by Luise Rinser
Translated from the German by Frank Thomas Smith
It was good that in those days something new was introduced, something unexpected: two women came, Yochana, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s finance minister, and a court-lady by the name of Shoshana.
My jaw dropped. I’d known them for a long time. Yochana had been one of my father’s best customers, she came often to Magdala representing Herod. She came with great pomp and ordered the best oils and aromatic waters and ointments, She was rich herself and well married, it seemed, and had three children. Now she came on foot, she and her serving lady, and they were dusty and without make-up.
What do you want here?
To live with you.
Do you spoiled women have any idea of how we live?
We do have an idea, and that’s why we’re here, Yochana said.
What’s happened to you? What changed you so much? Is this a joke or are you in earnest?
I am very much in earnest. I have burnt all bridges behind me.
Life at the court has bored me for a long time now, or rather it sickened me. But I accepted it. Until that happened, I mean the Baptist. When Princess Shulamit brought the silver tray with the Baptist’s severed head on it as though it were a calf’s head, disgust overcame me. The dead eyes stared at me. I went out and vomited. In the evening I said to my husband: can you stand that? He said: What can I do? I’m a minister, Herod is the sovereign. So, I said, you agree with this murder and all the whoring at court? What does agree mean, he said, I must close my eyes to it. Then keep them closed, I said, but mine have been opened, once and for all, and I’m leaving. You’re leaving? Where to? Away. And then I said something I wouldn’t have said an instant before, I said: I’m going to look for the one the Baptist spoke of. Chuza said: You’re crazy, as crazy as the Baptist. Then I’m crazy, I said, and you can be glad to be rid of me. I want to be free. It was as if Chuza had been struck on the head. You want to be free, aren’t you free now? No, said I, I am not free. He asked: Am I perhaps the cause of your not being free? Do you want a divorce? Is there another man? I said: No other man, but maybe something else. He said: Are you unsatisfied? Do you want more money, more jewelry, more servants? Or am I no longer good in bed? I said: You don’t understand, it’s something completely different. What then? We waste our lives here eating, drinking, gambling, whoring. He was shocked at his wife’s, the court lady’s, words. I didn’t spare him. I said: We’re rich, but where does our wealth come from? We don’t work. Someone works so that we have money to gorge ourselves and whore around. Who works? The people. They work for us and we suck it up. Come, let’s go, let’s lead a different life. But, said he, I am a minister, I swore an oath to the king. Listen: this king has the right to expect loyalty. He is miserable, a fool, a prophet murderer, you manage blood money, Chuza! Come! He was impressed. He said: But what would we do, what would we live from? And our children? I said: We’ll take them with us. He wavered. But then he secretly sent the children away, gave me a purse full of money and traveled to Greece. And here I am. Here, take my purse, it’s all I have, but it’s enough.
Yeshua accepted them without many questions. The men however put their heads together and discussed it and came to no conclusion. Yeshua hadn’t asked them, but what would they have said if he had asked them? They sighed. Three women. They were used to me, I was already one of them. But now two more: what were they good for?
But Yehuda said: It’s not so bad, they brought money, quite a bit.
It this horse-trading? Does one pay in order to accompany the rabbi?
Shimon said: Life with us will soon be too hard for them; let them stay until they leave on their own; such as they don’t last long, it’s a whim.
But how they lasted! They put their hands to the plow and didn’t look back once, and only that moment when our old sailboat in Yafo left Yisrael did Yochana weep. She wept for her children. She never saw them again.
We didn’t stay three women for long, a fourth came: Shulamit, Ja’akov’s and the elder Yochanan’s mother. She didn’t come because of conviction but because she missed hers sons, she was very close to them. She said it openly. Yeshua didn’t want family ties. With reason, as it turned out. She wasn’t with us more than a few days when she demanded privileges, though not for herself, but for her sons. The rabbi wanted to give us an example of the realm of peace: a feast of peace, a feast of love. At that Shulamit threw herself to the ground.
What do you want? Get up.
The scene was embarrassing.
