Michael S. Diamond
Torah Obscura

Chapter 15: The Golem in the Attic

The Golem
Der Golem

In which the young Rav Krishna reads aloud from a sacred family tome, “The Diary of Michel Lepécheur.” It is Annus 1309, the Pointe of Inflection that begins The Cycle. We stand at the origin on the map of The Descent of the Human Soule and its Other. Being has dived from Boundlessness into The World of Emanation. The reach of world-spanning empires based on religion or tribe, confronted by the Emergence of Science and the Organization of Workers, is about to tumble from its apex. Something is afoot in the Very Nature of Art. The tale is set in a tavern on the Left Bank of the Seine. The narrator, who speaks from the vantage of The Redemption, wields the Power of the Golem bequeathed by his lineage on behalf of the beleaguered Israelitish People. 

The Reader is reminded that this is a continuation of Undivided: the Redemption Inquiry. The 15th chapter of the novel and the fifth of…

Part the Third—Zeitgeists: In which The Right Reverend Rav Krishna declaims to his followers, in the visitors suite of the maternity ward, the long and tortuous history of the descent of Humanity’s Soule and Its Darke Twin, The Other, through the four levels of the soul as defined in the Lurianic Kabbalah. It falls out that the turning points in said history coincide precisely with the years—1309, 1925 and 2009—in which The Blessing of the Sun doth intersect with The Festival of the Passover, each year illuminated by a barroom fracas. The Soule of Humanity hath ascended, in the telling, to the realm of Creation, the realm from which the seeds of the Future seek their womb in the world.

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The year the music changed. Thirteen-Ought-Nine. The Rav let the number sink in as he abruptly leaves 1925 behind and moves on to the next phase of the discourse. Eight hundred and twelve years ago. I want to take you to the further reaches of the Wayback Machine for tonight’s journey. The syllables tripped from the lips of chamber singers, plucked from the strings of royal houses and rustled from the barrels of wood and brass that graced many a lord and lady’s hall. All changed. A paradigm shift is at hand. Giotto di Bondone, the Italian master of perspective, literal iconoclast, turns back to Nature, in particular the human form, as his muse and model. The thrill of the Other, the outsider at the door, the strange, the barbaric. The birth of choice. The swan song of The Divine Monarch. Move over Ars Antiqua, Ars Nova’s come to town. The seedbed of objectivity. The crack in the door to the palace of absolute power, the possibility of anarchy. Regional trade centers and markets foment radical change. For the first time, peasant revolts spring up across the globe. Monarchy and state religion slip imperceptibly toward the deep freeze. The Little Ice Age has just begun. Krishna is on a roll. He lets rip his lyrical introduction to the reading of his family’s prized medieval chronicle, the story of ‘Michel le Pécheur’, his customary wild historical ramble. Once he makes sure he still has his audience’s attention, he continues unabated. No surprise, Paris and Avignon were two centers of revolt. The captive papacy, an excuse for clearing out a thousand years of tropes.

It was in the water. It was in the art. Simulacra of nature overturn centuries of celestial transcription, the imagined Kingdom of God. The unhinged muse hammers out a system of musical notation, the parsing of sounds, adding a hop and a skip and a jump where once honey flowed smoothly from the rock. The response is electrifying. The death knell of an era of ‘modest and stately music’, and the inception of music its critics called “indulgent, capricious, immodest, and sensual.” Time itself stands at the brink with the invention of the aptly named ‘verge escapement mechanism’. The reverberations echo through all levels of society. The good people of Orleans, in open rebellion that year, tell the church scholastics of the University to take their presumptuous pomp and shove off. The venal king, Philip the Fair, doomed to an early death in a hunting accident, steps in on cue to limit the rights of popes and clerics, but the reality: he’s there to flog the monarch’s privilege. Jews, Cathars and Templars, the chief societal ‘others’, all get the short end of the stick as the faux pope and the foul king conspire to relieve them of their wealth. In the cases of the Cathars and Templars, their lives are forfeit as well. An effective means for cancelling one’s debts and collecting treasure. The Rav, practically breathless at this point, presses on.

