Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Martyrdom of a Messiah: Solomon Molcho (1500-1532)--A Monologue

My Martyrdom: Solomon Molcho (d. 1532)

By David Hartley Mark

            I woke in utter darkness. How long have I been sleeping, O God of Abraham? Not just this terrible, sleep of pain, brought on by the Inquisitors—curse them, O God of Vengeance!—but asleep to my true heritage and Your Covenant, a member of the House of Israel. Dios Mio, how my head aches….

            It was not always thus. Once, I dressed in cloth-of-gold and sat at the king’s table; yea, King John himself, monarch of Portugal. I had mounted to the highest office any New Christian could hope for—and I was, truth to tell, no New Christian; I was born a Christian, if you please. My parents baptized me at birth, to keep me safe from the Inquisition—the Portuguese office of this same nest of leeches that has sucked me dry.

            I see I am not alone (Calls across the cell). What is your crime, Friend? Heresy? Mine, too. What sort? Anabaptist? Good luck go with you.

            And my—heresy, dare we call it? I am a Jew; I am a prophet; I may even be Messiah. You laugh? You think it strange, humorous even, to see the Son of God, God’s Chosen, here in rags and covered with filth and blood and offal, in a cell of the God-Police?

            It was not always so. No—as I said, I was an officer. No, not military; better! An officer of the king; indeed, I was Royal Secretary in the High Court of Justice of the Royal House of Portugal, subject only to His Majesty’s Pleasure. I ate and drank and worked and whored like any royal toady; my future was safe and secure. That is—until He came.

            Who? Why, Reubeni. David Reubeni. The envoy. From where? Beyond the mystical River. Tigris and Euphrates? Where and what are they? This is the Sambatyon, a mighty stream whose waters break rocks and overflow its banks—except on the Sabbath, when it calms and turns into a mirror-lake. Believe me, Friend: so it is written, so it is handed down.

            Reubeni convinced me that I was meant to return—to Palestine? No: to my faith. Not easy, Friend. I circumcised myself—yes, and you may well grit your teeth! I almost died, from loss of blood, but in my sickness, I had visions—of doves, and warriors, and trees they wished to cut down, but failed. I wrote it all down.

            I did journey to the Holy Land, and found it all laid waste.

Never mind, I told myself, all in Heaven’s Time.

            I met there a young rabbi—Joseph Karo. Nice fellow, I remember, but a trifle dull.

O well, I remember thinking; every dog has his day; this one may turn out to be a brighter light than he appears to me.

But I was impatient—David cautioned me to be patient; we Jews had no more power. But I disagreed: my visions, my dreams showed me a people eager to return, to hasten Messiah’s Coming for all, to bring an New Age of Peace and Hope and Gold for all. I even had a year: 1540—it seemed so perfect!

One, for the One True God;

Five, for the Torah’s number of Books;

Forty, for the number of Perfection and Completion—days of Moses on the Mountaintop; days of Noah’s Ark at sea; even—if the Christians needed a bit of a push—the numbers of days their messiah spent in the wilderness, withstanding Satan’s temptation.

It seemed to go well. I met with the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, but he first imprisoned me, refusing to arm my people—that is, the Conversos, the New Christians.

Which made sense, from his point of view, I suppose: can’t have a bunch of God-maddened half-Jew-half-Christians bandying about, carrying swords and bucklers. Charles had enough troubles on his plate. We spent some time in his prison, in the end—and he handed us over to the Inquisition, which started the whole entire thing unraveling pretty quickly.

Ah, well. I was prepared to meet my fate. Reubeni? No, not he. He was exiled—to Turkey, I believe. We fell out of touch—never saw him again. Alive or dead? Who knows? I will see him in that bourne that has no name….

