Like a Coin Entrusted in Faith
By Shimon Adaf
Translated from the Hebrew by the author
They wake up Sultana the midwife at the dead of night. Poundings on the door, which she disguises in her sleep. Hides them within the symbolism of her dreams. But her consciousness arises at last. She identifies the knocking, the intervals between knockings. And she is alarmed. The alarm is not shaped yet. She covers herself quickly. Out of habit. Ties her headdress and goes out. In spite of the urgency of the knocks, the man is standing with his back to her hut. Almost indifferent, his small cart, tied to a grey ass, in the starlight of the beginning of autumn in Morocco, is also cut from the landscape.
Afterwards she remembers the light gallop of the ass and the cart on the slope, the rustle of the world she senses whenever she leaves the hamlet, out of the protective imagination of its inhabitants. The wind is warm still, unexpected warmness, and the lucidity of the air. She smells the sea in it, Essaouira’s daily commotion caught in it even at midnight. But they circumvent the city. She already recognised the driver, Shlomo Benbenishti. It’s been years since she’s last seen him. He hurries the ass. He tells it, run like the storm, my beauty, and laughs. She does not understand the laughter. A shred of shyness is apparent in it. Maybe nervousness.
The road becomes steep. The ass brays, even neighs. Shlomo turns to her. He says, do not eat or drink anything in the house at which we are about to arrive. Had dar hadi fiah Jnoon. The Moroccan is light on his tongue, and his Hebrew heavier, the heritage of the synagogue. He knows that she understands Hebrew, though she’s a woman. She nods. Now she grasps the nature of her alarm. The moon is a thin etch in the thickening darkness, thickening more and more as they near their destination. The moon still breathes his first breaths of the month. That is the alarm. Why was she summoned now? The time is the ten days of repentance.
The mother died with a scream. Her face was veiled and the scream was almost silenced. Sometimes they are marked; the demon leaves his marks on their cheeks. A scar of a bite. Every now and then, when Sultana hands them their baby, they remove the veil and she sees. But the woman died while delivering. She twisted and turned with spasms when Sultana came in. Sultana imagined her nails burrowing into the flesh of the hand. A small lamp threw light on her round belly, about to burst. Shlomo stayed outside. Inside, close to one of the dark hut’s clay walls stood a man she couldn’t make out clearly.
She said she didn’t want to deliver the baby, that they shouldn’t have called her during the ten days of repentance, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The man insisted. He switched to Hebrew, he said, what is forbidden within the boundaries of the land of Israel, isn’t forbidden in foreign lands. Is he Jewish, she thought to herself, the accent was strange, but his voice, she knew the voice, where from?
The mother shuddered at her touch. Her cries began. The newborn fought, Sultana could tell. She lifted the woman’s dress. She saw the little egg-shaped skull, through the widened lips of the vagina, smeared with blood and the liquids of the womb. She pressed on the belly. He was blue, the baby, his skin, his hair, his eyes when opened shortly. The irises filled the sockets. She couldn’t figure out if he was blind. A spark of intelligence burned in his eyes, curiosity almost. She shook. When she severed the umbilical cord the newborn shook too and went still.
The man told her to put the dead baby alongside his mother’s corpse. I told you, she said. Her voice broke a little. He didn’t react. Shlomo’s head peered from the entrance and he called her name delicately. She followed him. Anger grew in her during the journey back. When he stopped near her hut, she said, why are you working for them, why? He asked her, with his former softness, why they sent for you, you tell me.
From: Tiberia Assido
To: Doron Aflalo
RE: Rose of Judea
Say, what is this nonsense you’ve been sending me? You promised to report what you’ve been discovering about Rabbi SBRJ. Instead you’re telling me some made-up tale about the days Rabbi Shlomo was young? I realize that stories about demon births were widespread in the villages in Morocco. My mother told Akko and me a similar tale once. Akko couldn’t sleep that night. But what has that to do with the Rose of Judea? If I recall, you claimed that evil spirits are nothing but a story intended to cover up the involvement of Externals in Jewish history. You also claimed that they aren’t born, but are some kind of Jews who’ve been mutated in a distant future, didn’t you?
Akko is advancing with the development of “Solium Salomonis”, at least with parts I’m exposed to. He makes me talk daily with the software. A little scary. When we started the output was confused (look at me, writing as if I had the first clue about computing), without any relevance to the sentences I typed. Now, half of the time she answers my questions.
