22nd February 1946.
They must have advanced the time of their departure, and perhaps the inhabitants of Engedi advised them to do so, because it is the dead of night and the moon almost full illuminates the town with a very bright light. The narrow streets look like silver ribbons lying among the cube-shaped houses and garden walls, the lime of which seems to have been changed into sculptural marble by the magic rays of moonlight. Palm-trees and other trees look mysterious, enveloped in the lunar phosphorescence. Fountains and rivulets are little waterfalls and diamond necklaces. And from tree branches nightingales pour forth strings of golden notes thus adding their wonderful voices to the gurgle of waters, which can be heard very clearly in the night.
The town is asleep. But there are some persons with Jesus, Who is departing. They are the men of the houses that gave hospitality to Jesus and His disciples and they have been joined by other people. The head of the synagogue is walking beside Jesus. Oh! He does not want to stop accompanying Him, not even when Jesus begs him to go back, before proceeding into the open country. They go straight towards the road leading to Masada, not the lower road along the Dead Sea, which I hear is unhealthy and dangerous at night; but to the internal one, built on the slopes, almost on the crests of the hills bordering the lake.
The oasis is wonderful in the lunar night! One seems to be walking in dream-land. Then the oasis comes to an end and palm-trees thin out. Then there is the real mountain, with its forest trees, its meadows and its slopes split by caves, like almost all the Palestinian mountains. But I would say that the caves are more numerous here and their strange mouths, long or flat, straight or slanting, round or like fissures, have a frightening look in the moonlight.
« Abraham, the road is farther down. Why are you climbing up, going the long way round, on this impracticable path?» says one of Engedi, warning the old head of the synagogue.
« Because I have to show something to the Master and ask Him to do one thing more, to be added to the great gifts He has already granted us. But if you are tired, go home, or wait for me here. I will go by myself» replies the old man, who plods on panting, along the difficult steep path.
« Oh! no! We will come with you. But it grieves us to see you tire so. You are breathless...»
« Oh! it is not the path!... It is something else! It is a sword piercing my heart... and it is hope swelling it. Come, my children, and you will see how much grief there was in the heart of the man who relieved all your sorrows! How much... not despair, certainly not, but... he who always told you to hope in the Lord Who can do everything, realised he could not possibly expect to have joy any more... I taught you to believe in the Messiah… Do you remember when I used to speak of Him without any fear, when I could do so without harming Him? And you would say to me: “What about Herod's slaughter?” Yes. It was a sore thorn in my heart! But I clung to hope with my whole being... I used to say: “If God sent His star to three men, who were not even from Israel, to invite them to worship the Child Messiah, and He led them by it to the poor house unknown to the rabbis of Israel, to the princes of priests and scribes, if in a dream He informed them not to go back to Herod, in order to save the Child, is it possible that, even with greater power, He did not inform His father and Mother to flee taking the hope of God and of man to a safe place?” And my faith in His safety grew stronger and was attacked in vain by human doubt and the words of other people... And when... and when the deepest grief for a father seized me... when I had to take a living being to the sepulchre and say to him: “Remain here as long as your life lasts... and consider that if the desire for your mother's caresses or any other reason should urge you towards the town, I would have to curse you and be the first to strike you and relegate you where not even my most desolate love could relieve you”, when I had to do that... I had to cling even more to my faith in God, the Saviour of His Saviour, and say to myself and to my son... to my leprous son... see?... leprous...: “Let us bow our heads to the will of the Lord and believe in His Messiah! I Abraham... you Isaac, immolated by disease, not by fire, let us offer our sorrow to have a miracle….”
And every month, at each new moon, when I came here secretly, laden with foodstuffs... clothes... love... which I had to leave far from my son... because I had to come back to you... my children... to my blind wife, to my feeble-minded wife, whom dreadful grief had made blind and dull... and I had to come back to my childless home... without the peace of reciprocal conscious love... and to my synagogue to speak to you of God... of His wonders... of the beautiful things He spread in the universe... and I could see with my eyes the corroded sight of my son... whom I could not even defend when I heard people speak ill of him, saying that he was an ungrateful son, or a criminal who had run away from home..., and every month, when making this pilgrimage to the sepulchre of my living son, as I was saying, I used to repeat to him, to encourage him: “The Messiah is on the earth. He will come. He will cure you….”
Last year at Passover, when I was looking for You in Jerusalem, during the short time that I was away from my blind wife, I was told: “He really exists. He was here yesterday. He cured also some lepers. He is going round the whole of Palestine curing, comforting, teaching.” Oh! I came back so quickly that I looked like a young man going to a wedding! I did not even stop at Engedi, but I came here and I called my son, my boy, my dying seed, and I said to him: “He will come!” Lord... You have done all sorts of good to our town. You are going away, but there are no sick people left... You have blessed even our trees and animals... And will You not... You have already cured my wife... but will You not have mercy on the fruit of her womb?... A son to a mother! Give back a son to his mother, You, the perfect Son of the Mother of all graces! In the name of Your Mother have mercy on me, on us!...»
Everybody is weeping with the old man who has spoken with such powerful and heart-rending feelings...
And Jesus clasps him in His arms, while he is sobbing, and He says to him: « Do not weep any more! Let us go to your Elisha. Your faith, justice and hope deserve that and much more. Do not weep, father! Do not let us delay any longer from freeing a man from such horror.»
« The moon is setting. The road is a difficult one. Could we not wait until dawn?» say some people.
