Exclusive – Dov Ben-Zion’s Apostasy: A Fable

By Marvin Schwartz. A dream is one-sixtieth part prophecy. Talmud Bavli, Berachot 57b

Prologue: A week before the incident. Dov Ben-Zion was in a crowded, small, store of sforim (holy books). While leaning against a loose shelf reading, one of the books dislodged and seemingly launched itself off the top bookshelf and hit Dov on the top of his head. The owner of the store rushed to him to make sure that he was all right and also to recover the book which he had thought was well hidden. Too late, Dov was already viewing the book: Derech HaMelech (Path of the King).

“What’s this Shmulik?” Dov asked.

“Nothing, Dov, not for you I mean. Something that I…I…”

Dov was intrigued by Shmulik’s reticence but was unsure why. He didn’t recognize the name of the author. When he opened the book he saw that it followed a standard pattern of many commentaries on the Torah, divided up in the order of the Parshiot (Chapters).

Impulsively Dov said: “I’ll take it Shmulik!”

And then, the book vanished into his bag and any thought of it vanished from his mind.

Yom Rishon: the first day after the incident

Dov came into the Rov’s shul for morning prayers and went to his favorite spot. The spot was reserved for him not only because of his imposing presence, but also because of his special relationship with the Rov. From the Rov’s point of view Dov, the perfect disciple and his favorite was also his natural successor. At the young age of twenty-five, Dov had memorized most of the Talmud, of course he had memorized the Tenach before reaching bar mitzvah while also committing to memory myriad commentaries and still meeting his obligation to be fruitful and multiply. He had four sons and three daughters. and the Rov ensured that Dov’s wife ran the household so that Dov could spend his time devoted to Torah.

 Dov, imposing at well over six feet tall, broad shouldered, upright, strong and passionate with red hair and beard, and blue eyes had not always been so physically imposing. As a young child, small for his age, he would come with his father to the Rov’s lessons and sit with rapt attention. And when he was old enough to understand, he took in the messages that the Rov was fond of repeating to the men. From Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) he would often quote: “I find woman more bitter than death” and then to preempt any rebuttal, he would talk about the consistency of Solomon, that “A woman of valor who can find, her value is greater than pearls” was not about a woman at all, but about the love of God. The Rov’s most trenchant comments were about making a hedge around the Torah and that everyone who did not understand this was a sinner. Everyone outside of their community was suspect. Dov understood this. It was for this reason that the Rov arranged for his own daughter to marry Dov.

The Rov gazed upon Dov as a father might look upon a son he was preparing to take over the family business. Pity, he thought, that his own sons never showed the same promise. Dov had immediately understood the Rov’s teachings about the dangers facing the community and he had the needed audacity to act.  And yesterday, when Dov spit on that slut walking brazenly in their community, he demonstrated the leadership that was needed for the future of their community. The Rov smiled approvingly to himself, yes, his future heir would do just fine.

After prayers Dov habitually studied the Magid Maisharim (Preacher of Righteousness) of Rabbi Yosef Karo. He was captivated by Karo having had a spirit guide and while studying the Magid Maisharim he would also pray for a spirit guide like Karo’s. On this day, the day after he had encountered that slut, as he studied he absentmindedly put his hand in his bag and touched Derech Hamelech. Immediately he was immersed in a jumble of thoughts as if his mind was leafing through the Torah and then finally settled on a story about Moshe Rabeinu from Shemoth(Exodus):

 And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him. 25  Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and threw it at his feet, and said, Surely a bridegroom of blood are you to me. 26  So he let him go; then she said, A bridegroom of blood you are, because of the circumcision

No sooner did he have this recollection then he was transported to a place that he did not recognize. He felt the reality of the place, the smells, the sand, and the palm trees. He knew that he was somewhere in the Sinai. Dusk was falling. A man of about eighty with a staff in hand approached him followed by a woman. “Innkeeper,” the man said to Dov, “we need a room for the night.” Just then the woman came to the man’s side. She was beautiful, her raven hair hanging loose framing her face, with a boy at her side and she was suckling a child bare breasted now directly in front of him. The man looked lovingly at the woman and said, “just a minute Zipporah.” Dov looked at Zipporah, first with lust and then with anger and told them to get out of the inn. There was no room for them. As they turned to leave, Dov’s world began to spin. He heard a voice that he had never heard before saying: “Dov what have you done? What have you done? Without a room in the inn, Zipporah could not save Moshe from God’s wrath.” As Dov’s world continued to spin, he saw things disappearing, there was no exodus from Egypt, and there was no Torah, no Talmud. Everything that he considered important was gone. And, then he was back holding on to Magid Hamaisharim and feeling odd.

