Monday, June 30, 2008

everybody loves my eyeshadow

no fewer than 5 of my coworkers, including those who are male and female and ranging from people my age to those in their thirties or forties, complimented me both on my eyeshadow and my coordinated outfit today.

clearly, pink glittery eyeliner is the way to go!

emotional 'Get Out of Jail' card

I read a fascinating post by Treppenwitz in which he notes that his saving 82 people at one point in time is his " emotional 'Get Out Of Jail' card for some of the darkest moments of my life. So in a sense, one might say that they saved me too."

What is your Get Out of Jail card? What good deed have you done which never fails to uplift you, no matter how sad you are? This may or may not coincide with being your proudest moment. Alternatively, what good quality or character trait do you have which enables you to get out of jail?

a description of darkness

darkness is

a deep desire to make pain tangible, so that like a flash of light on the water it is no longer elusive, rather one has a portal into that world whenever one so desires

an anger so deep that it turns on oneself as the most constructive object of one's own hatred, an anger that uses oneself as its canvas for its artistry, so that one's poetic moments are inflicted on the self through an array of means

a knowledge that the ability to hurt must be destructively linked to the way in which that hurt is made more vivid and more real, forced into color, for in that color lies the immediacy of understanding and its passion revealed

a tunnel so black that one cannot get out of it, for there is no light, only people to catch you and hold you close so that, like a child, you take their hand and follow. except that requires the trust of a child, so one can only do that if one is equipped to trust, and that too takes time

but happily, i have retained the innocence of a child and can be led out of the tunnel by following cast away balloon strings tied into a rope, thin enough for me to grasp, colorful enough for me to focus upon, leading me away and onward to pretty hills and different places

with the understanding that the darkness is not forgotten and is actually my friend; the tunnel is my playmate and i may walk back in whenever i so choose

tunnel to another world; pluto sits in silence


Something nice that everyone should consider doing at one point in their lives, and preferably today, as all it takes is one email: Express to your friends why you care for them, not just that you do. The assumption that they know why is wrong. People rarely know why; they judge based on your actions instead. So tell them what it is you see in them, because those are the words that are going to buoy them up later- when they need it.

And on that note, thanks to YCubed, Muffins, Jordan, Lightman, Simcha, Ibn Avraham and Moshe, who all helped me deal of late. You guys are amazing and you already know it, so we're good on that score.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

fiery darkness

welcome to the darkness.

there is a world there, beyond the world we know, and it is filled with fire. dripping flame that is placed together like a goldsmith's necklace, intricate and interlocking, a beautiful and fantastical image, replete with the beauty that one would find in charms, animals with horns or small hooves or dazzling feet, and the fire shows up against the darkness.

and one looks at the fire and is amazed by its grandeur, the majesty and awe with which it fills the world. one looks at the fire and sees his face reflected in the fire, crowned with thorns, and one sees that the thorns are only partially consumed, for it is the fire of the burning bush which is reflected in one's very face- the light that one throws off from one's skin, the light that consumes but does not consume.

it is this that terrifies people, this light that has the aura and the radiance of that which burns but does not burn.

but it is not the fire that truly consumes people; it is the darkness that lies beyond it. there, for ages and ages, in an unquenchable mass of beautiful darkness, unlit by constellation or desire, there exists a velvet darkness such as could not be imagined, a darkness that seduces, a darkness into which one walks and from which one cannot emerge.

i have never been acquainted with this darkness
until now.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Well what's been going through my mind is "Welcome to your graduation." The distinction being, I don't think that graduations work quite the way you are told they do in high school. That's not a graduation, simply working your way up through a couple of grades. Graduations happen at the stunningly beautiful or painful moments in your life; graduations happen because of you, because of what you are, not because of what you want or because you've received a meaningless piece of paper. And what I also come to realize is that God, I have no control whatsoever. And how I wish I did! And how I've fought with God to get that control, as though if I had it I would be all right. If I had the ability to control my life, my feelings, my thoughts, anything and everything that I am I would somehow be all right. But that is not what this is about. It's not the truth. God, you've been teaching me always to surrender and you know I fight you every single day, every single step of the way. But the graduations come when you win. When I acknowledge that you are mightier than I (O God of the whirlwind!) and you rule the world. And that I can't fight it, God; I can't make You do it the way I want You to, and what's more, I understand why. It's because I can't learn that way, because I'm made of such stubborn stuff that you've got to beat it into me; you've got to pound me and make me learn by making me live it. But you understand why I don't volunteer for this opportunity, just wake up in the morning happily and say, hey God, where's the Agiel today, and can I wield it instead of you? Because I'm not Richard Rahl and I don't feel sad for Denna.

All right, I admit it. I can't control anything. You happy now? You've got what you wanted? No, I don't think you have. You've got me to admit I haven't got the power, but that doesn't mean you want me unhappy. I know what you're up to. You're going to put me through hell before I find what is true, what is happy, what I am meant for. And God, I admit it to you freely; I am scared. I am scared; I don't want this, don't want the pain, don't want the ups and downs and pitfalls and free-falling. I don't want it but I understand it, because You've done it enough times to me that I can understand it; I freaking get it. I get You. I know what you're doing here; I know that I need to learn this stuff but that doesn't mean I have to want to. I think You can understand that, yes? So I'm still fighting You, and You know it, but at the same time I am aware of what you want of me, which is to live, to experience, to suffer through and figure it out as I go along. And I'll give You my best damn shot of doing it, but that means I am going to fight with you sometimes, and be angry at you other times. Which is what I'm being right now, difficult. Yes, I am a difficult child, and you know that because I'm your child. I get it from you. My inheritance, made in your image, is to be just as difficult and stubborn as you could possibly want me to be. You wouldn't take as much pride in being able to break me otherwise, would you?

