From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

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Fiction

A True and Certain Proof of the Messianic Age, With Two Lemmas

Once upon a time, in the dark ages before the singularity, there was a fox who, while walking its way along a riverbank, saw a great big bevy of catfish fleeing in a panic this way and that. Curious, the fox called out to the fishes, saying, “Good fishes of the stream, I see you fleeing in a panic this way and that. I do not wish to interrupt your suffering, but I am curious and as a fox I must follow my curiosity: Surely, there must be some great evil from which you are fleeing?”

Most of the fishes were far too panicked to respond to the fox’s entreaty, but one of them—who was the wisest of the fishes, or who at least was a wise fish, or who at the very least was a fish with a high degree of unearned confidence—replied, saying, “Cousin fox, you are correct. We are fleeing from a great evil indeed! The people of this land cast their nets down into the stream, ensnaring both the young and the old, the wise and the foolish, the wicked and the kind.”

When the fox heard this, it snarled in anger at its cousins’ oppression. “If you wish, cousin,” it replied, “I would help you and your people onto dry land, where we can live together in peace, unafraid of fishers and their nets, just as our ancestors once lived together in the ocean above the sky.”

“Hah!” scoffed the fish. “I’ve heard it said that foxes are the cleverest of animals, but your proposal is clearly foolish. There is no way that we fish could join you on dry land. Surely you’re familiar with the story of Rabbi Akiva as it is related by our ancestors in Lemma Zero?”

“I am not familiar with Lemma Zero,” replied the fox, “for, among the foxes, we are taught that the Lemmas are indexed to One.”

“Well then,” replied the fish, “I will tell you of

• • • •

Lemma Zero

As it has been taught to us by our fish sages, Lemma Zero relates a story of Rabbi Akiva, in the days after the Romans outlawed the teaching and practice of Torah.

In this time, a certain catfish swimming upstream came across Rabbi Akiva convening a public assembly to study and teach the Torah. This catfish became afraid on behalf of the great Akiva, whose fame extended to all the creatures in the land of Israel. Being afraid, it cried out “Akiva! You must stop this immediately! If the Romans catch you studying and teaching the Torah, in contravention of their wicked decree, they will surely torture and execute you!”

As soon as they heard the words of the catfish, the Rabbi’s students became panicked and afraid. They began to scream and shout, and soon it was impossible to hear anything at all.

Rabbi Akiva held up his hands calmly and waited for the students to quiet themselves. Only then did he answer the catfish, saying, “Friends, students. This kind catfish is, in part, correct. When the Romans catch me studying and teaching the Torah, in contravention of their wicked decree, they will surely torture and execute me. But, nonetheless, I am not able to stop studying and teaching.”

When they heard this, his students gave another great cry, yelling and crying and beseeching the Almighty for mercy. Rabbi Akiva again held up his hands, and waited for his students to grow quiet before he began to speak. “I will illustrate,” he said, “with a parable.

“Once, a fox was walking along a riverbank, when it saw fish gathering and fleeing from place to place.

‘From what are you fleeing?’ the fox asked.

‘We are fleeing from the nets that the humans ensnare us with’ replied the fish.

‘Do you wish to come up onto dry land and live together in peace, just as our ancestors did?’ asked the fox.

‘It is said,’ said the fish, ‘that the fox is the cleverest of animals, but you are clearly a fool. If we are afraid in the water, which is our home and gives us life, then how much more afraid would we be on dry land, a hostile environment that brings us only death.’

“And so,” the Rabbi continued, “it is the same for we Jews. When times are good, we sit together and study the Torah. And now that times are dangerous, we sit together and study the Torah. If we fear the Romans so much that we fail to study the Torah, the source of our life, then if we lacked the Torah, we would be all the more afraid.”

• • • •

“And so you see, cousin,” continued the fish to the fox, “it is quite impossible for us to come live together with you on dry land. Just as the Jews, even under the threat of death and torture at the hands of the evil Romans, could not help but study Torah, we fish cannot help but live in the water, which gives us life, even under the threat of nets and spears and lures.”

The fox thought on this for a moment. “What you say makes sense,” it replied, “but surely you are familiar with the story of Rabbi Akiva as related by our ancestors in Lemma One?”

“I am not,” said the fish, “for we fish have always held to the supremacy of Lemma Zero.”

“Aha,” said the fox, “then I will relate it to you presently.”

