Web of Gold

Web of Gold 

Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
– Psalm 130:2

He was not an unusual child. Dark, with the smooth bronze skin of a middle easterner. Average features, average build, average face. He learned Torah from the rabbi with the other boys of his village and grew up reciting the Havdalah at the close of each Shabbat:

Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who makest a distinction between holy and profane, between light and darkness, between Yisrael and the heathen nations, between the seventh day and the six working days…

There was much rumbling about Galilee over this thirty-something rabbi, and Galilee was a Palestinian province ripe for rumor. The most northerly of the three provinces of Palestine, Galilee spread out like a unfurled cloak at the foot of Mt. Carmel. The land was lush, luxurious and productive, a rugged mountainous country of oaks and terebinths interrupted by fertile plains. Likewise fertile imaginations.Regarding the circumstances of the young man’s birth, Galilee prickled with some not-so-magnanimous insinuations about his mother and a passing Roman soldier.

He did not seek ostracism, but it arrived nonetheless, in heaps. After the wedding and the wine-for-water exchange in Cana, his own family thought him mad and sought to put him away. The crowds in Nazareth, his hometown, bade him make them well—their blind to see, their lame to leap. But he could not because of their unbelief. He was rejected, abandoned, maligned. Chadel.

***

Shavuot was just around the corner. The feast was celebrated each year to mark the anniversary of the giving of Torah to Mosheh on Mount Sinai. Since that day, every generation of Jews stayed awake to pray and await the earthly arrival of Yisrael’s heavenly bridegroom, Mashiah. Anointed one! She stayed awake with the rest but could not pray. The burden of her iniquities stayed her tongue, paralyzed her mind. Crushed her beneath its doleful load. She knew better than to seek chesed—mercy– from Yahweh, the Holy One, and could not ask for what was not possible from any other. And so her heart was stone and she was neither remorseful nor ashamed. “Besides,” Marah tossed her smooth, dark head, “there’s enough shame for me in this village that a caravan of camels couldn’t carry it!”

Hers was not always a tangled, mangled inner mass. She was unusually beautiful, even for a daughter of the handsome, wealthy Yakob and the comely Hannah. Her five sisters were admired and cherished by the villagers. A young woman of exquisite beauty within a family of beauties, her fine, porcelain skin, flawless figure, straight white teeth and thick, raven tresses made Marah the envy of women and a prize for men. So many men. She had long since lost count. What did it matter? She played the game as she saw fit now, sometimes for money, sometimes for her own amusement, but always in a vain attempt to fill the void, to deaden memories best left dead. A stone sprouted in the place where her heart once beat.

***

Perez had been her husband for nearly ten years when the twins were born. She loved and adored the tall, lanky silver merchant since childhood, and he her. Six years her senior, Perez loved her since she was a young girl with brown, skinny legs and laughing eyes and a shy, mischievous smile. Perez was rich and Marah was beautiful, twin truths that did not escape the watchful eyes of Yentl, the village matchmaker. The fact that both Perez and Marah only had eyes for one another made matters all the more convenient. And so it was arranged. Had the sun and moon fused their light with the morning stars and the angels sang a Hallel together, all would have paled beneath the radiance of the dusky-eyed teenager on her glad wedding day as Rabbi Ya’cov read aloud the written ketubah, the promise of bride and groom to love and cherish each other for a lifetime:

“I will…”

“I do…”

“Till death …”

“Do us…”“… part.”

Perez was a handsome, doting husband, Marah an exquisite, elegant wife. Charming and witty, she was a gracious hostess with a streak of petulance that occasionally puckered her pretty lips or arched her patrician brow. Their wedded bliss overflowed like the waters of the Jordan after the spring rains. At first. Months passed and no heir drew breath. Months tumbled into years without a newborn’s squall echoing throughout the immaculate, cavernous villa. The swaddling clothes she and Mama had sewn so carefully lay unused.

“For a fine young son!” Mama proclaimed in grandmotherly anticipation. Each month the newlyweds waited for signs of new life. Each month they were disappointed. After eight years of waiting, Marah saw disappointment climb Perez’s brow like the trellised grapes of her father’s vineyard. He never blamed her out loud, but she felt her failure, bore it like a millstone around her neck. It was then that Marah detected an unspoken reproach in the newly sprouted lines that plowed her husband’s face, felt it in his resistance to her touch. She sought to invade his eyes, but the bridge was well up. Perez stayed longer and longer at the shop, traveled further and further and more often. It seemed to her that Perez could bear anything but being alone with her. In the slight, vague pulling away from her she felt the distance between them widen into a chasm. The marriage withered, parched but for occasional showers.

