Romanos' eldest son. I am afraid I have an awful bit of news to share with all of you.

Last Thursday, when I returned from my business trip in San Antonio, I returned to my dad's house to find he had taken a mid-morning nap and never awoke.

I am sure you understand the shock that our family is experiencing - he was in great physical and spiritual health, and having lost his wife and my mother on July 8, 2016, his passing into sleep has been a tremendous tragedy for his four sons.

While I'm sure many of you cannot attend his funeral, I wanted to share the announcement with you:

My brother John Gorny, who is serving as executor for my dad's estate, has included a donation link for those who are willing and able to do so.


Every contributor (whether via his blogs, facebook, etc.) will receive a printed copy of my father's writing that I am personally going to edit and prepare from the source materials I have been able to recover from his archives. I would expect this to be available in Summer 2017 (he had a lot of writing).

Again, I am truly sorry to have to share this news with all of you. He was a very dear man to me throughout the years - he had many great plans and things he hoped to do in his life - but the Lord designates a time and season for all things. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Yet that which is true is permanent, that which is false can never be permanent. Sky and earth may pass away, but the word of the Lord endures forever, and the promise of resurrection and ascension is ahead of all of us waiting to be experienced.

It is my prayer that you will take five minutes of silence on November 4th - wherever you may be - and direct your attention/meditation to the memory you have of this man, and offer a prayer to the Lord on his behalf. May he pray for all of us here in this plane of existence. May he enjoy reunion with his wife Anastasia in the ascended life. May his memory be eternal. Amen

Monday, August 4, 2014

I witness, and I wait

Is it really over? Three years in love with the God of heaven and earth, whom once we knew only as ‘the rider of the clouds’ whose thunderbolts pierced the earth, perforating our hearts with fear, who stepped down from His glorious throne to make His flesh supple to my touch, to become a man as I am, to return my gaze through those beauteous eyes, green shot through with gold, to answer my childish wants with a wisdom that ripened my desire to a sweetness beyond all earthly glory. I blush to remember thinking He was merely messiah of Israel, sent only to us, to rule in iron rod magnificence our hereditary oppressors—everyone—and put them under our feet. My hidden desire too ashamed to openly reveal, I spoke my request to Him through my mother’s lips, ‘At your right and left hand, let my sons be seated…’

And yes, He did indeed grant my request after a manner unforeseen and unknowable, and my brother’s too, for I had forced him twenty years my junior, and the most beloved of His disciples—yes, I envied him but held my peace—to press Him in other ways, without success. We should have known that He knew all about us, knew us through and through. Our breed was of a better cloth than the others. Our father Zebedee was not forced to earn his bread by toil, nor we, yet he trained us just the same, working with us among his hired men, fishing the lake, mending nets that often failed from heavy catches. That’s what we were doing, in fact, when the Lord walking along the edge of the lake called us both, and we, seemingly thoughtless, left our father and followed that Man. We didn’t know then what we were in for.

Father’s business had made our family prosper, but that did not make him senseless, his piety well-grounded in Tehillim, if not Torah. We were not scholarly, our family, but we prayed the psalms of David daily, every morning, every evening, ‘Lam’natzeach, al ha-gittit, mizmor l’David. Adonay Adoneynu, mah adir shimkha b’khol ha-aretz! For the choirmaster, on the gittit, psalm of David. Adonay, our Lord, how great Your name throughout the earth!’ I remember father pausing often when we chanted the forty-ninth psalm, his favorite, and deeply intoning the refrain as if to engrave it on our hearts, ‘Man in his prosperity forfeits intelligence. He is one with the cattle doomed to slaughter.’ No, father never let us dwell too long on what we had, just long enough to bless the Lord for it. Then, back to the nets…

My brother John—well, what can I say?—he followed me like a lamb follows its mother, I old enough to be his father, and sometimes resenting it. Something in me—perhaps my angel guarding me—always stopped me from acting on the envy I sometimes felt. John seemed to be everyone’s favorite, and why shouldn’t he have been? Boyish, affable, energetic, sometimes boisterous. I had to admit, he really was like me when I was his age. The two of us were, yes, as they say, cut from the same cloth, that better cloth I just told of, but he unlike me seemed to forget our status. While I tried to use it to gain advantages, he received them unasked and without striving. That too was a sore point. But he was my brother. Along with everyone else, how could I not love him, even when he entered the Master’s love?

Cut from the same cloth, I was saying. Perhaps I should say, cast from the same cloud, rather. For we two were likened to thunderbolts by the Lord. The others—His disciples and their friends—would never let us forget that time we were thrown out of one of those filthy Samaritan villages. Insulted, we rose to our Master’s defense, ‘Lord, shall we call down fire from heaven to incinerate these animals like Elijah did?’ What we really meant was, that the Lord should show His power by annihilating His enemies—though enemies of His they were not, only ours alone, for He rebuked us strongly, ‘And what kind of spirit will they say has possessed you two?’ then grabbed us by our necks with both His hands, gave us a brisk shake and bellowed, ‘Sons of thunder!’ and then fell on us in a long, quiet embrace that pacified us.

Adonay, our Lord, how great Your name throughout the earth! Forgive me, brethren, for my tearful eyes. Let me pause and wipe them for they witness against me. What a fool I was! How I tested the Lord, even though I was unaware. You ask me, how did Jesus of Nazareth grant our request to be seated at His right and His left hand? Well, as I said, it was in a manner unforeseen and unknowable. He told us, ‘to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father,’ yet He granted our request in a way both mysterious and wonderful. Though we didn’t know what was yet to happen to Him and to us, it came to pass in this manner. One evening as the sun was setting, the Lord called to us, to Cephas, and to my brother John and me, ‘Let’s go to pray!’

Somehow we found ourselves alone with Him at the time of prayer. We had all been encamped near a copse at the foot of Mount Tabor. His other disciples were engaged in discussion, as we often were at nightfall, sitting around a fire for warmth. Strangely their attentions elsewhere, they did not notice us as we followed Him up a trail into the woods. I don’t know what the others felt, John and Cephas, but I was apprehensive. Though the overarching night was warm and scented, I shivered, I trembled and couldn’t control it. I felt like a new bride following her husband into the bridal chamber. Me, a ‘son of thunder’ and a mighty man in my own eyes, I felt afraid. My reason rescued me, ‘It’s colder than you think, and you’re getting tired. You’re just going with Him to pray, nothing more. Just keep on the path.’

I couldn’t believe how dark it was. It was ten or twelve days before the full moon, but neither moon nor stars were visible where I could see the sky between the tall pines that rose around us. Yet there was light on the path. I invoked the psalm, ‘By Your Light we see light,’ and wondered at the glory of God, how He guided our footsteps up that mountain trail. Then we were there, we had arrived where the Master wanted to pray. We sat down for a moment to rest, and then He began to intone the psalm of ascents, ‘Come, bless Yahweh, all you who serve Yahweh, serving in the house of Yahweh, in the courts of the house of our God!’ We joined Him but our fear forbade us from uttering the Divine Name. ‘Adonay’ we chanted, while He, fearless for it was His own Name, blessed the Name of the Holy One.

