The light gradually grew brighter. I tossed the light covering aside and slipped on my robe. The cold stone felt refreshing to my feet only for a short while then the cold crept up my legs into my bones. Oh, it wasn’t the cold stones. It was despair. I had passed depression long ago. Despair gathered the corners of darkness and wrapped it around my whole being. Defeat tied the knots. One day had melted into another without any relief from my hopeless situation.
I stopped myself from calling out for Tabitha. I had no money to pay her anymore so I had urged her to take another position. Why should she suffer because of me? I looked forward to morning only because I hated the loneliness of night so deeply. No warm, loving embrace during the night. No husband whispered sweet love words in my ear, his breath warm against my neck. I had lost it all. Everything.
My father had no son, only me, so I received the fortune he’d spent his whole life building. It was quite vast. He taught me well in business. I was no ninny, I assure you. It was quite exhilarating to land a deal and see those camels lumbering into town laden with spices and silks and to know that they were all sold to the highest bidder. The bag used to hang so heavy along my leg, the slight clinking of gold sounding musical to my ears.
The scarlet thread ruined everything.
I came home one day with a cramp or two. Nothing serious but Ishti, my beloved husband would hold me that night for the red river would flow the next day for sure. I laid on his breast through the night. He was tired. It had been hot and the camels had been cranky the handlers were even worse. What was seven days in a lifetime of love? We had the rest of our lives to lavish love on each other. It would only be seven days.
I was in niddah (separation) because, tohorah or family sacredness decrees that when the secular world things tum'ah such as menses begins it takes the mind off the Holy Things and makes a person Unclean. My beloved could not touch me. There was some disagreement among the Sanhedrin about this. Torah said not for seven days. Did one count from the first flow or begin counting after the flow ceased? But regardless, we could not express our love for each other that night because that would mean we would be cut off. No going to the Holy Temple. My beloved could not minister there. No sacrifice, however expensive, would cover the sin. So we abstained: I in my chamber and he in his. It was a lonely state, but it was only for seven days. So many women of my acquaintance cherished these days of separation. I could never understand that until I realized they must not love their husbands as much as I loved mine. I was young. I was in love. I had so much passion for him and not just his body. His smile lit up the room. His soft voice sent velvet peace through me as he read the Torah or the prophets or the songs. He was the mountain rock that protected me from the storms of life. It would only be for seven days.
But the red river did not stop flowing. I tried the remedies handed down from mother to daughter for centuries. I thought it would stop. It went on for months.
The day my husband came in with a bit of paper with writing all over it, my heart drained of all joy. What little hope I had cherished was ripped from me as I read that paper. It wasn’t my fault. I was released from my vows. He required an heir. I could not give him a most hoped for son. I was divorced.
That day, I hated the sun more than anything. It kept shining. My world had suddenly gone dark but the sun kept shining and it kept rising day after day, cheerily glowing, warming, setting the evening sky on fire all while darkness filled my being to the marrow of my bones. My beloved walked out the door, his broad shoulders and his rich brown hair reflected the cheery sunshine whilst inside blackness ascended the throne of my heart.
I resolved to find a doctor that would make me well. I sent out servants to the four corners of the earth in search of learned physicians to heal me. The servants came back one by one with physician after physician who tried recipe after recipe of the most vile concoctions and still the red river flowed. Each smiling man held out his hands. One clutched a new medicine and would only let go of it when the empty hand was filled with gold. The bag that used to merrily hit my leg as I confidently strode the streets of town grew lighter and lighter. Year after year passed by and loneliness crept closer, sidling up, craving a cold friendship.
At first the days were filled with hope. The next physician would have the cure. The next caravan would bring the medicine that would heal. At first, I didn’t notice as one acquaintance after another quit inviting me to social engagements. I had to turn them down so often. I was unclean. Of course I didn’t spread the news. That sort of thing is just not done. But women talk. We gather at the well. We share recipes, cures, hope, gossip. That last one… oy vey !
The gossip wasn’t noticeable at first. But then the hands quit dropping to the task at hand but stayed over the mouths as eyes followed me down the street. The sound of whispers touched my ears as I passed groups of twos and threes, either pity or scorn on their faces. I despised both. That served to push them further away. I was shunned. I was cut off.
That morning I awoke to a sky pale in the east, the sun not ready to break the day. I leaned on the window, a cramp dropped me to my knees. In that moment I decided I could not carry the load another second. “God,” I cried out. “God, remember me this day,” I begged, forgetting pride and self esteem. I had nothing left to bargain with. I had nothing to offer Him except a shriveled and tattered heart. “Remember me like you remembered Rachael and she became pregnant. Remember me like you did the countless times you remembered Israel in the travails before the kings. Remember me, oh Adonai, as you remember Hannah.”
The golden sun stretched over the horizon and warmed my cold face. A tiny spark of hope lit a single corner of my heart and I was able to face that day. A peace settled in my being. I knew I would be healed. Where, or how, or when wasn’t important in that moment. The hope of healing took my breath. I knew. It was as if a giant hand picked me up from the floor, rushed me into my dress and hurried me out the door. Where I was going I had no clue. Then I heard the whispers. He is here today. He is coming today. He will pass along this way for He is teaching. He has healed hundreds. That demon-possessed man out by the cemetery was cured! He heals the lame and the feverish.
My heart leaped. I dare not let them see my face for then they would hush and cross to the other side of the street. I would never hear more of this Man. “Who?” I wanted to scream. I wanted to grab an arm and shake until I heard the whole of the story. Jesus of Nazareth. Finally. I heard the name. It melted over me, sinking into me, peace washing over me like the waters of the mikveh which I had not felt in twelve long years. Hope gave spring to my step. I followed the crowd and when it became so close I used elbows and heels to break through. Closer I pushed.
I heard one of the synagogue rulers, Jairus, as I recall, approached a man falling at His feet. I knew in my heart that it must be He… the Jesus that would save me… the Man that would heal me… God’s remembrance. I crouched down and crawled forward. I knew that if I just touched his talit, just one tassel on the corner of His talit, I would be healed. He had healed hundreds; the tassel was all I needed. He was Holy. I was unclean. He was of God. I was filthy. He was kind, for I saw Him start to follow Jairus to go heal his daughter. I was shunned and cut off. How dare I touch Him and make Him unclean? I could not. I dare not. But His prayer shawl I could dare to touch. I reached out. The tassel brushed through my hand… the barest of touches.
Darkness fled. Despair became a wisp, blown away by a puff of breeze. The red river ceased and I was well. The filth of twelve years disappeared just as if it had never been.
“Who touched Me?” His voice was full of compassion, love, and the waters of His words washed me clean. The first time in twelve years I was clean.
I could do nothing but fall at His feet. I poured out twelve years of grief and He replaced it all with such joy I could not contain it all.
“Daughter,” He said, daughter a term of endearment such as I had not heard in years, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be whole from your plague.”
I rejoiced, Ah, Lord God, thou hast saved me this day.
I could not help but sing the Psalm of David
Jehovah is gracious and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.
Jehovah watches over the simple; I was low, but He saved me.
Return to your rest, O soul; for Jehovah has blessed you.
For You have delivered my soul from death, my eye from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I will walk before the face of Jehovah in the lands of the living.
I believed; so I speak…