The Dogs of War

We are walking down the streets of Warsaw. The dogs of war are growling at our passing. The Rabbi is attempting to explain how to read the Torah. He’ll buttonhole any one who will listen.


    He grabs me by the collar. I can smell the sweet decaying wine on his breath. He says,

    “What you have to understand is, G-d is not only old paper and ancient laws. In the book is only the revealed Torah. But the revealed Torah is not G-d. Only part of G-d.

    “There is also the unrevealed Torah. You cannot understand one without the other.”

    Now that he has my attention, he releases my collar, and coughs into a handkerchief.  It’s more of an old rag, really. It’s a spasmic cough, long and mournful, I want to help somehow, but can only wait respectfully for him to regain his breath and continue. Finally he folds the soiled rag, and sticks it in his pocket. It disappears, one rag inside another. His coughing has set off the dogs, and from every direction comes the howling and growling of wolves. Siberians, really, wolves who do the will of men.

    We pay no more mind to them than to the booming of artillery far off in the countryside, the sounds of armies, preparing, testing, honing. The sulfurous odor of gunpowder forms a backdrop, along with the barking of dogs, along with the barking of dogs, and the dust.

    The dust is everywhere, dry as sun bleached bone. Even the sky can shed no tears into this inferno.

    “What do you mean, the unrevealed Torah?” I ask, passing him the wine bottle to clear his throat.

    “Look around you? Look, look. Open your eyes,” he replies, then takes a long gulp from the bottle. “The scriptures are written in all things.”

    He gazes off, into the distance, one of those long pauses more densely packed than any paragraph of sound. I follow his eyes, and find them resting on a small tree, which is growing directly out of a cracked masonry wall, three stories up, near the roofline of an old government building in the Germanic style of some previous occupation.

    It juts out first sideways, straight out from the wall, roots sinking into the mortar. Then it curves upward, reaching for the despondent sky, branches outstretched in silent pleading. Small purple flowers dot its branches, some in bloom, others in bud, and still others already drying into their decay.

    “You can read this tree as scripture itself. G-d is there, and also his people. They are written in the roots, the branches, the flowers, the leaves, even the wall itself which the tree is returning to soil.

    “That tree has found for itself the harshest of soil, in which to thrive. Perhaps this is our people in Egypt, increasing and multiplying in spite of, maybe even because of, Pharaoh’s burdens.

    “Also, he is G-d, who declares that all things which rise out of the soil must return to the soil, each in their season.

    “Above, we see this sulfurous sky, to which our speckled friend raises his arms as if a farmer begging for rain.

    “But soon this sky will rain fire, having become an avenging angel. The fire will burn down the temples, both those which men have built and those which G-d has raised out of the soil.  The scorched Earth will feed grasses, trees, buildings, and souls raised anew out of what has come before them.

    “Nothing is destroyed by fire. Only soil, made flesh and bone and wood and masonry, becomes soil again.

    “You can see this too, G-d’s little stationary Angel, taking this building down, brick by brick, breaking off and feeding from the mortar itself, soil to soil again, only so that out of the Earth can grow new and grander things.”

    He disappears into a pause again. I take another deep drought off the bottle to chase the cold, then stare, transfixed by his beard of many grays, a beard which contains all of the clouds of the sky in its dark fibers. Then, as quickly as he vanished, he emerges from the caverns of his soul.

    “The coming fire will consume us all. Only the hardiest of seeds will prevail. Everything which is old and dry and brittle will be reduced to ash, and become soil for the coming generations.

    “I fear the knowledge of how to read the Torah, written and unwritten, revealed and unrevealed, will be lost in the coming fire. and will perhaps take many generations to be rediscovered. Already we cling to the Law, in the hopes that by its strict observance we will be saved from the coming destruction. But one can observe the Law so closely that one cannot see anything else. Not even G-d.

    “So the question becomes, when this comes to pass, who will truly be responsible for the murder of G-d? Will the guilt lay only with those who seek to eradicate the faithful, and our unmediated relationship with G-d which leaves no room on our souls for the State? Or will the Chosen ourselves push the G-d who lives in all things from our sight, and replace Him with the god who is dead in the Law but can no longer speak through the Creation itself?