And so it was that in the ninth year of their union, no one was more surprised than husband and wife to find that new life stirred in Marah’s womb. The job was palpable. A baby! Long-awaited incarnation of mother and father! Blessed be Thou, O Lord, King of the Universe, who has brought forth the fruit of my womb! The feasting and celebrating began, some lasting for weeks. Neighbors saw her with new eyes. Faces formerly downcast and silent now met hers with amiability and exhilaration. The veil had been lifted. Until delivery. Blue and still, the newborn boys never drew breath. Twins, they were both buried the next day in accordance with Torah.

Marah had barely recovered from the difficult, arduous birth when she found herself the recipient of a decree of divorce. Anemic, befuddled, barely able to stand, the mother who was not a mother found herself exiled to a thorny corner of her father’s vineyard. The estate included a stable, ten rooms, an upstairs and a downstairs, an orchard, and a well-stocked kitchen. A fountain’s silver spray punctured the flat sky. High vaulted ceilings, tessellated mosaics and a spacious courtyard greeted guests. Creature comforts abounded on the estate, but they could not touch the no-thingness within: no husband. No friends. No family. No children. No one. No one to either vanquish her shame nor share her heartbreak. Fingers buried in the glossy dark hair that draped her shapely shoulders, Marah’s body shook with stifled sobs. Her soul ruptured. Upon its bursting she resolved to turn to stone.

Torn from all she had loved and held dear, Marah resolved to neither love nor care about anyone. Ever. She would choose to live her life as it pleased her—what did it matter? What did she matter? She was chadel. A damaged masterpiece. Whispers flew. Greetings snubbed. An object of humiliation and condemnation, all doors were shut to the woman of stone. Marah tossed her proud, fine head and laughed. Slivered and strong, the oozing arcs of onus caught and devoured the widow who wasn’t a widow in a guiltless web of guile.

And so Marah laughed at the phylacteried, devout ones who constantly reminded God of their righteousness while she sought her diversions where they could be found. Left with substantial assets from the divorce, she had the means to entertain lavishly and often, which she did. Always with men. So many men. But never one who could touch her soul like those she lost.

***

It was another morning in Yerushalayim. Shavuot was a few days off. Indigo shadows poured off the hills, swallowing the city streets. Dawn’s first light nudged the dusky shoulders of night off the crown of Olivet, the Mount of Olives. The tavern door burst open.

“You!” a burly guard pointed his beefy hand toward the rumpled bed as his subordinates fanned out in the door frame.

“Seize her!” he shrieked, his face a mask of condemnation and contempt. Springing from the bed, Marah spat and clawed like a wildcat as her lover disappeared out a window. He escaped easily; not one of the five other guards pursued him. Temple guards rushed her as she quickly drew on her shift.

“Go to Ashkelon!” Marah screeched, which was like telling them to go to perdition. Clawing and shrieking, she was snatched from the bed and hurled into the empty dawn.She was barely dressed as the guards shoved her down the stairs and into the street. A group of lavishly robed religious leaders—the ones Marah had snickered at and spurned behind their ramrod-straight backs–awaited. Neither politicians nor philosophers, this sect of Jews stressed the laws of dietary purity, ate only with other “pure” Jews and assiduously avoided anything—or anyone—who was unclean. One look at their austere, inert faces told Marah exactly what they thought her lot in the afterlife would be, if there was an afterlife.

“What are they up to?” she wondered, nursing a cut lip and a purpled eye, “this brood of vipers would never be seen with the likes of me, unless…” She did not have to wonder long as they hustled her down the street, bare foot, her shift torn from her shoulders and her disheveled, unbound tresses fluttering in the breeze. Marah drew in her breath in ragged gasps as these spotless ones flung her to the ground inside a ring of righteous men. Darkened rooms, lightless taverns and clandestine trysts she knew. But this… this… ?

Realization dawned on Marah in the dreadful morning light: last night’s partner was a married man. Marah had known, but laughed. If he didn’t care, why should she? Then the door splintered off its hinges. Or had it? Had she dreamt that he crept to the door and removed the bolt just before dawn? How had he escaped so easily? They made her stand before the group.

