Rabbi Benyoseph

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13 NIV)

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Locusts buzzed and boys squirmed
in the shade of the synagogue wall.

Rabbi Benyoseph, white haired, tired,
crumpled over arthritic knees,
slapped reflexively at a circling
fly between Atonah and Adoni.

The drone of thousands of young voices,
past and present, intoning the sacred script,
floated him like a blown glass ball
at the edge of a fisherman’s net.

Buoyant, he felt, none the less,
the incessant pull, the peculiar weight
of his particular strand of the eternal net,
cast by the creator into the teaming sea of boyhood,
threatening, as always, to pull him under.

His whole soul yearned unknowing
to feel the hand of the fisherman
finally take hold and lift him bodily into free air:
The strain of the net transformed
to dripping sun-fired splendor
as the catch rose shining to the surface…
the blown glass float become at last
a trembling silver bell on
the hem of the robe of God.

Goat bells, brassy, drifting from the hills
behind the synagogue, drew him back…
that and the insistent (if gentle)
voice of Y’shua. “Rabboni…we are finished.”

That Y’shua.

The Rabbi frowned.
That one should have been of Aaron
or Levi instead of David.
He was a priest born if not bred.

Benyoseph had known the like before…
these boys with fisherman’s hands and eyes…
always finding the tear in the net.
They came to no good.
Disqualified by parentage and tribe
from service in synagogue and temple…
they carried their God-mindedness
into the market place.

Voices crying in the wilderness…
they were like the wind whipping
the calm surface of the sea into chops
and foam, tossing the floats wildly about,
always threatening to spill the whole net
in a sea-surge of popular holiness.

They came to no good!

Dying as young hotheads
or broken old men,
huddled around the last embers
of the fire still burning behind their eyes.

He sighed. “Yes Y’shua, I know you are done.”

He fingered the sacred scroll of the law in his lap,
the parchment beginning to stiffen (like his knees)
from age, the edges brown from the uncounted
fingers of village boys who had passed it hand to hand,
puzzling out the Word of their God in tentative voices,
voices better suited to sheep calling
and game babble squabbling in the well square.

“Jeremiah, you are first today.”

The uncomfortable, untidy, rustle of boys unfolding,
the hesitant hands reaching, the scroll rising.

Benyoseph had, as always, the split-second
impulse to snatch the scroll back,
to shelter it from these grubby hands
and clumsy eyes, but he let it go.
How else could they learn?

“No Jeremiah, watch my lips…”

Corrections, by long habit, came automatically,
without the conscious intervention of his spirit.
Flies hovered.
The sand beyond the wall popped in the oven sun.

That Y’shua…
Joseph the carpenter undoubtedly spoiled him,
treating him like his own,
defending him before the elders,
when the boy’s precocious ways brought trouble…

and that Mary…
filling the child’s head with this “God’s son” talk.

“And why not?” Joseph said,
“Aren’t we all children of God?
Who are we to say no?”

And always the haunting behind the old carpenter’s eyes…
though he never spoke of it,
a man who talks with angels can not
wholly hide the mark of it on his soul,
can not keep the creeping wonder from his face.

“Y’shua is God’s child…he certainly is not mine.
You know me, Benyoseph. You know my other sons.
Could I have fathered such a one?
Mary has it right.
Though I love Y’shua and he loves me,
he knows only one father…and that is God.”

Benyoseph shook his head, trying,
unsuccessfully, to dislodge the memory.

“Benjamin…you would do better to keep
your mind, and your eyes, on what you are reading.”

He remembered all too clearly…
Joseph, an arm around his little wife
and a hand on Y’shua’s head, turning back to say:

“Who knows, Rabboni, but we would all be
better off if we could say the same of ourselves?”

There was a hushed silence in Benyoseph’s mind,
matching the stillness of the afternoon,
as boy passed scroll to boy.

Y’shua’s voice reading the words of scripture
in front of him blended with the memory voice
of the child drifting back around a corner,
lifted in anticipation, filled with awe.

“My Father says I will teach them.
They will call him father as I do,
and be better for it.”

The carpenter’s booming craftsman’s laugh
had echoed between the sun-baked buildings
of the village street, and then…
Mary’s voice, urgent and angular
with a touch of naked fear, pleading,
just at the edge of his hearing…

“Not yet! Oh, not yet, my son!”

It was the fear in the voice that found echo
in Benyoseph’s own soul,
that kept the memory sharp
enough to cut even after a year.

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