Writer of Short Stories & Novels
“Will You Meet Me There, Out Beyond the Bend?”
Nightmare
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“The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard)”
Bifrost
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“In Memory of a Summer’s Day”
Mad Hatters and March Hares
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“The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard)”
Tor.com
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“Love Engine Optimization”
Lightspeed Magazine 85
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“One Spring in Cherryville”
Available in most ebook formats
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“The Garden Beyond Her Infinite Skies”
XB-1
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“The Singularity is in Your Hair”
Cyber World
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科幻世界 (Science Fiction World)
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“The Problem of Meat”
Grendelsong
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“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye”
Nebula Awards Showcase 2016
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“Demon in Aisle 6”
Nightmare Magazine 38
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“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye”
World Chinese SF Association
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“The Thing in the Refrigerator That Could Stop Time”
Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest
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“Marie and the Mathematicians”
Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #26
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“The Writing’s on the Wall”
Farrago's Wainscot #5
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“The Sembla”
A Field Guide to Surreal Botany
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“The Girl in the Basement”
Hatter Bones
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“Saving Diego”
Interzone #221
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“The Spaces Between Things”
Electric Velocipede 17/18
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“The Girl in the Basement”
Apex Magazine, Vol 3, Issue 3
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“The Suffering Gallery”
Beneath Ceaseless Skies - Issue 57
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“The History Within Us”
Clarkesworld Magazine #42
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“The History Within Us”
The People of the Book
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“The Hands That Feed”
Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories
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“The Bricks of Gelecek”
Naked City
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“The Hands That Feed”
The Mammoth Book of Steampunk
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“The Suffering Gallery”
The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year Three
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“The Great Game at the End of the World”
After
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
Lightspeed Magazine and io9.com
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“The History Within Us”
Clarkesworld Year Four
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“The Last Probe”
Launch Pad
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“Pheth’s Aviary”
Beneath Ceaseless Skies - Issue 133
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“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye”
Clarkesworld Magazine #92
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
XB-1 Issue 8/2014
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
Космопорт (Kosmoport)
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“The History Within Us”
XB-1 Issue 11/2014
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“Cameron Rhyder’s Legs”
Clarkesworld Magazine #98
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
Nebula Awards Showcase 2015
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“The Garden Beyond Her Infinite Skies”
Clarkesworld Magazine
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36 Days of Judaic Myth: Day 35, The Feast at the End of Days

To celebrate the October 13th release of my forthcoming debut novel, King of Shards, I will be featuring one new blog entry a day about a different Judaic myth for 36 days. Today’s entry is on The Feast at the End of Days.

Day 35: The Feast at the End of Days

Behemoth and Leviathan by William Blakea=

Behemoth and Leviathan by William Blake

On the day the Messiah will come to redeem humankind all wickedness will vanish like smoke from the face of the earth. That day, God will set a gigantic table inlaid with precious stones and surrounded by rivers of balsam, and there he will invite the greatest scholars and their students from around the world. Jacob, the patriarch, will be called to the table, because his name is Israel, because when the people of Israel suffer, so too does Jacob, the patriarch, because his name is Israel too. At this table, the righteous will feast upon the three beasts, Behemoth, Leviathan, and the Ziz. Some say they will also eat of the Messianic-ox, which dwells in Paradise, waiting for the End of Days, when it will be slaughtered and served at the Messianic banquet. 

God will offer the righteous a choice of three wines, citrus, cider, or grape, from fruits preserved from the six days of creation. It is said that this Messianic wine was only served once, when Jacob had no wine to serve his father Isaac, and so an angel provided him with some. On this day, God will leave his Throne of Glory and sit with all the righteous. With the skin of the Leviathan, God will make a sukkah, and the righteous will dwell there in holiness. The parts of Leviathan that are not eaten will be spread across the walls of Jerusalem, where the city will shine so brightly that the whole world will know its light. 

 

The Myth’s Origins

The book of Isaiah speaks of a great feast at the time of the Messiah’s arrival: “And in this mountain will the Lord of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.” And Tractate Baba Bathra 75a of the Babylonian Talmud says, “The Holy One, blessed be He, will in time to come make a banquet for the righteous from the flesh of Leviathan; for it is said: Companions will make a banquet of it.” The same tractate also says, “The Holy One, blessed be He, will in time to come make a tabernacle for the righteous from the skin of Leviathan; for it is said: Canst thou fill tabernacles with his skin.” And again, “The rest of Leviathan will be spread by the Holy One, blessed be He, upon the walls of Jerusalem, and its splendor will shine from one end of the world to the other; as it is said: And nations shall walk at thy light, and kings at the brightness of thy rising.”

