By: Drake Dunaway | © 2017
The quaint shtetl of Rosava lay alone in the wide and grassy country of Russia. The sun was tracking toward evening behind the clouds on a drear Friday. The cows lowed as they headed back to the barns. Shabbat preparations were in full swing.
In the barn, two boys and a girl argued about killing a snake they found in the corner of one of the stalls. It was long and black.
“Give me the hoe, you ox! We need it dead!” Reuven shouted.
“No! It will bite you Reuven, and the nearest doctor is in the next town!” Nachman retorted.
“Just give it to me! Minka! Stay here and don’t tell mom!” Reuven insisted.
“Boys…boys…” an old voice croaked from the corner sending them to their feet in a start, “all your kvetching is bad for the soul, you’ll attract a dybbuk!” The two urchins wheeled around to see old Rabbi Gershko sitting in the corner smoking his pipe. His milky eyes stared out into the never and his ivory cain lay across his lap as he reclined in the deep shadow. In fact, he hid in shadow everywhere he went behind those ruined eyes of his.
“You are bound to attack one another, you and the snake. But the snake actually loves you. You are lads! It is woman the snake hates!” Rabbi Gershko laughed easing into the musty planks behind him.
“The snake is our enemy! The corruptor of the world!” Reuven protested.
“Corruptor…ruiner…seducer…destroyer…abominable…and…forlorn love? But you know the gematria of messiah and serpent in Hebrew have the same numerical value, right lads?” The old rabbi chuckled.
The two boys and the girl shrugged and looked at each other. Tasting the silence, Rabbi Gershko gestured them into his reach. “Come lads. Hear a yarn about the snake, and see if you still wish to wantonly kill even the lowest of HaShem’s creatures. HaShem spared them a lodging the ark; proof that the Holy One, Blessed be He, is more merciful than children with garden hoes,” The old man giggled gathering the children to his feet. He leaned forward and stared ahead and above them as the children sat in the hay and waited, perhaps for a story reforming itself in the slow clock of the old man’s mind. Finally, he breathed out and his aging and fluty voice began in a singsong tone.
“Once upon a bygone age, G-d took the clay of his new earth and breathed into it a soul. He set the man within Gan Eden, a sprawling paradaesa beyond the Bashan in the land of Shinar there to tend and dwell. And two trees stood in the blessed garden, and from all he could pick and eat, save the one you already know of from shul.”
“You’re skipping the six days,” one of the boys broke in.
“And you are interrupting the telling, boy!” the Rabbi graveled in with a sharp vigor that could pulverize a scamp. The old man sat and stared blindly at the boy and waited while the child’s voice quavered and piddled off. Then he resumed once more.
“Once upon a bygone age, G-d took the clay of his new earth and breathed into it a soul. He set the man within Gan Eden, a sprawling paradaesa beyond the Bashan in the land of Shinar there to tend and dwell. And two trees stood in the blessed garden, and from all he could pick and eat but one.
In this time, Woman was naught, but Adam was far from alone. Each day he would walk the garden with the Serpent. He felt fond of her, and she of him. Some of our ancestors from the beforetime maintain that she had a darkling grace, lithe and smooth to the touch. Oh, she was far from something you chase with a garden hoe. Some describe her as a large snake. Others give her feet and a frame. One such elder told this humble teller that her eyes were striking, and her hair was a voluptuous toss of coiled asps which would only lay docile in Adam’s caress. But only a fool speculates so as to say for certain; how can one know such things?
Every man knows what Adam was like. We have but to look at ourselves. Of course he was stronger, handsomer, and longer-lived. But we can all see ourselves as pale Adams and guess well enough. The Serpent, however, lived as the least creaturely creature. She spoke, walked, and ate whatsoever she pleased from any tree. And though she could see far into the future, she only thought of today. Time and again, the Serpent would step out of herself, dying and living in the same instant. Standing stock still, she would step backwards from her skin, leaving a glass mannequin she would shove to the ground and watch as it busted into a thousand shards.
“This is why I never eat from the Tree of Life,” she said turning to Adam in her voice warm and soothing.
Yet our father Adam was ever living in tomorrow. He would watch with envy the Serpent as she would spirit up a tree in a trice, and tomorrow he would have woven hempen cables to climb. He watched the Serpent as her neverblinking eyes pierced through the pitch black where he staggered blindly, and by tomorrow he had kindled the first fire to light the night. In turn, she would watch affright as the flame and ambition danced in his eyes above the sinister gleam of his aspiring power. Those eyes ambitious for things forbidden.
