The Golden Mountain, by Meyer Levin, , at sacred-texts.com
The aged Master lay asleep. And out of the night there came voices as from a distance calling, creeping into his sleep, and calling him. His ear awakened and listened. The sounds surrounded his bed with tones of unearthly pain that came from a hoary ancient mouth inconceivably far away. He could not understand the words.
Each night the voices came and lay on his heart, and by day he bore their pain within him. But one night the voices, trembling with the weariness of their long journey, came quite close to his ear. And he recognized them.
It was the mouth of the ancient land that spoke, and her words were filled with the shame of the fallen. It was the ancient vineyard, now become a stony hill upon which alien shepherds trod with hated feet from year to year; it was the temple wall buried under the earth, and the hidden Arc that groaned under the weight of immeasurable boulders; it was the stony hillside that once had carried high its waving trees; and it was the dried-up fountains of water.
They wept in their final agony, for their sleep must now turn into death. From moment to moment, each breath might be their last; unless the Hand would come and tear away the darkness, and free the beaten and buried Soul of the ancient land.
The voices prayed to the Baal Shem Tov, "Come,
and do not delay any longer. You are the Awaited one, whose breath will raise up the stones from our graves. The stream shall flow again, the forest shall rise up, and the vine become heavy with fruit. The fields shall wave in their garments of grain. Come, and place your Hand upon us!"
Then Israel remembered Rabbi Chayim Ben Atar, the Light of the Living, who was in the Holy Land. And the Master knew that the soul of the Ohr Ha-Chayim was the counterpart of his own soul, and that if their two souls came together, then the all-powerful Soul of Man would be created, that might call down the soul of waiting Messiah.
Rabbi Israel answered the voices, saying, "I am ready."
But within his heart there was an emptiness and a sickness, for he knew the time was not yet come.
In those days there came to Rabbi Israel a letter from his brother-in-law Rabbi Gershon, who was with the Ohr Ha-Chayim in the Holy Land. And in the letter these words were written, "The Ohr Ha-Chayim sends his greeting to Rabbi Israel ben Eleazer. And the Ohr Ha-Chayim sends this message, 'When Rabbi Israel goes into Heaven, let him see whether every part of him, from head to foot, is in Heaven.'"
The words of the Ohr Ha-Chayim were as a wall before Rabbi Israel. For he knew that the Ohr Ha-Chayim did not wish him to come to the Holy Land.
Day and night, he was tortured with doubt.
At last he said, "I will go Above, and ask."
He raised himself into Heaven, and he stood before the Throne. He said, "The Enemy wanders freely
over the earth, and there is none to combat his evil. The voices of my people cry unto me, and the voices of the ancient land weep about me. But alone I have no strength. In the Holy Land there waits the light of the living, Rabbi Chayim ben Atar. Unleash the bonds that keep me, give me leave, O Lord and Father, that I may go to the Land that calls me."
But the Heavenly Voice responded, "Israel, remain in your place."
Then Rabbi Israel turned to go out of Heaven. And his head hung down, and he saw himself. And he saw that he was not entirely come into Heaven. He saw that while his body moved in Heaven, his feet still walked on earth.
Then many nights the Baal Shem Tov lay troubled. The voices were in his ear, and the word of the Lord was in his heart. The crying of the voices rose above all the storm-winds that filled the air. There was a wailing as there had been on that day when Jerusalem fell.
The agony of the dying land prevailed over the Master, and drowned the command of Heaven. He arose, and said, "I will come."
The voices of the ancient land returned to that Place from which they came. And they cried, "Rise up you sleepers and you silent ones, prepare yourself, for your Redeemer is on his way!"
Then the flesh of the earth trembled. With one great sigh she shook her timeless sleep from herself. The call of life rose upward from the full heart of every sleeping thing, and a great tumult of joy arose toward the dawn. The deadened water prepared to
run forth, and the corn ripened under the ground, and the juice of the vine was distilled. The stars over the ancient land widened like widening eyes, in that blue night of Expectation.