Rabbi, my sons have given up everything for you. How will you reward them? Let them sit next to you at that feast, one on the right, the other on the left!
I laughed at such lack of understanding. Yeshua rebuked me and said: She is such a short time with us, how should she have knowledge? But even you, who have been with me a long time, all of you have not understood that in the realm of the spirit no one is master and no one servant, there are only brothers, each of whom is the servant of the other. You want a reward for following me? Fools. Isn’t it enough that you have found the drachma which your ancestors have sought for a thousand years?
They were both ashamed because of their mother.
To Shulamit he said: Do you tie birds with ship ropes?
Yeshua was right to reject family ties, for himself, for us. His own family made trouble for him. I met them at a wedding in Cana. The bride was a relative of Yeshua’s and she invited him and us. A humble wedding of poor people. They were all poor, also Yeshua’s brothers, the sons from Joseph’s first marriage. They weren’t happy to see their brother. Sidelong glances, short, cold greetings, distrust. Only the mother was friendly, but it seemed to me that she was shy of showing that she loved her son Yeshua, in her way. She wanted to speak to me.
So it’s you! She said.
That was puzzling.
You are together with my son?
Together? How do you mean that? I am one of his pupils. He also has others.
Yes, but you have been longest with him. Tell me, what do you think of him?
Would I be with him if I didn’t consider him to be a great rabbi?
I must admit that I wasn’t very friendly to her. I didn’t like her asking me, a stranger, about her son. She noticed, and quietly withdrew.
So that was his mother. Was she really? Was she the one who grew up in the temple, about whom Yochanan and I spun such dreams? If she was, then she had forgotten her past. It seemed to me that she didn’t realize to whom she gave birth. But then: the thing with the wine. There was none left and the party was far from over. Great embarrassment. I saw how is mother went up to him and spoke to him. He stepped back, she pressed, he was unwilling, but she followed him, she almost stepped on his heels. What did she want from him?
It was obvious: she wanted him to help the poor newly married couple, who were ashamed because there was no more wine. I wanted to say: we still have money in the purse, one of us should go and buy wine.
But something had already happened: suddenly there was wine again, great flasks full. It was simply accepted, no one gave it much thought.
Someone had brought wine, why not? A late guest with a wedding present.
His mother, though, wore a triumphant smile, as one who has accomplished what she wanted.
Did she now have the answer to her question?
I went up to Yochanan. Did you see that?
He didn’t ask: What?
I said: Does he do such things often? Does one learn that down there in the desert? Is that what they call dominating the force of nature?
He said: It can be learned, certainly, but that she challenged him to do it, that was wrong. He shouldn’t do such things. When they find out that he can do such things, they will spread it around and demand that he change stones to bread and scorpions to fish and the earth to paradise, and if he doesn’t do it they will revile and kill him.
How did his mother know that he could do something like that?
She had her dreams about him being special, and now she has a proof. She will want another, then another, and will never be certain.
What does she want to test for?
For that for which there is no test. For what HE HIMSELF is the test.
Yeshua didn’t wait for the party to end. He left. He left without saying goodbye to his mother. For her part, she stood aside.
But I understood Yeshua’s conduct when some time later in another place he was told that his mother and his brothers had arrived. He said: Who is my mother, brother, sister? The one who is related to me not by blood, but by the spirit.
Why had they come? They said it: to take him home. They thought him mad, and in his madness dangerous. The way he talked against the priests no reasonable person talked. It was naked defiance, it was madness that would end badly and cast suspicion and discredit on the whole family.
Yeshua refused to see them. The family turned up again and again in order to take him home. We protected him.
His mother had a long way to go before she knew who he was. She knew it in it’s full meaning when she stood under the cross on which he died. The hour of his defeat, which she had feared all her life, brought her the great knowledge.
We were four women when we first went together to the Pesach feast in Yerushalayim: Yochana, Shoshana, I, and Shulamit. The men: Shimon and Andreas, Ja’akov and Yochanan, Philippos and Bartolomaios, both pupils of the Baptist, as well as Matthaios the tax collector, Thomas and two other Galileans: the other Shimon, who was from Cana, and the young Yochanan, my comrade at thought games, and the latest arrivals: Yehuda and Carioth. A large group, not to be ignored.
