Consulting the rabbi
“I will keep tradition and close the shop for the week,” ‘Old Simon’ said. “Not because I have lost a beloved son, but because I do not want to shame the family or the Jewish community.”
Rabbi Jonas nodded his head approvingly, pleased with ‘Old Simon’s’ decision. Jonadab, his assistant, frowned. He had never approved of the man’s methods. He would not have tolerated the granddaughter working in the shop, even out of sight in the storeroom. However, although ‘Old Simon’ was not what he would have called a ‘religious Jew,’ he did make substantial contributions to the synagogue. This was no doubt why the rabbi had never openly challenged the old man.
“You have another son to be heir?”
“Yes, rabbi, my older son in Egypt. One of his sons is coming to Ephesus to learn this part of the business.”
“When did you arrange this?” Jonadab asked sharply.
“It has been a long-standing arrangement. Final plans were made many months ago,” ‘Old Simon’ replied.
“Come Jonadab, do not be harsh,” the rabbi soothed. “Even you must see that this is a sensitive situation. We should be considerate.” Turning to ‘Old Simon’ he asked, “What did you say happened to your granddaughter?”
Standing as straight as he could manage, ‘Old Simon’ stared at the pair. “She was taken to a hospitium. Her mother has gone to see if she survived.” When he saw even the rabbi bristle, ‘Old Simon’ said firmly, “She was barely alive when my son had finished beating her, someone in the shop took her there in my cart.”
“How did it happen that she was taken there? Did you know that most of those hospitiums are run by heretics? Are any of your family sympathizers with them?” Jonadab threw questions at him like arrows.
“No, I did not know about the hospitiums, and no, none of my family are sympathizers. As to how it happened that she was taken there, I cannot tell you. Doran, one of the workers in the shop had taken me to my chamber and gave me medication for the pain. My daughter-in-law was visiting our healing woman on my behalf.” Pain shot up his leg and he grimaced and shifted position. “Do not, please, make me go over what happened.” His lower lip trembled. Between the pain he had been in yesterday, the effects of the extra dose of the drug, and now, his feelings of guilt, ‘Old Simon’ could not bear to think of it. But, he wanted the rabbi and his assistant to know why he was taking such a radical step and casting his son off. Sighing, he added, “When Meshua came back late at night, he did not even ask about his daughter...” He could go no further, and stopped to rein in his emotions.
Jonadab started to speak. “We need to...”
“No, Jonadab, we do not need to,” ordered Rabbi Jonas, gesturing with his hand. “You will leave this matter be. This man has come for advice on how to handle a sensitive situation in a difficult time. He does not want to offend the synagogue, and since there is no recent precedent for such a matter, it will be as I have said. ‘Old Simon’ has agreed and I am satisfied that it should be left there.”
“Thank you,” ‘Old Simon’ said, relieved that neither of them asked any more. “Please, will your servant fetch the lad who brought me? I am in a great deal of pain, and there is much I need to organize, and the Sabbath starts this evening.”
Rabbi Jonas signaled that Jonadab should fetch the young man, and when he had gone, said, “I am sorry you have had to bear this. There will be curiosity, of course. An announcement will be made to our people on the Sabbath. Anyone who owes money to Meshua must settle the debt with you, just as if he had died. And anyone to whom Meshua owed money must be paid.”
“Yes, I understand and thank you,” ‘Old Simon’ replied. As Seth hurried into the room, ‘Old Simon’ addressed the rabbi once more, “Perhaps I will be back to ask you for prayers for the dead if my granddaughter does not survive.”
Rabbi Jonas nodded his dismissal as his assistant returned.
“Master...” Seth spoke softly, intimidated by being in the rabbi’s presence.
“Help me to the cart,” ‘Old Simon’ said.
“We will arrange for ... for what needs to be done,” Rabbi Jonas assured him as he was leaving.
“And I will arrange for payment,” ‘Old Simon’ said, hobbling out, leaning heavily on young Seth.
While Seth supported him back to the cart, ‘Old Simon’ asked, “Do you have any work arranged this coming week, Seth?”
“No, master. In this rainy season, it is difficult to find work.”
“Then that is to my benefit, I will hire you for the week.”
Seth’s face brightened. “My mother will be very grateful, thank you, sir.”
“Help me into the cart, and we will talk about what I want you to do.”
When he was settled on the seat of the cart, Seth asked, “Would you prefer me to take you home, and then you can tell me what you want?”