That's the way this works. You break me into shards so as to humble me completely so that I piece myself back together, stronger than before. Something new, something beautiful. And I exist like that for a little while before you break me again, deeper and more painful than last time. There are so many stages to this; I see them. But God, you've got to forgive me for being scared. Must it hurt so much always? I am going to do it; I can walk through fire if You make me, but the most difficult thing is to make it my choice. To make me realize this is the way it's going to be, these are the rules of the game, and then make me operate off of them. So okay, God, let's put it this way. I'll do this, because I have to, but I have the right to be scared and unhappy and in all ways not okay with it. Because it's difficult to want to learn this way. This is not something you can want. This is Evey in "V for Vendetta" being tortured by V without knowing it, but realizing in the end that it's to make her stronger and that God is in the rain. That's the game you are playing with me. I don't know it's torture because it is so pleasurable for a time, and you even allow me to think it can happen. But then it turns out you were just playing. Trickster God! And I admire you for it. I admire You even for Your trickery...

God, do you mind that this is how I pray to You? A public prayer in order to announce your strength and to tell you I do appropriate homage to You. That I love you, you know, that at times I hate you, you also know. That I realize what you are doing afterwards, but never at the time, you know most of all. I love my murderer, Heathcliff says; at times it is very apt! I love my God; I love my murderer. That's what Holocaust survivors have, that kind of awareness of who and what you are. There are some of them who can never forgive You for what they learned about themselves because of You. That's what kills us, you know, when we are less than what we are. Nothing to do with the physical pain. Only with our expectations of ourselves. God, do you take pleasure in making me fall? I think you do it only to teach me it is possible. And more than that, what is possible. There is so much I would not know except you made me fall.

So stubborn a student and so demanding a teacher! Do you expect me to be all smiles? No, no, I know you don't expect it. But what the hell is your plan for me? Why do I need all this; what is it for? If only I could know what it was for, it would be easier to bear. But I understand- Evey couldn't know her role till she had braved death for it. And it's the same thing. I will not understand until I need to. And in the meantime, you are "subtle but not malicious" as you dance through my life. A whirlwind? No, not a whirlwind. A breath, a thought, an idea playing across my mind. That is what you are, God; you are subtle. You allow me to feel so that you can take all feeling away. You allow me to pray so that you can refuse my prayers- although I know you shall grant them later. God, there are times where I swear I could say I hate you- and there are times where I love you so, and those too are true.

Oh, my graduation. How I have graduated! How many graduations do you think I have had in this year alone? I don't want to think about it; it's too funny in a contorted, gasping-for-laughter kind of way. If I could wish for anything, I would wish to understand, just as Moses did. And you would deny me, not for the question in and of itself- that was their fault and their misunderstanding; there was never anything wrong with the question- but because the best way to understand is to live the answer. You answered Moses' question. You had him live the answer. You had him live not entering the land. And how he understood that, then, and how bitter and beautiful an understanding it must have been. Is this your plan then, to have me live the answer as well? To fall and fall until I do?

You've taught me already to give up my pride. What pride before a being who can wreak havoc in my life whenever He so chooses? You've had me give up my control. I know, God, believe me, whose world it is and who runs it. And I know it's not me. What more is there for me to give? What else are you going to take from me? You've had every feeling I possess. You have had my hatred, my thanks, my praise, my love and most of all, my anger. What else can I give up to you, God who is Mine? I don't know. But because I don't have the imagination to conceive of it, does not mean that You do not...

You know your opponent and you know I'm damned stubborn. So we're going to play this game, and I'm going to keep losing, and you're going to know it's not really losing but part of your plan to teach me, to have me keep on graduating, from one level to the next. But what is at the end of the game? Not eternal bliss, no. Perhaps an extremely thorough understanding of myself, the entry way to knowledge. But is it worth it? I prayed for this once; would I have prayed for it if I had known the price? Yes, yes, I think I would. Because I'm stubborn, I'm stubborn, I'm stubborn. And God, do I know it! And do you know it! And there is nothing else in the world to do but suffer through and await the bliss you are going to show me at one point in time, or the answer you are going to teach me, over and over, until at last I too will not enter the Promised Land.

And the worst of it is- the worst and most beautiful part- is that I will understand! I will understand the whole way through, just as Moses did, just as You do. I will comprehend it when you deny me the Promised Land because it's not you who is denying it to me- it is me- because I bow my will before Yours. Moses could have taken a step- he could have walked in- you would have killed him but he could have, if he had desired, but he didn't, he didn't! And why didn't he? Why didn't he, I ask you! Because he loved you! Because he loved you still, even then. As I am damned to do as well, and you know it, you know it! You couldn't do this to anyone except that they would love you throughout it all. What a damned, damned game, these levels and graduations and knowledge of the different gradations of pain and beauty. Must they always be linked? There are people who break under this; who says I won't?

Ah, but You know- and I know- that I won't.

I would hate you, God, but I can't because I love you so. I appreciate the brilliance of this game you play with my life, and it allows me to revere and respect You even as I fight it. I find your skill breathtaking, the simplicity of your moves majestic. In everything You do I see beauty.

It would just be so much easier if I could hate You- if I could, of my own volition, enter the Promised Land.

Dancing in Fountains

Do you remember the book From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler?