The Pope, Clement VII, took my side, but he was worse than useless, in the end—just a Medici, you see, and illegitimate; couldn’t be trusted. Oh, you may call him Holy Father, but he’s a politician, through and through. Even I could see that the Church was riddled, top-to-toe, with corruption. He had to put his own house in order, and couldn’t be bothered, saving the life of a Jew claiming to be Messiah—though I am, truly, you see. There, now: there’s two of us, believing in Me.

And now, tomorrow, I’m to be martyred. I go in peace. I am content. I have lit a candle in this land—for justice, freedom, the right to think—what?

Why, what one wishes.

And one day, freedom of thought will come. And my people?

They, too, will be free.

It’s all in my Prophecy.

So let me die, content. 

Chap. 19, My Study Partner is a Vampire: Doing Battle with the Rabbinator Absolutissimus Rex.

Chap. 19, My Study Partner is a Vampire

By David Hartley Mark

“I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.”
--William Blake (1757-1827),  Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion

            I ran—or did I fly? Were my wings well-rested sufficiently?—toward the sound of the roaring, beyond the trees, not thinking myself in danger; what did I know of enchanted beasts, in particular the Rabbinator Absolutissimus Rex? I had never before met a rabbi worth fearing.

            Oh, certainly, there were both good rabbis and bad; I had met several whose breath alone, spiced by pickled herring with onions, with a backlash of cheap whiskey, could lay out a youngster (that youngster being me). And there were, had been, good ones, as well: rabbis worth admiring, like Rabbi Paff from the Old Neighborhood, who had listened to me and my doubts on the way home from shul one Saturday night, standing for—an hour? Two?—outside the door of the building where we lived on the seventh floor, he on the sixth, with his wife and three daughters, listening to my wondering at all the Midrashim-legends they were feeding me in yeshiva, of olive branches and figtrees growing out of the walls of water in the Red Sea, so that the Israelites could pluck and eat a snack as they leisurely strolled away, not hastily fled, the spears and arrows of Pharaoh’s Cavalry, during the Exodus, long long ago….

            A groan from the tall bushes interrupted my reverie, and Reb Shimon shouted again:
“Stand fast! Mark where he comes, Chaverai, Giborai, my Boys, my Heroes!”

            “Who is there?” rumbled a deep, basso profundo voice from behind the wall of green, and a chill ran up-and-down my spine. “Is it you, Shimon, you mystical lollygagger? Off with your visions, your mealymouthed mishegahss—sheer nonsense, nahrishkeit, stupidity!”

            And then I saw—Him? It? Like nothing I had ever seen before: the Rabbinator Absolutissimus Rex: much as Homer had described Polyphemus, the Cyclops, who had dealt Ulysses such untold woe: “a large, unformed Creature, gigantic, monstrous, with but one eye”—and that single eye rotated madly, revolving in all of its red-veined, pale, and glassy sharpness, missing nothing, noting everything.

            The Creature—dared I call it a rabbi?—dragged its wounded length along. It was most pale and squidlike, with sucker-like arms, nine in number, each wearing a tefillin-like leatherish binding, and a massive leathern box atop its head, only with a stupendous, yellowish horn growing out of the middle, inscribed in both Hebrew and English with the motto,

No Jew studieth Torah, save through Me.

            It had the one Eye, as I said, and no nose; only two nostrils, through which it snuffled and snorfled loudly and long, like a bloodhound in search of prey. Below the nostrils were not one, but three mouths, each one as long and wide as a locomotive, and with red-blue-yellow teeth to match, like rawish meat left in the sun too long. A stench of moldiness came off the entire Beast, as it dragged itself along.

            “Mutik, you to the left—Nister, to the right flank—quick-fly!” ordered Reb Shimon, and what could I do but obey?

            As I hovered above, drawing closer to the Beast—for Beast it was, despite its wearing strange and fantastic impressions of holy accoutrements—I felt the heat blowing off of its body, along with a strange, admixtured odor of burnt and burning sheep and cattle-meat. The Eye turned, and, most amazingly, seemed able to track all three of us. Each mouth opened, and, though it uttered differing speeches, I was able to hear both the words addressed to my comrades, Mutik and Reb Shimon, and those spoken, meant for me alone:

            “You, you heretic, Nister, you, Kofer Ba’Ikar, Denier of the Essence of Torah—what dare you do here, in my holy presence? Begone!”

