December 27, 2022

The Bubbel of Zitmah & the Mountain of Fire

By Ariel Abrahams

Ariel Abrahams (@peyos_maximus), image generated by Dream.IO, 2022
It should upset us all that any 
reputable news service should wonder, 
for even one second, whether floods and storms 
around the globe in our times are caused by 
climate change. To wonder is to waste time. 

There is nowhere to hide. Not only are our 
weather patterns caused by climate change, 
but one might say that everything we do— 
eating breakfast, 
sleeping with the AC on, 
going to work— 
is both caused by and is the cause of
climate change.

Try as we might to remove ourselves from 
the heat, fires, and floods 
by reporting on them (especially 
as they happen to other people) 
it must be understood that 
nothing is happening to “other people.”
There can be no together when there is no apart— 
together and apart both illusions, 
the truth lying in our decisions and actions 
each step of the way.

We are all to blame and we are all to suffer. 
In other words: where do you 
find yourself at this moment? 
The Bubbel of Zitmah finds himself 
lost and searching for answers.

From where do anxious thoughts arise? 
thought the Bubbel of Zitmah. 
To be seen nowhere, 
not on the roof of his father’s house 
nor under the Shabbos table. 
And yet . . . and yet. 
Across from his nose sat a groushveil, 
toothy and though completely naked, 
unmistakably disheveled.

“How can this be?” asked the Bubbel, 
“For isn’t this the house of my father, 
long deceased? And isn’t that the smell 
of my mother’s bulvitchille soup, 
and she long passed as well?”  
The house was sturdy as it had been 
during the summers and winters 
of the Bubbel’s youth. And yet 
only moments ago he was sitting 
alone under the desert moon.

If you must know, the truth is that 
the Bubbel had fallen asleep upon 
a pillow of small stones. And this, 
as you may have guessed, 
was his dream. 
But a dream is nothing to spit old grapes at. 
A dream is our connection to secrets of shamayim, 
in which shadows dance 
and fleeting notions rule 
with an iron fist.

“Ahha,” said the groushveil 
with no inflection at all. 
His face gray like stone. 
His tail stinking like rotten rhilstov.

“And whose clothes are these?” asked the Bubbel, 
increasingly concerned. 
“And I cannot move!” shouted the Bubbel, 
attempting to break free from 
the invisible chains that bound him.

“Ahha, aha,” said the groushveil 
with no inflection at all. 
His teeth glowing like the moon. 
His stomach full like the 
big, round sun.

The commentary suggests 
that one cannot enter into the mountain of fire 
without passing through many gates. This 
the Bubbel knew. And at the same time, 
without ever having passed through these gates before, 
the Bubbel did not know.

“I know you,” said the great Bubbel of Zitmah, 
“you are the Devil. For you dress 
and speak like the Devil, 
and you take me into memories 
as the Devil is said to do.” 

“Not the Devil, but a devil,” said the groushveil 
with no inflection at all, 
ears wiggling like small worms, 
chin pointing like a dirty icicle. 
“You and yours—always pronouncing the ‘the’ 
when an ‘a’ will do. As if 
you dress for a wedding 
while scuttling out in the middle of the night 
to piss. 
I have millions of brothers 
and billions of sisters.” 

“A devil,” repeated the Bubbel. 
At that moment thousands of tiny eyes 
peeked through the dark corners of his nightmare. 
Not one, but thousands. 
Never ‘the,’ always ‘a.’  Thousands, 
millions, billions. 
This was the Bubbel’s second great gleaning.

Distracted was the Bubbel, 
for a lesser deamon sitting beside him 
began to eat from the Shabbos table 
with great delight.

“Aha, hello!” said the small creature, 
kugel dripping out of its tiny mouth, 
“shalom aleichem to you, my friend!” 
The small creature put out a hand 
to shake that of the Bubbel 
while its other hand plunged into the 
white, creamy sauce that bathes the herring.

But the Bubbel did not want 
to shake the little hand. The lesser deamon, 
noticing the Bubbel’s reservations, said: 
“Don’t worry, my brother, everything here is free!” 
and accidentally knocked over a glass, 
which poured forth wine, 
which mixed with blood and fish sauce 
across the white tablecloth.

