Sunday, April 12, 2015

Shemini: The Testimony of Tsilya, Wife of Aaron: "Why Did G-d Kill My Boys?"

I am Tsilya, daughter of Yitzhar, wife of Aaron, the High Priest, mother of my Lost Boys, Nadav and Avihu. You will not read my name in the Great Scroll of the Teaching; no; my name has been lost in darkness, for I spent my days mourning for my boys, my sons, Nadav and Avihu, who died blamelessly, for their mistake before the Most High.
That day, the Great Day of Coronation and Dedication of the Altar through Sacrifice, had begun so favorably, so full of promise for the future—I was exhausted, as usual, but running all about, as I had to, caring for our children; we had many—not just the four boys, but our three daughters; you will not read of them. Girls do not count; why should they? They cannot learn the Laws of the Hidden One, He Who Dwells in Smoke and Thunder. We women-folk are more quietly learned; we know the ways of the Earth, the Old Goddess of Grains, and Fruits, and the Cycles of Seasons. We are the ones who cook, and bake, and sew; we bring Life to Being. We are kept from the Learning of the Scrolls, but we have our own ways of Learning.
As I said… it began in triumph. My boys, my boys—they were anxious, willing to serve G-d; they were nervous. Their father Aaron had instructed them; Moses, their uncle, had instructed them; so many details! So many ingredients! This, to the Holy Incense; That, to the Holy Oil; this way, how to examine the carcass of a Beast to judge it fit for a sacrifice….
They were overwhelmed. I had laid out all of their garments, so carefully, so lovingly, the night before; I, their mother; who should know better than I, who had raised them? But, so quick-and-hurried are the Ways of Men, and of Priests, and of Levites, that they yanked at their robes, and pulled at their holy shirts (which might have torn, had I not thought beforehand, and used the extra-strong Thread)—
And were out the door, before I could organize my three, beautiful Daughters, and bring them along, too—
In hopes that, perhaps they, too, might gain a fraction, just a small, tiny portion of the Glory thereunto Pertaining to their Famous Brothers—I hurried them along, but they were hard to hurry—I heard the silver horns sounding a sennet, and the more earthy tones of the shofarote, the rams’ horns, summoning the People, in the distance, and the assembled multitudes of the Israelite Tribes cheering—but, as I (finally) snatched up my youngest, my sweet Arela, who was laughing, and turning her head away from her Mother’s kisses, I rushed for the door of the tent—
But there, there he stood: my Husband. Where was his Splendor? His Golden Headband, with its Golden Words, “Holiness to the Lord”? Instead, he stood there, his royal, priestly robes bedraggled, torn, and trembling. He did not—look at me. I gave Arella to her sister and approached him, slowly; he looked—strange.
“How is it with you, My Husband, My Lord?” I asked him.
He stood, stock-still. I took him by his priestly shoulders and shook him:
“Aaron! It is I, Tsilya, your Wife and Helpmeet-Partner, who speaks to you!”
He blinked, and looked down at me—and rasped; a throaty noise came from his lips, as if he had been drained of all juice in his body; as if he had become a piece of wood himself, like those piney chips he burns atop the Altar-Flame. He wiped a sooty hand across his lips, opened his mouth, and—
“Dead,” he croaked.
“Dead cows? Dead goats?” I asked.
“No. Dead—“ he rasped.
I realized. Slowly. But did not wish to.
“Aaron,” I said, and the words stuck in my throat, “Aaron. Where are my boys? Where are Nadav and Avihu? And Elazar and Itamar, my younger sons?”
“Nadav and Avihu,” he muttered, more to himself than to me, “are struck down—by the Hand of the Invisible One. They—“
Each word of his echoed in my ears, and tore a hole into my Mother’s heart. Nadav? Avihu? Dead? But I just saw them leave; they were going—were going—
“How? Why?” I said.
“They made a mistake,” he said, “Strange fire. I cannot tell.”
“I saw it happen,” came a voice, a strong, deep one. I looked, and saw Moses—my brother-in-law, the Spokesman for our G-d—his G-d, at least. No more mine.
“It was harsh, but justified,” he said to me—Moses, that is—“Your boys were wrong. They did not follow my—that is, G-d’s—instructions. All must be done, correctly, or G-d knows what might happen.”
“G-d knows,” I said, and felt the strength leave my legs, so that I slumped to the floor of the tent, there in the dust before my husband my lord and his brother the Spokesman, “G-d may know, but I—but I….” I lay there, and wept. The men left, as men do.
…And that is why I left the Camp, and stay in this tent, this Black Goatskin Tent, outside the Camp Boundaries. I mourn; I pile dust upon my head; no one comes to visit me, but—Bless Her! Miriam. She is my solace. My brother Korach has also been by.
“There is no Justice, and no Judge,” he whispers, through the closed tent door, and, “You will be avenged, my Shadow, my Sister, my Tsilya.”
Miriam does not agree. She weeps without; I weep within. We mourn my Boys together.
I still do not know exactly what they did wrong.
They were so young. Why must the Young die on the Instructions of the Old?
O G-d! Help me to return to my People; help me to believe, again….