It is customary to recite a prayer at the conclusion of Sukkot that speaks of Leviathan: “May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our forefathers, that just as I have fulfilled and dwelt in this sukkah, so may I merit in the coming year to dwell in the sukkah of the skin of Leviathan. Next year in Jerusalem.” At the end of Shavuot, the commemoration of the reception of the Torah, Jews recite the Akdamut prayer, which among others things, states that Leviathan and Behemoth will engage in a fierce battle, but God will slay them both with his mighty sword. 

In some versions of this myth, the Messianic ox and the Behemoth are conflated; they are the same beast, and many depictions of the Behemoth are ox-like. According to the Midrash, the Behemoth can only be killed by the one who created it, i.e. God, and therefore he will slaughter the beast at the end of days. In other tales, Leviathan and Behemoth battle it to the death, killing each other. Since Leviathan, Behemoth and Ziz were often seen as a triad of beasts dominating the Sea, Land, and Sky, they were often grouped together. In scripture, when the Behemoth is mentioned, there is also mention of “wild beasts of the field,” which were interpreted as birds, hence the addition of the Ziz. Thus the feasting of all three at the Messianic banquet represents the complete dominion of God over the earth’s sea, land and sky.

 

Some Thoughts on the Myth 

As I’ve said in previous posts, I love mythical creatures, and here we get a myth that incorporates three of them. At the end of days, the righteous get to feast on these giant beasts. The significance of the feast itself is obvious: it’s a time for rejoicing, and God invites to his table those whom he sees as most worthy of his blessings. Namely, righteous scholars, i.e. those who have devoted their lives to the study of Torah. But why these beasts in particular? I think because these are creatures that represent our fear. Each rules one portion of the earth. The eating of them signifies dominion over them and thus the end of fear. The coming of the Messiah ushers in a new age where terror vanishes. We eat what once frightened us at the table of God. What more do we have to fear after that? But until that time, until the redemption, we must dwell in this earthly realm under the dominion of frightful beasts. Until then, wickedness rules the earth.

I find it fascinating that among the orthodox, prayers mentioning Leviathan and Behemoth are common. These mythical sea and land beasts, once believed to lurk in deep waters or stalk distant landscapes, are still vibrantly alive in this myth that persists to this day. Eventually, if we lead righteous lives, we will devour our fears at the table of God. What once terrified us will decorate our holiest city, so that its light may shine forth. The monster’s skin will be make into dwellings to protect us. It’s a powerful message of transformation of terror into peace. It’s no wonder this myth has persisted for so long.

Also, I’m kind of hungry now.

 

Tomorrow’s Myth: The Lamed Vav, The Thirty-Six Hidden Righteous

 


36 Days of Judaic Myth: Day 34, The Evil Eye

To celebrate the October 13th release of my forthcoming debut novel, King of Shards, I will be featuring one new blog entry a day about a different Judaic myth for 36 days. Today’s entry is on The Evil Eye.

Day 34: The Evil Eye

A Hamsa or Hand of Miriam talisman to ward off the Evil Eye

A Hamsa or Hand of Miriam talisman to ward off the Evil Eye

If one encounters good fortune in this life, if your blessings are abundant, one should not boast of them, for this attracts the jealous stare — the Ayin Hara, the Evil Eye — from others. If too many people become jealous, the Heavenly Court notices and reconsiders its judgment upon the boaster. Does this individual deserve such blessings that have been bestowed upon them? Thus, the boasting of one’s blessings one may bring about a reversal of good fortune.

There are some folks who simply cannot bear the good fortune of others– so great is their jealousy — and they alone have the power of the Evil Eye. They able to alter Heaven’s judgment upon the good fortune of another simply through their evil stare. 

There are many ways to ward off the negative effects of the Evil Eye. If one speaks of good fortune, we finish the sentence with Keynahora, or “no evil eye.” A chai necklace with the letters spelling the number 18 and the word “life” wards off evil. One should not have two weddings in one day, for too many blessings attract the Evil Eye.

