Blessed is she....
Beth'anya...the first of the week, 9 Nisan, 3793...
“Dovid…. Damn it, Rachael, where is that boy of yours?” Shimon put his hand to his face to wipe away the sweat on his forehead. He sighed deeply and looked once again around the house. His wife turned away to hide her shame and fear before answering in a lie.
“I don’t know, Shi, my darling husband.” The tale threatened to grown to great proportions until her husband cut her off.
“Don’t go there, Rachael. I may be your darling, but only when you want something from me. Where is the boy. I need help with that table that Reb wanted finished days ago. If he can’t be bothered to help me out there will be hell to pay. Your son is weak, but he’s all I have besides those girls of yours, and neither one can hold a hammer or a plane, so find Dovid and get him back here.” Rachael nodded nervously without a word.
Shimon was reasonable most of the time, but the need to please always took precedence when it came to Reb Natan; having a customer who was so important in the community had to help the business, even if it might mean….hiring someone else eventually. Truth be told, the boy was almost worthless when it came to building and fixing things. His own father was a gentle soul; a shepherd taken from his own flock too soon in life. Shimon could be a reasonable man, but had no patience for a boy who was the fruit of another; so to speak, even if he did say he loved Dovid. Rachael hurried from the house.
“Oh, Leah, you’re so precious!” The girl laughed and soon was joined in by her friends; not a malicious laugh, but an odd recognition of something only the four shared. Becca grabbed the girl by the hands and lifted her to her feet. Their noontime routine always seemed to culminate in some game that involved dancing and singing. The girl smiled at Becca and at her two sisters; both of whom giggled.
“Maybe she was thinking about Benny?” Haddasa laughed and her sister poked her in her arm sharply.
“If she is, she’ll have to fight me for him. I saw him first, and besides, I’m the oldest…I should marry Benyamin….and I am the prettiest as well, so there.” Ruth stuck her tongue out at the other three girls, but her meanness was just an act. She loved both her sisters and her friend Becca, but what girl could ever pass up an opportunity to tease? Leah’s face grew red and hot.
“I don’t….want to play anymore.” The girl looked around at the other three and blinked back shameful tears.
“Abba Shimon will be looking for me, and I’m probably in trouble anyway!” Leah put her head down and began to cry softly. A daily ritual that neither her sisters nor her best friend could prevent, since playtime at noon always ended with her leaving abruptly to return home just in time to be met by her stepfather. If she was lucky, a lecture and a swat on the backside were all she would find waiting for her. If Abba Shimon was angry, a beating might be the girl’s reward.
“I have to go!” Leah turned quickly and ran up the hill toward their home. Becca shook her head.
“It isn’t fair! Why???” She protested to no one and everyone; her friends looked up the hill toward their house and then at Becca. Haddasa, while the youngest of the family, was probably the strongest and certainly the most pragmatic. She shrugged her shoulders. Ruth, on the other hand, would cry at a moment’s notice, which she did just then. Becca hugged her tightly and kissed her best friend on the cheek.
“I don’t know. I wish the Lord would answer my prayers and yours.”
“I think he answered someone else’ prayers, Becca. That’s the problem.”
“What do you mean, Dassa?” The girl tilted her head in question. Haddasa smiled a half-smile and pointed up the hill toward their home.
“Maybe he knew….like the prophet? Maybe he knew before we were even born that Shimon needed a son to help him?” She shook her head and frowned a tearful frown in a rare show of emotion. Her eyes followed the path up the hill just in time to see her stepfather slap her brother Dovid and drag him rudely into the house
The following day...
“Rachael?" The voice called from the doorway. She looked up to see her cousin Miryam weeping.
“What's wrong? Dear Lord g_d...no....no.” Haddassa turned to find her mother hugging her Dodah Miryam. Dodh Eleazar must have died. She rushed to the women and pulled both into the house and to the table. Pouring water for them she had them sit on the bench, where they hugged and continued to weep.
“What's wrong?” Ruth cried out as she ran into the house. Seeing her mother and her aunt told her without a word. She burst into tears. Dodh Eleazar was a kind and gentle man like her father, his brother. She went to her mother and fell at her feet, holding onto her legs. Rachael stroked her hair. While a time might come for a more pronounced demonstration of grief, for the moment it was a private but still devestating loss for who had sustained too much sorrow already.
“Ima...what?” Ruth looked at her mother and over at her Aunt Miryam. Where could her Aunt Martha be?
“Shhhhhh....shhhhh.” Rachael patted the girl on the back; she continued to hold tight to her mother's legs as if she was aboard a ship tossed in a harsh and cruel sea of sadness. Haddassa leaned close to her sister and gave her a cup of water. The two were almost twins to their aunts in a way. Haddassa was the practical one; taking care of whatever needed to be done, just like Dodah Martha. Ruth, on the other hand, almost completely resembled her Dodah Miryam in looks and in personality. Contemplative; almost mystical at times. And of course there was Dovid.
