R. Gamaliel, R. Eliezer b. Azariah, R. Yehoshua, and R. Akiva
came to the Temple Mount
they saw a fox coming out of the Holy of Holies,
they all burst into tears, except Akiva
Akiva laughed. [Makkot 24b]
I saw the foxes on the narrow dirt roads of the lower Galilee inching my way along in a Spanish-built car directioning myself by intuition and finding my way to my destination. But I saw the foxes, it was the week before Tisha B’Av and there was nothing in the obvious associations lost on me. The foxes were small, beautiful, car savvy, easily outrunning me on the car/foot/bike path darting in and out of openings in the foliage at the side of the road where they no doubt lived and thrived. Little foxes.
I felt neither the inclination to burst into tears or to have a particularly optimistic read on the future, though the Akiva laugh is always most meaningful to me as an invocation of neither via postiva or via negativa, just via ambiguosa. Who the hell knows what the foxes prefigure: you may as well laugh. They thought it was desolate, Akiva thought it was funny, George Moon thought it was desolate and funny, I think when presented with the sensory information, you may as well laugh.
I also feel the proximity between the laughing and the tears, to me they are right next to each other on the spectrum of human responses to existence when it is not a linear notion but a circular notion. Tears are sitting in one spot on the circle, right next to the tears the funny man and the distinction between the two is subtle. You might think you’re sitting in the tears spot and a moment later you’re cracking up and you realize you are in the next seat, laughing. I spend a good deal of every day in both seats as do most of the people I love.
I recall the description of Bar Yochai, Akiva’s student: one eye smiling, one eye crying.
Akiva, I am sure, knew the prophecy from Zechariah 8:4ff, Old men and old women shall sit again in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because of great age. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.
If so, don’t take this prefiguring of the foxes too seriously; better days are coming. Akiva of the long look.
Or perhaps what Akiva had was a real vision. He actually saw into the future and saw what Zechariah described happening; it wasn’t a matter of attitude or posture, it was Akiva gazing into the future and seeing so much restoration that the implication of the ruin brought by the foxes meant nothing to him. He might have been laughing at everybody else’s limited imaginations. Behold the foxes; here’s the story of the foxes, drawn in a homiletically limited way, Akiva saw beyond that, eschewed homiletics entirely, had confidence in the future and knew God provides. Relax, said Akiva, I saw it and quit making sermons. You’re boring me with your tears drawn from those cute little foxes.
Secret: every so often — what we have here – is a real vision.
I’m in Israel as I’m writing this and the second or third evening I was here, I twisted my ankle in a rather dramatic and frightening way. I saw this at least a week before I came. I didn’t tell anyone well, because I didn’t believe it myself, it was just a dreamy imagining that I hurt my ankle when I came to the Land and I couldn’t do much. I had myself a vision, I also didn’t want my friends and family to think I’m crazy, crazier, it’s just not comfortable.
I’ve had visions before and they are not induced by drugs (sometimes by dreams) and some I pay attention to, some I don’t, some have changed or authenticated the course of my life. They are not acid flashbacks; I came of age in the Sixties but I bet I smoked less grass than my high school teachers and I was lead singer in a great band and couldn’t get a girl for the life of me. No, not any of that. I lived across the street from the MC5 and I spent all my free time in the library. I’m not bragging; this hasn’t as a matter of fact paid off at all until about a year ago. There’s just a door that opens once in a while in my head and I look through or out. That’s what I saw about two weeks ago: an injury, a foot or leg injury in Israel, myself laid up.
What I didn’t see was the virus that followed, one I assume I picked up while visiting the holy Rambam at the hospital in Haifa that really laid me out, drove up a fever that crashed the bell over my head and made me delirious for at least one night and achy and stomachy and prepared for a clean colonoscopy by day two of said Vee-roos [Heb.]. No visions however, just hurt.
My handlers drove me to Jerusalem and dropped me in a hotel room by myself for two days with no food. But it was good; I felt like I was a street addict detoxing except I was overlooking the Old City. So much romance I could hardly stand it.
Blake saw God outside his window when he was five. I don’t doubt this at all. Read Blake. My own son picked out angels when he was just beginning to speak, his first word was “light,” and don’t think you know where those angels are congregating. It’s more like Wings of Desire than you think and in the expressed environments of such spirits – not a trace. I checked many times, returning to wisdom of Exodus 25:8, build it and I will dwell within them. Them, not it. All the clues are in the holy Torah. We have to think like Holmes.
As I am writing this, I am coming to my senses, having not left my hotel room overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem for two days now. The hotel staff is very kind, they know something is wrong in there but do not ask. I am here to do some teaching, most of which I have had to reneg on, and to study with my music master with whom I have met enough to have acquired my pieces which I have diligently worked on. I have a load of books and the Wifi and figured out foreign access to Netflix, I have a very tasty borrowed Turkish style oud and a lovely German guitar I purchased in Prague and keep in Israel because I have been studying here every summer with my musical muse. I haven’t spoken to anyone in days.
I don’t have that much to teach anyways. I have entered the listening learning curve of my life, having moved through the talking teaching curve I think as a young man when I had the hubris to think I knew something. I am on the less is more track, find your silence, give it give it give it all away, etc. track. I love it here.
I am high enough overlooking the valley Kidron that the breezes obviate the need for air conditioning, which I love. The air and light of Jerusalem during the various changes of the day is one of the great pleasures of being here. I wonder how the weather is where you are? [I know; wanted to end this piece without anyone feeling sorry for me].
Sending healing from Jerusalem, the place I am born and born and born.
Rabbi James Stone Goodman