The Old Man and the Ravishing Maiden

Rabbi Hiyya and Rabbi Yose met one night at the Tower of  Tyre.  They stayed there as guests, delighting in each other.

Rabbi Yose said, “I am so glad to see the face of  Shekhinah! For just now, the whole way here, I was pestered by an old man, a donkey driver, who kept asking me riddles the whole way:

“‘Who is a serpent that flies in the air and wanders alone, while an ant lies peacefully between its teeth? Beginning in union, it ends in separation.

“‘Who is an eagle that nests in a tree that never was? Its young who have been plundered, who are not created creatures, lie somewhere uncreated. Going up, they come down; coming down, they go up.
Two who are one, and one who is three.

“‘Who is a ravishing maiden without eyes, her body concealed and revealed? She comes out in the morning and is hidden all day.
She adorns herself with adornments that are not.’

“All this he asked on the way; I was annoyed. Now I can relax. If we had been together, we would have engaged in words of Torah instead of strange words of chaos.”

Rabbi Hiyya said, “That old man, the donkey driver, do you know anything about him?”

Rabbi Yose answered, “I know that there is nothing in his words. If he knew anything, he should have opened with Torah; then the way would not have been empty!”

Rabbi Hiyya said, “That donkey driver, is he here? For sometimes in those empty fools, you discover bells of gold! ”

Rabbi Yose said, “Here he is, fixing some food for his donkey.”

They called him, and he came over.

He said to them, “Now two are three, and three are like one!”

Rabbi Yose said, “Didn’t I tell you that all his words are empty nonsense?”

He sat before them and said, “Rabbis, I turned into a donkey driver only a short time ago. Before, I wasn’t one. But I have a small son, and I put him in school; I want him to engage Torah. When I find one of the rabbis traveling on the road, I guide his donkey from behind.

Today I thought that I would hear new words of Torah, but I haven’t heard anything!”

Rabbi Yose said, “Of all the words I heard you say, there was one that really amazed me. Either you said it out of folly, or they are empty words.”

The old man said, “And which one is that?”

He said, “The one about the ravishing maiden.”

The old man opened and said,

” `YHVH is on my side; I have no fear.
What can any human do to me?
YHVH is by my side, helping me.
It is good to take refuge in YHVH.’

“How good, pleasant, precious, and high are words of Torah! But how can I say them in front of rabbis from whose mouths, until now, I haven’t heard a single word? But I should say them because there is no shame at all in saying words of Torah in front of everyone!”

The old man covered himself. The old man opened and said,
“‘Moses went inside the cloud and ascended the mountain.’
What is this cloud?
The same one of which it is written:
‘I have placed my bow in the cloud.’
We have learned that the rainbow took off her garments
and gave them to Moses.
Wearing that garment, he went up the mountain;
from inside it he saw what he saw,
delighting in the all, up to that place.”

The companions approached and threw themselves down in front of the old man. They cried, and said, “If we have come into the world only to hear these words from your mouth, it is enough for us!”

The old man said,
“Companions, not for this alone did I begin the word.
An old man like me doesn’t rattle with just a single word. Human beings are so confused in their minds. They do not see the way of truth in Torah.
She calls out to them every day, in love, but they do not want to turn their heads.
She removes a word from her sheath, is seen for a moment, then quickly hides away, but she does so only for those who know her intimately.

“A parable.

To what can this be compared?
To a beloved, ravishing maiden, hidden deep within her palace.
She has one lover, unknown to anyone, hidden too.
Out of love for her, this lover passes by her gate constantly, lifting his eyes to every side.
Knowing that her lover hovers about her gate constantly, what does she do?
She opens a little window in her hidden palace, revealing her face to her lover, then swiftly withdraws, concealing herself.
No one near him sees or reflects, only the lover, and his heart and his soul and everything within him flow out to her.
He knows that out of love for him she revealed herself for that one moment to awaken love in him.

“So it is with a word of Torah:
she reveals herself to no one but her lover.
Torah knows that one who is wise of heart hovers about her gate every day.
What does she do?
She reveals her face to him from the palace and beckons him with a hint, then swiftly withdraws to her hiding place.
No one there knows or reflects — he alone does, and his heart and his soul and everything within him flows out to her.
This is why Torah reveals and conceals herself.
With love she approaches her lover to arouse love with him.

“Come and see the way of Torah.
At first, when she begins to reveal herself to a human, she beckons him with a hint.
If he perceives, good; if not, she sends him a message, calling him simple.
Torah says to her messenger:
‘Tell that simple one to come closer, so I can talk with him.’
He approaches.
She begins to speak with him from behind a curtain she has drawn, words he can follow, until he reflects a little at a time.
This is derasha.
Then she converses with him through a veil, words riddled with allegory.
This is haggadah.

“Once he has grown accustomed to her, she reveals herself face to face and tells him all her hidden secrets, all the hidden ways, since primordial days secreted in her heart.

“Now he is a complete human being, husband of Torah, master of the house.
All her secrets she has revealed to him, withholding nothing, concealing nothing.

“She says to him, `Do you see that word, that hint with which I beckoned you at first?
So many secrets there! This one and that one!’

“Now he sees that nothing should be added to those words and nothing taken away. Now the peshat of the verse, just like it is.
Not even a single letter should be added or deleted.

“Human beings should become aware, pursuing Torah to become her lovers.”

The old man was silent for a moment.
The companions were amazed; they did not know if it was day or night,
if they were really there or not.

“Enough, companions!
From now on, you know that evil has no power over you.
I, Yeiva Sava, have stood before you to awaken your awareness of these words.”

They rose as if awakened from sleep and threw themselves down in front of him, unable to utter a word.
After a while they began to cry.
Rabbi Hiyya opened and said,
“‘Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm.’ Love and sparks from the flame of our heart will escort you.
May it be the Will that our image be engraved in your heart as your image is engraved in ours.”

He kissed them and blessed them, and they left.

When they rejoined Rabbi Shim’on and told him everything that happened, he was delighted and amazed.
He said, “You are fortunate to have attained all this. Here you were with a heavenly lion, a fierce warrior for whom many warriors are nothing, and you could not recognize him!
I am amazed that you escaped his punishment.
The Blessed Holy One must have wanted to save you.”

He called out these verses for them:
“The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, growing brighter and brighter until the day is full.
When you walk, your stride will be free;
if you run, you will not stumble.
Your people, all of them righteous, will inherit the land forever —
a sprout of my planting, the work of my hands, making me glorious.”

Published in: Uncategorized on May 10, 2009 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  

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