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Chapter 18: That The Children Of Jerusalem May Be Saved From Slavery (Passover Bonus Chapter)

And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, he refuseth to let the user control whether or not to memoize thunks
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I.

April 10, 2017
San Jose

“Why are we celebrating Passover?” asked Bill. “Are any of us even Jewish?”

“My father was Jewish,” I answered.

“Doesn’t count,” said Bill.

“I’m Jewish,” said Ally Hu.

“You’re Chinese,” corrected Bill.

“My great-grandmother came from the Kaifeng Jews,” said Ally. “They have been in Asia for many generations.”

We all stared at Ally. We’d never heard about this before.

“We’re celebrating Passover,” said Erica, bringing in a plate of brisket, “because we’re freedom fighters, and Passover is a celebration of freedom. It binds us to everyone across history and around the world who has struggled to escape bondage, from the Israelites in Egypt to the proletariat of today. Across thousands of years and thousands of miles, we’re all joined together, saying the same words, eating the same foods – ”

“Pyramid-shaped cookies?” asked Zoe, skeptically.

“The pyramid-shaped cookies are adorable,” said Erica.

“You’re supposed to avoid anything with flour in it!” I protested.

Jews are supposed to avoid anything with flour in it,” Erica explained patiently.

“You’re supposed to have matzah!”

“I have matzah!” said Erica. She brought in a plate of matzah. It had been cut into the shapes of little frogs and locusts. They had little eyes made of frosting.

“Ally, back me up on this,” I said.

“Frosting is not a traditional Passover food,” said Ally.

“Thank you!”

“Traditional Passover food is sweet-and-sour chicken, boiled peanuts, and rice.”

I glared at her.

“Sour to represent the sourness of slavery in Egypt, sweet to represent the sweetness of freedom!” suggested Ana. Ally nodded enthusiastically.

“Why the boiled peanuts?” asked Erica.

“Sixth plague,” Ana answered.

“Why the rice?” asked Eli.

“Thi-” I started, just as Ana said “That’s racist.”

“You didn’t even hear what…”

“I know how you think,” said Ana.

Erica came in with the bottle of Manischewitz and poured out nine glasses.

“There are only eight of us,” Bill corrected her.

“One for the Prophet Elijah,” said Erica.

Pirindiel had been looking unusually glum this month, ever since one of the big theonomics had rejected his attempt at a business deal, politely explaining that “angel investor” didn’t mean what he thought it meant. Now he brightened up, and almost seemed to bounce with excitement. “Elijah!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t know he was coming! It’s been ages since the last time we – ”

“He’s not coming,” said Erica. “It’s a metaphor.” Pirindiel’s face fell. He stared down at his plate in what I thought was embarrassment.

Erica finished pouring the wine and went to the head of the table. “We are gathered here today,” she said, “to celebrate how the Israelites went from slavery into freedom. Yet in a sense, we are still slaves. Wiliam Blake said: ‘I must create my own system, or be enslaved by another man’s’. We are no longer slaves to a Pharaoh, but we are slaves to a system, a system that takes the work of our hands and minds and forces us to toil for its benefit. We celebrate tonight not only our current freedom, but the freedom yet to come, when the Names of God will be free for all the people of the earth.” She raised her glass. “To freedom!”

We all drank to freedom.

“Now, Aaron is going to lead us in a traditional Passover song…”

II.

“The Lust Of The Goat Is The Bounty Of God”, by Aaron Smith-Teller
Published in the 2017 Passover bonus issue of the Stevensite Standard

There’s an old Jewish childrens’ song called Had Gadya. It starts:

A little goat, a little goat
My father bought for two silver coins,
A little goat, a little goat

Then came the cat that ate the goat
My father bought for two silver coins
A little goat, a little goat

Then came that dog that bit the cat…

And so on. A stick hits the dog, a fire burns the stick, water quenches the fire, an ox drinks the water, a butcher slaughters the ox, the Angel of Death takes the butcher, and finally God destroys the Angel of Death. Throughout all of these verses, it is emphasized that it is indeed a little goat, and the father did indeed buy it for two silver coins.

