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Within My Walls: Chapter 13     

He shakes his head. “If I had not married her, she would still be alive today”


Eliyahu jumps down into the cave as Yannai is splashing his hands with water from the large, earthenware jug.

“It’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive!” he shouts, arms in the air.

“Alive?” Yannai blinks and makes a face. “Yes, I suppose I am.” He yawns. “I did, after all, just say Modeh Ani. Although sometimes I wonder if all of this is one strange dream, in which I take up residence in some sarcophagus of a cave, and all for what?”

Eliyahu grabs his hand. “No, Yannai, do you not understand?”

“Understand what?” He rises, one frail hand steadying himself on the wall of the cave. “That it is indeed, my G-d-sent duty to persuade a young man not to give up on the sons of man?”

Eliyahu shakes his head. “The ewe. The ewe who was broody, ready to give birth. She has lambed. We have a new lamb.” He laughs out loud, unable to move his mind from the tiny, stumbling creature, rocking on new legs in the moonlight.

Yannai reaches over and squeezes Eliyahu’s shoulder. “Oh, Eliyahu. It is all well and good to get excited over a sheep, but it is not only G-d’s speechless creatures who are worth our time and effort. We may arouse annoyance and ask silly questions, but we do not generally aim to hurt.”

Eliyahu looks at him blankly. He is tired from lack of sleep, and cold, too, from the dew that seeped through his clothing and left his skin clammy all night. But that’s nothing compared to this fullness of heart. It’s like he was stuck in a closed room, and suddenly the door swung open, and he can take great gulps of pure air.

Yannai fixes his eyes on him. Once, they would have been a piercing blue, but now they are rheumy. “Let us go back to Tzfat.”

Eliyahu swallows, suddenly contrite. “You have been a captive of my ewes, and all this time you have wanted to return to your family. It will take a day or two until we can begin to move, and then we shall have to move slowly, but I can help you on your way back home.”

“And you?”

Eliyahu blinks. “This is my home.”

As he says it, he looks at the old man. His presence has been a trial these past weeks, but when he thinks back to the silence that was before and the silence that will come after, he is suddenly afraid.

Yannai sits down and looks around. “This is not a home. It is a place to hide.” He cocks his head to the side and thinks. “Not that you are not in the best company.”


Keil mistater, the navi tells us. The Almighty, too, hides Himself.”

This Yannai. He will not be sorry for him to go, after all. One moment the man is telling you a story or teaching you a melody, and the next, his words push deep into a wounded soul.

Eliyahu sinks down onto the floor and closes his eyes. A moment later, he feels the warmth of Yannai’s arm around him. Weariness makes his bones heavy; he is still wet, and he hardly slept all night, passing through the valley of the shadow of death. How can he explain?

He drops his head into his arms. “It was my fault.” His voice is thick and the words must be pushed out, one by one.

“That the lamb lived? That the ewe birthed? I do not think so, young man.”

He shakes his head. “If I had not married her, she would still be alive today.”

Yannai heaves a deep sigh. Eliyahu opens his mouth to see Yannai pick up a stone from the floor of the cave and hold it in his palm as if it had special powers.

“So you blame yourself. But why not blame the child? If she had not brought the child into the world, she would be among the living.”

Is he witless? Eliyahu looks at the old man. He answers, trying to control the tremble in his voice. “It is not the child. Who longed for this child? Who prayed for this child? Who wanted more than anything to bring this child into the world?”

“Ah, and who brought you into the world? And your wife? And who gave existence to the angel of death?”

Yannai’s voice dips into an undertone. “Our Sages tell us that in the Holy Land, death does not come about from the malach hamaves, or Satan, but through the angel Gavriel. Each day, the Holy One gives him a list of the souls to be taken. And He sends one of his great hosts, one angel for each soul to be transported on High. And when that angel has done his duty, his mission is over and he ceases to exist.”

Eliyahu nods. His hands are wet with tears. He does not know that he understands the man or his words, but the words stroke his soul.

“And in the Torah, these messengers are compared to bees, for when the bee has stung its life is over.”

Eliyahu swallows. “And so, this is why I have no honey.”

How bitterly the man had complained when he had first come. No honey. Nothing to sweeten his drinks, his tongue, soothe his spirit.

Yannai picks up his hand and strokes it. “The bee has come and gone. And there is no honey, but now there is also no sting.”

He stands and grasps the stick that Eliyahu gave him. “There is only the One who created the honey and created the sting. It is Him you must make peace with now, Eliyahu. But do not do so here, alone in a cave, with only a newborn lamb to hold the wonder of life. Do so surrounded by the people He made.”


A knock. Leonora looks up from her plans — they still struggle to find a shepherd for the Merino sheep, due to arrive any day — and waits for the door to open.

It doesn’t.

Strange. Ines does not knock, but simply strides in, and Leonora says nothing for the woman is more senior than her by ten years. But Yishai and Amram, and the most senior of servants who report directly to her — all of them simply knock and enter, carefully leaving the door open behind them, even her sons, though she suspects that may be so that they can make a quick escape, should they arouse her ire.