“I see far into the future, but it is you who lives in tomorrow,” she complained, “Tomorrow holds nothing but more of today if you allow it. Come. Walk with me. Forget tomorrow. I renew myself, and you renew at the Tree. We always have today.”
When Adam lay on the soft earth and slept his restless sleep, fireflies like the sand of the shores would blanket the air in an eerie light. And while he dosed, the Serpent would hang down through the fireflies and watch him with those persistent ambers and think, “My darling, I could just gobble you up.”
“Wait…” Reuven broke in, “Can man love a beast!? Does not Leviticus bar such shandas?”
The question did not faze the old man in the least.
“Is this a far thing to ponder? A man and a snake! Don’t be scandalized. Know that the world settled into herself newly minted, and the boundaries between all things were still floppy from a land still drying off. At Creation’s first gleaming, a parakeet would croon fondly to a hippo. A lizard might fall under the jackdaw’s seduction. A raccoon would fandango with turtles through dance halls of vines, and wayward stars would often cheat the harem of their jealous sun and kiss the teeming sea. And as sure as my fathers, Adam loved the Serpent and she loved him.
One day, the Serpent decided to make sport of Adam’s silly tomorrow thoughts. She approached him by the river clutching a full belly. “Behold,” she wryly smiled, “I am with your child!”
Adam’s glance darted up from the water.
“Look how he kicks! Your son’s name is Adam also, for neither can he enjoy the moment!” she cackled.
At that, Adam took fright, thrashed through the water to the bank on the other side and bolted into the towering forest, leaving her laughing and full of the kicking piglet she had hunted earlier. She rocked with laughter on the smooth stones and lay back to sun herself.
Miles away, Adam bolted and ran, and then he ran some more. The leaves and needles whipped his face and he panted wildly through the shade, his heart pounding and temples throbbing until he skidded to a halt in front of G-d Most High.
I shall leave off describing G-d.
And G-d spoke to Adam and said that it was not good for him to be alone.
“But I am not alone,” Adam said catching his breath, “I have you and my Serpent.”
“Come,” said G-d, “We shall prepare a contest of the beasts. And loveliest of each shall vie for your hand, the hand of the ruler over all beasts.”
And so G-d summoned all the myriads of creatures of Eden to an open glade. The lioness, the she-giraffe, and the she-ostrich – all were present. And each sashayed and tooted and roared and beat its feathers and swept its tail. And one after the other, Adam would name them and send them off crestfallen for losing the hand of the world’s ruler. And as they came and went, a heartsick Adam began mindlessly dismissing the animals without so much as even glancing up at them. This pageant went on for several days.
Across the field the Serpent emerged from the forest, svelte once more and ready to give up the ruse. She saw a she-donkey waiting her turn and asked the cause of the fanfare, and when she heard she quickly took her place among the antsy beasts. Eventually, the Serpent took her turn with Adam amid the pretenders to his kingship. Adam’s head drooped buried in his lap. “Go on,” he moaned without looking up, “it is not you.” He motioned her away with a stick in his hand.
The Serpent diffidently stepped forward and placed her hand on the tip of the stick. Adam looked up and his face flooded with joy.
“You see, G-d!?” he gaily proclaimed while leaping to his feet, “Do you see!? I told you I had a helpmeet! You can send all the animals home!”
“You haven’t surveyed all the animals yet,” G-d responded coldly.
The Serpent drooped her head and slunk back into the brush to look out from a tree. The anxious voyeur watched for days as the parade continued and Adam dismissed every animal as soon as it stepped into his sight. She watched as the last of the pack headed home, and Adam stood alone empty-handed. She watched as G-d dropped a thick blackness over Adam, split out a rib from his side, and made for him something of a stunted mold of himself. Her heart sank as G-d put the woman’s hand into Adam’s and commanded her to love him. Her world shattered when they shared a smile.
Her grief turned black. Then it flared red.
The Serpent hung from a tree and stared down into a coldwater pool to divine the shape of things to pass. Pouring the water cold and clean into her bowl, she dipped her hand and the satan entered her. In the waters she saw that the woman would leave the Garden, Adam would know love, and the gates of Eden would be shut. She had begun to seriously think on tomorrow.