One of the best scenes in that book was that of the children bathing in the fountain at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. And I always wondered whether it would be possible to bathe or dance in a fountain, just for the pleasure of it, just to see if you could. What would it be like to do that, especially since fountains are the equivalent of wishing wells, which means you'd have your bare feet up against the coins that people throw in, and engage in a dance with the world and nature as one?

Well, now I know! Not at the Met, but at Columbus Circle. If you ever desire to go dancing in fountains at Columbus Circle, you just need to be there at four or five in the morning. It's gorgeous at that time of night, because everything is dim, but the fountain itself is lit up, and so the water is lit. And you can go dancing in fountains! This aside from the fact that you meet the nicest homeless people in the world.

I think I need to be educated about homeles people. For example, I hadn't realized there were all different sorts before; I had figured they somehow fell into a conglomerate. But of course, that's so untrue! So while I was at Columbus Circle with Jordan, we saw this man with a water bottle who was pouring water from the fountain into the vents near the benches. We approached him to ask him why, and in wonderfully articulate English he explained that there are fumes rising through the vents, and that he is trying to stave off their effects. He said that he is against hatred and the slow poisoning of people. When I questioned whether he loved people, then, he said affection is a different matter, but at least he does not hate them. And I found that to be beautiful. Because here he is, this man, truly believing that terrible fumes rise up out of the vents of the city, and does he abandon his post? No! Instead he goes on, pouring water from one vessel into another, saving the city in his own small way.

Perhaps different homeless people are actually supermen in disguise. And I think that's wonderful, that I got to see one of them, because it makes me appreciate them so much the more. How many people can claim they have stayed up a night in order to try to save other human beings they don't even know?

Then we met Becky, who identified herself as a "traveler" rather than a homeless person. She is lovely and very pro-Israel, and told us she would make Jordan a blue-and-white bracelet in the colors of Israel one day. She is the most normal person you would ever meet, except that she believes in aliens and would mention them in the same sentence as a cup of coffee. But honestly, that isn't too strange in our world today. I just found it surprising and gratifying to learn that the man on the street is similar to the man in the corporate world. There is so much to connect people, and so little to separate them.

In other news, I have decided Alibaba's shwarma is inferior to that of Golan Heights, Ari & David's is fun, Times Square is not busy at 4-5 AM (and is beautiful, actually) and hotel lobbies are a party. They are gorgeous, you see, exquisitely decorated and otherwise fascinating. Hurrah for hotel lobbies for the rest of my life!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Daughters of Lot

With thanks to my father, who taught this to me when I was very little.

But what about situations in which we are clearly meant to judge, one might ask. What about situations in which the characters in Tanakh have flaws and suffer from their improper decisions; surely there is nothing wrong in pointing these out? No, there is indeed nothing wrong with that- so long as one does so respectfully. There is a telling story that appears in the introduction to the Igros Moshe, Volume 8, page 15. A man was stricken with a mysterious illness, and no one knew what it represented. He alone knew, and told it over to R’ Moshe. He explained that he had referred to the daughters of Lot as women who had no care about their sexual exploits, promiscuous women who were so promiscuous that they had no shame, the oldest one even determining to name her child “Moav” meaning mei-av- from my father. That night, he dreamt of two elderly women who came to him and lambasted him for his behavior. “We are the daughters of Lot,” they proclaimed, “and despite what you might think, we did not name our children in this manner because we had no shame. Do you know what we could have done? We could have done as the Christians do, and stated that we had virgin births, and that our children were gods. This would have been extremely easy for us. Instead, we chose to suffer shame and to explain that our children came from our father, and were not the sons of God. That is why I clearly named my son Moav- so that one would not take him to be a kind of Jesus.” For his improper behavior, he was stricken with an illness.

It is clear, therefore, that to pass judgment on any biblical character, to mock them or deride them, is simply not to understand them. What is worse, it reflects on the person who mocks, derides or otherwise disrespects them rather than the characters themselves, as is demonstrated in the Gemara. It is the one who does not express himself properly who is suspected of impure lineage, or who will not assuredly become a leader of Israel. It is incredibly important to take care to address the people and subject matter of what is holy with the reverence and respect that is due them. They may have sinned; they may have had flaws, but that does not give us the right to mock these flaws or to speak to them as we would those who are close to us.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Glass Room

There once was a woman God created for pain. He placed her behind glass walls and allowed her to watch the lives of many people, as they danced and proceeded through their daily routines. He gifted her with a clarity and vision that touched many people, and allowed her moments of happiness and pure joy. But he gave her a name, and that name was sacrifice. He made her beyond human; he created a world which revolved upon her choice- not her inability- never to venture beyond her glass wall. The world was created for other creations; for her there was only darkness and unimaginable pain. And all this existed in His name, because he had called upon her to be more than mortal. And she, with all that danced within her, was intimately acquainted with darkness and more than aware of everything she desired and wanted, was so cold always, shivering within the confines of a limited and impossible existence. And all she wanted she could have, if only she would venture beyond her glass room.

But she knew what depended upon her solitary station at her forbidden lighthouse, the watch she kept but did not comprehend. She knew the world and all who lay within it, but further, she knew that there was no one who existed for whom she could step outside her cage. There were only people to lead her from it, but no one to cause her to leave of her own volition. For in doing so she doomed those she loved, and she most of all doomed the one who would ask her to leave it.

And so she learned the art of pretense; she learned how to be made of steel, no, of iron. She learned how to be superhuman. She learned how to walk in ways that most are not required to walk, and she hated God at times for it, at the same time that she knew that each sacrifice that was required of her simply brought her closer to Him. It was as though he had chosen her to be His solitary representative in a universe filled with people; she alone existed to float through an ocean of, a sea of pain, stretching impossibly and implacably on.