Rabbi Israel called his follower Rabbi Wolf, and together they prepared for the journey. Rabbi Israel's beloved daughter Dvorah went with them.
That day when the Baal Shem went forward, his joy and his singing were not with him. When Rabbi Wolf spoke of the marvellous end of their journey, Rabbi Israel answered only with a small, lost sigh. For now the voices of the ancient land did not sound about him, and he heard the Godward longing that cried in his breast with a wordless sound of sorrow. Each day, he carried the growing burden further on his way. He left city and country behind him, friends and believers in him.
Then they three embarked upon a ship. The ship was small, and it sailed out upon the middle of the sea.
Then, in the midst of noon, they saw another ship on the water. The ship came toward them, looming ever greater and higher, until its spars seemed to pierce the heavens, and its sides to be as wide as the waters.
The ship of the pirate fell upon their ship, and seized all those who were in it. They seized on Rabbi Israel, and on his follower Rabbi Wolf, and bound them and threw them into a prison. Rabbi Israel was separated from his daughter.
In the prison all was dark. Rabbi Wolf said, "Call upon the Name, and save us!"
Rabbi Israel said, "I cannot utter the Name."
Rabbi Wolf said, "All of the wisdom of the world is in your mouth. Rabbi, where is your power? You have but to move your little finger, and the demons will be destroyed, and we will go out of this prison and find your lost daughter."
But Rabbi Israel said, "All that I ever knew has gone out of me. I do not remember a single word of the Holy Torah, nor any sign of power."
He strove, and he could not do anything.
The chief of the pirates came into the prison and cried to Rabbi Israel, "You are a holy man, and a wizard. Perform some deed of magic, and fill our ship with gold!"
The Master knew of no way to fulfil the desire of the bandit.
Then the pirate became furious with anger, and drew out his knife. His fellows stood about him, and all drew their knives, to slay the imprisoned Rabbi.
Just then Elijah could bear no longer the suffering of Rabbi Israel. He came into the dark chamber, and stood by the fallen Rabbi, and whispered into his ear the first two letters of the alphabet. And Rabbi Israel said, "Aleph, Beth." These were the mighty signs with which the holy Torah was begun. And as he uttered the words, blindness fell upon the pirates.
They roared as they were stricken, and they fell about the room, and cut each other with their knives. Then they ceased, and crawled to the feet of the Rabbi, and begged his forgiveness, and repented, and begged that their sight be restored.
"We will give you all of our riches," said the Captain of the pirates. "And we will leave off attacking the innocent ones."
"Only He who has taken away your sight can restore it," said the Baal Shem Tov.
Then that ship of the blind floated through eternal night upon the dreary sea.
In that darkness, a helmsman appeared, and guided the ship toward shore. No one knew whence he had come, or who he was. In dress, he seemed as a sailor. When he had guided the ship to a shore, Elijah left them. And the ship was near Stamboul.
As the pirates stepped from the ship, and touched the land, their eyes opened, and they saw. Then they said to the Rabbi, "Because of the help you have given us, and to prove to you that we are become honest men, we will release a captured maiden to you."
They brought the woman before him, and she was the daughter of Rabbi Israel.
Rabbi Israel was in Stamboul with his daughter Dvorah, and his follower Rabbi Wolf. The holiday of Passover came, and they had no way to observe the feast.
Rabbi Israel was filled with doubt, for everywhere he saw signs that his way was barred. Then he went out to visit the graveyard of the Jews. And there, at the grave of the great Rabbi Naphtali Kohn Tsadik, he asked, "Shall I continue on my journey to the Holy Land?"
But a voice replied, "Turn back, for the Time has not yet come!"
While Rabbi Israel was gone, a peasant came to the door of the house. The peasant said to Dvorah, "Will you take me in to observe the feast of Passover with you?"
Dvorah said, "You are welcome, but we have no food, and no way to observe the Passover."
The peasant said, "I will arrange everything.