We weren’t ignored, oh no, there was a lot of talk: a rabbi and, even including Shimon, a bunch of young men, together with those women who appear with their rabbi in public. What if it spreads? If more and more women join them?
You take them too seriously, it’s a vogue, it’ll disappear as it came.
What do the people see in this Galilean? With the best will I see nothing special about him.
I heard that they live like the Essenes, they don’t touch each other.
Oh sure. They are all young. And that one from Magdala with her snake-hair, she and her rabbi! Don’t tell me that.
I’d like to know what the rabbi offers the women to make them run after him like that.
Women always run after men. Nothing occurs to them by themselves. We males beget children and ideas, the females do the rest.
We were told that one of them said: Is it true that they run after a man? Isn’t it more likely that they follow a person who doesn’t take them for women, but as human beings? They are seeking something that, they say, we don’t give them. But what?
Women and spirit! Contradiction.
What do women need spirit for? They should stay home and not wander all over the country. They should bear children. They should work, and those young men too, instead of standing around the squares and giving rebellious speeches in the synagogues and tempting young people out of their homes. There are always more of them. Something like this spreads like wildfire.
This and much more was rumored about us, but far from Roman ears: What if it was completely different? If it was preparation for revolt? Look where this rabbi gets his followers from: the landless, the poor, the unsatisfied. Night after night he sits together with such types in notorious taverns. The people are in ferment and he takes advantage of it.
But against the Romans he says not a word. Haven’t you heard how the scribes asked him about paying taxes to the Romans? Give to Caesar what you must give.
You’re telling only the half of it: and give to the All High what he is due.
What’s that supposed to mean?
It’s supposed to mean that we shouldn’t occupy ourselves with worldly questions. The Essenes also say that. It doesn’t matter if we have an emperor or not, if we have property or not, for soon there will be no emperor or property, the end of time is near and sweeps everything away, kings and emperors and Romans.
And Jews also?
The question remained open, it was too difficult. All the questions about the rabbi remained open.
There were always new ones. For example the thing with the adulteress. What did she have to do with Yeshua? It was supposed to be a test. The scribes wanted to know how this rabbi kept to the law. He spoke of love and tolerance. Fine. He also said he didn’t want to change the law. Let’s lay a trap for him.
They brought a woman before him who had been caught in bed with her lover. According to Jewish law she must be stoned to death. If Yeshua was against the stoning, he was against the law. But if he was for the law, he would be contradicting himself: hadn’t he said that one should not judge others, for that is against the law of love and one is then judging one’s self?
The woman wasn’t stoned to death and Yeshua wasn’t accused of being a lawbreaker. His cleverness was greater than that of those who had laid the trap.
I wasn’t a witness to the scene, I shuddered at the stoning, but when I heard that the woman was alive, I ran to her. She was still trembling all over. How did it happen? Why wasn’t the punishment carried out?
She told me: Those who brought me before the rabbi stood in a half-circle around me and him, and each one had his stone in hand and a pile of stones alongside him. Why didn’t they throw them? They were waiting for the rabbi’s word. But he sat there and drew with his finger in the sand. Complete silence. It wouldn’t have taken much longer and I would have died of fright without being stoned. The waiting was terrible. And then the rabbi’s voice: He among you, you men, who is without guilt, throw the first stone. Now. I crouched down. It wouldn’t have helped, but I crouched anyway and closed my eyes. But no stone came. Imagine: one after the other dropped his stone and left. It was wonderful how the rabbi brought them to it. They could have considered themselves righteous, compared to me. But to be sure, Miryam: one of them had already lain in my arms, he couldn’t very well have thrown at me. And the others: nothing but sinners. They are also adulterers, or cheaters, whatever. And then I was alone with the rabbi. Now he would say hard things and despise me. What do you think he said, and very mildly he said it: No one threw a stone at you, although you are also not without guilt. Go home now and change your life. That was all. Then I wept, and how I wept! How good he was to me, your rabbi!
