KIRYAT ARBA, WEST BANK -- And it came to pass, on the ninth day, that the people journeyed to the mound of stones and wept.
"Everything he did was for Heaven," the rabbi said, standing over a rock-strewn grave. The stones were piled as a sign of heavy hearts, dropped by women whose hems dust the ground, by men whose beards grow from their throats.
Baruch Goldstein had been buried here barely a week. Already it had become a place of pilgrimage, a shrine on the edge of town for boys to recite twilight prayers, for old women to murmur psalms, for men to blow a ram's horn, the biblical trumpet.
He was a mass murderer to the world and to most Israelis, religious and secular alike; a criminal who shot dead at least 29 unarmed Palestinians as they knelt in prayer in the Tomb of the Patriarchs. "You are an errant weed," pronounced Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. "Sensible Judaism spits you out." But to the 200 zealots huddled this morning, cut by a hilltop wind, Goldstein was an agent of God.
"He saved us," a scarved woman said, reaching to touch Goldstein's mother at this graveside service, a marking of the end of mourning. Miriam Goldstein smiled peacefully. For days, the mother had repeated a story: The Arabs of Hebron had been planning an attack; Baruch heard about it and staged a preemptive strike.
Israeli army sources have said they knew of no such Arab plot. But Baruch, man of valor, the band of zealots said, is as heroic as a Bible giant.
"He's in third place behind King David and Sampson," said Yaacov Ben Shlomo, who knew Goldstein 10 years ago in Brooklyn. "King David killed more. Sampson was in second. Then Goldstein."
A mild-natured doctor, Goldstein had moved from Brooklyn and settled here, near Hebron, where Abraham, the first Jew, once dwelt. Goldstein wanted to live by the Bible. He wanted to live in the Bible. He grew a beard, took up a weapon, traced the sandaled footsteps of the patriarchs -- Abraham, Isaac, Jacob -- down to the tomb in nearby Hebron for services. He spurned democracy and called for a Bible, or Torah, state -- a "Toracracy."
He replaced the language of today with an ancient vocabulary. For him, the occupied West Bank was "Judea and Samaria," the land of Israel. For him, salvation would never come from the government, the army or the peace process. For him, Palestinians were "Amalekites," the desert predators of the Israelites. God had commanded Jews to smite Amalekites -- man and woman, child and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.
Goldstein lived this, even if that meant leaving behind four children and a widow. Baruch's wife, also named Miriam, stands among the mourners, her lips untrembling, her glance full of irony. She has sharp, dusky features, a face carved from olive wood. She beams at her 8-year-old daughter, Moriah, who skitters up in a pink-hooded coat.
Down the hill, across the gnarled valley, on the eastern edge of Hebron, runs another little girl. You can see her red sweater streak across the porch. She is a Palestinian, one of 13 siblings who lost their father in the massacre last month.
But Goldstein's widow doesn't see the Palestinian child. Her chin is high, the ground is high and the clouds are low. Up here, near the sky, it is easy to deny other peoples, here where you believe you're close to Heaven.
The emergency room is quiet now, the stretchers empty, the doctor gone.
A slate on the wall still hasn't been wiped clean of Goldstein's chalk scrawls, instructions to the staff. Amram Yifrah, director of the tiny clinic, shuffles sadly through his drawer, looking for the farewell note the 37-year-old doctor left just before he descended to the Tomb.
"I don't want to talk about why he did it," the old man says, massaging his scruffy jaw. "It's too hard to understand."
The killing of innocents cannot be understood at all, perhaps. And yet there's the feel of an answer hovering over Kiryat Arba, not in any one place, but in every place at once. In the place itself.
Yifrah finds Goldstein's letter:
May it be the will of God that you continue serving our blessed people faithfully.
With love of Israel, and prayers for a full redemption, Baruch
"He loved to heal," Yifrah says, perplexed. "It was his mission."
They called him "the angel of Kiryat Arba." Nearly everyone in this 5,000-member community, and in neighboring Jewish settlements, has passed under Goldstein's stethoscope. He wore his beeper 24 hours a day, next to his pistol and the fringes of his prayer garment.
