Menu JTA Search

The Romantic Messiah

An unknown Jew entered the synagogue, placed himself on one of the benches on the lower side and prepared to sleep.

“A traveller”, thougth Sabbatai.

At that instant the Jew saw that he was not alone in the temple. He raised himself slightly and said aloud:

“Peace be with you. Why do you remain in the shadow if you are not asleep ? Are there no candles in Smyrna ?”

Wishing to discover to whom he spoke, he approached Sabbatai.

“Peace be with you”, answered the latter and, turning away, he buried his face in his hands.

He did not wish to walk to anyone exept Pinheiro.

the Jew returued to his bench. He had been impressed by the stranger’s voice and the note of sorrow which marked his words of greeting. He tried not to think about him, but settling himself comfortably upon the bench, he placed his arm beneath his head. Suddenly, he sprang up, stupefied.

From the corner where the silent man sat there arose a song. And the song was not such as one hears in synagogues, but it was a profane drinking song young men sing in the taverns.

Going up the mountains,Coming down the valleys, I met Melisselda, The King’s daughter…She was coming out of her bath.

There could be no doubt. The man was mad, and for that reason he had turned away his face and didden it in his hands. Yet what a passionate longing his song expressed ! And his voice, too; it sang a drinking song as if it were a psalm !

The traveller timidly approached Sabbatai who sat, his face buried in his arms, weeping. “Her body is whiter than milk, Her lips redder than coral.”

The traveller could withstrain himself no longer. He seized Sabbatai by the shoulder.

“Jew !” he creid. “Know you not that you are in a synagogue ? You have come all too recently from a tavern. Return to it !”

Sabbatai recovered himself. He raised his haed and with astonished anger confemplated the man who had so roughly shaken him. He recognized the traveller, whose presence he had already forgetten.

“Who are you?” he asked. “What are you doing in the synagogue ? Go to the lodging house ?”

The traveller was about to dispute with the young madman, when, in the semi-darkness, he saw Sabbatai’s eyes. Green, and shot with red fires, they burned, deep, pure and luminous. The traveller felt and indescibable fear, a superstitious awe. He stepped back. The thought that he was before a saint filled his soul with fear. Falling upon his kness, he clung nervously to the damp hem of Sabbatai’s garment.

“Forgive me, Rabbi”, he muttered, “forgive an ignorant man.”

Then, having kissed the hem of the garment, he hurried from the synagogue.

The night was long one for Sabbatai. He knew that in the very early morning Pinheiro would surely come. After the incident with the traveller he sang no more, nor prayed, but remained stretched upon the ground.

The small window of the synagogue filled with milky light. It was the twilight hour of dawn when it is difficult to distinguish between coming light and waning shadow.

Soon the beadle would appear, then the earliest worshippers. Sabbatai went up to the altar. He kissed the embroidered velvet mantle draped over the tabernacle where, in peace and silence, rest the scrolls of the Holy Torah.

At once the weight of the long night’s vigil was lifted from his soul. In this mantle, woven by the pious fingers of windows, he felt an unutterable sweetness. Suddenly Sabbatai felt himself irresistibly drawn to the scrolls of the Holy Torah, to those uporfaned scrolls of parchment arayed in cool satin and soft silk, and supported by silver lions and golden stags. At that unconsecrated hour was forbidden to disturb the darkness of the tabernacle, that sanctuary of sanctuaries where Chekhina dwelled. But the temptation was irresistible.

With trembling hands, Sabbatai drew the curtain aside, opened the doors of lacquered cedar inlaid with pale gold, and then hesitated, paralyzed by a feeling he had never before experienced, a combined feeling of sacrilege and religious exaltation.

Like beautiful brides in their nuptial robes the Torahs stood. An infinite simplicity, an unutterable and majestic holiness emanated from the mysterious silence which enclosed them. All his doubts were dissipated, all troubles, all mental agony.

“Thou shalt not kill ! Love and be sanctified !”

“And it is said that the Messiah is mightier than the Torah.”

Sabbatai felt he was about to collapse. Crying “Adonai, Adonai !” he bent over the holy scrolls and melted into tears.

The door opened softly as the beadle entered. During the many years he had watched over the temple, the old man had become so familiar with the place that in the complete darkness of might he could find a book on any of the shelves along the wall, without a false or unnecessary movement. It enabled him to perform his simple duties autamatically.

Therefore, as he entered he did not look around. He washed his hands, muttering one of the numerous prayers with which he accompanied all his activities. But even before drying his hands he felt that all was not well in the synagogue. In the half light of the temple he thought he heard something stir.

Slowly turning his eyes in the direction of the sound, he saw a motionless figure standing before the altar, its hed thrust deep within the tabernacle. This spectacle was so unusual that the beadle at first doubted his eyes. He advanced a few steps and recognized Sabbatai. His doubts vanished. Sacrilege was being committed.

The old man shrieked, and without knowing why, rushed to the door. The first worshippers were entering the synagogue. The arrival of witnesses increased the beadle’s excitement. He shouted in a frantic voice:

“O Jews! Bchold!”

Frightened, they stopped in astonishment. Sabbatai Zevy, son of the egg mechant, was standing at the altar, before the open doors of the tabernaced. He was looking around him with unseeing and stonished eyes as though he did not understand why he was there. His posture and the expression of his face clearly bespoke madness. “What was Sabbatai Zevy doing?” asked the oldist man in the group.

“He had his head within the tabernacle”, shouted the beadle, more and more excited.

“He must have spent the whole night there. As I came near the synagogue, I thought I heard the Name of God uttered aloud. At first I thought I was dreaming. But it was Sabbatai!”

The words of the beadle filled his listeners with consternation. The event was without precedent in the life of that Jewish community. A painful silence oppressed them while the old man with tireless energy repeated to all newcomers who he had heard the Name og God invoked in the empty synagogue…. It had been Sabbatai’s voice. He knew it well. For who in Smyrna did not know Sabbatai’s voice? It was indeed he! To be continued tomorrow

NEXT STORY