BTW, it’s beautiful here in Massachusetts. Thanks for asking. And I enjoy being around Akko, even though he kept all his annoying habits from when we were children. He still won’t talk to me about his sexuality. It’s beneath him to show any interest in such an inferior human activity. He also forgets to eat. Anyway, he needs as detailed information as possible, not stories.
What about you? Haven’t gone crazy yet from staying at your parents’ place in Mevoe-Yam?
But certain stories are sometimes the only way to give someone a key. The stories of my father were left hidden. My mother forgot. Only Miriam, once, told me a real horror story. The birds’ song, she said, is full of razors. When she’s passing by, they sing about it to her. Not the content of the song, but the song itself, the way it slashes through the air and reaches her ears. That’s the razor. It cuts reality. In the following days I ceased listening. Like I turned towards other voices. The world called my name.
Years went by before I figured out that it’s not what we fear that frightens us. What frightens us lurks at the edges, behind the gates of cognition. The fear we know is nothing but a defense mechanism against this, the thing. How to explain? Maybe that I understood that Tel Aviv fell on New Year’s Eve of the year 5767 to creation. Suddenly I saw only parts of the reality of the city. On the stairs leading to the university, on Jaffa pier, on Allenby. They peered through the shroud of the city. What is reality if not the memory of others leaping from you when you look? Their life, their bodies that created in their movement the space you occupy, gave it meaning. Yet, woven in this weave of remembrance, you are left to your own devices; you have a resting place, a place of becoming. And the city was lost, as Miriam was lost, washed into the abyss from which only a choked, undecipherable sound is coming back. And the stupid dreams of the Tel Aviv dwellers preserved the city, a dull copy under the sun of Israel.
Sultana remembered Shlomo. She remembered him when she lay awake on her bed, and she remembered him afterwards, when she slouched to the cave at the break of dawn. He was a Yeshiva student, who came from a community in Istanbul with a recommendation letter from the community’s rabbi. She was about to get married and didn’t pay him much attention, even though her father, the rabbi of the newly formed community in Essaouira, whose members retired from one of the communities in Fez, took him in.
For a while he was her father’s protégé. He was rumored to be extremely gifted. He knew many tractates from the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmud by heart, and was versed in the writings of the Geniuses and Maimonides; he even read the prohibited book. He was exchanging epistles with an Israeli sage, Rabbi Yosef Karo, and her father let his pride be known at Sabbath meals, when she and her husband came to visit, and she was carrying a child in her womb. But something changed. She was only able to get some parts of the story. The young lad Benbenishti and her father were becoming estranged. She couldn’t attend to it; her husband fell ill and she was about to give birth. When she returned to her parents’ home, after her husband’s death, her father wouldn’t hear about Shlomo Benbenishti. He wasn’t welcomed anymore.
Her mother told her, when Shlomo appeared one day famished at the kitchen entrance of their house. Her mother fed him somewhat fearfully, as if he were a leper, and made Sultana stand watch at the doorway to the house, to warn her if her father or one of her younger brothers was approaching. Shlomo couldn’t make a living. No member of the community would hire him. Occasionally he would work for Arabs, to drive a cart, to run errands, to sell in the market, to whitewash houses.
Shlomo would pursue issues best left alone. He asked about corpses coming back to life: are they still infused with the profanity of the dead, can they be cleansed by bathing in a mikveh? Is the tent in which a body is vitalized clear of its impurity, the tent and every object within its space? What was the status of the children revived by Elijah and Elisha? Were they still in need of red-cow ashes? What was the meaning of the Jerusalem Talmud argument that the dead live among the dew? And so on, and so forth. Her father, who detested any discussion of the sort, was convinced he was possessed, god forbid, La Yister.
The memory flooded her – no, slashed her. That day, when the males of the family went to pray mincha, the afternoon prayer, and the soft light anticipated the coming of the evening. Shlomo sat in front of her mother and her in the kitchen, munching leftovers of couscous and meat, and his eyes darkly sleep-deprived, haunted.
