Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Beautiful, like Prophecies

When I moved into my Jaffa home, I bought myself a mezuzah: that little box that is attached to the door frame at the entry to every Jewish home. My neighbors in the building and around are mostly Muslim and Christian. I came to live in peace among them and hence felt fully comfortable in showing some cultural uniqueness.

The neighbors treated the mezuzah with full respect, but the neighborhood kids acted as kids would, removed it somehow from the door frame, and vanished with its content. Inside each mezuzah is rolled a tiny scroll bearing a biblical inscription commending Jews to love God. Since loving is not an act that can be willingly performed, but rather a feeling that stems from the heart, Judaism developed the mezuzah - a little box of love - as a symbolic form of observing the commandment.

I went to town and bought a new ceramic mezuzah for 12 sheqels, then felt conflicted. Should I really put 90 sheqels more into the scroll? these scrolls are made by special traditional scribes, they can't be gotten for any less than that, and what if the kids tear it off again? will I just spend the rest of my Jaffa days Sysiphically traveling to Allenby to buy more and more tiny scrolls, investing all my money and time in something I don't honestly believe in except as some pretty tradition?

Then I had an idea. The previous day I found and purchased a used copy of Yehuda Amichai's book of poetry "Behind all of This, Great Happiness is Hiding". In it was my single favorite poem in the Hebrew language, the one caled "Royal Love song". It begins thus:

You are beautiful, like prophecies,
And sad, like those that are fulfilled.
Silent with the silence of the aftermath
Black in the white solitude of Jasmine
Sharp fangs in the mouth: a she-wolf and a queen.

It's really not much of a sacred text, unless you believe, as I do, that sex is truly holy, and that no beauty is complete without darkness. Here's another bit:

You are beautiful like prophecies that are not fulfilled,
and this is the royal scar:
With the tongue, to pass over it, with the sharpened hand
Over the sweet roughness.

With hard shoes you knock
back and forth bars over me
Your wild rings
Are sacred leprosy of your fingers.

I ripped out the page, rolled it into the mezuza, then glued it to the wall with the toughest industrial glue I could find.

Since them, whenever I became a bit unlucky, I'd always wonder whether that was a good idea. a Jewish superstition has it that if things go wrong around the house, the mezuzahs should be examined with a magnifying glass for flaws. perhaps the scribe slightly misspelled something and thus inflicted the house's dwellers with cancer, financial collapse, etc.

Thankfully, I suffer from neither, but the past few weeks have been difficult, especially financially. this Sunday morning I woke up dreading the morrow: the first day of the month, when both my credit card bill is charged to my account and my rent is due. I was dealing with several difficult matters, worried about myself and others, feeling rather out of love and lonely, in short, distressed.

This is just when the best day of my year began. I got an offer to write regularly for the nation's most powerful newspaper, saved a book deal that was about to tank and successfully fought against a bad deal that was to scam me out of royalties for another book. miraculously fixed an annoying flaw in my bike, realizing while doing so that I have lost weight: my pants kept slipping off at I bent, threatening a plumber's exposure to passersby on Salame St.

I got everything fixed just in time for a casual lunch with a profoundly attractive, intelligent and unique acquaintance of mine. It turned into a truly romantic date that lasted well into the night. We went to watch "Four Minutes", a random German film, picked by name. somehow it turned out to deal with everything we were talking about beforehand and be a monumental piece of cinema neither of us will ever forget.

On arriving home I found, on the mat before my door (there my neighbors bring my mail from the box as neighborly courtesy), an envelope containing a check some publication owed me. It was for 2425 sheqels. My rent, due on that same date, stands at 2300.

On the envelope lay the mezuzah. It fell from the doorframe despite the heavy duty glue. When I picked it up, "Royal Love Song" fell out of it. I read a verse:

Out of the ground emerges
all that I wished never to see again
column and windowframe, portico and jar, shatters of wine.

Make of my tale what you will, but this is not going back in.


Yaelian said...

Enjoyed reading your posting, you have a such a wonderful way of writing.

Anonymous said...

I didn't have a mezuza for a couple of months and it gave me cancer. Hmmm.
- G

3asl said...

mabruk. Looking forward to our next intersection.

Jeff said...

Wow. What I take away most from your story is the ritual you retooled for your own purposes. Your interpretation of the purpose of the mezuzah and your use of beautiful poetry that resonates with you is exactly what the future of Jewish ritual needs. It needs to be recycled and made relevant, not abandoned. I may begin searching for my favorite text to use for the new apartment in the city I'm hoping to begin looking for. Thanks for sharing so beautiful a story.

lazy_n said...

Isn't the original purpose of the mezuza to let the avenging angels know they should skip your house and go on to kill your muslim and christian neighbors?

Cindy said...

I love this blog entry best of all. It's the type of story that I remember you exactly for. It is very old-school Yuval style :-) BTW, the other day a plumber came to repair a busted pipe at my house. He was mistakenly pushing on the mezuzah at my door thinking it was some kind of doorbell. I thought it was hilarious but can't bring myself to tell the story to my mother who was the one who superstitiously insisted on hanging them at all the doorways of my house.

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