The Desert With Poetry, Or, Life Without?
Having confessed his crime (writing love
poems to the Prince’s mistress), the straight
young knight from Venice stood all alone, above
the royal palace court, to hear his fate:
“You have a choice. So listen and decide.
Either: retire to the desert, and take
a vow to forfeit women, wine, and pride,
until you die, as penance for your mistake.
Or second, never write a poem again.”
The court was stunned. A duke unsheathed his sword.
But the youth stayed calm. he waited, and then
addressed the court. “God bless your mercy, my lord.
The choice is easy,” explained the grateful knight.
“I’ll keep my pen, and ride to the desert tonight.”
Judgment – William Baer 2002
A man signed up for a tour of Jerusalem. The climax was to be a visit to the Beit Hamikdash – The Holy Temple. The tour guide pointed out all the important sights; the King’s palace, the homes of the Cohanim, the Mount of Olives, Avshalom’s monument, the ramps of purity that were used only for the offering of the Red Heifer. He and all his fellow tourists were busily taking pictures and videos of the Holy City. They were hoping for a glance of the King’s motorcade, or even the King himself.
The tour organizers insisted that everyone maintain the highest levels of personal spiritual purity in order to enter the Temple grounds. People were excited and nervous.
When the group arrived on the Temple Mount, even the experienced tour guide was speechless. They had arrived during a rare ceremony: A Sotah, a woman accused of adultery after a complex process of warnings and suspicious activities, was being paraded around the Temple grounds as part of the process of breaking down her defenses before God’s Name would be erased in the Bitter Waters. She haughtilly refused to admit her guilt. A scroll on which God’s Name was written was placed in the water until all the ink dissolved in the water. She smiled and confidently lifted the cup and drank the water.
All of a sudden, her faced changed. She was shocked, terrified and in pain. She exploded in front of the crowd that had gathered to observe the ceremony. There was a loud scream of agony, and everyone turned around to see a man, who was hiding in middle of the crowd, explode as well. Her lover!
The tourists were shaken. They had seen the Hand of God. They witnessed His justice. They saw a portion of the Torah come to life. The tour bus was silent as they returned to their hotel.
The man could not sleep. He was not kept awake by images of the two deaths. He was thinking about the woman, and what he saw. He did not think about her shame or her sin. He thought only of her body. He realized that something was terribly wrong within him. How could he focus on the woman and not the miracle and justice?
He did not join the tour in the morning. He walked to the Temple grounds and asked to speak with a senior Cohen. “You will have to wait,” said the appointments Cohen. “There seems to be an unusually number of men today asking to speak with a Cohen.”
All the men who were waiting in line were silent. Everyone was uncomfortable. The man suspected that his issue was not unique.
The Cohen Gadol, before the Sotah ceremony, had ordered all senior Cohanim to come to Jerusalem post haste. He had expected the crowds of men. It was not a long wait. The man entered a small office and was warmly greeted by a Cohen. He soon felt so comfortable that he was able to explain the reason for his visit without too much shame.
The Cohen smiled, glanced through the window of his office, and said, “It seems that you are not the only one with this issue.”
“The Torah teaches us to expect people to come to us today with this problem. That is why the laws of the Nazirite immediately follow the laws of the Sotah.” The Cohen told him the story of the young knight and his choice of punishments in the poem above. “Which would you choose? The desert with poetry, or life without?”
The man chose, and the Cohen directed him through the process of becoming a Nazir.
Which did he choose? The desert with poetry, or life without?
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