From: Tiberia Assido
To: Doron Aflalo
RE: Rose of Judea
I’m a murderess, murderess. I know the term is a bit melodramatic, but it describes well my shock. I’ve killed Akko’s software. I’ve already named it in my mind: Malka. You know how you’ll ascribe human features to everything that shows a will or imitates life, like pets or toys, when you’re child? When I was eight, one of the girls in the neighborhood got a talking doll. Akko coveted it so much that I helped him steal it. It made me feel sick when he took it apart to see its inner workings. I heard her crying in my head, begging me to stop the torture. Now, thinking back, I think the doll’s owner was Malka. Or maybe I’m rewriting the recollection to make it meaningful.
I wasn’t doing it on purpose. I just held my daily conversation with her. And I couldn’t resist. I quoted, half joking, the dubious exegesis my father taught Akko, about king Solomon’s throne (solium salomonis) and the kings of Edom and the Externals fighting over it, and I asked Malka her thoughts on the matter (I was tired, and bored). She crashed. Akko claims that restarting her won’t do us any good, that the backups won’t help, because she’ll only crash again. He says I need to start training a blank module anew, and that he hasn’t much time to deal with it at the moment.
Poor Malka, I’ve destroyed her. How can I raise another module, to see it grow, develop a consciousness?
And Akko won’t tell me why he’s so adamant about me being the one who raises it. True, it’s crucial to him that the software language be Hebrew. He has this hypothesis that Hebrew is prevalent all over the Worlds, that it’s the Ur-language. No, that in each and every one of the Worlds, a version of Hebrew came to be out of a family of languages similar to it. That’s why Hebrew is the closest to the Ursprechen. But why the hell me? He can hire an Israeli student. They are fucking everywhere nowadays.
So you have time to get serious with your investigation. Yet, why is your story so indirect? Why do you suspend the information? What’s your point, really?
Sultana remembered. She stood in the cave, in whose depths her son was kept, and he failed to appear, even when she called out his name. Hosea.
When your son shows signs of a mysterious illness, which brought down his father, an illness gnawing his organs while the spirit stays sane, trapped in the cage of flesh, it is easy to prevent his death. All you need is a device to stop time.
But there’s a setback; there’s always a setback. Time-halting objects aren’t as widespread as they used to be. Let’s say Moses’ wand. Or Joshua’s Shofar.
And there’s always a price, evidently.
She’d been told there was an Arab who lived on a mountain. He was a master of the dying. She walked many miles. Wore out two pairs of shoes. Her son was with her, riding a donkey, his life force leaking.
The Arab gave her a ring made of a bone of the upupa epops that was passed down from King Solomon’s hand to the hands of the Kahlif Harun El Rashid, and lastly came to his possession. The ring radiated decay and corruption and gangrene. He commanded her to change her name, to leave her parents’ house without speaking to them. He told her to dwell in a certain hamlet, outside of Essaouira, and study how to serve as a midwife. He said that she would be called for, that he for long has waited for a Jewish woman to come his way.
- All conscious creatures are sentenced to die.
1.1 But not all of them are sentenced to perish.
1.1.1 The consciousness may linger after the death of the body; parts of it may. A knot of memories and sentiments. The ghost is best suited to depict this sort of lingering.
1.1.2 The body, a complex system of appetites and cravings, may survive alone, without the bridles of consciousness. The vampire, one can argue, is the representation of this sort of lingering.
1.1.3 What is the third variation of outliving death that’s illustrated by the zombie? In contrast to the other two, the zombie is devoid of memory, identity, passion. The living entity was erased. Only a blind instinct is left, the will of another that possesses it whole. It has been devoured.
1.2 The living are constantly thrown into mourning.
1.2.1 Which means the complete collapse of the means of expression.
1.2.2 Nevertheless, every culture aspires to endow loss with meaning, to tame it through rituals.
1.2.3 All of human experience is characterized by the tension between the urgent need to be expressed and the failure of language to fully express it.
1.2.4 The greatest and most unbearable tension is to be found in grief. And in the mystical experience. That’s why those two are the ones driving humans to the highest degree of creativity, to a multitude of forms of expression.
1.2.5 For a while, therefore, there’s an identity between the two.
- A categorical border divides the living from the dead.
2.1 The ability to experience the border from both sides is the mystical ability in itself.
From: Tiberia Assido
To: Doron Aflalo
RE: Rose of Judea
You ask what I did with Malka before I quoted her the exegesis. (Malka! Suddenly I get that Malka, queen, is the Hebrew word Sultana. What was her name before she changed it? Please don’t tell me it was Malka. What is it, one of your exaggerated poetical devices? But you couldn’t have known it’s the name I choose for the module. Are all coincidences this dreary?)
