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by Y. I. Hi (Yitzhak Hayut-Ma'N)


Part: 1 - b

I went to my mother's tent. My old mother. She set there sullen, but lifted her face to me. A face still marked with the remnants of beauty which her vexation threaten to cover. The moment I entered she started complaining, as she always did. Sometimes I thought that father's repeated sorties into the desert, to seek the words of God, were actually designed to avoid her and her complaints. Recently she had started to worry again about Ishmael. For years he had not entered her thoughts and then, all of a sudden she had begun worrying again that he might return and "spoil" me. When she finished complaining she started in on Ishmael and the danger he represented to me.

I explained to her that, when I was a young and vulnerable child, he might have done me harm, but that, now that I am grown up there was no longer any need to worry. "No" she said, "You are still a young boy". I tried to placate her and turn the conversation in a different direction, to growth and marriage. I said "Mother, while it is true that Ishmael had laughs with me, and I might have been tempted into sodomy, God forbid, when I was young and foolish. But see! now I am a grown up man. Now I need a woman. I must have a wife". But she answered as I knew she would, saying "Oh, no. You must not choose for yourself one of those terrible women from this place, from among the Canaanites. Do not do as Ishmael did. You must marry with someone from my country of birth, from my father's house". And I answered her as I had so many times before "All right, mother, I shall go there. I shall go to Damascus, to Haran". She quickly replied: "No, you must not go. You must not go on that way, to that dreadful place. For I know well that place on the way to Damascus. The devil lurks there waiting for you. Only Eliezer. He is the only one who can go, if your father will agree to release him". "But Eliezer is old" I said, "He was indeed a hero in his day, but now he is too old for such long journey". "No" she replied, "He must do it, and you must ask your father to send him". "But why me, mother? I asked "You are his wife, and he will do whatever you ask of him". Then again she reverted to sulking and complaining about her ever growing distance from father, and how he did not listen to her. "He does not hear me. He does not do what I ask. He listens only to Ishmael, I know, I know of his running about in the desert with Ishmael, and conniving with him. Together they are plotting intrigues. Ishmael is plotting against you. Really. I know. He wants to take your place". I could not listen any longer to these things, so I capitulated, saying "All right, mother, I shall talk with father and with Eliezer."

Using this as an excuse, I left her tent, and returned to father's tent. I found him sitting immersed in thought. On his left arm and on his forehead were the empty leather black boxes. He was still trying, with all his might, to contact his God. So I left his tent as well and left him alone.

I went in search of Eliezer, wondering where I shall find him. Always so busy, this old man. He was the moving force in our everyday lives. Everything was done according to his instruction. He was the one in charge of the household. Not father and not I. We kept busy, each one with his visions, studies and games. Whereas Eliezer - every practical matter was in his hand. I doubt that father will ever agree to discharge Eliezer from his duties to such a journey. A journey of several weeks to Damascus and to Haran. Who would manage the household in his absence? I would, of course. The burden would be placed on my shoulders. But I -  oh, how I yearn to journey to distant lands myself, to join the caravans of merchants travelling to Sheba, to Ur. Sometimes I feel so confined here in the desert of Be'er Sheva."

I found Eliezer in his tent. I find it difficult to accept that he has also ages. True, there is white in his thinning hair and in his beard, but he is still agile and strong, as when he took part in my childhood games. How much care he took of me in my childhood! how many stories he told me! he always had had time for me. Now he had already finished giving out all the work assignments, had sent scores of shepherds and workers to their day's work, and was free to talk with me. The dear old man. "So", he said to me, "I understand that you have seen your father this morning. How is he?". I tried to avoid a direct answer, but he saw this and remarked: "Yes, Ike, the old man is not what he used to be. I know. We shall have to do something. What is he engaged with now, more letter games?"

It was clear that Eliezer did not believe in the letter games, nor even in the sanctity of the Hebrew language. He would rather speak Aramaic or other languages, to cast his net over the seas, as it were. "Listen Ike", he continued, as always, "We must build an empire. It is not enough to sit here, in this small corner, in the desert. Not for this did God reveal Himself to your father, but for all of the children of Adam. We must do something. The duty is yours. I shall do my utmost and will propagate the Torah. I and my sons will always be at your service, but you must do some stirring act. Something that will appeal to the heart of the nations. You must be made a leader, instead of just sitting in your mother's tent. You must rise up. You must do something that will leave its mark in the world". "Stop it, Eliezer," I said, "I have news for you. Ishmael has returned!". As soon as I mentioned Ishmael's name, his face grew gloomy. I understood why. If Ishmael was to be the inheritor - he would take upon himself the management of the camp and all the slaves, and what need would he have of Eliezer? But I took no heed of his gloom, and continued: "Eliezer, father welcomed Ishmael lovingly and asked him to wait in the distant tent, where father would meet with him tomorrow. Father said that they would set out on a journey. Maybe we will be asked to go with them?". "For me," Eliezer sighed, "the time of journeys is over. I am no longer of an age for them". "If father can, surely you can!" I said: "And there is something else, Eliezer, just between you and me. Something I have talked about more than once with mother". He looked at me with smiling eyes and said, "Again the question of the wife?". "What can be done?" I asked him, "the truth is that I would rather go myself on that journey. But she will not allow me to go. Would you agree to travel to Damascus and to Haran to look for a woman for me?". "It is a terrible responsibility," he replied, "How can I find a wife for you? a woman whom you will love? You can not rely on someone else when it involves matters of the heart. You must find your woman by yourself. And anyway, perhaps a journey, an adventure, will contribute much to the molding of your character. Perhaps you would even return as the hero that I envisage you to be."