Monday, April 6, 2015

Pesach, Day 7--Haftorah of David's Deliverance from Saul: David as Hero and Anti-Hero

Pesach—7th Day

          By this time, even the staunchest fan of Pesach finds that the matzah does not melt in his mouth, and the never-ending diet of soup-chicken-and-matzah-balls, once ethnically enticing, has grown cloying and stale.
“Fear not,” whispers the yetzer ha-ra, the never-tiring Evil Inclination, “the end is near, and you will, once again, be able to gorge on pizza, popcorn, and other chametzdik treats.”
Still, there yet remain two final days of yuntef/holiday (only one in Israel, due to the vagaries of the Diaspora calendar), and the final one, this year, is Shabbat.
          I have chosen to focus on the haftorah for the 7th Day of Pesach, the stirring warrior’s triumph-song attributed to David (II Samuel 22:1-51), which is found in the Book of Psalms as Psalm 18, though with emendations. Of all the tales and adventures in the David Saga, it is the only complete narrative which may be accurately dated to the king’s era itself, the 10th Century BCE.
          As a rabbi and teacher of literature, I consider it a signal privilege and pleasure to lead a group of Adult Learners in a close reading of the David Epic (I & II Samuel), as I have done many times in the past. We learn that David’s political and personal dealings in affairs of  the 10th Century BCE Israelite state often bordered on the questionable, and that he and his family paid the price in both blood and treasure. At different stages in his life, David was a seducer to Bat-Sheva (among many other women), a cuckolder  and murderer of  the hapless Good Soldier, Uriah the Hittite; he suffered coups d’etat actual and attempted by beloved sons Absalom and Adonijah, palace intrigues by trusted counselors such as his personal bagman and assassin, General Joab, and double-dealing by his closest military officers. Yet, with God’s help, David survived them all. His story is a heady mix of faith, skullduggery, and realpolitik unmatched in world literature. This poem bears it out as nothing else can do.
          The theme is relatively simple and common for Hebrew Scripture; indeed, it describes a dilemma in which most, if not all, believing Jews have found themselves at one point or other throughout their lives: in dire peril, either bodily or spiritual.
          “For the waves of death beset me,/ The underworld’s torrents dismayed me,/ The snares of hell coiled round me,/ The traps of death sprang against me” (ll. 5-7; I am using Robert Alter’s translation in his The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel [NY: W.W. Norton, 1999]).
          Here is Doom, both actual and metaphorical: we feel the agony and grief of the young David, recalling his forced exile in the wilderness, fleeing the rage of the maddened, bipolar, and paranoid King Saul.
          “In my straits I called to the Lord,/ To my God I called/…The earth heaved and quaked,/ They heaved, for He was angered,/ Smoke went up from His nostrils,/ Consuming fire from His mouth….” (ll. 7-9)
          Though the imagery reminds us of Baal, the thunder-god of the pagan Ugaritic epic which prefigured our Ethical, Monotheistic faith, we need not fear that David was being idolatrous. Just as John Milton, a devout (if unconventional) Christian, used pagan metaphors drawn from Greek and Latin poetry, so did David employ the literature of Israel’s neighbors for holy use.
          “The Lord dealt with me by my merit,/By the cleanness of my hands, requited me./For I kept the ways of the Lord,/ I did no evil before my God.” (ll. 21-23).
          Here is David, standing naked and alone before his God: politician, soldier-statesman, lover, intriguer; but, in the end, a Jew, a human being, to be measured by his words, his thoughts, his deeds. Was he a tsadik, a righteous man, a stam Yid, an ordinary Jew, or—dare we say—a mensch, a perfected human being? Only God can decide.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Golden Calf and the Paschal Lamb: A Mitzvah Turns Away Sin

