The Desert is the Sahara. It is the largest desert in the world and runs across northern Africa, separating the people of the North from Sub-Saharan Africans. People who have very different languages and cultures.
The Mountain is in the Atlas mountain range in Morocco. It is a Jbel (Peak or mountain in Arabic) that soars high on the edge of the desert. It blocks the sandstorms of the Desert from coming into the rest of the land.
The Pomegranate is a special pomegranate that never dries out, and each one of its seeds has magical qualities. The pomegranate that was transported to the Desert and crossed the Mountain.
We all stood quietly waiting for the storyteller to tell us the whole story. Now that he had outlined the main characters in the narrative, we would understand what he was going to tell us next. The stories I heard during summer nights at Djama el Fna, in the heart of Marrakesh, were popular and improvised. Sometimes they had drums to punctuate the drama, or special lights. However, rumor had it this storyteller was different from the others, his stories changed people in a secret way.
Deep in the gleaming desert of the Sahara was a red juicy pomegranate with exactly 613 seeds. You should know that 613 is a special number, it adds up to ten, six plus three plus one, and ten is really one plus zero, which makes One. This is what our Rabbis taught us, this is the One of our Creator. In the variety and multiplicity within the fruit we are shown the unity of all of creation.
Six hundred and thirteen is also the number of commandments that our Creator has asked us to fulfill throughout our lifetime as Jews. I try very hard to fulfill all the commandments that I can, but there are some, like the commandments surrounding the sacrifices at our holy Temple in Jerusalem, that I can’t do. Actually nobody can do them because the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed thousands of years ago.
I am a Berber Jew living on the edge of the Sahara. I live on a high mountain that overlooks the sandy plain. My ancestors came from Jerusalem after the destruction of the First Temple in the sixth century B.C.E. They crossed the sandy, hot desert on a trade route. Their caravan traveled only during nighttime and early morning hours. They were guided by the position of the stars in the night sky as they crossed miles and miles of sand dunes. They guarded their skin with light swaths of cloth draped around their bodies, head and face. This protected them from the sun, the wind, the sand and the bugs. They ate dates, figs and nuts that they brought with them on the caravan. When they could, they ate small pieces of dry cured meat they had brought along too. The voyage took months and was arduous.
They decided to settle high in the Atlas Mountains in what we call Morocco today. The mountain (Jbel) they chose had streams and an oasis. There was already a small settlement there, and they welcomed everyone who would help them tame the land.
Now it’s been thousands of years since my family arrived to this mountain, and we feel like we are a part of it. My name is Moses and my father’s name was David, his father’s name was Moses and we go back like that until the beginning of time. We are born out of this land. The trees know us, the grass knows us, the streams know us, the rocks know us. We are as much a part of this mountain as they are.
When the Pomegranate came to the middle of the Desert, I could sense a difference in the air. This red juicy fruit was hardly ever found in our vicinity. We usually had prickly desert fruits. We also had date palms. But pomegranate trees? Not one could be found for miles and miles. This was a lost memory from the time when our family lived in the land of Israel.
I first heard about the Pomegranate from a Tuareg man called Mohammed who came to the Mountain. He had crossed the Desert and stopped at an oasis on the desert floor before coming up the Mountain. It was there that he heard about the magical Pomegranate. In the center of a tent hung with animal skins and women’s woven carpets there was a gleaming red fruit. People said it could make 613 miracles, one for each of its seeds. Mohammed, dressed in his flowing blue robes and blue turban had gazed at the fruit and understood its value immediately. He was one of the many Muslims of this land who knew about Jewish traditions because he and his family had been intertwined with our history for years.
Meanwhile, I was on the Mountain, wondering what the new feeling in the air was all about.
The storyteller paused for a minute, taking a sip from his mint tea and clearing his throat. Everyone shifted, people coughed, I murmured a question to my neighbor—so, what would you ask for?
That evening Mohammed came to see me. He said he wanted to buy some spices from us. We sat quietly on the carpets we had laid outside the house. It was a clear starry night, and I asked him to tell me about his latest adventures through the Desert. I saw him twice a year, and he usually had at least one or two good stories to tell. Camels, trade routes, oasis gossip, weather patterns and of course we always talked politics.
This time though, he was unusually quiet. I knew there was something on his mind, and he would tell me when he had finished turning it around in his head.
We had a late meal in a large dish we shared. We balled up the food in our fingers and popped the delicious morsels of couscous, meat and vegetables and later washed it all down with tea.
Mohammed started telling me of a girl he had seen. Her name was Leila. She was veiled so he couldn’t see her face, but her black sparkling eyes had spoken to him. It was her eyes that had stayed with him. They were rimmed in kohl and they flashed into him when he saw her. Leila’s brother was Mohammed’s brother-in-law. His sister was married to her brother. He had first seen her at their wedding.But this wasn’t what was making his mind turn that night.
In the quiet silence of the Desert one becomes attuned to shifts, changes, movements and sounds. He was sitting there, slowly taking in the milky swath of stars that conglomerates in the night sky when there is no city for hundreds of miles. And he seemed to be appraising the rate of change in the stars tonight as compared to other nights in the past.