Upon waking 
the Bubbel of Zitmah 
thanked the ribono shel oylam 
for his wakefulness and prayed.

He had been sent by the village 
to find a cure 
for the changing weather.

Storms, floods, and drought, 
all at the wrong times.

Surely, said the old crones, 
a seer in the mountains will have an answer. 
Most certainly, said the young machers at 
Ziggfield’s sheteibel, 
a river sage would have a solution ready. 
And even a toddler had told him 
to get help from afar. 
Go, said Ruvkeh who was not yet able 
to drink from a cup. Go find us 
help in tall grasses, for there are 
bugs in the grass, and 
a bug can live forever! 
Who had told little Ruvkeh that 
a bug can live forever we will never know. 
But it was clear to the Bubbel that 
it was time to journey away from Zitmah 
to find a cure for his land and 
for his people.

For many days and many nights the Bubbel trekked. 
He stayed at dusty inns and 
avoided the glances of unbecoming nonbelievers. 
And soon enough he lost his map, 
which didn’t seem to be of help at all. 
And then one day, a bit drunk 
from a tall night with strangers 
(none righteous, but one must be merry 
on the Sabbath!) he stumbled upon 
the most curious thing. 
A mountain of fire.

There is no word 
for volcano 
in the Toreh, 
and so what stood before 
the Bubbel’s very eyes 
confounded him.

“Let me check my texts . . .” 
said the Bubbel 
to nobody in particular.

I will spend a moment now 
to give shape to our hero. 
The Bubbel’s beard was full but not overbearing, 
his nose pronounced but not obstructive. 
A young man on the verge of 
becoming middle-aged. The innkeeper’s wife 
had complimented his sincere and dumb smile. 
He wore a long gray coat and a large gray hat 
matching those in the fashion, 
and so too, his socks were 
charcoal black. His sidelocks were long and he 
wore no glasses as such things had not yet 
made it to the Hugpie Provence. He carried 
a full satchel. He was skinny and not strong, but 
his determination would carry him 
where his strength would not.

“Let me see, let me see . . .” said the Bubbel 
rummaging through pages of Talmud, 
Secrets of the Angels, 
and Pentateuch.

The sky was clear and birds glided overhead. 
No wind came to disturb his search. 
But the word could not be found. 
There were mountains, 
and there was fire, 
but no story or secret containing
one object that was
the combination of both.

“Well,” said the Bubbel, 
after many hours of study. 
“If I cannot find the word 
for what this is in the Toreh, 
then this thing simply cannot be!” 
And with that the Bubbel entered a cave 
at the foot of the volcano. 
You see, there were already 
footsteps leading in and it seemed 
the most sensible thing to do.

But alas! Upon setting his sights 
on the footstep path towards the mountain, 
the Bubbel found that his feet were entangled 
with snakes! Panic beset his nerves.

“Fergroshveight!” shouted the Bubbel, 
which was a bad word in 
every known language.

When is a bad word a good word? 
When the murderer was murdered? 
When the rapist was raped? 
When the arsonist was burned? 
When the drowner was drowned?

Soon it was clear: there were no snakes at all, 
only shadows from a nearby tree.
Upon realizing that the snakes were not 
snakes, he remembered each and every member 
of his village of Zitmah. Every man, woman, 
and child. Every dimple, eye, and grin. 
The memory was not clear, however, 
for all that he could remember 
was the image of their shadows.

At the base of the volcano it was hot. 
Hotter than the hottest day of harvest. 
The rocks looked to be smoking, 
and the air was like small knives. 
But as the Bubbel of Zitmah 
followed the footsteps into the cave 
at the base of the mountain, 
and as the light grew dimmer 
until it was all but completely gone, 
the air became cooler,
like a fresh drink. 
Cold borscht on a hot day 
can cure even the reddest boil, 
the old Zeydes of the village 
would say.

What does a young man do
in the depths of darkness 
underneath a flaming mountain 
without any light at all?

Follow his nose? 
Thought the young Bubbel for no reason at all. 
And at that moment the tail of a smell 
came to beckon him, first left and then right, 
then left and down, and then deeper down 
and spiraling as if down a stairwell without end.

