The truck was the first of many vessels to shatter, unable to contain or withstand Eliezer’s fury. He rarely took his anger out on people; once, when he was sixteen, he beat up a kid at school who had insulted him, but then it had been more out of a sense of social obligation than out of any real rage. It was usually inanimate objects: computer keyboards, glasses, plates. These moments were when he felt most alive, even if he knew it was pathetic that – for now – his rage was to be channeled only into mindless destruction. And more than alive: he felt equal to God, as if he was in these moments truly made in God’s image, capable of creation and destruction. If anger was idolatry, then who is the god it makes in its place?
And was she definitely dead? She was dead. The television had smashed Chava's skull; she was only a foot or so behind him when he swung it around. Was she, though?
Eliezer looked. There was very little blood to be seen. She might’ve survived. No, she did not survive. Halachically speaking, Eliezer was not a murderer. There was no intent. He was reckless, of course, and responsible; he took responsibility. But not a murderer. Yet the eyes of the secular law might not be so forgiving. He looked around the apartment. Nothing was disturbed. The sefarim sat in their shelves, dusty, but arranged in a logical fashion. There was something boiling on the stovetop; water for tea, perhaps, or to boil rice. The walls were thin, but he and Chava had quarreled so many times in the two years they’d been living in the apartment that by now surely the neighbors knew not to interfere. Could he get away with it? Eliezer was no planner. He was a doer. Tell me how to do this, he said to himself, and I’ll do it. Surely it’s better not to go to jail.
He never loved her. Now he could admit it openly, to himself. Chava and he loved the same things, not each other. They loved eretz yisrael; loved the way that you didn’t have to compromise here, didn’t have to hide who you were behind veils of deference or getting along with the goyim. They loved the strength. But they were gentle too, and loved nature: hiking in the Judean desert, with Eliezer’s submachine gun ready to fire at any Arab who attacked them, or swimming at the separate beach in Gaza, when such things were done, before the changes. Before they were changed.
The only time Eliezer had ever discussed love, after his teenage years at least, was with his friend Avi. “I don’t believe in it,” Eliezer had said.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I think it’s made up. Look in the Tanach. Where is there love? There is lust, there is friendship, there is love between parents and children. Where is this Romantic love? ‘Romantic’ is the key – it’s an invention of the Romans. The Song of Songs is either pornography or allegory. The relationships of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to their wives – it’s very complicated. Sarah is like a sister; we never see them alone. Rebecca is chosen for Isaac. Jacob wants Rachel but stays married to Leah anyway. I don’t believe in it.”
Avi knew better than to mention Chava directly to Eliezer. They all suspected that he beat her. Could never be sure, really; there were never any marks, at least not that anyone saw; it was more an intuition. A sense of her being cowed. So Avi said, “I think when people live together for thirty, forty years – I think they love each other naturally. You’re right, it’s not like in the movies. But it is something deeper.”
“My love is for Hashem,” Eliezer replied. “I love Hashem, in whatever form. In the form of Chava, in the form of am yisrael, in the form of this pine tree right here in front of us. My love does not discriminate. That is ahava in its truest form.”
Eliezer thought of that conversation, now, standing over Chava’s body. He did find her beautiful. The infertility that was her curse, and which was only discovered after the wedding, made him hate her – but never in a way that made him stop desiring her. If anything, it made their sex together a kind of rebellion. Strictly speaking, Eliezer thought, it should be forbidden. After all, it is certain that it is not fulfilling the mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying. That it brought pleasure to Chava, as required by law, was Eliezer’s responsibility. But since when did pleasure become more important than God’s prohibition?
Yet the rabbi had told him that no opinion in the world would disagree: they should continue to have sex, and miracles were possible. After all, look at Sarah, whose womb was opened late in life, or Hannah. Maybe Chava’s name would turn out not to be so ironic. She could be the mother of life. Of course they should make love. So they did.
How had he thrown the television at her? How had he even picked it up? Granted, it was a small, old set. But, how had he not noticed her right behind him, apparently trying to comfort him? Why did she not have the sense to stay away, when she saw he was in a rage? Maybe, thought Eliezer, this is why the Jews are always persecuted so much in history. They should know better than to get close to God, but somehow they are compelled.
There were answers. He threw the television because of the strength he had when he was angry. He was angry because of the news on the television, the impudence of the Left, their blindness, their weakness. The fact is, he hadn’t wanted a television anyway; the filth that was broadcast in it made the box itself reek from decrepitude. And this was the last straw, these images of the betrayers of Israel celebrating. He hadn’t noticed Chava because he was focused on his anger, on the secular newscaster barely bothering to conceal his joy. Those Arab-lovers who knew nothing of Torah and only wanted to compromise away the holy land in exchange for porridge: weakness! Did they not see there would never be peace with the Arabs? And for what – the approval of the Jew-haters of France and Germany, a few million dollars of foreign investment, in exchange for Israel’s birthright. Even now, as he stood there, the only sound in the apartment the quiet boiling of water, he was still angry at them, and had to restrain himself from blaming them for the death of his wife.
David Harris Ebenbach
Postcards from Gaza
Morituri Te Salutant
The Place of Anger
Fiction by Jay Michaelson
Much Ado on 2nd Avenue
Elinor Carucci: Diary of a Dancer
Commentary by Eliot Markell
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