Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Tie (02/28/13)
TITLE: To Love the Lord
By Myrna Noyes
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There's a restlessness rippling through the observers as we wait for the end. I realize I'm perspiring a bit and reach up to wipe my brow. My hand brushes the side of my phylactery, the square, leather box I strapped, as usual, onto my forehead just before morning prayers. I look at my upper left arm, where a small, intricately decorated leather pouch, is also securely tied in place. These both contain sacred words, carefully written on delicate parchment strips; commands directly from God to us, His chosen people. Inside the special box and bag, four passages from the writings of Moses wait in their own darkness. The teachers of the law, the Pharisees, our elders, and anyone who wants to be known as righteous wear these. They are a sign of our religious purity; a spiritual status symbol, if you will.
My musings are interrupted by the cry of the middle prisoner, the one of the three who is the main attraction at this gruesome sideshow: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
I mumble a response under my breath: "Because you have forsaken the teachings and traditions of our ancestors. You break the Sabbath, preach heresy, and are disrespectful to our priests and leaders. Why, you even consort with prostitutes, tax collectors, Gentiles, and other riff-raff. You are called a rabbi by your motley group, but you neither look nor act the part. You've never bound the phylacteries to your body or decorated your prayer shawl with long tassels to testify to your supposed position. No wonder God has forsaken you, when you ignore the things that are important."
The lovely, almost haunting, words of the Shema, our spiritual confession of faith in God, suddenly fill my thoughts. This is one of the holy passages contained in my box and pouch, and like all devout Jews, I recite it at least twice daily. Now the words flow through every corner of my mind and seem to invade my whole body as well: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates."
The Shema was the very first section of Scripture I memorized by heart as a young boy. My regular repetition of it has become a rote practice over the years, but now I find myself pondering the words for the first time in a long while. Their importance is clearly shown in the command to impress them upon our children, to talk about them at home and away, at dawn and dusk, and to inscribe them upon our doorframes and gates. I silently congratulate myself upon meticulously fulfilling each of these precepts, but my spirit feels inexplicably uneasy. These lofty words about loving God with our entire being seem incompatible and out of place juxtaposed against the mocking jeers, angry shouts, and hate-fueled fury of the crazed crowd--which includes many men who piously worship with me at the Temple each day. Also, word is that the priests and elders are the main instigators of these awful proceedings.
Now this question begs an honest answer: How does this display of bloody torture, gut-wrenching misery, and death have any connection with loving and serving God?
No longer having the stomach to stay to the bitter end, I turn away and head for home.
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