This was her horizon; this was all that she could see. She watched people living out their lives and was glad for them, but at the bottom of her gladness was a fierce envy, a desire for what she could not have. She was something to people, but she could never be enough, and within the dark blaze of the world outside she seemed to realize that she had been created for this, placed in the world precisely for pain. It was only pain that moved her, pain that made her cry at night, pain that dominated, loved and beautified her, an exquisite darkness that played within her body so that she trembled, and could not stop trembling. Why God had chosen to make her so strong she did not know. She only knew that He had, and that she could not see the purpose in it...

She had an uncanny ability to maneuver the world, her own glass world, and pretend to be fine. But she also had an ability to believe, to believe the pretty words of people and also their pretty promises, to want so much to trust them and wished that at last she would be saved, but there was never a person to do that for her. Instead she tasted of many people's tears, and walked in shadows, because she was never called upon to do anything but give, and her name was created as sacrifice.

How intimately acquainted she was with the depths of human sorrow, and the unhappiness that welled within; she swam within these waters since the time she was born, and could never free herself of them. What existed was a world that was cruel, into which God had placed her, and a task that was impossible, except that she had shouldered it. There was no one else who could inflict such torture upon her, but she was made of steel; she was made of a substance that was unbreakable, and so she learned to give, and to give, and to give...

Please God, that I might live before you, and your servant should one day know no more pain.


"Yes, daroga...I felt her tears flow on my forehead...on mine, mine!...They were soft...they were sweet!...They trickled under my mask...they mingled with my tears in my eyes...yes ...they flowed between my lips....Listen, daroga, listen to what I did....I tore off my mask so as not to lose one of her tears...and she did not run away!...And she did not die!... She remained alive, weeping over me, with me. We cried together! I have tasted all the happiness the world can offer!"

And Erik fell into a chair, choking for breath:

"Ah, I am not going to die yet...presently I shall...but let me cry!...Listen, daroga...listen to this....While I was at her feet...I heard her say, `Poor, unhappy Erik!' ... And she took my hand!...I had become no more, you know, than a poor dog ready to die for her....I mean it, daroga!... I held in my hand a ring, a plain gold ring which I had given her ...which she had lost...and which I had found again... a wedding-ring, you know....I slipped it into her little hand and said, `There!...Take it!...Take it for you...and him! ...It shall be my wedding-present a present from your poor, unhappy Erik.....I know you love the boy...don't cry any more! ...She asked me, in a very soft voice, what I meant.... Then I made her understand that, where she was concerned, I was only a poor dog, ready to die for her...but that she could marry the young man when she pleased, because she had cried with me and mingled her tears with mine!..."

~The Phantom of the Opera

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I wrote this when I was 15; I still like it.

After having just celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, I began to think about the work we read on this holiday, namely, the Book of Ruth. Works such as Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Song of Songs, and Esther, are referred to as megillot, in the singular form, megillah. Hence, whenever one refers to the megillot, we are aware it is one of the five.

We read 'Ruth' on Shavuot for various reasons, most of them referring to certain meanings found in the holiday itself. Yet my interest lies not so much as to why we read 'Ruth' on Shavuot as to the megillah itself, the work. I noticed this past Shavuot something I think is very interesting- there are many comparisons to be made between the book of 'Ruth' and the book of 'Esther.' This is the topic I shall address in this post.

The first similarity lies, of course, in the title. Both of these works are named after maidens, and specifically relatively young women. Secondly, the story seems to be the same, but in reverse. Esther is a young Jewess who has no desire to reach higher on a social scale. She is quite content being either Mordechai's niece or betrothed (dependant upon different readings of the work.) Yet she is snatched from her comfort zone and placed into the strange castle of riches, Achashveirosh's realm. There, she is eventually wed to Achashveirosh, which makes her a queen, a figure of royalty.

Ruth follows this story, but in reverse. Already a member of royalty, a princess or Moav, she decides to become a simple Jewess and follows Na'ami, her mother-in-law, to Israel. There she accepts her lot and seems content.

Now come some specific similarities.

1) The way in which the megillah begins. The megillot do not begin in the same way, sometimes they will start with their titles, "Shir HaShirim" means Song of Songs, and that is how that work begins, "Eicha" means Lamentations, and that is how that megillah begins. Ecclesiastes begins with the words, "Divrei Kohelet," literally, "the words of Kohelet." Interestingly, Ruth and Esther begin with the same words:

Esther: הוּא אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, הַמֹּלֵךְ מֵהֹדּוּ וְעַד-כּוּשׁ--שֶׁבַע וְעֶשְׂרִים וּמֵאָה, מְדִינָה.
Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus--this is Ahasuerus who reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over a hundred and seven and twenty provinces--

Ruth: וַיְהִי, בִּימֵי שְׁפֹט הַשֹּׁפְטִים, וַיְהִי רָעָב, בָּאָרֶץ; וַיֵּלֶךְ אִישׁ מִבֵּית לֶחֶם יְהוּדָה, לָגוּר בִּשְׂדֵי מוֹאָב--הוּא וְאִשְׁתּוֹ, וּשְׁנֵי בָנָיו.
And it came to pass in the days when the judges judged, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Beth-lehem in Judah went to sojourn in the field of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.

Why is this wording important? The reason lies in a Judaic tradition that every time the word "Vayehi," literally, "And it came to pass," appears, it connotes/ foreshadows trouble. Hence we very obviously see that both these megillot will focus in on someone's plight. In Esther, it is the plight of the Jews, as the wicked Haman desires to kill them all. In Ruth, it is also the plight of the Jews, who are suffering from a famine.