“No. I have a little medicine here. My daughter-in-law gave me some in this tiny jar,” ‘Old Simon’ said, retrieving the pottery jar from the folds of his garment and swallowing the contents gratefully. His thoughts were fixed on what he wanted to do, and he did not want to think about Rachel’s fate at the moment. “I will feel better soon. I want you to drive me to the market, and find me the custodian.”
“Yes. By the time we reach there, the medicine will have dulled the pain.”
Walking beside the donkey, Seth guided it through the paved streets while wondering what would be required of him. Perhaps he should have asked what the work entailed.
“Do you know how to find the custodian?” ‘Old Simon’ asked, interrupting his thoughts.
“Yes, master. He often finds work for us... for me, to do.”
“Then when we reach the market, find him and bring him to me. I will have to wait in the cart. My feet will not carry me through that busy place.”
It was late in the afternoon before ‘Old Simon’ returned home, and Elizabeth was beginning to worry. She had hurried back after seeing Rachel and going to the market, and was surprised to find that her father-in-law was still out. She went to the doorway between the house and shop, opened it a little and looked in. There were no customers, so she opened the door fully.
“Mistress,” Doran said when he noticed her.
“Has my father-in-law returned?”
“No, Seth took him off in the cart, and they have not returned.”
“I hope nothing else is wrong,” Elizabeth muttered, thanked Doran, and closed the door. She might as well occupy herself. Rachel needed clothing. Fortunately, there was a clean robe in her chest. There was washing to be done, but, she decided, she would ask her father-in-law if they could hire a washer-woman after the Sabbath. When he knew Rachel was alive, he would understand that she would want to be with her as much as she could. Although Elizabeth could not do much for her, it reassured her to be with her, to sit with her, to see for herself that her older daughter was alive. The time it took to walk there and back, added to the time she stayed there, did not leave much opportunity for her to keep up with housework.
Glad that she had prepared food before leaving, she set it on to heat up, then started to make the bread they would eat. Tears began coursing down her cheeks. Rachel had been helping her with this task recently; now it would be a long time, if ever, before she would again. She looked down at the amount she had prepared and cried again. There was far too much here. She had made the usual amount, as if for the whole family. Perhaps Doran or even Seth would take some home.
There was a loud knock on the door from the shop. “Mistress,” Malachi called tentatively.
“Come through, I am outside, cooking.”
Looking more miserable than she could remember seeing him, Malachi came and stood before her. “There are no customers in the shop, and Doran said he would call me if someone came in.”
“What is the matter?” Elizabeth asked, looking up at him.
“Mistress, I wanted to tell you how sorry I am for what has happened.”
“Thank you, Malachi, but it is not your fault,” Elizabeth assured him.
“I have been fretting about it. You thanked me earlier but did you know I was hiding in the storeroom?”
Continuing her preparations, Elizabeth looked at up him. “All I know about what happened is what Doran said when he came to find me. He said you were on the floor also, and he thought my husband had killed both you and Rachel.”
“He hit me, yes. But all the time he was beating his daughter… your daughter, I was in the storeroom. I could not sleep last night. Every time I closed my eyes I heard the sounds; her cries, his shouts. At the time, I did not know what he was doing... I had peeped out before he started hitting her, and Benjamin had shaken his head to say not to come out, but after I heard your husband put Benjamin out, I should have shown myself. Perhaps he would not have hit your daughter… or not so badly.”
Reaching out to take his hand, Elizabeth said, “Son, you are not to blame. What could you have done? You are just a young man. Meshua is a large, strong man who can defend himself. You would have had no chance against him.”
Hanging his head, Malachi said, “I was so afraid.”
“But you must have come out... Doran saw you lying on the floor.”
“Yes, I did. By then it looked as if your daughter was dead. When your husband saw me, he hit me with the master’s stool and knocked me out. When I recovered and said I was going for the Roman patrol, he hit me again and must have run away.”
“You were afraid, you say?”
“Yes. I confess I was.”
“Then you are very brave. Don’t you see? Being brave does not mean that you do not feel fear. It means that you act even although you are afraid.”
Malachi thought about it while she stood up.
“Thank you for telling me, Malachi, and thank you that you did try to help her. Perhaps she would have been dead now if you had not intervened.”
“Malachi!” Doran called from the shop.
“I can hear the cart coming.”
“Excuse me, mistress. I must go…”
Elizabeth stood watching his retreating figure as he hurried back to the shop. How many lives had been affected, and where had it started? With Meshua? With her father-in-law for ordering Rachel into the shop? With Rachel, for doing as her grandfather had said and ignoring her father’s command? With herself for not trying harder to stop it?
“What a day, and so much still to organize!” ‘Old Simon’ protested as Seth brought him into the house.