A wave of change washes over the face of the planet. King Philip of France carries on negotiations with the distant Mongol Ilkhanate, the former Persian Empire. The Ilkhanate seeks an alliance against the Mamluk rulers of Egypt and the Near East. Every world-conquering empire stretch to the max and bump up against the Other: The Ilkhanate Mongols versus Mamluks, Mamluks versus Holy Roman Empire, Armenians versus Mongols, Mongols versus the Delhi Sultanate, Delhi Sultanate versus the Hindu Tamil and the Seuna empires, the Khmer empire versus the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty, the Japanese shogunate versus the Mongols, the Moors of Granada versus the Holy Roman Empire. A millenarian fervor is in the air, the overturning of ancient empire.

Internecine religious tumult breaks out within the borders of every jurisdiction on God’s green earth. Robert the Bruce holds his first Parliament at St. Andrews in 1309. Before summer folds its tents he controls all of Scotland north of the River Tay. By the curtain call of King Srindravarman’s reign that same year he bequeaths his country, Kambuja, a socially and economically disastrous conversion from Hinduism to Theravada Buddhism. Unterwalden, the Swiss Confederacy’s last canton, is granted reichsfrei status in 1309 by the German Emperor Henry VII, an event immortalized in the legend of William Tell. The Rav pantomimes riding horseback while scat singing a few bars of The William Tell overture. Sasibuqa reigns but briefly over the White Mongol Horde in 1309. The Golden Horde tramples him under foot when he dares resist Uzbeg Khan’s Islamization policy. Esen Buqa seizes power in 1309 in Transoxonia, locked in endless conflict with his brother Mongols of the Yuan Empire and the Ilkhanate. Robert the Wise ascends the throne of Naples in 1309. The titular King of Jerusalem and Count of Provence and Forcalquier. He is Petrarch’s patron and Dante’s nemesis, arbiter of the feud between Guelph and Ghibelline, between White and Black Guelph, and defender of Italy against the predations of the Kings of Bohemia and Bavaria.

In the Empire of China in 1309, the Mongol rulers ban their own home-grown Manichean peasant rebellion, The White Lotus Society. Like their European counterpart, the Cathars, the members of The White Lotus Society promote gender egalitarianism, a vegetarian diet—as is the case for the Cathar priests—and the eschewing of corrupt traditional mores and rituals. Both cults embody a Manichean messianic meme, the final showdown between good and evil. By all appearances, the Roman Church succeeds where the Mongol rulers of China fail. The Cathars are either wiped out or forced underground. But before the end of the 14th century, their Chinese counterpart, The White Lotus Society, sweeps out their oppressors as the wave of Manacheism propagates eastward. They succeed the Mongols as the Ming Dynasty, which in the fullness of time devolves into the collection of criminal organizations known as The Triads. Then the next Other, the Manchus, sweeps into power as the Qing dynasty, the last gasp of dynastic rule. The Rav, visibly panting for breath, goes on.

Meanwhile, Avignon and Paris, veritable beehives of church scholastics of every stripe, and a melting pot for new ideas of philosophy, mysticism and science, flourish. On the banks of the Seine, the joint is jumping at The Golden Trumpet. Let me read you the tale in the words of Michel Lepécheur’s own diary. One of the treasured possessions of my family, passed on to me by my father, rescued from the Paris ghetto genizah by one of our ancestors. His is a message riddled with prophecy, revealing in his writing in 1309 that he has seen the future Redemption with his own eyes. You can understand why for generations we’ve had to guard this family secret with our lives. But the time to disseminate the message has come, dispatched to us from the most remote of the Four Worlds, the World of Atzilut, the world prior to conception. The world of Keter, the crown, the realm of The Broad-Face and The Ancient of Days, Desire and Bliss. Thirteen Ought Nine, the year the cosmic efflux tips subtly, but irreversibly, rarified spirit pouring in the direction of raw matter. Atzilut, emanation. Sparks of consciousness tumbling out of the void, parcelled and packaged by pure Desire, but diverted into the ripe and waiting mouths of the vessels of the Sitra Achra, the Other Side. The inflection point in the downward trajectory of absolute monarchy. The Humanistic Singularity. Rav Krishna opened the threadbare cover of the ancient tome and bids those who have not yet done so sit. And so he reads. 