"Eliezer," I said, "let us have a deal. If father indeed intends for all of us to go on the journey tomorrow, when he asks you to come, you will not cause him distress....". "No", Eliezer interrupted "I will not cause him distress, nor shall I evade his command". "Good," I continued, "then, if we all set out on the journey tomorrow, and I shall find that you are still able to go on journeys, promise me that you will also go for me on that other journey". "All right," he said, "but for the deal to be fair, I also have a condition: if we do not go  on a journey tomorrow, you will go then by yourself to Damascus and to Haran. You must go out on many journeys! You must propagate the message, the message of the God of Abraham, throughout the world and to all the nations".

And I replied: "Eliezer, surely you are aware that I do not even know the name of the God of my father. How could I propagate His teaching? And anyway, father told me that someone else is destined to make the Name known. Israel is his name". "Israel?" Eliezer repeated the name, "Who is he and where does he come from?". "I do not know," I replied, "but his name resembles more Ishmael's name than mine. Perhaps Ishmael is the one to hear the Name and make it known?". "No, no," cried Eliezer, "Not Ishmael. Israel is like the name of Sarah, your mother. If you would but pay heed to her words, and listen to your mother's teaching, then you might also be able to hear the name of God. Now let us go to Ishmael's tent and hear what has he knows. I have misgivings about the journey which he will be a party to. Ishmael is big and strong and experienced - and he does not like you".
went secretly to the tent of Ishmael, and found that he was praying: He was calling to God, but he did not call Him "Elohim", rather "Allah" or perhaps "Alna". He said: "Alna, listen to my supplication. Alna give me the inheritance of Abraham. Allah, the good and merciful". "Hear that scoundrel" Eliezer said to me, "What does he pray for? To inherit from Abraham. To get you out of the way, or at least to keep you as an abject and wretched little brother without rights? A poor hostage? No, let me take care of this affair, and, you will see, who is gotten out of the way. Just as the idols of your grandfather Terah were removed in their day, so will he be."

"I too know what he wants," I said to Eliezer, "but what of his strange prayer? Alna means 'please do not' in Hebrew, so "Alna listen to my supplication means please do not listen, and 'Alna, give me the inheritance of Abraham' means please do not give it to me. He seems to say just the converse of what he wants. I know that uttering the right name is all important and that it is a very precise thing. Father says that if we knew the right name we shall be able to form through it anything that exists". I became silent for a moment, and looked at Eliezer, "Eliezer, please tell me, and do not conceal anything from me: is there truth in the story I have heard? did Abraham form living people in Haran? Is this what the reference to 'the souls that you had gotten in Haran' means? Did he take material in his hand and fashion it and engrave the letters in it until the Golems he made rose on their feet and became living persons?" I waited, fearing that he would not answer me again.

"What do you know about it?" Eliezer finally said. "Not much." I replied, "People tell stories. But even in my childhood, when father told me the alphabet, he would often look at me and say 'My son, when you will be able to look and see and understand, you should search and find the way to engrave and hew these letters on your soul.' And I understood that, if indeed father had formed and fashioned Golems from clay, and breathed a soul into them, it must have been accomplished through the secret of these letters. But I do not know whether the whole story is true or not. For I have heard people often tell a very different story, how father smote down the statues, how when he was a child he did learn to form human figures in clay, figures of idols, but, when he became enlightened and understood that they were all vain and a vexation of spirit - he smote them too. And when he was cast into the fiery furnace in retribution for smashing the idols, he survived it because of his belief in the true God which has no form and likeness..... Tell me, Eliezer, did father really form people in Haran?  ...and if so, why did he not continue with it?"

"When Abraham's family left Ur of the Chaldees," related Eliezer, "they took with them some of the soil used by your grandfather Terah to form the statues of idols, and also some ancient pieces of wood from which he carved the idols. These comprised a load of several camels, the most prized family fortune. I once asked Abraham about it, and he told me that he himself initially refused to take any of that defiled material, but his old father insisted, and he could not refuse his father. Old Terah claimed that this was holy soil, the soil of Babel, the soil of the Gate of Heaven - the gate to God. 'When we settle in the Promised Land,' Terah had said to Abraham, 'with the help of your God, we shall spread there the holy soil, and from it build there an altar, and build anew the gate of heaven instead of Babel which became corrupted, and with the clay we shall form tablets, in order to inscribe on them the teachings which God will give you.' And so they kept the soil as a priceless treasure until they came to Haran. And later, when Abraham's father died, and Abraham was in a grave quandary and seeking his way and the connection with God, he experimented with the material: he fashioned human figures of it and called to God, trying various names and invocations."

Next ... Part 1 - c

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