The Morning Star
A Novel
By Meir Uri Gottesman

The Jewish novel of the year by bestselling novelist Meir Uri Gottesman, author of Deep Blue & The Harp: a gripping, breathtaking tale of powerful intrigue, contemporary characters & ancient secrets that span over 2000 years.

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SECRETS... The world is a forest of secrets; it trembles with dark secrets. You have your secrets and I have mine... I shall not ask you yours, nor shall I tell you mine. For if you knew my secrets you could gaze into the darkest chasms of my heart, see my pain, my fears, my dreams, my shame — I would have no place to hide from you. You have your secrets and I have mine, and no one knows — except the Holy One Himself...

Ayelet had her secret...

She was a brilliant young woman, with yichus, poise, and the beauty of a princess. In school plays, she was always the star, with her soft green eyes, flaming red hair, and a voice that touched the heart and made the mothers cry.

She began dating when she was nineteen — eight years ago. She met many excellent young men. Everyone wanted to see her again, pleaded to see her again. They called the shadchan and begged for a second chance. But there were no second dates. She refused.

The shadchanim were frustrated — even angry with her.

“Ayelet, what is the matter? Are you crazy? He is the son of so-and-so!

He is a great talmid chacham! He is a millionaire! Ayelet, please — they are all begging to go out with you again! They are so eager!”

And so it was, month after month. What was the matter with her?

Why did she turn everyone down? At first, Rabbi Shtayner left it in her hands — after all, he was a father, not a mother. As she grew older, he began remonstrating with her. When year followed year, he began pleading, begging her.

“Ayelet, Ayelet — why are you saying no to everyone?”

But she refused and no power on earth could move her.

And when they asked her, “Why, Ayelet? Why are you saying no? Do you not really want to get married, is that it?” she smiled and said: “I promise! I so much want to get married — but this young man is not for me.”

“Why not, Ayelet?”

She would not say, but responded enigmatically — “When it will be the right one, I shall know.”

Outside, she smiled, but inside she was sad. For she so much wanted to be married, be a true partner to her husband, to raise a family... But she had to wait.

For Ayelet had a secret.

Before she began dating, she went to a great tzaddik in Jerusalem. He was distantly related to her, of the holy Strelisker dynasty. He read her kvitel, Ayelet bas Miriam, and then stared into the little candle in front of him, the only illumination of the room.

“Ayelet, you have a very holy neshamah that your mother Miriam invested into you. You must marry only a neshamah that is from the highest realms, like yours.”

“How shall I know?” she asked.

The tzaddik gazed into the flickering candle and whispered: “You shall know, Ayelet, you shall know like my holy ancestor Uri of Strelisk knew! Reb Uri sought a Rebbe for himself. He traveled here and there, met many tzaddikim — but they were not his Rebbe. Then one day he saw Reb Shlomo of Karlin sitting on a rock...and he began trembling with fear.

“ ‘Here is my Rebbe,’ he said.

“You will know your basherter by his voice. When he will speak, his voice with pour through you like a wave and make you tremble. Until you hear that voice, it is not your basherter. But you must keep this sign only for yourself — his voice is only for you.”

And so, Ayelet began going out. They were all such wonderful, fine young men, talmidei chachamim. Some learned, some earned and learned, some were tall, some short, some handsome, some just...nice. Ayelet listened, listened. But she did not hear the voice that made her tremble.

Every day she prayed: “Ribono shel olam, how much longer must I wait? “ ‘Kol dodi hinei zeh ba... — The voice of my beloved, behold he comes, leaping over mountain, skipping over hills...’ Please, send him to me...”

There was a firm knocking at the front door. Yitzchak had had only a few hours sleep, and he dragged himself up into consciousness. He listened to the persistent knock, hoping it was just an animal or dripping water. It was too early for guests — it was still pitch black outside. The knocking grew louder. Yitzchak finally opened his eyes and swung out of bed. He quickly washed his hands, wet his eyes and, slipping into his sandals, went to the door.

“Who’s there?” he asked.

“Menachem,” a voice said.

