Dept. of Linguistics
20 September 2013
To my beloved stepchildren Justin and Emily (and all others who might read this):
Now that you are no longer children and are heading out into the world, I am sending this book out with you. It was the work of more than a lifetime for its original author. It has taken years for
me to bring it to this state.
At its core, it is a book of brief stories. Each comes from a moment in the life of a person from the Hebrew Bible. I hope that you will recognize some of the names within it, though even I did not recognize all of them. Each speaks to us from a moment when that person’s own life changed.
I first encountered this book a little under ten years ago, back before I met you. You may take my story of discovering it as truth, hallucination, metaphor, fiction, or “Oh, that’s just Ariel.” Any of these is OK.
The day was Yom Kippur, the most sacred moment of the Jewish year. I was living in San Francisco at the time. I had no interest in going to synagogue, but wanted to note the day on my own. Heading out early, I took the N-Judah train to the end of the line, a small beach where the city meets the Pacific Ocean. I settled into the nook of a hill facing the sea and turned the pages of the traditional liturgy. I read and contemplated the passages that spoke strongly to me, and avoided those that did not.
At some points, everything seemed as clear and present to me as the best experiences of being “in the moment.” At others, I dozed, letting the realities of the waking and sleeping worlds merge until I no longer knew, or particularly cared, which was which.
Late in the afternoon, after I had drifted away for a time, I was apparently awakened by a sense of feathers brushing against my arm. As I opened my eyes, I saw a man sitting next to me on the
hill. He was tall, pale, and beautiful, with piercing eyes that seemed to continually change color and white feathers on his head where I would have expected hair. What I thought in the first moment that was a feathered shawl revealed itself to be folded wings.
I was not afraid or particularly surprised, even when he called my name. “Ariel,” he said, or his voice in my mind said, since his lips did not move.
“I am here,” I replied.
“I have come to bring you a gift,” the voice of the angel said. “You may choose to accept it, or you may choose to decline it without fear of having done wrong. May I show it to you?”
I nodded. The angel and I turned to each other. Leaning down, he kissed me.
The kiss lasted longer than an instant but less than a moment. The touch of his lips was as gentle as any that I had ever felt. His scent bore hints of musk, of cloves, and of cinnamon.
Then he looked deeply in my eyes once again. “Do you see the gift?” he asked. “Look within your memory.”
I did. There, within my memory, were the words of this book. They were in the languages in which they were originally spoken, ancient Hebrew, Persian, and Aramaic. I could recall each word perfectly clearly as I listened to them within my mind.
“You have heard legends of angels,” he said, “of forgotten times. The legends are true, sometimes as metaphor, sometimes as literal fact. The kiss of an angel, after death and before birth, seals and reveals memory.
“Each of our souls is a tapestry, formed from threads of the souls of others who have lived or will live. Your soul shares aspects of the soul of the prophet Elisheva. She had the power to speak in voices drawn from others’ lives. These voices can now live within you.
“Your mother brought you to this specific land, to this particular time, without ever knowing why. Here, now, with the studies that you have pursued and with the technologies that have been brought into existence, you can bring these voices back to the people of the present world, in the languages that people speak today.
“If you accept this gift and this responsibility, you will be able to bring this book into this world. If you decline, the memory of the words, and the memory of this meeting, will disappear. The decision is your choice alone.”
“I will do it,” I said. “I will listen to the voices and translate them for today.”
The angel leaned forward and kissed me again. I closed my eyes, surrendering to his touch, his scent, drifting once again from being conscious of my surroundings.
When I awoke again, he was gone. I sat alone by the hill on the beach, watching as the sun began its descent into the ocean. After a few minutes’ silence, I remembered what the angel had told me, and tried to remember the voices of which he had spoken.
There were all there in my memory, perfectly, as clearly as if the person speaking stood before me. Even now, the memory still remains.
I came home and began to translate the voices, beginning with the voice of Elisheva herself, and continuing through the fifty other voices that Elisheva brought forth and that the angel brought to me.
Justin and Emily, I know that you never met my mother, Drorit (or my father, whom I never knew). She was a wonderful, odd woman. Many thought her insane, but she never was a bother to anyone. She rarely spoke. When she did, it was in spare phrases, often aphorisms. She only learned the phrases that she needed in English very slowly, after observing other people using them. For the most part, she mostly spoke in what I gradually realized were ancient tongues. Her eyes were blind, but she always seemed to be perceiving things that none of the rest of us could see. A group of unusual women who surrounded her helped her to survive and helped her to raise me. Since her passing, I have not seen them, and miss them as the only family that I knew.
As I grew up, I never knew exactly who I was or where or even when I was born. These stories have shown me the reasons for all of this. The answer is as implausible as my encounter with the angel. You may choose to believe them or not. I find my memory, my belief, and my understanding to be a comfort, and I hold them gently within my heart.
These transcripts, these stories, show deep emotions, as they show the most difficult times within the speakers’ lives. Since I met you, and met and married your father, I have meant to give this book to you. I realized, however, that I needed to wait until you had stepped away from childhood and were ready to enter the adult world.
I also realize that as you grew up, you did not learn the stories that surround these stories. Your father brought you up without religion. I have honored that, and have not imposed my religion
upon you. I have added introductions and annotations to each of these stories to help you see their context and their world more vividly. If they inspire you to investigate the texts in the Bible and the related legends, I will be pleased and eager to help you look further. But I hope that the book itself, as you hold it in your hands, will seem complete and clear.
Here is the book. Here are the memories: my memories of the voice of Elisheva, Elisheva’s memories of the Biblical voices, and the memories shared by the voices themselves.
I look forward to your reading them, and to what you might learn of the many worlds in which we live, as shown within the pages of this Book of Voices.