2) There is an uncanny similarity between the two heroines and the ways in which they follow their relatives. Ruth was so desirous of remaining close to Na'ami, her mother-in-law, that she said she would follow her/ convert/ do all Na' ami told her to do. Esther also followed all of her relative's, namely Mordechai's, desires and requests. Some verses very obviously point this out.

Esther: אֵין אֶסְתֵּר, מַגֶּדֶת מוֹלַדְתָּהּ וְאֶת-עַמָּהּ, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה עָלֶיהָ, מָרְדֳּכָי; וְאֶת-מַאֲמַר מָרְדֳּכַי אֶסְתֵּר עֹשָׂה, כַּאֲשֶׁר הָיְתָה {ס}
20 Esther had not yet made known her kindred nor her people; as Mordecai had charged her; for Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him-- {S}

Ruth: כִּי אֶל-אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכִי אֵלֵךְ, וּבַאֲשֶׁר תָּלִינִי אָלִין--עַמֵּךְ עַמִּי, וֵאלֹהַיִךְ אֱלֹהָי.
בַּאֲשֶׁר תָּמוּתִי אָמוּת, וְשָׁם אֶקָּבֵר; כֹּה יַעֲשֶׂה יְהוָה לִי, וְכֹה יוֹסִיף--כִּי הַמָּוֶת, יַפְרִיד בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵךְ.
16 And Ruth said: 'Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God;
17 where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried; the LORD do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.'

3) Notice the way in which they are cared for- Esther is taken in by the "keeper of the women," the eunuch of the harem, while Ruth is watched over by a "keeper of the reapers (mostly maidens)" as well.

Esther: וַיְהִי, בְּהִשָּׁמַע דְּבַר-הַמֶּלֶךְ וְדָתוֹ, וּבְהִקָּבֵץ נְעָרוֹת רַבּוֹת אֶל-שׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה, אֶל-יַד הֵגָי; וַתִּלָּקַח אֶסְתֵּר אֶל-בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ, אֶל-יַד הֵגַי שֹׁמֵר הַנָּשִׁים.
8 So it came to pass, when the king's commandment and his decree was published, and when many maidens were gathered together unto Shushan the castle, to the custody of Hegai, that Esther was taken into the king's house, to the custody of Hegai, keeper of the women.

Ruth: לְמִי, הַנַּעֲרָה הַזֹּאת.
וַיַּעַן, הַנַּעַר הַנִּצָּב עַל-
נַעֲרָה מוֹאֲבִיָּה הִיא, הַשָּׁבָה עִם-נָעֳמִי מִשְּׂדֵי מוֹאָב.
5 Then said Boaz unto his servant that was set over the reapers: 'Whose damsel is this?'
6 And the servant that was set over the reapers answered and said: 'It is a Moabitish damsel that came back with Naomi out of the field of Moab

4) Then both of these young maidens are charged to do something very unseemly by their guardians/ relatives. Interestingly enough, the command itself is the same- they are both charged to go see a man ( a very influential man, in both cases) even though he has not asked for their presence.

Esther: וְאֶת-פַּתְשֶׁגֶן כְּתָב-הַדָּת אֲשֶׁר-נִתַּן בְּשׁוּשָׁן לְהַשְׁמִידָם, נָתַן לוֹ--לְהַרְאוֹת אֶת-אֶסְתֵּר, וּלְהַגִּיד לָהּ; וּלְצַוּוֹת עָלֶיהָ, לָבוֹא אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ לְהִתְחַנֶּן-לוֹ וּלְבַקֵּשׁ מִלְּפָנָיו--עַל-עַמָּהּ.
8 Also he gave him the copy of the writing of the decree that was given out in Shushan to destroy them, to show it unto Esther, and to declare it unto her; and to charge her that she should go in unto the king, to make supplication unto him, and to make request before him, for her people.

Ruth: וְרָחַצְתְּ וָסַכְתְּ, וְשַׂמְתְּ שמלתך (שִׂמְלֹתַיִךְ) עָלַיִךְ--וירדתי (וְיָרַדְתְּ) הַגֹּרֶן; אַל-תִּוָּדְעִי לָאִישׁ, עַד כַּלֹּתוֹ לֶאֱכֹל וְלִשְׁתּוֹת.
וִיהִי בְשָׁכְבוֹ, וְיָדַעַתְּ אֶת-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁכַּב-שָׁם, וּבָאת וְגִלִּית מַרְגְּלֹתָיו, ושכבתי (וְשָׁכָבְתְּ); וְהוּא יַגִּיד לָךְ, אֵת אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשִׂין.
Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the threshing-floor; but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking.
4 And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.'

Now comes the biggest difference, because Ruth accedes to her mother-in-law's request, but Esther is afraid of death, and tells Mordechai she does not desire to do this. Mordechai warns her that if she does not, then she will not be spared, either.

5) However, they both accede in the end. In both cases, the maidens "find favor" in the eyes of the men.

Esther: וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי, וַתִּלְבַּשׁ אֶסְתֵּר מַלְכוּת, וַתַּעֲמֹד בַּחֲצַר בֵּית-הַמֶּלֶךְ הַפְּנִימִית, נֹכַח בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ; וְהַמֶּלֶךְ יוֹשֵׁבעַל-כִּסֵּא מַלְכוּתוֹ, בְּבֵית הַמַּלְכוּת, נֹכַח, פֶּתַח הַבָּיִת.
1 Now it came to pass on the third day, that Esther put on her royal apparel, and stood in the inner court of the king's house, over against the king's house; and the king sat upon his royal throne in the royal house, over against the entrance of the house.

