Thursday, January 13, 2011

Reuven’s Vow II

The next day, the day of Reuven’s wedding, his companions begged him to tell his father and the rabbi about the corpse. But Reuven refused. He told them the dead did not have long memories, not like the living. The corpse would grow confused in the hills and move away from Safed, or else return back to the earth.

Reuven found another ring in his young sister’s room, and prepared for the wedding. He was confident that yesterday’s experience was simply some trick. He had been exorcising dybbuks and demons for years, and now, on the eve of his wedding, one was trying to play a joke on him by animating a corpse.

Reuven stood under the chuppah next to the rabbi. All Safed turned out for the wedding. A feast fit for a Pasha has been laid out for the reception. The veiled bridegroom was escorted to the canopy by a gaggle of maidens and stood next to Reuven.

The rabbi was about to begin the service when a strong wind suddenly kicked up. Men’s hats flew off their heads and women’s dresses flared up to their waists. The day was warm, but there was the unmistakable smell of snow and ice held aloft. Then the wind turned into a shrill, sustained hiss, and then a scream. People at the back of the crowd began to wail, and the crowd fainted or scurried away in a quickly disappearing mass, like frost melting on a window.

The corpse in its the shroud was making its way to the chuppah. Everyone took several steps back. Reuven’s bride fainted dead away. The corpse screamed, and then found a voice. Her shroud moved as if breath was issuing from her mouth. She lifted her arms as she spoke and the shroud rustled like a curtain flying off its rod.

“Why do you marry, Reuven ben Sosa, when you are betrothed to me?” she said, her voice was high and reedy, as if a breath of air had been squeezed through a narrow crag in a rock. On hearing this, the people standing near the chuppah gasped and wailed. Many men tore their garments. Reuven, never at a loss for words, could not find his tongue. All eyes went from him to the corpse and back again, but he could not utter a sound. It was the rabbi who spoke.

“Dead woman,” he asked with a quiver in his voice, “why do you rise from your grave to aggrieve the living?”

“This man is my betrothed,” the corpse answered without hesitation.

“How can this be?” the rabbi stated, his tone more firm. “A corpse cannot marry the living.”

“He gave me his ring,” the corpse answered, holding aloft its bony left hand. The rabbi took a reluctant step toward the corpse. The ring clearly bore Reuven’s initials. People began to scream and shout. To the Jews of Safed, it was as if the sun had stood still in the sky.

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