Darkness greater even than the dark of night fell upon me, upon us all, except on Him. We slept. How long we had been awake, offering the psalms with Him, I cannot remember, only the deep darkness and silence of my slumber. Yet we awoke. I think it was Cephas first, and his startled, quick movement as he lunged back, and his hushed, almost whispered, cry woke John and me at the same moment. The contrast between night and day can hardly be compared to what we saw. Light, light, wondrous light, bright, bright, brighter than anything I could have imagined or can even now describe, and colors, such as we have no names for, colors our eyes were never made to see, yet we saw. A whiteness into which all colors fall and from which all arise, that is what seemed to clothe Him.

I heard my heart chanting what my eyes beheld, the psalm ‘Bless Yahweh, my soul, Yahweh my God, how great You are! Clothed in majesty and glory, wrapped in a robe of light!’ as it revealed to me not only the Divine Name but its Owner. For though we call Him now ‘Lord and God,’ we didn’t know then, no, we didn’t know who He really was. Just a few nights before, He had asked us, ‘Who do men say that I am?’ and we told him. Then, He pressed us further, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ and we sheepishly kept silent until Cephas stood and confessed what we all halfway knew, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ All this came to my mind more quickly than a flash of lightning, as again I looked up after lowering my gaze. Yes, I looked up and received my sight, and realized for once what blindness really is.

For there, standing beside the Lord were two more sons of Adam. We three looked up at them in wonder. We heard the Lord speaking to them, and they, turned toward Him, responding, but what they spoke we could not clearly hear. Like the colors our eyes of flesh were not made to see, their words scathed our ears not made to snare their sounds. We watched and listened in awe. Then the two—we learned later from the Master that these were Moses and Elijah—seemed to recede from our sight. I heard Cephas call out, ‘Master, should we set up tents for…’ but his voice died away as we were overpowered by a brilliant cloud that made us invisible to each other. My eyelids snapped shut as if to deflect a dart, as I heard, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’

I was afraid to open my eyes. I felt a hand on my shoulder. I opened my eyes again. It was dark, very dark, and Jesus sat in our midst, His hand touching me. ‘Was I asleep, Master? Did you have to wake me?’ I anxiously asked. I knew that what I had seen was real, but the memory of it seemed like a dream. The Lord didn’t answer me, but beckoning us three closer to Him, said, ‘Come, let us go!’ We arose together and began our descent. ‘Back to the world of men,’ I thought to myself, but where were we? On the mountain? My tired body followed Him down the trail in a warm, dark swoon, not trembling this time, for something in me was consummated. I felt strangely free. ‘Tell no one what you have seen, until the Son of Man is risen from the dead,’ He said, though we were afraid to ask Him what He meant.

How did He grant our request—my brother’s and mine—to be seated at His right and left? Well, yes, that was in a manner unforeseen and unknowable. Little did we know that He would reign from His throne, the Cross. The world sees only shame and defeat where faith beholds glory and victory. My brother and I—blessed be the Name!—were less worthy than two convicted criminals to be ‘seated’ at His right and left hand, that I know. But to us was given to sit at His right and His left as He revealed to Moses and Elijah the strategy of the redemption of Israel and of the nations. That was forty days before He rose from the dead, prophesying the forty days He spent with us before His ascension on that other mountain. Now, I ask myself, what is that cup He drank of, that I shall also drink? I witness, and I wait.

Monday, February 17, 2014

He was my brother

Adelphótheos! Brother of God! Ah, what won’t those Hellenists with their illumined intellects name us? What won’t they tell of us? How zealously they’ve exchanged their old poets for new, for isn’t that all they live for, poetry? Yes, their accolade is just poetry I’ve been told, but this epithet, ‘Brother of God,’ this is really too much. It’s come to the ears of the authorities here in the City, and now they’re calling on me to dispel these rumors about my brother Yeshua. They want me to stand up for Torah righteousness when the tribes and the proselytes come to Jerusalem for Pesach. 

They said to me, ‘You, Ya‘akov, we know you are tzaddik, we know you carry out the mitzvot to the least detail. Tell the ignorant rabble the truth. Yeshua is not Mashiach. Yeshua is not Hashem. We will make all the arrangements. You must tell them. You are his brother. We must not defile yet another Pesach with superstitious worship. Shema Yisra’el, Adonay Eloheynu, Adonay Echod!’

Yes, even my old ears burn to hear them, the Gentile believers in Yeshua, making so free with the Divine Name. Yet who can blame them? For he that was brother to me, whom I guarded and guided in Torah righteousness from infancy up to the day he turned, to guard and guide me—yes, I too became his disciple—he himself made bold to speak the Name. Not only did he pronounce the Unutterable with his lips in our hearing, but by his life, his teaching and his miracles, and finally his resurrection from the dead, he spoke the Name that was proven to be his before our eyes.

We not only heard, we beheld, we even touched the Name with our hands. And these others, most of whom never knew him in the flesh, take liberties that we who did know him do not take. But let not the old man in me gripe unfittingly for the sake of all the good that has come to pass through Yeshua, my brother. No matter what they call me, I know who he is. Let the new man in me tell you what I know, for I was there, I heard the first good news myself.

We didn’t know that it was good news when we first heard it. Truth can look strange when one first encounters it, different from what it later appears. It grows in us as we grow. The good news did not start with the preaching of John, whom they call the Baptist, as many think. No, the first words of it were spoken by a bodiless power. She who is now my mother saw no one, only a shaft of light too bright to look at, and then a voice. She was the first hearer, but it started even before that, and in this fashion.

My father Yosef and his youngest brother Chalfi lived in Nazareth of Galilee. Though he was my uncle, Chalfi and I were about the same age. My four brothers were much older than I and, along with my sisters, lived far from us. For many years my father and mother lived happily, and I, the youngest, benefited from the softness of their old age. I could do as I pleased. But my world was shattered when my mother suddenly died. Seeing my father’s great grief made mine seem small. I wanted to help him.

A dream I had dreamt when I was a very small child came back to me, and it felt like an oracle. In the dream I was followed wherever I went by throngs of people. They called out to me, ‘Tzaddik, chaneyni! Righteous one, favor me!’ Much of the dream I have forgotten, but how it ended was frightening. I found myself on a high pinnacle, and then I felt a strong wind blow from behind me, and I fell. I awoke with a shout, and found my mother softly stroking my face, as she smiled, and then told me to go back to sleep.

In the dream I felt lifted up, and as I grew older, remembering that feeling, I knew it could only come from delight in Torah, and I resolved to devote my life to study and fulfillment of the commandments. When my mother was taken from us, I added another condition to my vow. I would never marry, but remain chaste as a Nazir. My life would be korban, dedicated. I would serve my father in her place, until the Lord took him. Having other sons to give him descendants, he was content to have me live with him.

This was my decision, but I never told him why, until the day a kinswoman of ours, Anna, the widow of Yehoyakim, approached my father with a proposal of marriage. At first he thought she was seeking for herself, as a widow, the covering and protection of a husband who was close kin to her. But it was not for herself she asked, but for her only daughter, Miryam! My father was speechless as he listen to Anna tell the reason why, which later he retold to me.