*    *    *    *    *

The Golden Trumpet is a venerable eatery and watering hole for the denizens of the Rive Gauche, blessed by proximity to the Sorbonne and the several convents and abbeys in the quarter. Just across the bridge from Notre Dame, it is a natural meeting place for the great minds and lunatics who walk the streets of Paris in 1309. As the innkeeper, I am the proverbial fly on the wall for some of the most interesting exchanges of words this side of a brothel. I’m not proud of my day job hustling treif, but looking back from the point of view of The Redemption, I see the necessity of it all. My family descended from a line of Provençal rabbis and scholars, part of the circle of Isaac the Blind, the author of the holy Bahir. My ancestor, according to my Aunt, was chevrusas—study partners—with Ezra of Gerona.

Great great ancestor Yonah ben Rachaman was quiet, where Ezra was ambitious. Ezra’s goal was nothing short of disseminating the Kabbalah among the philosophers of the Iberian Peninsula. He wrote prolifically and eventually returned to Gerona where he spawned his own school and found a protege in the great Nachmanides. The two luminaries together wrote commentaries on the Song of Songs, on the liturgy, on the Torah as a whole and on the most ancient work of Kabbalah, Sefer Yetzirah. But to tell you the truth, their whole corpus was derivative—mostly from the poet Ibn Gabirol, throw in a little Neoplatonism, and voila, the ‘system’ of Ezra and Nachmanides. But Yonah—I know, you think I’m obviously prejudiced in favor of my own lineage, just listen—Yonah was a quiet genius. An intuitive. And Ezra knew it. That’s why they studied together, Ezra the flashy philosopher and self promoter, and Yonah the navi, the prophet.

 Both scholars sat at the feet of the blessed sage, Isaac the Blind, but it was to Yonah that Isaac imparted his most cryptic gift, the secret of the golem. Yes, the fabled golem. The same arcana that eventually made its way to the Maharal, the Davidic branch in Prague in the 16th century. The golem, the original A.I. My great great etc zaydie Yonah who glowed with the mystery of the Shechinah—the earthly Divine Presence—saw what Blind Isaac showed him in his neshama, a soul-to-soul transmission. That was how he came to take on the mantle of the mekubal, an adept in Kabbalah, a master of receptivity. Ezra, bless his heart, left Provence without a clue. Hence the struggle to squeeze the genie of Kabbalah into the tiny bottle of Western philosophy. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good philosophical wrangle over a couple of pints of mead as well as the next fellow. It’s a steady diet here at The Golden Trumpet. But that’s all on the surface. Hints. Not the secret itself. Take the name, Golden Trumpet. Huichette D’Or. Old French for widget. Mais oui! A stand-in for whatever technology is at hand. And this particular widget was not actually a trumpet, but a miniature vortex, the energetic form to take the neshama through its spiritual paces, to bring life up from the depths of the sea, to turn the spindles which animate the body, to create something from nothing. This one was spun of the finest gold, to make the purest sound heard from now till the Redemption. Which, by the way is now. But I digress.

The golem is my family’s secret, passed down from elder to younger every generation, regardless of gender. The schema from the Sefer Yetzirah—as taught to Yonah ben Rachaman by Isaac the Blind—for the quickening of a golem, survived for centuries in family oral lore. As too, the ‘trumpet’. The golem itself remains sub rosa. Until now, at The Redemption, the true and real proverbial bed of roses. A word about golems. A fairytale has been deliberately spun for centuries: golem as monster. Shelley’s Frankenstein. She knew it. Keeps the curious at bay. As far from the truth as the notion that Jews have horns. Or use the blood of gentile boys for Passover matzoh, heaven forfend. No, it’s simply an activation program for any portion of the material world in the service of the mekubal, and only the mekubal. Praktical Kabbalah. Could be a set of kitchen utensils, a bale of hay, a horse and carriage, the pebbles in a roadway, a statue in a city square. Anything. As my Tante Chana used to say, “Der olam iss a golem, the world is a golem.” When summoned, the golem obeys the most complex set of directions precisely, and with whatever desired speed or subtlety, as intended by its master. The action of the golem, once created, is initiated and terminated by a particular pattern of notes blown on the Golden Trumpet. Simple, yet oh so disconcerting to the beginner.