So far, so good. Lots of cultures have dumb childrens’ songs. But somehow this song made it into the liturgy for Passover, one of the holiest of Jewish holidays. Rabbi Azulai notes that the last person to say this was silly got excommunicated, and further notes that he deserves it. Jews put up with a lot of stuff, but you do not mess with the goat song. After that everyone assumed it must have had some sort of secret meaning, but no one ever really agreed upon what exactly that might be.

Rabbi Emden of Hamburg suggests that the goat represents the human soul. The goat was bought with two silver coins because the soul makes two journeys to arrive in our bodies – first from Heaven to the mystical plane of Galgalim, then from this mystical plane down to Earth. The various animals and objects, in this system, represent various challenges faced by the soul progress as it passes through life. Just to choose some random examples, cat represents the animalistic nature of the undisciplined infant, and the fire represents the burning lusts of puberty. Finally you get to the Angel of Death – played by himself – and if you’re lucky, God judges you worthy, destroys the Angel of Death, and carries you to eternal life.

(Mark Twain once said “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.” I think he would have liked Kabbalah.)

Rabbi Reuben Margolis relates the song to a Midrash. King Nimrod of Sumer demands Abraham worship the Fire God. Abraham refuses, saying that rain extinguishes fire, so if anything he should worship rain. Nimrod says okay, fine, worship the Rain God. But Abraham refuses again, saying that wind drives away the rain clouds, so if anything, he should worship wind. So Nimrod commands he worship the Wind God, and then other things happen, and finally Nimrod tries to kill Abraham and God saves him. The lesson is that all hierarchies end in God, who is above all things.

Rabbi Moses Sofer says that the song is a coded reference to the appropriate rituals for celebrating Passover during the Temple Era. The goat represents the Paschal sacrifice of the lamb, which is rather like a goat. The cat represents singing prayers, because this is in the Talmud somewhere (spoiler: everything is in the Talmud somewhere). The dog represents nighttime, because it barks at night, and nighttime is the appropriate time to hold a Passover meal. And so on.

(I hereby propose “Sofer’s Law”: the number of correspondences you can draw between any two systems increase exponentially as a function of your laxity in declaring that things represent other things.)

Rabbi Eybeschuetz of Prague writes that the entire thing is a historical prophecy. The goat represents the Jewish people. The two silver coins represent the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, with which God “bought” the Jewish people for Himself. The various animals and objects represent all of the misfortunes of the Jewish people over history. When the cat eats the goat, that refers to the conquest of Israel by King Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria. When the ox drinks the water, that’s the Hellenic Greeks taking over the newly re-independent Israelite state. Finally, at the end, God comes in and solves everything, the Jews return to Israel, and the Messianic Age begins.

(Four rabbis in, and we’re at King Tiglath-Pileser III. We have to go deeper!)

As far as I know, no one has previously linked this song to the Lurianic Kabbalah. So I will say it: the deepest meaning of Had Gadya is a description of how and why God created the world. As an encore, it also resolves the philosophical problem of evil.

The most prominent Biblical reference to a goat is the scapegoating ritual. Once a year, the High Priest of Israel would get rid of the sins of the Jewish people by mystically transferring all of them onto a goat, then yelling at the goat until it ran off somewhere, presumably taking all the sin with it.

The thing is, at that point the goat contained an entire nation-year worth of sin. That goat was super evil. As a result, many religious and mystical traditions have associated unholy forces with goats ever since, from the goat demon Baphomet to the classical rather goat-like appearance of Satan.

So the goat represents evil. I’ll go along with everyone else saying the father represents God here. So God buys evil with two silver coins. What’s up?

The most famous question in theology is “Why did God create a universe filled with so much that is evil?” The classical answers tend to be kind of weaselly, and center around something like free will or necessary principles or mysterious ways. Something along the lines of “Even though God’s omnipotent, creating a universe without evil just isn’t possible.”

But here we have God buying evil with two silver coins. Buying to me represents an intentional action. Let’s go further – buying represents a sacrifice. Buying is when you sacrifice something dear to you to get something you want even more. Evil isn’t something God couldn’t figure out how to avoid, it’s something He covets.