            And more:

            “Do you dare carry a comb in your pocket, and a handkerchief, on this, our most holy Sabbath? It’s a sin—and did you take the elevator? I care not if you merely stood there, and did not press the buttons—you nodded slightly when the other person asked you your floor, and pressed the button—remember, Nister: ‘He who causes another to sin, is worse than he who kills him, G-d forbid; for killing him merely takes him out of This World, while causing him to sin, G-d forbid, may cause him to lose the World-to-come—“
            --and all of this accompanied by hissing, moans, and scratching at its tightly-wound tefillin….

            “Can you help us make a minyan, a prayer-quorum? No, don’t turn over in bed, you slug-a-bed, you vontz, you louse! Shtet oif, shtet oif, la-avodass ha-Boray—Arise, arise early, to the service of your Creator! Miss minyan, will you? Hide in your bed? I will write you in my Book: you will go to Gehenna-Hell, for certain….”

            The squid-arms lashed about—

            “I defy you, Creature of Law-without-Mercy!” cried out Reb Shimon, and he leapt into the air, dashing his alder-stick against the Creature’s nose. The Beast cried out in pain, but merely seized Shimon deftly in his tentacles, shaking him like an autumn-leaf in a heavy gale; we dove down quickly to save our Comrade, our Rebbe, our Teacher, but, too late: with a mighty swing, the Rabbinator tossed Shimon away, and he spun off, far into the sky, calling out,

            “I will return, my Boys, my Braves; I will return; fear not….”

            And so, we too alone, Mutik and I, were left to face the Monster….

            The Rabbinator, unable to grab us two as we dove and clomb away by our skillful flying, though he swung his tentacles far and wide, kept screaming imprecations from Torah and Talmud at us:

            “You, you backsliders! I will yet see the Four Punishments of the Bet Din, the High Court of Rabbinical Justice, the Sanhedrin, and the Knesset Ha-Gedolah, the Great Assembly, inflicted upon you—Stoning, Burning, Beheading, and Garroting! Come down, O Mutik-Demon! Come down, Halflight Imp Nister! I conjure you!”

            Seeing that we were perched in the branches of a nearby Oak of Mamre, he despaired of snatching us, and resorted to wheedling:

            “I have no interest in you, Mazzik-Shade—you are air and fire, and one of a million millions—nothing special about you; no indeed. But your comrade—that Secret One, that Nister, he of the Halflight-Scar. He is worth saving. I will put him to task, studying in my yeshiva. It may be that I can save him. Yes, hmm? Come down, O Nister. Come.”

            And he stared his single, yellow-red-pale-white eye upon me, until I grew dizzy, there in the tree. As I watched, I heard, as if from a distance, Mutik’s voice:

            “Do not listen, Nister. He is a trickster. He will devour you; you will become an Ultra, and be lost forever to us. You can still make Choices. Stay here! Stay!”

            Dizzy, unable to keep hold of the old Oaken Mamre-tree, feeling, yet losing, the Spirit of Father Abraham that ran through its leaves and branches, I was captured in the rays beaming from the Rabbinator Absolutissimus Rex. I began to lose my balance, began to fall….

Little Girl Lost: New Horror Flash Fiction for October

Little Girl Lost

By David Hartley Mark

            The wind howled. Pandora hugged Chloe, her doll, and stood beneath the old oak-tree, but it did no good: the cold gusts blew and blew, piercing knifelike through her thin cotton dress and pinafore. She had done well to pull on another pair of high socks before fleeing her uncle’s house, but wished she could go back now—or anyplace warm.

