Having read (actually reread) considerable chunks of the Sefer ha-Aggadah (I am on page 780 of 816 pages), one line sticks in my head which is not a complete story but only a fragment, “While a woman talks, she spins.” This line reminds me of Rumpelstiltskin. The little man in the story uses his spinning wheel to turn mere straw into gold. A story, it seems, is a tapestry, a comingling of colors which range from the bright to the dull. I remember reading a book in which an Iranian girl wove a rug, but when she realized the colors did not blend well, she cut it all to shreds. Because she did so, the person teaching her to weave angrily through her out on the streets–it took a long time before she won his good graces again. The book is only partially effective in describing the grief at the disappointment in the rug, and the ostracism of the culprit who destroyed it. Yet it seems like there could be a special symbolism. The rug is a tale, but a tale that is superficially put together shames its teller, so that they put it away and never bring it out again.
I love stories and have since before I was five. My Grandma Alderson told me stories from The Gem Fairy Tales, a four-book set. I was mesmerized by those stories, but I longed to make them my own. They were the stories I knew before the Biblical ones. I know that of modern authors, it is C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien who are best known at recreating “Faerie,” the world of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. I have a few books waiting on my shelves, The Last Unicorn and Thomas the Rhymer, which could be termed “fantasy classics”–but I don’t know, because shamefully I have not read them yet. But of course, everyone has read The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings; and The Chronicles of Narnia. I love Sir Walter Scott’s poem, “The Road to Faerie”:
“O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho after it but few enquires.
“And see ye not that braid braid road,
That lies across that lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.
“And see not ye that bonny road,
That winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where thou and I this night maun gae.”
I have always wondered with these writers what lies behind the surfaces of roads overgrown with weeds to places long forgotten. In my own imagination–like Tolkien’s–there is a kind of melancholy of the magic that the world either lost or hides. To put it exactly, as a child I always wondered what the fairies did when no human was watching them. I wanted to believe they were utterly different from human beings, and not mere plot devices in stories. As an adult I read a book of Irish myths that refers to a place “Otherworld” where the gods hide in the glen. To find magic you had to wander there, and then you might not be lucky. Yet all true tales seemed to have some of their roots in that spiritual realm… Y.B. Yeats, more Irish than Catholic, wrote The Celtic Twilight, and I find it more than amusing. He speaks of “the Good People,” as the Irish peasantry call the fairies. He speaks of the tricks they play on humans, and not just those beneficial deeds done by them. Does he actually believe in fairies? I can’t tell… I have read that he rejected his father’s rationalist faith, as occasionally is the root of the mystic’s call. As Amos said,
“I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet.”
I know it seems odd that a Jew would refer to Christian fantasists or Celtic mythology to explain the necessity for the stories I weave, yet I feel like there is the fertile ground of the Spirit in all faiths, if only the believer can find it. It is even stranger that is true when my first published work was Jewish and my first published book a rewrite of Biblical stories.
Yet there is a midrash I hold close to my heart:
God was a Gardener, and the world his Garden where he planted a lily. Thorns got in the flower bed and he would not destroy them, for fear of destroying the lily. That lily form whom the world exists is the Jewish people. Yet for all we know there may be other flowers whom God loves just as much as us. Other religions may equally come from God.
I believe God speaks to Hindus as Vishnu, Buddhists as Buddha, Muslims as Allah or Mohammad, and Christians as Jesus. Ultimately, though, I believe he speaks to these people in these guises not because they are his true face, but because he speaks to people in the language they understand. A fool would go to a foreign country and expect to convert people without speaking the language.
Or to put it another way. I remember a Christian asking me how Jesus’ name was spelled in Hebrew. I told him that Jesus’ Jewish name was Yehushua (there is no “J” in Hebrew). I explained that was the Hebrew spelling. The Greek spelling was Jesus. And the Japanese might call him “Isa.” Now, this is an example as how one being can have a multiplicity of names. I don’t really believe in Jesus (under any of his names) but if I did I might say that people pray to Krishna who actually believe in him. That is what I believe about God. Many people in many languages pray to God using many different names.
“The righteous of the nations will have a place in the World-to-Come.”