I Dreamed I Saw Grandpa

Rav Tsair with Abigail, age 10

I Dreamed I Saw Grandpa

Let me make this clear: my family did not go in for paranormal visitations.  They lived in the same world of hard knocks and occasional fun we all share.  And, though I was close to grandpa, he’s never showed up in a dream of mine – not before he died and not since.

Let me explain who and what he was, a little.  He was tall, white-bearded when I knew him, and had the sad, seen-it-all-at-least-two-times-over Jewish eyes, as well as tremendous personal vibrancy and humorous resilience.  His name is on a street in Jerusalem.  Though he didn’t over-value it, he also had a German doctorate in Judaica.  Without presuming to say who’s ahead on points, or ahead in whose eyes, he was one of the greatest Talmudists of the 20th century, by any measure.  When I was a younger woman, and feeling smart-alecky, I used to refer to him as the “king of the Jews.”

What was he to me?  He was the living, breathing validator of the Jewish purchase on reality.  The covenant is actual, the Bible is historical, or kinda historical, and this is as true as true gets.  You need not look any further.

In after years, I did a lot of looking further, naturally.  There were other religious vantage points to try out.  There was atheism, psychoanalysis, Marxism and the deathless philosophic lineage that Plato set in motion.  But always, under everything, my grandfather’s sad eyes – that had been there and back.

Still, I never dreamed of him after he was gone, nor thought of him particularly – except as a bulwark against anomie (directionlessness).  I had, in him, an unshakable point of departure and return.

Anyway, all of a sudden, there he was.  In my dream.  He showed up in the midst of a place without any particular architectural distinction.  It was not a landmark place.  It did not nestle in a larger landscape.  It was just some unadorned rooms, painted a pale blue color, where many people congregated, rather aimlessly, it seemed.

I knew that my mother (middle-aged in the dream, though she lived to be older than that) was about to arrive on the scene and I hoped she would get there in time to see her father again.

But then, unaccountably, their hoped-for reunion seemed to fall through, because he died. I would have to tell her that he died.  Meanwhile, without tears or ceremony, I simply lifted up his dead body and carried it to a private room, like a hospital room, a place where his body could be seen by her in a more fitting style.

However, by the time mother reached his room, the situation had changed.  Grandpa got up again.  He’d been dead, so this counted as a resurrection.  I thought this remarkable enough to warrant broadcasting and went to find the aimlessly milling crowds to tell the news to my co-religionists (as I now realized they were).

“My grandfather,” I buttonholed one after another, “resurrected himself.  He was dead, but he got up.  He’s not dead any more!”

You would be amazed how little stir this caused.  Everyone I talked to was busy with Politics – with the causes of the day.  No one cared about a resurrection.

I went back to the room where my grandfather had been.  He was dressed as he used to be, was as much taller than me as he used to be when I was a child, though in my dream I was a grown person.  He wore his usual suit, with matching vest and gold watch and gave me his sympathetic attention as I told him about the lack of interest of my co-religionists in his resurrection.

“There’s a proof-text in Halacha for resurrection, isn’t there?” I said to him, by way of justifying my own focus on this event.

He gave me a very humorous look and quirked an eyebrow (or gave a wink) at my recourse to the Hebrew term “Halacha” (Jewish law) and the term of art, “proof-text.”

His humorous look took in the fact that Hebrew is hardly my language, that Halacha comprises millennia of texts, scroll on scroll, of which I had read not a one in the original, that “proof-text” alluded to thousands of years of Jewish argument and counter-argument, of which I knew not one at first hand – but that I too, the grandchild he loved, had hitched a ride on this ancestry, this lineage, this indissoluble reality – and

he didn’t see a problem.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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