Akko has also asked me.
I quoted her some of my poems. Not The Artificial Child that refers to Akko and solium salomonis. It was the first time Malka was exposed to the term. Do you think the system in the whole became intelligent enough that, through the quote, she realised she was made-up, might have understood her raison d’etre: to uncover the Ursprechen in which the Name-givers hold the Worlds? That she understood it is the task of Rose of Judea? It seems far-fetched.
I told Akko my suspicions. I don’t know how the other modules of the project function. He said he couldn’t be bothered. An Israeli writer wrote him to inquire about the part of exegesis I mention in The Artificial Child. It’s funny someone still reads that magazine we published.
(Do you still write poetry? I have to ask, even if you’d give the same answer all over again, that poetry per se isn’t enough for you.)
Anyhow, Akko did say he was bothered by the timing. Do you get it? He is bothered by the timing and not by months of work gone down the drain for no apparent reason. I never am going to get this kid.
I know he’s already a man, but for me he’s the kid with the grumpy manners, who closed himself in the garage with his computers. The same kid who became hard all of a sudden, distant. The kid I’m the only human he can show emotions towards.
My heart goes out to him, as if he were twelve.
But maybe I’m overflowed with feelings because I haven’t yet overcome Malka’s passing. Parts of me were imbedded in her. Is this clinging narcissistic? Because in every loss we lose the parts of us that were immersed in others who left us? Do we mourn ourselves really?
I refuse to believe that.
Write me back soon,
I refuse to believe it either. If love may save us for a moment from our perpetual egoism, then losing it is losing a possibility of salvation. Another way out that has been blocked for us, that keeps us so much in here.
Sultana was very stingy with the time left for her son. The ring suspended his life. She put him in the cave, near the hamlet she was told to live in, and she waited. They called for her. Always around midnight. She watched demon offspring, with crooked organs and features, being delivered from human females’ wombs, and every time refused the food and drinks she was offered. And there was always someone who came and took the hybrids. She didn’t see the takers’ faces, didn’t recognized them. And every morning following the birth, she went to the cave, where she undid the time paralysis she had cast upon her son, and he was beautiful and spoke to her. And she remembered why she was willing to assist the strange births. Why she continued to live in the shadow of the Sitra Ahara.
But this morning Hosea wasn’t there. And she thought, Shlomo, for no reason she could fathom, just out of basic fright. It’s Shlomo’s doing.
*Externals: in Jewish folklore the expression serves as a substitute term for the Sitra Ahara, the more common Aramaic name for the powers of evil, whose meaning is literally ‘The Other Side’.
The disciples of the order of the Rose of Judea believe that the Externals are a group of shape-shifting entities whose influence can be traced throughout Jewish history, and that they are the servants of the Kings of Edom, a nation whose home world was destroyed and who now roam the other worlds in order to find the keys to the destruction of the Chain of Worlds. These keys, as the Rosaic tradition goes, are implanted in the Name-givers’ consciousness.
Their belief is based on the interpretation of a series of Jewish exegesis from the second half of the third millennium to creation, and is related to the sage Ben-Zoma and his acolytes. These exegeses are not part of the holy canon of mainstream Judaism today.
One of the important exegeses is as follow:
The Rabbi’s mind was not set as to Solomon’s throne till Ben-Zoma explained –
it’s written, It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness, for the throne is established by righteousness, for the descendants of heavens and the offspring of Edom were fighting over its construction, this one says it is my craft and the other says it is my hand making, and it stood between the sky and the earth until the sun retreated.
An extreme interpretation, which isn’t considered valid, claims that the Externals are not connected to the kings of Edom, but are mutant Jews from the future who travel in time and memory and whose goal is to collect every piece of information relevant to the Rose of Judea and manipulate it for their own ends.
Shlomo looks at her bewildered. He doesn’t understand what she’s talking about. He repeats her words, a cave, a ring, a son. Sultana stops midway through the blame and starts anew. Slowly she realizes that he doesn’t have a clue. That’s the first time he’s been hired for a job like this. That he was paid handsomely for it. He’s able to deduce much from what she’s been saying. He is sharp. He has an ear for nuances. The story is clear to him in its fullest extent. Until now he stood in front of her; she sat at the table in the centre of her hut. He sits down heavily. His eyes are ablaze with thoughts. A pretty man, she notices, a soft darkness floats in the irises, and the cloud of thoughts enhances his beauty. Suddenly she’s aware of her appearance. She tightens the cover over her hair, glides a hand down her face, as if she could smooth the skin. She’s four or five years older than he is, but he seems younger to her, a lad.