            The snow was falling more heavily. Pandora shivered. She was only eight, but knew full well that, if she stayed in the woods much longer, she would freeze to death. As her fingers and toes became more numb, she began to think, to dream almost, about what it would be like when her uncle and older cousins, Bobby and Paul—they were ten and fifteen; they teased and taunted her mercilessly—came ‘round the bend of Grandfather Oak and found her little body, curled up with Chloe-Dolly, beneath a frozen layer of snow.

            Would they brush the hoarfrost gently off her brow? Would they cry? Or would they continue to tease, as they had done so much and so often, just that morning, over their toast and hard-cheese breakfast:

            “You’re an orphan, Pandy! An orphan!” Bobby hissed at her, over his glass of milk, “No one loves you.”
“No one,” agreed Paul, who was nothing more than a miniature of his brother, all freckles and red hair.
“Leave the younker alone,” ordered Uncle Clabber, “for she’s hardly worth the spit in your mouths. Are ye done there yet, P’dora? For there’s dishes in the sink piled up all high, and no one save ye to wash ‘em. Mind, you get them done, or I’ve a strap to help you with it.”
“The strap! The strap!” echoed the boys, but Uncle chased them away from the table, and out to the barn, where he set them to feeding the cows and chickens.

            Pandora had sat for a bit, crying softly, hugging Chloe-Dolly, her only friend.

It’s too much, she decided.

It was time to leave. Her distant cousin Millicent lived in Downingstown, fifty miles away; she had no idea how long it would take for her to get there, but she had to try.

            I cannot stay here, Chloe, she whisper-thought to her best friend, and Chloe’s glass eyes and painted lips seemed to smile in agreement.

            Pandora stood by the back door, cracked it open a bit, and listened—she heard her Uncle calling to the boys, and an occasional cry of pain—That means he is strapping them, she thought. Good; I hope he does it good and hard. She touched her aching backside gently where Uncle Clabber had strapped her, just day before yesterday.

            I hope he dies, Chloe, she thought to her doll, which she had placed gently on the edge of her trundle bed. Get some sleep before we set out: we will leave soon.

            She looked out and up at the December sky: it grew dark early these days.

            O Mother, Father, protect me! She prayed to her dead parents, with silent lips, I must leave here—you know what a horrible person Uncle Clabber is.

            And so, she had run away, as fast as she could, into the friendly woods, where she had played so many times in the past.

Only now, the dark and the snow and the wind and the freezing cold were altogether conspiring to surround her and Chloe, gathering her in their icy grip. She was getting warmer and colder at the same time; she was sinking down down down into the snow:

            Only a bit of sleep do I need, and then, I will continue; just a few minutes’ sleep will do me good. Come, my baby Chloe, Chloe O baby mine; come, and we will lie down, together….

            The wind blew.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Oklahoma's Ten Commandments, and People, Just Getting Along: A Poem-Polemic

Oklahoma’s Ten Commandments, and People, Just Getting Along

By David Hartley Mark

                                    They’ve put away Commands in Oklahoma,
                                    The plinth is all remains of Decalogue;
                                    Say, Moses: are your words in men’s hearts carven,
                                    Or did the vanished granite leave a fog?

                                    The Bible’s words appear most pure and noble,
                                    But leave a bitter taste upon the tongue—
                                    You cannot simply read, but learn to live them:
                                    They help you climb to heaven, rung by rung.

                                    Next-door to my house my neighbor is a Muslim—
                                    We smile and wave whene’er he passes by.
                                    Say, Preacher: will my neighbor go to heaven,
                                    Or with the erring sinners must he fry?

                                    And down the block two quiet men are living,
                                    Withouten wives: I’ve heard that they are gay.
                                    Leviticus commanded: “That’s forbidden!”
                                    Would you have me go there, drive them away?

                                    Across from me, a man and wife are dwelling,
                                    A fine young couple: children, two, and dog.
                                    I’ve tried to greet them as they drive to church, but
                                    They stare ahead: my friendship is a slog.

