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“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”
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“The Problem of Meat”
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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”
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“Marie and the Mathematicians”
Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #26
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Interzone #221
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Electric Velocipede 17/18
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Apex Magazine, Vol 3, Issue 3
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Beneath Ceaseless Skies - Issue 57
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“The History Within Us”
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The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year Three
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After
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Lightspeed Magazine and io9.com
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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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XB-1 Issue 8/2014
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
Космопорт (Kosmoport)
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“Cameron Rhyder’s Legs”
Clarkesworld Magazine #98
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
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“The Garden Beyond Her Infinite Skies”
Clarkesworld Magazine
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36 Days of Judaic Myth: Day 36, The Lamed Vav, The Thirty-Six Hidden Righteous

Today, October 13, is the release day of my debut novel, King of Shards, and for the last thirty six days I have been featuring one new blog entry a day about a different Judaic myth. I hope that along the way these posts have opened your eyes to the rich mythology and beauty in this ancient tradition. It’s been fun and educational for me as well, because in my research I’ve discovered fascinating things I did not previously know. Thank you for sharing this journey of discovery with me! 

Today’s last entry is on The Lamed Vav, The Thirty-Six Hidden Righteous.

Day 36: The Lamed Vav, The Thirty-Six Hidden Righteous

Lamed Vav by Monica Erosa

Lamed Vav by Monica Erosa

In every generation there are thirty-six just men who uphold the world, the Lamed Vav Tzaddikim. Each is blessed to be able to glimpse the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence. And because of their merit, the world continues to exist. If one were to die, another is immediately born to take his place. God permits the world to exist on account of their righteousness. If any one were to cease being righteous, the world would be destroyed. Because in Hebrew the letter ל lamed is thirty and the letter ו vav is six, we call these thirty six hidden saints the Lamed Vav.

Their chief traits are humility, selflessness, and anonymity. They are so anonymous, in fact, that you or I could be a Lamed Vavnik and not know it. The Lamed Vav work ordinary jobs, earning a living by the sweat of their brow as tailors, blacksmiths, shoemakers, and other humble professions. Those who live and work among the Lamed Vav never suspect they walk in the company of a saint. If, by chance, a Lamed Vavnik is exposed, he will fiercely deny it. It is also said that if a Lamed Vavnik discovers his hidden nature as one of them, he will immediately die, and another will be born to take his place.

The Lamed Vav perform small acts of kindness and righteousness that may seem insignificant in the eyes of passers by. But God watches and knows the sum of these small acts serve to uphold the world. Without such acts, the world could not exist. Therefore we call these Lamed Vav the Pillars of Existence. In times of great conflict, the Lamed Vav emerge from their hiding places to use their secret knowledge of kabbalah to avert disaster. After, the Lamed Vav return to their lives of anonymity in a new community.

 

The Myth’s Origins

This myth may originate from Genesis Chapter 18, where Abraham pleads with God not to destroy the righteous along with the wicked in Sodom. “Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep away and not forgive the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?” And then after some more bargaining, Abraham gets God down to ten people. “Oh, let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once. Peradventure ten shall be found there.’ And He said: ‘I will not destroy it for the ten’s sake.” So if ten righteous persons could be found in Sodom, God wouldn’t destroy it.

God destroyed the world once, in the Great Flood, to erase its wickedness. So what prevents him from doing it again? The ancient rabbis posited answers: In Genesis Rabah 35:2, it says, “The world possesses not less than thirty men as righteous as Abraham.” But later, in the Talmud, in Tractate Sanhedrin 97b, comes the following passage, “The world must contain not less than thirty-six righteous men in each generation who are vouchsafed the sight of the Shekhinah’s countenance, for it is written, Blessed are all they that wait [lo] for him; the numerical value of ‘lo’ is thirty-six.” In this passage, the Hebrew word “for him” is “lo” which in Hebrew is spelled lamed vav, לו i.e. 36.

The number 36 has a mystical connotation too. In Hebrew, letters are also numbers, and the number eighteen spells out the Hebrew word for life or living, חַי, chai. So twice 18, twice life is 36. This is the most likely reason this number stuck.

Among some versions of the myth, the promised Messiah will be a Lamed Vavnik, who is also known as the Tzadik Hador, the righteous person of this generation. If the world is deemed ready, the Tzadik Hador will emerge as the Messiah.

 

Some Thoughts on the Myth 

Among the many gems, this is my favorite Judaic myth. It posits that anyone you meet might be the one who is responsible for upholding the world, therefore you should treat everyone with the utmost respect. But it also means that you could be one. You might be responsible for upholding the world. And therefore you should strive to be kind and humble and righteous in order that the world continues to exist.

This myth appears in many places throughout literature and pop-culture, but it’s not widely known outside of Jewish circles. Perhaps it’s most well-known usage is in Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, where one character is presumed be the long sought-after Tzadik Hador, the righteous person of his generation who might be the Messiah. But my favorite Lamed Vav story is the novel The Last of the Just by André Schwarz-Bart, about an ancestral line of Lamed Vav (in his novel, the Lamed Vav inherit the role from their fathers). Its steady build climaxes in a powerfully devastating ending during the Holocaust. It’s one of the best and most moving novels I’ve ever read.

