Legend of the Thirty Six

The Secret of Shabbat
From “The Legend of the Thirty Six”

. . .Abbaye said, “there is not less than thirty six righteous persons in each generation who receive the Shekhinah [the inner presence of Godliness]
— Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b

“Tell me the Secret of Shabbat,” I said to Mihaly. “The secret of Shabbat is the secret of unity,” he said. “The inner and the outer: one. The separations, gone.” He told it to me as if he were reading it off the wind above his head. “The secret of Shabbat is that the deep swallows the artificial, the inner subsumes the outer. I need meaning. It completes me. That is the secret of Shabbat.”
— from “The Legend of the Thirty Six”

We were sitting in a circle after the gig. I mentioned the waiting. I am always waiting. I am only waiting.

Sam opened his eyes and said in an Eastern European accent, “We are all waiting. Our House of Holiness has been destroyed, we are waiting for its rebuilding. We are in-between. I am patient. I am waiting.”

“But I believe perfectly well that I am waiting for something. Do you know the story of Joshua ben Levi? He goes looking for the Messiah, Mashiach. He sees Elijah standing by the entrance of Bar Yochai’s tomb. He asks Elijah, where is he? Elijah says, he’s outside the gates, with the lepers, bandaging their wounds one by one. Joshua ben Levi finds the Messiah and asks him THE question: when will you come? You know what his answer is? Today. When Joshua ben Levi returns, Elijah asks him, ‘psst Joshua ben Levi, what did the Messiah say?’ Joshua ben Levi tells him and Elijah interprets it: ‘today, if you will hear his voice.’ Well, I am waiting, today. It’s not passive because I am on fire with expectation, today. I will be on fire tomorrow too.”

There was silence in the room.

“It’s like tzimtzum” [the contraction of Godliness], Pearl said. “God said, wait here, I’ll be right back. . . dot dot dot. We live in the ellipses, isn’t that what it’s called? The three dots. I live in the ellipses. I am always waiting for God.”

“I live in the ellipses,” I repeated. “Yes, I live there too.”

There was more silence in the room. Then I told the story that Judah told me, a story that he had heard from Reb Shlomo, may his memory be a blessing. At the end of the story, the Kotzker Rebbe finds his friend Reb Isaac, who is waiting next to the Sea of Tears, and he has sworn that he will not leave that place until God has dried every tear.

My voice broke towards the end of the story, and again it had swept me away, the story-picture of Reb Isaac leaning on his staff at the edge of the Sea of Suffering, swearing he would not leave that place until God had dried every tear. That is just the version of waiting I hold in my heart, that sense of waiting, that is it exactly. I know it and it breaks my heart more.

Later that night we swam after midnight. I was exhausted. It is good, good to be outside the camp, and beautiful, so beautiful in the land of exile. I looked up in the sky at a thousand stars over the midbar [wilderness] and every one of them is a soul on its way, somewhere new.

James Stone Goodman
United States of America