Eventually it came to pass that the woman G-d made for Adam walked in the shadow of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Serpent stood by and ate from it, swallowing fruit one by one, taking no notice of the woman. The woman approached her and she turned, startled.
“Even though G-d said you cannot eat from any tree…”
“Of course we can eat from any tree, save the one you now enjoy. For on the day we eat of it we shall surely die.”
“On that very day?”
“Yes. On that very day.”
“Not later perhaps?”
“No. On that day.”
The serpent spoke to the woman and told her that indeed she would not die, that her eyes would open, and that she would be like G-d knowing Good and Evil. The woman beheld the tree, its golden boughs and frondant billows of empassioned emerald. And the slick, pink fruit she could feast upon with her eyes alone. But eyes were not enough. The Serpent triumphantly stole away into the brush, leaving the woman feasting on the forbidden fruits.
“Now G-d shall cast her out and Adam shall be mine again.” She hissed, thinking all too fondly of tomorrow. In preparation for Adam’s return, she betook herself into seclusion for her deepest grooming yet, stepping out of herself once more leaving yet another glass mannequin standing tall. This was a deep and thorough molt, nourished by a hapless piglet and the wisdom fruit. And this molt left her skin ravishing in daring new shades and patterns she heretofore had never worn. Now she stood prettied for her beloved’s return. She slapped moss over the head of the shed husk and called the effigy ‘woman’ in mockery.
Later that evening, the light dimmed in the garden and strange creatures began to grunt and howl. Something was not right. Something the Serpent had not counted on. She peered into the couple’s woven hideaway in a mangrove thicket and saw Adam with his woman feasting on the forbidden fruit. She had given it to him! The Serpent darted away and howled, a banshee in the moonlight, belting a screeching, wretched howl that shook the earth and rocked the fearful couple in their shelter while the rinds yet fell from their lips. In that instant, the satan left her.
Now, what happened next is difficult to relate, but the world all around them simply slid away. You heard rightly. The trees, the banks, the rivers, the glens and gullies, along with the soft soil beneath their feet sped off, revealing under everything a single, sapphire sheet of glass upon which everything stood. As the universe above them continued to wheel, the crystal pane seemed to stretch infinitely in all directions; the hidden geometry of G-d behind all things had revealed itself.
The sprawling raqia, the breathless sky and the misty zodiac turned slowly overhead to the dull roar within the quietus of space, brightening as it approached the horizon in breathless blues. There they waited, Adam and his woman in their fig leaves, the Serpent, and her shed mannequin standing there as doltishly as the rest of them. And at last, to the tinkling chimes of cool eventide, whence the Great East opens her nighted gown to her dauntless lord the West, came forth the Voice of the Living G-d.
Explanations were given. Fault was cast. Accusations flew. But the Serpent remained silent and would not open her mouth. And then G-d approached her in the form of the Memra and scolded her, “they have become like us, knowing Good and Evil! Let us cast them out, lest they also take hold of the Tree of Life and live forever!”
A pair of russet cows were brought and brutally slain before their eyes, and the Man and Woman gripped one another in horror as geysers of blood gushed from slashed arteries amid helpless braying. A pool of scarlet waxed over and besmirched the glassy sea. G-d insisted they all watch. He walked over to the man and woman and rudely shucked them of their fig leaves and then tossed over their shoulders fetid skins, still hot and stinking with soiled hanks of matted hair. The woman whom we call our mother looked down, and behold: there ran a trickle of blood coursing down her thigh.
And G-d said to her, “Mark the blood of your cycle. You are not dying. Still yourself.”
Then, two ceruvim appeared on the far edge of the glassy plane, each looking severer than any beast of the Garden. Winged lions each, and they held enchanted sabers. The man and woman withered under their glowering stares.
“Go,” G-d commanded, pointing to the sentinels.
Driven off to people every yonder bourn, now Adam would live forever in tomorrow.
The two of them began to sulk away and depart between the cruel and forfending elohim, each with contempt in their overwhelming and pitiless eyes that repulsed them and set the furthest reach and voidest chasm between them and they. But just then, the Serpent ran after Adam, the patter of her feet on the sapphire sea echoing in the silence.
Adam turned from the woman to the Serpent and smiled fondly. His paramour reached up her lissome hands and stroked his beard and he, beholding her new and gambled wedding gown of many colors, each hue slashed fiercely across a luxuriant skin of midnight black velvet, knew that he had never seen her so lovely as now.”