And now, what will you do?
Never again, Miryam, never again forbidden love.
And he who slept with you? Why didn’t they bring him also to be stoned? The law says that the man must also be punished with death.
Oh, you know, men amongst themselves. They let him go. He was one of them, you understand. The worst of it is: we are in love. I have a hard husband who beats me, and he has a viper for a wife. He and I, we were comfort and support for each other. But now? It is no longer possible. We don’t want to separate because of the punishment, not because of that. It’s your rabbi’s word: Change you life! How he looked at me! It went through my whole body. It hit its mark. He is one who has power. Perhaps a prophet. Surely a saint.
The scribes, however, neither forgot nor forgave Yeshua that he had forced them to humble themselves. Afterwards, they didn’t understand themselves how it had come about. Compared to that adulteress they – some of them at least – could have considered themselves righteous and thrown the first stone. Too late now. They’d have to set another trap for him.
Rabbi, how is it with the divorce law?
Aren’t you scribes? Don’t you know?
Of course, of course. But there’s a problem. Moshe allowed divorce, but the All Mighty created humanity as man and women, who become one flesh when they marry. How can flesh be separated from flesh?
If Moshe nevertheless allowed divorce, he had a reason. You know it, or don’t you?
We know it: The man can give the woman a divorce-letter if she has leprosy or is unfaithful to him or has mismanaged his belongings or if she is sterile for ten years.
And the woman: can she also give a divorce letter?
She can demand one.
According to the law. What happens to the divorced woman though? She goes back to her family, no man wants her anymore, she ages joylessly. But the man takes a young wife, for that’s what he really wanted: to get rid of his wife because he is sick of her.
Rabbi, they say you are unmarried, you don’t know what a burden a shrewish wife can be, especially when she ages. All the wounds on earth are not as bad as that which a shrewish wife inflicts on a man, and no serpent has more spiteful venom than a female tongue. Better to live with a lion than with an angry old woman.
Yeshua said: You have learned Yeshua Ben Sira´s sayings well. He was also a man, and the holy scripts all originate from men. What would happen if there was a script written by a clever woman? What would she have to say on this subject? Perhaps this: No ox can kick harder than an angry man, and no dog pounces more greedily on a bitch than a lustful man on his wife.
But they like us the way we are: so manly.
You just said that they are nagging and spiteful. A question for you: were they nagging and spiteful when you married them? If yes, why didn’t you choose better? If no, then marriage has made them sulky and bitter and nagging. Is it their fault, or also yours?
One of them said: One time so strict, Rabbi, another time so lenient; how can they go together?
One of them is the law, the other the lenience of the judge.
Behind his back they said: How he plays the judge and at the same time says that one shouldn’t judge. A scatterbrain who is also dangerously clever.
One of them, however, asked Yeshua: If you think so highly of marriage, Rabbi, why are you unmarried?
He said: Some there are who are incapable of consummating marriage due to a birth defect. Others because of castration. Still others, however, live unmarried for the sake of the spirit. He who can grasp it, let him grasp it.
They didn’t grasp it.
They knew about the Essenes’ unmarried life, but they lived in communities in the desert, and only men lived together. But every Essene follower who lived in the tent camps was married and had children. Rabbi Yeshua’s followers were neither one nor the other. What to think about them? Would it would go well in the long run? They would have to be watched.
In fact, this group with the Nazarene must be kept under secret control, especially since the scandalous events in the temple. How could he have dared to act as he did if he didn’t have powerful people behind him who protect him? Who was behind him? The Pharisees? Or perhaps the Sadducees? Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s: is he a friend of the Romans? Or does he speak with a snake’s forked tongue?
He came into the temple. He hadn’t been there in a long time and didn’t know that the merchants and money changers carried out their business in Salomon’s court, naturally with the priests’ permission, how else. It was like the market there: they yelled, haggled, fought, the sacrificial animals bleated and roared, it stank of urine and excrement. Yeshua stood there stiffly for a moment, then he dove in, a storm, among the merchants, overturned their tables and cried: Is this a den of thieves or a house of prayer? Out with you!
