Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ezekiel Invents the Synagogue: A Play--Following His Mystical Vision, Our Prophet Determines that Judaism Must Continue



Scene: a small clay-and-wattles house alongside the Chebar River, in Babylonia, about 585 BCE, a year following the Babylonian Destruction of the First Temple and the Exile of the Princes, Priests, and Prophets of Israel to Babylonia (Modern-day Iraq), so as to deter any attempts at rebellion and return to the Holy Land. Babylonian Foreign Policy is based on hoping that the Israelites will rapidly assimilate and disappear into the mass of other captive nations whom the Empire has conquered. The house is large, but Spartan in design, with a central feature: a huge window in the Eastern Wall, closest to Israel, the country for which the owner longs. There are little bits of rough-hewn furniture: one chair, an unfinished table, on which a scroll lies, next to a small clay pot of vegetable-based ink, and a feather quill. Other scrolls lie about, on shelves or the floor, along with bits of clothing: a robe, a shirt, here and there. A bit of parchment hangs on the Eastern wall, a Shiviti-plaque: “I have set the LORD before me, always.” The time is mid-morning. It is a bright, sunny spring day in the month of Adar, in the Jewish neighborhood of Chebar-Town, there amid other dozens of displaced nations conquered by their Babylonian overlords. Enter two Jewish women, Anat and Rebekah, in conversation.

Anat: I tell you, Rebekah, he has not been the same since his wife Shoshana, Yah rest her soul, died. First, he sat all alone, for the full shiva, the week of mourning—my husband Avishai and I came over with a nice, hot, pot of soup, the first night—you know, that duck stew I make, that the Lord Priest used to love to eat, when he and she, Yah rest—

Rebekah: --her soul. Yes, Anat. I, too, came here the second night of shiva, only to find—Goodness, what a mess he has left! (As they talk, the two women putter about, straightening the scrolls and clothing which litter the floor, attempting to fold and neaten all)—and tried to get him to eat—we made a nice pudding, a kugel, I believe my next-door Babylonian neighbor-lady, Yaaribaal, called it, and Old Moshe the Scribe showed me how to make it kosher, by leaving out the pig’s fat—

Anat: --but he wouldn’t eat it; no, not one drop. You know—

Rebekah: You know—

The Two, Together: he just sat there.

Rebekah: --and stared—

Anat: at the wall. The wall!

Both, simultaneously:

Rebekah: Who would have thought it? He was pale as a shade, a ghost, and

Anat: He kept on and on, about a Vision, a Vision, by the

Rebekah: River, Chebar River, where the heavens opened up and the heavens all aflame

Both (overlapping one another): Lion-head, Human-head, Ox-head, Eagle-head, all joined together….

(During this exchange, Ezekiel the Prophet has quietly entered, bearing his shepherd’s staff. He is a vigorous-looking man in his sixties, but looks weary. He stands quietly, listening to the women prattle, and gives no sign of his presence. Finally, as their voices reach a crescendo, he beats his staff on the clay wall three times. They turn to him, hands over their mouths in horror and embarrassment. He smiles, nods, and says:)

--But ladies, you see, I did, indeed, see the Vision. And even though the gossip runs from one end of Chebar Town to the other, there is no gainsaying what I saw. Prophecy: a prophetic vision, and—do you know what it means?

(Anat and Rebekah nudge one another, and exchange knowing looks.)

No, not that. I am perfectly sound of mind; I remain a Kohen, a priest of El Elyon, Konay Shamayim va’Aretz—the Most High God, Maker of Heaven and Earth. I am not mad. D’you ladies—dare I say, Gossips—hear me? I. Am. Not. Mad. (He sinks, exhausted, into his chair. Realizing their error, they fall to their knees before him.) But I am tired, very tired, from my night’s vigil and study and prayer. And my work is not done. No (to himself, more than to them)—it is merely beginning….(he stretches his arms heavenward, and half-pleads, half-yawns:) Lord God of Hosts, what do you want of me? Oh, God….(His head sinks down onto his folded arms, on the table; the women approach slowly; Anat touches him gently on the arm)

Anat: Lord High Priest Ezekiel, we are most heartily sorry, and beg your forgiveness.

Rebekah: Lord, we ask: what can we do to help? We are faithful daughters of Israel, and love our Lord God as much as you. We miss the services and the joy of the Holy Temple, when it stood. Can you not, a priest so wise as you, bring it back, even a little?

Ezekiel: (raising his head, slowly) Do? Do? You shall do nothing. Of course, of course—a strange vision it was, unlike any other vision I have ever read of, in our Torah—I still shiver when I think of it: “a huge cloud and flashing fire; and in the center of it, a gleam as of electrum.” Well, I know now what I must do. (Rising, abruptly; he has found new strength) Chairs! I must have chairs. Have you any?

The Women, together: Chairs, My Lord?

Ezekiel: Yes, chairs. For a—a—prayer-meeting. Here. Tonight. We will invent—invent—a place to—to—offer thanks, and ask help, and praise, the Holy One, Yah Elyone, Adonai. He who sent me this vision. We must, we must offer prayers, or (drops his voice) we will disappear amid this Babylonian hodgepodge of idolatry, love of money, and chasing after heathen sin.

Rebekah: Prayers? What are prayers? Will there be singing? Lord Priest Ezekiel, we do so love to sing, and Tizmora, my eldest daughter, would love to play her harp--

Ezekiel: Prayers? Songs? Just so: I will prepare them, and then, we will see. I know your Tizmora—is she all grown up, then? As God lives, how the time flies—can you bring them, soon?

Anat: Bring what?

Ezekiel: The chairs. Oh, and can you bring some of that wondrous—delicious—what do you call it, the sweet foodstuffs that you ladies serve after the main meal? It’s been so long since I’ve eaten, since Shoshana died, El rest her—

Rebekah: Dessert?

Ezekiel: Yes: dessert. Cakes! Cakes for after. Oh, and some hot herbal tea. In small cups—I cannot deal with that; I leave that to you. I will do the prayers, the songs; please, Ladies, see you to the—the—sweet foodstuffs, for the enjoyments—Oneg, I believe, is the Hebrew word I have been seeking. (To himself, more than to the Women) Perhaps we can have a—a—discussion of some holy subject, for after—I will think on it. When the belly is full, the heart smiles; the brain seeks…. Understand, please: I am thinking, thinking—we must continue, go on, as a people, in our seeking the Holy One! Tizmora will play—but she is just a baby! No; no—she is grown….Yes: that is the meaning of my Vision….(To the Women) Well? Why do you stand at gaze? Go!

(The Women rush out, as Ezekiel, chuckling to himself, sits down, dips his feather into the ink-pot, and starts to write the first siddur/prayerbook in Jewish pre-history.)