Shlomo asks if she knows why this village, outside the borders of Essaouira, if demonic forces are more active there. She says she doesn’t know, that she delivers a hybrid once a month at least. But never during the ten days of repentance.
The holiness of the days, Shlomo says, and nods. He asks about Hosea, how the black ring is able to time-freeze him. She looks at the ring for the first time since she left the cave earlier that morning. Shlomo is right. The green and ivory shades have faded. It’s totally black.
He inquires about her recollection of the Arab warlock. She says she doesn’t remember a thing. Did he wear the ring? She says that he didn’t. He pronounced few words and then some windows were torn in the air. They moved very slowly, the windows. The Arab reached into one of them and pulled out the ring.
Windows, Shlomo muses: a similar account is to be found in the stories of Raba bar bar Hana in Baba Batra.
In the Talmud? she asks.
Yes, Shlomo says and adds that bar bar Hana tells about a meeting with an Arab who showed him windows in heaven, where the sky and the earth kiss, and the sky turns as a wheel. The stories were always dismissed as fiction, but he believes they have some kernel of truth in them.
And the home owner, he asks, did she know him?
She says his voice was familiar, but she couldn’t exactly tell where from.
Shlomo suggests they return to that hut: maybe they’ll find a lead.
On the way there he turns his head. The small ass is walking at a moderate pace. He says it amuses him that the daughter of Rabbi Aflalo found a way to cheat death. She asks for the reason. He says Rabbi Aflalo expelled him from the yeshiva because he argued that underneath the Talmud sages’ discussions about necromancy and seers lurks a knowledge they wished to discard. Rabbi Aflalo accused him of idolatry.
From: Tiberia Assido
To: Doron Aflalo
RE: Rose of Judea
You’re right. I wasn’t very sensitive in my last mail. I didn’t take into account what you’re going through. But you are also to blame. Whenever we talked about Miriam and what she’d done, you insisted you moved on, that you can’t dwell in sorrow, in guilt. Tell me more about the book you’re writing. In what way does it deal with the impossible language of loss? Once you wrote in a poem, “There comes a moment / you know / your hymn from down under / no soul could speak.” What happened to that moment? Why does it flicker?
Yesterday we held a ceremony. Akko said it would help me let go of Malka. He didn’t say, “Help you let go of Malka.” He said, “Maybe you’d stop nagging.” Midway he cried. Of course it wasn’t Malka he was missing. He has several servers he calls the Cemetery Cloud. He stores his dead software there. The little conniving bastard. Not once did he mention that it wasn’t the first time a module of solium salomonis has crashed beyond repair. He doesn’t say “store”, btw. He says “lay to rest”.
From: Tiberia Assido
To: Doron Aflalo
RE: Rose of Judea
I almost forgot. You ask what I mean by “died”?
You push the module icon and the software doesn’t run. Akko said he ran Malka’s code through a debugger (tell you anything?) and he ran diagnostics on the databases built by her. Everything seems to be fine. No reason why she wouldn’t work. Yet she doesn’t, like a body whose life spark’s been extinguished.
Out of the urban mischief, out of the wreckage, my sister Miriam rose. Still 17 and not ceasing to rise. And Tel Aviv already fell. In aimless roaming I was nearly run down by bike riders. Sons of bitches. Lately they multiply. The year 5767 and the city is lost. Their eyes hollow, the mouth gaping with a groan. Among the dust-ridden trees, in the delayed autumn. New Year’s Eve at my back, and they’re around me, circling, copies of what they were once, blind urges in flesh golems of streets and traffic lights. Trampling. I have to get out of here. I have to go back to Mevo-Yam.
The recently deceased mother’s hut is empty. It’s almost evening. Sultana and Shlomo stand inside and inspect it for traces. The ring on Sultana’s finger is black as a scorched bone. There’s no cradle. No bed for a child. The kitchen is infested with shadows.