                                    Perhaps I should apply in Oklahoma
                                    To purchase their two-tons of Decalogue—
                                    Just to attract my neighbors’ quick attention,
                                    To our Humanity-Machine add Friendship’s cog.

                                    Were Jesus, Moses, Mahmud all to move here,
                                    And set up shop, I wonder how they’d do:
                                    Would people likely smile, and nod, and greet them,
                                    Or, worse, ignore them, without more ado?

                                    Two tons of stone! My Lord—teach us some manners!
                                    And leave the rocks all buried ‘neath the ground—
                                    Dear God! Please write Your words upon our soul-hearts,
                                    And let Your peace rule, all this World around.





Sunday, October 4, 2015

Beraysheet: Genesis--Give Thanks to Eve: Bold Boundary-Crosser, Tester of Limits.


By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

            What to say about Beraysheet—Genesis? There are two, clearly-delineated versions of the Creation-Story; in particular, the creation of Man and Woman. The first, in Gen. 1, has God creating Man and Woman as equals, at the same time (no rib-story here):

And God created Man in His image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. God said, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and conquer it; rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth” (Gen. 1:27-8).

            This more equitable, “feminist” version of the story, if you will, is attributed to the E-author of the story, because God is referred to by the name Elohim, as opposed to the J-Version, wherein God is referred to as Jehovah, which we pronounce as Adonai.

            Moving on to Gen. 3, we find the famous story of Eve and the Serpent, which has been blamed—not particularly in Judaism, but the onus is there, as well—for women’s inferior status in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It has resulted in enormous suffering for women through the ages, and needs to be reinterpreted; it is time to remove prejudices promulgated by such theologians as St. Augustine and John Milton (on whose epic “Paradise Lost” I specialized while in English graduate school), in order to redress grievances and achieve women’s true religious and legal equality.

            By hearkening to the Serpent, picking and tasting the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (no, it wasn’t an apple), Eve is fulfilling the role which all curious and scientific discoverers must play: that of being curious and eager to learn. Unlike her passive, almost clownish husband, she becomes the seeker of knowledge, willing to test limits laid down by another man, albeit a Divine One—that is, God, judging from the imagery ascribed to the Deity in the text. Like her Biblical descendants, she does not hesitate to push the limits in order to further humanity’s quest.

            The result, judging according to the society which created the Adam and Eve Saga, is definitely mixed. From a static world of paradise, Man and Woman move into a world of life and death, birth achieved with pain, painful work laden with toil and sweat, and gender inequities. It is, however, truer to the world which exists today: one of social, economic, racial, and sexual differences. This world may be no paradise, but it is all we have.

            As for the Serpent, the catalytic creature who achieves this enormous metamorphosis, he is no Satan-figure in our Tradition; no. Like his African and Promethean antecedents, he is a trickster figure, far weaker than God (or the gods of parallel mythologies), but he is, nonetheless, able to disturb the calm of the cosmos, changing the order of nature forever. He and the Woman band together to bring culture, agriculture, social order, and progress to humanity.

            As for Adam, he remains passive—almost a spoiled brat. He lets the Woman feed him the fruit, as if he were an infant. Despite his informing on her, she is still chief actor in the piece. Despite the pain involved, she will become the Mother, indeed Uber-Matriarch, of Humanity, as women remain today. Birth, with all of its attendant pain and suffering, remains the realm of women, as does the primary care of the young. Men, for the most part, continue to rise, dress, and go to the office, wherever and whatever that might be, though more Millennials (if my male college students’ viewpoints are any guide) are willing to take on the role of caregiver, by staying at home, if their wives make higher salaries than they.

            In the end, thanks to the Woman’s courage, human beings gain responsibility for their own lives and destinies. Like angels, they gain the capacity to discriminate between Good and Evil. Like animals, they feed their bodies (and, hopefully, their spiritual souls), procreate, and die. There is one added advantage which humanity possesses over the beasts: the ability to cooperate in the cause of peace among nations great and small, and to hasten the Golden Age from which all humanity hopes to benefit.