Her father had a more formal system: written requests, appointments made, a servant to smooth out his daily routine and take note of the comings in and goings out. As a child, she had watched him, waiting until he accompanied a visitor to the door so she could run inside and receive a pat on the cheek before he bid her to return to the garden or the nursery.

When she complained, her father had simply laughed. “And what should I do, little maid? Sit at my desk, bellowing for people to enter, and while my words penetrate oak door, flesh ear, bone skull, just sit there, waiting?”

Another knock. She smiles to herself. He knew how to phrase things, her Papa.

She eases herself up off her chair, ignoring her aching knees — she perhaps overdid the ride this morning, but she cannot resist looking for the two men — old and young, struggling over the hilltops.

She pulls open the door and sees Bellida there, her Yishai’s wife.

She smiles. “What a surprise. Bellida. Welcome.”

The woman steps inside and looks around. Leonora returns to her desk and regards her daughter-in-law. It is not her fault, that sharp little chin. It is simply the way the Almighty made her. But it does give a certain petulant edge to her words, whether real or imagined.

“I have come to talk to you about Yishai.”

Leonora feels her eyes widen. Her daughter-in-law has never come to her about personal matters. It is more comfortable that way, for both of them. A feeling of unease falls about her like a cloak.

“Pray continue.”

“He works long hours. Even when he is home for the evening meal, he leaves again soon after.”

Leonora looks at her thoughtfully. Every afternoon when the time comes for the Minchah prayer, Yishai leaves behind his duties to pray. Afterward, he stays to learn from the talmidei chachamim who sit quietly, immersed in their parchments and arguments, each eager to share their reasoning with him. He has told her how he is happy to just sit there and listen, occasionally asking a question, but mostly observing. She had nodded, thinking how strange it was that he could be so content with so little, but then wondering if that little was really something bigger than she could imagine.

By the early hours of the afternoon, he has stopped working on the plans for the wool factory, has checked up with the overseer of the soup kitchen, and received a daily report from the accountant. He has no duties at all.

She is careful when she speaks.

“I am sorry that Yishai is working too hard.” She looks at her daughter-in-law. “You must need him to be there for the evening meal.”

Bellida nods. “And for the children, to review the day’s lessons with them. Their tutor, he is exacting.”

Leonora had selected him herself. “Children need to learn how to apply themselves and work hard. It is the only way to succeed in life.”

“True. But they can do so through encouragement, instead of punishment. When a person’s soul is filled with the will to do good, he will succeed even if he is not threatened.”

Leonora idly moves the wooden beads across the large abacus that sits on her desk. She wonders where these ideas come from.

“A person does not need gentleness to give them a will to succeed.”

Bellida looks at her and there it is, that chin again, thrust into the air as if it is a weapon. Has she said too much? Her own will — and it is formidable — was born from brokenness, not comfort.

She tries to explain. “Look at who we are. Why else is our nation tormented so, if not to give us a will to succeed despite the odds?”

Bellida looks away. Leonora sighs. She did not mean to be harsh. Ines tells her that she spends too much time each day giving orders and not enough talking to fellow women. She had scorned Ines’ words; what should she do, exactly, in conversation with women? Tell them about how much wool each sheep can produce each year, and how much wool that will become, and how many suits of clothing can be woven from that wool? Or should she expect them to follow the calculations — gematrias and codes and hints — about the Final Redemption?

Ines is usually right. Maybe the habit of harshness has entered her tongue.

“Bellida, I regret this. I shall see to it that Yishai is dismissed from his duties earlier in the day.”

The woman’s eyes grow suddenly bright. Poor Bellida. She was probably terrified to confront her.

Bellida reaches behind her and picks up a basket that she places on the desk in front of Leonora. Inside is a large branch, covered in orange blossom.

“I thought that you would like this,” she says. Her face is tight, her forehead taut.

She runs her fingertip along the bark. A branch from a pomegranate tree, covered in orange blossom.

Leonora is suddenly touched. Bellida had made the switch from overawed newlywed to antagonistic daughter-in-law, and if there was a place of reprieve, of simply getting to know and appreciate each other, it had been swallowed up in their travels through Europe to the Holy Land. She had never made demands on her, simply given Yishai a job in helping run the estate and in turn, furnished them with home, servants, plenty.

“He would not have cut it from the tree, but it had been damaged and it was hanging crookedly from a limb.”

“Still, it flowered.”

“Well, we do not know when the damage was born.”

She lifts it and looks at the tear in the bark; some of it is fresh — Bellida or one of the children or a servant snapping it off. But most of it is healed, showing that although it was hanging at some strange angle, it was still connected to the life force that pushed its way from the roots, through the branches, to the boughs, sprouting into leaves.

Early that afternoon, Leonora swaps her gray silk dress for a plain black woolen dress and wraps a large shawl around her head and shoulders. When Yishai leaves the house in the afternoon, she keeps a safe distance, but follows as he walks down the road and then turns into a tiny alleyway.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 801)

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