The Shadow of a Flying Bird
Gerstein (The Story of May, 1993, etc.) explains that this tale of Moses's surpassingly reluctant and argumentative passage into heaven is from a Midrash (a text using biblical legends to teach a moral lesson') and that his source was a translation from a 500-year-old Kurdistani manuscript. As his people are about to enter the Promised Land, God summons Moses's soul. Moses objects ("Why now?...My hundred and twenty years seem like one short day'') but is finally convinced that nobody lives forever. Then the angels demur: How can they take the soul of God's greatest prophet? Only the Angel of Death is willing, and he is so evil that a wrathful Moses drives him away. Finally, God himself takes the soul and then weeps ("Whom will I love as well?''). He is comforted by all the "blissful souls'' in heaven: "His soul will be with you forever and always.'' Gerstein surpasses himself in glorious paintings of shadowy blues, rusty flame, and luminous light hues. His angels recall both ancient Middle Eastern sculpture and Chagall's aerial musicians, while God's presence is rendered in stars, clouds, and pure light. Lyrical, comic, cosmic, and deeply touching.