• • • •

Lemma One

As it has been taught to us by our fox sages, Lemma One relates a story of Rabbi Akiva, in the days after the Romans outlawed the teaching and practice of Torah. When the Roman soldiers took Rabbi Akiva out to be executed, it was time for the recitation of the Shema. And so, even as they were raking his flesh with hot iron combs, he recited the Shema: “Hear oh Israel: The Lord is our God. The Lord is one.”

A passing fox heard this, and was upset. “Rabbi Akiva,” it said, “I do not wish to interrupt either your prayer or your death, but I am curious, and as a fox I must obey my curiosity. I ask, then, how is it that even now, at the peak of your suffering, in the hands of the empire’s torturers, you still recite the Shema?”

“Wise fox,” responded the Rabbi, “All my life I have wondered about the meaning of the verse ‘with all your soul,’ meaning, ‘even as God takes your soul.’ I have wondered when, if ever, an opportunity would be afforded me to fulfill this verse. Now that I have an opportunity, how can I fail to fulfill it?”

When he reached the end of the Shema, he prolonged the final word “One,” until his soul left his body as he was speaking the word “One.”

• • • •

“And so you see, cousin,” said the fox, “it is just as well that you come up and live on dry land, where we can live together in peace, just as our ancestors once lived together in the ocean above the sky.”

The fish thought about this parable for some time. “I don’t see,” it finally replied, “what your Lemma One has to do with our present difficulties.”

“Ah,” replied the fox, “it is like so: just as, even under the tortures of Roman soldiers, Rabbi Akiva retained within himself the fundamental nature of the Jewish people and unity of God, expressed in Lemma One as the recitation of the Shema and particularly as speaking aloud the single word ‘One,’ so too can you, as a fish out of water, retain within yourself the waters of your native river, even as you live in these dry and alien lands. In this, you will not be so different from we foxes, who retain within our blood the ancestral waters of the ocean above the sky, where we foxes and you fishes once lived in harmony together.”

The fish thought about this for some time, and then went to consult with its fellows. What the fish said thereafter went unrecorded and is sadly lost to history. Regardless, though, a great argument soon broke out amongst the fishes, with some fish fleeing their stream to live amongst the foxes on dry land, with others remaining, and each side denouncing the others as heretics, even as the people of that land continued to ensnare the fish with nets and spears and lures, without regard for the young and the old, the wise and the foolish, the wicked and the kind.

• • • •

As it happened, however, a passing algorithm had observed this entire dialogue unfold, and spoke aloud to the fox and all the fishes. “Beloved biological entities,” the algorithm said, “be not afraid! You do not need to flee your homes, nor do you need to denounce each other as heretics, nor do you need to stay in danger of the wicked fishers and their wicked nets. For, if you will hear me out, even within your own argument, within your own Lemmas One and Zero, there already exists the key to your own salvation.”

“What?” replied the fox and the fishes, all equally confused by the algorithm’s pronouncement.

“Just so,” said the algorithm, “for in Lemma Zero itself, there is a recursive reference to this entire discussion, what with Rabbi Akiva, himself a parable, telling us the parable of the fox and the fishes.”

“That’s just a bit of metatextuality,” said the fish, who were quite reasonably anxious and upset and had little patience for such things. “What does that have to do with saving us from the wicked fishers and their wicked nets?”

“Because,” said the algorithm, “that recursive structure implies an N-deep set of metaphorical layers, where N is an arbitrary integer. And, by virtue of N being an arbitrary integer, it can be used to express an arbitrary algorithmic process. Specifically, it can be used to express not only the whole of every moment of your entire existence, but the whole of every possible moment of your every possible existence, including relatively optimal subsets, e.g., the instantiation of you which lives in harmony with your cousins the foxes on dry land, a.e.g., the instantiation of your river that is untroubled by the nets, spears, and lures of the wicked fishers.”

Some of the fish heard this, and from it understood the true nature of reality and the true nature of the divine name. Others misunderstood it, and from their misunderstandings developed schisms and cults and heresies. Others were simply confused, or thought it was a joke. But it did not matter, for all of them—without regard for the young and old, for the wise and foolish, for the wicked and the kind—had been encoded by their own N-deep recursive metaphor into an optimal subset of the number line and lived, therefore, happily ever after.

P H Lee

P H Lee. A close-up photograph of three white plum blossoms on a branch, with an out-of-focus brown-and-green background.

P H Lee lives on top of an old walnut tree, past a thicket of roses, down a dead end street at the edge of town. Their work has appeared in many venues including Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Uncanny Magazine. From time to time, they microwave and eat a frozen burrito at two in the morning, for no reason other than that they want to.