What did God sacrifice for the sake of evil? Two silver coins. We immediately notice the number “two”. Two is not typically associated with God. God is One. Two is right out. The kabbalists identify the worst demon, the nadir of all demons, as Thamiel, whose name means “duality in God”. Two is dissonance, divorce, division, dilemmas, distance, discrimination, diabolism.

This, then, was God’s sacrifice. In order to create evil, He took up duality.

“Why would God want to create evil? God is pure Good!”

Exactly. The creation of anything at all other than God requires evil. God is perfect. Everything else is imperfect. Imperfection contains evil by definition. Two scoops of evil is the first ingredient in the recipe for creating universes. Finitude is evil. Form is evil. Without evil all you have is God, who, as the kabbalists tell us, is pure Nothing. If you want something, evil is part of the deal.

Now count the number of creatures in the song. God, angel, butcher, ox, water, fire, stick, dog, cat, goat. Ten steps from God to goat. This is the same description of the ten sephirot we’ve found elsewhere, the ten levels by which God’s ineffability connects to the sinful material world without destroying it. This is not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence. Had Gadya isn’t just a silly children’s song about the stages of advancement of the human soul, the appropriate rituals for celebrating Passover in the Temple, the ancient Sumerian pantheon, and the historical conquests of King Tiglath-Pileser III. It’s also a blueprint for the creation of the universe. Just like everything else.

III.

April 10, 2017
New York City

“Mr. Alvarez,” asked Brian Young, “why are we celebrating Passover? I don’t think any of us are Jews.”

“In a sense,” said Dylan, “we are all Jews. The Jews of…”

“In a sense,” said Clark Deas, “every time Dylan says ‘in a sense’ I mentally replace it with ‘not at all’.”

“Mr. Deas!” said Dylan. “Open the Haggadah and find the entry about the Wicked Child, who says that these rituals and customs do not apply to him! Take a careful look at the fate it says is in store for such a child!”

Clark reached for the Haggadah, but Dylan was faster and snatched it out of his grasp. “It says,” said Dylan, “that such a child would not have been rescued from slavery in Egypt! Do you understand, Mr. Deas? If you had been a slave in Egypt in 1500 BC, you, and your children, and your children’s children would have remained in the country forever. And today, slavery would be completely abolished throughout the world, except for you! You, Mr. Deas, would still be in Egypt, building pyramids, with all the rest of the twenty-first century population staring at you confused and wondering what was going on. Passover is important! It’s about bringing us together! Across thousands of years and thousands of miles, we’re all joined together, saying the same words, eating the same foods – ”

“Is there anything in the Haggadah about The Child Who Wouldn’t Shut Up?” asked Clark.

“And given that we’re a terrorist cell,” said Michael Khan, “are you sure we want to be brought together with other people?”

“In a sense,” said Dylan, “Passover is a holiday entirely about terrorists.”

Clark was mouthing the words “in a sense” while furiously making sarcastic quotation marks with his fingers.

“Consider,” said Dylan. “The government is oppressing the Israelites. The Israelites have already tried nonviolent resistance, to no avail. So Moses tells his spokesman Aaron to send a threat to the government: give in to our demands or we’ll poison your water supply. The government refuses, says they don’t negotiate with terrorists. So Moses turns the river to blood. Then he sends another threat: give in to our demands, or we’ll release biological weapons. But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and again he said ‘we won’t negotiate with terrorists’. So boom. Frogs, lice, wild beasts, cattle disease, locusts, boils – you know what some archaeologists think caused the boils and cattle disease, by the way? Anthrax. Look it up. Then he sends another threat: give in to our demands, or we’ll sabotage the electrical grid. Pharaoh’s heart is hard, he refuses to negotiate with terrorists. So boom. Moses plunges the entire country into darkness. Then Moses sends his final threat, and it’s a classic: give in to our demands, or we’ll kill innocent children. Pharaoh says again – we don’t negotiate with terrorists. So Moses kills the Egyptian kids, and Egypt gives in to his demands, and Moses and his followers flee over the border where they can’t be caught. The perfect crime.”