 Yom Sheni: The second day after the incident.

The secular press, radio and television have all descended on the town. They are trying to talk to anyone who will comment on what has now become a national incident. In the meantime, the Rov instructed his people to form a wall around Dov to ensure the press or the police did not bother him.

As he had done on the previous day, Dov followed his ritual. He finished his morning prayers and began to study Magid Hamaisharim while making his usual prayer for a spirit guide. This time without prompting from a touch of Derech HaMelech, Dov’s mind searched his memory and stopped:

Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter-in-law, Remain a widow at your father’s house, till Shelah my son be grown …And Tamar went and lived in her father’s house. …13  And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold your father-in- law goes up to Timnath to shear his sheep. 14  And she took off her widow’s garments, and covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself, and …by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given to him for his wife. 15  When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot; because she had covered her face. 16  And he turned to her by the way, and said, Come, I beg you, let me come in to you; for he knew not that she was his daughter-in-law…

And with that memory Dov fell into a dreamlike state coming suddenly awake outside of a tent beside a path. Dov examined the creature that was totally covered including her face sitting outside the tent realizing this was the tent of a kadesha, a “Canaanite temple prostitute”. He felt uneasy in the presence of such blatant sexuality and he noticed lust followed by anger. However, before Dov could act, he noticed a man approaching, clearly a kindred spirit. The man stopped as if to enter the tent. Quickly Dov grabbed him by the arm:

“Don’t go into the tent”, he said. “That is your daughter-in-law, Tamar.” Judah shocked, asked: “Is this true?”

The woman under the veils responded: “Yes, because you did not honor your commitment to me, I did this.” Judah got so angry that he hit her and she died on the spot.

Dov fell into that space in between dream and reality and heard someone saying, “what have you done? Without Tamar being pregnant by Judah, the line of David does not come into being.”

 Yom Shlishi: The third day after the incident

Demonstrations were happening throughout the town. And, the press seemed to have taken up permanent residence.

And yet, nothing seemed to have changed in the Rov’s shul. For Dov, it was as if the incident had never happened. He followed his usual routine following prayers. And, once again, his mind was being accessed by what seemed an outside force and when it stopped he saw:

and he lived in a cave, he and his two daughters. 31  And the firstborn said to the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth; 32  Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. 33  And they made their father drink wine that night; and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.

Within moments of connecting to the memory of the text Dov was carried away, this time to a cave overlooking the Dead Sea.

 After several moments, he was able to orient himself and adjust to the low light. And then the scene became clear. He saw an older man passed out in a drunken stupor stripped naked. Two young women were talking and then he heard it clearly. “Everyone has been destroyed. It is up to us to produce children and the only man left is our father. I will have sex with him tonight…” The one who was talking was preparing to mount the naked man and Dov found himself in a state of sexual excitement and then anger. Not able to contain himself anymore Dov shouted in a loud and angry voice: “What are you doing?” Shocked to hear a man’s voice, the women looked up and saw Dov. “A man!” they exclaimed at the same time.

Dov, thrown into that vortex of in between dream and reality, once again hears the now familiar voice: “What have you done? Now that the daughters know that there are still men in the world, they don’t have children by their father, Lot. You have now destroyed the other side of the lineage of David.” Dov’s world spins apart as he watches as David, Solomon and the temple are erased from history and then he is back in the present.

Yom Revi’i: The fourth day after the incident

Dov Ben-Zion’s waking dreams were affecting him. He didn’t understand why they were happening to him. After the third dream, he began to worry that something was wrong with him. He wasn’t sleeping well. Nonetheless, he maintained his regular routine.

After morning prayers, he sat, his tallit covering his head and face and felt that now familiar pull into his text memories which stopped at the text:

And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, judged Israel at that time. 5  And she lived under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Beth-El in Mount Ephraim; and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.

No sooner did the text reveal itself than Dov fell into the familiar dream space. He came to, facing a group of men sitting in front of a woman. They were bringing questions, Torah questions to her. She was sitting there; head uncovered, hair long, making decisions. This was so wrong. What an affront to the Torah. Without a moment’s hesitation, Dov bent down, picked up a stone and hurled it at the woman. He hit her in the temple. She fell on her face, dead. As the crowd of men began to encircle him, the voice from the dream space welcomed him: “You have just killed the Prophetess Devora. She was the hope of Israel to lead the men. Now that won’t happen.” The victory that Devora led, disappeared in the swirl of history as Dov returned to the present.