‘From the time she was three years old,’ Anna related, ‘my Miryam had a recurring dream. She says, she was led to the Temple and in the company of maidens handed over to the High Priest, who dedicated her to the Lord. She was made korban and led into the Holy of Holies, where she was to live. Strangely, she tells that there was no ark in the Holy Place, only two creatures who, surrounding her with their wings, sang, “Rejoice, Ark that is gilt by the Spirit! Rejoice, you who are the Throne of the King!”

‘And I did not want to upset her,’ continued Anna, ‘so I just listened when she told me these things, and marveled, and asked myself, what could it all mean? But the time came for my daughter to be betrothed to a young husband, and be married, and I could put it off no longer. I said, “My daughter, it is time to give you in marriage,” but she, who was always gentle and obedient to me her mother, refused, saying she was dedicated to the Lord, and would never know a man.

‘I tried to reason with her, but to no avail, so we reached a compromise. I offered to approach you, Yosef, my close kinsman and also a respectable widower, to propose a legal marriage that would not be consummated, which would give my daughter the manly covering and protection to continue the life of a perpetual virgin, in accordance with her dream.’

My father at first refused, shocked, not knowing what to think. To listen to such tales was next to telling them oneself and being acknowledged a raving lunatic. Then, he recovered himself, and after a moment put before Anna a different solution to the problem.

‘Why not arrange a marriage between Miryam and my youngest son Ya‘akov. He too has this strange notion to remain unmarried and a virgin. Perhaps the two of them could carry on a life of righteousness together in virginity, or, if they should come to their senses and abandon these ideals, they could consummate their marriage, and have a family.’ Of course, my father made this offer entirely without consulting me. After all, if Abraham could sacrifice Isaac…

Anna remained doubtful but returned to her daughter with the new proposal. She found Miryam to be absolutely inflexible and as unapproachable as the Holy Ark itself. Meanwhile, my beloved father came to me and carefully revealed the dilemma he was in. I blush to tell you, I was furious. For someone who prized fidelity to Torah and followed the fourth mitzvah precisely, I was abashed, and then ashamed. I confessed to my father, finally, the dream that had put me on the path I had chosen. I too was korban.

Wearily, my father Yosef met again with Anna, the two of them bringing each their version of the bad news. Out of pity and fatigue my father agreed to Anna’s original proposal. After all, this has been done before. Well, almost. It’s quite common that an aged widower takes a young bride. No one need know what goes on in their bridal chamber. Still, I was adamantly opposed. ‘Father,’ I protested, ‘this appearance of marriage is a lie! Nothing but evil will come of it! Please reconsider!’ But he didn’t hear me.

I was not my father’s counselor but his servant, according to my own volition. I gave him my opinion, and then accepted his decision, though I was unhappy about it. They were betrothed, and now I had a step-mother who was nearly the same age as myself. I pondered the words of the Tehillim as I prayed, ‘How can a youth remain pure? By behaving as Your Word prescribes. I have sought You with all my heart, do not let me stray from Your commandments.’ And then things went from bad to worse.

Miryam was found with child. I was more adamant than ever that my father send her away, ‘Divorce her, do anything, just get her out of here!’ How could he marry the wench? What had become of her vow of chastity? I fumed and ranted in a way I now regret. How quickly we judge those we want to hate, and for no reason! My father almost yielded, but he dreamt too, and a voice had told him, ‘Do not fear to take Miryam into your house, for the child in her womb has been conceived not by man but by the Most High.’

Though I felt at the time that my life was over, it had only just begun. What I thought at first was nothing but bad news, became in the end the first inklings of the good news, yes, the first gospel, and I am its witness. As his youngest son, I stayed with my father and my step-mother, accepting all that happened as coming from the hand of the Lord. I began to understand that there is a spirit of Torah which transcends the written words. I learned to love without limit, because that is what the Lord does.

I need not recount for you what happened in all those years. To hear it would not tire you, because it’s so wonderful, but these stories already have their tellers. How my brother Yeshua was born in a cave, not in Nazareth of course, but on the outskirts of an obscure village, Bethlehem. How the star appeared the night he was born. How the visitors were sent. And then, how we were sent, scampering for our lives, outside Judaea, into hiding among the brethren in Egypt. I was with them in all our travels.

And when we finally returned to Nazareth to take up our real lives again, as I’ve already told you, I stayed and attended to the needs of my father and his new family. That one Pesach when our whole clan went to Jerusalem, and we somehow lost Yeshua, my father sent me ahead with the rest, while he and Miryam went back to seek their son. I think that father was granted to see him teaching in the Temple as he later would, because he would not live to see his epiphany to the people of Yisra’el.

But here I want to testify to some things that have not come to the attention of the scribes, which I had no cause to reveal in my talks before the brethren, or in my written testimonies. I feel that for me, somehow, the time is close. I am an eyewitness. An eyewitness to what? To the only event in all the world worth seeing, yet which is hidden before the face of all people. It is the resurrection. I must take the witness stand and speak, so that you can tell the brethren, should something happen to me.

When we were all in that upper room, for his last Pesach—yes, I too was there, not just ‘the Twelve’—for that supper which transformed the earthly Passover to the heavenly, my brother, yes, he whom we dare call ‘the Lord’ said concerning the Fourth Cup, ‘I shall not drink any more wine until I drink the new wine in the Kingdom of God.’ Inwardly I uttered in agreement, ‘And I shall not eat any more bread until I eat the new bread in the resurrection!’ but I was astonished at my words, and told no one. Then he said, ‘Come, let us go,’ and we left to pray with him in the garden.

Once again, what appeared as bad news, terrible news, at the time, the arrest of my brother, with the rest of us fleeing for our lives, after a night of unspeakable loneliness and horror, only became worse. A mock trial, and foregone conviction. Then, flaying, stripping, spitting, beating, and finally torturing on a scaffold outside the City gates, the innocent between the guilty, all sharing the same fate, death. And we, crazed and shattered, the guilty among the innocent, we who knew who he was, and still gave him up to those whom he excused by almost his last words, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’

My refuge after the catastrophe was in the house of my uncle, Chalfi. My aunt, his wife Miryam, along with my step-mother Miryam, and some other women—the only one among us who was man enough to do what only women were brave enough to do, watch his crucifixion, was my brother’s youngest disciple Yochanan—stayed at the place of the skull until a rich Jew who had begged his remains came to collect them. Again I am so very ashamed to remember, but the shame I felt at the time was greater.

I hid in the house of my uncle, until his wife returned, bringing with her the good news that Yeshua was alive. I didn’t know what to believe, but my heart was already pounding in expectation. Could this be true? This is what he said would happen. Obscurely, to save our sanity, he had intimated, ‘the Son of Man will be put to death, but after three days, he will rise again.’ I remembered my strange inner oracle at the supper, ‘And I shall not eat any more bread until I eat the new bread in the resurrection!’

To ease our minds a little, we took the road to visit the brethren in the village of Emmaus, Chalfi and I. We were nearly there when we overtook a stranger, and he fell in with us. It was a young man—he couldn’t have been older than twenty—and he began to talk to us. Noticing our downcast look, he asked us what was the matter. ‘Are you the only one who doesn’t know what has just happened in Jerusalem?’ we asked. He looked puzzled, so we told him what we knew about it, how all our hope was nailed with Yeshua to a cross.