The boy seemed to take after no one; as if there was no template. Other than temperament, he wasn't at all like his father; at least in stature, being shorter than even his younger sister. He would deny it if anyone but Haddassa or Ruth or Becca was around, but in his heart, he almost treasured the fact that he resembled his mother; something his sisters and his friend would tease or celebrate, depending upon their mood. On that day he most closely resembled his sister Ruth, but for the face turned away in shameful tears. If his father ....If Abba Shimon caught him crying, even in grief? Even in another painful loss? He shuddered to think of what the man would do.
“If you want something to cry about, boy, I can arrange that very easily. Is that what you want?”
Most of the time the question would be met with silence other than a stifled sob. Too often, the boy would give into the moment, and a beating would follow that promised to be worse than the last one he had received. He shuddered and stepped away from his mother and aunt and sisters; almost cowering in silence. Rachael looked at him and put her head down. The time had come and gone for any hope of protecting the boy; she had all she could handle just making sure her daughters were safe. She shook her head once before lowering her gaze to the floor in shame.
Dovid took a deep breath and stepped outside into the hot sun. He had determined his course of action which, once made, would be irrevocable. The boy felt he had no other choice.
The Passover eve was almost upon them, and it would be no celebration, even in observing Seder. That morning Dovid heard his stepfather calling for him. He had done everything Abba Shimon had requested, but nothing ever seemed to satisfy the man. Dovid waited until the man left the house; a walk to visit Reb Nathan. The boy watched until he was out of sight before stealing off down the hill to the outskirts of town; questions burned in his heart that only talking would satisfy; not with a teacher or a scribe, but with his father’s sisters. If he hurt this much over the loss of Dodh Eleazar, how must they feel, and could he get past yet another death?
The following day...the day before the Sabbath and Passover...
Dovid walked the long mile to his uncle's house. He ran when he saw his Dodah Miryam. He went to speak.
“Child? Shhhh….” Miryam put her hand up to quiet the boy. She pointed to the small group of people standing in the courtyard. Dovid took especial notice to the lean looking man speaking to the rest. His face was kind; a look of care that the boy had only seen once in his lifetime; his father Aharon's smile and easy demeanor seemed to be almost mirrored in the man. Dovid stepped closer, and one of the young men with him put his hand out in caution.
“Jakob…let the boy come.” Another put his hand on the kind man’s arm.
“No…seriously, Yonni….it’s alright. Let him come, alright?” The older man nodded and ushered the boy closer.
“Are…are you a Reb….???” The boy spoke haltingly.
“He wants to know if Jehoshua is a Reb,” Shimon laughed. Endru looked at his brother and shook his head.
“Shi…don’t tease. He may even be part of the family.” He pointed to the two women standing at the archway into the courtyard. Jehoshua nodded; having an almost foreknowledge about him.
“You must be Dovid. Your Aunt has told me all about you.” The boy blushed as his face threatened to grow hotter than it already had gotten only a few hours past sunrise. The man smiled at the boy and motioned to him to draw closer.
“I am very sorry about your Dodh Eleazar. You must have been close.”
“He was my….my father’s brother.” The man stooped down and looked the boy in the eyes; even in bowing the man seemed so much bigger than Dovid, but then he always felt small. And he saw something he had only seen once in his life; the day his father died. Dovid blinked back his own tears in surprise over the tears in the man’s eyes that seemed to recall the gentle spirit of his late father.
“I must pay my respects to your family. Come along.”
“Why….why didn’t you come? We sent word almost six days ago?” Martha spoke to the man as if she already knew him; a familiarity that showed more of a pleading sadness than a rebuke.
“If you had been here, my brother would still be alive.” Miryam said, her head down and shoulders shaking. A few of the neighbors stood and began wailing. Martha looked to the group of young men in appeal, and two of them, along with a smallish looking woman urged the people to be quiet and pointed toward the archway out.
“Please, they’ve been through enough. I know you mean well, but please leave for now?” Endru said softly; his kind smile disarming the disappointment and embarrassment of the moment. A few moments later the women were alone with the small group of friends and Dovid.
“Where is he?” Jehoshua asked, and his question received puzzled looks from everyone except for the boy, who tugged at Miryam’s sleeve.
“I think he means where Dodh Eleazar is buried.” A few minutes later after a walk up and down a small hill, they came to the tomb. A stone lay against the entrance.
“Remove the stone,” Jehoshua said. Martha’s face grew pale.
“He’s been buried nearly four days….you can’t expect….” Her voice trailed off as he half-smiled; his expression seemed to take the anger out of her voice, and she nodded as he used his hand to direct the young men. The woman of the small group, Cepha’s wife Dinah, stepped close and put her arm around Martha’s shoulder and squeezed.