Pesach—1st Day

          Rather than the Torah reading, I will focus my drash/rabbinical commentary on Psalm 136, which is part of the Shabbat and holiday davening and the Haggadah as well, and features the refrain: Hodu la-do-noy—“Praise the Lord, for He is good, for His lovingkindness endures forever.” One of its lines (136:16) thanks God “for leading His people through the wilderness.” Certainly, the Israelites must have been meritorious indeed, to rate God’s personally escorting them through the dangers and perils of the desert.
Yet, we know that, ironically, just a short time before they set out, the Israelites had committed the heinous sin of building and worshiping the Golden Calf, as well as cavorting orgiastically around it. What merit was this?
          According to the Alter of Slabodka (Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, 1849-1927), the Israelites earned this privilege only through the merit of Abraham, who, despite the lingering pain of his having been circumcised a mere three days earlier, nonetheless escorted his angelic guests from the rest and repast he had offered them. Avraham Avinu, Abraham, our founding patriarch, at the age of one hundred years, exerted himself mightily to perform his favorite mitzvah, that of hachnosat orchim—welcoming guests, not knowing that he was (in the words of John Milton in Paradise Lost), “entertaining angels unawares.” He fed them dainty viands—milk, bread, and (we may assume, a half-hour later) veal, and stood by while they ate, eager to serve.
          When the angels left, any centenarian might have been excused from escorting them; indeed, Abraham might have asked Ishmael, whom he was training in proper etiquette, to perform that task. No: Abraham insisted on accompanying his guests himself, and making certain that they were headed in the right direction (in this case, off to Sodom and Gomorrah, to fulfill the remainder of their mission).  
Because of his meticulousness in performing the mitzvah, Abraham’s descendants benefited by receiving no less an escort than the Lord God Almighty, throughout their wilderness sojourn. Such is the power of a mitzvah properly fulfilled. Let us learn from Abraham’s example, and fulfill any mitzvah which comes our way with a full heart and complete intention!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Israelites in Egypt: Jacob Appoints a New Leader--But It's a Political Upset.

The Israelites in Egypt

Here follows the Report of Menashe ben Joseph, regarding the Recent Conclave of Israelites Assembled in Egypt, Brought Down There Due to an Occurrence of Famine in Their Homeland, Israel:

            All the unrest started, I suppose, when Grandfather Jacob chose Reuven to succeed him as Head of All Israelites in Egypt. This was a great surprise to all; my father, Joseph, had been the favorite, and we had all expected him to become Tribal Leader. Jacob had encouraged this thinking, we believed: first, by gifting him with the Coat of Many Colors, and then, with his keeping Joseph at home, rather than sending him out into the field to shepherd the flocks.
            But there was no questioning the Old Man’s judgment: “Joseph is young, and too eager to make peace with the Philistines,” he told us, “I am getting older, and can see that our people need someone who will place Security at the forefront of our concerns.”
            There was also the issue of the Famine in Canaan—I mean, Israel. Our people were moving down to Egypt to find and purchase grain, and the Pharaoh Obamasses, while ostensibly our friend, was not entirely trustworthy. Our own people then living in Egypt, it seemed, were divided into two camps: those who hung on his every word as a friend of Israel and Israelites, and those who believed him to be a closet anti-Israelite, waiting only to spring some sort of trap upon us.
            “Just look at how he favors the Philistines,” they would say, “You know, he himself is a closet Philistine. You only need to look at his personal, secret history. Where was he born? What’s his middle name—Hosferatu? That sounds oddly Philistine. And he runs off to Crete whenever he gets a chance—isn’t that where the Philistines come from?”
There was no stifling their protests.
            The pro-Pharaoh group was equally vociferous. “He’s the best friend we Israelites ever had,” they would claim, “He’s sent grain to our starving people for months, and never expected repayment. We are number one on the Egyptian Foreign Aid List. And, when the Assyrians attacked us with flaming catapults, he sent gigantic reed-water-buckets to catch and douse the fires.
            So there we were, with Reuben gathering and welcoming us into his Conference-Tent, ready to tell us what sort of Leader he would be. We were suspicious: what sort of leader speaks only of Security? We had concerns with education for the young children, housing in Egypt—the Egyptians were talking about granting us title to the Land of Goshen, but the Philistines were encroaching upon us, and their birthrate was daunting. What about a suitable living space for our elderly and our sick?
We sat nervously and waited, until Reuben mounted the podium. His new concubine, Bilhah, who was mother to a number of our tribal elders, sat off to one side, wearing his tribal colors and a large commitment ring he had given her. Her status, as concubine to both Jacob and Reuben, was confusing, to say the least.
            Reuben cleared his throat.
“Father has spoken,” he said, “And I am to be Head. I will be leader, not only of the Israelites in Canaan and Egypt, but of all Israelites, the Wide World Over.
            “There will be no separate dwelling-places for Israelites and Philistines; there will be one Goshen for all.”
            This gave pause to the Josephites. They shifted in their seats, and muttered darkly under their breath, but Shimon and Levi stared at them until they grew silent again.
            Reuben smiled and continued: “This, my Eldership, will be a New Era in Philistine-Israelite Relations. Israel and Egypt will continue their historical connection, and I extend the hand of friendship to Pharaoh Obamasses, and, in particular, to the Ramesside Party which invited me to address them in a Special Convocation held before the Great Sphinx in the Valley of the Pyramids. I regret that the Pharaoh was in Tyre at a State Boat-Launching at the time of my speech, but one cannot interfere in Matters of State.
            “However, this will not impede our future peaceful and friendly relations. Our Israelite people will move into Goshen, and continue to occupy West Philistia, as we have done in the past.”
            Just then, Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, leapt up, and began shouting, “Peace between Philistia and Israel! Peace for All!” But Levi’s grandsons, Pinchas and Korach, laid hands on him, and escorted him bodily from the tent.
            Reuben continued his remarks: “A New Era is dawning between Israel and Philistia, and between Israel and Egypt.”
            A young Israelite of my acquaintance—Amram, I believe his name is—got up, shaking his head, and left the tent.

            We are all waiting to see what will happen…. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tsav: Samuel's Childhood, amid Priestly Corruption at the Shiloh Shrine, c. 1050 BCE


The Rabbi’s Commentary this week is based on the story of the Sons of Eli the High Priest in the First Book of Samuel, Chap. 2 & 4,  who corrupted the sacrificial system at the Holy Shrine at Shiloh, during the pre-Holy Temple Period (c. 1050 BCE).