“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked as she bustled over to help him settle on his customary seat. “I have news for you, but it will wait till you tell me what you mean.”
“Tell me your news. Is it about Rachel?” Then looking at Seth, he said, “Go and tell the others what I want done with what is in the cart. Help them unload, and put the cart and donkey away. When you have finished, come back and I will give you wages for today.” Turning back to Elizabeth he prompted, “Rachel? Is she...?”
“She is alive. Very damaged, but alive.”
“Did you bring her home?”
“She is too ill to be moved. She is being cared for in the home of a heretic healer until she can be moved to be with her aunt’s servant, another healer.”
‘Old Simon’s’ face set in disapproval. “Why not bring her home?”
“She needs care that I am not capable of giving her. Her injuries are very severe, she cannot move, she cannot even talk properly, her face is such a mess... and she was such a lovely girl.” All that she had bottled up found release, and, with tears running down her face, she related all she remembered Naomi telling her.
“I know it is not easy for you...” ‘Old Simon’ relented, and tried to comfort her.
“Not easy?” Elizabeth interrupted. “No, it is not easy! I would rather I was the one lying there. She is so damaged... and that is only what I can see. She has a broken rib, the woman said, perhaps more... and seemingly the doctor is worried about the damage that might do to her inside. I was not even allowed to hold her.”
“Do not think that I am without feeling. I loved…I love that girl. If there was anything I could do to change what happened… undo telling her to go into the shop… I would gladly do it. But I cannot.” He hung his head, before speaking. “As well as the pain of knowing that lovely, bright, young girl is suffering because of my orders, I live with the knowledge that it was my son who beat her. What kind of animal did I raise?”
Elizabeth took his hands in hers, knelt on the floor at his feet, and resting her head in his lap cried as she had never cried in her life.
Surprised at first, ‘Old Simon’ gazed down at her through his own tears, then bent his head and sobbed.
Malachi tapped on the door from the shop, looked in and saw them. He slipped back out unnoticed. His question could wait. He would pay Seth from the shop takings and explain to ‘Old Simon’ later.
“The master said I was to see him when I finished,” Seth protested when Malachi gave him the money.
“He will not want to be disturbed at the moment, which is why I am paying you.”
Doran went into the storeroom, leaving Malachi and Seth.
“But he said he had a week’s work for me,” Seth protested, after checking the amount he had been given.
“Then come back early tomorrow morning,” Malachi instructed him. “And thank you for all this stock. It is not what we usually sell, but the master must have use for them. And thank you for seeing to the donkey and cart.”
Grasping the money in his fist, Seth replied. “It was no problem to see to them. Pointing at the piles of parchment and baskets of pens, Seth explained. “The reason for all this ‘stock’ as you call it, is that ‘Old Simon’ closed the booth in the market. He told the custodian to rent it out.” With that, Seth smiled and hurried away
Malachi stared at the piles of parchment and reed pens. He did not know if the master would want the inferior quality put on the shelves in the shop, or kept in the storeroom. He took a sheet of parchment, a pen, and some ink and laid it on ‘Old Simon’s’ table, then he checked the shelves in the shop. There were spaces where he could add the pens and ink, so he counted the items from the stall, wrote the number down on the sheet, then put them in place on the shelves. There was space for parchment too, but he did not think the master would want the inferior quality stock on the shelves with the high quality product.
“Doran!” he called.
“Coming,” the young man responded.
Malachi stared thoughtfully at the piles of parchment. It could not be left there. He looked up when Doran spoke.
“While you were busy with Seth, I checked the order book and the orders that have been made up,” Doran told Malachi. “If I am not mistaken... and I know I am unfamiliar with how it is done, but it looks as if the regular orders for the next few weeks have been packed and are ready.
“Rachel and her brother did those one evening. I know because I checked.”
“But there seems very little left.”
“There is all this...” Malachi pointed at the stack of ordinary grade paper that Seth and ‘Old Simon’ had collected from Meshua’s stall.
“I meant supply of the good quality parchment that ‘Old Simon’ sells. He does not usually have much of this lesser quality parchment.”
“Seth said that they are from the son’s stall in the market.” Malachi responded then continued, “We had better start putting this away. We cannot leave it on the floor here in the shop.”
“But if you come in to the storeroom and look, you will see the orders are taking up a lot of space. There is a shelf missing.”
Malachi’s face colored as he remembered what they had done with it.
“The girl was taken out on it, wasn’t she? Where is she? Is she alive?” Doran threw the questions at Malachi.
