While everyone makes a blessing over bread our hero takes a journey…
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Tenth Era, Part 3, 1039 CE, Granada
As the grand vizier blesses bread, delectable waftings mix in my mind like lacy curtains a-flutter in the breeze, and weave in a pleasant revery….
Thoughts of Rav Khushiel’s praises of me; unexpected as an angel’s face that appears and disappears in the shadows of lace; now you see it, now you don’t. The click-clackin’ plates and silverware. Singsong talk rises and falls in heartfelt emotions, earnest or trite. And weavin’ deeper in my own thoughts, the breath-like memories of Kairouan dissolvin’ into Sura and Jerusalem. The joyous meals and crackle of flames. The howlin’ winds and waters a-roar as I drift past death to Ifrikia’s shore. And sexual thoughts pushed to the sides. And jealousy cuttin’ a slice on my chest as I see Batkol charmin’ the prince. And loopin’ in the melody’s warp and weft, like a subtle design that frames the whole, psalms and prayers, the ones I repeat every day, like V’ahavta,* my thoughts pulse in the music of them.
* Devarim/Deuteronomy 6:5-9; Hebrew for “and you shall love”; begins a prayer for which this has become the name
That’s a bit of the lacy weave that filters the light aslant on my mind, except, I should probably mention these time-travel thoughts deep down in my soul:
With Rashi in Troyes:
Then the room quiets down and the rav stands and his wife enters with two challoet.* She lights candles, and his daughters come close and together he blesses them and his wife, stirring together words from psalms and Avot.** Then he covers the challah with embroidered linen and lifts a cup (turnin’ to me to whisper, ‘Real kosher; I produce it myself!’) and recites Berraysheet***, the seventh day, and *Sh’mot and Devarim, shamor and zakhor.* And then the Gemara, ‘I have a good gift to give Israel. Its name is Shabbat.’**** And one more Torah to close the blessings, ‘Shabbat is a sign between Me and you.***** Then his daughters uncover the challah loaves and extol its journey out of the earth into the oven and onto our plates, a woman’s art of alchemy.
* plural of challah, braided loaves of bread
** Mishnah text: Sayings of the Fathers; *** Genesis 1:31 – 2:3
*-* Exodus 20:8-11, and Deuteronomy 5:12, the 2 versions of the 4th commandment (Shabbat): to guard/observe (shamor) in Deut. and remember (zakhor) in Ex.
**** Talmud, tractate Shabbat 10b; ***** Sh’mot/Exodus 31:12-17
With Rav Khushiel in Kairouan:
We sits on pillows, not on chairs, the knee-high table from wall to wall. Me, I squirm and squeeze my legs into a knot, then stretch them out. How can people sit like this? But soon my eyes, my nose, my tongue take my mind to the table top. A fish tajine, steamy hot, thick with fava beans and spice. And then the women come with eggs and break them in the creamy stew, yellow moons in a fluffy cloud. Three giant shallow bowls of stew so everyone can reach and dip. And piles of flat but puffy breads we use to grab the hunks of fish and sop the broth, instead of spoons. And wine of dates to ease our thirst.
Now with Aberham on the Plains of Mamre:
And through the curtain flaps we see three men approach. And Aberham, he quickly runs to welcome them, gruntin’ against the heat of the day as it presses down. It makes the mountains skip like rams in the wavery air. And as he rises he signals to his wife, just points his bony finger. She nods and leaves her cushion to knead the meal, cakes, of course, and salty curds, while he takes a knife to a bleatin’ calf, and boys run off to the fire pit to flame it up and clean the spit.
An now with angels in heaven:
Frothy moments in the breakin’ waves of time, like the surf breakin’ at our feet. The breeze all drifty and coilin’ over us, a pleasin’ fragrance* appeasin’ our senses. And down from the fire, servers of the King, like angels in lacy and pearly robes, descend, carryin’ golden plates of balsam and spikenard, carshenah** and myrrh, smokin’ in twisty and knotty plumes. To each of us they bring a whiff, like a sip of wine, like a dram of redemption. And they smile through our eyes and they whisper our dreams. One says to me, “A Divine Voice is here by you, but no one else can hear.” Hopeful tears well up in me and I look around, and every guest is teary hearin’ their innermost tale revealed, hearin’ our names whispered with love by the servants of the Lor.
* from Hebrew “rayakh ne ko-akh”; ** thought to be a form of lye
Now these angelly servants of the King, arranged around tables set for us, begin a dance as if on air, like smoky incense they turn and twist, drift and disperse, hummin’ a melody heartbreakin’ sweet, and yet though they hum, I am hearin’ the words, “Ground so fine in the ground of us;* Holy the Lor and holy this place.”
* Huddaek hataev; hataev huddaek; a phrase recited by the priesthood as they grind incense for the Temple
And then they be gone and I open my eyes. No more am I sittin’ in a heavenly state. Shmuel HaNagid has finished his blessing; he breaks off a hunk of bread and eats.
In the next episode, it’s Yom Kippur of the year 4800 (1039 CE), and a day of judgement, indeed, for our hero.