Scene: The Holy Shrine in the town of Shiloh, a town centrally located in the Mt. Ephraim area, chosen for its location, convenient for all the tribes to reach and make sacrifices at the building housing the Holy Ark, the Menorah, the Altar, and other sacrificial equipment. It is a bright, sunny day in early spring, with a steady stream of worshipers leading livestock for slaughter and presentation before God in thanks for the fruits of harvest.
A line of worshipers stands informally, patiently waiting their turn to enter the Shrine. Off to one side, in a high-backed, softly cushioned chair, sits the old, retired High Priest, Eli. He is nearly blind, but is able to hear most of what is going on around him. By his right hand stands the young Samuel, wearing a clean, white new ephod, an apron-like linen garment, sewn by his mother Hannah’s loving hands.
The air is full of goats and sheep meh- and baa-ing, an occasional rooster’s crow or baby’s cry until its mother is able to shush it, and people talking happily and softly about the forthcoming Passover Feast.

Eli (to no one in particular): This early-morning sun feels good on an old man’s face and hands—perhaps it will still my elder’s palsy. O Lord! What reward is this, to take away a man’s sight in his old age, and reward him with sons such as I have? O Lord—El na, r’fa lee na—O God, heal me please God, O God…. (his voice trails away, lips moving silently in a whispered prayer)

Samuel (to Eli): My Grandfather? Grandpa Eli? Grandpa? (The old man does not answer; Samuel tugs at his sleeve).

Eli (as if from a daze): What? Eh? What’s that? Oh, Samuel! What’s that, my son?

Samuel: It is a fine spring day—why do your sons, Hophni and Pinchas, not come out to choose which animals should come in first? There would go the spotted, and there the speckled; here the goats, there the sheep. I know what to do: I have seen it all done before. Shall I organize it?

Eli (gently): It is no work for a boy, my son; you are but a child, yet. They will be along soon.

Samuel: But what are they doing?

Eli (hesitating): Why, they are—they are—praying, doubtless. Or out for a walk. Or, cleaning the altar, between sacrifices. Yes, that’s it! They must be cleaning. (Noises within the building) Ah! Here they come! They will be along directly.

(Enter Hophni and Pinchas, two bright-eyed, dark-haired young men, short-bearded, alert to everything. They are in their mid-twenties, happy and eager to assert their authority. Their robes are expensively cut, but disheveled and stained from food; Hophni is wiping beef-grease off his lips with a sacred altar-cloth as they emerge, while Pinchas tosses a half-empty wine-cup behind a pile of sacred scrolls in a corner. They are laughing and nudging one another, oblivious to the line of worshipers.)

Hophni: What, Brother, did you get a bite of that tender mutton I lifted from that hayseed cattleman from the Negev? That was a piece worth tasting.

Pinchas: Indeed, delicious. I stashed some steaks away for later, when he left—a bit more than we priests are entitled to, but God won’t mind. Should He desire it back, I’ve no doubt He will send an angel to fetch it. (They nudge each other, and laugh, sharing secrets of their thefts.)

Hophni  (Eyeing the line of worshipers): Nor is that the only mutton we are entitled to, if you get my drift (Both laugh, but fall silent when they feel Eli’s blind eyes upon them, before the naïve worshipers, who only stare at the two unpriestly-looking priests.).

Eli: My sons, my sons—where have you been? What have you been doing?

Both (ad lib): Nothing, Father. Nothing that we are not supposed to be doing. How are you today, Father? Etc.

Eli: My sons—I heard yesterday from a Man of God, a wandering prophet, of your deeds, your wrongdoings, your malfeasances. I am worried. I have heard that the Priesthood is to pass from our house to another—he was not certain whom it would be, but I wonder. Will you reform? Will you correct your mistakes? Please, Boys, for my sake, and your dead mother’s, rest her soul—

Both: Father—I—that is, we—

(Enter Messenger Soldier)

Soldier: By order of the Elders of Israel! A contingent of our Volunteer Border Guard of Israel is now under attack by a Philistine Horde, who have penetrated from their base at Aphek to our center of operations in Ebenezer. Our troops are doing their best, but they are losing heart.
And so, the Elders have sent me to this Holy Place to fetch any and all Priests who are instructed to convey God’s Holy Ark to the battlefield to muster up the courage of our embattled troops, and strike both fear into the ranks of the beastly Philistines, as well as, we hope, a plague among them, as did God in the days of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, when we struck out boldly during our Exodus from Egypt. (Strikes his chest) By order of the Elders of Israel!