I have been so enamored by this myth that I actually wrote a book about it: King of Shards.

In King of Shards, Daniel Fisher is abducted from his wedding by none other than Ashmedai, king of the demons, and is ushered down to the hell world known as Gehinnom (Gehenna). There he learns he is a Lamed Vavnik and that a group of demons have discovered the names of the hidden Lamed Vav and are killing them. The demons hope that by killing the Lamed Vav, the earth will be destroyed, and the abundance and peace that has long been denied them will be theirs at last. In order to stay alive and protect the other Lamed Vav, Daniel must team up with Ashmedai, the demon king, who has be dethroned and cast out of Sheol. Together, saint and demon, must race across the fragment universe of Gehinnom while chased by a fearsome demon army in order to get back to earth and save the Lamed Vav. The only problem is that Ashmedai may not be the most trustworthy of partners. He is a demon after all.

King of Shards incorporates many of the myths discussed here in this blog series, such as The Lamed Vav, Gehenna, SheolThe Shattered Vessels, The Ziz, and many more. And while I reference Jewish mythology often, I never let myself be constrained by it. So while King of Shards is based on Jewish myth, much of the mythology in the book is my own. Often I elaborated and expanded upon extant myths in the same way as Jews have been doing for thousands of years. What I hope I have created is work of adventure fantasy fiction that anyone might enjoy. But you folks who’ve stuck with me for these last thirty six days might get to enjoy the book just a little bit more. 

Thank you so much for sharing this journey of discovery with me! 

King of Shards is out today, and you can get a copy in print, ebook, and audio book. 

 

 


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

 


36 Days of Judaic Myth: Day 17: The Priestly Blessing and Spock

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 Priestly Blessing and Spock.

Day 17: The Priestly Blessing and Spock

Priestly Blessing art in the Synagoge Enschede, photo by Kleuske

Priestly Blessing art in the Synagoge Enschede, photo by Kleuske

The descendants of the High Priest Aaron, Moses’s brother, are known as the Cohanim, and these high priests have been chosen by God to assist in serving him. They have a special duty during the prayer service, to bless the congregants. First, those descended from the tribe of Levi wash the Cohen’s hands, then the Cohen removes his own shoes. He covers his head with his tallis, his prayer shawl, recites a blessing, then turns to the congregants and raises his hands so that his palms face downward and the thumbs of his outspread hands touch. The fingers on each hand are split into two sets of two fingers. With his prayer shawl also covering his hands, the High Priest says:

May the Lord bless you and protect you…
May the Lord make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you…
May the Lord lift up His face unto you and give you peace…

After each line, the congregants say, “Amen.” 

God’s Shekhinah, or Divine Presence, shines through the Cohen’s hands during the blessing, therefore, one should never look at the Cohen’s hands when he recites the blessing, for harm shall befall a person if he does.  Instead, one should cover one’s eyes, or turn their backs to the Cohen during this prayer. If a man has a child, he should take him under his own talis, to bless him and protect him, just as God blesses and protects the congregation.

The Myth’s Origins

The text of the Priestly Blessing comes directly from the Torah, specifically. Numbers 6:23–27. The prayer mention’s that God’s face should “shed light upon you,” yet in Exodus 33:20, God says, “Thou can not see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.” So the tradition of averting the eyes arose. The fingers are positioned in such a way so that each hand forms the Hebrew letter שׁ, Shin, which stands for Shaddai, Almighty God.

There is a biblical prohibition against a Cohen with disfigured hands from offering the blessing, so the practice of covering of the hands arose to allow those priests whom the community favored to still perform the blessing. In later times, this evolved into the belief that one should not see the Cohen’s hand during the blessing.

The Priestly Blessing is popular in Christian liturgy as well, and various forms are chanted in Christianity around the world, though without the hand signs and head covering.

Some Thoughts on the Myth

Spock and his Vulcan Salute

Spock and his Vulcan Salute

When actor Leonard Nimoy z”l* was a boy, he went with his father to shul, to synagogue, and his father told him to avert his eyes during the Priestly Blessing, because God’s Presence would emerge from the Cohen’s hands and it would be dangerous to look. But the ever curious boy looked and saw the hand gesture rising above the congregation. Ever after, the sign had stuck with him in his imagination as one of great power. Later, when he became the well-known character known as Spock on the TV show Star Trek, he was discussing with the screenwriters a scene. Nimoy suggested that Spock, a Vulcan, needed some kind of hand gesture to use as a greeting. He adapted the Cohen’s hand sign into the Vulcan salute, and altered the blessing to say, “Live long and prosper.” In his own words:

It’s an interesting factoid as to how a part of a Jewish blessing made its way into popular culture. Even today, many people have no idea of the origin of Spock’s famous Vulcan salute. 

* z”l stands for zikhrono livrakha, may his memory be a blessing.

Tomorrow’s Myth: The Evil Inclination