A Gnostic in Jerusalem
By David Hartley Mark
The High Holy Days were over, and the news from Israel was not good: Palestinian teenagers attacking Jews in Jerusalem and elsewhere with knives, and themselves being shot dead by Israeli police. Renegade imams urging Palestinians to become “martyrs.” Rumors of a Third Intifada. The Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the Palestinian Authority talking tough, but not to each other. The US Secretary of State trying to mollify everyone, calling for peace talks. Israelis carrying selfie sticks, umbrellas, and cans of pepper spray. The Shuk, the fabled Jerusalem Market, standing empty; tourism numbers dropping. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers deploying in Jerusalem….
It was nighttime in Pompano Beach, Florida. I went into the dark, empty Sanctuary of my much-loved Temple Sholom, and approached the Holy Ark. There were no lights, except the red Eternal Light burning, close to the ceiling. Standing before the Ark’s massive doors, I brushed my fingers against the rough copper-and-brass of the Hebrew letter Yud—first letter in God’s Holy Name—and touched my lips, as I always do, just checking in with the Almighty. I didn’t have to pray; He already knew what was in my mind and heart and soul.
Times were murderous. Abominations in the Holy Land.
How long, O’ Lord?
I placed my hand on the Holy Ark, and prayed silently—would God answer my prayer? Minutes passed…. There was a still small voice:
“Shalom, Rabbi,” I heard, in a rough whisper from one of the back pews: “I’m ba-ack.”
What was that noise? There can be no ghosts in a temple; no spirits, no mazikkin in a Holy Place.
“Behold me, Rabbi,” came the raspy tones—strange, other-worldly, yet familiar—was it...? Oh, God, no—
I turned, and there he was, again: the Demogorgon, sub-god to the Demiurge and Monad in the Gnostic Universe of Evil. He was no answer to my prayer, but he was sitting there, in all his Evil Glory, putrid and vile as sin, there in the holiest chamber of our temple.
The Demogorgon, jaws agape, saw me looking at him in amazement, and grinned. I beheld yellow-red-blackened teeth, dripping saliva—or was it something else, something umentionable?—and some greenish crud back where his gums would have been… his pale orange-white eyes gleamed through the darkness:
“Me again. Surprised? Boo.”
“What are you doing in my—in God’s Holy Sanctuary, Monster?” I asked—no, demanded—in as harsh a voice as I could muster, though my hands were suddenly trembling. I stuffed them into my pockets so he wouldn’t see, but it was too late.
“I go wherever I am invited,” he said, in a voice as rough as broken shells the tide drags over a lonely, darksome beach, “and here is as good as any. What, do you object to my presence?”
And, before me—before God—the Monster began to laugh—deep belly-laughs, in mockery of the Holiness amid which he sprawled. A mockery of sanctity.
“Be quiet, Beast, and come to my office,” I said, or managed to whisper, still wondering how a creature of so much tum’ah, so much ritual uncleanliness, could be tolerated in the Presence of the Sifray Torah, the Holy Scrolls, our most sacred ritual objects.
“As you wish, Milord Rabbi,” he chuckled, shoulders shaking with mirth, and lifted his voluminous bulk off the pew where he had been sitting. He followed me out of the sanctuary and through the accordion doors, leaving a trail of water and pus at every step.
Our temple caretaker will not be happy about having to clean the carpet tomorrow, I thought.
He had read my mind—how could I have forgotten that?—for he said, “Don’t worry about me, Rabbi. Any traces I leave in your O-So-Holy-Sanctum are little, compared to the blood that your fellow Jews and Cousin Arabs are spilling, all over your Holy Land.”
And the Creature burst out, once more, into laughter—could you imagine? He chortled until his belly shook, over the carnage, and the hatred, and the bloodletting. I turned and gaped at him, in silence. It took a while for him to settle down, and, by that time, we had reached my office.
Of course, he took the biggest and best-padded chair, though his massive bulk, all yellowblack skin with wrinkles and pimples whose raised, carbuncle-like surfaces I dared not touch, over-dripped the seat, almost bending it to the floor, the wood and cloth-padding groaning in protest.
His dragonlike tail wound itself, as if of its own will, around one of my bookcase-shelves, coming to a rest against my volumes of the Encyclopedia Judaica, somewhere between the volumes marked “Maimonides” and “Mercantilism.”
A pretty place for you, Demiurge, I thought, between Philosophy and Commerce. It shows your position in today’s world.