“Rabbi!” the Pharisee shouted at the leader, a young man from Nazareth, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Mosheh commands us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

It was true. She had violated the Law, her crime was punishable by death. Caught in a web of guile, she expected an avalanche of stone to crash upon her at any moment. It was what The Code commanded. Trembling, she raised a clouded, tear-stained face and looked into eyes clear and piercing, rimmed with gold. He knew. He knew all. Her entire life was on parade before Him. Marah shuddered for the first time in a long time. Her face was on fire, ashamed. Yet there was something about this strong-shouldered man. Something… Somewhere…

Damsel flies drifted lazily along an arid stream bed. Anemic sunshine, fractured into shadow by overhanging olive trees, clustered into the sand like pleated skirts. Cicadas whined in the brush. Sheep bleated, wounded in a nearby pasture. A shepherd’s soothing tone. Healing balm.

From some dark recess of memory Marah recalled a voice: “You give a tenth of your spices—dill, cumin and mint” he rebuked the religious leaders, “But you have neglected the most important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. … You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

These were the same men who had studied Mosheh’s law, tacking on many additions to its 613 additions, such as emendations on Sabbath behavior that included allowing a man to ride a donkey without breaking Shabbat rules—unless he carried a switch to hasten the animal, in which case he would be guilty of laying a burden on it. A woman could not look in the mirror on Shabbat lest she spot a gray hair and be tempted to pluck it out.

“Swallow vinegar,” they might advise, “But do not gargle it.”

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord,” stated the third commandment, which broadened into a ban against using the Lord’s name at all. How often had she passed the “bleeding Pharisees,” those who had lowered their heads in external holiness and bumped into walls, and thus bore their bruises as badges of piety?

“Chadel!” they growled to all who failed to hold their own measure. Rejected! Yet this firm, gentle voice was in constant trouble with the same men who now accused her, shepherds who fed only themselves. Clouds without rain. Autumn trees without fruit. Wild waves and wandering stars, they promised soul-satisfying truth from Negev-dry hearts. Hadn’t he drawn their ire by healing on Shabbat? Hadn’t he allowed his disciples to pick corn when they were hungry on Shabbat? He conversed with women in broad daylight! He dined with publicans and sinners and claimed that nothing people ate could make them unclean. Most shocking of all, he addressed the El’Elyon, God Most High, as “Abba.”

He was surely no friend of theirs; would he, could he befriend her? If anyone could brand her chadel, it was he.

Of average height, build and features, the teacher bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. Then he straightened up and said to the Pharisees, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a sin-stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. A prickly silence ensued. Thud after thud serrated the tension as one stone after another fell from an open hand and the accusers silently exited, the older ones first. Soon only the young rabbi was left with Marah, a one-man remnant who had stooped and scrawled something in the sand, a quiet confrontation to her judges and would-be executioners.

What had he written? She turned slightly, attempting to interpret the dusty scrawl. But before Marah could get a good look he erased the fingered script, stood, and turned to face her. Those eyes. Boring into her, peeling away the layers of pretense and stoicism, he searched out her heart and scoured the depths of her soul until he excavated her secret. His look burned like spilt lamp oil. She gasped, craving the fire’s embrace as if its white hot blaze could burn the dross of her life, purifying. He knew her. And she knew instantly that he knew. Every mistake, misstep, lapse and failure, every hard and bitter thought of her life all flashed in review before those eyes. She cringed, steeling herself for the renunciation she could hear in her deepest sleep: Chadel! Rejected! Her sin pooled in the twin orbs of amber that gazed at her from an open, gentle face. No stones here. No stone in his eyes, nor his hand, nor his voice.

“Woman,” he said softly, “where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

Looking at the now-empty circle she responded with the only possible answer, “No one, sir.” A quiet understanding flooded her, freed her. Him. The spotless lamb of God. She, a brazen sinner. The only one qualified to stone her, He did not. Instead, the teacher’s eyes smiled as he spoke, his words cocooned in chesed, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

***

Blessed are You, Loving One, who pours Your mercy over all who call upon You

like a heavenly web of gold.

***

Two millenia later, they picked up stones. Prim piety dripped from their lips like snow melt after a spring rain as pastor and church leadership squared off from opposing corners.A ghostly apparition flitted from one whited sepulchre to the next. The rank odor of self-righteousness permeated First Brethren Church. Neck-deep in meretricious piety, the Board of First Brethren folded their spotless garments, plucked their snowy beards and peered down stern noses to render judgment: Chadel!

