Thursday, December 1, 2016

Sir Pureheart at Castle F'Merd: A Fantasy

Sir Pureheart at Castle F’Merd

By David Hartley Mark

            A miasmal darkness had settled over the District of Washton. It was rumored that Good King Bara had ended his term, and cast about that a new, mysterious monarch, broad of beam and carrot of top, one Lord Delanod, had taken his place—and to everyone’s surprise, for barons and baronesses, court officials, village gossips, and town criers both near and far, had predicted that Supreme Lady Illarion, though suspected of vile chatter and—horrors!—ill-use of State Secrets (though what Secrets these were, no one ever stated) via lowly means, as well as needless sacrifice of the Kingdom’s men-at-arms in far-off Foreignlandazzi, would surely inherit the Throne of Vespucci, the Peaceable Kingdom.

            Word of this upset reached the ears of the Knights of the Table Perpendicular in the distant Duchy of Omelotte, and Sir Pureheart, a newly-fledged recruit of no particular political, ideological, religio-ethnic, racial, or materialistic leaning, was chosen to embark on a Quest. He was colorless to the point of transparency; indeed, as his best friend and comrade-in-arms, Sir Wetinears, would describe him, “He is the Purest in Heart that I know. He is best-suited for this Quest. Let his test be this Quest.”

            “Hear, hear!” clamored the Knights Perpendicular, and so was it decided. They bore Sir Pureheart shoulder-high to the Royal Armourie, passed the helmet to outfit him in armour of the finest Sheffield Steel, a two-handed sword of prodigious heft and haft, a shield bearing the portrait of a gryphon golden rampant on a field azure, with the motto, “I must” (I dien), and magical, impenetrable gauntlets that had belonged to King Arthur prior to his being sailed away by the Lady of the Lake and her mystical maidens.

            They next proceeded to the Royal Stables, where they, assisted by the Royal Riding-Master, chose a Clydesdale named Sparkhoof, a massive quadruped with enormous blue eyes, curly, fully-feeling eyelashes, a golden mane, a body the size of Ben Bulben, and hooves bigger than cast-iron anvils. Sparkhoof was measured, and the Imperial Tailors Ltd. worked all night to prepare a matching blanket, while Ambassador Leatherworkers Inc. fitted a strongly-built, glove-soft, rock-solid saddle to Sparkhoof’s broad back.

            The next day—it was a Sunday, following a non-denominational, Secular Humanistic Service, featuring a Guided Meditation with Temple Bells and non-sectarian Gregorian Chant—the joyful knights saddled up and, with their squires accompanying them, escorted Sir Pureheart and his squire, Tom Strayhorn, down to the quay, where the two adventurers boarded a small trading galley, bound for Kingdom Vespucci, off beyond the Atlantica Oceanus. All waved; minstrels played “The Twa Corbies” and “Whar are Ye Gaen, My Faethless Yong Man,” and “I Know a Faire Mayden,” while Sir Pureheart and Tom waved from the stern of the vessel until their comrades were but specks in the distance. They then settled down for a lovely brunch of some cold potted meat, quail eggs au gratin, and potato soufflĂ©.

            The voyage was long, but enjoyable; knight and squire played dominoes, chess (which Tom was expert at), and slap-the-jack. After the soufflĂ© was finished and done, the sailor’s food was tolerable—hardtack infused with worms, oily barreled water, a teaspoon of  mead daily, and a lemon to suck—though the bold knight could be seen after every meal, dangling over the side, “feeding the dolphins,” as the sailors called it.

            Only one sailor died of scurvy en route—no one had liked him, anyway; he had had smelly breath and armpits—and was dispatched to the sharks, after being wrapped up in his hammock. A few rats were caught in the hardtack, fried by the ship’s cook, and eaten by the cabin boy to great “Huzzahs!” by the crew, with bets being taken by the purser. Sir Pureheart lost four pounds, which he felt made his armour fit better, overall.

            At last, the galley docked in Mannahatta Bay, at the foot of Wall Street. The crew stretched and yawned in the morning sun. They then disembarked, bearing their barrels of medicinal marijuana, sweet honey mead, Cardamom from Persia, and Men’s Old Spackle After-Shave. Sir Pureheart had Squire Tom saddle up Sparkhoof, and rode him off the ship, to cheers from the crew. They proceeded to seek the City Gate, but were consternated to discover that Wall Street featured a Wall, with no seeming entrance.

