The Smile on the Satan’s FaceFeb 26th, 2010 | By Daniel Pinner | Category: Columns, Daniel Pinner
A STORY FOR PURIM (AND TISHA B’AV)
The Rebbe had reached the World of Truth, and had stood, like all other Jews, in judgment. It had taken a long time; after all, the Judge of the Universe is infinitely more exacting with the great tzaddikim than He is with anyone else. But eventually, He gave His pronouncement: the Rebbe would sit in Paradise with all the other tzaddikim. His heart pounded as he approached the shining golden gates, hung with draperies of purple and royal blue. Soon he would be re-united with his beloved wife, whom he had last seen in her shroud more than ten years earlier. Not one day had passed since then that he had not longed for her, the saintly woman in whose merit he had achieved so much. Soon he would see his own Rebbe, the tzaddik whose powerful yet gentle voice and deep brown eyes he remembered as though they had guided him through the paths of Torah but yesterday, even though his Rebbe had entered the World of Truth almost half a century earlier.
He approached the table; he recognised them all, and all recognised him. He was, after all, one of Gedolei baTorah of his generation. The Alter Rebbe, the Hafetz Hayyim, Rashi, Rambam, Avraham Avinu himself, with his son and grandson Yitzhak and Ya’akov, were feasting at the same table, learning Torah. But something was missing. The Rebbe, throughout his long years in this world, had devoted his entire being to Am Yisra’el. Often had he said that he could never be truly happy as long as even one Jew was suffering in the world.
And so the Rebbe returned to the Judge. He could not sit at the Feast, he said, until the Sovereign of the Universe would send the mashiach to redeem his people. The Heavenly Light dimmed as the Judge of the Universe considered. Finally He spoke. “Very well. You may plead the case of the Jewish People before Me. But this will be a fair trial: you will stand to My right to plead their case, but the Satan, the accuser, shall stand to My left to present the case against.” Almost before the Judge had finished speaking, the Satan was standing by His side, books in hand.
All the Heavenly Hosts came to see this trial. It had been well over a hundred years since anyone had dared challenge the Sovereign of the Universe. The Rebbe almost quailed as he began to speak. Had not greater tzaddikim than he, greater by far, pleaded the same case – only to be defeated? In the audience he saw Rebbe Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev; he had pleaded his case in this very Court two centuries earlier. He had even come close to winning. And by him stood the first and greatest of the Hassidim, the Baal Shem Tov himself. (Even here in Heaven, he was still known as the Master of the Good Name.) He, too, had argued that the time had come to send the mashiach – and had been defeated.
Had not the Gaon of Vilna, and the Sforno, and Rashi and Rambam and Rabbi Akiva pleaded the same arguments before, and had they not followed Avraham Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu himself? Had not Adam been a mere few hours away from complete Redemption when he sinned? But the Rebbe stood firm. He may be a dwarf compared to them, but he was dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants. And whether he would win or lose his case, even if he would later be castigated for trying to bring mashiach ahead of his time, he knew that he was unimportant; only the Jewish people mattered.
“Sovereign of the Universe,” he began, “You promised Your people that their suffering would one day come to an end. Have they not waited long enough? Have they not suffered enough? Have they not shown their devotion to You throughout the world, and have they not shown their love for Your Land by shedding the blood of their most beautiful and precious sons in its defence?”
The audience looked to the Satan. His sarcasm was well known, and these arguments had been heard a thousand times before. He would have all his answers rehearsed. But no! The Satan was silent.
“And look at Your children today, in the Land of Israel,” continued the Rebbe. “Tonight, this night of Purim, all are out dancing in the streets. Even those who hardly remember You are celebrating this festival of deliverance.”
“Any excuse for debauchery. Look at the way the girls are dressed, what they’re wearing – or rather, what they’re not wearing,” muttered the Satan. “So they’re all drinking. So what? How many of them checked that the wine is kosher, or bothered to make a brachah before taking a swig? You think they’re drinking for the mitzvah?”
But the Satan had spoken quietly, almost as though out of habit, without any real conviction. He was sitting calmly, a grim smile playing over his lips.
The Rebbe continued. “If I may remind You of the words that Your beloved son Rebbe Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev said: ‘Even if some of Your children have more sins than mitzvot, their mitzvot are worth so much more than their sins’”. The Satan smirked, and seemed to mutter something under his breath, but otherwise made no reaction. The veterans of these Trials were dumbfounded. The Satan had never before been silent when he was threatened with the Redemption being granted to Israel, and he had never smiled before. Now he was doing both! Could it be that the time of Redemption really had – at last! – come, that the Rebbe would defeat the Satan?