Ruth: וַתֵּרֶד, הַגֹּרֶן; וַתַּעַשׂ, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-צִוַּתָּה חֲמוֹתָהּ.
6 And she went down unto the threshing-floor, and did according to all that her mother-in-law bade her.

And interestingly enough, both women succeed in fulfilling a strange destiny- Esther saves her people by unmasking Haman in front of Achashveirosh (then there is some busy work with letters), while Ruth and Boaz become man and wife (after some busy work with fields and redeemers) and from her lineage comes King David.

Those were just some of my thoughts/ comparisons. ;)

Saturday, June 07, 2008

absorbent beauty: an assimilation of darkness

A story

His sight was failing him.

He had never thought he would come to this, where he struggled to make out images, pressing his fists fiercely against the sockets of his eyes, as though in this way he could block out the encroaching darkness. If this were an enemy he could fight…! But it was not, and after being told that there was no treatment, he simply resigned himself to the reality: he, whose very profession it was to capture images and put them down on paper, was going blind. It was a testament to his strength of will that he did not allow himself to weep. He thought over his options, realized that he could still type, so long as his wife were to turn on the computer for him and sent him up with a Word Document, that he had the ability still to place from memory what moved him upon the page.

But in the meantime this darkness seeped in slowly, first at the corners of his vision, then taking more. This along with the trembling that seized his hands at times; at first he thought that, too, came with a kind of illness, but soon learned it was merely a fit of nerves, his reaction to the blindness. This calmed him and allowed him to take himself in order, so that at times he was quiet, still, his hands still as well, resting motionless at his sides. He breathed in deeply, then out again. He opened his eyes to see if anything had changed. But it was only that the world around him had grown dimmer, was more foreign. There was only his wife who was familiar to him and she, too, was fading every day.

When he woke this morning he saw her as flashes of sound and light. Not poetry, this, but a reality made new to him. The sparkle of her golden necklace caught his eye, the fabric of her dress as it touched against his leg. Even her hair as it cascaded down her back; all of this was light to him, light and touch. He saw the light reflecting off of it but could not see her features. He recalled them to him with a fierce effort of will, so that standing in his mind again he saw those compassionate green eyes, her soft lips, her heart-shaped face. He smiled at the irony of having to close his eyes in order to see better. He opened them again so as not to deny himself, not to ease the transition from this cacophony of half-seen images to the darkness that awaited him.

Even this he must set into writing, tell unto the world. This groping for the light, this puzzled confusion that assailed his sight; all this was something that he was beginning at last to grasp, to understand. He was far past the horror of it and looked only with curiosity upon the world, now. He was very sensitive to light. It was light that caught his eye, and objects that could only be perceived as shapes, so grandly large and structured were they. He knew to avoid these, could walk well enough with a cane, and preferred not to have anyone assist him as of yet.

Why his wife was as yet so calm, he could not answer. There were many times he remained awake, waiting for the telltale sign of her unhappiness, of the tears that she must shed. But he heard nothing. He only felt her beside him, sleeping smoothly, and an intense love welled up within him, that she seemed not to care what a dependant he had become, that she did not curse what fate had wrought for them. What bitter irony it was that it must be him, of all people, he who needed his eyes the most, who must lose them! What use a man without his eyes? He might as well be dead, he who cannot take in the world, who cannot perceive it in all its astonishing beauty at each moment of the day and night.

He took refuge in sounds now, learning to accustom himself to them, the quiet cough of the coffeemaker after it had finished trickling its brown liquid forth, the steps of his wife, soft when she wore the padded slippers that were her wont, stronger when she had donned her stilettos or some other form of dress shoe. He imagined her in front of the mirror, applying her cosmetics as she went outside, to do the shopping or otherwise to provide for them, and he laughed bitterly that he could not see her. How strange it must be to be married to a man who could not even appreciate you, though even now he could, but slightly; he saw her lips in a red shimmer, and her face itself had evolved into a kind of peach circle, but even that was better than nothing, and hungrily, he clung to it. He must memorize every image before it was taken from him completely, before he had nothing left but the memory of this, something altogether harsh and damnable.

There was the slight creak of the door as it opened, the turning of the key in the lock- there was the exquisite sound of music as it poured through the speakers. Odd that he had never been much for music, before; it had been words that awoke his soul, but now he could not read. Oh, but his wife read to him, her voice musical and sweet, and he lived for those moments that she read to him, spoke to him, told him anything- whether it be the news or something philosophical, a book that he requested. How patient she was, to put up with his many requests! He had never realized before the surfeit of books with which he had gifted himself, the amount of time he had spent reading words, words, words. Black and white words swam before his eyes, danced before him, mocking him, words on stopsigns and highway road images, words in books that had streamed together when he had inadvertently spilled coffee upon the page, works written in love upon a notepad when he went out to buy breakfast but wanted his wife to know where he had gone, words, words, words, beautiful and a blessing, something so exquisite; he had not known how to appreciate their essence before. The essence of beauty, for him, had lain in words, and now they were not his anymore.