Shlomo asks her what else she knows. All of a sudden she’s indignant. It’s not his business. It’s not your business, she says. He lifts the lamp he brought with him and lights it. It’s required. The night fell quickly, unnoticeable. His expression is a mix of curiosity and alarm. A rage builds inside Sultana. She says, Hosea, and begins singing, a song her mother sung, when she cradled her son who wasn’t named yet, in his firsts days on this land –
Stahit ana me’a momo lilah fi lilah
Wal’am he’tata yiduz geer fehal ha lilah
Lochan ma tenzar shams, ma tedwi gemara
Geer didlma fi kulal rachan
Wunbit ana wu-momo, geer sehara fi laman…
She sings, hums to herself. Shlomo lowers his head. In the lamp light his hair is anointed with glamour. Someone is knocking on the door, beating with urgency.
From: Tiberia Assido
To: Doron Aflalo
RE: Rose of Judea
We’re having a little crisis here. It has nothing to do with the Israeli writer inquest. Akko resolved that matter. Something else. I started working with the new linguistic module yesterday. This time I was cautious about getting attached. I typed simple indicative sentences. Something happened at night. It’s not clear what. In the morning I sat in front of the screen. Ozymandias (yeah, maybe such a ridiculous name will prevent me from developing feelings) didn’t react at first to the sentences I fed it. After several minutes words appeared on the screen: ARRGGG, GRRRR, ARRGGGG…
But then the computer started emitting sounds. The other computers in the lab present similar symptoms. Akko lost his temper. At last he was able to show rage. There’s a good side to it, to see him in a human moment.
The door fell.
In spite of the lamp in Shlomo’s hand, the outside seemed more lit.
The glee of autumn stars in Morocco’s sky, apparently.
The shining heaven above Essaouira.
Against the glare of the busted door a small figure shows.
Its stride slow.
The organs rigid, mechanical.
And still its face is unseen yet.
Shlomo takes out a small chain from his galabia’s pocket.
It shimmers. It has a certain glow.
He throws it. It wraps around the figure’s neck.
Shlomo cries: Shma De-Marach Alech! Shma De-Marach Alech!
The figure continues to advance, oblivious to Shlomo’s cries.
He puts the lamp on the floor and takes a stool from next to the wall.
He raises it.
His silence releases Sultana from her short paralysis.
She bends to have a better look.
Now she screams.
From: Tiberia Assido
To: Doron Aflalo
RE: Rose of Judea
I left Akko alone with his codes in the lab for several days and went on walks in the institute’s grounds. Akko suggested I take the laptop he prepared for me, with all the insane amount of security he put on it. Before I left he asked if the laptop was connected to the lab’s intranet. I haven’t turned it on since he gave it to me. There was enough computing for me with the computer that ran Malka’s module, may she rest in peace, and Ozymandias’s module, curse it.
Akko also said, strangely, that the programs’ codes in the cemetery cloud were corrupted. That they’re full of inexplicable characters. He said, “As if they’ve rotted somehow.”
I was hoping to have my spirit lifted by the gnaw marks autumn left on the trees, the seasonal decline in temperature, the pressure of coolness against the skin, and the architecture, by which I was enthralled when I first got here. Instead, I think of Israel, on my tongue the syllables of the month Tishrey are rolling. Before Rosh Hashanah we called our mother to congratulate her for the New Year. Akko was choked with excitement. He was stricken by longing. Then we called our father. I mean, I called. Akko still refuses to speak with him. Who would have thought we’ll all be here, in 2011, some years after the fall of Tel Aviv.
Well, the architecture is still lovely. The state centre’s game of perspectives are wonderful, I’ll give you that. The placement of futuristic buildings in the gloomy surroundings of New England as well.
I wonder if they burned witches here.
I think about your Sultana.
Where is the story going? I wait for the part in which young Shlomo is entering the Pardes and gets the knowledge of the Chain of Worlds, and becomes Rabbi SBRJ. That’s your intention, right? To illustrate the revelation of the Rose of Judea.
But why tell the story from Sultana’s point of view? Shlomo is the interesting character.
I don’t want to push you. I know you too well for that. But what happens here seems to stem from our efforts to find the Ursprechen of the Worlds. It seems we reached some forbidden zone. Years ago Akko told me that this knowledge has the price tag of loss, of guilt, and you said – bad luck.
Well, Doron, bad luck has caught up with us. And I’m scared.
I sit at a café in Cambridge, MA, and I write to you.
I need desperately to understand something. But what is it? This is the awful thing here, isn’t it? That we can’t identify the real mystery. Help me, Doron.
