Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Saving Rivka

At the Western Wall, circa 1870

Rivka was fourteen. A Jerusalem maiden, she was already married, building a home in God's Holy City according to the mitzvah to hasten the messiah’s arrival.

Alas, Rivka's young husband died, leaving her no longer a virgin but neither a mother.

Thankfully, to her rescue came the ancient law that would ensure saving her womb from this fate, a law that would help her bear children in her husband’s name.

No frozen sperms in a bank. Familiar only with the old-fashion route, the law simply required that Rivka's husband’s brother would impregnate her on his dead brother’s behalf, thus ensuring the closest proxy of the dead man’s seed. Yibum, the rabbis called this brilliant scheme, as thus saved, Rivka would not be deprived of the privilege to contribute her share to hastening the messiah’s arrival

But wait! There were problems: Rivka's brother-in-law was merely a boy of eight, and he lived in Russia, Yishmor Hashem.

Poor Rivka was condemned to a lifelong widowhood, except that another Jewish law, a more modern one, came to her rescue. This law demonstrated the sages’ enlightenment by undoing the archaic law of Yibum. According to this more progressive law, called Halitza, the deceased man’s brother may relinquish his sacred obligation to his brother’s memory—but not without a great shame.

Disdained at her brother-in-law’s refusal to impregnate her, Rivka must humiliate him publicly by removing one of his shoes and spitting in his face.

Armed with this practical solution to her plight, at age fourteen Rivka set out alone on the road to Russia, on foot and on horseback, through snow-capped mountains crawling with bandits.

It took her two years to make the trip there, and two more years to return to Jerusalem, a free woman.

The messiah, who’s forever tarried, waited until at age eighteen, Rivka was finally permitted to remarry and fulfill her duty to hasten his arrival.

Rivka was my grandmother’s grandmother. I learned from her determination and courage. I also took another lesson: I stopped worrying about the messiah’s comings and goings. Then, no longer burdened with carrying the weight of the world’s fate on my shoulders, I’ve become my own messiah.

# # #

Talia Carner's next heart-wrenching suspense, JERUSALEM MAIDEN, will be published by HarperCollins in June 2011. It is the story of a woman’s struggle for individuality against her society’s religious dictates.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Fly

The door is left ajar, and here comes a fly, buzzing in—not as a guest, but rather as a landlord.

The Fly is not the small kind, but rather large, black, and omnipresent. It circles around the room—once, twice, three times—assessing the territory it plans to squat, and in a flash, off it zooms away on its speeding wings through the corridor, winding its way through every bedroom, and stopping in mine. It flaps against the window, jerks to the ceiling, bounced from wall to wall like a Kadima ball.

There are a number of spots it could choose to settle in, perhaps the kitchen, where it could always find a puddle of apple juice that has dripped from a sippy-cup or a crumb of a Graham cracker forgotten by a three-year old.

But that is not the purpose of this uninvited visitor who, with neither manners not adherence to NY real-estate law, believes that ownership of a house is merely a matter of taking possession.

I refuse to relinquish my hold and move out. I don’t fail to notice that yet again, The Fly has arrived solo. It must be forever hovering at the front door waiting for the moment when I’d open it. How else can I describe The Fly’s entrance every time? And why always just one fly? If my house is such a great vacation spot, there should have been three of them, or five—

The Fly has been recognized in my household ever since my friend Lonnie became sick—and The Fly didn’t stop coming upon Lonnie’s death. Why is this unremarkable friend visiting again? Since I had never understood Lonnie when he was alive and I don’t expect to receive his messages from “the other side.” Although funny and witty, he was self-centered, lacked curiosity of the world or the generosity of heart. Even before his diagnosis I had suspected he was devoid of compassion. What does he want now?

I climb up the stairs to my attic office. I leave the door open, knowing that The Fly is seeking me out. Within seconds, it’s here, buzzing noisily, shooting from wall to wall in concentric circles meant to annoy me.

“OK. You’re making your point, except that I don’t get what it is,” I tell The Fly, then settle at my desk.

But The Fly is not one to be so ignored. It doesn’t stop its loud circling, finally pulling me away from my computer. I turn on the iPod, and Verdi’s notes spill into the room. I begin to sway, gathering energy, arch, kick a bit, and then practice the range of my old ballet pirouettes.

Landing in a grande-jetté, I glance at The Fly. Quiet at last, it perches on the edge of my desk, clapping silently by rubbing its front legs and watching me with its one thousand eyes.