            Finally, they came to what appeared to be a Gate. Sir Pureheart stood up in his stirrups, and knocked, three times.

            No answer. He knocked again.

            Finally, a tiny Door opened in the Gate, and a green-mustachioed man stuck out his head.

            “Ye-es?” he asked, in an annoyed tone of voice.

            “If it please you, Sir,” said Tom, in his best Heraldic Voice, “I am Squire Thomas Strayhorn, late of Fair Washton-land, and this is my master, the noble Knight of the Table Perpendicular, Sir Pureheart. We seek the ruler of this fair countree—we assume that it is fair, though we cannot see it—

            “Why can you not see it?” asked the Green Guard.

            “Why, this Wall, which you have, apparently, built ‘round it,” said Tom.

            “There is no Wall,” said the Guard, “unless Aliens you be, and Dangerous. Were you Honest Folk, you would not be prevented from entering. This Wall keeps out only Dangerous Strangers. Now, be off! Or I will summon the Border Ruffians, who assist me.”

            “Now, listen, Sir Guard,” said Sir Pureheart, not annoyed, but frustrated a trifle, “there is a certain, visible, palpable wall.” And he knocked against it, with his mailed fist, so that it made a strong, cracking noise, being made of wood and stone. “Hear you not this sound?”

            “I hear nothing,” said the Guard.

            “Will it please you open?” asked Sir Pureheart.

            “There is nothing to open—there is no Gate, and no Wall,” said the Guard.

            “Shall I charge your wall with my lance, whose tip has a Peerlessly Strong Diamond?” asked Sir Pureheart.

            “There is nothing to charge,” said the Guard, “for there is no wall.”

            “But you said that there is a wall,” said Squire Tom, “for to keep out malefactors.”

            “I said no such thing,” said the Guard, “you’re a liar.”

            “Enough!” said Sir Pureheart, closed his helmet vizor, and waved away his squire. He pulled back on Sparkhoof’s bridle, backed up forty paces, reared his horse, and he charged. As he ran at the wall at top speed, something amazing, passing strange occurred—the wall vanished.

            The Guard, too, was gone.

            “What sorcery is this?” asked the knight, reining in his steed.

            “I don’t know, Master,” said the squire, “but this is enchantment, surely.”

            “No enchantment can touch us,” said Pureheart, “for we are on a Holy Mission—to free this land. Let us march on!”

And they saw neither the Guard, nor the Wall, ever again.

(To Be Continued….)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Isaac and Rebecca: Strife Over the Wells


At Home with Isaac and Rebecca: The Middle Years

(Night in the Desert. Isaac sits alone at a campfire. He drinks slowly from a cup of spiced wine, pokes at the embers of the dying fire, and soliloquizes.)

Isaac: Father is dead; his chief steward, Eliezer, is also dead. I am alone. Alone as a stone. Just me and this—this wineskin (drinks; the cattle low, moo, meh, and baa) Oh, silence, you—you—woolly fools! Fine company you are, for a master shepherd like me…. Where was I?

Ah, yes: Poppa is dead—and how am I to continue his destiny? I have also heard the Voice of El-Shaddai, the Stander on the Mountain, telling me that I will be “as numberless as the stars of heaven.” (looks up; tries counting the stars) two, three, ten, thirty-four—oh, what’s the use?  Truth to tell, El-Shaddai, or Whatever You call Yourself, I don’t need stars. No (he drinks). After all (he speaks with the careful grace of the truly inebriated), you can’t herd stars; you can’t shear them; you can’t bring them to market in Rehoboth Square. What I need to know (shaking a finger at the sky) is, who will continue the line after me? My strapping son, Esav, that red-haired rascal, or my Jacob, my deep thinker, so thin that he seems to slip through my fingers when I try to hug him—that Mama’s boy? O’ Nameless One, what a riddle have you posed me! Whom do You prefer? I wish You would choose—(waits, but no answer comes). Both earth and sky are silent. Well, well, my Father’s God, if you will not help me here, I must wait, and decide myself—but deciding is not my strong suit—let me think (he drinks deeply of the wineskin, leans back against his pillow-rock, and sings softly): “O then let the cannikin clink, clink, clink/ O then let the cannikin clink/ A herdsman’s a man/ A life’s but a span/ Why then, let the herdsman drink!” (giggles to himself, and sighs)

(A sound from the shadows. Isaac gropes for his belt-knife, tries to scramble clumsily to his feet, gets as far as his knees) Who’s there, hey? Come and show yourself! (Rebecca crawls from the darkness, pulling her head-covering back from her face) Oh, it’s you, my dear. Come, come, and sit. Have some wine.

