- Written by Alexandra D Smith
- Category: Tzor Again
“Oh. Oh dear. I see the problem properly now,” I confirmed.
“Yes. The Av Bet Din of the Sanhedrin. A man who exemplifies justice. His only son. If there is a fuss made, I don’t know what the Rabban will do. It might kill him. Often, inflexible men are taken by apoplexy when sudden difficult situations arise,” Ruth worried. “He is a good man. Exacting, but fair. We don’t want to make trouble for him, or anyone. But I can’t stand to see my sister so fearful and anxious. Please, help us Hanna,” she begged.
“I will do everything I can to make this Zadok ben Shammai learn to mind his manners, and keep his ardor for his wife. Is he old enough to marry, do you think?” I asked.
“Maybe in a year or so. He’s old enough to serve with his father’s Mach’lakhah, or he wouldn’t be here to ruin our lives,” she answered frankly.
“So he can’t be drawn off with an immediate match?” I mused.
“Who’s to say he would leave Abela alone because he had a wife? She’s forbidden now. She won’t be less forbidden when he becomes married,” Ruth objected.
“You think he needs a lesson then. Something to frighten him away from her for the rest of his days of service here, or until she loses her luster, or his liver is taken with another object for his passions,” I stated carefully.
“Is that what he needs? Well, a strict father didn’t keep him in line. Everyone knows the story of how his father wanted him to keep the fast on Yom Kippur when he was still a babe in swaddling clothes. It took half the Sanhedrin talking to the Rabban to help him to sense,” she confided, knowing I lived ignorant of many of the commonest ‘everybody knows’ facts and private histories.
“I will have to think a little and see if I can come up with something to keep him away from her. If we don’t succeed, we will have to bring this to his father. I won’t have her stoned because no one liked to disturb the Av Bet Din,” I stipulated.
“Yes, if it comes to that we had hoped you would offer to speak to him. He likes you,” Ruth confessed.
“Likes me? He knows I exist, and live and work at Beit haMiqdas, but I wouldn’t say we were any closer than that,” I protested.
“Hanna, he knows your name and your family. He speaks to you when he sees you, you’ve told me yourself. This is more than anyone can remember him ever having had to do with the Oregot. And we have known him here since he was younger than even Zadok. Trust me when I say he likes you, or at least likes you more than all the rest of the Oregot and chalakah put together. And that will have to be enough. You have to help us either way. Say you will,” she implored.
I disliked having Ruth beg me like that. She was older than I, and had been a good friend to show me the paths and byways through strange customs and around a myriad taboos, all taken for granted by children raised in carefully observant families of the Tribes. Like most of the chalakah I knew, she felt deeply her ‘unlawfulness’ and all the unfitness this placed between her and a life as a mother, wife, or crafter. I hated their status, or the lack of it.
“Maybe extortion. If we make sure two witnesses stumble across him acting like a boor, we could hold that over his head,” I suggested.
“Two witnesses isn’t as easy as it sounds. They can’t be women, of course,” Ruth began.
“Why can’t the witnesses be women?” I demanded.
“Because they can’t. It says in the halakhah, that’s why,” she retorted. “So they have to be men. If we want them to keep our secret, they shouldn’t be priests either. The priests would want to tell his father, they gossip more than the senior Oregot.”
“Then guards would do nicely. They aren’t babies to go running for an adjudicator whenever they see something funny. If I had thank-money, I could use that to help them keep quiet. But we don’t hang the Parochet for another two weeks, and that’s the only money I have from one end of the year to the other,” I whinged.
“We see a little thank-money then as well. It’s to do with our labor keeping your labor flowing smoothly. But I don’t have as much as a half shekel to my name right now, this is true,” Ruth confirmed.
“How would we catch this Zadok in the act of being a nuisance to your sister? Is he at all careful when he’s accosting her?” I probed.
“You would not believe how many ways he has found to get Abela alone with him. You would not believe there were that many places he had devised such encounters here at Beit haMiqdas. But Abela never falls for the same trouble twice, if she can at all help it. He is quite clever, little Zadok. Takes after his father, I suppose,” she answered fully.
“It sounds like he sets things up to fall a certain way, and with some advance knowledge of her whereabouts and doings. Does he read a master schedule? Do the chalakah keep such a thing?” I asked.
“Oh yes, as daughters of priests, however unfitting we may be, we can mostly read. Those that don’t read when they arrive are taught, and in the meanwhile we take it in turns reading the assignments off to them,” Ruth informed me.
“That helps. We know that he knows where she will be, approximately, and what she’s supposed to be doing with her time. If he knows, I can know. And I know which of the Mach’lakhah he comes in with. Those are hereditary positions, yes?” I double-checked my assumptions.
“Oh yes. Most of everything around here is, haven’t you noticed?”
“I haven’t been here as long as you, or seen as much, probably. I know I will leave either when I have my first flowers, or when my family sends for me. I don’t have to make my life here for long. It’s made me a little stupid about all the different things that go on beneath the surface. I don’t want to become overly entangled with a world that isn’t really mine,” I explained.
“Isn’t yours? Isn’t yours? If it isn’t yours, then whose is it? You only have the one life. This is a part of it. You should be living every day as though it were your last, Hanna. You don’t know when your time will come. None of us do,” Ruth remonstrated.
“Maybe. Maybe I should. But I don’t feel like I’m dying. I really don’t,” I tried justifying my choice to stay ignorant regarding my environment where possible.