However, if the Evil Eye has been provoked there are magical ways to shake off its negative influence. One may use mirrors, red and blue objects, to direct the Evil Eye’s glimpse away from you. One may chant a sacred verse while jumping our shouting (or both) to scare the Evil Eye away. Placing a precious stone between the eyes, placing a spot of dirt or ash between the forehead of a child, spitting three times onto the fingers, throwing salt into the corners of the room, and piercing a lemon with iron nails are all known ways to ward off the Evil Eye. 

If one is a direct descendant of Joseph, the Evil Eye has no power over them, for as it is said in the Talmud, “If a man on going into a town is afraid of the Evil Eye, let him take the thumb of his right hand in his left hand and the thumb of his left hand in his right hand, and say: I, so-and-so, am of the seed of Joseph over which the evil eye has no power.” If that fails, one may also pay a person who specializes in Evil Eye removal a nominal fee to remove the its baleful curse.

The Myth’s Origins

The Evil Eye is mentioned nowhere in the five books of the Torah, but appears several times in the Talmud and in various kabbalistic texts. The Talmud Tractate Berakoth 20a and 55b speaks much of the Evil Eye, the Ayin Hara. Its root cause is always jealousy; it is considered sinful to boast of one’s successes and blessings, and doing so brings about the jealousy of others, their covetous stares, the “Evil Eye.”

In Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of our Fathers, a Mishnaic text, Chapter 2 says, “Go and see which is the worst trait, the one that a person should most distance himself from. Said Rabbi Eliezer: An evil eye. Said Rabbi Joshua: An evil friend. Said Rabbi Yossei: An evil neighbor…” One should, the rabbis implore, cultivate a “good eye,” toward our fellow humans: we should have gratitude for their successes, and not wish them misfortune.  

The Evil Eye is not unique to Judaism, of course. The ancient Greeks spoke of it often, and today many cultures and religions, believe in its power. In fact there are many talismans uses to ward off its ill effects. There is the hamsa symbol, sometimes known as Hand of Miriam or Hand of God charm, which has been gaining popularity in the West again in charms, necklaces, and other hanging objects. There are also nazars, discs of concentric blue and white circles representing an evil eye that are hung at the entrances to stores and workplaces used to ward off the Evil Eye.

In Ashkenazic culture it’s very common for one to say, “Kaynahora!” (no evil eye!) after mentioning positive news as a way to ward off evil influences. It serves as a kind of “knock on wood,” as protection against evil. Also, when asking or speaking of one’s age, we add the phrase, “Biz hundert un tsvantzik!” (until 120 years!) so as to ward off the negative effects of stating any good blessings. It was until recently very common for grandparents of Ashkenazic culture to call their grandchildren, “Meuske,” (ugly) as a kind of coded blessing. One would not want to attract the Evil Eye by calling them beautiful! It was a way to praise them covertly.

The myth persists today among many people, and for a nominal fee one can visit a woman who will remove the effects of the Evil Eye.

Some Thoughts on the Myth 

Life is unpredictable. We walk out our front door (or sometimes before we even step outside) and a series of unfortunate events occur. A picture falls off the wall and the glass shatters. Cleaning up the glass, we cut our finger. On our way to the doctor we get into a fender bender. The cut gets infected. Maybe our child gets a rare disease, we lose our job just as we purchase a new home, or just as we reach a successful milestone in our life a loved one passes away. It is human nature to try to ascribe meaning to unconnected events, and so, rather than these happenings being random, we ascribe to them a malevolent force: the Evil Eye.

Like the Evil Inclination, the Evil Eye temps us at every turn. Not only are we subject to its effects from others, but we have the power to inflict it. It seems to me that what the rabbis describe in the Talmud and the superstitions around the Evil Eye encompass is a psychological state of uncertainty. Jealousy, both in us and of toward us from others, leads to resentment; resentment may lead to ill will. Therefore, boasting can lead to malevolent behavior toward you from others. And because this earthly world is not all there is in Judaism, boasting can lead to ill effects from Heaven as well. 

If we believe that we are subject to evil forces, our lives will corroborate that belief. And if we believe we are protected from evil, our life will reflect that. What I’m talking about is a psychological sense of feeling protected or unprotected. What these talismans and phrases do is offer us the semblance of control. Oftentimes in this crazy world, we feel terribly vulnerable. A hamsa charm or Evil Eye talisman guarding our workplace or a Kaynahora! declared after good news makes us feel as if we are in control. But the difficult truth to accept is that, though we can take a thousand precautions, are not the masters of our fate.