Pastor Olsen had sinned. His unguarded remarks offended a church family. Presupposing an unchivalrous intent, the Board of First Brethren threw him into their ring of kitchen spice tithers and took up stones. Pointing pristine, well-washed fingers, they let fly with stones of supposition, suspicion, rumor, innuendo, assumption, gossip, slander, condemnation. Chadel!

According to one wag, “The Board knows what’s best for the church, not the congregation.”

But surely this is overkill I thought. Surely something went wrong–terribly, horribly wrong. This is unjust! Supreme Judge, Infinite Sovereign, surely You see it! Where are You?

This time He was not physically present to shield the accused from the hard stones of the hard-hearted. Why do you not intervene? Why allow the stones to fly? Why let wolves drive away the shepherd?

But Pastor Jamison Olsen had violated The Code, a trespass for which his accusers saw but one recourse: stoning. Not with literal rocks as in Marah’s day, but the retribution meted out was boulder-sized nonetheless. The stones fell awkwardly as the situation degenerated that autumn, spiraling downward like a flak-riven B-17 over Ploesti. It took half a year to crash, months in which most of the rank and file members of First Brethren—us—were blissfully oblivious to the shrieking dog fight in our midst until the shells were spent. The denouement was Olsen exile.

Fallout rained down in sheets, shrapnelled and stinging. Relationships groaned and creaked. Zombie-like, we dreaded telephonic summons and soon became adept at clipped conversations and answering machine interceptions. Our stomachs somersaulted. Food repelled us. We could have bought stock in Kleenex as the church limped along, leaderless. Blind guides? Camel swallowers? Rainless clouds. Fruitless trees. Surfeited shepherds?

Sensitive as porcupines, as flexible as iron, the members drew their lines and issued their edicts, eyes, ears and hearts wide shut to any view but theirs. “The church is not a democracy” was their ready refrain, punctuated by the sharp staccato of “God’s will.” Whatever else it was, my husband and I mused, this “will” gutted grace and mercy as surely as a Grizzly devouring a fresh salmon.

***

In Bible times, Pharisees were pious keepers of the strict laws of Moses passed down during the two centuries since Judah Maccabee cleansed and rededicated the Holy Mountain. “The name `Pharisee’ comes from the Jewish word for “separated,” because they separated themselves from those who were not also Pharisees. Shoehorned into their strait jacketed observance of Jewish law, Pharisees believed in a continuing development in the understanding of the law. New interpretations become binding for them by approval of an assembly of accredited rabbis. The result was that Jewish religious law became more and more complex, more and more odious and onerous. In fact, few people could cope with such a scrupulous adherence to the law other than the Pharisees themselves, who in turn saw everyone else as “sinners.” Pharisees wouldn’t touch a non-Pharisee with a barge pole, dubbing them am ha’ aretz, “people of the land,” peasants, or more pejoratively, boors.Sadducees, on the other hand, were members of a religious group of Jews that was active in Judea, in Palestine, until A.D. 70.

The Sadducees gained influence in Judea after Judea became part of the Roman Empire in 63 B.C. Unlike the Pharisees, they accepted only the written law of the Hebrew Bible, and refused to recognize the Oral Law as binding. In addition, the Sadducees did not believe in immortality, insisting that the soul died with the body. They also believed that all people had free will and were responsible for whatever good or evil befell them. History tells us that both groups were important politically and spiritually in Palestine during the reign of Queen Alexandra (76-67 B.C.), and that the political role of the Pharisees ended under the reign of Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.).

Or did it?

After the exile of Jamison and his wife, Ruth, from First Brethren, we weren’t so sure. Indeed, the actions and decisions of First Brethren leaders seemed to cling to the coat tails of Palestine’s ancient religious sects like a leech to its host.

***

It was October. Pulpit vacant, First Brethren limped into autumn. Outside, vine maples erupted into arboreal volcanoes, showering molten leaves onto lawns and streets. Squadrons of geese wheeled up their landing gear, skimmed south in honking formation. At sunset the sky hung out silver sheets of cloud, firing river, bridge, and alders into a burnished glaze of glory. Autumn fluttered his fringe of frost, dusted his collar with cold and gray and occasional sun.