It all began with Eve: fearless boundary-crosser, explorer, and tester of limits. We owe her our thanks, not our opprobrium.


Susan Niditch, “Genesis,” in Newsom, C. A., & Ringe, S. H. (1992). The Women's Bible commentary. London: SPCK.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Chap. 18, My Study Partner is a Vampire: We Meet Simon Joachimson, a Zoharic Green Man.

Chap. 18, My Study Partner is a Vampire

By David Hartley Mark

            There he stood, before us, the Owner of the Mysterious Voice. His eyes were big as saucers, the better to see in the Dark—though our Mazzik-night-vision was almost as acute as his, I would wager. As a haggard Moon broke from its cloudy prison, and took over the heavens above, I could see our interlocutor better. He was but three, perhaps three-and-a-half feet tall, no more, clad all in green, from top to toe—sort of a—mariner’s? forester’s?—garb, seventeenth-century style, mixt with that of a yeshiva scholar—a green wide-brimmed hat, long turkey-feathers-atop, complete with yarmulkeh-skullcap peeping from under, with leaves branching down his face, which was all wrinkled up in smiles: a Jewish Green Man, a Jack O’ the Green.

His hands spread wide in welcome, a long alderwood stave-walking-stick in his calloused hand, he reached out to grasp the hands of Mutik and me. We weakly leaned forward, as politely as we could. The man waited, and, slowly, we understood: one scholar stands, in the Presence of another. And so, Mutik and I assisted one another, moaning and groaning over our over-worked legs, wings, and arms:

“For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:10).

            “Welcome, Rabbotai,” he repeated, “B’ruchim ha-ba’im b’shem HaShem—Blessed be those who come in the Name of the Most Holy One, Amen!”

            “Who are you, Stranger?” demanded Mutik, and I saw him bow, but slowly and simultaneously reach behind himself for—what? He carried no weapon, but I knew him to be a deadly sort with his Hebrew letters, which he could fling with deadly force—though he had no range here, he could still slash with a Hebrew Resh, for Ra, Evil. It bothered me that he used the Holy Letters as weapons, but I had often known English, my native tongue, to be used as a weapon to divide, disturb, and even destroy Humanity, and assumed the same of Hebrew—politics and war could do that.

            “Oh-ho—sheathe your letters, Mutik, my boy—you are in no danger here—at least, not from the likes of me, poor old Simon Joachimson, late of Captain Hendrick Hudson’s crew. At your service, milords—“ and here, Reb Shimon, for we were to know him by that name, removed his broad-brimmed, antique hat, bowed, and swept it to his side—a bow worthy of Sir Walter Raleigh, whose picture I had seen once, guiding Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the First over a rain-puddle, risking his cloak to shelter Her Majesty’s dainty feet, “I am but a poor mariner, and scholar, like yourselves, albeit privy to, perhaps, a bit more mountain-knowledge than yourselves—and a bit of donkey-driving, too, perhaps….”

            He re-covered himself, with his hat.

            “Let us hear the words of your mouth, Old Man,” answered Mutik, and I wondered at his informality, and lack of respect, even.

            “I do not rattle with just a single word, my Friends, my Comrades,” said R’ Shimon, “and I can see how you are confused in your minds. I am here to show you the way of truth in Torah.”

            He went on, speaking in Zoharic style, that masterpiece of Spanish Kabbalistic writing: “Torah is like a beautiful maiden, who calls out to you, every day, but when you seek her, she turns her head. She returns to her sheath.”

            Mutik smiled. “And have you a parable for us?”

            And here, Reb Shimon, speaking back to Mutik, while I stood, wondering at them both:
“’The Princess is hidden deep and away within her Palace; she has a Lover, but he is hidden, too. Oftimes, she may open a tiny window, and reveal herself to her lover, but, when he turns, she swiftly withdraws, and conceals herself.’

