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Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Book of Deeds

This is the Book of Deeds (not words) of 7-Tobit son of 6-Tobiel son of 5-Hannniel son of 4-Aduel son of 3-Gabael son of 2-Raphael son of 1-Raguel-who, though he was no angel, was still a friend of God-from the clan of Asiel and the tribe of Naphtali who, in the days of King Shalmaneser V (or maybe Sargon II), was taken captive from Thisbe (not Pyramus-which was on the other side of that crannied wall) which is South (that is, ‘from the right of’) Kedesh-Naphtali in Upper Galilee, and Northwest (that is,‘behind the road of the sun’s far setting’) of Hazor, and North (which is, ‘from the left of’) Phogar where the Aurochs and Unicorns grazed and which is now known as Tel el Farawy.

This Book of Deeds (not merely words) was written in indefinite, indeterminate times, from an undisclosed location: Palestine? The Diaspora? From the shadows of the undamaged Elephantine Temple in Egypt? From the slopes of Elburz, the watch-guard mountains near the Caspian Sea? Who could say? Perhaps it comes from the dreamland realms of unknown Kadath. I, Tobit, begin this tale of adventure, this folkloric fiction of dubious historical accuracy in the first person. If, at some point, I should switch to a Third Person Omniscient Narrator, well….

I have walked the paths of righteousness all my days, performing charitable deeds of kindness for my kindred and my kin, those deported with me to Nineveh in Assyria, the Fish House where wayward anti-prophets are carried by courier fish.

When I was still young and still at home in Israel, my entire tribe deserted the House of David…and Jerusalem, where the Temple of the Dwelling of God on earth had been consecrated, to make blood sacrifices to the golden calves of Jeroboam, to the Heifer of Ba’al, to the Sun, the Moon, and all the Starry Hosts, in Dan and on all the misted mountains of Galilee. Only I alone (and infrequently some members of my family) would walk the paths of righteousness to Jerusalem for the prescribed festivals, and to pay the tithes of cattle, sheep and shearings, of grain and wine, oil and pomegranates, to the Priests, and Levites, and to the Orphans, and Widows, and Converts. 

I did all this according to the Law of Moses (who came down from Mount Horeb with the stone tablets of the law) and the Instruction of Deborah (my buzzing grandmother, who raised me when I was left an orphan). When I became a man, I married a woman-flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, and of my own clan. We had a son: Tobiah. What a lucky man I was.

When the exile occurred, I was exiled and taken to the Fish House, home of tyrants and despots, to Nineveh. All my relatives and race ate not heaven’s bread but heathen bread. But I scrupulously avoided it. Let Queen Esther boast about eating the dainties of the King’s cuisine and trying to avoid gentile food; Daniel and Judith and I were careful to keep the observance of kashrut and so, kept our souls.

I remembered God (for remembering is our religious duty) and the Most High-blessed be He-remembered me; he granted me favor and good standing with Shalmaneser V. (Or was it Sargon II?) I was his purveyor, surveyor, buyer, supplier, until the day that he died. I walked the paths and roads to Media which is between Mesopotamia and Kavir-e Nama (The Salt Marshes of Salt) to buy all necessary and many extravagant things for him there in the City of Rhages-where Arphaxad was killed (at least that is what Judith told me…)

While there, I deposited 10 talents of silver with Gabael-the brother (or son-their relationship was odd; I could never understand them) of Gabri.  10 talents of silver may sound like a substantial amount for an average man like myself, and perhaps it was, but remember the 10,000 talents of silver that Hangman Haman offered to Xerxes as a bribe.

But when Shalmaneser V died and his son, Sennacherib (or was it Sargon II? I get all of my anachronisms mixed up.  Maybe it was Enemessarus…) succeeded him the roads and paths to Media were barred-unsafe, with trouble and revolt in Elam and Media. I could not travel there.

During the reign of Shalmeneser V I performed many acts of charity for my brothers and my sisters, giving my food to the hungry and my clothes to the naked-just as the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel instruct. And if I saw one of my people dead and tossed outside the walls of Nineveh, into the garbage dump, I buried them. –Or was it Calah? It wasn’t until later that Sennacherib moved the capital from Calah to Nineveh… Wherever, burying the dead takes precedent over all, over studying the torah, over circumcising your son, over preparing the paschal lamb. Even condemned criminals and enemies killed in battle are to be honored with a rightful burial. Hygiene and charity go hand in hand here. As Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki will one day say, “The kindness that a man shows the dead is the kindness of truth, for the doer has no hope of a reward from the corpse.” 

It was then that one of the men of Nineveh, a stinking, slinking pettifogger, a low man of high rank, went and informed the king about me, that I was burying the dead, giving them reason to be grateful. And the king was wroth with wrath. Secret police and mercenaries were dispatched with warrant for my arrest and or execution-whichever was easier. So I fled from home in fear to hide in forgotten caves. My property was confiscated; nothing was left to me but my wife and son. And them I could not see, or risk their lives as well.

Continued in:
Flightless Birds and Conspiratorial Attacks in the Night
Then I wished to Die

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