Rebecca: If there’s any left in that ‘skin, you mean. It sounds and smells like you’ve been having more than a bit. (He carefully passes her the wineskin; she sniffs it, sticks out her tongue in disgust, takes a ladylike sip, and shudders)

Isaac (sounding hurt and defensive): Now, my dear, first off, I haven’t had more than a tiny drinky-poo; and, second, it’s no more than I deserve, chasing those nasty little sheep and goats around a hot desert all day.

Rebecca: While I relax in that hot, black, airless goatskin tent, you mean. It’s no picnic for me either, keeping track of those two little boys. What nine-year-olds have you given me! Little Jacob is a dear, always sticking close by his mommy, but our Esav—well, your beloved hellion, Esav, is always running off, trying to shoot that toy bow-and-arrow at the vultures and ravens.

Isaac: Nothing wrong with that. He’s inherited my hunter’s eyes, that boy: he’ll make us proud, one day, as chief of our tribe. He’ll be as big as my brother Ishmael, wait and see. Just feed him plenty of deer meat, the same way I love it cooked: charcoal-broiled fresh over the open flames, juices running down your chin, and well-peppered, smoking from the fire. That will make him hot-blooded and warlike, just like I—

Rebecca (finishing his sentence): --always wanted to be. You know, Isaac, it would be nice if you would spend some time with little Jakey, too. He’s a born shepherd, your son. He was asking me today about how many foals we can expect the camels to bear, come spring. Jacob has a wonderful head on his shoulders: he can figure numbers without using his fingers, and I want to put him to work calculating how much provender we should buy for the herd, come this winter. I know he will be able to do it, your son. Do you think you could give Jakella some attention, too, rather than spending all your time with Esav?

Isaac (not really listening): Yes, Jacob is a good boy—but quiet. Not like Esav. As my Papa’s God lives, how he came crashing through the tent door that day, waving that poor, half-dead quail he snared, when you and I had thought that we could have some quiet time! Ah well, my dear, we really should be going to bed. Esav will be up at the first cock-crow. And the flocks won’t wait….

(The sound of twigs cracking, as if someone is approaching)

Rebecca: What’s that sound? Oh, Isaac, you’re such a fool! I told you we shouldn’t go too far from Rehoboth Village. Everything we need is there, not out here in this uncivilized desert. The grandchildren of Papa’s deceased servants live there—true, they’re not our servants, anymore, but they promised to protect us. They—

Isaac (standing unsteadily, holding his shepherd’s crook in a defensive posture): Never fear, Dearest, I will stand between you and whate’er shall transpire! I am your rock and redeemer, your shield upon the high places; I….

Rebecca: Oh, sit down, you middle-aged fool: you’re drunk (Isaac’s legs give out, and he collapses, dangerously close to the fire). I will go into the tent, and fetch out the poker. I can stand guard while you sober up. I will bring you some guarana-beans to chew upon. Oh, what can a woman do with such a man? (muttering imprecations in her native Aramean, she goes into the tent)

Isaac (mimicking her): “Such a man”! If only—if only you paid me respect, Becky! (He looks at the tent-flap she entered, to make certain that she cannot hear) A man could be driven to drink by such a woman. Oh, to be young again…. But I will see my boy, my Esav, stand as master over all heaven and earth. He is a brave, bold, redheaded hellion, my Esaveleh. So what if Schoolmaster Sar-Baal does not think him clever as—as—Jacob? I will see my Esav hunt the deserts and hillsides through, and wear hunter’s animalskins if he wishes. I will buy him the finest sword and buckler, bow and arrow, to be found in Hebron Market. He will be the warrior that I never was—that Mama and Papa—and now, this Rebecca, this bossy female, are preventing me from being….

(Suddenly, King Abimelech of the Philistines and his General, Phicol, come into the light. Phicol is bearing a fiery torch.)

Abimelech: Good Evening, Friend Isaac the Hebrew! What are you mumbling and muttering about? I see you have wine by your side. Any to share?