“You should ask the master. Now we need to clear this,” Malachi said. “We should take as much as possible of the good quality stock and put it on the shelves in the shop. I have already put the pens and inks there; they are all the same quality. Stack the orders in the storeroom to take up less space without damaging any, and then fit in what the master has brought from the market booth. Can you write, Doran?”
“Yes, I can.”
“Then let’s do this work and keep a record of what came from the booth.”
“Why? Do you think that ‘Old Simon’ will want to keep the sales money separate?”
“I do not know. But he will want to check all the stock.”
The pair took the good quality parchment and added it to the shop stock. Then they began the task of counting, recording, moving and stacking the supplies from the booth on to the space that was left in the storeroom.
“Malachi!” ‘Old Simon’ called from the house.
“Keep working, Doran,” Malachi instructed. “I know there is still a lot to do. Remember to list what you put away and keep everything as tidy as possible. I will be back when I find out what the master wants.”
Tapping on the partly-open door between the shop and the house, Malachi called, “You wanted me, master?”
“Yes,” ‘Old Simon’ said. “Come in.”
As soon as Malachi appeared, ‘Old Simon’ launched into a list of questions and instructions. He nodded when he was told that Seth had been paid and gone home. “Good,” he said automatically, his mind racing with what needed to be done. Then he asked, “The stock I brought, will you and Doran put it away?”
Malachi nodded, “We have started doing that. I will tell you how we are doing it. A shelf is missing in the storeroom, and I did not think you would want the lesser quality parchment mixed with your good stock. Doran and I managed to put it all on the shelves in the shop. Now we are moving what you brought into the storeroom, and recording everything.”
“Whose idea was this? Yours or Doran’s?”
The way in which the question was asked gave no clue as to whether ‘Old Simon’ approved or not.
“It was mine, master,” Malachi admitted, willing to take correction if he had done the wrong thing.
“You did well,” ‘Old Simon’ said, and watched Malachi smile. For some reason it comforted him to see the pleasure on the young man’s face amid all the pain he had felt since last night.
There was a clatter from the courtyard where Elizabeth was working, and it brought ‘Old Simon’ out of his reverie and back to reality. He continued, “I shall be closing the shop for a week. Jewish tradition demands a certain amount of respect,” and then he added under his breath, “whether I feel like it or not.” Then addressing Malachi again he asked, “Are there any orders that will need to be collected in this time? If so, they will have to be delivered.”
“I think the regular orders for this week are all collected.”
“What about the rabbi? He always sends his assistant at the last minute. Is there a record of what he usually requires?”
“I can check that for you.”
“Wait, do not go yet. Did I hear you say the old man who writes wanted more supplies for copying?”
An awkward pause ensued.
“It is alright. I know you are one of them.”
“Do you want me to leave?”
“No, lad. You are a good, honest worker. Timon made an excellent choice when he hired you to work in the booth at the market, and I am pleased that you agreed to come here and work for me. Now, answer my question. Did you say that more supplies are needed for the copying the old man is doing?”
“Yes, master. He has taken over the writing, and his great-grandson is making copies.”
“Then perhaps he would be interested in some of the ordinary grade parchment that I brought from the booth.”
“I am sure he would be master. I think he would be very pleased.”
“Then take a basket of it to him. Tell him the shop will be closed for a week, if he wants more, he can come in after the shop reopens. I will talk to him about the account.”
Malachi stared, then muttered his thanks and turned to go.
“Before you go...”
“You took my granddaughter in my cart last night.”
“No, sir. Remember, I helped Benjamin put her on one of the shelves, and we put her in the cart. He and her mother were the ones who took her. I ran to fetch a doctor for her.”
“Benjamin, you say? The great-grandson of the old man who writes?”
“Yes, remember, he was in the shop. It made your son angry that she was serving him.”
“So is that where she is now?” ‘Old Simon’ probed. “In a hospitium… or is she at the old man’s home?”
“At Saba’s home. For his granddaughter to care for.”
‘Old Simon’ was thoughtful for a while, and then he said, “That is all. Go and do us much as you can to make the shop tidy and make a sign for the door. ‘Death in family.’ All the customers will understand that.”
“Yes, master. Thank you,” then he turned to go. “Oh, there is something else. What am I to tell Doran about tomorrow?”
“Tell him to stay at home. I will, however, pay both of your wages.”
“Thank you, master.” Then he remembered, “Seth said that you had a week’s work for him, so I told him to come in the morning.”
“I will have things for him to do, things that have nothing to do with business but need to be done before the Sabbath. Now, go and get those orders ready.”
When Malachi had gone back to the shop and closed the door, Elizabeth came in from the courtyard where she had been working. “So, you know I did not tell you the truth.”
“I do, now. Will you tell me why?”