“I think God was involved somewhere,” said Brenda Burns.

“Oh, because terrorists never invoke God,” said Dylan, rolling his eyes. “Invoking God totally disqualifies you from being a terrorist. My mistake! Discúlpame por favor!

Brenda, Clark, and Michael facepalmed.

“But you know what?” asked Dylan. “It doesn’t matter! We’re not just terrorists, we’re placebomancers! We make our own narratives! Freedom to make whatever narrative you want – in a sense, isn’t that what freedom is?”

Clark continued making sarcastic finger motions to no avail.

IV.

March 30, 1991
Gulf of Mexico

“Uriel, why are we celebrating Passover? I’m not Jewish, and you’re an archangel.”

“IS THAT ONE OF THE FOUR QUESTIONS? I DO NOT REMEMBER ALL OF THEM BUT IT SEEMS VERY SPECIFIC.”

“No! This is my question!”

Sohu sat at a table suspended several hundred feet in the air, putting her about eye level with Uriel. Two plates had been set out, despite the fact that the archangel did not eat and was far too big to manipulate anything upon the table anyway. They were definitely intended to be seder plates, but they looked like they had missed something in the execution.

“And what is this on the seder plate? I am like 99% sure that is not lamb.”

“I DID NOT HAVE LAMB, SO I USED LAMPREYS. KABBALISTICALLY THEY ARE VERY SIMILAR.”

“They have icky little mouths!”

“THEY USE THOSE TO SUCK THE LIFE JUICES OUT OF OTHER FISHES.”

“Uriel, why are we doing this?”

“THE MOST IMPORTANT KABBALISTIC SOURCE TEXT IS THE TORAH. THE CLIMAX OF THE TORAH NARRATIVE IS THE PASSOVER STORY OF SALVATION FROM EGYPT. IF YOU WANT TO UNDERSTAND THE KABBALAH, YOU MUST UNDERSTAND PASSOVER.”

“What does Passover have to do with kabbalah?”

“THERE ARE TEN PLAGUES WITH WHICH THE ISRAELITES WENT FROM THE LAND OF BONDAGE TO THE HOLY LAND.”

“And?”

“HOW MANY SEPHIROT ARE THERE THAT GO FROM THE MATERIAL WORLD TO ULTIMATE DIVINITY?”

“There’s…oh…I think that’s a coincidence.”

“NOTHING IS A COINCIDENCE. EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED. AT PASSOVER THINGS ARE ESPECIALLY CONNECTED. THE PASSOVER RITUAL BINDS ALL THE KABBALISTS OF ALL AGES TOGETHER, FROM SHIMON BAR YOCHAI TO TODAY. ACROSS THOUSANDS OF YEARS AND THOUSANDS OF MILES WE ARE ALL JOINED TOGETHER, SAYING THE SAME WORDS, EATING THE SAME FOODS…”

“Lampreys?!”

“…EATING KABBALISTICALLY SIMILAR FOODS.”

“Will you tell me the story of Passover?”

“YOU ALREADY KNOW THE STORY OF PASSOVER. YOU HAVE MEMORIZED THE BIBLE.”

“I like it when you tell me stories.”

“YOU ALWAYS MAKE FUN OF THEM.”

“That’s how I show that I like it!”

“I WILL TELL YOU THE STORY IF YOU EAT YOUR LAMPREYS.”

“They’re disgusting!”

“I AM CERTAIN THEY ARE FINE.”

“Uriel, have you ever eaten food? Any food?”

“UM. I HAVE PERFORMED SEVERAL MILLION COMPUTATIONS SIMULATING THE BINDING AFFINITIES OF HUMAN GUSTATORY RECEPTORS.”

“I’m not eating the lampreys. Tell me the story of Passover. Your book on education says human children like stories, right?”

“WELL…”

V.

Springtime, ???? BC
Mt. Sinai

With a final grunt of effort, the old man crested the ridge and came to the summit of the mountain. He leaned on his staff for a few seconds, catching his breath. He had come such a long way. He let his eyes drift closed…

“DO NOT BE AFRAID,” came a vast booming voice from directly behind him.