Isaac (scrambling to his feet, but none too steadily, and bowing): Oh, Abimelech, Your Majesty! What an honor to have you and General Phicol grace my humble tent! The wine? (Phicol has picked up the empty skin, sniffed at it, and tossed it away with a grimace) Oh, forgive me, Your Grace! I was having a little—a little—party.

Phicol (He is a brawny, bluff fellow, who thinks himself clever, but is a thick-headed bully): By yourself? By Ereshkigal, that were a lonely party, indeed! I tell ye, Friend Isaac, had you told me to, I would have fetched along a couple of our finest dancing maidens!

Abimelech: Aye, now that would have been a party worth drinking at!

(They all laugh)

Isaac: What business have you with me, this time of night, Gentlemen?

(The three squat down on their haunches; Abimelech plucks a stem of desert grass and chews on it, while he speaks, hoping to create an air of commonalty. Rebecca, meanwhile, creeps slowly out of the tent, eavesdropping on her husband, and concerned about his safety. She has a worried look on her face.)

Abimelech: Well, Ikey, it’s like this, y’see. I’m hearing rumors—and I’m not saying that they’re true—that your shepherds have been a-filling in our wells (Phicol casually half-withdraws his bronze dagger from its sheathe and turns it, just so it catches the light of the fire). Now, I’m not saying that it’s true, or that it’s false. But you know, here in these hot climes, water for one’s cattle is rare and precious.

Isaac (suddenly sober, before an accusation): Your Majesty, I can promise you—

Phicol (interrupting): Begging your pardon, My King—to cut to the chase. Now listen, Hebrew. We’ve been letting you people live here, and share the grass of our fields—not that there is all that much. And now, to hear that you’ve taken advantage of our generosity—well, I can’t say I’m surprised. You people have a reputation for those sorts of—pardon me, but I am a soldier, and I speak plainly, of your—dirty dealings—filling in other people’s wells, and such. Shall I bring a couple of squadrons of chariots down upon you and your wife and kiddies? Well, Hebrew? Tell me now, and make it quick. (He has his dagger out, by now, and is pointing it at Isaac’s throat)

Isaac (fists clenched around his staff, but suddenly calm and speaking slowly): King Abimelech, may I remind you to muzzle your dog? Once you do, I will decide whether to answer you.

Phicol: Why, you

(Isaac suddenly brings up his staff, knocking the dagger out of Phicol’s hand, and stands at the ready to defend himself, holding his staff across his body in a defensive posture)

Abimelech (trying to make peace): Here now, gentlemen, shall we come to blows over a few blades of grass, a few drops of water? Here, now! Phicol—calm yourself! I say—I order you to retire, Sir!

Phicol: I do no more than I am commanded, Your Majesty (He salutes, smartly, retrieves and sheathes his dagger, and ceremoniously marches behind his liege king).

Isaac: I will answer, now that I am not threatened—but I say to you, General—if you bring any armed forces upon my land—land which my father purchased, decades ago, and for which I still hold the deed—I will face you, together with four hundred armed servants of my house, and we will resist to the best of our ability. Armed infantry with slings and arrows will be more than a match for your silly horse-wagons. (To Abimelech) Milord King! What do you wish of me, about these wells? My father dug them, and I maintain them.

Abimelech: We ask only—ask only—that you share them with us. That is—is all. (Phicol, behind the king, is fuming, but silent)

Isaac: Done and done. We are, and will continue to be, good neighbors. We will dig up and clear out the wells which (looking sharply at Phicol) your soldiers vandalized by filling them in. However, I will direct my warriors—that is, the protective detail that I will appoint to guard these selfsame wells—to take direct action if your forces threaten them. And, with all due respect, Majesty, do not mistake my courtesy for weakness. Good day (he turns on his heel, and, seeing Rebecca, continues). My Dear, I am sorry that our guests are called away, or they would enjoy some of your homemade—raisin wine, is it? (He hands her his empty wineskin)

Rebecca (staring at the wineskin, and at Isaac): Yes, Husband—I mean, no. (To Abimelech and Phicol) I am sorry that you must leave, Gentlemen; but, my husband is very decisive about these matters. He has more important business to attend than—than yourselves. Good day. (They exit, leaving Abimelech and Phicol alone)

Abimelech (exasperated): Well, I never! These—these—Hebrews!

Phicol: What did I tell you, Majesty?