I couldn’t understand why Mohammed would want to do this, but it seemed to me that it was related to the thought he kept on turning around in his mind that he was still not ready to speak about. Patiently, I waited.
Mohammed started speaking about the possibility of time expanding and contracting according to our perception of it.
I agreed! Isn’t it interesting how sometimes time flies by and other times when you’re bored it inches by millisecond by millisecond? Mohammed said that time actually does change, that it is a lot more malleable than what we think. Time can actually be shrunken, stretched, shortened and manipulated. When we know how to do this then we can understand how to be masters of the limitless. We can mold time like a ball, in our hands. It is a lie that has been taught to us that we are limited by time, that we are slaves of time.
‘But how can I break out of the idea that constricts my mind into thinking that I am limited by time,’ I asked Mohammed.
This is when he looked at me with a glint in his eye.
What secret would the storyteller tell us? I had heard about this storyteller and the magical power in his tales. People said that when you listened to his stories whatever happened to the characters would actually happen to you too. Could I learn how to mold time like a ball in my hand? I looked outside the small circle that had formed around the storyteller. There were hundreds of people, but only a precious few of us would hear his secrets and be transformed. Like with any mystical transformation, it usually happens in full view of others who can’t see it.
Mohammed said that the world is a combination of lines and circles. It’s how we combine the lines and circles that moves us forward, or makes us stagnant. This is how people survive when they cross the Desert. The Desert is one long line. The Mountain is another line but going perpendicular to the Desert. In this part of the world, we are surrounded by lines.
He continued, ‘I saw an amazing circle in the heart of the Desert, a red juicy fruity circle. I understood that this Pomegranate is the secret to breaking open the boundaries of time. This circle is full of smaller circles. It has four circles within the One. The red outer cover, then a white inner filmy cover, then a red meaty juicy cover, and finally the circle of the seed itself.’
I realized that four stands for the four directions: North, South, East, West. So, within these four circles, there are also four lines: the directional lines. And if we add the four circles and the four lines together we have the number eight. In Judaism eight is the number that symbolizes anything that is above or beyond nature. Seven is the weekly cycle and the symbol of the natural order of things, eight is one beyond that, going beyond that artificial box of time we call the week. That is the space where we can mold time. How could we own the power of the circles and lines that intertwine in the pomegranate?
We could go to the tent and take a seed, or more than one seed, or the whole fruit. Mohammed wasn’t sure what to do.
To own the power of molding time was almost too good to be true, and it seemed like having the magical power of the pomegranate seeds would help me mold time! The voices of desire and power spoke in my head struggling to control my thoughts. I started to picture how I could control my future and that of those around me if I were master of the limitless. Desire and excitement welled up in me and threatened to destroy the inner peace for which I have always felt grateful.
Then, I heard the voice of the Mountain.
‘Come on Moshe, who are you kidding? I have lines and circles too; I am a line up from the desert; however every particle of dirt on me is a circle. Billions of small circles stacked on each other make me into a powerful mountain. Maybe all the billions of circles that form me also add up to One.’
Then I heard the rumbling of the Desert.
‘Moshe, just be. I am also a line made of sand circles. You, Moshe, are a line made of lines and circles. If you can internalize the essence of circle and the essence of line, you will have access to the wisdom in all lines and circles. You won’t need to possess any single thing in the world, not even the most magical seeds of the red juicy pomegranate to be able to control or mold time. It is all inside of you. You must go deeply into yourself and be the essence of line and be the essence of circle. You will then understand the pomegranate’s mystical power, and you will be master of time.’
The storyteller had picked up his speed, the intervals of his inflections were wider and the flash in his eyes had intensified. I felt that I had been spun tightly into his story-web, and I promised myself to just be and meditate on the lines and circles that are me. Maybe I too could merit being a master of time.
Then, I heard the sweet soaring voice of the Pomegranate.
‘Moshe, your ancestors all knew the secret of the pomegranate’s lines and circles. You have it inscribed in your bones and sinews. That was the most precious secret they carried from the Holy Land across the Desert to the Mountain. It was the mysterious mystical knowledge that the Jews brought to the Maghreb after the Destruction of the Temple.’
I looked over to where Mohammed was sitting, still observing the stars in the wide night sky. He looked over to me, and we both understood that we would be masters of time. But we would only be granted that gift if we understood how to feel that we were the smallest particle in creation. Only by complete humility and self-nullification would we be able to enter time. This was the secret knowledge locked in the seeds of the Pomegranate.
The storyteller’s voice had dropped to a whisper. People dropped coins in a basket at his feet and quickly dispersed. There was a small breeze touching my cheeks, I walked towards the food carts and stopped to get a bag of toasted melon seeds. I couldn’t hear the roar of people, music and activity at Jama el Fna tonight. I sat at a café to sip tea and felt myself disappear, sucked into the tea glass.
Copyrighted text. Can only be used with written permission from Gaon Books.