CHAPTER 6 - A MYSTICAL RETURN
At the airport in Miami, I called my estranged wife to ask if she could pick me up. I had been gone for six weeks and had returned something of a new person.
“I got your child support payments and the postcard,” Maria told me, then added, “but I still don’t want to see you, not now anyway. My mother will pick you up.”
“Did you rent the house out while I was gone?” I asked.
“Then the mortgage is two months behind.”
“That’s your problem. You can move back into the house if you pay the present and back payments,” she told me.
“I won’t have my job back till the fall.”
“That’s your problem, too. I want you to sell the house when you can and give me the money for a settlement,” she insisted.
“O.K. I’ll rent out some rooms for now. We’ll talk more about all this later.”
In the car I my told my mother-in-law Theresa of my experiences in Israel and of the confusing kabbalistic material. “I might convert to Christianity now if that will get Maria back,” I mused aloud.
“That’s marvelous,” Theresa said with a huge smile. “But I must tell you that I can’t make any promises for Maria.”
There were some things that Maria wanted to get out of the house before she let me back in, so I had to stay at a hotel for a day.
My main interest in getting my wife back was in fact to have Bobby at home again. It was true that I still loved Maria, and I’d yet to sleep with another in the six months of separation that had now passed. But I knew I could always find a new romance if I’d try. Bobby, however, couldn’t be replaced, so I was delighted when Theresa told me that Maria would let me have overnight visitation, something I hadn’t previously enjoyed, after I moved back to the house.
I checked into a motel on Miami Beach and waited for the all clear from Maria.
The following morning I took a stroll down Collins Avenue. The air was laden with scents of sea, palm and flowers as I shut my eyes to ponder the wisdom of a conversion, praying for guidance. Then I opened my eyes, walked a few more steps and saw His answer. There, before me in a newspaper box, was a paper with the word Traitor in bold print on page one. This time I refused to even consider looking for a scientific explanation for what I saw. Nor would I entertain any thoughts of coincidence. The answer to all my questions was before me. Itamar Sabbatai would not become another Sabbatai Sevi. I would remain a Jew. If Maria were to come back, it wouldn’t be by way of the Church, or the Mosque, but by the chupah (marriage canopy) of a synagogue or not at all. I silently thanked God for the sign, then added, Dear God, while I have Your ear, would You mind letting me know how I can get my son back again? This time there was no immediate answer.
I moved back into the house the next day, placed an ad in the Herald to find a roommate, registered as a substitute teacher, landed a summer job as a lifeguard, and then phoned Maria to ask her for a date.
“I told you I’m not ready to see you,” she said.
“Look, honey, it’s been five months. If not now, then when?”
“When I’m ready, and not before. I may never be ready. Did you convert yet?” she wanted to know.
“No, I’ve decided against that. If we do get back together, I’ll have to insist that you convert to Judaism. I won’t confuse you with Islam again,” I said.
“What happened to your new understanding of Christianity?” she asked. I told her of my prayer and its answer, knowing she’d never go along with what I was asking, then brought up the property settlement. Robert Finnerty, best man at our wedding, wanted to buy Maria’s share of the home’s equity. He was willing to pay her five thousand dollars for it, which was more than fair market value.
Her attitude quickly grew colder as I told her of my desire to hold on to my half of the house for a year, then sell it and use my part of the equity to buy a sailboat to live on.
“You’ll never change,” she said with an air of bitterness. “You’ll always be a dreamer,” she rightly stated. “That’s why I could never live with you again.”
“You can divorce me if you want; I can’t stop it legally. We both know that,” I replied. “But, I’m still Bobby’s father. Bobby and I both deserve better visitation than we’ve been getting.”
“You can have him for one day per week. Saturday morning at nine to Sunday at the same time,” she reluctantly told me.
Bobby arrived right on time for the first of his weekly visits. I cherished every hour of each; indeed soon came to measure time by how many hours were left on each visit and how many days it would be to the next. Like so many other weekend fathers, I’d always strive to make each visit more fun than the last.