‘Well, if this Yeshua were the Mashiach of Yisra’el, this is what would happen.’ And step by step, the stranger told us how the words of the prophets would be fulfilled when Mashiach appeared. We were dumbfounded. He seemed to know the whole story, even parts that we didn’t know or hadn’t thought of. The walk didn’t seem long enough. We wanted to hear more but had reached our destination. The stranger made to move on. We pressed him, ‘Brother, stay with us, for evening is at hand.’

How true the words we spoke, calling him ‘Brother,’ more than we realized. We were hungry, so we entered a well-known inn for the evening bread. We sat down, and food and drink were brought to the table. Our unknown companion took one of the hot loaves and broke it up three ways with his hands, and offered it to us. As he handed me a piece he asked, ‘Ya‘akov, will you now eat the new bread of the resurrection?’

Involuntarily I closed my eyes, feeling a faint coming on, and grasped the edge of the table to keep from falling. I heard someone suddenly stand up, and then the crash of a wooden bench as it hit the floor. I heard my uncle gasp, and then shout, ‘No! Wait! Stay with… us.’ His voice sank as quickly as one who feels that all is lost. I opened my eyes, expecting to see Chalfi and the stranger standing at the table, and a bench knocked over, but we were two at that table, with no sign of the third. After picking up the bench and sitting down, Chalfi was quiet for a moment. Then he looked at me and softly said, ‘It was him.’

So there it is. Yes, I know you’ve heard about Chalfi—he is called Klopas by the Greeks, but he was my father’s youngest brother Chalfi, and his wife is still with us, a widow now, older than we can guess—but I wanted you to know that it was I who walked that way with him, and I witness that it was the Lord that met us on the road. No, I didn’t see him. I mean, yes, I saw him but didn’t recognize him, at least not at first, not until it was too late. Eyes that should see sometimes close at the wrong moment.

Ah, but I see they’re coming for me. They call me ‘tzaddik’ and try to pay me by their flattery to say that white is black and black white. That is permissible by their reading of Torah, but not by mine. I don’t know everything yet about my brother except what I heard him say and saw him do. He was not an ordinary man. He was more than Torah righteous, that I do know. No one has ever spoken as he spoke. It is as though he were the Torah in the form of a man, not only saying but doing all that the Father does.

Yes, they will hear my testimony. Yes, I shall tell them all I can, all I know. I heard Yeshua say, ‘What I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim on the housetops.’ This is what I shall do. Come, brethren, walk with me to the Holy Temple, where his Mother in a vision entered where no man could enter, to become the Ark of a New Covenant and the Throne of a King. Come, help me mount the final scaffold that I may join my brother and Lord in his kingdom, where he reigns, as King of Glory, who says ‘I am the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End,’ and who makes all things new.

‘Come, Tzaddik, we are waiting.’

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Into that darkness

Farewell, beloved brother! Farewell, brother beloved of the Lord! Though we loved you well, our love could not heal you of that sickness, nor stop you from descending into that darkness of the grave. But we knew, I knew, that the man who loved you would heal you, would not let his holy one experience corruption, would not leave his lover’s bones scattered at the mouth of She’ol. I sent word to him by a servant, ‘Come, Master! The man you love is ill,’ knowing he would come in time and raise you from your bed of sickness as he had many others. I knew he would come, but he did not.

I was devastated. I was destroyed. But then as now, I prayed, ‘I have faith, even when I say I am completely crushed.’ Only now, I know for sure that which before I had merely hoped, because he who said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?’ proved on the battlefield of his body that even the vanquished is victor, that not sickness only is swallowed up in health, but death in life. Yet here I sit beside you, watching, as I did many years ago, a second time talking to you as alive, though you sleep, and this time for good. I need send no message by a servant. I know he comes. He knows I call.

He comes, yes, but nothing ever happens the same way twice. Then, our house in Bethany was full of rich Jews, friends from Jerusalem, come to help us through those awful days of wretched mourning, only to see that all they could do was nothing. The grief of death remained in me, cold, stiff, dead, incapable of rising on its own, except as a statue with sculpted sorrow on stone lips, with unseeing eyes, unhearing ears, locked forever in formal poise. Then, sister roused me from my hopeless reverie, ‘The Master is here and wants to see you.’ I fell at his feet, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother…’

That time by his words he remade the world, yours, and ours. The crowd of consolation looked on, in consternation, as he stood among us before your tomb and wept, and they said to each other and to us, ‘So now he weeps! Where was the wonderworker when his beloved lay dying? He could have prevented…’ but we didn’t listen to them. Already by his presence, my eyes were beginning to see, my ears to hear, as they saw and heard you, brother beloved, emerging in your swaddling like a wrapped babe, as his words, ‘Lazarus, here, come out!’ undying resounded from that first moment, and even now.

Yes, even now, as I sit here before your quiet body a second time, but nothing ever happens the same way twice. Our house on this Greek isle again hosts your mourners, few Jews among them, but gentiles, and their sorrow is not grief, nor is mine, only a chill to the bones and a quietude, the same as we experience when we pray in the purple, pre-dawn darkness in a cemetery of the just, waiting with them for the final sunrise. ‘Eternal be your memory, dear brother, for you are worthy of entering into life,’ this song cutting broad swathes of melody in the fields of our hearts, healing us as he has healed you.

Healing you, brother beloved of the God who walks among us, who loves us more, invisibly, even than when he was visible among us. Healing you he comes, even as he knows I call. Yet the day is dark. Dark as that prayer cried out in the house of separation. Once, he delayed his coming, that we might descend into that darkness with you, proving us in the weakness of our human faith helpless and lost. Then, standing before that darkness, he called you, and us, out of it once and for all. Yet the darkness remains. It is the world. It is where we must live, no, where we must die in order to live beyond it.

I remember our last walk together, yours and mine, before you took to your bed, and our last talk. We reminisced. We were wealthy, once, many years ago, living in our villa in Bethany outside of Jerusalem. I could not remember how you met the Lord, but you reminded me, ‘I was that rich young man who at first went away.’ The Lord was attracted to your beauty. You always were a handsome man, even as you are now, lying before me, asleep in the body, soul listening to my thoughts. He was attracted to your beauty, but not to what is only seen, for he knows all men. He looks into our hearts.

Even in letting you go, after telling you, ‘If you would be perfect, go and sell what you own, and give to the poor, and come and follow me,’ he knew. He knew you would return. And he has replaced our former riches with treasure that cannot be depleted, his words, even taking from us our old wealth and granting us a new, ‘A man had two sons. He went and said to the first, “Go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not go,” but afterwards thought better of it, and went,’ and again, ‘Many who are first will be last, and the last first.’ Wealth not to buy things, but to purchase men’s souls.

He who is infinitely rich became poorest of the poor to walk among us, teaching us, we are all poor in the eyes of the Lord. Yet that poverty is true wealth, because he has bestowed it. You reminded me of these, and other sayings you heard from his lips. And I revealed words he spoke to me, or heard him tell to the crowds when I followed him into Jerusalem that final week. I remember how surprised I was when I heard him tell of what you dreamt when you lay in your tomb, ‘There was a rich man who used to dress in purple… and at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus…’ and like Joseph, interpret it.