“I can show you more, much more,” smiled the green-clad Elder.

            He turned abruptly, and was walking away, still speaking, not waiting for us to follow, but as if expecting us to do so:

            “And you must meet my friends—come! The captain will be there, and the games will start immediately. What delays you?” he said, looking over his shoulder, and frowning impatiently, “Come!”

            We could resist such an order? The night was growing later and the mountains colder; who knew if the Bear might not return, and bring his family with him? Mutik pulled me along, both of us aching from our long flying exertions, and we followed Simon—Reb Shimon?—the best, and the fastest, we were able.

            Simon was quick, that one, tramping over grass and fen, flower and bush, talking all the while:
            “’Come and see the ways of Torah!
            How she reveals herself—first, with the Simple Meaning, the P’shat;
            Then, a further Hint—the Remez.
            If the scholar latches on to her words,
            She sends a messenger within them;
            A Love-Note, the Sweetest, Holiest Drash,
            The Homily—but O, ‘tis so much more!
            Calling him an infatuated fool.
            ‘Tell the fool to come closer to me,’
            Says Princess Torah to her messenger,
            ‘so I may talk with him!’

            “Reb Shimon—Simon—slow down!” we begged, walk-fly-stumbling across the tarn, and he finally stopped briefly, pointing at the Moon which scudded overhead, amid the broad universe of stars. Spreading his arms wide, pointing his alder stick at the heavens, he called to the pale Diana-sphere:

“With how sad steps, O moon, thou climb’st the skies!
How silently, and with how wan a face!
What! may it be that even in heavenly place
That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?
Sure, if that long-with-love-acquainted eyes
Can judge of love, thou feel’st a lover’s case:
I read it in thy looks; thy languished grace
To me, that feel the like, thy state descries.
Then, even of fellowship, O Moon, tell me,
Is constant love deemed there but want of wit?
Are beauties there as proud as here they be?
Do they above love to be loved, and yet
    Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?
    Do they call ‘virtue’ there—ungratefulness?”

                Reb Shimon turned and looked at us, suddenly mournful in aspect: his eyes were large and saucerish, as I said, and, pierced the dark; it seemed as though they looked into my very god-soul, my Neshama—which I prayed were still human enough to respond. I was uncertain of my comrade Mutik—was he part-human, as he hinted, or fully Mazzik, a creature of Fire and Air, conceived on the Sundown of the First Day of the First Week of Creation, like the remainder of his Family and Tribe?

                “Do you love Torah?” he asked.

                “We do—of course!” we chorused.

                “And would you learn it, at the font, thereof?” he went on.

                “With all our hearts!” we agreed.

                “Then, come,” and his face broke into a smile, though I swear, his eyes still looked worried—though it could be the reflection of the moon in them; She is a dead planet, and little resembles the sun; the sun is warm, giving forth rays which, like the Torah, bring plants to fruition, and humanity to fully blossom. The Moon, contrariwise, is a cold, lifeless planet.

                The evening was growing darker—the Children of the Night, both bird and beast, were coming out, made bolder by its onset. We heard the hoot-owl’s call, and the coyotes’ wail; I gripped my Psalm-book for protection, and knew by the tightening of his grip against my shoulder that Chaver-Friend-Mutik had reached into his cloak’s hidden pocket and was clutching at his steely Otiyote, his Holy Letters, for protection, ready to fling them, knife’s-edge-keen, if he had to.

Only once did he do so—at a hissing sound that came from a nearby pine tree, overgrown with needles, brown and green, and sagging towards the earth, like a Chasid, borne down by the burden of his worldly troubles, yet still pointed upward, aiming his prayers toward the Riboyno Shel Oylem, the Sovereign of the Universe, who could assist him, as in David’s Psalms—

A Psalm of David. The earth is the LORD'S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

                --And the letter—it was a Tet, for Tov, “Goodness,” meant to counteract any evildoing that lurked at the unseen, dark-cloaked base of that tree, whose crown aimed toward the Heavens—thudded into the moist bark—

                --and hung there, quivering, uselessly. There was no danger; it was only Shadow.