Eli (to Hophni and Pinchas): At once, My Boys! You know what to do. (The peaceful crowd scatters and the two young priests scramble to fetch the carrying-poles of the Holy Ark. Samuel crouches down, hiding behind Eli’s throne.)

To be Continued….

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Vayikra: How Can Our PostModern Age Possibly Understand the Concept of Sacrifice?


With Vayikra/Leviticus, we leave the drama of Moses’s interceding on behalf of God’s often stubborn and rebellious people, and move into what many scholars believe to be the Chumash/Pentateuch’s oldest book. It was originally known as Toraht Kohanim, or, the Priestly Laws, including the many and varied forms of sacrifices and offerings which the Israelites brought during the period of the portable sanctuary (mishkan) in the wilderness, and continuing for most of the two Holy Temple periods, the First Temple established during Solomon’s reign (approximately 9th Century BCE) to the Babylonian destruction in 586 BCE, and the Second Temple dating from Ezra and Nechemiah’s attempted restoration (515 BCE) through the Herodian period of its greatest glory (19 BCE), to its complete and final destruction by the Roman General Titus’s troops during the siege of Jerusalem (70 CE).
Every year, it seems, rabbis worldwide have to offer apologias for the Torah’s sacrificial period, during which our long-departed ancestors took pride in the offerings they brought to God—an alien notion to our modern, sterile, prayer-oriented sensibilities. Not all the animal sacrifices, which could range from an entire ox to the smallest dove, were burnt entirely on the altar (the olah, literally translated as “holocaust,” an offering consumed completely by fire), but were instead cut up, with portions distributed to the priests, Levites, and their families. Indeed, if an Israelite maiden married a Levite or Kohen, she and her ensuing children would forever eat only of the hekdesh, or those animal-, vegetable-, and grain-offerings which the Israelites dedicated to God.
The tribe of Levi was responsible for supplying all of the priestly and levitical men (kohanim and leviim) who served God in the temple, and they were prohibited from following any other profession (although the various priestly dynasties—e.g., Aaronide, Korachite, Hasmonean—alternated in this service throughout the year). This was the first instance in Jewish history of the tribes supporting those who prayed and made offerings on their behalf, and led directly to the rabbi-congregation relationship we follow today (although I must stress that rabbis are not priests: we are meant to be teachers, not sanctified personalities or intercessors between mortals and God, despite Chasidic hints in that direction).
There was also a sort of democracy among those who brought offerings: a rich man might be easily able to offer an entire sheep, while a poor widow would have to content herself with bringing only a pigeon or dove (Lev. 1:14-17). In such a case, the priest would burn the entire fowl, wings and meat together (to make it appear larger and more impressive), despite the acrid odor it created; indeed, the text calls this “a gift of pleasing odor to the Lord” (Lev. 1:17).

