essays kaddish in two-part harmony the rebbe's queer daughters

enter Malkah upon the broken stage — 1.1.6

The rebbe’s fourth daughter, as I’m sure you must have guessed, was our Malkah, for what other name could this sweet child possess?  Malkah was now sixteen and obedient (it would seem) albeit in an ethereal sort of way.  She mostly tended the family garden and goats, or ran nimbly up and down the cliff-side trails adjoining our fields—and it was she, of course, who stared westward lost in dreams that did not live in cityscape.

But unlike the case of sturdy sister Vavah, no one could fault lithe Malkah’s own departures. Her solitary wanderings brought not urban gifts from shops but the wondrous offerings of nature to the household —plant cuttings that helped the rebbe better sleep at night, wild ingredients from which to make salves and balms for Binah’s frequent cuts and burns, worms she gently lowered into the vegetable garden’s welcoming soil, stones she carried home one by one to build the garden wall.

And of course, there was Malkah’s uncanny resonant bond with the Uriel Tree, which brought the greatest gift of all.  She was the only one among us to receive it, to gather it, to know how to transform it.

Besides, Malkah’s departures were almost never nocturnal.  At night, her body lay upon the sororal bed and dreamed. So how could she be faulted?  Nevertheless, the parental consensus appeared to be that Malkah too, was not living up to her potential.

She would have made a great goddess.

Or barring that, a saint at least.  A martyr.  Something.  She exuded somethingness, but there was no consensus as to what that somethingness might be.

As Malkah walked or ran upon the sandy hillsides near the family cottage, she cared not a whit for what she should live up to.  It never crossed her mind at all.

Malkah was consumed with living. And each step told her what the next should be.

Instead, pondered things of land.  She looked earthward more than she looked up or out to sea.  And while she did take, often enough, it is true, the winding path that led down to the watery mother of us all, her focus was nevertheless directed back to the rugged cliff; to the little holes on the sheer side of the cliff the sparrows called their homes; to the ice plant clinging to a barren wall of rock; to dogshit and horseshit, deershit and foxshit, to hawks on the hunt and to moles on the run.

This was her dominion.  And shit was definitely part of it.  Although at this point, all the shit of the world hadn’t finally gotten to her.  Shit was just a part of life. And she had not of yet disappeared from the world, immersed in her despair.

The steep trail descended by a wide ladder made of logs roped together, each a bit more than a meter lower (or higher) than the next.  Six hundred and thirteen steep and treacherous steps down (or up) the cliff to sea, or sea to cliff.  There was a rope staked to posts along the way on each side of the sand ladder, good to pull oneself along or slow oneself down, but Malkah rarely heeded it.  And there was a half-hearted fence that headed up and down the cliffside, placed there aeons ago by some government project aimed at avoiding lawsuits from the clumsy-footed.  But Malkah knew these trails, knew every root and rock that jutted on the way, and knew them even as they changed their shapes and places.  Or rather, she trusted that they would move aside for her as she loped down to the sea—and who were they to turn her down?  She could run up and down the cliffside with ease on the darkest moonless night.

Sometimes, but less often these days, Malkah would take those appropriate steps and skip lightly down the rope-ladder, who had greeted her each day since childhood.  And when she did follow this, the beaten path, she called it her meditation on the expected course to take.  But more often than not these days, now that she was older, Malkah took her very own circuitous alternate route of severely overgrown narrow switchbacks through the foliated slopes, curving like four ל lamèds balanced each upon the head of the next, descending from the highest of the four worlds downward:  from Atzilut to the head and shoulders of Bri’ah, from Bri’ah to the head and shoulders of Yetzirah, and from Yetzirah touching finally upon the Malkhut of Assiyah—the Malkhut of Malkhut—and Malkah’s favorite stretch of land beside the sea.

In this way, she felt she performed her daily lessons well and her prayers aloud on foot, skipping up and down the alternate route, and felt not one drop a truant or a traitor to the teachings of her father and her fathers’ fathers.

I mean, what did you think this tale was about, if not that?

She much preferred this more organic ל lamèd-route, frequented by goats and deer and dogs and crawling things.

There was one dog, especially, Kalima the dark-skinned Cushi’s shepherd dog, who liked to meet her there in the wild; a long-haired glory of a creature with kind brown eyes that saw everything there was to see, and more.  She had a coat spun of disguise, who would greet Malkah, look long and deep into her eyes, and give her that “whither-shall-we-go?” look.  The shepherd spoke with her thus, as shepherds do, and sought to keep her safe along her way, sure, but it was mostly for the conversation.

Sometimes Malkah would just stop, and she and the dog would sit on the cliffs—sometimes with Kalima, her human friend and neighbor at their silent side—and at those times she would indeed slow down enough to look out to the sea.  And the furry dog who, stretched out was her size, would lie between them, lazily patrolling, and periodically plucking a foxtail or two from her coat or paws.  And then the dog would lay a paw upon young Malkah’s lap or hand and close her eyes and moan.  And then they all three would be silent, listening to the excited breathing of the sea.

Malkah did not think herself a dreamer, but rather a pragmatist.  She was merely fascinated by wild things and growing things in and of the earth, the stories they told, the secrets they divulged, and their sense of their own purpose.  She was a good listener (though not to human people, who talked too much and tired her out), but she could follow the instructions of the wild and growing things; delight them with her quiet ‘doing’—her  Assiyah—her labor—which made them hoot and howl and laugh.

The grasses whistled their appreciation.  The hawks would swoop, and the sparrows dance.  The foxes peaked out from the intermittent woods to share a momentary chortle when Malkah thought her thoughts in the quiet places on the cliffside of the trail.

When the fourth daughter of the rebbe walked the cliffs, her bare toes insisted that they do their part and grip the soil or sand or crawling roots along her path.  And her light brown almost golden almond eyes gazed downward in humble appreciation of the complex earth.  Her nose tickled to the smell of rich loam and wet hair—her own long tangled curls, or that of goats or dogs—and the lingering damp aroma from morning or evening fog. The fog just didn’t want to give up its embrace.

Malkah would come home from her perambulations, smelling equal parts warm animal, wild plant, and soil and wild and desperate wind.

But her very favorite smell was that of the lemon in her garden, and she aspired to cultivate that sweet odor as her own.  This she could achieve, at times, through long and satisfying labor in the garden of her soil. She could exude lemon blossom with very little effort.

Grounded, she was, quite literally you may say, for she was in love with the very ground trod by goat and dog and fox, and her own bare toes would fiercely clutch the sandy soil with every step.  Her love could not be called unnatural, for it was by its very nature nature, no more nor less than natural could ever be.  Unnatural, however, her love it could be called.  For the smells of the earth moved her body to pulsations that were more than tears, and sometimes more than sobs as well.

And humans, well, they just don’t do that, do they? And they don’t call it a miracle.

And her father, the rebbe, righteous patriarch of the household, from that same library window that I’d peer out, saw her as he never saw Vavah, our Yesodite, and admired unstintingly his Malkah from afar, with an awe and admiration that could not be equaled.

And he would think again that blasphemous thought: that she would have made a glorious goddess, a goddess for the pagan gods to stare and gape and prostrate themselves to her in prayer.  So deep his love and admiration to see her as a pagan god! And staring at his Malkah running lightly through the sunset fields returning homeward, the sainted rebbe understood that primordial pagan inclination:

 “We who have a daughter such as this,” mumbled the great sage to himself, “we who have such daughters forgive the pagans their errant gods.”

If he’d have been a Christian, now would have been a good time to cross himself. Oh well.

By mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.

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