North Africa, 1942 and a back room in Temple Ben Judah, NYC, 1941
Outside the tent, the golem paces.
Malkuth finds it impossible to maintain a statue’s stillness.
Inside the tent, the crunching footsteps of a pacing golem go unheard.
Inside the tent, the Kabbalist sleeps. A troubled sleep. Memories make him toss and turn. Despite the cold and the damp, sweat darkens his uniform and the cot where he lays. Memories of pain.
That room. His dreams always take him back to that room in the rear of the Temple Ben Judah synagogue. He’s always scared in that room. Scared, and eventually in pain.
When his thoughts and studies start to take him in a certain direction, he asks for the room. He tells them that he needs a large, isolated study space. It takes some convincing, but he gets the room.
In the dream, the headlines hit his eyes. Headlines from the big newspapers, headlines from the Jewish papers. Headlines in different languages. And they all spread the same news. The spread of the Reich, its victories, unstoppable. The disappearances, the pogroms, the camps.
All he feels is desperation and fear. These feelings drive him to take the next step. In the dream he sees his studies: the pages in the old texts, the grimoires, the scrolls, the diagrams. Equations: letters turning into number and then back again. Blackboards filled and erased and filled again.
Then he’s ready. He knows enough. He thinks that he can make it work. He’s afraid that he might be right. Determination and fear. And blisters. Blisters from all those buckets of clay brought in and dumped onto the table, cleared of all the books and papers. His soft scholar’s hands, now blistered and ragged with dirt encrusted nails, work the clay, shape it. His throat is dry and aches from the constant prayers that he recites as the form comes into being from mounds of clay.
Asleep, still dreaming, but Maccabbee knows what comes next and fears the pain. The name is the most important thing. Everything will flow from the name. The name will shape everything. He’s thought a long time about this, filled page after page with notes and scribbles and diagrams. And in the end, his original naming plan remains the best. The names of the Sephiroth, the stations on the Tree, those are the most powerful names. Which makes the name of this golem, his first golem, the golem upon which all of his plans rest, the foundation of all that will follow, its name will be Malkuth. The Earth. The Foundation. The First Sephiroth. The Sephiroth closest to Humanity.
With sigils, with blessings, he’s made this rude shape of clay laying in front of him on the table the empty vessel ready to receive its name. Now he begins to work his consciousness up The Tree. The room recedes from his consciousness, he doesn’t even know if his eyes are open or not. He continues to chant, holding the image of The Tree in his mind, taking the left hand path. The generative power of Binah fills him as he reaches the Sephiroth of that name. A blood vessel bursts in his throat but his intonation does not falter. The next Station on the Path is Netzach and he feels his thoughts begin to race. This is the Sephiroth of Thought and Creativity. He’s able to see, beyond knowing, to be sure, that his plan is good, that it will work. The power of this Sephiroth is the power that will spark the golem’s mind. The power radiating from Kether, the highest Sephiroth, the All Highest, the unknowable face of God, is a wind, a storm. And it abrades all dross from Maccabbee’s mind. He becomes a diamond needle of pure will. No more doubts. No more hesitations. No more human concerns. Just the Will and the Idea. And the pain. He is suspended in a limitless ocean of thundering white fire. Time ceases to exist. There is only the pain. This is the final test. One that some many other scholars, magi, kabbalists have failed. Driven by the threat of the Reich, maintained by his determination, Judah Maccabbee, barely that at this point, annealed almost beyond identity, does not failed. Will and Idea. Now descending The Tree along the right hand path, suffused with the power of Kether, his identity slowly begins to accrete around him. The Sephiroth Geburah, red tinted war, gives Malkuth the will to fight, the ability to be a soldier. The last Station is Hesod, lunar imagination, which will make Malkuth an even better soldier. Maccabbee’s a powerful kabbalist but he’s not omniscient and he’s never been in a war or in an army. That last choice will haunt him.
Will and Idea. His focus and concentration are still preternatural. And with those, he drives the power and the concepts that he’s acquired on his journey along The Tree into the clay shape on the table. From the crown of its head to the soles of its feet, it flares white, a bright actinic flash that drive all the shadows of the room sharp edged and back into the far corners.
There’s one last thing to do. Maccabbee lifts his hand. Part of him is surprised that he still has a body to come back to. The smell of singed hair reaches his nostrils and he realizes how close he came to just igniting with the power of Kether. He lifts his hand, still partially operating in the realm of The Tree, the hand of the flesh trails just behind the hand of the spirit. He writes a Hebrew word in the wet clay of the golem’s forehead.
Malkuth talks. At first, just a noise. A rumbling, grating noise from deep in the earth. An avalanche in a cave. Then the mouth begins to shape the noise and words emerge.
Maccabbee is more tired and weaker than he’s ever been. He staggers back and collapses into a chair that’s luckily not piled high with books. He slumps there, limp as a wrung out dishrag, and with the amount of sweat coating his body, the resemblance is marked. For a while, for how long he has no idea, he just sits there, concentrates on his breathing, just staring at the twitching blinking statue laying on the table. The living statue that was just a short time ago merely a clay shape. He realizes in stunned exhaustion that he made one arm longer than the other. Chava’s the artist, not him. Maybe he needs her help. The thought slips away on a tide of weariness.
After more blank time, he starts to hear noise from outside the room. He thinks that he’s been hearing it for some time. It’s a lot of noise. A lot of voices all talking at the same time, all shouting over each other. And it’s not the usual noise of Torah study. There’s a mix of fear and excitement to the voices, but he can’t hear what they’re saying.
Maccabbee sighs and levers himself up out of the chair. He sways a bit, waits for his head to stop feeling so light, so like a balloon. Regaining his balance, he stumbles to the door, opens it, and leaves the room and the miracle on the table. The noise is a lot louder out in the hallway and he follows it to the synagogue’s study hall. He pulls aside the curtain at the end of the hallway and sees that the room is filled with students of all ages and all of the teachers. A lot of them have newspapers in their hands and are waving them around, pointing out items on the front page, arguing with each other. In the dream, some of them are dead.
He grabs at the sleeve of a student hurrying past. “What’s happened? What’s going on?”
“The Japs bombed Pearl Harbor, Rabbi! It’s war! We’re at war!” The student breaks free of Maccabbee’s feeble grip and disappears into the crowd.
The Kabbalist just turns without saying a word and walks slowly back to the room with the waiting statue. One thought keeps echoing through his head. I have to make more before it’s too late.
And now his dream is just filled with the white power coursing from the highest Sephiroth through his body, through his soul burning trails of pain through him. This pain, he’s used to and he writhes and tosses in the damp silence of the tent.
Then the dream shifts, becomes something new. Shadows begin encroach on the pure pristine power. The whiteness dims and darkness spreads. He’s back in his room, the room where it all began. And shadows are beginning to spread from the corners. Everything grows darker. In the dream, he’s terrified, backed up against the table where Malkuth first came to life. In one of the corners, in one of the shadows, there’s a gleam, at head height. Bright, shining slash in the darkness. Then another one next to it.
It’s when he realizes what those are, Maccabbee’s screams bring Malkuth running into the tent. The Rabbi is bolt upright in his cot, eyes wild.
Fangs. Fangs of a serpent. Fangs of a vampire.