Yitzchak removed the wooden bolt and opened the door. It was still night outside. Menachem slipped into the room quickly, shutting the door behind him. Although he could not see his face, Yitzchak knew he was agitated.

“What’s the matter?”

Menachem spoke in a whisper.

“There are two strangers out there, lurking in the courtyard. I don’t know who they are, but they are very big, dressed all in black like sheidim, even their turbans. I am sure they are armed. I don’t know how they entered with the gate locked. When I approached one and asked why they were in our courtyard, he wouldn’t answer. He just demanded: ‘Which is the house of the brit milah today?’ He was so fierce I was afraid not to answer. I pointed out your house. After that, he wouldn’t speak. He stood there like a stone, his face set. When I tried to ask him again, his companion started heading in my direction. I ran off and came straight here. Yitzchak, do you know what’s going on?”

“No,” Yitzchak whispered. “Where are they now?”

“They’re in the corners of the courtyard, one on each side — like sentinels.”

“I’m going out to them,” said Yitzchak.

“Don’t,” whispered Menachem anxiously. “They look very fierce.”

“This is our courtyard, not theirs! If they are asking about me, then it is my business and I want to know why. Go back home now, Menachem, your wife is probably worrying about you.”

Yitzchak wrapped a thick waistband around his shirt, carefully slipping a short, keen blade inside his sash. He threw on his robe, concealing his waistband. He opened the door and checked the courtyard. The intruders were barely visible, lurking in the shadows of the courtyard walls. They were dressed all in black, rendering them almost invisible.

What did they want from him?

Yitzchak strode towards the intruder standing motionless to his right, trying not to show fear. The dark-garbed stranger saw him and lowered his hand to his side, near his sword. Still, Yitzchak did not slacken his pace.

The intruder stepped forward.

Yitzchak stopped a few cubits before him. “Boker tov,” he called.

The visitor stared ahead without answering. Yitzchak drew closer, and the intruder’s hand tightened over his sword. Yitzchak’s knife was no match.

Yitzchak drew up to the stranger. He was almost a head taller than Yitzchak, and his large turban made him seem even more enormous.

“I am making the brit milah today,” he said. “I heard you were asking about my house. Why?”

For the first time, Yitzchak could make out his features.

“Aren’t you Assaf?”

The stranger’s rigid gaze eased slightly, but still he looked straight ahead.

“Yes, I am Assaf, who are you?”

“Assaf! I am Yitzchak ben Uri! We once lived in the same chatzer together! My father was your teacher — do you not remember?”

The intruder’s stern visage suddenly softened. He looked at Yitzchak directly and then almost smiled.

“Yitzchak ben Uri! Are you mixed up in all this? Out of all Jerusalem?”

The other intruder suddenly appeared close behind, and Yitzchak was pinned between the two giant warriors.

Assaf signaled to his companion.

“It is all right, Kehat, I know him! The brit will be in his house. Go back to your post.”

Yitzchak watched the other man retreat to the other side of the chatzer. He turned to Assaf.

“Assaf, don’t you remember me? I was a child when you were a young man. When did you get so tall? What is this all about? What do you mean that ‘I’m mixed up in all this business.’ What business? I’m not mixed up with anything!”

Assaf sneered. “Well, you are having some very important guests today, whether you know it or not! I am one of the Levite guards in the Mikdash assigned to the High Priest’s council. We were sent here to watch everyone who enters the courtyard, to make sure it’s safe.”

“But who is coming from the Mikdash?” asked Yitzchak. “That I can’t say.”

“You don’t know?”

“I said I can’t say. I’m not allowed to say. Listen, you don’t understand. No one is safe in Jerusalem anymore! Those sicarii assassins are especially... Listen, no one important can go outside without protection. I can’t tell you who is coming, but no one enters this chatzer unless we see who it is!”

The first gray streaks of dawn lightened the sky. Soon the guests would begin arriving. Yitzchak retreated slowly.

“I have to go inside now, Assaf. I don’t understand what all this is about. All I wanted was a quiet simchah.”

Assaf resumed his fierce pose, staring at the chatzer entrance in silence.

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