Hour after hour the Rebbe pleaded before the Judge of the Universe. Finally he came to his final plea: “And so, O Lord of the Universe, Your children have proven themselves worthy of being redeemed. They may have faults, but they are suffering today even in their own Land. So many will be lost if You leave them in the hands of those who rule them today. So if not for their sake, then redeem them for Your own sake; for they cannot continue much longer as they are.”
The Rebbe sat down, and the Judge turned to His left. “What have you to say?” He asked the Satan.
And now, all the Heavenly Hosts shook in fear. How easily would the Satan demolish the Rebbe’s case! But no! He spoke more softly, more gently, than he had ever done since the beginning of Creation. “Lord of the Universe, I can add nothing to the Rebbe’s words, nor to my own words that I spoke near the beginning of his speech.”
That smile was still hovering over his lips, as grim as before and even broader.
For some time, the Heavenly Light dimmed as the Judge considered. Eventually He called to His ministering angels. “Call Eliyahu the prophet to appear before Me,” He commanded.
Almost immediately, Eliyahu appeared. “Don your robes, take your shofar in your hand. You are going down to the Previous World to herald the coming of mashiach to My people Israel.”
Eliyahu radiated light. Long centuries had he awaited this moment. He, too, remembered all the previous attempts at sending mashiach. He thought back on the hundreds of previous trials: he well remembered the strict logic of the Rambam’s legal arguments, and how the Satan had countered each one with his own legal responses. He had heard the cool simplicity of the Ramban, and how the Satan had tied him in knots. He had witnessed the threats of Rabbi Akiva of what he would do to the world if mashiach would not be sent, and the Satan’s counter-threats that made even Rabbi Akiva tremble. He remembered, more clearly yet, the fiery, passionate pleading of the Baal Shem Tov, and how the Satan had doused his fire with a few well-chosen sarcastic words. And after all this, now, at last, the time had come for him to herald mashiach’s imminent arrival.
And as the Judge made His pronouncement, the few who thought of looking saw that the Satan, far from looking defeated, was smiling more grimly and more broadly than ever.
In the small synagogue in one of the poorer neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, the rabbi was drawing to the end of his d’var Torah. They had long since finished reading the Megillah, and neither the rabbi, nor anyone else, even noticed the dignified old man enter quietly. Tonight was Purim, and a man dressed in robes and carrying a shofar did not attract attention the way it would any other time. “So Rabbi Shlomo from Karlin asked why Haman wanted to destroy all the Jews in a single day. Wouldn’t it be easier to spread it over several days? I mean, how many Jews can you kill in a single day with swords? They didn’t have machine guns or poison gas in those days.” And Rabbi Shlomo answered his question by saying that even this, the oppressor did out of hatred for the Jews: he said, perhaps I will fail in my scheme, and then they will make a holiday. Better that they celebrate only one day.
“And so today, we here in Israel can say that our victory over Haman is even greater because we celebrate two days Purim. And the ultimate victory over all evil will be complete when mashiach comes, may we all see him soon in our time, amen.”
There was a mighty “amen” from the congregation, someone pressed a glass into the rabbi’s hand, and he drank. Eliyahu the prophet stood up. Immediately everyone noticed him. He had a magnetism, a strength in his eyes, that commanded everyone’s attention. “Jews,” he addressed them, “pure and holy souls all, you all prayed to see mashiach. I am Eliyahu the prophet, come to herald his arrival.”
For a few seconds there was silence. Then slowly, one by one, all realized that he was, indeed, Eliyahu. At first the rabbi, then the learned, then the less pious – but soon, everyone saw. They carried him shoulder-high out of the synagogue, danced through the streets of Jerusalem. Soon they came to another synagogue. “Wait,” commanded the prophet. “Jews here are still reading the Megillah; we must not interrupt them. Let us wait for them to finish.”
And not ten minutes later, another hundred Jews had joined the crowd dancing round Eliyahu.
Singing and dancing through the streets, more and more Jews came to see Eliyahu. From synagogue to synagogue, from pew to pew, from city to city ran the news. Eliyahu the prophet was here to herald the imminent coming of the mashiach!
And soon, the uncountable thousands came to the pedestrian mall, Ben Yehudah Street in downtown Jerusalem. One elderly man, known as the grouchiest man in the minyan, gave a cynical grunt. “See how Eliyahu reacts when he sees all this abomination,” he muttered to a few others near him. “He’ll take one look and say it was all a mistake.”