*Pardes (Orchard). Entering the Pardes: more than a few visitations of humans to the realms of angles in heaven are accounted for in the Jewish esoteric literature from the second half of the third millennium to creation. The literature of Hechalot (Palaces), for instance, is a detailed one. Yet the term Entering the Pardes is ascribed to one mystical experience only, the experience of four sages of the Mishna around the year 3890. The chronicles of the Entering are mainly reported in the tractate Hagiga in the Babylonian and Jerusalem versions of the Talmud.
No doubt an elementary form of experience is outlined in the exegeses. It’s possible that the four sages represent four different attitudes toward the place of mysticism in Jewish life: Akiva ben Yosef, who goes through the experience unharmed, is its exemplar. According to his method, Judaism is hiding the magical thinking at its base and sanctifies practices of study and memorizing instead. Shimon ben Azay died while entering the Pardes and left no evidence for his method. Elisha ben Avoya turned to heresy, id est, cancelled the validity of Judaism as a worthy practice for gaining wisdom. Of Shimon ben Zoma, it was said that he peered and was harmed or, in the common interpretation, lost his sanity. His experience is the most curious, for what is insanity in the context of mysticism?
The devotees of the Rose of Judea believe that the knowledge ben Zoma unveiled contains a different description of the structure of reality.
When the features of the small figure are clear to Sultana, her scream dwindles and she gazes. Parts of the child’s body – it’s a child after all – are blue. An arm and half of the face. The expression is empty. The skin at the other part is sallow, pale, oozes viscous miasma. The right eye is buried in its socket, and worms twist in it. The bare teeth are spreading a sickly glow. And he, the child, doesn’t smile, but his lips are stretched in spasm.
He advances slowly, jerking. His arms are reaching for her. She’s unable to move. Even the stench and the whiteness of the worms turning in the right eye can’t force her nerves to shock her into motion. The child emits guttural syllables, indecipherable. He’s almost upon her; his nails are ready to cut her flesh.
And Shlomo pushes her aside and hits the creature with the stool. The blow is muted, not even the sound of a crushing bone, just a heavy note, the note of an object sinking in soft mud, in clay. The neck is crooked, the head lies on the left shoulder. His stretched lips stay the same and he keeps on moving forward in a rigid, stubborn walk.
Shlomo stands between her and the creature, blocks her view, but she knows nothing will stop it, that what drives it is beyond the decaying flesh, that the flesh is but a realization of a will. She knows that as well as she knows the origin of the organs that have been made into this shape, Hosea, and the baby she helped deliver just a while ago. Shlomo hits it again. Something like a fart escapes its body. The stench grows. The child-thing starts to shrill, a high pitched, ear-shattering shrill, like the cry of a prisoner being tortured in a concealed, underground cell. And Shlomo hits it again and calls to her. He says, get out of here Sultana, run.
From: Tiberia Assido
To: Doron Aflalo
RE: Rose of Judea
It’s awful, Doron. I’m here, in the storage room of the lab, with all the pieces of useless equipment.
I’ve just arrived at the lab. Akko was crouched over his keyboard, motionless. I didn’t understand what he was waiting for. I haven’t seen him for a couple of days and he didn’t even turn his head to look at me. Then I realized the screens were all displaying the same words ARRGG, GRRR, ARRGGG, GRRRR, GRRR and some animation of a viscous liquid, a green-yellow jelly, shaking, oozing down the screen, the inside of the screen.
I approached Akko and touched his shoulder. His small body was rigid. His head moved, turned, like it was revolving on the spine. His eyes were opaque, and the skin bloodless, the face without expression. The smile, it had nothing to with the facial muscles. It terrified me. He didn’t say anything.
I retreated, stupid me, to the first door in my sight. The storage room.
It’s terrible. But the panic I felt before, when I walked around the institute, weakened. I’ve already dreamed this scene. I’ve seen it to its last detail, and I know the blows on the door are coming next.
In spite of Akko’s warnings, I connected ARRGGG the laptop to the lab’s intranet. So my GRRRR time is short. The ruined computers here start to hum*%*$#_)++
I’m thinking hard – Rose of Judea, the revelation of Ben-Zoma, the retrieval of the knowledge in Rabbi Shlomo Benbenishi’s era, in the 16th century. I’ve always been bad at pattern&$&$*%( recognition. There must be something ARGGRRR you can tell, some detail you observed, in the story GRRRRG that escaped me.
