The Seaward Door
A Story by Deborah Gelbard
(adapted from her novel, Global Dawn)
Between the main road and the sea,
Where narrow streets whisper lost names,
And half-perished palaces
Seek new light for their broken balconies and faded façades,
There is a blue-gated courtyard.
Unlocked, the gate swings easily open.
A cat lurks watchfully on the path.
Along the far wall are displayed the textures and tools of transience:
Rugs, mattresses, craft-woven draperies and earthenware pots
Outside a vacant shack;
Turning through a half-moon the seaward door is visible,
And its feline attendant steps aside.
A warm blend of incense, tobacco and fresh mint, clean white walls,
Low-slung, softly covered seating offer themselves to the visitor's senses,
As he is gently appraised by enigmatic eyes
Smiling of secrets yet to be revealed.
It is a chill autumn evening. The followers of a spiritual leader known as the Kabal are gathering inside his stark and humble abode on the edge of Tel-Aviv's commercial hub. A black cat is curled into a ball on the brush mat by the open door. On a counter by the left wall of the narrow anteroom stands a two-ringed hob. Coffee is bubbling, sweet and spicy, through the tapered spout of a decorated brass finjan. An elegant, slim woman, with oriental slanting eyes that echo the angularity of her cheekbones, pours the brew into tiny porcelain cups on an oval tray. She offers one to an emaciated, dark-skinned man, who has just drifted through the entrance. He greets her with a theatrical embrace to which she responds in an artificially satin voice.
The Kabal lifts the drape from the entrance to his study-room and steps into the anteroom to welcome his pupils. He is elderly, wild-bearded, and carries himself with the dignity of one accustomed to respect.
"Karin, Antoine, shalom," he says in a tone of quiet authority.
An odour of stale tobacco wafts into the room another pupil, pot-bellied and roughly dressed though radiant eyed arrives. He calls a casual "Hi" to the rest.
The last to join the group is Reuven, and the Kabal greets him,
"Reuven, my son, a joy to see you."
They go into the study-room. On the main wall, a sombre self-portrait is the only visible remnant of a lifestyle long abandoned for one more pious. Indeed, the Kabal is not only known as a spiritual guide; he is a veteran of the artists' community that shaped the face of Tel-Aviv in Israel's early days. The four pupils sit around a table laden with heavy tomes of Sefer Yetzira the ancient work deemed to hold in its pages the solution to the mystery of the Creation. Only the Kabal remains standing. He begins the lesson with a story:
"One morning, long ago," he says, "I'm sipping coffee in the yard and watching my neighbours going about their daily business. They have no time for me, oh no. To them, a dreamer like me is a lazy good-for-nothing parasite."
His weathered complexion creases into a smile, and his keen blue eyes sparkle almost mischievously.
"Well, I carry on sitting there, watching it all and enjoying my drink, you know. Then, out of the blue, an angel of a creature appears in one of the doorways."
With exaggerated strokes, he draws her voluptuous silhouette in the air.
"She starts to walk, straight as a sunbeam, across my line of vision, gliding by me, hardly noticing me at all. Our eyes only meet for a second. Then I stand up and confront her. I catch hold of her like this," he says, seizing Karin's hand and closing his fist tightly around it, "and I press some stones into her palm."
A murmur of surprise floats from her thinly pursed lips and escapes like a whisper into the air. The Kabal stops and sighs as if to recapture the memory. Then, releasing her hand, he throws back his head and thrusts his open palms upwards in an exaggerated gesture as if to say, "What in Heaven could I do?"
"She takes a quick look at the stones then drops them straight onto the ground. I tell her they're not ordinary pebbles to be discarded like that, but she just shrugs and snaps that, for sure, they aren't diamonds either. She goes on her way leaving me standing there staring at the stones on the ground in front of me. I see them shining like gems. I want to run after her. I want to show her what a treasure they are. If only she would stop and pick one up, look at it closely. She could find in it the soul of the Planet!"
Again, he pauses for effect.
"But she just continues along her straight and lonely path, cold and untouchable."
Then he channels a penetrating look at each of his pupils in turn.
"Artists and dreamers are alchemists," he says. "Their souls can turn the commonplace into treasure. Their worlds reach to the edges of the universe. So, tell me now, which of you is a dreamer? Artist? Alchemist?"
The group seems absorbed in silent contemplation for a while. Eventually, Reuven says:
"Your story's extremely moving. When we follow an unbending course through life, we ignore the Planet's magical treasure trove. One thing puzzles me, though: Alchemy, art and dreams aren't they the antithesis of Kabbalism?"
The Kabal pulls at his beard thoughtfully before answering:
"The kabbalistic viewpoint is that everything emanates from everything, and all sources are our teachers. By the way, the kabbalists knew all about the alchemy of stones, too."
"Oh? Now, I'm intrigued. Go on."
"According to the Kabbalah, there are sparks of the creation everywhere."
"And stones have special powers?"
"Only in the right hands. Look at the famous example of the Hoshen."
"It was the High Priest's breastplate and it was set with gemstones."
"And they were supposed to have divine powers?"
"In the hands of the insighted, they were gateways into divine dimensions."
"And in other hands?"
"Just dull stones like those my cold-eyed angel disdained."
At the Kabal's study table, they are closing their books. Karin rises as if untouched by his words. She opens her palm to reveal three stones: one pink, one bluish and one green.
"My path is clear," she says, placing them firmly on the table. Then, she turns and makes directly for the door. Antoine and Eli follow her. The Kabal does not try to dissuade them. He picks up the stones and caresses them. Then, he hands them to Reuven, who receives them gladly. An aura of light swathes Reuven's fingers and the stones glow between them like three hot coals.
The two men open Sefer Yetzira, and together they examine its thirty-two paths of wisdom. Reuven reads descriptions of the Sephirot, miraculous signs with infinite messages. He studies the pairs and patterns of the Hebrew letters and their creative powers. Says the Kabal,
"These are the elements of supreme harmony. The more we experience them, the more channels open in our minds to enrich our lives."
He pauses to looks into Reuven's eyes. Smiling back at him are the essential flames of three stones, ordinary yet unique.
Further details about this book can be found at: http://www.webhaven.co.il/globaldawn.html
from the January 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine