GOODMAN “J” by rabbi Jacob Ben Avraham
The evening was slowly making its appearance in the western sky. A few stars were already visible. A brisk autumn breeze was blowing, moving tree limbs back and forth, with brown, yellow, and red leaves falling gently to the ground.
The afternoon Sunday service was now ended at the White wood meetinghouse. The congregation members were slowly making their way back to their humble homes. One by one, families all left the meeting house. Husbands with wives and children, single folk, all had received a good lesson from the Good Book today. Indeed, the reverend Williams had preached long and well over the plan of salvation, the joys of heaven, and the horrors of hell fire. Unrepentant sinners would have to answer to their indifference, and the saintly folks would have happiness and bliss to look forward too.
Goodman “J” left the meeting house with the others, while walking towards the well trodden forest path that would lead him back to his humble house on the edge of Whitewood Township. “Yes” he thought, “the reverend Williams had indeed outdone himself today, a few people had stepped forward to repent of their sins and worldly ways, receiving a clear message from God’s holy writ.”
These were days of tension, of confusion and bitterness climaxed by mass superstition. Judges and magistrates were lead on by a group of young, hysteric girls. It was only two weeks ago in Salem town that 19 innocent townsfolk were condemned as witches by the honorable judges Danforth and Hawthorne, questioning the title “honorable”.
This group of restless young girls had been in the presence of Tituba, a negro servant woman, who perhaps being the only real witch had instigated wild and unruly thoughts in their minds. What could be worse than this group of wild girls lead on by the spirit of Beelzebub?
“Yes”, thought Goodman J “the devil was indeed loose in Salem and in the gullible minds of persons everywhere who were not grounded on the solid Rock of God’s Holy Writ”. It was sad to think that educated magistrates would fall prey to the whims of those girls. That resulted in the innocent hanging at the end of a hangman’s noose. Hopefully, the Rev. Hale would clear things up in Boston, bring the wrongdoing into the light of justice.
Goodman “J” continued to walk the forest path that would eventually lead to his humble home. He had often heard tales from the townsfolk about the forest being enchanted, wolves and other beasts howling at night. Even a bear or two pouncing on an unwary passerby, a disgruntled Wampanoag lurking behind a tree with a scalp in one hand and a bloodied tomahawk in the other. Goodman “J” however, paid no attention to the townsfolk tales. He had only encountered peace and tranquility during his many walks through the forest, going to and from the meetinghouse. He enjoyed watching and listening to the forest birds such as the crows, grackles, robins, jays, and cardinals. He would oftentimes leave behind bread crumbs and crushed corn. The squirrels and chipmunks would often follow him, expecting a morsel or two.
Goodman “J” was also popular with the town’s children. He would often sit under a tree and the children would gather around. He would then tell these precious little ones stories from the Holy Writ, from the Old testament and the New. He would also explain the Psalms and Proverbs giving vivid illustrations. Sometimes, he would take them on the same forest path and tell them about the animals of the woods, the plants and trees, and how the rains fell and made them grow. “All good things come from above” he often said, opening his arms and stretching them up toward the heavens.
As he walked along this late afternoon, the shadows grew longer as the evening slowly approached. About midway along the path, another path joined up bringing the two paths into one. One ran along side of Whitewood, the other leading to Salem. While Goodman “J” approached the spot where the two paths joined, he saw another figure walking on the other path. Soon, they were walking side by side. The other person was a man, clothed in the typical dark, puritan manner of dress. He also carried a walking staff that sported a skull carving on the handle.
This strange figure seemed to blend in with the shadows of the forest, and a cold, icy wind seemed to kick up around him. The two walked side by side for a few minutes in silence. At last, Goodman “J” broke the silence. “The minister preached a good sermon today, wouldn’t you say? Many hearts and souls were affected to say the least”.
“The minister is but a liar and a hypocrite, the town’s folk as well, the devil take them all”, replied the stranger with a scowl.
“Callest thou the Holy Writ of the Almighty a lie”, responded Goodman? “For out of His holy book canst only proceed words of truth.”
The stranger looked at Goodman, the evening shadows falling across the wrinkles of his brow. “And what is truth?” he responded with a sneer.
“Ah”, replied Goodman, “thou recallest the words of Pontius Pilate spoken so many eons ago.
“Ay” replied the stranger and it seemeth like only yesteryear that he thus gave the order to hold fast the Son of Man to the tree.
“Thou knowest” replied Goodman, his voice calm and serene. “And knowest thou also that the Son of Man did indeed arise from the dead according to Holy Writ.”
The stranger said nothing, but a heavy frown formed across his face, and the icy wind increased around him. The two continued to walk along the path together. Finally, the stranger spoke again,
“For sure the stones would have been better as bread”
“Yes” replied Goodman, “but only if thou value more the bread from the earth than the bread of life from above. That is the bread which givest real life unto man”.
The stranger continued to frown, as the gust of icy wind increasing even more, now accompanied by a scent of something burning. “Had the Son of Man jumped from the roof of the temple, for sure the holy angels would have prevented Him from striking the ground, and thus, many would have seen and believed”, the stranger’s eyes were now glued to Goodman’s face. Throughout all of this Goodman remaining calm, not saying a word but continued to walk along the forest path with the stranger.
Finally, Goodman spoke again, “Blessed art those who do not see, and yet believe”.
The stranger seemed more irritated now, the icy wind blowing up leaves and dust around him, “imagine the fame and power bestoweth upon the Son of Man, ruling over all the towns and cities of the colonies of America, and he needeth only to render a little homage to the Son of perdition.”
“Indeed” replied Goodman, “the whole world is of the Son of Man, but only in the Father’s perfect timing”.
“But to do a little homage… began the stranger.
“ENOUGH”, rebuked Goodman “J” looking straight into the eyes of the stranger. “Thou art an offense unto me. Depart from here father of lies”, he commanded. “Unto thy own way, and returneth not unto Salem nor set thy foot in Whitewood. Now go, for thou knowest thy time is limited.”
The two stood on the path facing each other. The stranger was now trembling with rage as he looked into the piercing eyes of Goodman “J”… eyes which spoke with command and authority. Finally, the stranger turned, and with a gust of icy wind and a scent of burning sulfur, left the trodden path and disappeared into the forest.
Goodman “J” continued on his way along the familiar path. The evening had settled in and the forest was now alive with the sounds of crickets, and an occasional hoot of an owl. The moon was still low in the evening sky when Goodman “J” arrived at his humble dwelling.
It was a small log home with thatched roof. There was a small kitchen near the hearth, a small bedroom with bed, table, and chairs. Outside, next to the house was a small carpenter’s shed with a few simple woodworking tools. There were some planks of wood leaning against the shed, and a few projects that he was working on for some customers in Whitewood. Not far from the shed there was a “water well” with a bucket and rope.
The long walk back to his house made Goodman thirsty. He was happy to be home, ready for a good night’s rest. But sadness was upon the spirit of Goodman “J” to think that there were so many people still given over to malice and deceit, and that they would follow the way of darkness instead of the light, following superstition instead of the truth.
If only they would listen to the voice of God, through his chosen ministers and his Holy Writ, and thus, rightfully dividing the Word of Truth. In the humble heart of Goodman “J”, he knew that in the future, more and more folks would come to know the truth, and to believe in him who spoke the truth.
“Yes” thought Goodman “J” as he stretched forth his hands to pull up a bucket of fresh, cool water, “the truth will for sure set people free.” And he cupped his hands to drink from the water, with the light of the moon shining upon the nail scars in his wrists.