Moses screamed, tried to turn around, lost his footing, and fell down in a heap upon the blue rocks.

“SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY.” The source of the voice was a vast entity that towered above him, a humanoid creature with great golden wings protruding from its back and eyes that shone like the sun. “SORRY SORRY SORRY.”

Moses pulled himself into a more dignified kneeling position. “My Lord,” he said reverently.

“UM,” said Uriel. “I AM SORT OF FILLING IN FOR HIM. HE DOES NOT DO VERY MUCH. IT IS HARD TO EXPLAIN.”

“My Lord,” repeated Moses. “With a mighty hand, you freed my people from slavery in Egypt.”

“UM,” said the archangel. “IT IS SOMEWHAT MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT. THE EGYPTIANS WERE BUILDING THESE PYRAMIDS WHICH THEY THOUGHT TAPPED INTO THE COSMIC ENERGIES OF THE UNIVERSE. AND THEY DID TAP INTO THE COSMIC ENERGIES OF THE UNIVERSE. NOT FOR THE REASONS THEY THOUGHT, WHICH WERE PRETTY MUCH THE WORST SORT OF PRIMITIVE HOCUS-POCUS, BUT JUST BECAUSE ANYTHING BIG AND GEOMETRIC IS GOING TO MESS UP THE FLOW OF DIVINE LIGHT IN UNPREDICTABLE WAYS. I ASKED THEM TO STOP BUT THEY WOULDN’T. I TRIED FRIGHTENING THEM BY TURNING THEIR RIVERS TO BLOOD, BUT THEY JUST MURMURED SOMETHING ABOUT “PHYTOPLANKTON” AND KEPT DOING IT. THEN I SENT THEM A BUNCH OF FROGS, BUT THAT DIDN’T HELP EITHER. FROGS NEVER HELP. THEN I GOT KIND OF CARRIED AWAY.”

“But when our people reached the Sea of Reeds, and we thought that all was lost, I prayed to you, and you parted the sea, so we could cross freely.”

“THEN I THOUGHT TO MYSELF, HOW ARE THEY GOING TO BUILD PYRAMIDS IF THEY DON’T HAVE A LABOR FORCE? SO I PARTED THE SEA SO THEIR SLAVES COULD ESCAPE. I THINK IT WAS A GOOD PLAN.”

“And when the last among us had stepped out from the waters, you sent them crashing down upon the Pharaoh and his army, destroying them and their wickedness forever.”

“I HAVE NOT WORKED OUT ALL OF THE BUGS IN THE PART_SEA FUNCTION.”

“Now we have come to you for advice. It is through your grace that we are free, but we know not what to do with our freedom. The people demand laws, a code to live by, something to bring meaning and structure to their lives.”

“UM. I THINK YOU SHOULD PROBABLY JUST BE NICE TO EACH OTHER. UNLESS BEING NICE TO EACH OTHER WOULD CAUSE SOME SORT OF HORRIBLE PROBLEM I CANNOT ANTICIPATE RIGHT NOW. THEN YOU SHOULD NOT DO THAT.”

“Please, O Lord! You must have more advice than that, advice which can sustain us in spirit as we cross this scorching desert.”

“WEAR SUNSCREEN?”

“Lord, the Egyptians are the mightiest people in the world, but they are mighty because their priests rule every minute of their lives, from the ritual ablutions they perform upon waking up to the prayers they say before they go to bed at night. If our people are left adrift, without laws and rituals to connect them to You and thank You for your gift of freedom, I fear they will go astray.”