Inside, nothing could thaw the brittle chill that settled over First Brethren.Huddled behind their barbed wire barricades, the Board brethren circled their sanctimonious wagons, dug deep moats, drew up bridges and laid their land mines. No Trespassing signs festooned every “church conversation.” They composed their own tune, sang to their own sheet music. The few startled sheep who dared dodge the warnings soon encountered a mystifying maze of non sequiturs and sin qua nons. Every avenue ended in an obdurate stone wall thickly mortared with “divine” decrees.

Rapacious and unsated, the twin blades of rumor and retribution whirled at fever-pitch following Jamison’s departure, severing relationships, tainting views and clogging some hearts as thickly as arteriolosclerosis. A viscous film of pompous indignation settled over First Brethren Board members and some congregants. The former included a veritable legion of “God’s little helpers.” Popping up like overnight mushrooms, these self-appointed paragons of virtue didn’t drop their Jamison-bound stones after his exodus.

“He is so unrepentant” Sheila hissed at me after a November church service. The loquacious Board member’s wife continued, “He’s blaming the whole thing on everyone else.” Indeed, “unrepentant” became the favorite refrain of the Board, who, perhaps not knowing what other tune to play, decided to dance to that bedraggled ditty by default.

The saga continued and when that line grew thin, another waited in the wings: “He’s only repentant because he got caught” muttered the Board with its impeccable ethics, phylacteries clanging. “He violated The Code!” the Board chorused.

Didn’t they do likewise? Don’t we all? Bewildered, my husband and I wondered, Who among us is not chadel, a damaged masterpiece?

***

Blessed are you, O Lord, King of the world, who forms the light and creates the darkness. Blessed are you, O Miraculous One, who in your goodness renews the works of creation and crowns all our days with your mercy.

***

I was never disillusioned with Him. But those who dwell behind His household doors can be another story. I barely knew her when the First Brethren dam ruptured. A tall, lithe woman with chestnut hair and soft features, Ruth Olsen was mysterious to me, enigmatic. My husband and our four boys were relative newcomers to the church, having selected First Brethren out of the Yellow Pages when transplanted to our current locale. But when “Black Sunday” hit First Brethren, Chris and I sank through the floor. We shuddered, knowing only too well how soul-murder feels at the hands of “phylacteried phriends.”

It had happened to us. Branded chadel by fruitless trees and rainless clouds at a previous fellowship in another state, our scars were too deep for words, too raw to reveal. “I will never darken the door of another church as long as I live” I announced to Chris through gritted teeth.

I meant it. Bridge well up from the past, my sole reason for “darkening the door” of First Brethren was to bring my boys to Sunday school. So I crept across the church foyer haltingly, cringing externally, kicking and screaming internally. The effort was excruciating. I wouldn’t have come at all if not for my boys. But I realized that I couldn’t stay home alone while my family attended services, which was my preference, so I edged into the building week after week and did all I could to remain on the fringes. Later, when Chris’ work schedule required him to work on Sundays, I had no choice but to come on my own. The church was too far to walk, and the boys could not drive themselves. To me, however, the doors remained dark.

I drew back even further after Black Sunday. Still nursing my own bruises, I kept my distance. Then I saw Him. Waiting. Arms outstretched. He stood there, face wet and glistening. Waiting and watching. Rimmed with gold, his tear-streaked eyes nearly swollen shut from the granite missiles of the self-righteous both old and new, he whispered, “What are you going to do?”

Those eyes fixed on me, peeling away the layers of pretense and stoicism. Such sad eyes. Rejected? Abandoned? Maligned? A universe of chadel reflected in those aching almond orbs, and I knew. Stones meant for Marah, stones flung at Jamison, at Ruth, at me—each stone ultimately struck Him. For as much as you have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me. I stared back, mute. Unknowing. Tentative and teetering. And then I remembered.

***

A funny thing happened en route to First Brethren. Not “ha-ha” funny, but peculiar, odd “funny.” When skyrocketing housing and living costs made it impossible for us to afford pricy southern California, my brother and sister in law invited us north to share their house until my husband, Chris, found work and we could afford our own place. What began as an amicable arrangement spiraled into a cataclysmic disaster of epic proportions as my childless relatives soon wearied of the never-ending demands of a robust family.

