Finalist in the novel/fiction category of the Next Generation Indie Book Award
Winner: Best Religious Fiction, International Book Award 2017
2017 USA Best Book Awards Finalist in Fiction: Religious
2017 International Book Awards Winner in Fiction: Religious
The Divine Shekinah seeks deliverance from exile to heal a world desperately in need of Her wisdom. Her chosen mission keeper, three generations of kabbalists from places as diverse as a 19th century shtetl and modern day Israel/Palestine, must grapple with profound injustices and the shadows of humanity. If they choose the path of righteousness, love, and forgiveness, Her light can return to the world. Will the mission succeed? Will the divine feminine return to the world? The Shekinah calls to all of us to find our own way to ‘knit the world back together.’
|Publisher:||She Writes Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
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Light Radiance Splendor
By Leah Chyten
She Writes PressCopyright © 2017 Leah Chyten
All rights reserved.
Shtetl Bedzew, Poland, 1902
The burial place is hardly illustrious. Each plot is marked with a tiny, badly hewn stone placard, and the mounds of dirt piled over each grave are left in clumped and irregular shapes. There is no symmetry, no real order to the placing of graves, although husbands and wives are always buried side by side. The month is November and already the ground is nearly frozen. Thankfully this day is unusually warm, and digging the rebbe's grave goes quickly.
The rebbe predicted with uncanny precision when he would exhale his last breath. On the day before his death, the rebbe beckoned our family into his room. Laying his great bony hands on each of our heads, he blessed us with a prayer for well-being and continued devotion to G-d. He then whispered Laura's name. She received his last blessing, his last words, and his last request. Many were curious and more than a little resentful that she was chosen for this great honor.
Standing by her side at the site of his grave, ashamed of the biting sting of envy that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, I shiver as the sun dissolves into the heavy gray late autumn sky. I've also been his student, and his son-in-law, and my admiration and love for him has never waned, never even faltered. I find myself wanting to find fault now of all times, now that he's passed over. I wanted to be the one chosen to sit by his side and accompany him to the doorway of death. My face flushes red with embarrassment, and I'm grateful that sunset has muted all colors. For a moment, I feel his presence, a cool breeze touching my cheek with the same gentle sternness that drew me to him in my youth.
The crowd disperses at dusk. Goldie returned earlier to the house to prepare for the first night of sitting shiva, the seven day gathering to mourn the deceased. Laura and I remain behind. She leans into me, and I place an arm around her shoulders, grateful to feel once again the sincerity of my fondness for her. We've known each other a long time, our relationship having been tried and strengthened by the kind of adversity that would have brought lesser souls to the point of animosity. Long ago we recognized that our destinies were bound together, like threads woven into the same tapestry.
Laura had been orphaned and left homeless as a child when a house fire killed her family. Later, when Zeff appeared, she gratefully followed this handsome, charismatic man who promised her a life of romance and adventure. Instead, with two children to care for, his abuse and violence escalating and no hope of escape, she resigned herself to a life of misery. A concerned neighbor, who happened to be my student, informed me of the situation. Rescuing Laura and the children cost me dearly.
"You are curious, am I not right, Jaakov?"
"You forgot to mention jealousy, that most lowly of human emotions."
"At last, I've made you jealous. My life is redeemed." Her laughter is a welcome relief from a day strained with consoling the bereaved.
"If something was told to you in secrecy, I will not insist."
"You're too proud for that."
"And perhaps respectful as well."
The banter ceases for a moment, and even in the last light of day, I recognize the pensive expression that comes over her at times, her head cocked slightly to one side.
"You are hurt, Jaakov."
"I trust he had his reasons. Besides, you've proven yourself an excellent kabbalist."
"Remember that you were chosen to be his successor, to take his place in the community."
Her words are accurate but make no difference to my sober mood. "We should be heading back now. The food will be gone, and I'm famished."
I try to nudge her toward the house where everybody is gathered, but her body is unyielding. I feel her thoughts, troubled, forming, struggling for words. The sting of my own hurt set aside, I become quiet, receptive, an open space. I become the night sky as her words form constellations.