 Yom Chamishi: The fifth day after the incident

What did it all mean? Why was he having waking dreams? Why was he having dreams at all? None of it was real. Where was that voice coming from? Whose voice was it anyway? As these questions began to torment him, Dov once again sensed his memory being accessed. He tried to resist but the force was too strong and suddenly there was the text, this time from the Talmud:

Once Aher was riding on a horse on the Sabbath, and R. Meir was walking behind him to learn Torah

Dov slid into the dream space easily but came to earth with a thump. Rather his hand was thumping a table. Dov had come to rest on Shabbat at the table of people in Bnei Brak. They were finishing their meal when they pointed out two men across the trail, one on a horse the other walking alongside. The nerve of these people to desecrate the Shabbat like this, thought Dov. In an instant, he rose and told his hosts: “This is how we deal with

people like this in Beit Shemesh.” He picked up a rock and threw it hitting the man who was walking and killing him instantly. Then the man riding the horse turned to look at Dov and smiled. It was the Rov and he was laughing. This time the voice, sounding a little compassionate, said: “That was Rabbi Meir who you killed and Acher was riding on the horse. Now, many of the teachings of Rabbi Meir will not happen.” Dov, sensing the coming slide into the space between dream and waking, watched as parts of the Talmud disappeared. And, as he awakened he remembered something from Berachot: There are three disciples [significant for dreams]. If one sees Ben ‘Azzai in a dream, he may hope for piety; if Ben Zoma, he may hope for wisdom; if Acher, let him fear for punishment.

Yom Shishi: The sixth day after the incident

After five consecutive dreams, Dov felt wary and prepared at the same time. Something was definitely happening to him. He could not carry this alone anymore. Today he would share everything with the Rov. Surely the Rov would be able to make sense of it all. Surely the Rov would be able to discern what path he should take. After finishing his prayers, before even getting a chance to approach the Rov, Dov was rendered helpless as his memory was accessed yet again:

a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Thereupon he repulsed him with the builder’s cubit which was in his hand.12 When he went before Hillel, he said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour:13 that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.’

And then Dov was catapulted into the dream space yet again.

This time Dov recognized himself but felt odd as he was in the position of the gentile who first approaches Shammai with the now famous question: “Rabbi, please tell me all about Torah in the time one can stand on one foot.” As Dov approached he could see that Shammai was smiling and Dov was reassured because Shammai had the face of the Rov. However, no sooner was the question out of his mouth then the face turned to an angry snarl and Shammai chased him away with a builder’s ruler. Dov was dismayed, but no sooner did he escape Shammai’s wrath, then he ran into Hillel and asked the same question. He did not recognize Hillel’s face but the voice was the voice from all the previous dreams. And the response was authoritative, the same response that Dov knew from years of study, the response that was in his head even now. “Don’t do something to somebody else that you would not want them to do to you, everything else is commentary.” Dov heard these words as if for the first time.

“Who are you?” Dov asked.

“I am the answer to your prayers. You wanted a spirit guide and here I am. With what has been happening in your life lately I came none too soon.”

“Yes, but who are you?” Dov asked again.

“Ahhh. You want to know who I was before becoming your spirit guide. When I had physical manifestation I was called Kalonymus Kalman Shapira and I was also known as the Piaseczna Rebbe.” “And why those dreams, why this dream, why are you my spirit guide?” Dov asked.

“You know in Torah there is no before…no after. If you lived in the time when the Torah, the teaching, was being formed and you had the thoughts that you have now, then you see how acting on those thoughts would have ended. In a sense, you were prophesying the past. I used to tell my students that if they watched their thoughts for twenty-four hours they would see that they have the thoughts of a mad person. The difference between them and a mad person is that the mad person acts on their thoughts. You seem to want to take the path of the mad person.”

“When you spit on that eight year old girl and called her a slut, you acted as a mad person. The Torah tells us to serve God with joy but there was no joy in that act. This little girl may be the next Devora but you are ready to stone her. That is the meaning of this dream. To follow Torah means to act in such a way as to bring people closer to Torah. Following Hillel’s teaching does that. Your actions do not bring people close to Torah; they push people away and are destructive. Continue acting the way you are and you will bring disaster down on all the people. To build a hedge around the Torah does not mean to build a fence, but a living breathing loving space that supports and nourishes life in all directions. Remember that to build the Mishkan (Sanctuary, Tabernacle), Bezalel was chosen because he had a heart of wisdom. Where is your heart of wisdom, Dov? You need inner strength to have a heart of wisdom. That is why Mishlei (Proverbs) says it is “better to be slow to anger than a warrior; better to be able to control oneself than to be able to conquer a city”.”