« No. There are many resinous plants here around us. Pick some branches, light them and let us go» orders Jesus.
They climb up a narrow troublesome path; it looks like the dried bed of alluvial water. The reddish smoky torches crackle spreading a strong smell of resins through the air.
A cave with a narrow opening, almost hidden by thick bushes which have grown near the edges of a spring, appears beyond a narrow tableland split in the middle by a crevice into which flows the water of the spring.
« Elisha has been there, for years... awaiting death or the grace of God...» says the old man in a low voice, pointing at the cavern.
« Call your son. Console him. Tell him not to be afraid, to have faith.»
And Abraham shouts in a loud voice: « Elisha! Elisha! Son!» and he repeats his cry, trembling with fear because there is no reply.
« Is he perhaps dead?» some ask.
« No. Dead, just now, no! At the end of his torture! With no joy, no! Oh! my boy!» moans the father...
« Do not weep. Call him again.»
« Elisha! Elisha! Why are you not answering your...»
« Father! Father! Why have you come at this unusual time? Is mother perhaps dead, and you have come to...» the voice, which was previously far, has come nearer, and a spectre moves the branches concealing the entrance; a horrible spectre, a half-naked corroded skeleton... who seeing so many people with torches and sticks, imagines I wonder what, and withdraws shouting: « Father, why have you betrayed me? I have never left this place... Why have you brought people to stone me?!» The voice moves away and only the undulating branches are left to remind people of the apparition.
« Comfort him! Tell him that the Saviour is here!» urges Jesus.
But the old man has no strength left... He weeps desolately...
Jesus then speaks: « Son of Abraham and of the Father in Heaven, listen. What your just father prophesied, is now being accomplished. The Saviour is here and your friends of Engedi are with Him and the disciples of the Messiah have come to rejoice at your resurrection. Come and be not afraid! Come as far as the crevice, and I will come, too, and I will touch you, and you will be cleansed. Do not be afraid, come to the Lord Who loves you!»
The branches are shifted once again and the frightened leper looks out. He looks at Jesus, a white figure walking on the grass of the tableland and stopping at the edge of the crevice... He looks at the others... and especially at his father who appears to be fascinated and follows Jesus with his arms stretched out and his eyes staring at the face of his leprous son. He is reassured and comes forward. He walks with a limp, because of the sores on his feet... he stretches out his arms with their corroded hands... He comes before Jesus... He looks at Him... And Jesus holds out His beautiful hands, He raises His eyes to Heaven, He gathers, He seems to be gathering within Himself all the light of the infinite stars, shedding its pure brightness on the impure, putrid, corroded flesh that looks even more dreadful in the red light of the burning branches, which people are waving to give more light.
Jesus leans over the crevice, with the tips of His fingers He touches the tips of the leprous fingers and says: « I want it!», with such a beautiful smile that it cannot be described. He repeats: « I want it!» twice more. He prays and commands with that word...
He takes one step back opening His arms crosswise and says: « And when you have been cleansed preach the Lord, because you belong to Him. Remember that God loved you so that you might be a good Israelite and a good son. Get married and bring your children up for the Lord. Your very bitter bitterness has been cancelled. Bless the Lord and be happy!»
He then turns round and says: « You with torches, come forward and see what the Lord can do for those who deserve it.»
He lowers His arms, as open and covered by the mantle they prevented people from seeing the leper, and He moves aside.
The first cry is from the old man kneeling behind Jesus: « Son! Son! You are as handsome as when you were twenty years old. And just as healthy! Handsome, oh! you are more handsome now!... Oh! a board, a branch, something, that I may come to you!» and he is on the point of rushing forward. But Jesus holds him back: « No! Joy must not make you infringe the Law. He is to be purified first. Look at him! Kiss him with your eyes and with your heart, but be strong now as you have been for so many years. And be happy...»
In fact this is a complete miracle. It not only cured, but it restored what had been destroyed by disease, and the man, about forty years old, is as whole as if he had not suffered from any disease; he is only very thin, which gives him an ascetic fineness, which is not common but supernatural. He waves his hands, kneels down and blesses... he does not know what to do to tell Jesus that he thanks Him. At last he sees some flowers among the grass, he picks them, kisses them and throws them beyond the crevice at the Saviour's feet.
« Let us go! You people of Engedi, stay here with your head of the synagogue. We will go on towards Masada.»
« But you don't know... You cannot see...»
« I know the way. I know everything! Both the ways of the Earth and those of hearts, along which God and the Enemy of God pass, and I see those who accept the latter or the Former. Remain here with My peace! In any case it will soon be daybreak and with the burning branches we shall have light till dawn. Abraham, come here, that I may kiss you goodbye. May the Lord always be with you, as He has been so far, and with your family and your kind town.»
« Will you not come back to us again, Lord? To see my happy home?»
« No. My road is about to come to its end. But you will be in Heaven with Me, and your dear ones will be with you. Love me and bring the little ones up in the faith of the Christ... Goodbye to everybody. Peace and blessings to all those who are here and to their families. Peace to you, Elisha. Be perfect out of gratitude to the Lord. My apostles, come with Me...»
And He sets off at the head of the little procession, walking with burning branches held aloft. He turns round a projecting rock and disappears with His white mantle; then the apostles disappear one by one, the shuffling of their feet fades away, the reddish light of the branches vanishes...
Father and son remain on the tableland, sitting on the edges of the crevice, contemplating each other... Behind them, in a group, whispering their admiration, the people of Engedi... They await dawn to go back to the town with the news of the wonderful cure.