“Even so, you owe yourself the best of every moment. It’s all anyone can do for themselves. Whatever their condition in life. I hope you will make more of an effort from now on,” she added conscientiously.
“I will. I will try,” I amended.
I had Ruth show me where the current schedules were kept. I asked her how often they were made, and where someone would look for them if they were stored away and not hung up for viewing. She introduced me to more of the senior members of the chalakah.
I already knew Sarah and Hadassa from their concierge work in the Court of the Metzoraim. I was polite to everyone I met. They often seemed to know who I was already when we were introduced. I didn’t know whether to be proud or chagrined. I hadn’t done more than bring the skin trade revenue to the attention of someone who could help. But the chalakah treated me like a special guest in their offices, and had me sit for a tisane and a honeyed barley cake.
By the time I left, I knew more than I had ever imagined there was to know about how the chalakah operated to keep Beit haMiqdas fed, clean and clothed. I had looked through their task rotations, and heard the general theory, and all the exceptions. And I had tracked Abela’s name quietly as I did so.
I had told them the Oregot were looking for ideas to improve their own schedules. This wasn’t exactly a lie, Oregot Rivka and Dinah constantly reworked our shifts and foci to improve our production. They agreed that the two corps had much they might learn from one another.
I think some of the chalakah knew, or suspected, what I was really working on. None seemed to disapprove. The reputation of any one of them might affect the reputation of all of them.
First, I established that the Mach’lakhah of Huppah didn’t come around in the rotation again until the end of Av and the beginning of Elul. This gave us plenty of time to scheme and plan and it would even give us money to spend on the guards. And they would have to be the right guards.
I thought about the Shaar haNashim, the Women’s Gate, behind the Court of the Metzoraim. It led into a course of storerooms off a main hall. There wasn’t much traffic at that gate. The guards there had little business, and less cause to receive thank-money. It wasn’t like the Gate Beautiful or the Gate of the First-Born leading right into the Court of Ysrael.
The Temple Guards at the Shaar haNashim would be a little bored, and ready to step away from their post for a moment to see their fists greased in style. They were lazy, but not stupid at the Women’s Gate.
Tucked away behind the Court of the Metzoraim, a door stood at the end of the portico. It led to the storehouse passage which gave access to the Shaar haNashim. There were storage rooms lining the length of the hallway. Their doors were shut but not barred. I tried them all, working down one side and back the other.
Inside, I found the many extra dishes, bed and table linens, pallets, empty ticking sacks, and even chamber pots which Beit haMiqdas rolled out for the hundreds upon hundreds of pilgrims housed on site during the High Holy Days. The autumn cycle of festivities, fasts, and rituals started a month or so after the Huppah Mach’lakhah rotation. The chalakah would need to take a general inventory well before everyone began to arrive. I would speak to Ruth about what I had found and where.
The Temple Guards were a gradual project. I didn’t wish to hurry their acquaintance and excite suspicion with too much too soon. I had a reputation for a loner. No one would question my use of the most neglected gate into Ezrat haNashim, even if it was further from our workshop under the Royal Stoa. Sometimes Gate Beautiful had a line, however swiftly moving. The gate I had in mind never did.
Noam and Eitan, were the guards at the low-traffic Shaar haNashim. They worked a shift starting in the predawn and ending at noon. Their hours were regular, so they could smooth the way for the people they recognized and knew who used the gate whom they had not recognized.
I began to bring the barley cakes I had from the senior chalakot, those who knew of my project and who knew how to keep their mouths shut about it, to Noam and Eitan. The cakes were fresh and drizzled with citron blossom honey, which gave them a bright flowery sweetness.
Passing in and out of Ezrat haNashim with all the errands I ran for the Oregot across Har Moriah, they saw me again and again every shift. I took time to pass the time with them. I would tell a joke or share a mouthful of their cool beer ration. Sometimes I would run errands for them to the hot pastry booth around the corner. It often had a line, being famous for its spicy, savory filling and its crisp, flaky crusts. They didn’t dare be so far from their assigned post, but I could be almost anywhere on Har Moriah, that wasn’t forbidden to women-- of course, with all credibility.
Oreget Rivka trusted me to act for her responsibly in all the tasks I handled. I shuttled between the various offices which supported or contended with the Oregot of the Parochet many times a day. And she was absent minded enough that she rarely checked the water clock to see how long it had been between my departure and return.
Oreget Dinah may have noticed more than she said. But she also knew I had put the weaving corps in my debt. If I completed my assignments to Oreget Rivka’s satisfaction, it was no business of hers what else I might accomplish.
So I learned the names of Eitan’s children. I listened to Noam talk about what he would do with the extra money he could get if he took better work: marry. I commiserated with Noam, who owned his laziness but still wanted a life with a family. And I heard all about Eitan’s oldest daughter, Hila, bright and likely but without much of a dowry.
I began to see what would have more effect on them than simple bribery. They needed to hold their hush, but stand ready to be called as formal witnesses. Even if that time were years down the road.
I spoke to Ruth with my thoughts about Noam’s future. I spoke with Oregot Rivka and Dinah, no longer shorthanded and desperate for any girl with two hands, one eye, and half a brain. It helped to have plenty of time with which to lay my gambits.
Ruth reported back, on both matters I had left to her. All was well and all would be well. Further, the Oregot were not opposed to my suggestion. My time at Beit haMiqdas was not indefinite.
And then Our Lady Rolling took a hand. I felt the turn of Her wheels with fate and chance alike in play. In the first week of Av my flowers came upon me.