Oh, he could speak, and dictate if he wished, but that was not the same, not the same as the fingers clacking implacably against a keyboard as he sped through the story in his mind, relaying it upon paper, putting ideas upon the page. Unless he counted the precise number of letters in a word, he would not know how many stops to backspace, now, if he wanted to change something- and he would not be able to reread something he had written, but only have it read to him. He feared his dependency and hated it; he, who had been the breadwinner, reduced to this, the closed four corners of a world bounded by blackness, the darkness of his unhappiness, the despair it caused him. And yet, who was he to complain? It was his wife, his wife that he pitied, so that at times thoughts of suicide crossed his mind, not that he had any true plan but he believed that she must pity him now, who had never given her cause to pity him, and that hurt his pride and caused him pain. Also, what kind of life for her was this, forever chained to a blind man, a man who begged her to be his eyes, to describe to him the dawn and the darkness, all that which he could only see in flashes now, and soon would not see forevermore?

There was a kind of darkness of spirit that weighed upon him, a gloom that ever-intensified, something which he tried to hide from her. He was amazed that he did not feel her cheer to be false or overbright; she seemed to have accepted who he had become and did not love him any less. Even so, there was something suspicious in his mind, for he could not take this gift; it did not make sense. How could a woman like her, young, or at least youthful, and beautiful, resign herself to being chained to him? He was a burden to her, who had once been able to make her happy- for with this he flattered himself- and he hated the fact that he could not do this any longer, that it was she who patiently washed him and combed his hair, helped him dress, helped him to the bathroom, who guided his hand to his fork and enabled him to eat, she who had become his nursemaid even though he was not yet old. He felt himself to be less than a man, though he did not confess it to her; he did not want to worry her, who was an angel, with the acknowledgement that he felt himself unworthy.

But he could still see, and damn it, he would see- he opened his eyes to take in the light, the fuzzy flashes of color that remained to him. Yes, that was red, and there green- and there the sounds outside. He made his way over to the panel, the bright window that led to their balcony. He stared outside, could make out the chairs upon the balcony floor, white lawn chairs. He explored them with his eyes, and then thought that in the future he should only know them through his fingers; his hands would become his instrument, his entry into an unknown world. No longer would he be able to assess friend or foe from their manner or the expression on their face; he would not realize that he was being laughed at or mocked except from a slight change in tone; he would have to gain acuity in all these lesser senses, allow himself an entryway so as to save himself from the darkness. He looked outside again, and felt with a sense of overwhelming unhappiness the pain of not being alive, of not being himself, and then, he could not help it; he crouched down upon the floor and cradled his head in his hands, letting the tears flow.

It was in this way that his wife found him, and he could hear her anxiety in the clack of her heels against the floor, and the groceries that had spilled from her hands with a thud, the bags that hit the tiles. He felt her hands on his face; her hands soft and cool against his beard, which must bruise her, slightly abrasive, the stubble that was forming on his face; he could not see to shave. He felt her hands explore his face, touching lightly upon his eyelids, then felt her lips lowered to his eyes as well, kissing away the tears. He felt her lick delicately at one, then cup his chin, trailing kisses down to his lips, where he met her lips awkwardly. She was so close to him now that he opened his eyes and could see hers, make out a whole eye with absolute clarity, and it was this blessing that brought home to him what he still had, and what was still his. She placed his hand against her back and sat there on the floor with him, her legs curled underneath her body, between his knees, his back against the wall, and kissed him persuasively, and gently, until he was alive with desire. She did not speak to him just then, but only guided him, and after a time she rose to put away the groceries, and to set about their familiar routine.

She took him to their bathroom and drew him a shower; she accompanied him and helped to wash him, soaping his back and drawing the sponge over his body. She laughed out loud, a delightful sound, amidst the soap and spray, and ran her fingers through his wet hair. He shivered with sensation. He felt her kneel, felt her cleanse him, save him, purify him even now. He opened his eyes still to see, and realized how God had gifted him, and in what way. He wanted to thank her; he didn’t have the words- he reached for her; she found him; he enwrapped her in an embrace. She led him and played with him, as though she were a child, and finally, turning off the tap, she stepped out first so that she might dry him off, with a towel. With a smile he caught her and enwrapped her in the towel as well; she was surprised, as well she might be, by the sudden moment of joy that overtook them both. Well, and there is joy in darkness, he thought to himself, and he was glad to know it, and realized that he was luckier than most men, and gifted besides.

Things continued in this way, and each day his sight deteriorated, and the doctor his wife brought him to was increasingly pessimistic. He had accepted his fate, and she as well, but words were painful and stuck in his throat. He saw less and less every day, and reacted to this differently at different times, sometimes what he felt was that there was an agonizing amount still to write, and that he had not the words to do it all, so that he covered sheets and sheets with scribbles about the world as it was, and only she could cool his fervor, calming him when he needed it, stopping him so that he might sleep, and enter a world of darkness just like the one that was claiming him.

There was a day when he woke to blackness. “I can’t see,” he said, and he felt her stiffen, and then sit up beside him in the bed. She hugged him; he felt her arms around him and wanted to throw them off, as though they were a chain; he wanted to scream, to shout, to blame her; cannot you see, you fool, that I am blind, and useless, and that your love is thrown away on such a one as me, why don’t you leave me, as I have no doubt you will, once you have been tested and tried, and then realized that such thoughts were ungrateful of him, so that he leaned against her, relying completely upon sensation, realizing that he had no sight to guide him. She helped him to dress and made him breakfast, set about telling him the morning news, spoke to him cheerfully, read to him and provided what amusement she could. She touched him frequently, as though to assure him, to let him know that she was still alive and close, and that he was not left adrift in this sightless world, and he, for his part, decided to be fascinated by the light pressure of the warmth upon his eyes, of the smells that assailed him. Had he ever been so completely aware of his wife’s perfume? No, he decided, and nuzzled against her shoulder to smell it better, and looked up at her, or at least in the direction he thought she was, and told her “You are beautiful.” And he heard a strange catch in her laugh and thought, at last; it has caught up with her at last, she cannot help it, she is dying of pain for me, and moodily, he wished that he had ended this when he still could have found the implements to do so, for now he was a burden to her, and he wished more than anything not to be that to her.

