In a Pillar of Cloud

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Written by Andrew Ramer. Andrew Ramer, an experienced Jewrotica writer, is an ordained maggid (sacred storyteller) and the author of numerous books and articles including Queering the Text: Biblical, Medieval, and Modern Jewish Stories. He has just completed a lyrical, apocalyptic story-cycle, When People Still Lived on the Earth, about how we destroyed this lovely planet, and what happened to us afterwards, in heaven.

For more writing by Andrew, check out Licked in Brooklyn, Lecha Dodi, Ritual Observance and How I Wrote For Unexpected Intimacy.

[Editor’s Note: This piece is a romantic reinterpretation of Biblical figures. Consider this a potential trigger warning for more traditional readers.]

“And when Moses entered the Tent, a pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the Tent, while He spoke with Moses. When all the people saw the pillar of cloud poised at the entrance of the Tent, all the people would rise and bow low, each at the entrance of his tent. God would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another. And he would then return to the camp, but his attendant, Joshua son of Nun, would not stir out of the tent.”

– Exodus 33:7-11

Rated PG-13Moses pushed aside the opening to his tent, as the lapis sky of night gave way to sapphire. His worn robe flapping on burly legs, Moses raced toward the Tent of Meeting. The camp was still quiet. Here and there, women and girls were squatting next to small fires, to prepare their meager meals. At the far end of the camp a baby was crying. In the hills a wild dog began to bay, and a second one answered.

Caleb was sitting in front of his small tent, watching the sun rise up over the distant hills, as Moses strode by without seeing him. “So it’s true,” Caleb said out loud, as the older man passed, his sandals slapping on sand. Two days before, when Caleb approached the altar to offer his sacrifice to Aaron, the men who were gathered there stopped talking. He knew they’d been talking about him, and about Moses and Joshua. Joshua, who no longer looked at him the way he used to, who pulled back the last time Caleb reached out to touch him. He’d wanted to believe Joshua when he said it was because Moses had asked him to move into the Tent to be its guard, that it was a time of purification. No, he had believed him, in his mind, but not in his body. And now, at sunrise, watching Moses race toward the Tent, smiling, every part of him knew the truth.

Rage washed through Caleb’s body. He had lost Joshua, his friend, lover, his brother of the heart. There was a large stone lying at his feet. He bent, grabbed it, and hurled it into the air, down the path that Moses had taken. “I’ll get him back,” he shouted in his mind. “And when I do, old man, we’ll leave you in the dust! We’ll dig your grave and bury you where no one will ever find you!” But as the stone flew from his hands, so too did his rage. He collapsed into himself, fell to his knees in the barren earth, and began to sob, doubled over, his face buried in his hands.

Through the opening to the Tent of Meeting a column of incense rose up, snaking its way into the clear morning sky. Like a branching tree the incense spread, like a billowing vertical river. Moses saw it rising as he slipped off his sandals, bowed, and entered the tent. And in the Tent of Meeting, the young man Joshua stood before the golden incense altar, his hands stretched toward the burning coals and the silver rising cloud of fragrant offering. Incense filled the holy place as Moses stepped closer to the spirit-filled youth, just as his father-in-law Jethro had stepped toward him, smiling, all those years ago. And the two of them embraced there, Moses and Joshua, forming a new link in the chain of transmission, older to younger, generation to generation. And the cloud surrounded them and enfolded them, until the two became one, one in the presence of the One who created us all.

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