"His reason was not personal, Jaakov. He should have chosen Goldie, or you, or Laiah, or any of his blood relations, but he's a tzaddik. His actions cannot be understood from the ordinary perspective."
She is right, and hardly to blame. How self-centered of me to be jealous of her or angry at the rebbe. My feelings disperse, like clouds on a windy day.
"He was lucid but quite weak when I met with him. His last wish was a request for our help." Standing directly in front of me, she holds my gaze. Laura is almost my height with a graceful body and alert, nervous eyes that alternately reveal innocence and alarm. "Do you remember when he named you the first mission keeper?"
"How could I forget such words, and yet he never spoke of it again."
"As cryptic as he could be at times, I don't think he received the transmission from the Shekinah until weeks before his death."
Hearing Her name releases a jolt of energy. How strange that I never connected being a mission keeper with Her visitation.
"The rebbe gave me a manuscript transmitted to him in the weeks before his death. I'm to hand it over to you at the end of the mourning period, and you are to continue decoding it until you are certain the decoding is complete. The manuscript will then be passed on through your lineage for others to decode."
"I'm not sure what I expected the mission to be, but decoding a manuscript seems almost too simple."
"I don't think it will be as simple as it appears. The manuscript is no ordinary document. It's a living consciousness that serves as a link between you and the Shekinah. She communicates with you through the manuscript. He repeated that phrase several times, so either it's important or his mind was leaving."
"If the words are true, then I'm happy to have a portal of communication with Her."
Laura sighs. "I hesitate to share the other instruction given us, but of course I must."
"Of course you must. What else did he say to you?"
"He instructed us, or rather he spoke on behalf of Her, to heal Zeff."
Outrage enflames me and then subsides. "Heal Zeff? Why would we be asked to heal Zeff? We've tried for years to heal him, and it has cost us dearly."
"Those are the instructions, Jaakov. What we do with them is our choice."
Descending with sudden rapidity, as if having momentarily forgotten its task, the sun drops into the hills, leaving behind a bloody looking red sky. The air is moist and chilling with a north wind beginning to pick up force. Laura wraps both arms around her body for warmth. We stand at the edge of the rebbe's grave, gazing down at the exposed pile of earth, as if he still resides there. Laura crouches and pats the ground.
"Rest easy, my teacher. You served us well."
Rising, her body freezes in mid-motion, her eyes riveted on the horizon. Silhouetted against the murky sky is the lone figure of a man. He senses our gaze, for he turns abruptly and disappears. Instinctively Laura reaches for my hand. I can't see him, but surely it is Zeff, and knowing Zeff and his capacity to read minds, he knows every word we spoke.
"Jaakov, I'm scared." Drawing her shivering body toward me, I wrap my arms around her tightly. "He won't hurt you anymore, Laura. I promise. He won't hurt you."
Laura and I both know that this is a promise I cannot keep. We return in silence, each of us preoccupied with Zeff, a most unwelcome ending to a difficult and emotional day. The rebbe is gone now. Despite the crowd of familiar faces, I feel more alone than I have ever felt in my life.CHAPTER 2
The rebbe's house is not far from the cemetery. In fact nothing in the shtetl is far from anything else. Although people complain incessantly about their neighbors — this one too noisy, that one small-minded, the other doesn't keep Shabbat — everybody chooses to live in close proximity. Houses huddle together, walls touching, windows facing into each other, clotheslines hanging from the corner of one house to the corner of the next. By the time we reach the rebbe's house I'm famished and exhausted. People mulling outside greet us warmly. Goldie rushes over the moment we step through the door.
"I've saved both of you potato soup and bread, and your favorite strudel that Effie baked. Come eat."