    “Who will bring him back to Earth, after man has banished the living G-d?” After men spend generations searching for Zion, for Heaven, for Eden in some faraway place, perhaps in Jerusalem, perhaps in death, when will they discover again Heaven in the soul where the living G-d dwells within us?


    In the distance, the dogs continue to howl. The thunder booms, but no rain falls. Hooves and wheels clatter on the dry bones of the street, hurrying in all directions at once.

    The clouds open briefly. The purple flowers of the insouciant little misplaced tree show resplendently in sun, before the sky closes again.


Mike’s Piano

I’m walking down the street, following vague directions towards a piano I’ve never played. The birds are chattering in the trees, lending a surround sound symphony to the settling sun. On spring evenings, the sunlight wandering through the trees is resplindant, the amber color filtering down amongst the branches to dapple the late March flowers. All the village is bathed in rippling rays of light and shadow.

Along the path, an eighth of a mile distant, I hear a bird different from the rest, straight ahead, and look up, startled by the sound of Wagner. I’ve never before heard this music played so brilliantly, so perfectly eloquent on a simple piano. The house before me resonates in the evening wind, and something between elation and utter disbelief settles in. I can’t quite comprehend the magesty of this. Looking around, turning my head side to side, I try to find if the notes are reflec ting from somewhere, but there’s no doppler effect; they are directly in front of me. I peer intently at the bamboo forest which forms the yard of 1600 Tollgate Road.

There’s a tear in my eye, then another. The emotion and sorrow and searching of these last 4 years overwhelm me through every cell. I keep walking, compelled, concious only of the pull of these musical notes dragging me forward. “Oh, G-d,” I think, “this is too much, just a little more than I can comprehend. You have got to be kidding. . . of course you are, but what a punchline!”

I wander across the pebble driveway, dragging my feet and consuming the old familiar sound of this little roadway. It leads up to the brick stairs wandering to the various doorways into this magnificent house. I can’t go through the door yet, but Seth is playing the piano magnificently, and I sit on the stairs, smoking a Newport and crying out the tears of all these broken years since the last time this old lady, this beautiful hidden house, sang out. It is a complete circle, a rebirthing, and the forests surrounding tremble and dance with the sound of these aweful and brilliant messages, a story of perserverance woven in the ancient 12 note scale, all civilization’s struggles realized in this instant of grandeur.
“Oh, Michael, we have missed your voice so much!” I say, wiping the tears from my face and trying to look more composed than my heart can possibly feel. I walk along the old pathway towards the back, where Kali’s front porch was. There are little marbles set in the concrete, leading away to that place where he lay, looking up at the night sky and at our shocked faces. We were surrounding him, White Mike pushing us back so we didn’t crowd all the air away from the injured, but nothing could halt this, a burbling spring of the blood, the wine of our family leaking away, down the backside of Tollgate, finding it’s way to the cemetary ahead of Black Mike, and us.

He radiated then, as his strength dissipated into the humus below, becoming soil for new life as he left us, slowly. No sound could come from his lips, but he told us then, not to worry; all was fine. Then he was gone, cooling in the night air. His warmth was beyond us, and the wind rose and carried the evening off to make way for our cold despair.

I shake these memories back a bit, and finally walk into Mike’s apartment, Seth’s apartment now, and look around. Of course she doesn’t look the same. She was marked with the signs and symbology of dreadlocked prophets then. Now, the decorations are more austere, clean white walls and polished floors, canonical texts neatly arrayed on shelves, but it is every inch the same rooms, I remember the old furniture and the stories attached to them.

I’m overwhelmed again, and have to sit down, attempting to maintain some composure; the tears keep coming anyways, and I don’t want to hold them, they need thier escape. We’ve held our faces against the sorrow of this emptiness, this hole in our family so long, and have been numb and slowly dying through it all, receding from our dreams, unable to continue our ambitions in the face of this.

Oh this death, a cruel ripping away the fine patriarch of our ad hoc family of wandering rabbis, has left us torn and confused, unable to converse with G-d, or hear him. We have unable or unwilling to believe that the same G-d we knew at the park could do this, would cast plague upon our house which would decimate our ranks and dim our community with the falling ashes of our charred spirit. How could Mike deserve this, so young, so brilliant, so perfect and powerful? We, who had given all of ourselves to each other and the world in the pursuit of nature’s perfect beauty, how could we deserve this? What had happened that our archangel had been taken from us?