Elizabeth closed her eyes, took a deep breath and started talking, “I doubt that Rachel would have been alive if the great-grandson, Benjamin, had not helped. Remember, we all thought she was dead. He was the one who noticed she was breathing.”
“Yes, yes, I remember that. Don’t tell me what I already know. What happened next?”
“Then you will remember they put your granddaughter on a shelf from the storeroom and took her to the cart. I insisted on going with her. You went back into the house. Do you remember that Malachi checked on you, then locked the shop and ran for a doctor?”
“I thought you said a hospitium.”
“Benjamin said he was taking us to his mother, what could I do? I was grateful that he intervened. Otherwise, I am sure, Rachel would be dead now.”
“Why his mother?”
“He said she is a healer of sorts among them, and the doctor that Malachi was sent to fetch is one of their group. But I must be honest, I did not think of any of that last evening. All I thought about was saving Rachel.”
“So, the old man’s home… that is where you were last night?”
“Yes... and the reason I did not tell you where she was, or that she was still alive, was because I thought Meshua would be home after his day’s work. I did not want him knowing. I did not want to lie, but I did not want him to find her, or to know she had survived his attack.” She started to cry, “I did not want to hurt you though, and I am sorry that I did.”
After staring at her for a few moments, ‘Old Simon’ said, “You have not had an easy life. I am sorry. Meshua pushed me to allow him to marry you instead of his brother; I should not have agreed to that. There are many things I am sorry for...”
“My life has been no worse than many in my situation.”
“Will it be difficult for you to have ‘Young Simon’s’ son in our home?”
“I have had many years to accept what happened. I hope he found happiness with his Egyptian wife. Timon said she was very kind to him when he went on buying trips.”
“Because of my ‘weakness’ all those years ago, I have no sons...”
“But ‘Young Simon’ is still your son.”
“His life is in Egypt, he will not return home. I will not see him again. I will not meet his wife and see for myself if he has been happy with her, and I missed the pleasure of having his sons grow up around me.”
There was a long pause. Elizabeth did not know what to say.
Breaking the uncomfortable silence, ‘Old Simon’ confessed, “I must admit I am feeling hungry. I did not stop to eat anything while I was out.”
“I will finish the meal then...” Elizabeth said, turning to leave. Then looking back, she asked, “So, do you forgive me, over Rachel?”
“Yes, I do. I would have lied to my son and told him he had killed her, but you were not to know that. He behaved like an animal. No man should beat another the way he hit his daughter. A girl! We will speak of it no more. Now you make the meal, and I will tell those two young men to go home.”
“Malachi! Doran!” he called, when Elizabeth had gone back outdoors to her cooking stove.
“Are you alright?” both asked simultaneously, as they rushed in from the shop.
“Yes, I am. I want to make arrangements with you.” Looking at Doran, he asked, “Did Malachi tell you that the shop will be closed for the next week?”
“Yes, master, he did.”
“And did he tell you that your wages will be paid?”
“Malachi, is there enough money from today’s takings to pay the wages for Doran and you?”
“Yes, master, the shop was busy when you were out. That is why there was so much space on the shelves in the shop.”
“Then go and sort out what you are owed, then before you leave... did you remember the order I told you about?”
“For the rabbi? Yes, master, I made a basket for him from the records of what his assistant regularly collects.”
“Thank you. And the other one I told you about?”
“No, not yet.”
“Then pay Doran and do that one, then you can go. As the shop is closing early, you can deliver the orders on your way home. You will know what to tell the rabbi.”
“Yes, master. That you did not want him to be inconvenienced because the shop was closed unexpectedly.”
“Good lad, now do as I asked.”
It was not until Elizabeth was rubbing his aching feet after their meal, that ‘Old Simon’ remembered he had intended to ask Malachi to take the news to Timon. “I forgot to arrange for Malachi to go to Patara and let Timon know what has happened,” he said to Elizabeth.
“Maybe it is better that he does not know yet,” Elizabeth said thoughtfully.
“He should have the opportunity to mourn his father.”
“Father-in-law, you have cast off your son, Timon might not wish to…”
‘Old Simon’ waited to see what she would say next, but she did not finish her thought.
“You said that Meshua was going to Pergamum,” Elizabeth eventually said.
“Yes, that is what he told me.”
“Then it is unlikely that Timon will see him, not in Patara.”
“He will have to be told… and about Rachel, ‘Old Simon’ said.
“It would mean that Malachi has to travel on the Sabbath. Perhaps send word after then,” Elizabeth suggested.
“You are right, Elizabeth, I know where Malachi lives, I will leave it until then and send a message.”