The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #91, Yizkor Book 2
In this episode, Samson reborn and Salome revised.
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fourteenth Era, Part 23, ~1240 C.E.
A Mtskheta *Yizkor Book*, begun Tisha b’Av, 5000**
Well, that’s what he come to be called. Funny how a person lives into a name. Built like a bull, and tough as one too, like a thunderstorm that flashes from afar, threatening but rare to strike home. But when his tears broke out so did his fists. He would sit stone still in our Torah talk, and silent as stone and probably as dull. But the butchers and porters, they all competed when they seen his arms, shoulders and neck. With clever cajolin’ and callin’ in debts they bartered til butcher Zev prevailed. Zev could hack thru an ox’s flank with a single stroke; and cut to the heart of our Halakhah* as quick and sure. In the butcher’s prayer house he was the rav.
* Jewish law and rulings
In the strop and hone of rabbinic thought, where every moment is seen as unique, and law must flex itself to fit our twisted world, that we might bring God and justice down to us; in the butcher’s blade and the gush of blood; in the spattered fat and splintered bone; there, Samson become a man under the knife of the butcher Zev. Nor dull and cold as I had thought, the lad’s heart. He come to learn anatomy of the cow and sheep, and eternity of our Halakhah. But stony, still. Nor smile nor joke bent his lip.
“He needs a wife,”
his father-boss declared for him. But like his namesake, Samson preferred the Gathly girls, the Mongol ones. Wild of talk and morals loose, and neither Mongols nor us Jews were pleased to let our children mix. More than once did Samson face a gang of angry Mongol boys. And more than once he hung the dead on poles to give the crows a feast. And more than once our Mongol lord demanded reprisals, gold or grain. Finally the khan sent a troop to find Samson and shoot him dead. But word out-sped their horse. Samson fled and joined a rebel band. Some say he became a mercenary thief. Others say he was a Maccabee.** A future ballad told his tale: The Highwayman; shot down like a dog.
* Family that led rebellion against Hellenists, C2 BCE
Such a timid child. Fear and dismay were her best friends. Batkol supposed she had seen her mum and dad cut down in the massacres or some such awful memory that ever whispers fearful threats and awful screams inside her head.
Hosanna and she were inseparable, sharin’ a bed, sharin’ bread, walkin’ to market holdin’ hands, whisperin’ tales of their secret lives, bent to the loom as they weaved rugs with their claw-like fingers and hawk-like eyes. In her sixteenth year Salome was betrothed to a quiet and tender lad, who served a merchant of fruit and nuts. From that time the child seemed to wither and fade like a lily dug from its native field, transplanted to a garden that choked its roots, wilted and yellowed as if to die. The only time her color returned was beside Hosanna in synagogue. A handful of years and nary a child and her husband, morose, served her a get*.
“She’s got a gnarled heart and a barren womb.”
* bill of divorce
The winds of heaven and earth blow and who can know when a good rain will come. That Salome, tight lipped with frowns, become a fixture in the prayer house, a listener of the Lor she were. Among the women of sorrow and pain she sat, she listened, she heard; she knew, and the rain of the Lor moistened her heart. A mother of chesed* she were called.
She could offer a word of advice that would open a door; a prayer that would reach the ear of God; an amulet that would heal a child; a woman healer and confidant. Thin as a wisp of mornin’ mist; gauzy ashen robes and hood; a corona of gray and grizzled hair that puffed out the hood around her head; her hands as crooked as ravens’ claws; her eyes squinting in a fiery gaze that made the wicked hate her sight — they would spit and turn down a side street. The graveyard become her synagogue, and she the rav over spirit and soul, a minyan of women and the lingerin’ dead. She called the departed from out of their graves to declare the truth from the higher worlds:
Will the year bring sustenance, health, relief?
How can I heal this sickly child?
Can I win back the heart of an errant man?
Will my womb be open; will my breasts be full?
Will my prodigal son return and repent?
Salome listened to body and spirit and repeated the words that the Lor revealed. She would hit a grave stone, like knockin’ on a door —
“Yael, come down from your heavenly height where you can see our impurities. Your daughter Abigail is mournin’ for you and needin’ your abundant kindness and love. Look on her in her poverished life. Her husband, her mainstay, so young and so good, taken from her not two months ago when the shadow of plague swept over the land. Where can she find her redeemin’ kin?”
Then she stopped and turned to the girl —
“Abigail, call to your mum!”
And the girl cried out in wretched tears and all the women moaned and wailed. Then,
“Shush! Yael is whisperin’ to me… Shush. Not a word, nor even a sniff.”
And then such a groan as broke from her throat, otherworldly it were, like the groan of the dead, in a gravelly whisper, dreadful and cold. Her mouth hardly movin’, Salome said,
“Go to Tiflis**; there’s a synagogue down by the stone bridge; supplicate there.”
And I’m here to tell you, she went down, and Batkol with her, and there she found a cousin removed, who opened her home. Who can deny that Salome hears? The women paid her whatever they could, and the merciful Lor unfolded His plan.
* loving kindness; ** now Tbilisi
In the next episode, earthquake, ruin, and the call of the road.