 I remember when Tante Chana, my mother’s sister, tapped me for the job. I was a callow boy of eight. A reasonably good student, but I daydreamed. Playing with my chums, no one could ever find me when I hid myself. But somehow I could always ‘see’ the hiding places of the other boys. It so irked them that I often pretended I was stumped. I also had to come up with clever ways at times to give my hiding places away. In class, the reason I didn’t exert myself much was that most answers came to me out of the blue. At this, the teachers were most vexed, constantly hoping to catch the daydreamer unawares. Many of them assumed I was cheating. Again, to divert unnecessary attention from me, I played the fool. 

But Tante Chana’s practicum was a doozy. Every Monday and Thursday night my mother gave her permission to ‘steal me’ for a few hours. She was a widow and my mother, much younger, assumed her beloved older shvester needed a little help around the house. So Tante Chana taught me to lie to my mother. Not exactly lie, but bend the truth. And anyway, it was a matter of pikuach nefesh, saving lives. That canceled out a multitude of sins. After only a few months she had me commit the holy Sefer Yetzirah, The Book of Formation, to heart. Then Tante Chana layered on the studies of astrology, physiognomy, gematria—which you might call numerology—philology, the natural sciences, mathematics and the Greek philosophers. And finally, the various schools of Kabbalah as well as the mysteries of Ma’aseh Bereishit—the Work of Creation—and of Ma’aseh Merkavah—the Work of the Chariot. The yeshiva pumped me full of the Law—Torah, Prophets, Writings, Talmud, Midrash. It all melded together in the practice of applied Kabbalah, the mindblowing realm of Sefer Yetzirah.

As I entered my thirteenth year, I had no trepidation whatsoever about my Bar Mitzvah. I had every iota of the Law at my fingertips. But Tante Chana had yet to show me what I was supposed to do with all her esoteric knowledge. She regaled me with the most amazing stories of the previous lineage holders—tales of flying houses, talking cows, treasure chests overflowing with Moorish gold. One of our ancestors was a notable who went by the single name Zour. A 12th century physician and astrologer, his grave in Rue Pierre Sarrazin sprouts black lilies every year on Tisha B’Av. The goyim gave him a wide berth. There lies the demon Zour. We cognoscenti salute the flag of dark receptive beauty, the voice of The Song of Songs. The one the Christians call The Black Madonna and the Hindus call Durga. I may be a stalk off the same corm.

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PARTITIONS. Asmodeus and Rashba: According to the Kabbalah and the school of Rashba the banker, Asmodeus is a cambion, a changeling, born of the union of Agrat bat Mahlat, a succubus, and King David, therefore sibling to Solomon. The Rashba, the greatest Jewish scholar of medieval Spain, denied science and philosophy and opposed messianism until his death in Barcelona in 1310. His teacher, Yonah Gerondi, ordered the Rambam’s, i.e. Maimonides’, books to be burned on a Parisian street corner in 1233. He knew true horror when he realized that it was he who set the evil precedent for the burning of the Talmud by the Christian authorities on the exact same spot nine years later in 1242. The Maharam of Rothenburg memorializes this terrible tragedy in his famous kina (a lament recited on Tisha B’Av), “Sha’ali serufah ba’esh (Ask, you who have been burned in fire).” Although Yonah repented, he never made good on his promise to prostrate himself upon the Rambam’s grave in Tiberias before a quorum of witnesses and beg forgiveness of the deceased sage. His student the Rashba did not fully absorb his teacher Yonah’s lesson. He continued to restrict the reading of Maimonides’ works within his community. He died on the eve of a new age of secularism and anarchy. Asmodeus, changeling among princes, in the service of the Other.

*   *   *

Asmodeus in the apocryphal Book of Tobit targets Sarah bat Raguel (Tobit 6:13). He slays her seven successive husbands on their wedding nights before they even mount the marriage bed. Before Asmodeus works his evil will upon him, Tobias, her latest beau, taking the advice of his attendant angel Raphael, places a fish’s heart and liver on the incense burner. This produces a sufficiently acrid vapor that it perforce causes the demon to flee to Upper Egypt, though stalwart Sarah abides the stench. In Upper Egypt Raphael binds him hand and foot (Tobit 8:2-3). In some versions Asmodeus is strangled. The wasted seeds of desire gone foul.