These things, dear brother, let me rehearse in your presence as I sit watching over you. By mercy you were once raised from death, and by grace you have now been freed, this time forever. We spend all our lives trying to hide from the darkness of the fact that everything is moving, unstoppably, toward dissolution and death, towards nothing. Then a man appears who not only commands the dead to ‘come out’ but at last even disappears himself into that darkness, and then reappears, alive. ‘Man makes an end of darkness when he pierces to the uttermost depths the black and lightless rock…’

Monday, August 13, 2012

Now I Know For Sure

Touching Him, no one ever remains unchanged. I didn’t touch Him. He touched me, but not with His hands. He touched me with His words, and starting with that fateful day, nothing in my life remains the same.

I was a common servant then, a boy really, hired out by my poor parents whenever anyone needed help. I always did as I was told. I was glad to help my father and mother, who gave me life and did so much for me, even though sometimes I wished I could be free like the other boys, to amuse myself. When I became a man, I still honored my parents and, seeking to help them in their age, I hired myself out, working for a man that supplied marriage suppers with food and drink. I traveled all over Galilee with my master, catering the weddings of small and great. I continued to sleep in my old corner at home when our business brought me back to my village. That’s when I brought my earnings to my family’s relief. When I was away for longer, I sent word to my younger brother to meet me where I was. He took the money for me, and between him and me, we four were able to have food and shelter, and even a little for giving alms. From my father I learned, contempt of the poor is a luxury no one can afford. Though a man be poor, there are others poorer still. ‘Cast your bread on the water,’ my father used to say, ‘at long last you will find it again.’

You will no doubt believe me when I tell you that I was a poor man, for as you can see, that is what I am. When I tell you that I whom you see before you now clad in moth-eaten robe and faded turban was once Chuza, the steward of the great prince, Antipas of Galilee, you will laugh. I don’t blame you. I also laugh, though not out of doubt, but out of faith. For He that is Mighty has put down the mighty from their seat, and has exalted the humble and meek. Like our forefather Yosef in Egypt, I was raised up out of my humble state to serve the Lord’s purposes, and when I had done as I was told, He released me to dwell the rest of my days in peace. For no one who serves a great prince is ever safe, or free of cares. The Most-High is merciful, blessed be He! Now, I will tell my story.

I was of marriageable age, but my family’s poverty constrained me from taking a wife. As I have already related, I worked with a master who catered marriage feasts, from Nazareth, to Cana, to Capernaum, everywhere in Galilee. So it was, that we were hired to prepare the feast for the marriage of a man of Cana and his bride. This is what happened. Half-way through the feast, the supply of wine we had ordered ran out. My master was beside himself. As he explained it to the steward of the feast, one of the guests, a young woman—or, at least, she looked young—overheard what was said. At her left sat a handsome young man whom I took to be her lord, though afterwards I discovered to my amazement, he was her son. I was standing near with another helper, awaiting my master’s orders. I heard the woman tell the man, ‘They’ve run out of wine.’

The young lord—for now I was sure he was a lord because of his gentle courtesy—replied, ‘My lady, what does this have to do with you and me? It is not yet time.’ In the pause that followed, I puzzled within myself, ‘What could he mean, saying, it is not yet time?’ but I had no time to wonder, for the woman turned to me, tugged on my sleeve and said, almost in a whisper, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’

I felt embarrassed and confused, but something in her voice gave me confidence as I approached the young lord from his left, bent down, and waited for his instructions. He nodded across the courtyard where the feast was being given, and my eyes followed his gaze. There were six stone water jars lined up against a wall under the eaves. He commanded, ‘Those jars are empty. Fill them with water.’ My companion and I were more than bewildered, but I said to him, ‘Come on! Let’s do what the master says!’ The debate between the man we worked for and the steward of the feast kept their attention off us while we filled the jars.

Fortunately for us, there was a stone cistern just over the garden wall. It didn’t take us long to finish our task.
We were out of breath when we returned to the young lord. ‘Now, go back to the jugs. Ram, you fill a pitcher and pour it into a goblet. Chuza, you give the goblet to the master of the feast.’ I was as stunned as my companion, if his expression meant anything. ‘How does he know our names?’ I asked myself, as we hurried to do what the young lord commanded.

We came up, I reached out and handed the steward the goblet. ‘What is this?’ he gasped as he looked at the rich red wine in the cup, then took a drink. ‘Baruch, what is this?’ he demanded of our master. ‘You tell me the wine is run out, and now your boy hands me this?’ It was impossible for us at that moment to know for sure if he was mad or glad. He asked for another goblet, and we filled it. This the steward took to the head table and handed to the bridegroom. ‘Taste and see!’ he proudly said, and then spouted, ‘Others offer the fine wine first, and then the common, after everyone’s too drunk to know their left hand from their right. But you, Aharon, you saved the best till now!’ He looked around to make sure everyone had noticed.

This is where nothing remains unchanged. This is where no one remains unchanged. The paths of everyday life, zigzagging as they always have, are penetrated from an unseen center, where sometimes a hand is seen, sometimes a voice is heard, but from beyond the world the lightning flash that earths itself in every man is deflected by divine knowledge. A new point of entry is emblazoned on the heart, and the Lord of myriads of divine chariots takes more than Sinai for His sanctuary and Judah for His domain. My life suddenly was broken free from the bonds of fate, and like a golden leaf I was carried downstream in a glistening torrent, and deposited at the Lord’s feet.

Yes, He picked me up, though at the time I didn’t know who He was, only that he must be a young lord. Now I know for sure, He is the Ancient of Days.

The gossip began immediately as the marriage supper was ending. Everyone had his own version to tell of what happened, where the wine came from. Ram and I knew, but we didn’t tell. Strangely, no one even bothered to ask us. Gossips are never interested in the truth. Our master was wroth with us nonetheless, and dismissed us both from his service, punishing us for his mistake, and envious of our startling invention. I returned home dejected and cheated of my wages. Days later Baruch turned up at the door of my parents’ house asking for me. They told him they did not know where I was. He said he would pay them my wages if they would tell him how I had produced the wine. ‘What are you talking about?’ they protested. ‘What wine?’ But of course, I had told them all.

The first change was losing my livelihood. The second was finding it again. I did not have to look for it. It found me. As I now know, He found me.

Not long afterwards, an official came to our door with two soldiers asking for me. ‘Is this where we can find Chuza the wine maker?’ My parents were afraid, thinking, ‘What has he done now?’ I sensed their fear and emerged from behind the opened door. ‘Are you looking for me, sir? I am Chuza, but I am no wine maker.’ ‘That’s for the king to decide,’ he replied. ‘We are here to present you to the king. He has heard about the marriage feast in Cana.’

Afraid, and yet not afraid, I turned myself over to the soldiers and they carried me into the presence of the prince. (We do not call Herod Antipas ‘king’ for we have no king but the Holy One of Israel, blessed be He!) I was surprised at his gentleness as he asked me in detail what happened at that feast. Something inside me said, ‘Tell him the truth,’ and I did as I was told. About the young lord and the lady, I told him. What she said, what he said, I revealed all. ‘Well, this is a wonder!’ exclaimed the prince. ‘Come, Chuza! We sense that there is something about you, something mysterious and auspicious. Come and stay with Us, and be Our steward. Since you have told Us the truth, We want you to rule Our household.’

