The Jewish people is a nation of fabulists. Jewishness is about knowing how to thread stories together on very long strings. Jewish religious thought is not solely an exercise in law or philosophy, but is often aggadhic or narrative in form1From the biblical stories of Esther and of David and Goliath, the talmudic tales of the Witches of Ashkelon and Solomon and Asmodeus, to the tales of enchantment and wonder attributed to the nineteenth-century hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav,2imaginative, often allegorical interpretations of biblical texts and the use of universal motifs of folklore are an integral part of Judaism’s sacred and secular cultural tradition. It is a maaseh - a traditional Jewish tale, often in the form of an allegory, combining universal fairy-tale, magical and religio-mythical elements3- that I now offer by way of a conclusion to the preceding chapters. Theology is a work of the religious imagination presented as an argument both supported by tradition and challenging tradition. In this book about seeing and presence it seems right that the imagination - the factory of images - should be given the last words.
One cold, silent winter’s day a princess was out walking in her garden when a bird flew over the wall, alighted on a branch and began to sing to her. His song told the princess that in many of the lands where her scattered people lived, their holy places and books were alight and they themselves killed, imprisoned or in hiding. At this the princess wept for her people and for herself because she knew that she must leave the castle and its beautiful gardens and travel through the mountains and forests to find them.
Her betrothed - a long-widowed king - loved her dearly and refused to let her go. They quarrelled for a day and a night. She accused the king of turning his back on the people in their hour of greatest need and of forgetting their centuries of loyalty to his causes. She begged him not to abandon them but to remember the days of old when, little more than a boy, he would travel through the land in a tent: a nomad king always in the midst of his wandering people. He, in turn, warned her that for a woman of her standing to journey alone through the villages and fields would dishonour the glory and prestige of the royal house. He begged her to first let his ministers see what they could do. She was too young and too tender-hearted to worry her head with such horrors. She must forget that