“Well, Rabbi,” he said, “Well. You can see the position today’s current events place me in. All of your people—all Humanity, in fact—seem to bow down and worship me.”
“I can’t agree,” I said, turning as casually as I could to my bookshelf and taking down my Book of Psalms, which had worked before to eliminate this massive pest from my life, and that of Humanity.
“It won’t work this time,” smiled the Demiurge, reaching out one massive claw before I could stop him or resist, and flicking the Psalter from my reaching hand, “I am Psalm-proof. When Arab teens are rushing about waving steely knives, what good will your mouthing Hebrew prayers do?”
“Perhaps a Jobs Program would help them—“ I attempted, but he was seized by a fit of laughter, again.
“Oh, please,” he said, “You are so naïve! I bring you blood, homicide, murder and death, and you answer me like a Social Worker? Isn’t that just like you Liberal Zionists? It’s too late, Rabbi, don’t you understand?”
He reached out, using both arms and claws to sweep up all the books from the shelf behind me—I quickly laid my head down on my desk for safety, and covered it, but I could sense that his tail was doing the same, with my bookcases across the room—all I could think, amid the book-carnage, was—
I will surely have a load of books to clean up in the morning, I surely will—O God, please help me!—
--And, as he dropped the books down-and-around my head, as the Wisdom of the Ages, both Secular and Religious, came thundering down on my hapless skull-and-brain, he chanted, as if correcting an erring child:
“I have won, you silly little, humanistic, theological fool. I have won! Game, match, and set. You religious, peace-pursuing types have lost. The Holy Land—your Israel, their Palestine—is awash with blood. Religion, Politics, Blood, Map-Borderline-Boundaries, Green Line, Red Line, Flags, Terror, Counter-Terror, Price Tags, Peace Now, Hamas, PA, Tunnels, Operations, Planes, Rockets, Bombs, Knives, Weapons, Talk-Talk-Talk—
It’s all over and done, don’t you see? Fools! You’re all fools! And soon, you’ll all be dead—“
“No, no—I don’t see,” I cried out, tears streaming down my cheeks, speaking from my heart and soul, as I dared to lift up my head, as the shower of books slowly stopped—
“I do have one weapon against you left, you massively obese, ugly spawn of a godless universe—and I do believe in a God of Mercy and Compassion, who continues to love His children—“
“Waste of time—yours and mine,” the Demiurge huffed in my face—his face was very close, and his breath was the stench of death, “I could crush you like a bug. Perhaps I will.”
I had to pray: a wicked whisper came, and my heart was dryasdust—No! No!
His ghastly maw was closer; his breath and his jaws and teeth and tongue filled the room, filled the universe:
All will die, Rabbi. All will be left, lying dead: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Jaffa—I am Life. Myself am Life.
Finally, the Words came to my Mind, and to my lips:
“Baruch Atah Adonoi Elohaynu Melech HaOlam, Yotzer Or, oo’voray Choshech; oseh Shalom, oo’voray et ha-Kol:
Blessed are You, Lord our God: who fashions Light, and creates Darkness; who makes Peace, and creates Every Thing.”
The Beast lurched back, as if stricken by a lightning-bolt. His breath was no longer on my face.
I repeated the Prayer.
The room began to fill with light—not from the windows, but with a supernal light, coming under the closed door, as if from the Sanctuary.
The Beast began silently to writhe in the chair he had overflowed, just before.
And again: “Who fashions Light, and creates Darkness…Who makes Peace over Everything.
The Light was growing brighter and brighter.
The Beast was about my size, now, and hugging himself in mortal pain. His tail had shrunken away.
The Golden Angel figurine on my shelf, to my amazement, had come to life. She was moving over to my Meditating Buddha, to my brass Ganesha-statue, and all were bending over the statue of the Rabbi and bar-mitzvah boy that the Rabbi Emeritus of my first pulpit, so many years before, had given me as a gift.
A Golden Angel. A Buddha. A Ganesha. A Rabbi and a Bar Mitzvah Boy, all working together.
The statues had come to life. At least, I thought they had done so.
There was a sound like a soap-bubble popping, and I was alone in the room—just me. The Demogorgon was gone. I blinked, and shook my head, looking around.
Sunlight flooded the room. The books were all back where they had stood, before. So were the statues.
It was a New Day, in God’s World.
Time to daven. Time to pray.