He was like a madman, but one with authority. Nobody stopped him, that was strange, no one laid a hand on him. The merchants caught their animals, the money-changers knelt on the floor and picked up their coins, the animals were driven out and suddenly the court was empty.
Then the priests came: What do you think you’re doing?
And he: And what do you think you’re doing? You should have done what I did.
Who are you, that you do this? Do you have a mandate and from whom? Show us a document that identifies you.
He said: You must know me, you heard me preach in the synagogue and here in the temple. Why do you ask?
We are asking for your mandate!
He looked at them one after the other, then he said: I’ll give you a sign, pay attention to my words, listen: Tear this temple down, and in three days I will rebuild it.
Words of a madman. In three days you would build what it took our fathers a half a century to do?
One said softly: Is he a magician?
Another: He can’t mean that literally. What is the meaning behind it?
They said: Explain yourself!
But he didn’t answer, he pulled his cloak close around him and walked through all of them and out of the temple. We followed him and he was uncanny to us. Was there some craziness in him after all?
We stayed no longer in Yerushalayim.
We began our wanderings again, this time towards the north. It was hot and dusty after a long period of dryness. We longed for the green Galilee and the soft sea. On the way we went through the province of Samaria. Passing through Samaria was always somewhat of an adventure, because hostility existed between Judea and Samaria. An ancient hostility that flared up again and again. The Samaritans had, contrary to the law, intermarried with the uncircumcised, and in order to preserve their peace and unity, had to change much of the old law. They recognized only the book of Moshe from the Holy Book, everything else being for them trimmings and not holy. Therefore the circumcised in Judea forbade them access to the temple. From then on they prayed like the gentiles in the open air on Garizim Hill, their faces turned away from Yerushalayim. One might think they would be on better terms with the Romans. But no, they were the Roman’s most vehement enemies, and of all who cooperated with them: the high-ups in Yerushalayim. The hostility was equal on both sides. In Judea I’d heard it said: to accept a piece of bread from a Samaritan is as bad as eating pork. So the Samaritans were considered unclean. Yeshua was always indignant when the Samaritans were agitated against, and he lost no opportunity to intervene for them and bring about peace.
Once, when there was strife between the provinces, a scribe asked him: Rabbi, is the commandment from the All-High that one should love one’s neighbor valid for you as well?
What do you mean by this question?
I’m just asking.
You people never just ask. I will answer your question. Listen: Once a merchant of Judea went from Yerushalayim to Jericho. Thieves attacked him there, knocked him down, emptied his pockets and left him lying there. A man from Yerushalayim passed by, a priest. He saw the wounded man lying there, shrugged, and went on. Then a second man came, a Levite, saw the wounded man, and passed him by. Then a merchant of Samaria came, who dismounted from his horse, bandaged the man’s wounds, lifted him onto his horse, brought him to the next hostel where he had him attended to. Before he rode on, he gave the innkeeper money and said: Whatever you spend in excess of this, I will pay you when I return. Now tell me, friend from Yerushalayim, which one kept the commandment of love?
To have pitted a Samaritan against a Jewish priest, that was going far. The scribe walked away frowning, and surely he spread the story around, and surely it was exploited: That Nazarene is on the side of the Samaritans, listen, listen!
So we entered the unloved province. Halfway between Yerushalayim and Nazareth is the city of Sichar. Not a noteworthy city. But before its walls is the famous well that our forefather Ja’akov had dug at the foot of Mount Garizim, on the land that Ja’akov gave to Josef. The well was deep and still had good water. Surely all Sichar took water there as in the old days. Yeshua sat near the cistern while we went into the city to buy food.
As he sat there, a woman came with a jar. When she noticed from his speech that he was from Galilee, he became like air for her. Whether a Jew from Judea or from Galilee: it made little difference.
This Galilean overlooked her hostility however. He said amiably (and how amiable he could be!): Please give me drink!