I looked down and stammered, ‘But majesty’—I didn’t know how to address him; I had never met a prince before—‘I am only Chuza, the support of my aged parents. You must be mistaken. I did nothing. I performed no miracle. It was that man I told you about. I only did what I was told, what he commanded.’

The prince stood up—he was seated and I knelt before him—and raised me to my feet. ‘Come, Chuza, We make you Our steward. We will provide for your parents. We will give you a wife as well. Stay with Us.’ And so it was. My parents were cared for, and my brother too. The prince gave me a wife of the house of Israel, even of the house of David, the virgin Joanna. Her family was rich, known at court. They were Hellenists. At the time, I knew nothing of these things. Now, I know more.

Joanna was chosen for me because—again, this was a change incredible and unexpected, for both of us—she was a relation of the mother of the young lord that worked the sign. Yes, it was Joanna who explained it to me. Miryam was the mother of the young lord whose name was Yeshua. Though her family and Miryam’s were of different wealth and station, Joanna visited Miryam and Yeshua often, helping them. Unknown to me, she was even at the marriage feast, and drank of that new wine that knew no vine. Joanna and I lived happily together in the palace for three years, as we followed the young lord, she with her feet, I only with my heart.

‘For three years?’ you ask. ‘What happened to that life, emulator of Yosef son of Yaakov?’ I know, I know. Yes, it is very hard to believe, but I am telling you the truth. I was the steward of Herod Antipas. Joanna was my wife. The young lord Yeshua grew in stature and in favor with God and men. Well, with some men, and only for a time. The same who followed Him when He healed and fed them, many of those called for His execution, not knowing who He was. But I knew. Joanna knew. When they lay His lifeless body in the tomb, my Joanna went with some other women disciples—yes, my wife was among the first to know He had scattered hell’s minions and taken it captive when He rose from the dead—to anoint His body. She came back screaming that the tomb was empty.

The commotion came to the ears of the prince. He was already very troubled, for the sake of that Man, as were all the rulers of the parceled land of Israel. He called us into his presence, seeking to know the reason for this outburst of my wife’s.

‘What is this all about?’ he demanded. In my heart, I knew that a tie was about to severed. Touching Him, no one ever remains unchanged. The prince had commanded me, one day not long before, to tell him the truth, for he wanted to know, and I told him. This time it was different. Seeking not the truth, indeed terrified of it, nevertheless he asked. As she began to speak, he suddenly shut tight his eyes, shot out his left hand, and barked, ‘Enough! Enough of these lies! I’ve heard all I want to hear! Get out of my sight!’ Even with his eyes closed, Joanna’s testimony pierced through those jeweled eyelids.

As quickly as I once was snagged in the maw of his service I was—we were—disgorged, and turned out into the street as though we had never known the palace. This was, for me, a blessed relief, for I wanted to follow that Man with more than my heart. Returning from Yerushalayim where she had followed Him that holy week before the Passover was sacrificed, she now shared with me the good news that He was to meet His disciples right here in Galilee, and that is what, in fact, happened, not many days after. Yes, He appeared to us again and again in those days before Shavuot. Even I was among those who met Him again, this time knowing who He is.

Touching Him, no one ever remains unchanged. I didn’t touch Him. He touched me, but not with His hands. He touched me with His words, and starting with that fateful day, nothing in my life remains the same.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Wed At Last

‘How can you sleep with a mere man when the Desire of the ages chooses to lodge under your roof?’ This thought, this question, raised me from my bed of sickness, from my sin, and set me on my own feet for the first time in my life. I had always let myself be carried, always wanted to be carried, not where I would have gone, but where my lover of the moment desired to take me. I had no other purpose but to fold into a man, any man, and do his bidding. That’s what women are for after all, isn’t it? We only exist to help our man. Without this mission we have no existence, no right to exist, we are not even alive.

Yes, I had had my share of them, men, even more than my share. My own father found me too choice a morsel to let me go to another before he had his way with me. Why then was he so severe, so merciless, with Avram when he, my first lover, got me with child? It happened within the same moon, besides, so whose was my first-born son, really? Who was the father of my Yosef? Who can know these things but God? And so my father forced the boy to make me his under the canopy of marriage, and denied his womenfolk the chore of checking the sheets for the blood they would not have found.

‘Go, call your husband,’ the strange Jew had commanded me, forcing my mind to swiftly search my heart for an answer, for I had no husband. Avram had not truly loved me, though caught in the net of his beauty, I surrendered my freedom gladly. I should have known better, but I was only a girl. Were other men like my father? I wanted to know, could a man be gentle? I had not much time to find out, for like his namesake, my first husband Avram soon left his father’s house, and me his wife with child, and went to work for his brother in a distant village. To divorce me he did not dare, but I never saw him again.

Perhaps the Jews are right, we Samaritans are all offspring of adultery. Perhaps their rabbis speak the truth when they call us ‘unredeemable’ and ‘unclean,’ a people that cannot change, a race that is born craving what is unlawful, a brood doomed to die in its sins. But what about them, those Jews? The stranger’s words, ‘we worship what we know, for salvation comes from the Jews,’ was he just another self-righteous rabbi? But why did he speak to me, then, a Samaritan, and even worse, a woman? ‘Who is this man?’ I kept asking myself, every moment hope mixing with fear, as a new desire was aroused in me.

Hoping to hide behind the truth spoken as a lie, I answered him, ‘I have no husband,’ but this stranger—I could already sense that here was the man who had always known me, who knows me better than I know myself—this man who asked me for a drink, replied, ‘Yes, that’s right. You have no husband. You’ve had five…’ And for a moment it felt as though my heart stopped, my ears burned for his boldness, my eyes opened as if for the first time. ‘I see, you are a prophet,’ I blurted out without thinking. There was nothing else I needed to tell him about me. Now, I only thirsted to hear him tell me who he was.

He already knew about the others, those men whom need or desire had compelled me to take to my bed. There was nothing, though, of blame in his voice as he told me, ‘and the one you’re living with now is not your husband.’ How could he have known? Something in me was caught, no, released from a net, like a bird set free. Hope spoke again in my heart, ‘He tore the net, and we escaped,’ and I heard myself tell him, ask him—I had never given it a thought before, but now it seemed important—‘our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say that only in Jerusalem can true worship be offered.’

Why did this come to mind? I was a woman, to whom holy and divine matters are of no importance. That is what men do. They alone are worthy to approach the One, they alone can worship, while we must humbly wait for them behind the wall. We approach the unmade Maker only by being hidden like Eve was hidden in Adam’s side. But this strange Jew, as if he knew the longings of my wounded heart, spoke what no man had ever spoken before, that worship is not what is offered on mountain tops and in temples, and only by men, ‘God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth.’

I could not hold back any longer. I put down my water jug—I was holding it tightly against my body without noticing, and it suddenly felt very heavy, like a child within me—and I said, ‘We know that Messiah will someday come and teach us the truth about everything.’ The stranger smiled, looked at me with a love that I had never seen in the eyes of any man, and gently said, ‘I who am speaking to you, I am He.’ I stood there while a shiver ran over me, and then—how long had it been? It seemed like forever—I heard the sound of men’s voices. Some travelers came up and encircled me and that man.