He heard her later, crying, and wished that he might dry her tears, that he might somehow tell her that it would be all right, but it wouldn’t be, never again; he was not a man, simply an encumbrance, and their marriage was as well. He would tell her that he would divorce her- pain struck him at the thought of it- and that she would have her life back. He would hire someone for himself- surely his parents could see to it; they could find someone who would not rob him blind, and who would care for him, or care at least for the money he would pay them, he thought cynically, for no man cares for his fellow, only for his fellow’s pocketbook. And with this thought in mind he was silent, and waited for her, to tell her.

They were in bed. She had cuddled up beside him and perhaps thought him asleep. “I will divorce you, if you wish it,” he said, and the words sounded curt and formal, and harsh, more harsh than he had wished them to be. “I will divorce you,” he said more softly, “this is no life for you,” but he was stopped with the touch of a finger to his lips, and then her mouth, salty and sweet beneath his, and her tongue, playing upon his lips. He uttered a soft sigh and felt her face, the hard, pert chin; his finger grazed an ear and the strands of hair beside it. He allowed his hand to rest on her hair, to run through it, strands of exquisite softness that in his memory recalled themselves to him as gold, and he felt her undressing him, and putting his clothes aside, so that they might lie skin to skin, and flesh to flesh.

The warmth of her! The incredible warmth; it was as though her skin blazed with light, and he felt her turn, so that he caressed her back, his fingers exploratory pads upon the ridges and planes of her shoulders, her spine, the curve of her buttocks. He reached his hand beneath her hair to find her neck, kissed it through her hair, and felt her body respond; she shivered. A touch, then; he had never realized the power of a touch as he did now. He did not kiss but simply moved his lips from the tips of her fingers up one arm, till he reached the shoulder; it was gentle. He felt the growing hairs upon her arm and smiled to imagine them, each growing hair follicle upon that arm was his. He reached her shoulder with his mouth and took hold of her waist between his hands. She placed his hand upon her breast; he circled it, only now becoming aware of her in a new and different way. He reached her nipple and flicked it with a practiced hand, and became aware once again of the way it hardened to his touch, so that he lowered his mouth to her and felt her moan with desire, and he felt himself again to be a man.

There were tears in his eyes, but they were tears of exaltation, as though he had discovered something more mysterious and beautiful than anything he had ever known. He learned her body anew, felt it tighten and tauten beneath him, felt her relaxation, her ease. He nuzzled her to him, played her with his fingers, caressed her with his hands and mouth. He felt her turn to him with desire, felt her fingers in his hair, heard her murmur words low and intoxicating, “I love you,” she said, and then later, stronger, just as passionately and just as committed, when both were in a golden haze, having satisfied the desires of the body, “I love you,” and he held her closer to him in the darkness, and felt that he had been touched by a little of what was beautiful in the world.

He learned her shape, her curves, her fingers, her toes. He fell wildly in love with the little hollow at her throat, which he nuzzled with his mouth and touched with his hands, and he learned, too, what torturous joy the hands could inflict. His hands skimmed her as though she were a pond of water, and he creating ripples, or pressed as he increasingly demanded of her and she gave unflinchingly, willingly, with desire and a little awe. His hands touched fleetingly or rested in one spot. He could feel the little scar upon her back- an upraised piece that was surprisingly smooth, smoother even than her skin. This too he worshipped with his body, even as he worshipped all of her, her skin, her eyes, her face and hair. Their bodies entwined to mimic their souls, which rested peacefully, cocooned together in a nest of light and darkness. And he learned that he was not blind after all, when he had the capacity still to give to her, and he learned too that she loved him. He was attentive to every sound she made, each whimper or murmur, every cry, uplifted and sanctified, as though she were an angel, but a human angel, one who was created for him, to save him and love him even though he was not worthy, and would never understand from what depths of the soul she was able to come to him still, and not find him repulsive or repugnant.

“Your eyes,” at last she whispered, “your beautiful eyes,” and she lightly danced her fingers on the lids, so as to have him flutter them open. He saw only darkness but he felt her tense; she was crying now. “They are so beautiful, still,” she said, “if only you could see them. They are green, but there are ripples of blue, and grey, and one would not know you cannot see. I am so sorry,” she said at last, and he thought his heart was break. She was sorry? She, who had every cause to turn against him, to rail against their misfortune, to save herself and run from him; she was sorry?

“I do not know what I deserve,” he said thickly, “but it is not this—“ and he motioned in an effort to encapsulate her and all that she was.

“I know, darling,” she said very softly, “you do not deserve this,” and he realized she had misunderstood him, and thought he was referring to his blindness.

“No,” he said strongly, clearly, “that was not what I meant. It is you I am speaking of- I do not know what madness it was that made you accept me that June, I only know that I was blessed, and that I am blessed- to have you in my life. And that this has only made me see it clearer,” he motioned to his eyes, “I have loved you always, but I do not know if I have ever known you as clearly as I know you in this moment.”

He could feel her wish to say something, to protest, to tell him it was of no import, but he did not let her; he merely cradled her closer, and nestled together, they slept.


Credits: Blindness by Jose Saramago, "The Fountain" soundtrack