The Heavenly Court was quiet with anticipation. Everyone was eagerly awaiting news from Eliyahu. The Rebbe peered down and saw Eliyahu looking around Ben Yehudah Street. Eliyahu seemed to falter for just a split second. The Rebbe frowned; he saw the Satan take a breath, as though he were about to speak, and look down to the earthly Jerusalem as if to give some suggestions to Eliyhau. The Rebbe turned hurriedly to the Judge. “I have to humbly request from You that You forbid the Satan from interfering in the process of the Redemption. He had ample time to argue his case before You, but he chose not to. It would now be unfitting for him to meddle in a process which You have decreed.”
“So be it,” declared the Judge. “The Satan is henceforth forbidden to take any part at all in these affairs until Eliyahu returns.”
The Rebbe expected the Satan to look defeated, desperate. But that grim smile was still firmly in place.
The prophet looked over the masses milling through Ben Yehudah Street. “So many pure, holy Jews,” he breathed, “so much kedushah”. He led his followers onward. One by one, all the youths quietened down. A group of boys, who had started a drunken brawl, suddenly fell into each others’ arms and embraced. The lewd pictures miraculously vanished.
The grouch, so cynical a few moments earlier, felt the first stirrings of an emotion he had not felt since he was a little boy: a warm love, a wanting to embrace everyone he saw. And he knew that not only he, but everyone who could see Eliyahu felt this too. “If he can do this,” he thought, “he must indeed be the greatest of the prophets.”
Eliyahu was standing by his side. “You see, now, what the power of love for all Jews can do.” His voice was infinitely strong, infinitely gentle. And then, in a voice that swept over the warm Jerusalem night like the first beam of morning sunlight, he addressed all the Jews who wanted to hear. “Come: let us go up to the Temple Mount, and start rebuilding the Holy Temple!”
Many were openly weeping as the enormous throng began flowing up Jaffa Road towards the walls of the Old City. The electric lights illuminating the walls of the Old City seemed just a bit warmer than usual that night. They entered the Old City through the Jaffa Gate; miraculously, there was enough room in Jerusalem for everyone. By the time they reached the Western Wall, barely half an hour later, Jews from all over the world, and all times, were dancing with Eliyahu. Even the prophet had tears in his eyes as he touched the ancient stones of the Wall. “Last time I was here,” he whispered, “I argued with the idolaters. And tonight – now I see everywhere the pure and holy Jews. They even have the Shield of David on their flag – and that flag flies free and proud over the site of the Holy Temple.”
Everyone wanted to hug him; miraculously, everyone could. Two men approached him, who were clearly father and son. “I was killed here in 1948,” said the older man. “I remember another night, long ago, when I was one of the first to fall when we tried to take the City. But my son” – and they looked adoringly into each others’ eyes – “partly avenged my blood when he was with the first of the paratroopers who liberated the Wall nineteen years later.” And they pulled Eliyahu into their embrace. A tall, stately woman beckoned to Eliyahu. “I am Rachel, Rabbi Akiva’s wife,” she announced. “I sat here and wept when we saw the Romans destroy the Holy Temple. I remember when my husband was here with the greatest tzaddikim of the generation, they saw a fox run out of the place of the Holy of Holies. All the others cried, and only my husband Akiva laughed. And all the others asked him how he could laugh. And throughout these long, painful centuries we have waited for all the House of Israel to join in his laughter.”
In the Court above, everyone was ecstatic. The Rebbe was laughing aloud as he looked down and saw the myriads of Jews dancing around Eliyahu, drawing closer to the Temple Mount by the second. Within minutes, the two thousand year desolation of Jerusalem would be ended. The ministering angels were aglow with golden light; even the sapphire Throne of Glory was a deeper, more majestic blue than ever before. By now, no one could stop the Redemption on this night of Purim.
Even that grim smile on the Satan’s lips no longer held any terrors for the Rebbe. He had defeated the Satan, and had brought the Redemption to Israel. Perhaps – the thought occurred to the Rebbe for the first time – perhaps the Satan really wanted to be defeated. For after all, the Satan, too, was one of God’s angels. The Rebbe felt that, at last, he understood the smile on the Satan’s face.
Eliyahu took up a Tanakh. Looking through it, he found the Book of Lamentations. “‘On Mount Zion, which is desolate, foxes walk …’” he declaimed. “Do we still say this today? Mount Zion shall no longer be desolate. The foxes shall no longer walk there!”
All around him he saw the pure and holy Jews. They had put techelet, the colour of holiness, on their new flag; many even wore clothes of techelet. Indeed, as Eliyahu the prophet looked again, he saw that nearly all the people nearest to him were wearing techelet. “Such sanctity, such holiness …”
One of the men approached him. He did not try to embrace him, but asked roughly, “Are you Eliyahu the prophet?”
