YK Stories

From the 9/11 Stories Part 2

Abbaye said, “there is not less than thirty six righteous persons in each generation who receive the Shekhinah [the inner presence of Godliness], as it is said, ‘fortunate are all who wait for him,’ and the word for him [lo] has the numerical value of thirty six.”

Rav said, “all the ends have passed, and the matter of the Messiah’s arrival depends only on transformation [teshuvah] and good deeds.”

But Shmuel says, “it is enough for the mourner to stand in his mourning.”

— Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b

In Abbaye’s teaching on the thirty six from the Talmud, the world required a minimum of thirty six righteous individuals, but for what, to exist? To be just? To be authenticated somehow? Thirty six who draw down Godliness into the world, without them, what?

After a gig one night in Arizona, Sam said, “there are not less than 36 righteous persons in the world, that’s it, it’s a minimum.”

Someone I did not know, it may have been someone who wandered in off the street, said, “It’s a minimum, as if to say, there may come a generation, there may have been, that does not contain thirty six righteous individuals.” She was wearing thick glasses and her glance moved from face to face in the circle when she spoke.
“That’s the problem, what happens if there are not enough good people in the world, what then? It happens, again and again: Auschwitz, Sarajevo, Rwanda, not enough righteousness. It’s not theoretical,” Sam again.

Ida sat next to Sam. She put a tissue to her eyes and only then did I notice her.

“What then?” said Ida.

“Some sort of complete transformation, a radical overthrow,” said Rick.

“Tears,” said Sam, “weep the world well. That’s what it takes. I’m still crying.”
“I called my project ‘the legend of the hidden Thirty Six,’ ” Todd said, “was it a later necessity that the 36 be hidden, weren’t they necessary to redeem the world?”

A young woman with black leather boots emitted a low groan, heard from one end of the room to the other, a deep sigh of sadness, “where could we find such people today?”

There was an old man who came in from the rain with disheveled hair and holding a cup of coffee, he said softly, “they are present in every generation. Present but secret. The difference is then they were manifest, now they are hidden.”

I felt the sadness and the optimism in the arguments of Rick and Sam, the necessity for the tears to somehow wash the world clean — not to change it in the common ways — simply to weep the world well, to cleanse it with our tears. A sad redemption, but a redemption. I felt it in my fingers and my fingers played it on my lute. I have tried to explain it, but I played it better. I cleansed myself with the music and many times since, with my tears, I wept myself well.

I don’t know how the world is to be saved, unless it is to repair it with tears. To weep the world well.

I recalled the artist I met in Italy and the stories that he occasionally told, especially the tender ones. I recalled the softness, the weeping in his eyes when he told them.

I was talking with J. on Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of teshuvah transformation between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. He was telling me about a friend of his son who had died in a car accident. “I was in New Jersey with a big big client,” J. said. “I live for this stuff, but I didn’t want to be there.”

“You don’t live for this stuff,” I said, “not for this, not for that, but for everything that issues from the mouth of God.”

“My heart hurts,” J. said.

“You’re saving the world,” I said, “you’re saving the world with your tears.”

Again, it was the weeping that drew me to these stories. When I returned home, I began to wonder why if I told such stories, where were my tears? Then, one day while playing music with one of my friends, I began to weep, quietly and inwardly. I had learned how to cry in such a way that no one noticed.

The world would not be saved in the common, obvious ways; it may not be saved even by the righteous, there may be too few of them, nor by sincere acts of repentance.

It would be saved only by our tears. To wash the world clean.

james stone goodman
united states of america