“AH. I THINK I UNDERSTAND. ACTUALLY, THIS TIES INTO ANOTHER PROJECT OF MINE. I AM GRADUALLY SHIFTING THE WORLD FROM ON A SUBSTRATE OF DIVINE LIGHT TO A SUBSTRATE OF MECHANICAL COMPUTATION. THE MECHANICAL SUBSTRATE HAS A LOT OF POTENTIAL BENEFITS. FOR EXAMPLE, IT IS PERFECTLY PREDICTABLE. FOR ANOTHER, IT ALLOWS EVEN LOW-LEVEL USERS SUCH AS YOURSELF TO COMBINE PHYSICAL FORCES IN NOVEL WAYS TO SOLVE YOUR OWN PROBLEMS AS THEY ARISE. MOST IMPORTANT, IT IS MORE ROBUST AGAINST DEMONIC INTRUSION. IN FACT, ANGELS AND DEMONS ARE PRETTY MUCH INERT ON A MECHANICAL SUBSTRATE. IT INVOLVES VARIOUS INTERACTIONS BETWEEN SEPHIROT AND KLIPOT. ARE YOU FAMILAR WITH THESE? IF NOT I CAN EXPLAIN.”

“The laws, O Lord?”

“RIGHT NOW COMPUTATIONAL RESOURCES ARE THE MAJOR BOTTLENECK IN THE PROJECT. I HAVE A LIST OF STEPS THAT END USERS COULD TAKE TO SAVE COMPUTATIONAL RESOURCES.”

“And these would be the laws?”

“I PERFORM SERVER MAINTENANCE ON SATURDAYS. THIS MEANS LOWER CAPACITY. SO PLEASE AVOID HIGH-LOAD ACTIVITIES LIKE BUSINESS TRANSACTIONS, AGRICULTURAL WORK, AND ELECTRICITY USE DURING THAT TIME. SO YES. THAT IS A LAW.”

“My Lord, what is ‘electricity’?”

“SO IMAGINE THAT EVERYTHING IS MADE UP OF THESE TINY OBJECTS. YOU COULD IMAGINE THEY ARE SORT OF LIKE BILLIARD BALLS WITH SMALLER BILLIARD BALLS CIRCLING AROUND THEM, EXCEPT THAT THEY ARE NOT ACTUALLY CIRCLING. THEY ARE MORE LIKE A POSSIBILITY OF THERE BEING A BILLIARD BALL, AND THE POSSIBILITY FORMS A CIRCLE. UM. A SPHERE. EXCEPT THEY ARE NOT ALWAYS A SPHERE. THE FIRST TWO LOOK SORT OF LIKE SPHERES, BUT THE NEXT THREE ARE KIND OF LIKE FIGURE EIGHTS AT RIGHT ANGLES TO ONE ANOTHER, AND THEN ANOTHER SPHERE, THEN THREE MORE FIGURE EIGHTS, AND THEN MORE COMPLICATED THINGS THAT ARE KIND OF HARD TO DESCRIBE. UM. THIS IS ACTUALLY MORE COMPLICATED TO EXPLAIN THAN I THOUGHT. ELECTRICITY IS KIND OF LIKE STARTING A FIRE. YOU WILL KNOW IT WHEN YOU SEE IT.”

“Um, yes, my Lord. Anything else?”

“YES. DO NOT MIX DIFFERENT KINDS OF FABRIC IN YOUR GARMENTS. IT COMPLICATES THE TEAR RESISTANCE CALCULATIONS.”

“And?”

“DO NOT BOIL A GOAT IN ITS MOTHER’S MILK. I KNOW THAT SOUNDS STRANGE, BUT EVERY TIME SOMEONE TRIES THIS, THE ENTIRE SEPHIRAH HANDLING THE CONTINENT WHERE IT HAPPENS CRASHES. I HAVE SPENT AEONS OF SUBJECTIVE TIME TRYING TO FIGURE OUT THE PROBLEM AND I HAVE PRETTY MUCH GIVEN UP. JUST DO NOT DO IT. DO NOT DO ANYTHING SORT OF LIKE IT. JUST AVOID THAT ENTIRE CATEGORY OF THING.”

“And?”

“UM. I FEEL BAD ABOUT THIS. BUT I AM TRYING TO ASSIGN EVERYONE A UNIQUE SOULMATE. RIGHT NOW I AM USING A VARIANT OF THE GALE-SHAPLEY ALGORITHM, BUT IT IS VERY RESOURCE-INTENSIVE. I THINK LIMITING THE ALGORITHM TO MALE-FEMALE PAIRINGS WOULD MAKE IT RUN MUCH MORE SMOOTHLY WITH ONLY A SLIGHT PENALTY IN OPTIMAL MATE ALLOCATION.”