“Ah, to share love with one who bewitches you,” the Rabbi reclined himself tragically as his sandalwood pipe petered out. The boys at his feet were beside themselves and Minka sniffled through tears.
“The Serpent took Adam’s hand and holding it up to her mouth she kissed his palm, but shrouded in the kiss crouched a fang. He felt a hot venom flush through his arm and then course throughout his entire body.
“There, my immortal beloved,” she cooed in a breaking voice, “When your progeny are on the verge of death and the pain becomes too great, that venom will gentle your passing.”
“And this is my gift,” she said gathering herself. Elegant, her poise was a stiletto on the glass sea. “Let me give you one last taste of knowledge you will need for the open road.” She lifted her arm and pointed to Adam’s thigh. He looked down.
“This is for pleasure and for life. May she give you what I cannot.” the Serpent whimpered, “And may it help you to live in today.”
The cows in the drafty barn quietly munched their hay.
“What happened then?” Reuven asked.
“Well you, Mr. You-skipped-the-six-days, should know already!” the old man heckled.
“Alright. Alright. I shall cap it off. Kiddush fast approaches and you had better lead an old man to the house.
G-d would have punished the Serpent, but the fairer sex have always had a way of punishing themselves worse than heaven would imagine, do they not? Well, as her fate would have it, her remorse sank so profoundly that she lost herself without a trace. You see, whenever she sloughed off a crystal shell and renewed herself, she would meditate on the proper depth of her molting; how much to step out of, as it were. But this time, in her desolation, she only felt the urge to to cut as deep and inwardly as possible. She yearned to shed all of herself this time. The garden reappeared over the glass sea and she stood there alone on the cool earth deepening the peel in her mind. She thumbed deeply through the layers of herself like pages in a book, each turn with the hope of annulling herself completely as she flipped deeper and deeper into her very quick. It took a rare single-mindedness. And when she arrived at the narrowest inward sliver of herself she could possibly reach, she ironically looked over at Eve’s mannequin she made and cried for her one and true Adam.
And so, in a garden somewhere over the moon and the sea, there stands a crystal statue, solid and sturdy as a cave formation yet chiseled and polished in the most elegant ideal. The patterns of her final coat are kept, vermillion, viridian, citrine cascading over black sapphire. Naturally her eyes remained amber. Her flowing locks of asps freeze in a sway, and her supple face and graceful arms outstretch to the East to receive her long belovèd. And at the rising sun when the first shafts of eastern daybreak strike her and refract, she bedazzles the Garden with her memories. She had shed herself completely.
And yet…out of the open lips of the frozen chandelier came forth a small snake, the last, narrow revenant of herself far too inward to shed away. And this debased little compromise of her former glory would in fact be the trace of her that departs today and slips into tomorrow.
Out of the statue’s bosom and through the glassy lips slipped a tiny snake. It dropped onto the ground and slithered quietly away.”
Minka was hangdog and the two boys looked back with a primeval reverence reawakened for the long, dark snake minding its own business in the corner stall.
“And so for all her descendants, serpents absolutely hate human females of all types,” said Rabbi Gershko balefully to Minka. The girl gasped and her eyes flew wide. “From toddlers, to maidens, to housewives and old crones with dried up dugs that give no suck. She hates you personally, Minka, and she hates all of your kind as well. And to the fairer sex the only good snake is a dead one. Am I right, bubbale?”
Rabbi Gershko then looked up bursting with mirth and said to the two boys, “but she loves you, fellows, gentlemen, kulaks, boys, and scamps. She could just gobble you up!
When G-d created the first man Adam alone, G-d said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” [So] G-d created a woman for him, from the earth like him, and called her Lilith. They [Adam and Lilith] promptly began to argue with each other: She said, “I will not lie below,” and he said, “I will not lie below, but above, since you are fit for being below and I for being above.” She said to him, “The two of us are equal, since we are both from the earth.
– Alphabet of Ben Sira 78: Lilith
He said to her, “The serpent is your serpent, and you are the serpent of Adam”—the serpent was your serpent, he showed you the fruit and caused you to sin; and you were the serpent of Adam, for he sinned because of you ”
— Gen. Rabbah 20:11
*Featured images: Franz Roubaud, A La Vieille Russie, Medusa by potatogirl13 on DeviantArt.com: http://potatogirl13.deviantart.com/art/Medusa-572475103,