A Dream of Decapitation
Restoring the body and soul with a little help from the Golem of Prague.
Posted Apr 20, 2015
It was early Saturday morning in New York and seven hours later in Israel. I Skyped my friend, Avi, to wish him a sweet Passover, and to tell him about a disturbing dream I had the night before.
‘I can’t remember a lot.’
‘Tell me what you remember,’ said Avi.
‘There were two figures in front of me.’
‘Male? Female?’ he asked.
‘Figures,’ I said. ‘I don’t recall…’
‘Tell me what you…’
‘Right,’ I replied. ‘I know.’
‘Right,’ said Avi.
‘They lost their heads,’ I said.
‘How do you mean?’
‘I don’t know how. Their heads were cut off.’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Go on,’ said Avi.
‘I think I sewed them back on.’
‘I don’t know. They were dead, you know, when their heads were cut off. I tried to hold their bodies and their heads in place. I could see the deep scars from the stitches. The scars were very vivid. I wanted to bring them back to life.’
‘Wow,’ said Avi.
‘I shook them, you know, to awaken them. And, I think, they started to come back, just a little. But they were dead.’
‘Do you know the story of the golem?’ asked Avi.
‘No. Yes. A little.’
And as he has done so many times before, Avi told me a story:
‘Long ago in Prague, during the days of the most virulent anti-Semitism, the great Rabbi Loew asked the almighty in a dream for help to protect the Jews from blood libel—the accusation that Jews killed Christian children and used their blood to bake matzos. For the anti-Semites of Eastern Europe, the Jews were no better than vampires. The message Rabbi Loew received in the dream was to create a golem, a giant of a man, out of clay, even though according to Jewish law, creating life by human beings is forbidden. But these were very hard times for the Jews and demanded drastic action. Rabbi Loew and his assistants molded the golem from the mud of a riverbank and encircled the inert form 7 times. They brought him to life through rituals and incantations, reciting finally the biblical words: "And He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." With the guidance of Rabbi Loew, the golem put an end to the worst of anti-Semitic practices. These involved stealing dead children from their graves and planting them in Jewish homes, then alerting the authorities to arrest and punish the Jews who, they said, used the blood of the dead Christian children for their rituals. After the golem rid the city of the scourge of anti-Semitism, Rabbi Loew transformed the golem back into a lifeless clay figure and hid him under old pages of prayer books in the attic of the synagogue, where, some say, he still lies.’
‘So you think I was trying to create a golem in my dream?’
‘Who knows? ’ said Avi.
Why would I do that? I am no Dr. Frankenstein. And why two figures?
‘Maybe,’ said Avi, ‘the dream is not about golems or monsters, but about you.’
‘No. Yes,’ I said. ‘The dream is always about the dreamer.’
‘What do you want?’ asked Avi.
‘I guess I want to hold together the head and the body. Isn’t that what the dream says?’
‘Yes. Two figures with two parts.’
‘In the story of Rabbi Loew, the golem must die after his work is complete. From clay to clay.’
‘Something is dying. Twice,’ I said. ‘My unconscious does not want me to turn away.’
‘What is dying?’
‘People are killed everywhere for no reason. I am bombarded with images of ISIS beheadings, unarmed black men shot in the back, suicide bombings in malls and marketplaces, children in schools slaughtered for their religion.’
‘What can you do?’
‘What can anybody do?’ I said, answering Avi’s question with a question.
‘But you do something in your dream.’
‘Something that does nothing. Like a surgeon who aesthetically sews up a wound on a dying patient. For what?
‘This is what he does, and he knows that his science is limited. He cannot save a dying person. So he sews and he waits to see what he has made. Like an artist,’ said Avi.
‘In the story of the golem you say that creating life by human beings is forbidden.’
‘It’s not what I say. It’s Biblical law. You do not try to create life, but to restore it.’
‘I don’t know. In the dream, the life of two is gone. I cannot re-story it.’
Avi corrected me: ‘I said: restore it.’
‘Ah,’ I replied. ‘I misspoke. I meant restore. But according to my profession as a drama therapist, re-story is better. I help people revise their life narratives.’
‘What about your life narrative?’ asked Avi.
‘It is still evolving,’ I replied.
‘Tell me a story,’ said Avi.
‘About the dream?’
‘If you’d like.’
‘Once upon a time, there was a man whose art was healing. He knew many incantations and rituals learned from generations of healers. Over 50 years of practice he mended many broken bones and hearts and launched many more on their journeys toward discovery. But he was tired and wondered if he had truly taken care of himself well enough. At the point of feeling at the height of his powers, full of his most mature gifts of healing, he became aware that his closets were too full of potions, his work and living spaces too cluttered with ribbons and masks and photographs. There were simply too many books with too much wisdom piled willy-nilly into old sagging shelves. In the evenings, his neck felt stiff, as if he had spent hours staring upward into the sky, searching for an answer to a question that he could not fashion. As hard as he tried to loosen the knots with warmth and cold, the pain persisted, not physical really, but somehow a soul pain, as if he had been thinking about his existence from very far away. He was wise enough to know that the pain would not vanish by itself but required a remedy. And so on a bright Spring morning, he left his warm and safe home and took a walk. He walked for many hours and days, until time was suspended, colors merged into blacks and whites and the universe was silent—no music, no voices, no horns or barks, no rustlings or blurtings. He crossed rivers and highways and borders and boundaries of all kinds. Nothing stopped him. When he did stop, it was for no apparent reason other than it was time. Although he did not know where he was, when he looked around, he experienced a new flexibility in his neck, as if it had become a fulcrum, supporting his upper and lower extremities in a new way. His eyes wandered north, south, east and west at will. The tintinnabulation of the city returned—all its bells and wheels. To his amazement, he saw the color red as if for the first time. His phone rang and the most familiar voices in the world asked simply: “How are you?” “Fine,” he replied, knowing full well that he was home.’
‘Wow,’ said Avi.
‘Yes,’ I replied.
‘You know that you can hold it together, the things that are dead and the things that are alive,’ said Avi.
‘If I allow myself time to walk away.’
‘And return,’ Avi reminded me.
‘And return,’ I said. ‘But what about the pain of blood libel?’ I asked.
‘Leave that to the golem of Prague,’ said Avi. ‘Sometimes we create our own pain and need to create a golem to fight it.’
‘Like Rabbi Loew,’ I said.
‘Loew, Landy, another double in your life. You come from the same tribe of Levites, who in ancient times were the spiritual leaders. You would say guides.’
‘So the dream?’
‘So the dream,’ said Avi, before hanging up. ‘It is about you and your journey.’
‘Thank you, Rabbi,’ I said.
‘Me? No. I am just a friend,’ said Avi.
‘Thank you, friend,’ I said.
Separating ourselves from Skype, it was time to venture out into the cities where we live, in the day and in the night.
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