&what is in our investigation that raise the dead&
&and how to put them back to the dust&
&even the digital ones&
He###########lp me, Do***************ron.
Don’t leave me ARRGGG alone again, in half-light, as you did ARGGGRRR years ago.
Please, DoARRGGG GRRR ARRRRG ARRRG
28.[Clear sky, in which huge stars are buried. The moon is like a Chinese brush stroke. Dark trees. A wind is passing through them. Light rustle, like a buzz. Sultana is running out of a hut. She’s terrified. She stops. A Man comes out from the shadow of trees.]
Sultana: Halt, you stranger, tell me who you are.
A Man: I am who I am. Though not whom you assume.
Sultana: And yet, someone you are, whoever that be.
Tell me who.
A Man: The shape, the speech
Are nothing but skin.
Sultana: Now I know, now
Sevenfold my fear grows. You are deceased.
A Man: I told you, body, looks, are but a skin
Which entities would wear to come here.
Sultana: Here. Where is here?
A Man: The Humilitas.
Sultana: My beloved’s flesh you wear, and he is not you.
Who you are, you stranger, tell me.
A Man: Centuries will pass before I’m born and for millennia
I’ve lived, I walked this world, the Humilitas.
Its paths of time are clear to me, I am at home
But this is not my home. The chains of human voices
Of human cries, I left behind, and even then
I’m forced to cloak myself with them
If my will is to find my kind’s place within the Worlds.
Sultana: Your kind? Who are they? Who are you? The man
Who spoke from shadows, in this house. What
Was the faith of the dead infant?
Why was my boy snatched from me, and you show
Yourself in semblance of his dead dad?
A Man: Faith,
Conspiracy, simple and transparent, but as for you
Sultana: It’s wrapped in mystery. I do not wish to hear.
What do you strive for, devil?
A Man (laughs): devil I’m not.
Sultana (aside): Nor man he is. Oh Lord
Who torture us, who draw a line
Between the living and the dead which we
Crave to transgress.
A Man: Hush. Soon you’ll see.
Sultana: But Hosea, my son, and the unnamed child
You control them, the boy whose organs
You assembled and your will drives.
For what end?
A Man: I roamed Humilitas
In the third millennium I wore the body of
A Jewish sage, Rabba bar bar Hanna, I
Spoke through his lips, I thought warlocks
And magicians, I weaved my nets in silence
Now comes an hour I put to test
Will he transfer the knowledge destined
To give us life, if we chose wisely –
A child who was prevented from
The realms of death and a child dead
Sultana: not a child was he
A Man: There are no demons. Just folktales
Claiming them to be. No plan is fertile
Without misguiding and mischiefs, tricks
As old as humanity.
Sultana: Nonsense. Insanity.
A Man: My part I’ve done, woman, and so did you
It is my time to go back to my shelter in the shadows.
[Man exits. Sultana falls to her knees with a howl.]
Sultana’s face is streaked with dust when she looks up. Shlomo is coming towards her. His face bears an expression of elation. His arms are stretched and the sleeves of his galabia are torn. The arms are covered in bite marks, small circles, tiny imprints of teeth, and shiny beads of blood. His hands are cupped, as if he is carrying a precious gem, but to Sultana the hands look empty. He gazes from the invisible content of his hands to Sultana and back. His features are washed with glamour. He says, Rose of Judea. He repeats the enigmatic phrase, Rose of Judea, Rose of Judea, till Sultana is back on her feet and puts her hand on his mouth.
I would have helped you, Tiberia. I would have left everything and rushed to you. But Miriam is filling my dreams, and my mother walks the house. I’m sure she put a tap on my heart beats.
But what it is I wish to say and can’t convey any other way, is that the words in Hebrew, they had been through fire and water, they were killed by the sword and by strangulation. And we salvaged them from their grave.
They carry knowledge from beyond death, Tiberia, maybe the knowledge we need to retrieve Ben-Zoma’s method. But in what form they are coming back and what they ask of the living, this we will have to find out the hard way.
 There are demons in this house (Jewish Moroccan)
 May God protect us (Jewish Moroccan)
 I wished to spend with the baby night after night
To be with him a full 12 months like this night
And the sun might not rise, the moon won’t shine
Only darkness all around
And the baby and I would sleep like a coin entrusted in faith. (Jewish Moroccan)
 The name of your master binds you (Aramaic)