The tales are wondrous, miraculous, improbable. If Goldstein caused a patient pain, he would leave the room and cry; he delivered a premature baby in an ambulance and kept it warm beneath his coat; he performed open-heart surgery on the side of the road. Only one woman, his nurse, volunteers what is also known: that he so disliked Arabs he sometimes refused to treat them; that in the army he had been punished for using his religion to justify turning away Arab patients.
"The man was a saint," says David Ramati, from Kiryat Arba.
"We were like dust at his feet," says Bruruah Nueberger, from a nearby settlement.
Goldstein had an almost supernatural bond with his Jewish patients. He inscribed names in a notebook to remember to pray for the ill. People would tell him he had great hands and Goldstein would say no, they were God's hands at work.
His mother has told friends that she believed Baruch had always known he was a messenger from God. That's why he became a doctor, why he moved here in 1983. It was then that he began using his Hebrew name, Baruch, rather than his English name, Benjamin. Baruch means "blessed." When his mother heard of Goldstein's death, the friend says, she was angry at first, that he'd abandoned the family. Then she realized that "he's where he belongs. His makeup was holy."
Nine days before the slaughter, quoting from Ecclesiastes, Goldstein told a documentary filmmaker, "There is a time to kill and a time to heal."
The time he chose was Purim. The holiday celebrates the delivery of Jews from a genocidal plot by a minister named Haman, who himself was a descendant of the hated tribe of Amalek. At the last moment, thanks to a brave Jew named Mordechai, the people were spared and instead, the wicked Haman and hundreds of his accomplices were struck down.
It is a holiday that celebrates reversal of fortune. On Purim the world turns topsy-turvy. Israeli children show up at other children's schools. It is the one day that Jews encourage drinking to excess; you are supposed to get so dizzy you cannot distinguish between hero and villain, between Mordechai and Haman.
This was the day the doctor turned murderer.
Just hours before the massacre, he went to the synagogue with his children. He believed an Arab attack was imminent, friends say. People seated nearby watched him reading the turnabout story of Purim:
"Thus the Jews smote all their enemies ... and did what they would unto those that hated them." The passage was from the Book of Esther, honoring God's work in 500 B.C.
Now the people of Kiryat Arba are writing a new book, a scripture of stories about a man they say died doing God's work in 1994. The book of Baruch.
On a classroom wall in Brooklyn the millennia unfold. The time line starts with Adam, spans to the patriarchs, to King Solomon, and finally to the Diaspora, when Jews were driven into exile and scattered across the Earth.
"Baruch Goldstein was an animal," says Eddie, an 11th-grader at the Yeshiva of Flatbush High School. This is the school from which Benjie Goldstein graduated in 1973.
Eddie is hanging out between periods in Room 403, pacing between the desks, parading his anger. "How can he take something that was written 3,000 years ago literally?" the boy says. "I take everything in the Bible with a grain of salt. A lot of the Torah is symbolic."
After all, the biblical Land of Israel was a place that, for all its milk and honey, was rife with slavery, polygamy, jealousy, savagery, spite. Men sliced off their foes' thumbs. Revered leaders committed genocide. Like studying dinosaurs, studying Old Testament heroes has great educational value. But to revive them in the literal, fundamental sense would be to create a biblical Jurassic Park.
It could unleash behavior as deadly as Goldstein's, "a Jewish education gone bad," as one childhood friend put it. Modern Judaism is more like the Talmud, or oral law -- filled with doubt, open to debate. For Goldstein, Judaism was the Torah, or written law -- a starker, uncompromising place divided into thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots.
"Sometimes issues are complex," says Howard Sherman, Goldstein's college roommate at Yeshiva University. "He would rather simplify things." For example, in 1981 Goldstein wrote in a letter to the New York Times: "Israel will soon have to choose between a Jewish state and a democratic one."
Benjie had been a shy, brilliant student. He collected awards and scholarships. "He is a bright boy and is sure to make a noise in this world," reads his high school evaluation.
He commuted to Flatbush from a three-bedroom white stucco home in Bensonhurst, a middle-class Jewish and Italian neighborhood. His father, Israel, worked for the New York Board of Education and his mother taught nursery school. The three Goldstein kids kept to themselves, says a neighbor; they preferred not to play with the non-Jewish or non-Orthodox Jewish children.