Tomorrow’s Myth: The Feast at the End of Days

 


36 Days of Judaic Myth: Day 33, The Pargod, The Divine Curtain

To celebrate the October 13th release of my forthcoming debut novel, King of Shards, I will be featuring one new blog entry a day about a different Judaic myth for 36 days. Today’s entry is on The Pargod, The Divine Curtain.

Day 33: The Pargod, The Divine Curtain

The Pargod, The Divine Curtain

It’s so shimmery! The Pargod, The Divine Curtain

There is a curtain in heaven that separates God from the angels. We call this curtain the Pargod. This curtain is exceedingly splendid — it glows with empyrean light — and the light forms the letters of the Holy Name of God across it. Everything that is on this curtain also appears in our world — everything that exists is represented there. But not only what exists, but everything that has existed and everything that ever will exist is represented on the Pargod. Only the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence and God’s Bride, and the angel Metatron are permitted on the other side of this curtain to glimpse the divine splendor.

Rabbi Ishmael once visited heaven, led by the angel Metatron, and there he glimpsed the Pargod in all its glorious splendor. He saw, written upon this brilliant curtain, the whole history of the world. As he glimpsed the histories it was as if he were experiencing these things himself. 

The Myth’s Origins

In Jewish synagogues, the Torah scrolls are separated from the congregation by a curtain. This tradition dates back to the ancient Temple and desert Tabernacle when the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary, was separated from the outer chambers by a curtain. Exodus 26:31 says, “And thou shalt make a veil of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen; with cherubim the work of the skillful workman shall it be made.” This was to signify that one is entering into God’s presence, which is separate from ordinary existence. It was believed that within this barrier, separating the profane from the holy, the finite from the infinite, the Divine Presence dwelled, and various ritual purifications needed to take place before one could enter into such chambers.

The notion of such a curtain separating God from the rest of heaven comes from the Third Book of Enoch, which says, “Come, and I will show thee the Curtain of the Divine Majesty which is spread before the Holy One, blessed be He, and whereon are graven all the generations of the world and all their doings, both what they have done and what they will do until the end of all generations.”

Moses encounters God on Mt. Sinai, God says in Exodus 33:20, “Thou can not see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.” But here in this myth of the Pargod even most of the angels are forbidden from viewing God, such is his supernal splendor.  He sits on his Divine Throne with the Shekhinah (the Divine Presence) and Metatron by his side. 

It’s long been said that God knows all, past and future, and this myth gives that notion a physical object to represent his knowledge: a curtain, upon which is written the entire history of the world. This mirrors in many ways the Torah itself, which is seen among certain mystical groups to contain divine secrets about the past and future, as well as rules for the present. The Midrash Tehillim 90:12 says, from interpreting the Psalms, that the Torah existed 2,000 years before the world. God created every letter of its pages before he created earth and humanity.

Some Thoughts on the Myth 

Judaism is filled with separations. Separations of holy days from ordinary ones. Kosher food from non-kosher. The Sabbath from the rest of the week. The inner sanctuary from the outer. Thus it’s not surprising to find the myth extended to God’s realm itself. The Lord’s countenance is so bright, only the holiest may enter. The curtain separates the finite from the infinite.

What I find the most interesting about this myth is the curtain itself, upon which is written, in glowing, supernal letters, the entire history of the universe. God has a plan for the world, which he has inscribed on his curtain. Nothing is unknown to him. The concept is fascinating and has appeared in various analogs among many fantasy stories over the ages (Borges “The Aleph” comes to mind).

It brings up interesting questions about free will, that has been asked again and again. If God knows all past, present, and future events, where in that divine plan is there room for human decision? Should we simply not try at all, because no matter what we do, our plan is written? If we chose to give up, it is written. If we chose to try harder, it is written. Nothing we do is outside of God’s plan. If that is true, then is the sinner guiltless because his path was ordained? Does the saint lose his holiness because it was not him, but God who made him as he was? This is why the notion of predestination has never sat well with me. In such a world, we are all zombies.

Nevertheless, I do love the idea of a glowing curtain upon which the whole history of the world is written. Essentially, all of existence becomes one long book, and how cool is that? 

 

Tomorrow’s Myth: The Evil Eye