When I was a child, my father once brought me to the temple for Passover. For two days, we walked the dusty roads to Jerusalem, choking on the clouds kicked up by camels and donkeys as caravan after caravan passed us. Many others walked with us, with scarves wrapped over their faces, and eyes squinting to keep out the dust.
My feet hurt. I could feel the blisters start to form on the first day, and when I peeled off my sandals by the light of the fire that night, they were raw and bleeding. My eyes stung with tears at the thought putting those sandals back on in the morning. Father said nothing about the blisters, or my misty eyes, but he poured a few drops of our precious drinking water onto a cloth and gently washed my feet. The pain was almost more than I could bare, but I have never loved my father more; I have never felt his love for me more.
The next day we arrived in Jerusalem. As we approached the temple, we saw our neighbor – the one who lives in the large house at the center of our village. He was dressed in bright purple and he was clean. Even his feet were clean. He must have been riding in one of the caravans that passed us on the way. The man came to my father and greeted him heartily. He started reminiscing about our little village as if we had not all been there just two days ago.
“Come!” he said. “Let us go into the Temple and pray together!”
“Thank you, sir,” my father said, “but I have to stop outside the temple. We haven’t bought our sacrifice yet.”
“Don’t worry!” the man said. “Don’t you know you can buy from inside the temple? It’s much more convenient, and safer anyway. You don’t have to worry about pickpockets stealing your money.” He put his arm around my father and started toward the gate. My father was strong from years of working the fields, but he looked vulnerable just then, in his dusty brown clothes, being reluctantly led into the Temple by a shiny-faced man who resembled a giant grape.
Our neighbor dragged my father along to a booth selling livestock in the Temple courtyard. The man bought two lambs and a goat, and then turned to my father to see what he would buy. My father asked for two doves, but his face turned pale when the merchant named his price, more than twice what they cost outside. More than twice what he had been prepared to pay.
It was too much humiliation, even for a strong man like my father, to back out half way through a transaction with his jovial neighbor looking on. He emptied his purse and bought the doves.
And we had no food on our two day journey home.
I did not come to the temple again until the year my father died. I bought two doves at a small booth outside the gate, and heard a commotion as I entered. I saw a mad man running through the court yard in a rage, flipping over tables, and scattering coins across the ground. He turned toward me, and his eyes held mine for a moment. Then he flung open the door to one of the cages, and the air between us was suddenly filled with doves.