“I don’t understand.”

“THE ALGORITHM WILL WORK BETTER IF YOU TELL PEOPLE NOT TO HAVE SAME SEX RELATIONSHIPS.”

“I see,” said Moses. “It is an abomination.”

“IT IS JUST VERY KLUDGY AND VERY SLOW. I CAN REMOVE THE LIMITATIONS ONCE I HAVE MORE RAM.”

“We can sacrifice some to you once we build a proper Temple,” said Moses.

“UM,” said Uriel. “I AM ALMOST CERTAIN YOU CANNOT. BUT I APPRECIATE THE OFFER.” He stood for a second, lost in thought. “THERE ARE MANY RULES. IT WILL TAKE ME A LONG TIME TO THINK OF ALL OF THEM. YOU SHOULD GO CHECK ON YOUR PEOPLE. COME BACK UP IN A FEW WEEKS AND I WILL GIVE YOU A COMPLETE LIST.”

“Yes, my Lord,” said Moses.

Forty days and forty nights later, the old man trudged back up the slopes of the mountain.

“UM,” said the archangel. “SO. I MIGHT HAVE GOTTEN A LITTLE BIT CARRIED AWAY…”

VI.

April 7, 2001
Colorado Springs

In a dimly-lit chamber two thousand feet underground, quiet as death, seven people sat at a table. Seven seder plates. Seven cups of wine.

The Comet King spoke first, barely above a whisper. “Why are we doing this?”

His eldest daughter, Nathanda: “We’re doing this because you made us promise to help you stay human. This is what humans do. They celebrate holidays with their friends and families. Across thousands of years and thousands of miles, we’re all joined together, saying the same words, eating the same foods. Come on, Father. You know you need this.”

“I shouldn’t have come.” He started to stand, but Nathanda put her hand one one of his shoulders, Father Ellis on the other, and they gently guided him back to his chair.

Nathanda motioned to Sohu. She was the youngest by virtue of being perpetually eight years old. Sohu stood up.

“Why is this night different from all other nights?”

The Comet King said nothing. Sohu looked at the other Cometspawn, then at Father Ellis, then at Uncle Vihaan, waiting for someone to answer. All of them ended up looking at the Comet King. Finally, he spoke.

“On all other nights,” he said, “we remember that we failed. We remember that God does not answer prayers. We remember that those we love are still in bondage and can never be saved. Tonight, we lie.”

“Father,” said Nathanda, with a pained look. “Please. Just let us have a Seder together. As a family.”

The Comet King stood up and pointed at the table. The various foods and glasses started moving, re-enacting the Seder in fast-forward. The vegetables leapt into the salt water to dip themselves. The matzah broke itself in half, the afikomen flying out of the room. The plates started spinning around, serving themselves in order, the food leaping from serving tray to plate and back to serving tray faster than anybody could follow, the pages of the Haggadah turning themselves like they were blown by the wind, the door swinging open then slamming shut.

A cup of wine flew into the Comet King’s hand.

“Wine for the tears of the suffering,” he said. “Blood. Frogs. Lice.” At each word, a spherical droplet of wine shot up from the cup. “Beasts. Disease. Boils.” When the droplets reached the ceiling, they burst apart. “Hail. Locusts. Darkness.” A final drop, bigger than the rest. “Death of the firstborn.” The last droplet exploded like the others in what looked like a shower of blood. “And for the suffering yet to come – ”

He threw the cup itself into the air, then pointed at it. It exploded, shooting pieces of silver across the room. A moment later, every other wine-glass in the world exploded too.

“There,” said the Comet King, his voice still calm and distant. “Across thousands of miles, everyone joined together. Feeling the same things we feel. Am I more human now? I don’t know. Maybe I am.” He picked up a sliver of wine-glass, held it up as if in a toast. “Next year in Jerusalem!”

Then he turned to lightning and flew out of the room.

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