The celebration of the Passover had come upon them again and the bustle and noise of the preparations filled the city streets and the Temple courtyards.
But with the familiar sounds came the eerie sensation that this Passover would be his last.
It came upon him while he prayed, the prayer shawl over his head and his strong baritone voice lifted in the singsong sounds of early morning prayers. It would be his last. He would not see another. He groped for the solid reality of the Temple wall to steady himself.
He looked upon his beloved city with tear-filled eyes that blurred the harsh corners of reality. His heart seemed to encompass the entire city of brick and stone, cattle and people and all that it represented down through the ages. Yerushalayim, with her great walls of stone tarnished and rubbed smooth with the brush of passing civilizations; her towers and ramparts ablaze with the purple hues of the morning sun; her streets and Temple courtyards busy with the sacred work of her people and priests. Yerushalayim, the beloved city. The city of God.
Oh God, where are you now when we need you most? Why have you abandoned your people?
Gamaliel felt a kinship here upon the TempleMount with David and Solomon and the prophets of old. He felt the glory and the failure of his people, the blessing and the curse of being the chosen of God and not able to bear it.
Armies would come to lay siege to her walls once again. It had happened many times before. The land of Isra´el was a crossroads for the great civilizations and they came to conquer and be conquered, for what they took from his land also changed them. The Jewish people were found throughout the Roman Empire, faithful to their God and their ways – a beacon of light in a dark world, the chosen people, guardians of the Torah and the Temple worship. But not for long.
A soft groan escaped from deep within him, the sound of it echoing faintly from the rock around him. Onkelos had told him what the Romans planned. It was madness, madness, but no one could stop it now but God himself. Gamaliel no longer believed that he would.
Yerushalayim would be destroyed.
He faced it finally. He formed the words with his lips but still he could not say them aloud. He tried to believe that it would not happen, that Adonai Elohim would not allow it, that the Temple would be safe, the city would be spared. But his body did not believe him and his knees threatened to give way. He began to slump backwards, no longer caring, but Benjamin was there immediately with an arm around his skeletal shoulders, holding him erect until he finished his prayers.
“Oh, Yerushalayim,” Gamaliel cried out, “most holy of cities, would that peace be your inheritance and hope your message to the nations. Oh, Daughters of Yerushalayim weep and cry out in sorrow for your destiny is come upon you.”
His words became prophecy as a strange conviction took hold of him.
“Yes, your destiny is come upon you. You will survive, O Isra´el, but you will be changed, never to be the same again.” Benjamin eased him into a sitting position on a nearby stone bench.
We seem to know a great deal about pain and suffering. From slavery in Egypt to oppression in their own land, Isra´el played the role of victim to perfection. But this was more. Now, on the eve of the destruction of Isra´el, he wanted nothing more than the simplicity of clear answers and a straight path.
Gamaliel shook his head slowly from side to side as if to shake off a heavy burden. He would celebrate this Passover like he had all the others – in his home surrounded by his family and telling the ancient story. Someone else would have to take the burden for the beloved city upon their shoulders. His pilgrimage was almost done. There was little more he could do for his people.
Gamaliel sat exhausted and pensive on the hard stone bench with his back to the wall of the Temple, thinking and brooding over his beloved city until, finally, he drifted off to sleep in the warm sunshine like men of great age do the world over.
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The Temptations of the Cross by Bert A. Amsing
Copyright © 2012 by vanKregten Publishers. All rights reserved.
Footnotes and references included in original manuscript.