“Watch and see the glory of the Lord!” The young men had moved the stone. He bowed his head and offered up a prayer.
“Eleazar…let’s show everyone just what the Lord can accomplish. Come out of the tomb!” Jehoshua spoke calmly, and a moment later at the entrance to the cave a man stood. He was wrapped loosely in burial strips.
“Remove his burial cloths and set him free.” He almost laughed as the men helped his friend out of the strips of cloth. By midmorning word had gotten around the village of what the small group had witnessed. Some felt Eleazar must have just been in a deep sleep, and some doubted he had ever been buried. And some …some attributed it to something or someone much greater than themselves. Dovid feared it had been all just made up or a mistake, but deep in his heart he felt that he finally might see the deliverance of the Almighty in his life…perhaps in all of their lives.
Dovid opened the door slowly and stepped inside. Abba Shimon sat at the table. His mother and sisters were not there; he must have missed them after he left Eleazar's home.
“So, you were going to stay away all day? Was there something that made you think I wouldn’t notice you were gone?” Shimon shouted at the boy, threatening the boy with the back of his hand. The boy stood his ground; not in defiance, but not in surrender either. He just stood, awaiting the blow that would never come.
“I’ve grown tired of you! You’re not even worth the energy it takes for me to raise my hand,” he spat. The boy’s lip trembled as his stepfather turned his back.
“Perhaps I can have you apprentice with someone who doesn’t need a boy?” The words stung in so many ways; not because of the veracity of the statement, but that the man had intended for every word to hurt. But part of him…the deepest part that only a handful of souls knew and understood? That part almost treasured the insult, since it wasn’t an insult at all; at least in the truest sense.
“Get out of my sight.” It was clear the man had been drinking; a beating would follow swiftly if Dovid stood still. He backed away slowly as the man put his head down and wept drunken tears.
Yerushalá¡yim...the morning before Passover Eve...
A brief shower brought some relief to the heat, but also provided something that the child hadn’t expected. Passing down the narrow path over the back of the hill out of town, she noticed the large puddle that had formed in the rut. She looked down and saw someone she barely recognized but had known all her life. The girl in the reflection was small and plain looking; the middle child who had inherited her mother’s less than pretty looks. But looking just like her mother suited her just fine. She nodded at the girl staring at her from the puddle and both smiled.
A while later she stood in the alleyway of a row of houses; she had been there before, but not dressed as she was now. She knocked on the door and was greeted by a very tired but friendly looking woman; her mother's friend Dvora.
“I…I am lost. I was with my family and I got separated.” Leah looked with at the woman with big pleading eyes.
“You shouldn’t be alone, girl. You can stay the night and maybe your family will find you tomorrow. My nephew Endru and his brother Cephas and his wife and several of their friends are here for Seder. You may join us.” The woman beckoned the girl to sit at the table along with several young men and a young woman, along with her and her own daughter.
She paid little attention to the ceremony; her own heart was heavy with grief and her body weighed down with the aches and fatigue of the trip; not very far indeed, but even the shortest of trips can be tiring when made alone. She heard the man speak and looked up. A friendly and familiar face among vaguely familiar faces, he smiled warmly at her. A moment later a young man; thin and almost sickly, spoke.
“It’s not me.” His words almost became a question that her ‘friend’ addressed with a half-smile and a head shake. A moment later the man sitting next to the fellow who had asked the question got up suddenly and left the room. By now the girl had become sleepy. The daughter of the woman of the house noticed and motioned for her to join her. The two arose and walked into a room off to the side.
“Here, you can sleep, and in the morning I’ll help you find your family, if that’s alright with you?” Leah nodded and smiled sheepishly; she was surprised at the welcome woman and the daughter had extended to her.
“My name is Yehudit.” Leah went to speak and the girl raised her hand to stop her.
“Let me guess?” The girl giggled and put her hand to her chin.
“Is it…Mattiyahu? Or maybe Toviyah?” She giggled again and Leah put her hand to her mouth to stifle a gasp. Fear crossed her face and she began to tear up. She looked around, and the only door out of the room was blocked by the girl. She held her hand up, but instead of stopping her, the girl pointed to the door.
“Ima and I knew the second you came to our door. It’s alright. We won’t say anything. I just hope you will be …safe.” She pointed to a large bruise on Leah’s wrist. Leah looked into the girl’s eyes and saw the truth in her, and gave into the vulnerable moment and began to cry. The girl pulled her close and patted her on the back.
“I hope that the Lord will grant you your prayers….” She paused and looked at her. It was only then that she saw the girl’s left foot was turned severely inward. The girl smiled and spoke softly.
