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The Romantic Messiah

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Fogs of mysticism gathered ever more thickly over the Jews of the East. Hope, despair, certitude spread from to place. In the market squares it was rumored that the Messiah had revealed himself to a few of the elect, but that he was still hiding. It was said that in Cracow a newborn chld had cried: “He is coming. He is coming.”

And the cry had shaken the very walls of the citadel.

Many such tales of miracles and wonders were circulated in the synagogues and market places.

Sabbatai Zevy observed that Pinheiro and Primo, who were formerly very careful not to betray by a word, a gesture, or a glance, the hopes they placed in him, now displayed a deep melancholy and continually compained of the slow progress of so momentous a time. In their faces he read an accusation they no longer sought to conceal. Overcome with distress he wandered along the edge of the sea.

He asked himself: “What do they wish of me, what do they expect from me? Why do they impose this superhuman burden upon me? I am weak and I am nothing.”

But a low voice would murmur to him with malice:

There speaks your pride, Sabbatai. It is not your strength that is necessary, it is not yur own glory that matters. But it is His strength, Hisglory, His wisdon. He has only to command and you will be great and strong and wise.”

He heard the voice joyfully and reason persuaded him that it spoke the truth. For had not Moses been a simple shephered employed a Mede? Yet it had been he and not one of the holy mission. All the great attributes of a leader were granted him only after the word of God had had marked him out as the liberator of his people.

One day Sabbatai, seated upon a rock near the sea, was listening, as usual, to the ebb and flow of his own doubts and ecstasies. The sea lay quiet lunder the bright sun, while in the distance while sails gleamed on the horizon. Sabbati’s thoughts, fusing with the infinite hamony of the sea, returned to him refreshed and strong.

Melisselda, the King’s daughter! She holds out her arms to him and calls. Her body is white as milk, against hthe sail. her body is white as milk, against the sail. Her hair is unbound and the breeze blows it toward the mast. Her coice can be heard through the murmur of foam.

“And the Lord commanded the Prophet to take a sinner to wife.”

Melisselda, the King’s daughter! Is it not she who offers her maked breast to the passing winds, the sky, the wandering clouds. Is it not she who snares unwary sailors in her net of lies? Is it not she, sinner of sinners?

Abover the farthest sail a small black cloud grew until it filled the sky with slabes of bue-black darkness. A sudeen squall swept across the sea. The sails fluttered, changed their course, and hastened toward the shore. An ominous wind holwled, and a fork of flame split open the dense obscurity with the sound of steel drums flung into a lake of stones. A monotonous murmur spread across the sea. Foreground and horizon disappeared in a rolling curtain of cloud which burst as it reached the shore.

The wind raged, but powerless against the wall of rain, it hurled huge waves which broke against the cliff with a roar and covered SAbbatai with a spray of brime. Though drenched through and and through, he did not try to flee this unleashed tempest. Not that he understood the uselessness of flight, but because he was fascinated to the compete forgetfulness of himself by the tempest which raged with equal violence within him. For his soul was also being rent apart by curtains of lightning and by the crash of thunder.

Craning his neck, his eyes burning and his cheeks pale, he listened deperately to the sea. In the storm and wind he heard voices, those voices his master Eliezer had spoken of. Clearly, indubitably, he heard them. An all in unison they cried: “Messiah! Messiah!”

He tried to draw nearer to them, to be closer. he took a step forward and suddenly collapsed on the wet sand beside the cliff.

When he returned to consciousness the storm had passed, and the sea, gleaming like quicksilver, breathed with more ease under a sky o fsoft blue. The sun was seetting and against the luminous horizon were sails of rosy pink.

Sabbatai looked around him, and recognized the coast he had known so well since childhood. then he remembered the storm and all that had hapepned to him. He rosehastily. he was wet through and weak, but warm.

The ecstasy he had experienced took possessionof him again. A sudden intoxication overwhelmed him, poignant, indescribable. He felt the need of seeing his friends and started running along the shore.

Warmed by the sun, his clothes steamed with a sweet-smelling vapor which weakened him. He ran on, panting, but without fatigue. To the synagogue! To Pinheiro!

Above his head seagulls soared shrieking. Sabbatai, filled with exaltation, believed that eventhe birds of the sky brought the promised message in their beaks.

It was dark when he reached the synagogue. His heart beat fiercely and loudly; a burning weat ran down his forehead; at the gates of the temple he stopped to recover his breath. Then, having wiped his face, he tremblingly crossed the threshold. The synagogue was empty.

He sat in his favorite corner. A vigil lamp flickered upon the altar. Shadows obscured the ceiling and the walls. Throught the small window one could see the evening star, low on the horizon.

Pinheiro was nto there. And yet how much Sabbatai needed him at htis very moment! How much he needed this faithful friend, this quick-tempered man whose heart and soul was on fire, this man of learning for whom the Zohar withheld no secret! How much he needed him, now when stubborn and torturing doubts seemed to have vanished, now the rainbow of hope at last gleamed.

But because God did not wish to grant wahat Sabbatai’s soul creaved, because He would not grant him a meeting with Pinheiro, he was filled anew with doubts and weakness.

(To be continued tomorrow)

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