Amber Michelle (myaru) wrote,
Amber Michelle

Vindicator of Divine Justice

There’s a story I found during my university days, early in that period when I had nothing better to do than spend four hours in the library between classes. I lived too far away to go home. I spent most of that time on the fourth floor, seated by a window with a lovely view of the quad, where grass, pines, and windswept cypress made layers of green between banks of fog. This was early in the morning, when the sky was still gray and, sometimes, the orange lights still hadn’t gone out. I’d stare out there for a good long while, still half-asleep, before I started looking at books. My table was right next to the shelves with obscure religious texts. By obscure, I mean apocalypses like The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness (not as epic as it sounds), excerpts from The Zohar, wide volumes of The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. That sort of thing. Even several volumes of the Talmud, which arguably isn’t obscure, depending on who you are.

In one of these books, I found a story about Elijah after his ascent to Heaven. He has a reputation for running around amongst rabbis and other citizens and variously helping or punishing the deserving. Once, he wrestled with the Angel of Death. He’s an interesting figure who unfortunately is used often to tell moralistic tales.

There’s one in particular running through my head on repeat right now. I will probably retell it badly, but here goes.

Once upon a time, Elijah allowed a junior rabbi to accompany him during his travels, on the condition that his companion never question his choices. The man agreed, but you can see where this is going. At their first stop, the spent the night with a poor couple who had nothing to their name but a single cow, and yet offered generous hospitality to the travelers. When they were on the road again the next morning, Elijah prayed that the man’s cow might die.

At their second stop, they stay at a rich man’s house. This man’s wall was crumbling, and he was grumbling about having to tear it down and fix it, while his hospitality was lacking at best. When the travelers went on their way the next morning, Elijah prayed that the wall be immediately repaired.

Incidents like this happen a few more times, until the rabbi can’t stand it anymore and demands to know why Elijah is causing the poor to suffer more while the rich benefit from their visits. With the understanding that they can no longer travel together, he provides an explanation, which amounts to this: not all is as it appears. To prevent the miserly rich man from finding a treasure under the crumbling wall that would make him richer, Elijah repaired it to prevent that. And the poor man and his cow?

The man’s wife was fated to die, so Elijah prayed that God accept the cow’s life in her stead, so she could live.

There are two official lessons here, as far as I know: first, that not all is as it seems--e.g.. the faithful are not always as pious as they appear. Second, one should never question divine judgment for the same reason.

Here’s what I get from it: equivalent exchange.

This is why I can’t let the story go and get it out of my head. That may be the “wrong” interpretation, but I can’t help reading it as a rationalization for why bad things happen to good people. Not that I consider myself “good people;” rather, relevant events in my life inspired me to think about this story again, and my interpretation of it changed.

Yesterday, my husband observed that if we hadn’t lost our cat Travis in 2016, we never would have had the chance to meet Dash and Zero, both of whom we love dearly. This is true, as we would not have chosen to take in kittens if we still had a living cat. We were considering a companion to keep him company, but the apartment we lived in at the time had a limit of two cats per household, and this pair would have brought the total to three. Not impossible to hide, I suppose, but we do try to follow rules when our lease is on the line. And yet, it is hard to come to terms with the truth in this statement. We loved Travis; we lost him, and it hurt deeply, but not long afterward, we met the two wonderful boys who have grown to occupy our hearts.

On Sunday, we lost Dash. Cancer doesn’t care how young you are, or how healthy; it fixes that right up and ends your life for you in a bloody knot of bone-deep pain, fast-growing tumors, seizures that escalate in intensity. The variety of the disease afflicting Dash was treatable, but not for long, and in the end we were not lucky enough to reach the end of his treatments.

So again, the thought: we lost Travis, but gained Dash and Zero. Will we gain another companion who we will love equally, even though we lost Dash, whom we already loved? Still love? Will we look back at this event and say the same thing we now realize about Travis’s passing?

Maybe. But holding those two thoughts together rips me apart.

This entry was originally posted at Discuss here or there as you prefer.

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