As she entered the Temple, Yehudit’s skirts wrapped themselves forlornly around her ankle. It was as though they knew what she intended and would do anything to prevent it. But they could not. Nor could Yehudit, despite weeks spent seeking an alternative.
Yehudit entered the Court of Women and made her way towards the Treasury. The new rabbi was there again. She hadn’t heard him speak though she knew many who had.
He was watching as the people made their offerings to the Temple Treasury, the small brass coins that were the accepted currency of charity. He spoke to his friends, identifying those who were giving lavishly. Did he see beneath the surface, Yehudit mused? And know that their wealth made the sums irrelevant?
It was traditional to give the brass Prutah to the treasury, rather than valuable silver and gold. So to give anything worthwhile meant giving literally hundreds of coins. Inconvenient of course, but these men were acclaimed for their generosity as they emptied bags of coins into the Treasury’s open mouth. They swelled with pride as the coins swirled, clattering and cascading into the temple vaults.
Grimly, Yehudit clutched the two lepta in her hand. Except for the clothes on her back they were all she owned. Haram ben Yacob was moving away from the treasury, having emptied the last of the ten sacks his servant had carried for him. He didn’t recognised her, even though he had called several times at her house when her husband was still alive.
It was not surprising. Then she was a glowing young wife, in a rich woollen gown, serving wine to her husband’s associates. Now she was alone and friendless; her loving husband and kind father-in-law were dead and her viper-tongued mother-in-law had moved in with her own daughter. There had been no room for Yehudit. Stupid to think that anyone who had known her years ago would recognise the ragged wraith she had become.
Grasping her courage in her two thin hands, Yehudit moved quietly to the Temple Treasury. The two lepta burned in her hand; almost valueless, but all she had. They symbolised the freedom she was giving up. Abandoning her profitless thoughts, Yehudit dropped the coins into the treasury’s gaping maw. A tiny ping sounded and they were gone.
As Yehudit moved away she caught the words “that woman”. Turning swiftly, she saw the rabbi. He KNEW. He knew what she had done. His eyes were on her, warm and liquid brown with infinite compassion. And as their eyes met, she felt the bud of hope begin to flower in her heart.
Yehudit made her way to the slave-market. Her future was here, such as it was. Sometimes the Jewish people would sell themselves into slavery to pay their debts. Yehudit had no debts, but neither did she have the means to feed herself.
She waited silently for the slave-master to conclude his latest sale. Dust swirled up, stinging her eyes and she wiped her silent tears away.
A voice spoke beside her, startling her momentarily; “Excuse me Madam, your face is familiar. Have we met?” Was he talking to her?
“My name is Yehudit, sir, widow of Nathan ben Sira.”
“Of course. I remember ben Sira. I am very sorry for your loss Madam. He was a good man, kind and trustworthy, and a fine merchant.”
“Yes, he was.”
Yehudit remembered this man now. Ezra ben Abner was a fabric merchant while her husband had dealt in wine and spices.
“What is your business here sir?”
My wife is carrying our fourth child. She is ill and I hope to find a woman slave who can care for my children and my house til she is well again.”
Grim hope bubbled though Yehudit.
“Perhaps you could buy me.” she said, and then the story tumbled out. Ezra ben Abner stood amazed.
“Do not let yourself be sold,” he begged. “Come and serve in my house, not as a slave, but for wages, and while I live you will not want.” Yehudit closed her eyes and breathed a prayer of thanksgiving, In her mind, the warm loving eyes of the rabbi smiled at her.
“Yes,” she said, “I will.”
As they left the slave-market, a handsome man of about Yehudit’s age joined them.
“Let me introduce my brother Isa,” Ezra said. And Isa smiled sweetly down at her.