Grateful for her thoughtfulness, we follow her through the dense crowd until we reach the cook stove. Handing us each a steaming bowl of soup, she hovers near us, ready to ladle out second helpings. Despite her attempt at cheer, she looks weary. Her hair, wound in a bun is unwinding and falling around her face, the soft curls evoking a younger, more beautiful Goldie. But her face is shadowed by grief, her eyes swollen from weeping. As I reach out to hold her, she resists and then yields, as she often does, the softness of her body coming to rest against me.
"Let's go home," I whisper, gently kissing her forehead. "It's been a long day for both of us."
She pushes away from me. "And leave everybody here, and the kitchen still untidy and the food not put away?"
"Yes, sweetheart, let's leave all of it exactly as it is."
Laura steps in. "You should rest, Goldie. I'll make sure everything is cleaned up."
As we squeeze our way through the crowd, Moshe from across the river catches my attention. I recognize him as one of the rebbe's students, an ethereal looking young man with hair that falls in ringlets.
"Jaakov, Jaakov, you'll be taking over the rebbe's teaching, or so he told us."
"Nobody can take his place." I say far too vehemently. I cannot imagine coming close to his greatness. To Goldie, however, he was simply her adored abba, the father who cherished her. Preparing for sleep, huddling together under the quilt and cold bed sheets, she recounts memories of him.
"His beard, Jaakov! I used to nuzzle my face in his beard. It smelled like a pine forest and his favorite smoky tea. And I remember his deep coat pockets. When we were young, he hid little trinkets in those pockets, and if we guessed right, we got to keep them."
Goldie is resting in the crook of my arm, allowing me to stroke her hair, long and smooth with streaks of grey. Goldie takes after her mother, with dark eyes and dark complexion, high cheekbones, and a slightly pointed cleft chin. I kiss the top of her head, and she giggles softly, like a young girl.
"Do you remember how scared you were to ask abba for permission to marry me?"
The memory fills me with warmth. "He looked bewildered until he broke out in laughter. "I would never stand in the way of two lovers. That would be like trying to control the moon's affinity for the earth."
Goldie nods. "Our happiness was his happiness."
After so many years together, I hardly know my own feelings apart from Goldie's. Is it Goldie's heart overflowing with warm memories and the gripping sadness of loss, or is it my own? Is Goldie's body relaxing into mine, or am I surrendering into hers? And yet there are surprises still. Goldie sits up suddenly as I'm drifting into sleep, and a draft of cold air slips into the warm space our bodies have created.
"Jaakov, I've felt Chaim with me all day. I hear his voice as if he is still alive." Goldie is shivering, her thin nightgown hardly a protection against the damp cold. I pull her closer to me, but she gently resists. "I want to know what he's trying to tell me."
Goldie spoke often of her older brother. "Maybe he's consoling you around abba's death."
"He was always protective of me, and I think he's trying to protect me now."
My body tenses. This is no time to tell Goldie about Zeff's return, no time to start the cascade of memories and regrets. Thankfully Goldie seems not to notice my alarm.
"I feel such guilt that he died fighting while I stayed hidden with my mother and the babies."
I withhold my thoughts. Chaim didn't have to fight. He chose to confront the anti-Semitic mob in a battle he couldn't possibly have won. He might have survived had he remained in hiding with the rest of the family, but he was young and outraged and unwilling to capitulate so easily.
"Did I ever share this with you, Jaakov?"
"Share what with me, sweetheart?"
Goldie curls her body into mine. "I wonder if all my miscarriages were punishment for not having stood by Chaim."
"Sweetheart, you could have done nothing to save Chaim. Instead, both of you would have been murdered, and I cannot bear to think what my life would have been without you."
My arms grip her more tightly hoping my gesture of love will extinguish her pain.
"I often wonder how Chaim would have lived his life. My brother was always questioning, fighting, and pushing the limits of everything."
Involuntarily, I chuckle. "Abba once told me that Chaim knew what he was fighting against, but he didn't know what he was fighting for."