He was a sensitive kid. At 13, he wrote an essay in his junior high school yearbook: War is a threatening and fearful thing. ... One of the important things in the Torah is do not murder and in war many people are murdered." At summer camp, he ran the swimming program with a gentle hand.
Then one summer, the tall, slim lifeguard failed to return. He was at a different kind of camp, as a new recruit with the Jewish Defense League, learning to fire a weapon. What drew Benjie to the paramilitary JDL isn't clear. Perhaps it was the ethnic tensions in Brooklyn, the swastikas he found spray-painted on the synagogue, or the time when, walking home on Yom Kippur, he was pelted by eggs.
Or perhaps it was the group's charismatic leader, Rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahane founded the JDL and later the Israeli Kach Party. Until his assassination in 1990, Kahane preached violence against Arabs and called for their expulsion from Israel and the West Bank. He lifted Benjie and other boys from the concrete streets into a messianic, apocalyptic view of the world. Kahane insisted on reading the Bible as a strict code of rules, plucking a sentence here, a quote there to justify his supremacist program.
Behind it all lurked an implicit choice: If you were a Jew you could live in exile, in constant flight, in fear of repression; or you could journey to an ancient mind-set and live like the proud men your people once were -- the rulers, the warriors and philosopher kings.
"Third row, third desk from the left," says Rabbi Yeshayahu Kronman, a stooped man with a brown yarmulke who is sitting at the head of Classroom 404 at Flatbush Yeshiva. He teaches Jewish philosophy.
Kronman nods toward the seat Benjie occupied 20 years ago. A girl slouches there now, peeling off her nail polish. She looks puzzled by the rabbi's attention. Kronman asks a visitor not to reveal the secret of the desk; with the school's sudden, unwelcome publicity, the teachers here are fearful that Goldstein's memory will somehow achieve heroic stature. Right after the massacre, the principal got on the PA system and told the students: "It's murder. And he tried to rationalize it with the Torah. I don't want anyone to try to justify his act."
Kronman gets up to begin today's lesson. The subject is ethics.
"Tov," he scribbles in Hebrew on the blackboard. Good.
"Ra," he writes under it. Evil.
"Now who can give me definitions?"
In limps the Kiryat Arba man. Two bullets have been extracted from his thigh. One is still lodged at the base of his neck.
Ofer Greenbaum was Goldstein's final patient. The speckle-bearded settler was driving near Hebron when some Palestinians in another car opened fire. Greenbaum lay in the road, on his back, in his blood. The doctor's face appeared above him.
Baruch Goldstein surveyed the wounds with quiet competence. "You'll be okay," he said, his sidelocks curling down around his stethoscope. Greenbaum relaxed. If this doctor said he would survive, he would.
The shooting had been the latest in a months-long spasm of settler-Palestinian violence. Goldstein was often the first doctor on the scene, whatever the time of day. For most Israelis the attacks represented the clash of national ambitions, the latest round in a 100-year war. For Goldstein it went deeper. This was part of a 4,000-year struggle.
"We are sick and tired of this," he told Israel radio last November after tending to a Jewish man who had been hacked by Palestinians with axes. "And with God's help we will create the state of Judea here and we will know how to handle them ourselves."
Goldstein arrived here in Kiryat Arba 11 years ago, joining a group of ideological Jewish settlers who moved to the West Bank after Israel captured it during the 1967 war. His parents and sister, Batsheva, soon followed from Brooklyn. His brother, David, also a doctor, took up his practice in another settlement. Baruch met his wife through his work for Meir Kahane. Kahane performed their marriage ceremony in Jerusalem on the site where King Solomon's temple once soared.
Goldstein had returned to the Land. He breathed the cold, stone-licked air. He prayed at the Tomb, burial site of the patriarchs and matriarchs and the legendary gateway to the Garden of Eden. He lived surrounded by vineyards and olive trees -- no restaurants or cinemas here. Men wearing oversize yarmulkes tote automatic weapons, ready to subdue the enemy. Goldstein had no television, and as a Kach representative on the city council he fought introducing cable TV because it would compete with sacred studies. He opposed the absorption of Russian immigrants because they would dilute Kiryat Arba's religious character.