                “Whom do you fear, Young Mazzik?” called Reb Shimon, “There are no Roman troopers here; none indeed, whether clad in steel, no; nor in black leather, either.”

                “No Romans, nor Creatures clad in Black Leather?” laughed Mutik mirthlessly, “No; but there may well be other dangers, in this Paradise whereunto you are leading us.”

                “I am but a poor donkey-driver,” protested Reb Shimon, pushing aside a thorn-bush with his walking-stick, “and you have nothing to fear—nothing but the Power of Pardes, the Orchard of God, and Hidden Secrets.”

                “Mind the Dark, Nister,” said Mutik, as I stumbled over a hidden tree-root, “and the roots are most deadly. I prefer the Heavenly Tree, where the roots grow from the top.”

                “I cannot live in the Woods,” I said, “I am a Creature of the City, of Books, and Libraries; I eat paper, and suck at Letters; I cannot abide your trees, or waters, rocks, and fens.”

                “Stop a bit,” said Reb Shimon. We halted, and he stood before us. Save for his greenish garb, he resembled nothing more than any other Chasidic rebbe we had ever seen—and he had promised us Secrets of Torah—perhaps some that would, in spite of Mutik’s plotting, turn me back into a full-human. I could seek out Chaya Me’irah, and begin to think of the life of a plain, ordinary scholar—I could—

                To my amazement, this Rebbe, this Man of the Woods, began to quote from Roman Virgil’s Eclogues, with some paraphrasing:

                      Whom do you flee? The gods too have dwelt
in the woods, and Dardanian Paris. Let Pallas, goddess of Wisdom, live herself
in the cities she’s founded: let me delight in woods above all.
The fierce lioness hunts the wolf, the wolf hunts the goat,
the wanton goat hunts for flowering clover.
O Nister—Mutik—God is hunting you: you are equally led by your passions.”

But there was no time to marvel—for we heard the sound of grumbling, roaring, and trees being battered to the ground in the bushes nearby—what Beast was approaching us? I ducked behind a nearby bush, prepared to fling my Hebrew letters at the foe from the safety of cover, while Mutik stood alongside.

Our fearless Rebbe-of-the-Woods, stout alder-rod gripped firmly in hand, did not hide himself. No: he planted himself, legs spread, staff before him, in the center of the forest-path, and waited to receive the Enemy….

“Beware the Rabbinator Absolutissimus Rex!” shouted Reb Shimon, waving his alder-stick above his head, “To me, ready to do battle, my good, strong Chaverim-Boys!”

Something stirred in my heart and head; I had no choice. I ran forward, and heard pounding behind me: Mutik, my brave Mutik, was following….

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Gersonides & Ecclesiastes on Free Will vs. Godly Omniscience: A Short Essay

I recall Gersonides, Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (1288-1344). He resolved the paradox between human free will and God's omniscience by stating that God knows generalities, not particulars. For example, I will go to teach college English during the week. God knows, and my income and profession require, that I wear chinos, long-sleeved dress shirt, and tie to my job.

But God does not know whether I will go with the blue ensemble, the tan/brown, the grey, the black, or some blend of the several. Hence, He has omniscience (to a degree), while I have free will (regarding the details).
Kohelet/Ecclesiastes, whom we read this weekend, adds a further element: that of Chance, Fate, Kismet, or the Universe. Will I arrive safely? Will another person's free will override mine? What about weather conditions, mechanical failure, floods, fire, or famine? The element of Happenstance adds a further layer of insecurity to my human existence, the fate of humanity, and the survival of both our planet and the universe.

There is a risk in existence, in Life, but I would not trade it for any alternative. "O LIfe, I cannot hold thee close enough!" sang Edna St. Vincent Millay.

She was right.