Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #95, Ghost Walkers

Rabbi Yose; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Obadia, Bible of Jean de Sy at Europeana, in the public domain.
Rabbi Yose; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Europeana: Obadia, Bible of Jean de Sy , in the public domain.
In this episode Rabbi Yose comes to our hero in a dream.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fifteenth Era, Part 2, ~1272 C.E., Herat

Three nights sleepin’ in the ruins of Balkh — mud brick houses with little dome roofs, many a dome cracked and collapsed exposin’ that greater dome, ultra marine alight with the flicker of divine wicks. What palaces, spirits, and intricate worlds, what wisdoms and musics and glorious fields that starry dome conceals from sight! And here below in rubble and rock*, a pillow of dust or bane or rot, and beneath this wrinkled and folded bed, what crooked roots, what cracked voices, what bitter grains and forebodin’ groans, all liminal and ephemeral to our crude senses. They penetrate our inner selves and tremble us in terrorful awe and ill thoughts as we walk our ways along the edge of Aden’s borders. But for the eye to see; but for a hearful ear.
* others say ‘wreck’
Under cover of dark we set out for Herat. Just before dawn we come out of the hills to Maymana’s* outskirts. We turned off trail into a village abandoned long ago. In a ruined synagogue we set up camp and prayed Shakharit** at first light.
* now in Afghanistan; ** mornin’ prayers
Midday, Ayoub, head of the clan, dressed as Pashtun*, heads into town to collect some lentils, bread, and curd. This his report upon his return:
* dominant local tribe that claims its origins as Israelite, of the ten lost tribes
“Sittin’ in the maydan* suppin’ tea, a group of merchants sits next to me. I overhear their excited talk –”
* open plaza or market place
‘Did you hear what I heard just before dawn when our caravan passed some ruined town? Gibberish voices come out of the ground. Demons hungry for human flesh. I thought my heart would leap from my chest, terrified to be seen or heard.’
‘I heard ‘em too,’
a Jew pipes up,
‘but they weren’t no demons. They was Jews who died in this place, returnin’ each night; come from gehennah* to say their prayers in hopes they’ll be heard more clear by the Lor.’
* temporary abode of the dead before being purified and ascendin’ to heaven
‘All wrong! All wrong! I heard ‘em too,’
a Muslim declares, sure of himself.
‘Hebrew, indeed, them devils spoke, like every devil. That’s their tongue, and spawnin’ you Jews to this very day!’
A Byzantine trader mocks them all:
‘You benighted and faithless Muslims and Jews! You live in a world foolish and false. Them was Jews, not demons or dead, but alive as you and me, for sure, prayin’ to the devil as all Jews do, callin’ him down to eat up this land! I heard their words and that’s what they said!’
“It seems we was overheard last night,”
Ayoub reproaches us.
“Who stood guard while we was prayin’ mornin’ prayers?”
A young man stood up.
“I’m at fault. I think I fell asleep for awhile”
And for that, they give him twenty lashes.
That night Rabbi Yose come to me in a dream, and lashed me with his words,
“You have been told what is right and yet you turned the other way: *in a ruins you are not to pray* nor **to the east to turn your face.**”
And then I woke and there I were, in a ruins gettin’ ready to pray, an there I were facin’ east enticed by dreams of glory and gold.
*-* Rabbi Yose ben Halafta, BT, Brachot 3a; **-** R. Yose quoting BT, Sukkah 53b
To Marco we bring back this report:
“The fair and prosperous route to China is east northeast thru Sheberghan. There, be sure to take your fill of its sweet melons and tender lamb, as the way from there to Kashgar is hard. From Kashgar the way is well trod and many a guide will seek you out. Surely God will be with you and show you splendors and tricksy wealth. But as for us, we have gone as far as our Lor allows us to tread this way.”
And thus we left the service of him, where the air is dry and the crusty earth ain’t yet ready for the Jewish plow.
“Batkol,” says I,
“we’re turnin’ back. I’ve come to the end of this arid road.”
And I waits, not sure how she’ll respond — with stamps and screams or ‘alhumdulillah’ or a furious silence, or a shrug and ‘let’s go.’
Batkol responds like she already knew:
“I seen that turn bendin’ you, and tho I never liked Marco much, and I never wanted to come this way, he shown us hopes and visiony thoughts and we found for ourselves this faded page of Jewish tribes on this sulky road, nearly buried in the blowin’ sands. But I drunk my fill and more than that, so turnin’ back is a welcome relief.”
I didn’t imagine it would take years to emerge from this moment, its brief span subtly bendin’ our feelings and thoughts; superimposin’ itself on our steps, like a separate self, half concealed, til it wrapped us around its altered views and molded us into its shadowy shape. But Marco’s ideals and his love of trade, his prescient sense of value and need; and Khorasan and its remnant Jews and their deep connection to our Lost Tribes changed me in ways that kept playin’ out, and surprisin’ me with who I’d become.
In the next episode, Jews wearing tefillin.
About the Author
I am a writer, educator, artist, and artisan. My poetry is devoted to composing long narrative poems that explore the clash between the real and the ideal, in the lives of historical figures and people I have known. Some of the titles of my books are: The Song uv Elmallahz Kumming A Pilgimmage tu Jerusalem The Pardaes Dokkumen The Atternen Juez Talen You can listen to podcasts of my Eternal Jew posts on my personal blog, Textures and Shadows, which can be found on my website, or directly, at: I live just outside Washington, DC with my bashert, and we have two remarkable sons. Those three light my life.
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