“And my prayers as well, yes?” She tilted her head as if to ask a question; the words unspoken but conveyed in the girl’s accepting smile.
“Dovid……” the boy wept in the girl’s arms.
“No…silly! I know that! I mean, what’s your name…YOUR name?” She practically shouted it. From behind the girl, over her left shoulder, a kind face smiled at the two of them; the most loving eyes either of them would ever see in any lifetime as he spoke gently.
“Her name is Leah.” The kind man said with a smile and a soft laugh before continuing.
“Good evening, children. Rest well.” He pivoted and walked out of the room, leaving the two alone.
The next day...
“Our guests departed suddenly in the night,” the woman said as the girls woke; the sun was already high in the sky.
“A night, I should add, where you talked it away until almost dawn?” She pointed to the door, as if they had just departed, seemingly upset, but with a smile that indicated she knew that girls might talk the night away as new friends. A moment later a girl’s voice came from outside along with an urgent knocking on the door.
“Ima Dvora…come quick…the teacher…they….” The girl stood nearly out of breath. Dvora shook her head.
“They said…they said…that they would kill him!!!” She pulled up her skirt and tied it off to her waist and ran quickly to the door, stopping only long enough to turn back to look at the girls; her eyes already filled with tears over the hopelessness she felt. And then she was gone out the door.
“Come, Leah…quickly…they…” Yehudit stood and stared at Leah, wondering why the girl wasn’t moving. She realized that the girl had no idea what she was talking about. She rushed to Leah’s side and pulled her hand gently.
“Jehoshua…the kind man…” She paused, fearing that even speaking the word would make it come to pass; she needn’t have worried over that. No matter what she said, good or bad, the man they knew as Jehoshua was even at that moment giving up his last breath. The sky darkened, plunging the house into a dim fearful pall. They felt the ground beneath them shake ever so slightly, and both girls fell together, holding onto each other for dear life.
“No….NO….NOO!’ The two almost wailed; their voices a sad duet of grief as they realized what had happened. And then…in just a few moments…it was over. The sun peered out from a fleeing cloud; almost fearful in the midst of its own return. No matter; the girls continued to weep, realizing at least for that moment…maybe their lifetimes in time, they had no hope for the healing they sought.
Two mornings later the girls had risen to help Dvora; she was almost beside herself with grief. The man had been a friend of her nephew….her friend; kind and true and caring; more than most for a widow with a deformed child. She continued to weep; her travail not the prolonged wailing of the mourners who almost performed that task, but as one that deeply felt the loss of the kindness and love she feared might never visit her door again. Yehudit walked to her mother and kissed her neck; a blessing of sorts in an attempt to show her mother that kindness and care did not cease at the death of their friend. A soft knock came to the door.
“Ima? Ima Dvora?” She looked to the door to find Dinah, her nephew’s wife, standing there.
“His…the teacher’s mother and a few of us are going to the tomb…to anoint his body.” Dinah blinked back tears, trying very hard without any success to keep from crying. Dvora shook her head no; it was just too hard to face. Dinah nodded silently and went off down the path. A moment later she realized she wasn’t alone. She turned to find Leah and Yehudit walking behind her. She nodded and smiled.
They arrived at the tomb in time to see four other women standing there. All were weeping softly as they stared at the tomb. The large stone had been rolled aside.
“Where have they taken him?” One of them asked. A voice came from behind, and they turned to find a man standing almost casually with a broad smile on his face; his expression belying the soberness of the moment.
“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here! He is risen.” The women hurried to the entrance to the tomb, looking in to see the burial cloths lying on a slab.
“Come…we’ve got to tell everyone.” The younger three of the four women shouted. They ran off, leaving Dinah and Yehudit and Leah behind along with the older woman; Mara, the mother of their friend Jehoshua. She looked almost serene.
“You’ll be alright, children,” she said to the girls, and Dinah nodded in agreement. Even though they held no understanding of what had taken place, their hearts seemed to almost grow big with peace…a peace that would transcend the coming days and weeks. They truly would be alright.
Beit Lechem...ten years later...
“Ima? Will you and Dodah Leah need anything before I go?” The little girl looked at her mother and smiled. The woman coming into the house just then nodded.
“Yes, Rachael. Just a little help for a moment or two? Dodah Ruth and Dodh Benyamin will be coming for dinner; She is almost at her time, but I think a few more days before your cousin arrives."
“Yes, I think you’re right, Yudi, my dear sister.” Leah laughed and nodded. The next generation was getting bigger every day. Ima herself would be in her fourth month as well; perhaps a boy, but no matter what, the family would be blessed with the knowledge of the love of their Lord, and Leah and Yudi would make sure that they knew just how much!
Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord. Psalm 118:26
Please note: All dates and days approximate due to variations in the historical narrative.
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