How so? Commentators on this verse have stated that, just as this meager offering was pleasant to God, coming as it did from a poor person, so are we to be commended, when we earn a modest living honestly, rather than commit crimes, openly or secretly, for greater gain. That is how we interpret the sacrificial system’s relevance today: never think to buy off the Deity with tainted lucre. The animal and other offerings brought by the Israelites were acceptable, only if they came from those of honest mind and humble heart. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Vayakhel-Pekuday: 70 CE: The Last High Priest of the Holy Temple


The Tale of the Last of the High Priests: 70 CE

            I know the Tradition well, about how the great Roman General Vespasian came and laid siege to the Holy City of Jerusalem—when was it? In the year 66 Common Era, it was; I was a young man then; at least, younger than I am, now. The City had been built of brick, years before, until King Herod, the great builder, had come, and left it all of marble. And a good thing, too, for Vespasian was a besieger of great genius: he first had his engineers build a siege-wall, all around the great walls of Jerusalem, letting no man nor beast, nothing at all, in or out. Then, he hunkered down with his infantry, chief among them the 10th Legion, recalled all the way from Britain, crack troops to a man, and waited for plague and famine to do their work.
            We Jews—the ones holed up in the City, that is—were too busy fighting one another to give the Romans a proper battle. There were Sadducees, whose worship was based in the Temple, you see, and they were all for surrendering; they said that, the sooner we did so, the better; Vespasian would be more inclined to look upon us with mercy. And a good many of the common folk, the Pharisees, those who favored Torah study, agreed with them: they could see that Romans had us beat as for men, weapons, war-making machinery, and experience.
But the more warlike crowd, the Zealots, and the hawks amongst them, the Sicarii, called so for their tactic of dispatching their enemies in a crowd by means of a long, sharp, sudden dagger-in-the-ribs, the sicarius, as the Romans called it, were all for fighting, and going down to Glorious Death—which several of us, Priests and Rabbis, did not favor at all, not at all.
“Better a living dog than a dead lion,” we preached, and believed it.
I heard tell that the great Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai went so far as to have his body smuggled out of the City in a coffin, pretending to be dead of the plague—that took nerve, I can tell you. I myself—I, Itamar ben Aaron, so named for being the great-great-great-grandson of the first Aaron the High Priest, could only think, “Now, how can I escape the City, which will certainly go down in ruins, and so to preserve life?” And so, I came up with a plan.
There were the catacombs—that is, tunnels, deep and dark they were, down under the Temple building itself, built originally to catch and drain any and all rain-water, since suchlike is rare, indeed, here in Jerusalem, and we have always needed as much water as possible, for the purpose of maintaining the Holy Service, washing the Holy Vessels, and suchlike—
And so, I betook myself into the tunnels—to preserve life, as I said. Not a moment too soon. I took three loaves of the showbread from off the table before the Holy Ark—it was meant for God, but I felt He would not begrudge it me, His chosen priest—and lifted up the cover-plate to the mouth of the tunnel, one night, when all were asleep, save the cries of the City Watchman, and the sighs of those dying of the plague—
And I disappeared, so I did, down down down into the tunnels—to preserve life, as I said; to preserve life….
I emerged on the far side of the Kidron Valley, and made haste to get as far from suffering Jerusalem as I could…somehow, I escaped the Destruction which Titus-son-of-Vespasian wrought. I had thought, originally, to wear my priestly garments, as a sort of charm to avoid being detained, but, in the end, all I kept was the tzitz, the golden plate that read, “Holy to God,” which I put into my leathern pouch, as a sort of talisman, a charm to fend off evil.
Beyond that time of my escape, I had thought that an alarm might go out through the country wide, of Roman authorities seeking me, as a rebel and renegade, but I was able to pass along without being recognized; indeed, since my beard has grown longer, it has come in almost completely white. I notice also that strangers come up to me, asking for my blessing, and I share it with them, wholeheartedly. These people include Jews, but also Greeks, Romans, and other pagans, which surprises me. It is odd, but I feel comfortable, somehow, being able to give some comfort to all these people in this time of difficulties and war.
Since that time, I have wandered far afield; I rest by day, giving my blessings, and travel by night, following the stars; they have not led me astray.
Where is a High Priest to go, who has no Holy House of God to maintain? God Himself has not forsaken me; I am able, thusfar, to eat dates from the trees and grapes from the arbor. I do not know what tomorrow may bring, but I do trust in God.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God Who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

--Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1798