They looked shocked, but they didn’t say anything, at least not while I was there. Suddenly, I remembered myself, ‘I am just a woman.’ I pulled my veil back over my head—I had unmindfully slipped it off while talking to the stranger—and looking down now, I left my water jug and passed through the circle of men. How I wanted to say something to him, to thank him, to look at him looking at me one more time. How I wanted to be carried by him, to go where he would take me, for here was the first real man I had ever seen. I was too excited now to stay or to go, but I knew I wasn’t welcome in this crowd.

Yes, I ran back to the village. ‘Hey, everyone! Come here, quickly! I’ve just met a man at the well who has told me everything I’ve ever done! I think he must be a prophet, maybe even the Messiah. Come and see!’ I ran to my house, fetched my boys Yosef and Ezri, and told the man who was living with me, ‘He knows all about us!’ Pinchas snarled, ‘Woman, what are you babbling about? Where’s the water?’ I dared to ignore him, and ran out with my boys to join the other villagers who were already taking the road downhill. I didn’t look back, though I heard him growling behind me, but more and more faintly.

I reached the well after everyone else. When I got there, the stranger was sitting where I left him. I could see that he was some kind of rabbi by the way his disciples regarded him, yes, those men who came up and through whose midst I escaped. No, not some kind of rabbi. As I stood there, far off with my two sons, listening, I knew it was He, the Holy One of Israel, the Messiah, who was speaking. The villagers were engaging Him with their questions and their quests, and they encircled Him closer and closer until they were at His feet, and the closest sat there in the dust, drinking in His words.

The disciples of the Master—for that is what they called him, though I knew more—made as though to depart, and He arose finally to go with them, but my villagers crowded closer and couldn’t keep their hands off Him. I watched from a distance in silence. They were imploring Him to spend the night. They wanted Him to stay with us. ‘We’re only Samaritans,’ I complained to myself, ‘He won’t stay with us, He can’t stay with us. Look at His disciples’ faces. They’re just being patient, but they want Him to go… now!’ As I watched, He looked closely at us, in silence gazing on us, this brood of sinners, then nodded, ‘Yes!’

Cheers and ululation accompanied the procession as we walked back uphill to our village. I followed the crowd at a distance. A kind of shyness had overcome me. Everyone had forgotten all about me, and I was happy with that. My boys tugged at me, though, wanting to go home. I was worried what I might find there when we returned. Would my man beat me, as he sometimes did over trifles? I began to be afraid. The people up ahead had surrounded the Teacher, so I could barely see Him. Suddenly I heard someone call my name, ‘Shulamit! Shulamit! Where’s Shulamit?’ I came out from behind a myrtle tree.

‘Yes, here I am!’ I called back, ‘what is it?’ One of the men—actually it was the headman of our village—broke with the crowd and walked toward me. He had never come to me, let alone speak to me, before. I was a shameful thing in his eyes, not only a weak woman, but a sinful one, and everyone knows, a man should even speak to his own wife no more than is necessary. ‘The Master wants to spend the night at your house. He said that he knows you, and that he wants to stay with one of his own. Aren’t you a Samaritan like us? He’s a Jew, isn’t he?’ A thousand excuses, the man I live with, but I couldn’t tell them.

Torn between fear and joy, my heart lit the path ahead to where it ended at my door, and the Master followed. ‘Who am I to receive Him—some of the villagers were already calling Him the savior of the world—under my roof? I who have slept with… I who am sleeping with… oh, no, where will He sleep?’ The fire of my anxiety was found and quenched by His meek suggestion, ‘Let me sleep here tonight, with your boys. It will do.’ Where was my man? I looked around for Pinchas. ‘Maybe he’s gone out,’ I said to myself with a sigh of relief, ‘but what will I do when he returns?’ A shadow filled the open doorway.

‘You forgot the jug at the well! Didn’t you think our guest would want something to drink? And why haven’t you given him the best berth? We can sleep there in the hay with the boys. There’s plenty of room. Let him sleep in our bed.’ I couldn’t decide what was happening. ‘What had come over him. Had he talked to any of the neighbors? How did he even know? Why wasn’t he angry? He’s never treated me, or a guest, like this before,’ my mind wouldn’t quiet itself. Then, the Master said, ‘No, Pinchas, you and Shulamit keep your bed, but I thank you for your offer.’ In the growing darkness, we all lay down.

That night we didn’t draw the curtain across our corner of the room. Pinchas and I slept side by side as brother and sister. Something had changed in me, and he sensed it. I too could feel a change in him. What had caused it? ‘We know that Messiah will someday come and teach us the truth about everything.’ Those words I said to the stranger at the well would not cease, but flowed through me like a stream of living water. In the coolness of the night, I felt loved, I felt carried in the arms of a real man for the first time, I knew that where He would carry me would be where I never dreamed, yet where I always wanted to go.

No, the man I was living with was not my husband. In the morning of that day he understood it too. He knew for sure that I did not belong to him, nor he to me, but that both of us belonged to Another, to Someone who neither of us ever knew but always wanted. In the night, I had turned to him lying beside me, wanting warmth, wanting touch as my body had ached for years, wanting to be held in a man’s arms, but it was not to be. I had been married to five men, yet knew not love with any, until the One appeared who makes everyone His bride, and forever. Shulamit was enlightened. She was wed at last.

Friday, December 2, 2011

When By His Mercy

They said that men fell in love with him as readily and gladly as women fall in love with Tammuz or Adonis. I thought to myself, ‘Well, this I have to see! What kind of rabbi is this? The kind whose perverse piety considers us outsiders, even dogs, because we don’t follow their every meticulous commandment?’ We are people too. We share the same land, bless the same ancestors, fish the same waters, plant the same fields, are born the same, and die the same, as those zealots, calling themselves ‘God’s people Israel’ as if the Glorious Ones had favorites! Our people may not have wandered rocky deserts, but what raging wilderness of the seas have our ancestors not traversed, what barren islands and distant shores have we not settled with the sons of men?

This is how I used to think. Like my neighbors on the slopes of Lebanon, we’d been subjected to the missions of itinerant rabbis—some Jews, but mostly Galileans who would have liked to be considered Jews, though even their own kind shamed them to a lower place—looking for the worthy of the nations whom they might cleanse of filth and make servants of the God of Israel, giving us the honor of obeying the commandments of Noah. The commandments of Noah! Yes, work hard at them, you not-quite-Jews, and they will make you worthy to eat the crumbs that fall from our table, to drink the water we wash our feet in. I had seen and heard enough of rabbis the likes of these to last me till the end of my days. And who says we don’t believe in the gods, or the God, whatever the difference might be?

Now I am old, and some of those who followed that man, the one who saved my little girl—yes, saved—are living among us, here in our mountains. The words that were told of him, news cascading over the rocky trails before his shadow ever fell upon us, were more than true. Yes, men, but women too—I am one of them—fell in love with this strange rabbi. Other rabbis drew crowds of admiring men—never women! we are too unclean—and those adorers hanging on their fetished tassels learned from them how to be even harsher to their women than they were to begin with. But not this rabbi. Despite his covered head and unshorn sidelocks and beard, he bore no resemblance to those teachers of the Law. Men who loved him went back and loved their women more, not less, than they did before.

