There’s a big hole in my bathroom ceiling. The carpenter punched through it to determine whether the beams can support my husband’s latest building project – a little terrace. I was never a builder – I was more of … Read More
There’s a big hole in my bathroom ceiling. The carpenter punched through it to determine whether the beams can support my husband’s latest building project – a little terrace.
I was never a builder – I was more of a hole digger. My mother gave us spoons and we sat in the dirt, poured water on it to soften it up, and dug. Sometimes, we placed sticks across our hole and then it was a prison or a moat. This could entertain us for hours. In retrospect, I seriously don’t know what the draw of dirt was, but if one of my siblings said, "You wanna go dig holes?" I trotted out happily, spoon in hand.
A few hours after my discovery of the hole in the ceiling, daddy calls me and we talk about my son, Daniel’s, class trip to Israel which leads, logically, to a discussion of King Herod and the 600-ton stones that were used to build the Wailing Wall. "It’d be hard to build that today," daddy says. "With all of our technology, can you imagine how hard it was back then?"
"Slave labor," I say.
"But still," he argues, "that’s not easy. I’d like to know how they did that."
Daddy was a construction worker for many years, and when we’re in the car, he will marvel at the engineering know-how that created bridges. When he visits New York City, he likes to talk about the Lincoln Tunnel and how difficult that was to dig through. He once offered a quick tutorial as to why water pools in the gutters in New York City and spills over into the streets – "They keep repaving the roads, so they get higher and higher, and in some places, they almost reach the top of the curb, so then there’s no place for the run-off to go."
While I don’t share my father’s fascination with run-off, we are both passionately interested in King Herod’s shenanigans, and so we spent some time talking about the 600-ton rocks and daddy references an article about Herod in the National Geographic which we’ve both read. Herod was a big builder. In addition to expanding the second temple, he created the town of Caesarea, built a fortress on Massada and his winter palace in Herodium, and constructed the enclosure for the tombs of the patriarchs and matriarchs in Hebron. Herod’s tomb was recently discovered, which brings to mind King David’s tomb. "Wasn’t it looted?" daddy asks.
I reply that according to Josephus, it was looted by one of the kings before Herod. "And then years later, when Herod needed money for all of his building projects, he supposedly went to David’s tomb in the middle of the night and took out some gold furniture. But he wanted to go further into the sepulcher to reach David and Solomon’s bodies, so he sent two of his guys ahead, but they were killed. I think Herod sealed it up then, and nobody really knows where David’s tomb is."
In the half second of silence, I imagine that daddy sympathizes with Herod. Put him in David’s tomb and, while I doubt he would have tried to steal a march from death by carting off the furniture, I guarantee that after daddy inspected the beams and stones and ceiling, he would have edged his way closer to the bones. As would I.
In the afternoon my sister, Sarah, calls and I casually mention my husband’s proposed terrace. Sarah confides that her husband is always on a building mission: a basement that needs to be converted into a media room, a sauna, a second garage that houses his pool table… "It’s men," she informs me with absolute conviction. "They’re like dogs – they have to mark their spot." This theory – that building or constructing is akin to male dogs peeing in order to establish ownership of a tree – makes sense to me. I’m comforted that my husband simply suffers from a biological, y-chromosome-linked compulsion. It’s then that I make the connection between my husband and King Herod, to which Sarah replies, "I hope he likes his wives better than Herod did," which has both of us snickering. Herod suffered from Henry VIIIth tendencies.
I’ve always found it ironic that the Wall that Jews pray at in Israel was simply a retaining wall and was built by a bloody, ruthless king who, (and I’m going to come across as a hypocrite here, as a convert myself, but I’ll say it anyway), was descended from an Arab mother and an Idumaean father who converted to Judaism. Herod was probably always overcompensating, trying to prove that he was legitimately Jewish and was therefore entitled to run a Jewish country: A temple to God? I’ll build you a temple! (Some would say that joining the Sisterhood Board of my temple is an act of overcompensation on my part, but it’s turned out, to my pleasant surprise, to be a different kind of building – building a community.)
Not only don’t I see the Wailing Wall as being sacred, but I think it’s verging on sacrilegious to idolize these 600-ton stones stuck together not by mortar but by slaves. I don’t see the Wall as being a special "home" in which God can dwell. I see it as a man’s very human attempt to build up, to mark his spot before he descends into his own spoon-shoveled hole in the earth that awaits everyone.
That night, I step on stray bits of plaster on the bathroom floor with my bare feet. I look up at the hole in the ceiling. "Dogs," I think.