The West Jerusalem Road that led through Emmaus was busy. Travelers on donkeys and on foot sometimes competed for space in its narrower, winding parts. Merchants, seekers of the Emmaus warm springs for which the town was named, and those who would travel farther on the long walk or ride to Galilee. Travelers walking and riding to Jerusalem in the opposite direction were much the same, but among them was a very young, unaccompanied woman, a sack made from her shawl hanging heavily over her shoulder. Certainly the men and the few women accompanied by men paid her no mind or turned their face away for she was violating the law by being out in public. And they would not violate the law by acknowledging her and certainly not talking to her.
No one took much notice of two men walking together, talking quietly but earnestly to each other even when a third man joined them. Indeed, the two barely acknowledged the addition of the third. On they walked, finally all joined in conversation seeming to ignore the others on the road.
That is, until the young woman drew near them and wearily lowered her sack, then sat down beside it. Two of the three men paid no notice. The third stopped as the other two walked on. Other travelers, more intent on their destinations than either a lone, tired young woman or the breaking of the law, averted their eyes and moved on.
The third man not only looked in her direction, but crossed the road and stood before her. The other two men kept on walking and talking as though they did not notice his absence.
He looked down at her, his face sad, and shattered the law by addressing her in a gentle voice. “Is there no one with you, child?”
She kept her head down, trying to make her body smaller, less visible and available to blows, but shook her head no.
He asked, “Why do you travel alone?” Is there no one to accompany you? Where do you come from and where do you go?”
Moving slowly so he would not frighten her more, the man knelt before her so he was almost at eye level. She dared a glance at him. His gentle movements and the lack of condemnation in his soft voice gave her courage.
“My name is Batya bat Aaron, kind sir. I am coming from Bethlehem. I go to Jerusalem to find work.”
“Do you have no family to take care of you or travel with you?”
“Surely you have relatives.”
“What has happened to leave you so alone?”
“It is a long story sir. One that need not trouble you or delay you.”
“But it does trouble me, and I have all the time there is to hear it.”
She finally dared to look up into his eyes and somehow gathered courage from their gaze.
She even dared to ask him, “Why do you care?”
“Because I care.” The reply was short, but given in that voice that held attention without being loud.
“Do you know Bethlehem, sir?”
“Yes, although I have not been there in many years.”
“My father was a merchant. We had a small house and he used the cave behind it for storage. We were not rich, but not poor. My father had no sons but because he was of good standing I had many suitors. He became very ill the year was fifteen, and having no heir, a marriage contract was signed with Jacob ben David. Jacob was older by many years, but a kindly widower who also had no sons but a brother, Daniel. I liked Jacob and did not mind. Jacob had many fields of sheep and so he was able to pay the terms of the contract and we were married. It seems a long time ago although it was but two years past. I was content and looked forward to giving Jacob the son he did not have.”
She paused, her mind traveling back in time to when she and Jacob talked about their future life and she was protected and cared for. The man waited patiently almost as though he knew where her thoughts had gone.”
“Batya,” he said. She came back to the present and continued.
“A few months ago, Jacob began to feel weak, then developed a high fever. He died a month ago. My father had died just after the wedding, and with no other family, I went to Jacob’s brother. I expected he would take me into his household as is the custom so that I could bear a son and preserve Jacob’s name even though he had a wife. That was not to be. When I approached him, I was met with harshness. He made it clear he would not accept me because he did not want to see his own son’s inheritance, which of course had been increased by Jacob’s death, less by risking having another son and he did not need another woman to support in his household. At least he told me I could stay in the cave of my father.”
A look of compassion and sadness came over the man’s face as she continued.
“He treated me very badly and I was afraid of him.” Two days ago I could stand it no longer. I packed my few possessions and I am afraid stole some food and water. My plan was to go to Jerusalem and try to find a servant’s position in some household. Even if I am reduced to begging, it will be better than living in total fear of him.”
The man stretched out his hand and against all custom placed it gently on her shoulder. Even as frightened as she was, she did not try to avoid it and felt a calmness at his touch.
“That is a terrible risk, child. This is what you will do. You will go to Jerusalem to the small market just beyond the east gate. Just beyond the market, there is a house with a green door and a roof top room. If you cannot find it, ask. You will not be turned away from or denied. Knock on the door and ask for Joseph. No one will turn you away. When he comes, tell him that you are from Bethlehem and the one who was born there has sent him another daughter. He will take care of you and you will not fear again.”
She looked full into his eyes in puzzlement. “He will not turn me away?”
“No. He will not for he knows the one who is sending you.”
“Now I must go and once again join my other friends, for they also have a need I can fill.”
He waited until she picked up her sack, which now seemed much lighter and started toward Jerusalem. She took a few steps, then turned to thank him properly, but he was far ahead walking with his companions.