“So why me as your spirit guide? That is a mystery although the book that hit you in the head was an augur of things to come. That book is a collection of some of my writings. But I was as surprised as you to show up in your dreams, as I believe you were to have them. Of course part of the reason why I am here is because subconsciously you were not satisfied with the spiritual guidance that you have been receiving. And then, perhaps I am here to tell you that my wife was my spiritual partner and equal. Often I would write a dvar Torah (sermon) and leave it on my desk and I would come back to it and see her neat script making editorial comments that made the writing clearer, completing my thoughts, giving those thoughts a depth and feeling that changed me, that made my relationship to her and to God stronger. My wife was not my servant, as a woman she was different, but as my wife she was my partner and friend.

 Perhaps I am here to tell you that there is no shame in admitting a mistake. Maybe your intentions were honorable. I know what it is like to have honorable intentions go wrong. I had a rule for my students; no one was to wear a tie. A tie separates the head from the heart. We want to make sure that the heart directs the head. One day I am teaching and a student comes in and I see him standing at the back of the room wearing a tie. I rushed to where he was standing and ripped the tie off of him and said loudly, nobody comes to my classes wearing a tie. I have regretted that ever since. I could have handled it differently so as not to embarrass the poor man in front of everyone.”

Dov awoke with a start. He felt cleansed. He hadn’t realized how much the incident with the girl had affected him. He also knew what he had to do. He rushed out of the shul and walked quickly to the house of the girl.

Some, television and radio reporters noticed him as he walked up to the door and knocked. Some Haredi men also noticed, and some, followers of the Rov, recognizing Dov, immediately went to report to the Rov.

A woman opened the door to the house and a short conversation ensued followed by Dov’s entry into the house. About fifteen minutes later the door to the house opened and Dov was seen saying goodbye to the woman.

As soon as Dov reached the street the reporters were over him like a wet blanket. Questions flew at him from all sides. At first bewildered, Dov regained his composure and took one of the microphones that had been thrust in his face.

With tears rolling down his face Dov began to moan and then said: “I came here today to ask forgiveness for the wrong that I did this innocent little girl and her family. My actions were not in keeping with the Torah that I love. I am ashamed of my actions and want everyone to know that they are not a reflection of Torah, the Torah path that I want to follow.”

After returning the microphone, Dov headed back to his home followed by the whole press corps. As he approached his home he noticed that his family was outside waiting for him. It was as if they already knew what had happened. Then he saw that they were all huddled together and the street was strewn with litter…household goods, sheets, covers, kitchen utensils. It slowly dawned upon him that his family, HIS family had been thrown out of their home. Closer still, he saw that they were all crying, even his wife and they were all covered in spittle. And then the crowd of onlookers, people he had known all his life, started yelling “cherem (excommunitcate), cherem, cherem”. Dov quickly organized his family in front of him and commanded them to walk quickly. The crowd started to throw things and his big frame was the target. The television reporters were filming the chaos. Someone must have called the police because the wail of sirens could be heard fast approaching. Meanwhile, someone had picked up a stone and hit Dov in the back and broke one of his ribs. Blood could be seen dripping onto the sidewalk as he kept his family in front of him. He never looked back.

About the Author:

Born in Ottawa, Canada, Marvin Schwartz studied anthropology and philosophy at the University of Edinburgh’s Department of Anthropology and the Science Studies Unit followed closely by anthropological fieldwork with Yemenite Jews in Israel. Upon his return to Canada he completed a Masters in Public Administration, managed an aluminum recycling company and followed that with a twenty-plus year career with the Office of the Auditor General of Canada.

He also held volunteer positions as President of Jewish Family Services of Ottawa and Chair of the United Way’s Committee on Individual and Group Services. Marvin’s interest in wisdom and spiritual literature inspired him to pursue various spiritual and healing modalities such as; Integrated Kabbalistic Healing with Jason Shulman, Focusing with Ann Weiser Cornell and Open Focus with Dr. Les Fehmi. As a member of a Jewish intentional community at Elat Chayyim, Reb Zalman, the group’s mentor, suggested that he consider story telling. Instead Marvin took up drums, clarinet, piano, ballroom dance and various other spiritual pursuits, but not writing.

This past year, as a result of unexpected life events, he took a break from those activities. This break provided the opportunity to write and he discovered that writing competes with his other joys. Marvin has very close relationships with his children, two of whom are professional writers, and for the last number of years has been lucky to have the loving support of his partner Dana, who provides the peaceful environment where everything becomes possible. Dov Ben-Zion’s Apostasy: A Fable is the first short story he is sharing with a wider audience.



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