The woman said bitingly: You, a Jew from there, ask me for water? Aren’t you afraid of becoming unclean?
He didn’t react to the sarcasm. He said: If you only knew!
If you knew who it is who asks,
What would happen then?
Then you would ask him to give you water.
You’re a strange one, you. First you ask me to give you water, now you want to give me water. How then, without a pail?
Again he didn’t react to the sarcasm. He said: I can give you the water of life.
She laughed. So you’re one of those from the market who offer the elixir of life that gives eternal youth.
He said: I speak of water of another kind, and of a life of another kind.
You are making me curious, stranger.
Woman, tell me: when you drink the water from this well is your thirst quenched forever?
Of course not. Especially not in this heat.
If there was a water that quenches all thirst forever?
It would be practical. Then I wouldn’t have to come here every day dragging this jar. Unfortunately, this fabulous water doesn’t exist, or does it?
She was sarcastic, but also curious and miracle addicted as well. Maybe this stranger really had a special kind of water, like a curative water.
Yeshua heard her thoughts and said: I will give you living water, but first go home and bring your husband.
My husband? I have none.
So is it, said he: You have had five husbands, and the one you have now isn’t yours.
That hit home.
How do you know that, stranger?
She said: Are you clairvoyant, or what? Maybe even a prophet?
He still smiled.
She was confused. What are you then? There’s something about you that makes me cold and hot.
Sit here, Samaritan. Tell me, whence comes the hostility between you and us?
Don’t you know? It’s an old story. In your eyes we are unfaithful, lawbreakers, outcasts. You have forbidden us the temple. So we pray outdoors.
So it is. My question to you: Is it a sin to pray to the Eternal One outdoors?
You ask me that. You tell me!
Listen, the time will come when we will honor the Eternal One neither there in the temple nor on your mountain, but in spirit. Do you understand that?
Not really. Explain it.
Is the Eternal One the god of the Jews of Judea, or also the god of the Samaritans?
And is he only the god of the Jews?
I think: the Eternal One is the god of all.
Well said. And where does the Eternal One reside?
He doesn’t reside anywhere. He’s too big to reside.
He doesn’t reside then in the temple?
No. But where?
Yeshua (she told us this later) pointed to her, then to himself.
Do you mean that he is within the person?
So is it. He is spirit. And when two people are together, he is what binds them. Do you understand?
I sense what you mean. I have always thought that the right description of the Eternal One is still lacking. But who are you to know the right description?
When he was silent, she insisted: Tell me, who are you, stranger?
Then he looked at her in a way that frightened her, a fright of joy, she said, and suddenly she knew: He is more than a prophet.
This knowledge hit her like lightning and she jumped up and ran into the city as if swept by a storm, and there she cried out: At Ja’akov’s well is a prophet, come, see for yourselves! He knows what is hidden and the future, come!
They ran with her back to the well, where the stranger sat playing with a puppy that had come up to him.
We had just returned from the city with bread and wine, which we offered to Yeshua. He gave his bread to the puppy and ate nothing. I have other nourishment, he said. That was puzzling.
The people from the city came running, a great crowd of them, that frightened us, did they intend to attack us? We didn’t know what the woman had told them.
They cried: Shalom, Shalom!
That was an offer of peace. We were astonished, and more so when they invited Yeshua to the city to preach.
Yehuda said softly: Don’t trust them! It could be a trap.
But Yeshua stood up and went with them to the city.
We stayed there a whole week and Yeshua preached in the synagogue and in the squares and alleys, and the people were insatiable to hear him.
In secret they asked us: This rabbi of yours, is he the Messiah?
We asked back: Who do you think he is?
A dispute broke out: the Baptist returned form the realm of death. Elijah. Jeremiah. A new prophet. Or…?
When we didn’t answer, they said: It’s probably still a secret, who he is, and you may not say, is that so?
I said: He is a great rabbi. Isn’t it enough for you to know that?
It wasn’t enough, but they came to no end with their thoughts and talk.
Yeshua said: It is time to leave.