Unable or unwilling to adjust to a house full of boys and rating possessions over people, our relatives’ initial sweetness soon soured into rank hostility. Desperate to escape the incendiary wrath of my insolent, hulking brother-in-law, I phoned Ruth one dour winter day. I don’t know why I called or what I expected. The phone rang and I gulped as I waited for someone to answer. Between the first and second rings I suddenly realized that Ruth would be well within her rights to hang up on me, considering the deep wounds so recently inflicted by the Board of First Brethren, where my family and I still attended. The phone picked up. It was too late to retreat.

“George arrived here out of the blue again” I whispered to Ruth over the phone, hands shaking. We were trapped as tightly as a beaver caught between the clenched jaws of a steel trap. Houseless and virtually resourceless, there was little we could do but grit our teeth and survive the situation as best we could.Whether telepathic or instinctive, Ruth seemed to sense my desperation. “Why don’t ya’ll come over to our place until Chris gets home?”

A newcomer in a new town with few contacts, my options teetered between slim and grim. I gingerly accepted the invitation, not knowing what else to do.Fumbling between uncertainty and chagrin on Ruth’s doorstep later, I half-expected to find a cankered curmudgeon or a rimed recluse inside. Once over the threshold, I found a bottomless well of benevolence that washed over me like a full moon at midnight.The scenario was replayed over and over each month or so as George, a long haul truck driver, arrived home unexpectedly, hostile and menacing. A panicked phone call to Ruth, a calm, soothing response. Open-doored hospitality at a moment’s notice, and my boys and I fled a powder keg for a safe refuge which more often than not included a home-cooked meal, usually the only hot food we had all week. I was thanked for ministering care and kindness to Ruth, but I couldn’t help think—and she could not have known—that the balance tipped far more heavily to her side of that scale than mine ever could.

***

Are the sweetest songs those wrung from broken strings? Wounds—whether from pockmarked pastures or cold, hard stone—can cause strange scars. It seems that those most deeply hurt are often the most effective healers. Tenderized by tragedy, their hearts are able to bandage and bear loads under which the less sturdy may stagger. Sweet songs from broken strings. Healing balm.

Sometimes the tune is too lavish, too delicious to predict, arriving in colossal kangaroo leaps or in minute mouse hops. It may not erase every hurt or mend every break, but it trickles into my chinks when I let it, sifts between the splinters, emanates from the inside out. I slurp up the song, smack my lips, slosh it around on my tongue. I taste it when my out-of-state sister phones “for no reason at all.” When the surgeon says “benign.” When my fingers grip a pen and do my bidding. With my arm in a sling. When a dank, dark sky scissors into blue confetti. When silver linings have clouds. A hug, a smile, an open face, the soft touch of a loved one’s hand in mine. The song often has a name: Chris, Nanci, Laura, Barbara. Ruth.

It took months, but our clouds gradually parted. Agonizing as the First Brethren tune was, we eventually found a strange healing in its otherwise devastating refrain. We knew chadel first-hand. Having heard the ugly lyrics before, we recognized the chorus at First Brethren. We knew. And so our own painful history finally poked first one elbow and then another into Meaning, nosed its way into Purpose, buttoned up Perspective and slipped into Hope.

As for me, doors that dripped darkness and foreboding for five long years were pried open and began to gleam as I watched the hand of a gracious, gentle God manifest itself in and through Ruth. In the watching and the waiting, sunshine seeps into my past in a way that may not have been possible had we not survived our own night. And so, my soul Siberia stumbles into spring.

***

Her name was not always Marah, “bitterness.” Her birth name was “Mezahab,” waters of gold. Ever after meeting the young rabbi, Mezahab changed, blossoming like spring wrest from a winter land by the kindest of hands. Restored by the Redeemer, Mezahab fulfilled her name, watering her village with compassion, generosity, kindness. Spring!

***

More than two thousand years and countless stones later, this is yet a land of winter, bristling with bare trees, coated with a sometimes snow. But the ice is thinning, melting in crusts and waves. Cyan skies chip away at charcoal clouds. Somewhere the sun is rising, fresh-faced and eager. I reach for it, warmed by its redolent, rich breath.

Can you hear it? The song restores damaged masterpieces, silences would-be accusers, shields from and shoulders the chadel under which none can stand. Sweet and lilting like the call of a whippoorwill, the melody is as strong and sure for Ruth and for me as it was for Mezahab. He is the singer; the music is His. And like a heavenly web of gold, His aria of chesed–mercy–is for all who have ears to hear.

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