Goldie's body tightens, and I regret my words. "He died too young to know what he was fighting for, but his rebellion would have become his ideals, and his ideals would have led him to action. He would have left the confines of the shtetl. Perhaps ..." Suddenly she is silent. I wait with increasing concern and curiosity for her words. Sitting up straight now, her body is taut, her mind elsewhere. Gently I reach out to pull her back to me. She responds, sinking slowly into the nest of my arms. I'm exhausted from the long day, but Goldie has more to share.
"Jaakov, do you ever feel as if your life is not large enough to hold you, not free enough to express everything inside you?"
Another ripple of fear passes through me. Only moments ago I savored the sweetness of intimacy, and the delicious unified sense of body and heart.
"Perhaps because I'm a woman, Jaakov. Sometimes I wish I'd been born a man."
"A woman bears life, a great privilege a man can never know."
Goldie sighs. "I suppose it's human nature to want what we cannot have, what seems beyond our grasp."
"Why would you want to be a man?"
Her voice softens. "I savor the privacy that a man's life offers. I so love the moments when I listen inside and hear the bliss of creation singing its delight. Even on Shabbat, when all men are free to study and pray, women tend to the needs of others. They take care of children and parents. There is no time for a woman to simply rest and behold."
The poignancy of her words touches me, and expands my love for her. "I want your happiness more than my own. If there is anything I can do ..."
Goldie draws closer in to me. "Thank you, my husband. I love you."
This night I lie awake far longer than Goldie, troubled by what has been left unspoken. We know each other deeply and live inside each other in so many ways. Yet there is a part of Goldie, elusive and beautiful, like the dark side of the moon. We all have secrets hidden within, hidden even from ourselves, secrets so precious and so fragile.
"What are your secrets?" I whisper aloud to my sleeping Goldie. And what are my own secrets, I muse, before my eyes close and I slip away into other realms.CHAPTER 3
Startled awake by a crashing sound, I mistake the noise for a dream until, hearing footsteps, I bolt into the kitchen.
"Shmuel, is it you?" I whisper, knowing my son-in-law has no reason to be here at this hour. I proceed cautiously, my heart pounding with fear. The crackle of embers in the cook stove is the only sound. A cool breeze wafting in the thickness of the dark means a door is ajar. Lighting a candle, I find the door, equipped with an inside latch, meaning it could not have been opened from the outside. Had I been careless and left it open? The house is cold. I lift the lid off the stove and stir the embers with a poker. Slowly, vigilantly, I scan the room. Nothing seems out of order. The huge bread bowls, the baskets of potatoes, the cook pots and dishes are all in their right places. Scattered on the floor, however, are the remnants of a pitcher left on the table.
A piece of paper is set on the table, a note perhaps that Goldie wrote while I was sleeping? Holding it close to the candle, a sharp pain grips my chest. The note is in Zeff's handwriting. Why had I not guessed sooner? Who else could, and would, find a way to open a latched door? How could I have forgotten? Zeff had long ago delighted and intrigued me with his notes, resplendent with philosophical meanderings like my own, filled with poignant prophecy. Like a poisoned stream, Zeff was tempting to drink but so very toxic. Reluctantly I open the note.
What do you believe about time? Do we meet the future or create the future? Is there one past and future, or many? Do we live in certainties or probabilities? Do you see the probability that lies ahead of us, the storm cloud building on the horizon, gathering the forces of darkness in its wake? It threatens to swallow the whole world into its cavernous depths. I speak about an evil that is beyond your wildest imaginings. I tell you this, because it is the simple truth. You may try to ignore me, shut me out of your life. You may see me as vile or depraved, or you may pity me, but I will not go away. I will not be silenced. I will not be banished. You and I are bound together. There will come a time when you will need me, when your very existence will depend on the mercy I serve you, or don't. I speak the simple truth.
Excerpted from Light Radiance Splendor by Leah Chyten. Copyright © 2017 Leah Chyten. Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Epigraph: Shekinah, xi,
BOOK ONE Jaakov, 1,
BOOK TWO Benjamin / Zofia, 85,
BOOK THREE Raphael / Ibrahim, 223,
Epilogue: Rebecca / Amala, 304,