There was no holding him, although the people of Sichar begged him to stay. When he decided to leave, he left. It was as though someone was calling him and he had to follow, whatever the cost.
We had gone a short way when a young man ran after us. I had noticed him during the past week. He was always around Yeshua and hung on his every word. What did he want now?
Rabbi, I want to be your disciple. I want to become perfect. Until now I have complied with everything the law and commandments prescribe. Now I want to do more. Tell me what I must do to be your disciple!
Yeshua looked at him for a long time, then he said: Go home, divide up your land and distribute it so that every worker has a piece large enough so he can live from it, and give away all that you have. Then come!
Divide up the land? Rabbi, you don’t know what such an estate is. Dividing it up would make it no longer profitable. Such a property must be held together. And the workers, do you think they have a clear vision of the whole? They could not manage it without me. Furthermore, they don’t want a change, they are well off with me. It could not be better for them. If I gave them the land, they would have to work twice or three times as much in order to produce the same harvest, and if the harvest failed they would have nothing. I give them security.
Yeshua listened silently, drawing in the sand, then he said: You have spoken long and reasonably. Go home and take care of your property. Where your treasure is, there also is your heart. You cannot be my disciple.
Rabbi, I will give more alms, and I will raise my workers’ pay. Is that nothing?
Yeshua said, turning to us: The reasoning of the children of this world hinders their ascent. See how the bird is stuck to the lime twig!
To the young man he said: Look at these people, my young man. They have given up all they had, and have traded the great freedom for it. Friend: It is easier for a ship’s cable to pass through a needle’s eye than a property owner into the realm of the spirit.
But Rabbi, I…
Yeshua cut him off. Go! Go and learn that your property is consumed by rust and moths, that the roof over your head falls in, that your land will become desert. Perhaps, when your property is taken from you by violence will you realize: it was nothing.
The young man hung his head, then he went away, very slowly at first, then he ran as though chased. He fled from the rabbi, he fled from himself.
Yeshua watched him sadly.
Yehuda said: If it were up to me I wouldn’t have let him go. I would have said to him: Lease your property if you don’t want to divide it up and give it away, and bring the rent here and stay with us. Now he goes away and accumulates more money and has a half-hearted guilty conscience.
Shimon also had an objection: Rabbi, haven’t you denied him the great opportunity to free himself. Weren’t you too hard?
And Yochanan said: If property is nothing, then one can have property as though one had nothing. We have nothing and live as though we had property. Aren’t both illusions: to have and to have not? All that matters is knowledge.
Yehuda derided him: Tell that to the farmers who have been chased from their land! Say: that is all nothing. You can live from nothing as well as from something. That doesn’t work. Share: yes. Dispossess the wealthy: yes. But own absolutely nothing, Rabbi, you can’t demand that of the people.
Yeshua said: Who demands it of all? Whoever longs for the eagle’s freedom chooses freedom from property. Whoever prefers to stay in the nest chooses property.
Yochanan said: Rabbi, we, your disciples, have given up everything for this freedom.
Yeshua said: Do you expect praise for that? And do you think that you have given everything up because you have given up property? There are many kinds of property and many kinds of attachment. Be careful that you are not attached to your thinking! Only he is free who renounces his I. Whoever gives up himself has the fullness of life. Freedom from the I: that is the realm of peace. Can you grasp that?
With that he left us standing there.
Yehuda said: I understand that so: whoever gives his life for the liberation of his people liberates himself.
The rest of us were silent.
Shortly thereafter I saw how Yehuda secretly counted the contents of his two purses. He touched the coins with his slender fingers so gently that they could have been a lover’s skin. He had never had one. His only love (we thought) was Yisrael. He was ready to die for her.
Continued in the next issue of SCR
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Luise Rinser (1911 - 2002), a schoolteacher who faced execution by the Nazis and lived to write about it, became one of the most celebrated and politically engaged authors in Germany. A best-selling novelist, diarist, short-story writer and political essayist, Ms. Rinser published about 30 books. Her works sold more than five million copies in 24 languages.