Vengeance, an eye for an eye, Goldstein swore more than once. First, it was for Kahane's assassination. His anger intensified after last September's surprise peace agreement. He had moved here to walk strong and now the government threatened to hobble him. Suddenly the future of the settlements was in doubt. "We must do something shocking," he told his friends.
Then, another ambush. On Dec. 6, Muslim radicals gunned down Mordechai Lapid, one of Goldstein's closest friends, as he was driving out the town gate. The doctor rushed to his friend and tried to revive him for 40 minutes, long after it was medically hopeless. Lapid and his 19-year-old son died in his grip. The doctor's face blanked white.
"Are you all right?" a friend had asked. Goldstein didn't answer. He just lifted his bloody hands.
Goldstein wasn't crazy, his friends say. The situation was crazy. In his final weeks, his pace quickened, his eyes darkened, his smile paled. And in his last days, he made sure his wife had the details of their joint bank account, paid a check that had bounced and ordered a catered feast for the Friday of the killings, apparently aware that Miriam would be unable to cook. He took out a life insurance policy, reported the Israeli paper Yediot Aharonot.
The night before, Purim eve, a fight broke out between Muslims and Jews at the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Goldstein returned home and sat on the stairs outside his apartment, hugging his daughter, Moriah.
Early the next morning, Feb. 25, he went to the mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath, to purify himself. He put on his army uniform, took his rifle and asked a Kiryat Arba security guard for a lift down to Hebron.
At the tomb, Goldstein joined the usual group of Jewish men for dawn services. The doctor seemed tranquil, witnesses said. Then he pushed into the Hall of Isaac wearing firing-range ear protectors, and he unshouldered his gun.
People were hurt, bleeding, dying. The wounded needed attention. An Israeli soldier was overheard radioing for help.
"Call Dr. Goldstein."
They're squabbling at the Kiryat Arba bus stop, a soldier and a black-hatted settler who has mounted a sign on the roof of his car: I'm Preparing for the Messiah. The soldier, meanwhile, is preparing to board the bus home, out of the West Bank. He looks eager to escape.
"You don't understand," the settler shouts. "Goldstein was sent from Heaven."
He was like the stout men who inhabit the Bible, people here say. Some say he was like Pinchas in the Book of Numbers, who speared an Israelite man and a Mideonite woman while they fornicated. Some say he was like Simeon and Levi in the Book of Genesis, who slew the men of Shechem for raping their sister. Some say he was like Sampson in the Book of Judges, who brought down the pillars of a Philistine temple, crushing men and women dead.
The Israeli soldier isn't impressed by the comparisons. His father had taught him a different interpretation of the Bible. To him, Baruch Goldstein was more like Cain.
But on the hilltop settlement of Kiryat Arba, few use the word "murder." They don't say killing, massacre, slaughter, bloodshed, butchery. They call it "the thing that happened" or "what they did to Goldstein." After firing 111 bullets, Goldstein was knocked down by a fire extinguisher. The crowd beat him till no bone was left unbroken. His brother, the doctor, couldn't make out his face. The coroners identified him by the army ID tag dangling from his ankle.
They washed Goldstein's body and buried him in uniform.
"He was a holy man," the speaker says at Goldstein's memorial service. Two hundred people are gathered around his grave in Kahane Park on the edge of Kiryat Arba. A metal barricade separates the women from the men.
Israel Goldstein, Baruch's father, stands over the pile of stones. He bends down to help his grandson, Jacob, recite the prayer for the dead.
"Yitgadal veyitkadash ..." the people say together.
The wind blows grit in the old man's face, lifts his white hair. His chin bristles white, his collar is torn, signs of mourning. Behind him, from the Palestinian rooftops of Hebron, shudder black flags, signs of a different mourning.
" ... veyimeru amen." And the service ends. Baruch's widow and his mother lean in toward each other.
"The show is over," whispers the widow.
"No," answers the mother. "The show is just beginning."
Their cheeks are dry. A light smile turns their lips. Salvation is near on the mountain of God.