In this episode a new page in Tiveria’s history begins.
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Thirteenth Era, Part 3b, 1141 C.E.
aka the Messianic Era
The years scroll by; its forty-nine-o-one, eleven-forty-one by Julian’s* count. Late summer and supplication days as we climb up Elul** to the waitin’ Judge.
* Julian calendar; ** Hebrew month precedin’ Days of Awe with daily penitential prayers
Tiveria is but a village now. Many long years since our scribal arts created great manuscripts in this place. Now just Batkol and me at work producin’ volumes, though buyers are few. And most of the Karaites been driven from town as the Wars of the Lor deface* God’s world. That’s a euphemism — ‘wars of the Lor’ — and it takes the name of the Lor in vain to justify murder, hate, and abuse on them as differnt, just because they’re differnt. ‘Wars of the boars’ it seems to me.
* other say: “reface”
Well, that’s Tiveria in these impoverished days. Even the Frankish knights are scarce and Muslim princes are more concerned for trade and taxes and collectin’ wives than stirrin’ up passion to hammer new swords.
Like I said, Elul, and the summer heat still pressin’ down, bakin’ us. The children sit listless by the side of the road, the shops all shuttered, woman and men dozin’ wherever they can find some shade.
Out of that shimmerin’ heat and haze comes a band of gypsies, all racket and fleas, shakin’ tambourines and screechin’ their pipes and croakin’ out verses in some unknown tongue. I turns to Batkol with a mindless sneer,
“Sounds like some sufis are come to town,”
which later cost me some naggin’ regrets — that nasty voice just lurkin’ inside me. Not Sufis, nor gnostics, nor sadhus from Hind. Tefillin* on their foreheads and khoshen** on their chests. And it’s verses of Merkavah*** sung from their mouths.
“Son of Joseph; son of Duvveed*.
“I am the former,** a planter of seed.
“Come to my harvest and you will be freed.”
* phylacteries; ** breastplate worn by High Priest; *** medieval Jewish mysticism;
* David, as pronounced in Hebrew;** others say: farmer
It seems the messiah has come to town, meant to waken us sleepy folk. Oh, the children love it as something new. They laugh and dance and clap their hands, while the braver snips pull at robes and make faces or chuck little stones; and little girls wave with flirty smiles and run back home to announce the great day.
Just like the children, us adults get stirred up. Yosef the baker has been waitin’ so long for this great and awesome day of the Lor. And many a tradesman a-buzz with the news. But it seems the porters, Avshalom and his crew and the farmers and their hands call it ballyhoo. And the rav and his sages, they ponder and groan, weighin’ the texts and the signs and the stars;
‘Is this the right sephirah; what say the sums?’
Funny how every controversy breaks down along these same lines of social divide. Tradesmen on this hand and porters on this, and scholars opinions flipflop like fish.
Yehuda the Messiah he come to be known. Conquered our town and pierced our hearts, not with a sword but his gilt-edged tongue. Magic he knew like I never seen! He could unlock the rusty iron doors where we hid our bitterness, sorrow and fear; where our self disgust and self mistrust festered and fumed and corroded our guts. He could open them doors and air us out. The cry in our heart and our whimperin’ soul he could hear and know how to ease and appease, bringin’ comfort, purpose and hope to us who hobbled thru our broken lives. Weren’t long til our town was his.
Yosef, he crows like a rooster at dawn, thinkin’ he brung on the sun by himself.
“God is hearin’ all of my prayers, and has sent His savior direct to us. Oh back-slidin’ people, praise now the Lor…” and on like that til even his wife refuses to walk down the way with him. But Avshalom, with his iron fist and a heart just as hard, there he be, tears all a-trickle through his gray-tinged beard, throws his beloved dice in the lake and puts a plug in his cursin’ mouth. Yeah. And farmer Yonah is drivin’ in stakes to set aside the tithed portion of his fields and the corners so the poor may come and glean. And there’s Rav Jakov porin’ through his books;
‘What’s now forbidden and what’s permitted, and should I wear tefillin all day?’
Open tractates teeter on his desk.
The *first light of the new risin’ sun* and Batkol and me chewin’ the facts —
Everyone sudden-like showin’ respect; kindness of talk and kindness of walk. But am I different? The same old thoughts, the same old feelings, the same old eyes process and roll this world through my head.
*-* A nod to Jimi H.
And graver doubts are grindin’ us down. Gog and Magog; horror and war. The end of time is thick with fear, war, and disaster, and who’s to know who will live and who will die, and who will merit the peace of the Lor?
Batkol and me talkin’ at dawn. But, hey, ain’t that natural enough at the end of Elul* and the Yoma** comin’ on, standin’ at the base of the stairs to heaven where the Judge is waitin’ to thin His flock.
* Hebrew month precedin’ Days of Awe with daily penitential prayers
** Yom Kippur, most solemn day
The seventh month and the first of the year*. That’s Jewish time: all relative! But absolute, our Messiah’s comin’ on to judge us, swingin’ his chariot low, down from the heights to this rocky road, (hopin’ a wheel or an axle don’t break). The rav and his sages throw themselves down before the messiah, in honor, in awe.
“Please oh savior, lead our prayers these Days of Awe, this end of years.”
* There are at least 4 new years in the Jewish calendar. Interestingly, the new year of the calendar is considered the 7th month, Tishray.
Now everybody knows awe and fear! Not like any other Yom Kippur where judgements come, or maybe not, where Death is lurkin’ but who knows where, when an unseen Lor is lookin’ down as we beat our hearts and confess our sins in a happy chant and God forgives. And we secretly think our Soul is hid.
Now, there’s the Lor before our eyes lookin’ into the pit* of us. There he is sayin’, ‘Hineni’**, holdin’ the Word of God in his hand and walkin’ round us, shock and awe. Now the holiness of the day *like a mountain hangs over our head. ‘Will you be My bride or not?’* says the Lor, and who ain’t a-scared? **The book of all we say and think, of all we done and all not done, that book we writ with our own hand, that book will read itself back to us** while the Lor is lookin’ right there into our eye. Who will stand there and still have faith and not just run all a-trauma away?
* others say: ‘pity’; ** Hebrew: ‘here I am’; *-* classic midrash; see Talmud, Shabbat 88a
**-** see the Unetanah Tokef prayer from the Days of Awe liturgy
The Lor of all the worlds is standin’ before our face and turnin’ our page.
In the next episode: the Book of Lives reads itself.