The Nir Tamid

sunset above barley field
sunset above barley field

She stared up at the tablets.

Hebrew letters were carved into the wood.

Five commandments per tablet, separate but joined. The first set referred to the laws between man and God, the second, between man and man.

She reached the sixth line.

She quickly dropped her gaze to the heavy book resting on her lap.

Parashas Yisro. The giving of the ten commandments.

"Why is the parsaha named after Yisro, Moshe's father-in-law, who after all was a heathen, a pagan, a Midianite prince?" the speaker asked. "Why not call it Parsahas Moshe? After all, wasn't Moshe the greatest teacher, prophet?"

No one responded.

"It's because the chapter begins 'And Yisro heard'. What did Yisro hear?"

Someone sneezed.

"Yisro heard of all that Hashem had accomplished for Moshe and the Jewish people and he hurried to join them. He rushed. He brought his daughter, Moshe's wife and her two sons and joined the Jewish nation. Because Yisro accepted God so readily, because he sped to accept him, he is honored by having the chapter named after him."

She read the English translation.

"You shall not kill: you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness against your fellow."

She slapped the book shut. She wondered if anyone had noticed. The old woman next to her was hard of hearing. Her Irish caregiver seemed consumed with the service.

Adultery, she said to herself is right up there with murder.

She wondered if he had left a message.

She closed her eyes, trying to block out the memories of the previous night,

She imagined that her face was flushed.

They were all the same! Adultery, murder, theft, lying. Taking one's life, one's marital relationship, one's property, one's reputation.

She shifted in her seat.

"What are they up to?" the elderly woman asked, tapping her forearm.

"I don't know. I lost track. Somewhere around here," she said, opening the book.

"When are they going to do the prayer for the sick?" she demanded, her voice rising. Her attendant put her fingers to her lips.

"I'm not sure. Soon."

"I can't walk," she said loudly.

"Maa," her daughter said, approaching.


"When is it over?"

"Same time as always."

"Remember. I have to go to Jennifer's. You promised."


"I don't know why I have come here every week."

"Do you want to sit down?"

The girl rolled her eyes and looked over at the other woman. She made a small circle with her forefinger adjacent to her head.

Her mother coughed, hoping that no one had seen her.

She turned and walked towards the back of the sanctuary.

The strong light streamed through the tall, Moorish looking windows.

It's as if God is in this room, she thought.

What would he say?

She must choose between her lover and God.

She found herself swinging between faith in him and faith in God.

The letters seemed burned into the wood.

She knew that the plaque had been carved over one hundred years ago and had been housed in a congregation of tailors and tradesmen in the north. When the group withered, its furniture and ornaments were reinstalled here, in their assembly.

How many eyes have gazed up at these tablets, illuminated by the Nir Tamid, the Eternal Flame, suspended above the cabinet containing the holy scrolls, she wondered.

During the last hurricane, I bet the lamp went out, she thought.

Thinking of him, his broad back, deeply muscled, his masculinity, caused her heart to ache.

They seemed so perfect together. Two pieces of a puzzle.

She stared at the tablets. Pleaded with them. Argued with them. Wordlessly.

He wanted her.

Her pleas were unanswered,

What if there isn't a God? she thought, angrily.


"Are they up to it yet?" her seatmate shouted.


"The prayer for the sick!"

"No, I'll tell you when."

A tall man was chosen to lift and exhibit the scrolls. Some people crooked their finger in the direction of the rotating torah. She kept her hands at her side, occasionally wrapping them around her waist as if to steady herself.

Another man gently placed a belt, covered in blue velvet, around the scrolls securing them. The congregation sang as they placed the embroidered cover over the fastened torahs.

A sign, she thought. I need a sign.

Seated in the sanctuary, surrounded by ritual, objects, people, she felt secure, certain about herself. Outside, in the glare of the strong sun, she lost vision.

"Did I miss it?"

"Miss what?"

"What's the matter with you? The prayer for the sick!"

"I'm sorry. I wasn't paying attention."

"What good are you!"

"Mrs. Cohen," the companion, broke in, "it's coming up. Here, mark this page" she said, handing her a prayer book.

"How did you know that?"

"Oh, I've been coming for years and with Mr. Cohen before that." She smiled.

"I love your accent. Where are you from?"

"County Cork."

"I love Irish literature."

"Ssh!" the deaf woman said.

She glanced at her watch. Eleven. Another hour to go.

She turned around and glanced at the women behind her sporting all sorts of straw, felt, and lace trimmed hats.

She had never worn a hat, even when she had been married. Hats gave her a headache, she claimed.

She had always craved a mantilla, like some Spanish duena.

One to hide behind.

"Every day is a new day," the speaker thundered.

That's for certain, she mused.

"Dysfunctional families. Excuses. No one had a more abusive father that Abraham the Prophet. His father was an idol maker. He tried to have him killed. Brothers? Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau. Joseph and his brothers. Yet they preserved. Reinvented themselves."

She lost track of the speech, sped along by reveries of his body and power and ardency.

Her daughter returned.



She turned, frustrated and left.

She watched her daughter's retreating back, her narrow shoulders, her slender legs tottering on her first pair of heels.

"She's going to be tall," her bench mate yelled.


"Like her mother. Pretty."

She wanted to gather her belongings, children and flee to him but she remained seated, as if glued to the wooden bench built for the simple worshipers of the last century and those before them.

The time ticked by and still she stayed.