Last Son of My People
The warmth of the afternoon sun had given way to the cool, evening breeze. Most of the inhabitants of this fertile valley were in their homes now, sharing an evening meal or preparing for a much needed night of rest. But, on one dusty pathway leading to one small synagogue, a lone traveler was nearing the end of a journey that had taken a lifetime.
His labored steps were small and uneven, the right leg being a little stronger than the left. And in the quiet of the evening, one could hear the sound of gravel crunching beneath his sandals and walking stick. It was amazing that a man of his age had been able to walk such a long distance, especially by himself.
His faded gray robe bore the remnants of embroidered green threads that began near the tops of his shoulders and ran the length of his frail arms. The soiled robe, his only robe, ended around his ankles in shredded cloth, frayed from brushing the tops of the countless rocks along the way.
A narrow strap across his shoulder supported an old leather pouch, and a faded scarf covered his head and hung down the back of his neck, providing some measure of protection from the cool evening air.
Now, it was his practice to always wear a scarf. The linen cloth protected his head and neck from the sun of course, but more importantly, he wore it to cover his head in honor of his God. This was one of the ways of his people and one of their customs he had been faithful to observe.
Having lived more years than most, it was also his practice to be mindful of his each and every step, especially on these rugged trails of dust and rocks. He was too feeble to be careless these days… too old to keep his balance should he accidentally slip on a rock, or should the side of his foot slide into a deep rut. Mahaz (mə -häz´) could not afford to lose the few physical abilities he still possessed, and a man of his age didn’t possess many.
The old man looked up to gather his bearings as he struggled to sustain a steady pace then fixed his eyes back on the rocky trail. Taking a wrong path was not an option. His body held the strength to finish the journey, but no more.
He knew he was close now. The shapes of the hills and the familiar smell of the fields were a testimony of his home. He was nearing the land of his people, and the thought of being home again filled his heart with a warmth he had not known for oh so many years.
Finally, just as the evening sun touched the tops of the mountains behind him, his destination came into view. It seemed different from what he remembered, but it had been over fifty years since he was last here, so who could tell if anything actually changed or if it was just an old memory gone bad.
He knew that many small things would be different. He understood how time could blur the past, but the small things were of no concern. His focus was set firmly on his quest.
The time of Jubilee had come, and it was his right according to the law. He could now possess what was legally his. He had come back to the land of his people to reclaim what he had lost so many years ago.
The synagogue was just ahead now. Mahaz reached the gate to the outer court just as the sun sank below the hills. He stood before the heavy, wooden door for several moments, reflecting on the thousands of steps it had taken to return to this very spot; it had been such a long journey.
The old man inched closer to the gate and worked up the strength and courage to knock on the wooden planks, prepared to submit his plea for justice.
He took one last breath between his weather-worn lips and let the air ease its way to freedom through his crooked nose… crooked from the beatings and falls he had taken over the years. A hard life changes a man and takes him so far away from home, but thanks be to God, his journey was at an end.
Without warning, the heavy gate swung open with such force that the air rushing into the courtyard nearly carried him in along with it. Mahaz used his walking stick and what strength he had left in his legs to maintain his balance, then raised his head and looked into the eyes of the young Rabbi who now stood before him.
“May I help you?” asked the Rabbi.
“My name is Mahaz Ben-ammi. I am the last son of my people.”