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There is no sound like that of a thrown rock striking living flesh.  The dull smack contained a sickening horror that he couldn’t shut out of his mind.

Over and over again it came, the heavy thud changing to a sharper crack when a bone tried to interfere.  Each violation was accompanied by a gasp of pain, a sharp intake of breath, a groan that became a cry, and then a whimper, and finally silence.  Still the thudding continued but the sound was different, the flesh no longer resisting but pliable and accepting of its fate, until, at last, it was at rest.

His heart racing, his body trembling and sweating, the Rabbi Gamaliel lay with his eyes wide and sleepless, remembering the sounds.  There were no images for he had turned away, unable to look after that one brief moment when he had seen his face, and heard his words just before the first stone was thrown.

He looked down at his fist closed tightly around the bed sheets, seeing the rock that had been thrust into his hands.

“No, no, it wasn’t my fault.  It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.  It was him.  He twisted my words.”

“You could have stopped him.”

“No, nobody could stop him, believe me.  He was crazy back then.  He went after them, dragging them from their homes to be beaten and killed.  He even went to Damascus to root out the heresy.”  Gamaliel was panting with the effort to be heard, though his protests echoed only in his mind.

“He came back a different man.”

“Yes, he is at peace and I am forever at war.  Where is the justice in that?”

“You killed an innocent man.  What justice did you give him?”

“It wasn’t my fault.  Leave me alone.  It wasn’t my fault!”

The sudden agonizing pain that shot through his hand brought him back to the verge of awareness.  He looked down at his hand clutching the bed sheets, the painful cramp in his fingers clearing the dullness from his mind.  He gripped his wrist and pressed his thumb into the middle of his palm forcing his fingers to spread.

As the pain subsided, Gamaliel slowly began to relax, massaging his hand to smooth out the tension.  He was awake, though still groggy with sleep.  The memory of his dream was already fading rapidly.  The blankets were entwined around him, soaked with his sweat.  He struggled to free himself and sit up so that he could light a candle.

He sat on the edge of his bed trying to remember, trying to make sense of it all.  He shook his head wearily.  He felt as weak as a newborn kitten.  These episodes had become more frequent the older he became.  They were his demons.  He understood that.  They came in the night and left in the morning and he could not get rid of them.  No sacrifice, no prayer, not even the use of the Ineffable Name could remove them.

He got up from the bed and shuffled to his writing desk with the candle in one hand.  The night was heavy and still and he could hear the scratching sounds of insects and an occasional fluttering of wings in the garden outside his window.  There was no breeze to blow out his candle so he opened the window wide and sat down heavily in his chair.

He turned to the scroll on the table.  It was the prophet Isaias.  Reading put his mind at ease, so he moved the candle to a better position and tilted the scroll to catch the light and began to read, muttering the words softly under his breath.

“Take your wrongdoing out of my sight.
Cease to do evil.  Learn to do good, search for justice,
Help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow.”

Gamaliel thought of a lifetime of helping the oppressed, the widow, the orphan.  Surely that counted for something.

“Come now, let us talk this over, says Yahweh.
Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red as crimson,
They shall be like wool.”

Part of the comfort was in the reading itself.  The words with their familiar nostalgic ring, the continuity of line and meter, the sound of his own voice lilting with practiced cadence, all were soothing reminders of a lifetime of following the God of Avraham, Yitz´chak and Ya´acov.  Soon his mind stopped racing and his heart began to beat with less urgency.  Later still, his head began to nod.

He struggled on for a while but, finally, he put away the scroll and made his way back to his bed.  He straightened out the sheets and then slipped into bed exhausted.

After a little while, the Rabbi Gamaliel, teacher of the Law and spiritual leader of his people, curled up like a baby in his sleep and twisted his fist into the bed sheets as his demons came to visit once again and harass him into the early morning hours.

*****

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The Temptations of the Cross by Bert A. Amsing
Copyright © 2012 by vanKregten Publishers. All rights reserved.
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Footnotes and references included in original manuscript.