He seemed not to notice, sometimes, who it was that approached him, or who sat before him as he preached. Wherever he went, rather than noticing and condemning the unclean, he seemed to purify whatever and whomever he laid his eyes on. ‘It’s not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of him,’ I heard him say. It wasn’t as though he and his disciples didn’t wash themselves, but he rendered unto each what belonged to each one. Glory, honor and blessing, he taught, belong to God on high—the one he called ‘Father’—and not by us, he said, is glory deserved, but only love and faithfulness. ‘Love and faithfulness,’ I pondered for days after I first heard him, as he spoke in my village. Love and faithfulness! And how would this Galilean rabbi make good his words? I dared to hope.

My little Anatolé, my beloved dawn-born child, to whom I gave birth that chill autumn morning as the sun passed over the ridge and bathed the valley in golden blessing—may the gods be praised! she was such a lovely child—my little Ana, the delight of her father’s eyes and mine—may he rest in the garden of the just!—our little daughter, what suffering did she not endure as payment to the gods for being born so beautiful. The divine envy—for that is what I believed at the time—the divine jealousy took out its ire upon her, flesh and soul. Not even the little matya that I sewed to her infant dress could avert their evil eyes. For of a day, when we all were happy, something terrible came over her, even entered her, a darkness that flowed out of gods whom we once thought were powers of light, and crushed my hope.

One morning just after the sunrise, I heard the sound of people coming up the road that passes my house: voices conversing, men posing questions and one replying in tones deep and full of joy. My heart could not help dancing inside me, hearing that voice, and my memory hears the sound of flutes and finger cymbals and lightly plucked strings, the ripened sound of the silence that preceded and followed the arrival of the Son of Man. For that’s who it was, treading that steep road, as if he were himself coming to meet me, only me. ‘Is it that rabbi whom men love more than women love Adonis?’ quickly pierced through my defenses, as I hurried to veil myself so I could come out and see. My Anatolé was asleep, finally, in her tiny dugout, after unsleeping the night through, tormented by her terrors.

Not soon enough! ‘O Adonis! O Tammuz! Dying you have revived, but where you lived and died and lived again no man living knows! Help me!’ I weeping cried in a frenzied whisper, seeing the rabbi and his closest followers had already passed my door. I went back inside and took a last look at my little girl. Yes, she was sleeping still, but how hot and troubled she lay, her blanket wet and night-soiled, in her cave inside the wall. Would the demon leave her alone long enough for me to run after the rabbi and ask, only ask, if he would help her? Would he even talk to me, a woman, and an idolater? ‘I can’t help it I am not a daughter of Israel!’ I excused myself in rehearsal for meeting him. ‘I know we’re not worthy of you or your God, but can’t we deserve at least to eat the crumbs that fall from your children’s table?’

I quietly shut my door and bolted it from the outside. I always did that when I had to leave her unattended. There was no one to help me. I looked up the road and saw the disciples of that man clustered around him, but him I did not see. As I had heard, he was not even as tall as most of the men in my village. I lost no time thinking any more about anything. Only Anatolé, only my precious one, whom the gods tormented, only she was what was driving me up the mountain after him. ‘Kyrie! Rabbi! Eleison imas! Chaneynu!’ I cried out as I pursued them, but they were too far ahead. Not watching my path but only his, my foot fell into a pit and, turning onto my side, I fell into the ditch. Now my veil was torn and my dress dirtied. ‘He will not see me like this! He will not let me near him! O, have mercy!’

The rabbi turned in at a house up ahead that I knew well. It was an inn that served merchants, and the owner was a kindly Galilean whose wife was, like me, only a daughter of Tyre. He had, of anyone in the village, offered me the most help in my tragic loss. Agathon, my poor dead husband, had made him welcome in this our village when he first arrived many years ago, and they became fast friends. That’s how I met Mariamne, his wife. Childless, yet they sorrowed with me for my daughter’s affliction. It was Mariamne who first told me the good news about the rabbi from Nazareth. ‘Y’shua,’ she said, ‘is his name, and it means salvation in my husband’s tongue. If only he would come up here in these hinterlands to teach us—what a blessing it would be! especially for my dear husband. He too is from Nazareth.’

The long years since that day have vanished without a trace, and though I am now the oldest woman in the village, I seem to still be standing in the doorway asking the strange rabbi, ‘Please, sir! Please, come, and heal my daughter!’ and then, hearing nothing, falling face downwards at his feet and covering myself completely with my wretched veil. I only remember hearing Mariamne’s words pulsing in my ears, ‘He is a healer. He knows souls. He drives out demons. Our olden gods are afraid of him, or maybe, they just don’t even exist. Ask him. Ask him to heal Anatolé. Ask him. He can do anything. At least, that’s what I’ve heard. If he comes to our village, just ask him. He won’t refuse.’ The room was suddenly charged with emotion. ‘What’s she doing? Who is she? She can’t do that! Only to the house of Israel…’

I did not move. I lay there not as one dead, but as one upon whom the weight of the whole world pressed, a weight that would crush me. I knew what he was likely to say. Like all the other preachers of the Law, he would probably tell me to get back on my feet and go out the same way I came in, unclean, unworthy, unforgiven for not being a daughter of Israel, unsaved. But how little I knew the man. How could I have known? All that I had heard was hearsay. How did I know if it were true or not? Mariamne was insistent, I know, but she was ‘one of us,’ not one of the chosen, unclean, uninstructed. I’d even heard that this rabbi was considered unclean by his own kind. Yet, my grief planted hope in me, and my hope bore the fruit of faith. It was nothing I did, nothing I chose. Someone else had planted it in me.

‘The children should be fed first, because it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house dogs,’ I heard someone say. Without looking up, the words I felt I had been rehearsing all my life poured out of me moist with a grace that I did not own, ‘Ah yes, sir, but the house dogs under the table can eat the children’s scraps.’ I cringed like a sinner thinking she is about to be struck by a righteous hand. What rained down on me instead of blows was a scattering of mercy cool and fragrant as the myrrh they asperge on the funeral bier of Tammuz: ‘For saying this, you may go home happy: the devil has gone out of your daughter.’ Without looking up, I gathered my wrap around me, slowly arose and bent down again in front of the man, snatching up the dust at his feet, and throwing it on my head.

An expectant silence crowded the room, so I could hardly breathe. I turned around, and without looking up, ran all the way home, afraid to be seen by any eyes, human or divine. As I approached my house, I heard a child singing. My fingers clumsily undid the knotted cord that secured the bolt from being turned from inside. I could hear singing. My little girl, Anatolé, my sweet child, singing! It was a voice I had never heard before but instantly recognized. It was the singing I heard sometimes in dreams when by the gods’ mercy—I mean, when by His mercy—I was able to sleep a little after soothing my troubled child. She has grown up now, and married, and her daughters sing the same song to me, their old Laylah, for that is my name now, no longer Astarte. By His mercy, I am a daughter of true Israel, and of night.