The crack of the whip exploded over the yoked oxen. Immediately the beast’s saunter shifted into a hasty canter, hooves loudly scrapping Yerushalayim’s stone-paved streets. All day Rachel had heard the rush and shove of heavily-laden carts lumbering their way to the city market and wine-presses.
The atmosphere in the city was electric - the sound of laughter and exuberant songs of praise to Yahweh from thankful lips. The Jewish festival of In-gathering was near prodding Rachel’s thoughts to drift back to pleasant childhood memories ... the back-breaking labour of reaping lightened by the joy of a plentiful harvest.
Rachel well remembered the celebration of the yearly grape harvest, as she did the devastating fire that had stolen her eye-sight. The last thing she remembered seeing was the fire’s cruel flames swallowing her sleeping parents, ravishing her home, and the timber beam that crashed from the roof, falling across her face. Darkness had ruled her life ever since that night of terror. How many days or nights had passed since then she couldn’t determine, but she judged the passage of time to be years, as her body had transformed into that of a young woman.
Oblivious to the merging of day into night, Rachel had learned to recognize them through her other senses. The smell of evening meals being prepared and the song of cicadas signaled the close of day.
Preferring solitude despite numerous unfortunate companions, Rachel disdained the company of her fellow beggars - their crass language and immoral behaviour vexed her soul. She could never lower herself to such existence, even if it meant an extra morsel to eat and the delight of human touch. Hmm ... a beggar with dignity! Rachel thought, a smile forming on her face marred with horrifying injuries.
Rachel longed to taste the new season’s grapes. She mapped the route to the vineyards in her mind. The journey would be difficult, leading her from the safety of the city. Yerushalayim’s streets were crammed with men and beast. It was the busiest time of the year, but she reasoned that tasting the grapes was well worth the effort. Rachel knew the destination would be reached well after dusk, “But what does that matter to a blind woman?” she mumbled to herself.
Passing through the congested streets Rachel could hear the excited chatter. This year’s harvest was a bumper crop! Impatient merchants and shoppers pushed and shoved her out of the way. Undeterred she continued her arduous journey.
Suddenly a brisk, cool breeze pulled at her threadbare clothing. Rachel realised that she had reached the outskirts of the city. Carefully choosing her steps she prayed silently not to stumble into a ditch. Night had already fallen and the neat rows of grapevines shimmered in the moonlight. Rachel couldn’t see the delightful spectacle but the sweet smell of the ripened grapes painted the image in her mind. Hunger and desire quickened her pace. So close now!
Rachel heard the sound of her stick hitting against the stone wall that encircled the vineyard. Dropping her stick, she desperately ran her hands over the surface of the wall. Good! she thought, Only a few feet high. Yearning for the grapes driving her like a wild animal she threw herself over the wall. Crawling along on her hands and knees she groped for the vines.
Finally her fingers brushed against the leaves. Immediately she thrust her hand deeper into the foliage, feeling for the stems. Quickly, wildly her hand searched the branches. “Nothing!” Rachel cried out in despair. “Where are they?” She screamed, maddened by her disappointment, deprived of her desire. Panic struck her soul. Tears stung her eyes.
Stop! Think! she counseled herself, Smell! Calming herself Rachel concentrated on her sense of smell. Crawling along the ground Rachel inched her way along following the scent. “My nose never lies,” she whispered, encouraged with fresh hope.
“THERE!” she cried out. Kneeling in front of the vines she leaned into the branches. With dexterous fingers, that had become her eyes, she found a large bunch of grapes. “O God! Bless the dear soul that remembered the poor,” she cried out in gratitude. Rachel tugged at the short stem holding the grapes to the vine. Effortlessly they fell into her hands. Drawing them to her wanting lips she tenderly kissed them first, her senses tantalized by the fragrant aroma. Moments later she savoured the refreshing grapes, one by one - her blindness forgotten in the moment of pure delight!
This story is inspired by the ancient Biblical precept found in Deuteronomy 24:21: “When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.”
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