I thought I understood some of the dangers of Kabbalah by now. Still, as a science teacher, I couldn’t let go of the idea that there might be some way to perform magic by the use of certain Divine names. A scientist must investigate everything, and so I read on.
The book on Sabbatai Sevi was intriguing. Sevi had, after his conversion, continued to practice the laws of Judaism along with the laws of Islam. There were a number of other curious parallels, but none of the Sabbatai business would have really caught my attention if it hadn’t been for the common Hebrew name that we shared.
One night while my son was staying over, I attempted to meditate on the Divine names of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. I had been watching a Phillies-Pirates baseball game and had just turned it off. The Phillies had yet to ever win a World Series, so I wasn’t at the time certain that modern miracles really can occur. Bobby was in bed next to me, asleep, as I started to focus the Hebrew letters of the esoteric ladder to heaven in my mind. Soon I too was asleep. Suddenly I was awakened by a scream of horror from my son. All was dark but it was obvious that my toddler, now well over two, had gone downstairs. The boy had never done this before at night.
I rushed below to find him in a state of terror in the dining room. Normally Bobby was quite talkative. But on this night he wasn’t able to find words to let me know what had frightened him so. It took nearly a half-hour to stop his tears which was also highly unusual. Bobby generally only cried when it was time to return to his mother (which is not to say that he didn’t love his mother, but that the boy didn’t want to be without his father). At last, feeling secure once again, he fell asleep on my chest as I carried him upstairs to go back to bed.
The morning brought with it a scene right out of Amityville Horror, for wherever I had lain the night before, there lay a pool of blood marking the spot. I checked my chest for cuts. There were none. At first glance it looked like the blood had oozed through my skin at the level of my heart. I searched my body desperately for bruises that might give a natural explanation, but there were none. I suspected a nosebleed though I never had one before, yet there wasn’t a drop of blood to be found anywhere on my face. What was even stranger was that none of the blood which lay on the sheets had clung to my body. The stuff was all over the bed, but nowhere on me. Was this the result of the kabbalistic meditation? Could it be so easy to gain a hot line to the Almighty? Sure, I’d seen many signs before that had given me the impression that Someone upstairs knew and cared about me, but nothing so dramatic as this. I was awed by the experience, but terrified as well. What was God trying to tell me? Whatever it was, it didn’t look like a friendly greeting.
Still upset, I drove Bobby back to his mother’s, returned home, and called a Lubavitcher rabbi for an opinion. The rabbi instantly knew what I had done wrong.
“You have taken the name of the Lord in vain!” he asserted.
“What can I do about it?” I asked.
“Take whatever books you’re using out to a Jewish cemetery and bury them there. They can’t be thrown out because they contain the Divine names. You must dispose of them as we would any old prayer book,” the rabbi said.
I wasn’t too happy about disposing of all my books on Kabbalah. Instead I chose to wait another day before making a decision. That night I slept downstairs on the sofa.
When I awoke the next morning, the sofa was covered with blood. Now I was really concerned. I ran to a neighbor to borrow a shovel and was about to head for the nearest Jewish cemetery when I finally calmed down and decided to apply the scientific method to investigate the phenomena.
The first step was to understand the problem. The problem, I hoped, was not that God was punishing me, but that there was blood of an unexplained origin on the bedding. I went upstairs and stretched out on the mattress. At first it did appear as if the blood was from the level of the heart. But then when I curled up as I usually did while asleep, I saw that the blood was in fact from the area of my nose. There was also a heavy concentration on the pillows, and I usually slept with them over my eyes to keep out the morning light.
I hypothesized the cause to be nosebleeds, probably psychosomatically induced, which I had wiped off on the pillows or blankets as I slept. As for what had terrified my son, the boy usually slept snuggled up under my arm, but on that night I had fallen asleep on the other side of the king-sized bed. Bobby might have woken up, not felt me, and then gone downstairs to look for me. Finding nothing but blackness below, the boy panicked thinking that I had abandoned him again. It all seemed to make sense now though I still felt a nosebleed should have left some trace of blood on my face. I went back to reading about Kabbalah, but I never tried to meditate again.
