‘Without his evil inclination, a person would not build a house, marry, or have children’ (Bereshit Rabbah 9:7).
“In my beginning when I was created from stone and wood I believed I would stand forever.
“My facade glowed and my scarcely-seasoned timbers rippled, restless, unreposed, yearning for the scented forest from which they’d been most artfully hewn.
“How long did my crystal-eyed windows dance dust-motes on rays of the glancing sun? How often did my broad-backed, gardened roof shelter those beneath in winter or offer relief to the sleepless on airless August nights?
“I was magnificent! The holy city of Tiberias was my fiefdom and I was emperor-king.
“But on a day since embedded in my foundations, my owner went away.
“’Dear house’, he whispered, brushing the amulet on my doorpost with a graceful finger before putting it to his lips, ‘without you and my beloved wife, who’s borne me four fine sons, I would have shamed myself, achieved nought. Now we must leave. But I promise to provide a new occupant worthy of your noble frame’.
“With that, he blessed me, intoned a prayer for his family’s safety on their journey to I know not where, then left without a further word.
“But he had lied. No visitor called. I’d been abandoned; was forsaken; felt betrayed.
“Days, weeks, months, until what seemed like forty years vanished in a breath. I could not comprehend how an edifice like me, the nearest neighbour of the tomb of the great sage and physician Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon could be neglected for so long.
“I had become invisible. The glass in my windows clouded and crazed as the frames warped and buckled with age. The columns of my portico cracked and sagged; my vast main door lost its varnish, became deformed, swinging idle in the path of any aimless breeze.
“Much worse was how the walls of my once grand reception rooms grew deaf, then leprous with sinister hollow streaks of green and red. The very chambers that had hosted the devout at prayer, solemn study sessions and joyous banquets were now exposed to all that was dishonoured and disgraced.
“I had become untouchable; exiled, not only from grand society, but from the very piety I once had held so dear.
“What great sin was mine? To have revelled in my departed majesty? If so, I swiftly learned humility. Paradise had become wilderness and a different, degraded life took charge.
“Next I was reclaimed by nature and feral animals made me their home. A donkey grazed on weeds in the once carefully tended courtyard while a family of hyraxes that first used my rock garden as a burrow, wondered in through my broken basement window for comfort against the rain.
“One sad day I was spotted by a rabid she-wolf in her final throes. Everything nearby froze in fear as the bitch juddered through my main entrance, her foaming jaws agape, desperate for relief.
“But she could cause no harm; collapsed exhausted in the centre of my ante-room, convulsed, then died.
“Still, she was my near undoing. Her remains lay rotting for so long that their stench attracted wicked men whose antics drove me almost manic with despair.
“Yes. Even I, chief guardian mansion of the Rambam’s final resting place, became a vagrants’ den. I was now a worthless, wretched crack house for the depraved and dispossessed.
“My internal torment continued unabated until I begged Heaven for the reason for my woes.
“Was my arrogance the sin behind my ruin? Had I caused the Rambam’s feet – and mine – to be dangled in vile muck? Was old pride why my walls were violated and now half-submerged in the lewd language of the semi-literate and profane?
“Thus I hungered for insensibility; begged to return to the dust and ashes from which I’d come. Could I will myself to shrivel to oblivion? Could I simply vanish, truly invisible, into the dense, black void?
“But I was granted no relief. Rather, during the coldest, deepest part of one night before another dreary dawn my walls heard a faint, familiar voice.
“’Adon Bayit – Mr House’, it said. ‘You must keep faith. Do not disappoint Me. Hold fast and you will be renewed; be bright and bold as in ancient days’.
“If I could speak a human tongue they would know that I have welcomed their thousand kindnesses even as my freshly clad facade is furbished by the warmth and honeyed light of each new day.
“But now I recognise that I can’t exist forever. Like the wood and stone from which I first appeared, I must age and wither, perhaps to be reshaped for use in different guise.
“So with Heaven’s grace I would like to conclude with thanks for this life regained:
“’Thank you, eternal King. You have mercifully restored my soul within me, allowing me to be a place of deepest study and devout prayer. Your faithfulness is great and only You will last forever’. Let me say ‘Amen’”.
The Maimonides Heritage Centre - Mercaz Moreshet HaRambam - was founded in the Autumn of 2003 by American Rabbi Yamin Levy and a group of colleagues in Tiberias – one of the four holy cities of Israel. The full story may be read at: http://www.mhcny.org/?page=ourstory
(© Natalie Irene Wood –19 May 2014)