And all through the journey 
the Bubbel never did stumble, for 
his feet were like foxes gliding 
through the meadow at dawn before 
the sun has risen to make demands of the day.

And the smell? What was it?

“Gut Shabbos, gut Yuntif . . .” gasped the Bubbel, 
in awe. Because yes, it was the smell 
of Yetzel’s cholent. 
Was it the fifth day of Shabbos already?

Believe you me, 
the Bubbel was surprised to find 
the deeper he went 
towards the smell of his youth 
the less of a Bubbel he knew himself to be.

The world expands 
without the use of our normal senses 
(of which the Rebbe of Nimno says 
there are only eight, but which the Rebbe 
of Glimlot refutes: we have at least twelve 
senses, as Jacob had twelve sons!). 
Deeper and deeper into the furnace 
under the hot and fiery mountain, 
and the Bubbel of Zitmah became 
an impression of himself.

He walked and walked, slid down rocky 
crags and loose stones. The smell of 
Yetzel’s cholent never diminished. It was 
an everlasting smell.

Without the use of one’s normal senses, 
time reveals itself to be a farce, 
and space reveals itself to be 
as present inside as outside, for 
there is no difference from the perspective 
of the dark.

Inside of what? 
Outside of what?

At once there was light.

Looking down onto his hands 
the Bubbel saw the long fingers of 
his mother, making waving motions before 
the Shabbos candles. 
His body was her body, 
his smell was her smell, 
his dream was her dream.

The sounds of the Shabbos candle prayers 
harmonized with a mewing of the cat 
who hid beside her house. At once 
the Bubbel (who was his mother) was the cat, 
seeking shelter from the cold. 
“I am hungry,” mewed the Bubbel, 
who was his mother, who was the cat. 
“I am thirsty for water or milk,” the cat cried out.

And then he was the grass all around the house. 
Brittle and sharp, yellow and white, 
dehydrated as dictated by the 
resources provided at this time of 
oylam’s journey round the sun. 
As the grass he swayed this way and that way, 
without exhaustion or care. I am the bowl 
that holds the food of birds, he thought cheerfully. 
I am the carpet that adorns the earth 
for the majesty of all those honored 
to walk, he thought joyously.

And then he was the sky, and not only the sky 
that we can see but the sky that we cannot 
see at all. Deep into the darkness, 
where the creatures who have no hands, 
feet, eyes, or ears reside, where there is 
not a neshomah for one thousand kilometers 
who has heard of Zitmah, or the story of 
the Exodus from Egypt, or of a Jew at all—ay voh! 
Yet even from the perspective of the sky, infinite and
everlasting, the smell of Yetzel’s cholent 
did not diminish.

This much was clear: the smell of cholent 
was here to stay.

“You will stay here,” said the Bubbel of Zitmah. 
“You will stay here,” said his very own mother.
“You will stay here,” said the cat who found shelter 
beside the house.
“You will stay here,” said the grass, who adorned the 
earth like a majestic carpet.
“You will stay here,” said the sky whose breadth knew 
no bounds.

And here the Bubbel did stay. 
Deep inside the heart of the fiery mountain, 
which the goyishe world demands to call 
a volcano, but has no place in the Toreh 
and so, is as invisible as the naked clothes 
of King Solomon, who was a good man 
for his time.

There is more to this story, 
as you might imagine is the case. 
From the perspective of the volcano, 
none of these events matter. Not the 
cholent, nor the Bubbel, 
nor the temperature. 
From the perspective of the volcano, 
there is no volcano, 
for where does a volcano start and end? 
At the smoke that drifts into the air 
and becomes a cloud 
which transfers rain 
and is drunk by animals and plants alike? 
Who then, is not a volcano? 
Worlds within worlds, 
thought the Bubbel of Zitmah, 
suddenly aware of the most important thing. 
And out from the top of his head 
shot a fountain 
of lava.

To view the original line breaks, this poem is best read from your desktop.

Ariel Abrahams is an Aquarius and a constant experimenter. He creates artworks as medicine that take form in group gatherings, long walks through the night, writing, drawing, sculpture, and sound. He has been a resident at greeceworks and Flux Factory. He currently spends his time learning from his one-year-old Zoey.