*   *   *

The Rashba effect in physics, named for the Russian physicist Emmanuel Rashba, describes the splitting of particles in two-dimensional condensed matter systems (heterostructures and surface states) similar to the splitting of particles and anti-particles in the Dirac Hamiltonian. The splitting is a combined effect of atomic spin-orbit coupling and asymmetry of the potential in the direction perpendicular to the two-dimensional plane. Spin and anti-spin entanglement. Daemon and anti-daemon.

*   *   *

Ashmedai in the Talmud is a malign clown. His incontinent desire is for Solomon’s wives and Bathsheba. In another Talmudic legend, King Solomon tricks Asmodai into leading the demons in the construction of the Temple of Jerusalem. Asmodai throws King Solomon more than 400 leagues away from the capital by putting one wing on the ground with the other wing stretched skyward. He assumes King Solomon’s identity. Alternatively we may imagine that the sages of the Talmud suffered from Capgras syndrome, or misidentification delusion, with regard to Solomon. A neat solution to dealing with non-ideal traits in an otherwise idealized hero king. King Solomon returns, and forces Asmodai to flee. Solomon achieves this as he wins the debate over who is the real Solomon by pointing out that Asmodai has the feet of a demon. Silly, the feet should have been a dead giveaway. Or did Solomon have worse than the proverbial feet of clay?

*   *   *

In islamic folklore Asmodeus is called Sakhr (meaning the Rock or the Stony One), because Solomon imprisons him in a rock, after he retakes his stolen kingdom from him. Asmodeus is the king of the jinn. He marries Lilith, who is his queen. He is the offspring of the union between Adam and the angel of prostitution, Naamah, conceived while Adam was married to Lilith. Naamah is the same angel who retrieved Solomon’s magic ring from the depths of the sea and helped him return to Jerusalem to vanquish Ashmodai, her infernal seedling. Naamah, mother of the illness and procurer of the remedy. Ashmodai, chief architect of reality. Solomon’s Other. [from The Book of Wicheironomy: Chimaera’s and Other Changelings]

*    *    *    *    *

We Jews of Paris once were a wealthy and highly educated community. We owned half the land in and around the great city. Tante Chana also explained to me how my yeshiva, The Yeshiva of Paris, had been one of the greatest seats of learning. Until the Disputation of Paris in 1240. Nicholas Donin, a Karaite Jew who converted to Christianity, challenged the Rosh Yeshiva, our master Yechiel ben Yoseph, along with three other great ravs. They debated the merits of the holy Talmud, the oral law passed from Moses our teacher through Joshua to the men of The Great Assembly and down to us as a collection of erudite and often entertaining conversations among the rabbis. The result of the debate, a foregone conclusion: a commission of Christian theologians condemned the Talmud to be burned. On June 17, 1244 twenty-four carriage loads of our holy books were set on fire in the streets of Paris. Yechiel’s wife, Elisheva, was one of us, a mekubal. But her husband, the proud scholar, accepted the yoke of heaven and forbade her from using her arts to protect our s’forim, our sacred texts. No wonder our yeshiva had so few books on its shelves, and the ones we had were so closely guarded. A handful of bucherim, students of the yeshiva, survived and studied in secret.

By the end of the century, the Parisian Jewish community was reduced to a state of penury and ignorance, although our ranks were swelled by refugees from the provinces and from England. My tante told me that the property on Rue de la Huichette had been in the family for over two hundred years. The name of the street was a nod, hidden in plain sight, to the legend of the Golden Trumpet. My forebears kept the place going in secret as an inn in spite of the expulsion of 1182. Plus ça change. Tante Chana told me how my mother, who never told me anything that might be the least bit unsettling to the mind of a delicate child, knew the Parisian constabulary that patronized the inn. They would tip her off when the Christians were about to run riot so she could shoo out the customers and bolt the shutters to ride out the storm. A disturbing yet fascinating collection of stories for a young boy’s ears. Tante Chana showed me a little of her ability as well, always with a sly nonchalance, no fuss. She impressed upon me that our forebears in the lineage were the most humble of souls, no real interest in personal gain or any form of self-aggrandizement. I completely understood the idea of staying below the radar. We are all above the radar now, since The Redemption.