“Yes, my holy brother, I am …”
“Then come with me.” Eliyahu was surprised: this was a command. He followed. “So last time you were here, you were taken away in a fiery chariot. Nowadays we have a different kind of chariot,” said one of the men in blue. His companions laughed roughly.
Before Eliyahu knew what was happening, he felt himself thrown violently into a van. As the light began flashing and the siren started wailing, he peered out through the bars on the windows. Within less than five minutes, he was in the Russian Compound.
Again, the prophet was roughly seized, jerked out of the van, and thrown into a cold room with a hard, cold stone floor. He was now thoroughly unhappy. What had gone wrong? What had he done wrong? Not since the days of Ahab and Jezebel and the prophets of the Baal had he been treated like this.
Eventually the door opened, and another techelet-dressed man entered. He had on his shoulders metal olive-leaves. At last, thought the prophet Eliyahu, a good Jew who carries the sign of peace …
“Are you Eliyahu the prophet?” But his tone was even harsher than the previous one.
The blue-dressed man showed him a piece of paper that he held in his hand. “You have been placed under arrest. I have an order here signed by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence placing you in administrative detention for six months. You right-wing fanatics should all be thrown out of the country.”
Eliyahu appealed the decision. But in court, he saw no honest Judge, no tzaddik to defend him. Only accusers.
The middle of the three judges addressed him: “Did you try to enter the Temple Mount?”
“Yes, of course, and I …”
“Just answer the question. Did you speak about rebuilding the Temple?”
The three judges conferred among themselves for a few moments. Then the one on the right asked him: “And what do you think of Yitzhak Rabin?”
Eliyahu the prophet looked puzzled. “Who? I’ve never heard of him. Remember, I’ve been in Heaven these last three thousand years; I know no one who yet lives. I only know those people who were around in those days – of course, I also know most of the Jews who have come into Heaven.”
The judge glared at Eliyahu in fury. “Are you daring to suggest that Rabin did not enter Heaven?” he thundered. “I think we’ve heard enough.”
“More than enough,” added the judge on the left.
The judge in the centre was leafing through a Tanakh. He stopped at a paragraph that caught his eye, and read it aloud to the court: “‘Elisha went up to Beit El, and he rose up along the way; and young boys came out of the city and mocked him, saying to him: Arise, bald one, arise, bald one. And he turned to them and saw them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two bears came out of the forest and attacked them all, forty-two boys.’”
“And this is the same Elisha who learned from Eliyahu. This, gentlemen, is how Eliyahu, who stands before us now, educated his closest disciple.”
There was a brief, shocked silence in the court. “Is this what you did? You would kill so many children in cold blood? Have you never heard of the Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not murder’? But then, his disciple Elisha was in Beit El. What can you expect from a settler?” He spat the final word in contempt and disgust.
“Honourable Court, it’s all written here in our eternal Book of Books: the Second Book of Kings, chapter 2, verse 23. This man is a cold-blooded murderer.”
He was sentenced to a year in prison for leading an illegal demonstration, three years for resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer, eight years for incitement to murder, ten years for incitement to revolution, fifteen years for attempting to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount, and forty-two life sentences for partner to murder of forty-two boys.
Summing up, the President of the Court stated: “The greatest threat to peace today is the phenomenon of right-wing fundamentalist messianic nationalism, which can lead only to bloodshed. By placing this dangerous man in prison for the rest of his life, this court is sending a clear message to Israeli society: There is no room for people who threaten the Jewish and democratic nature of our state.”
That night in his cold cell, Eliyahu the prophet cried. Lonely and bewildered, he prayed to God to return him to the World of Truth. His mission had failed.
In the Court, all were quiet. The Trial had been held, the decision taken, permission granted, the Satan defeated, the attempt carried out, but there would be no rejoicing.
The Satan sat alone in a corner, needing to speak to no one and no one wanting to speak to him. His smile was terrifying in its grimness and broadness. His relaxed attitude said it all: Why bother to work, to argue, even to get excited, when so many people down there have the power to do my work for me without my even asking?
And the Rebbe had tears in his eyes. He truly understood, at last, the smile on the Satan’s face.
Daniel Pinner lives in Kfar Tapuach with his newlywed wife, Tzipporah.
The views of the author do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Your Jerusalem. The mission of Your Jerusalem is to provide an independent forum for authors from the entire spectrum of Israeli and Jewish society, in order that the reader may get a better understanding of the trends, events and news-makers in the Israeli and Jewish world.