He came into the room, and he brought a box upon his shoulders. The box was as large as the room. He opened the box, and from it he took a table, covered with a clean cloth. On the table were candlesticks, and plates, and matzos, and silver, and dishes bearing the bitter herbs, and the fish, and the meat, and all the necessities for the Passover.
Rabbi Israel came home. He sat down at the table and he ate with his guest, who was the prophet Elijah. And not a word passed between them.
There the daughter of Rabbi Israel died, while he still lived.
As he sat by the table, he was given English porter to drink.
He drank what was set before him. Then he said to Rabbi Wolf, "Some say this is a bitter drink. But it gives strength."
Rabbi Wolf knew that he spoke of the death of his daughter.
From Stamboul, they continued their journey.
The moon had many times changed over them, when once toward evening they came to the shore of the sea. There was no house or dwelling-place anywhere, and no sail on the water, only the sand, shimmering
and wide, the beat of the water upon the sand, and the pale night overhead.
Then they both threw themselves upon the earth, that still breathed with the last warmth of the day; there they would rest until morning when they would seek a ship.
In the midst of the night, the Baal Shem dreamed.
With his companion he was adrift upon the high sea, and his own coat was their vessel. The vessel was thrown to and fro by an unheard-of storm, and neither sky nor land was to be seen about them, only water everyways, high leaping, and broken.
The Baal Shem sought about him, but there was only the waters' deathly nearness. He sought within himself, and saw that everything was gone from him. He felt a weariness that was deeper than the depth of the sea. And in all his depth, there was emptiness. He saw his soul, and it was like the cast-off skin of a fruit, there was no juice in it, and no sweetness.
A great cry came over him, and his groaning was louder than the roaring of the storm. Then he threw himself down near his companion, and waited for the end.
In the night, as the Baal Shem warred with the loneliness of the waters and the hopelessness of his Soul, the Earth that had called him lay waiting. The Voices of Life buried within her called to the Voices in the air, and asked, "What do you hear?"
Then the sister Voices in the air answered, "A storm breaks, and he who should bring us our freedom struggles over the water."
As the Baal Shem lay upon the bottom of the Vessel, a lone and silent Thing, a Heavenly Voice, rose quite gently and began to speak within him, first simply, and as at home, but always swelling, and becoming mightier, until at last the Voice swallowed the howling of the ocean that was lost as a whisper within her call. And the Master drank the sound of the Voice of God.
The Voice of the Earth called to her sister Voices over the sea, and asked, "Is he nearing land?" And the answer came, "The compelling Word is upon him."
Then on that stormy sea of night a crowded ship appeared. The great ship was filled with pilgrims, who had sailed from the Holy Land to return to their far-spread homes; and now the sea rose mightily, and their ship was about to sink. They stretched forth their arms, and cried aloud for help. Then the Baal Shem Tov arose, and tied the sleeve of his coat to their ship, and drew them safely to Stamboul.
In the twilight of dawn, there was no more vision, and the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Wolf raised themselves from the sand. Their hair, beard, and clothes were wetted through, as though the sea had hurled them upon the shore. They did not speak, but avoided each other's eyes. They began to go on their way. Without word or sign they took their way backward, homeward the way they had come.
When they had wandered many hours, and the rising sun had dried their wetted garments, Rabbi Wolf looked timidly upon his Master, and he saw that the
familiar holy light had returned upon his beloved countenance.
In the Holy Land, the Voices of the earth called, "What do you hear?" to their sister Voices of the air. And like the beating of wings of the angel of death came the answer, "We hear his steps receding in the distance."
Then the aged earth opened her mouth and spoke, "Now I will lie down and die." And she covered her face, and closed her eyes. And every thing returned to its place of rest, and prepared itself for death. And the stillness spread over the land, and in the stillness was hopelessness, and in the hopelessness was death.
But over the stillness a living Voice came that broke and scattered the death. And the Voice found the soul of the earth, and spoke to her.
"You shall not die, my friend. Earth of the Lord, you shall waken and live. Do not weep for him whom you called to you, for he is born out of One who must return, and the Hand of the Lord is upon his roots, to make Him live again in His time, and in your time, O my beloved."