“The main thing,” Tante Chana said, “is to achieve a state of bitul, complete self-abnegation.” She wanted to insure that I not get too big for my britches. So she made me clean out the chicken coops. Every week. The humbling smell of ammonia stayed with me for days. And if I seemed the least bit offended or crestfallen she’d come up with another task at least as humbling. In fact it wasn’t until I actually learned to take delight in cleaning the coops for her beloved hens that she revealed to me that a golem could do the task in a fraction of the time it took me. I performed the meditation with her. We traced and carved the twenty two letters of the aleph-bet in a circle in the air along with symbols for the ten sephirot, the ten emanations of the Infinite Light. Holding the idea of the golem in mind, we traced all the permutations among the thirty-two figures in the circle above our heads. Then she handed me the Goldeneh Trumeyt, its name in the mamaloshen, the mother tongue.

Her words as she placed the instrument in my hands imprinted themselves upon my soul. “My dear nephew, Michoele,” said she, an uncanny strike behind her words, “The sages have taught us that every age has its instrument with which to assemble the multitudes, to awaken the Source, to shift reality. Aaron and the Kohanim had two silver trumpets, Joshua and his troops had their rams horns, David his windblown harp. And we, you and I and all those that came before us, have this Golden Vortex, this ignition key for The Holy Chariot, this anvil for The Work of Creation. Hold it in your hands and heart with awe at the fact of its creation.” Hands trembling, eyes screwed shut, I blew the sequence of notes with all the precision I could muster. The sound that came out, however, most closely resembled the stuttered moan of a sick calf. I blushed, but Tante Chana assured me it was the kavannah, the intention, that counted. We both laughed till we cried as we watched the the coal shovel take off like a shot into the chicken coop—feathers, squawks and chicken shit flying to the six directions. The job was done lickety split. And that feeling of blessed emptiness. I blew the trumpet again, the terminal blasts, and the shovel plopped itself back into its usual place, an implement among the other implements.

*    *    *    *    *

I was ready for the day of my final exam. But the day never came. One week after my sixteenth birthday I waited for Tante Chana to come steal me away for her final test. I felt ready, yet oddly apprehensive. So, after waiting a judicious amount of time for Tante Chana to show, I ambled down the road and took the thirty minute walk to her farmhouse alone. Maybe this was part of the test. In retrospect, the longest thirty minutes I have ever breathed air. The road stretched out further and further with every step, my legs leaden while my beating heart dragged me forward. When I arrived, I ducked in directly through her open front door. There I found my Tante Chana, my teacher, my rabba, dying in her bed. A bit of straw fell to the floor from her well-worn mattress. I suddenly heard the absolute silence of the house. Muted light that poured through her bedroom window illuminated an ocean of dust motes floating in air. The mice paused from their incessant nibbling, the cat lay in the corner staring placidly, all eyes focused on Tante Chana. The usually raucous cries of the chickens, all hushed. As I approached her bedside, my tante turned to me with a smile of supernal bliss, her soul beaming into mine. She said nothing, only held my hand until her last breath. Then she released her neshama to the sky. I gently removed her lifeless hand from mine, only to find what my mind had not allowed me to see. She had pressed the Golden Trumpet into my palm. My practicum graduation exercise—to assume the mantle of Tante Chana’s precious legacy.

♠     ♠     ♠

 The reader is instructed to proceed directly to Chapter 16: A Night at La Huichette D’or.

About the Author
Michael Diamond is a writer based in the Washington, DC area. He practices psychiatry there and is a doctor of medical qigong. He has published verse, fiction and translation in Andrei Codrescu’s journal, The Exquisite Corpse; in the journal Shirim courtesy of Dryad Press; in the online journal for Akashic Press; in New Mexico Review, The Deronda Review, The Atherton Review, The Blood Project, Ars Medica and in The Journal of the American Medical Association. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, an artist and illuminator of Hebrew manuscripts, their dog, two cats, a cockatiel named Peaches, a tank of hyperactive fish and ten-thousand honeybees. He has had a strong interest in Torah since first exposed to traditional stories as a child. Over the course of his life he has run the gamut of spiritual exploration of many world traditions of meditation and mythology. For the last several decades he has landed squarely in the traditional Jewish world. His writing is informed by all of this experience, by his curiosity about today's world and by his desire to mine the Jewish experience for its hidden and revealed wisdom. Torah Obscura, a glimpse of an otherwise invisible world afforded by a small aperture for light. All materials herein copyright © 2018 Michael S. Diamond. All rights reserved.
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