A month later I had a new medical problem to deal with. I had injured my neck, and it had swollen painfully on the right side. A chiropractor had been treating it with manual adjustments and with acupuncture, but the swelling hadn’t really gone down by much. My neck had always been a bit swollen even before the injury. I wanted an M.D. to see it.
The chiropractor didn’t want to alarm me, but he initially suspected Hodgkins disease, a form of cancer that used to be nearly always fatal. It had been found that by cutting out the spleen there was an 80% recovery rate, but the doctor had been determined to cure my problems through acupuncture. He was a bit upset when I let him know that I was going to see Doctor Katzman, a surgeon.
A nurse took my blood pressure before Katzman examined me. It was a bit high, 139 over 95. Normally my pressure had run at or slightly below normal, but the stress of the times had caught up with me. When the surgeon walked in, he took the history and placed both hands on my neck to feel what the problem was. Then he mumbled something about being impressed.
I asked him what he thought it was. The doctor told me first what he thought it wasn’t.
“It doesn’t feel like Hodgkins,” he said as I heaved a sigh of relief, “and it doesn’t feel like just a pulled muscle or a spinal injury.”
Concerned that something might have grown in my neck, I asked what the chances were that it was some form of cancer. I expected an immediate “zero” from the doctor. I didn’t get it.
“About fifty-fifty,” the doctor said.
I nearly passed out. They had to catch me and lay me back. My blood pressure dropped instantly with the news to ninety over sixty. After fifteen minutes, it climbed back towards normal, and the doctor ordered me into Cedars of Lebanon Hospital for some tests later that day.
At Cedars the good news was that the growth was likely a giant nonmalignant cyst. Doctor Katzman explained the options.
“If we lance it, we can drain it but it will certainly fill up again. You’d have to repeat the procedure every few months for the rest of your life. Then again, while I don’t think it’s cancer, there's always a slight chance that it is. If it were cancer, then lancing the area would allow malignant cells to be spread to the rest of your body. If it were my neck, I’d cut it out,” he advised.
“What kind of a scar will it leave?” I wanted to know.
“Expect a fine white line about three inches long.”
Surgery was scheduled for early the next day. It was just a cyst, about the size of a grapefruit. Back in my room the next day, I read more of my book on Sabbatai Sevi. It seems that Sevi’s apostasy had occurred after he had been arrested by the Sultan of Turkey. The Supostasy had occurred after he had been arrested by the Sultan of Turkey. The Sultan had heard that Sabbatai was believed by many to have been the Messiah, and the head Turk was anxious to avoid making the mistake of Pontius Pilate. Although Sabbatai had been placed under arrest, it was in a prison that looked more like a palace than a dungeon.
When Sabbatai was finally summoned before the Sultan, he was asked to perform a miracle. Unfortunately, his supernatural feats had all been the production of rumor mills. The result was disaster. The Sultan gave him a simple choice: he could become a Muslim or he could have his head cut off.
It was a dark time for the Jews of Europe. Cossacks led by Bogan Chmielnicki had recently wiped out three hundred Jewish communities and killed more than 100,000 Jews. Many Jews viewed this as the anticipated premessianic tribulation. Therefore it was especially troubling when a messianic candidate thought it more important to save his head than his religion. Jews could have accepted the death of their Messiah, as had those who had followed Jesus. But for most, apostasy was another matter. Sabbatai would have been better off, I felt, by letting the sword fall upon his neck.
The scar that grew on my neck after I left the hospital was a far cry from the promised thin white line. Kids would tell me that it looked as if someone had tried to cut my head off. After a while the questions and comments grew so annoying that I decided to have plastic surgery done to reduce it. The scar came back again for a while, though not as bad as it was before. At times when I thought about Sabbatai Sevi’s apostasy, I felt that the scar on my own neck should have been on his instead. Occasionally I would joke about similarities between the other Sabbatai and myself. Little did I know that one day an attempt would be made to use this humor against me in court.