Abimelech: Oh, shut up. Can’t you even threaten a man, properly? What do I pay you for?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Chayay Sarah: At Home with Newlyweds Isaac & Rebecca

Chayay Sarah

Scene: c. 1400 BCE, give or take a century. The interior of a stucco’d, mud-brick house in Kiryat-Arba, a suburb of the town of Hebron, a Hittite city. It is dusk; Rebecca, a young bride, daughter of Bethuel of Aram-Naharaim, the newlywed bride of Isaac ben Abraham v’Sarah—that is, the late Sarah, who is buried in the field of Ephron the Hittite, called Machpelah—is lighting an oil lamp.
She waves her hands over it, though it is not yet Shabbat, covers her eyes, and prays silently. Then, she returns to the pot she has cooking over the fire in the corner: a red-bean lentil stew for her new husband, Isaac, who will be returning very soon after a day’s shepherding the flocks of his father, Abraham the Hebrew, first to believe in the One True Invisible God.
Still, for now, Rebecca, late an idolater, is alone. She puts down the ladle and walks quietly to a bundle of blankets and bedclothes in the corner, unwraps them carefully, and takes out a small idol-figure: a clay woman with distended belly and breasts, a fertility goddess, named Inanna—a childhood favorite of hers, and a confidante. She kisses the face of the figurine—it has no features, and, even if it did, they would have worn away, by now, from an excess of kissing. Rebecca prays to Inanna, in a chanting sing-song which she learned from her grandmother, Milcah, after Rebecca’s own mother died giving birth to her:

Rebecca: “When the Sky god, An, had flown to the heavens/ And the Air god, Enlil, had settled to earth/ When the Queen of Underworld, Eresh-kigal, received her domain/ And Woman first baked bread to nourish Life,/ A Woman who feared the Sky-god An/ And revered the god of Air, Enlil,/ Saw the Tree which Enki, god of Wisdom, had planted/ By the Euphrates, for Inanna/ Mother of All,/ To rest therein—/ O make me fertile, White Goddess! Make me flower, and bear fruit/ Let not Lilith take my fruit away….

(She continues, silently, rocking back-and-forth, as Isaac enters; he leans his shepherd’s-crook in the corner.)

Isaac: Good Evening to you, Wife! Is dinner ready?

Rebecca: Oh! My husband—I was distracted (She hastily hides the idol beneath the covers, rises, straightens her robe)—sit, Husband, sit. I will bring you dinner, bread, and spiced wine.

Isaac (sits at the rough table in the corner): What a day I had! Papa is no easier to work for, now that his rheumatism is kicking in, and he comes out to fields more rarely. He is just as harsh a taskmaster as ever, nay more, for me and Chief Servant Eliezer and the boys (imitating Abraham’s voice):

“Where are taking the sheep, Isaac? That grass on yonder hillside is tainted, surely; you will poison the flock,” or, “That little spotted-and-speckled ram is growing well, but if you do not keep close watch on his frolicking, he will gambol himself off a cliff, mark my words! Break his legs, spine, his silly head, I tell ye—and then, not even them idolatrous priests of Baal or them horrible cult dancin’-girls of Inanna will buy it for a sacrifice, mark me! Watch out, watch out, you nincompoops—Adonoi’s beard, what would you do ‘thout me to keep a sharp eye on your shenanigans? Ah, the heat, the heat! Eliezer, my faithful man-jack, fetch me a nipperful of cool wine to fend off the vapors….”

Rebecca: Poor Papa Abie! He does mean well, I suppose….

Isaac: Why, whose side are you on? I was just digging up a couple of Dad’s old wells—getting the drop on those Philistines—that rabble of Abimelech and Phicol’s, don’cha know—and a pair of Phicol’s Philistinny cavalry troopers started in, charging at me! I tell you, I took to my heels, quickly—

Rebecca (gently but firmly): Philistines, Dear? Don’t you mean Hittites?

Isaac (his mouth full of bread and stew): No, they were Philistines. I’m sure of it. They wore those—those—horsehair helmet-trims, or something. Yes. I know.

Rebecca: Because there are Philistine encampments on the coast of the Great Sea, but none inland. Eliezer told me so, just the other day. None so deep inland as here. They must have been Hittites.

Isaac (nonplussed): Well—well—whatever they were, they did charge me. I say, you can see it here, yourself! Come look! (He displays a small cut on his forearm) That is where the Sergeant-Major took a piece out of me, with his lance. I was lucky to parry with my shepherd’s staff, while I was running away.

Rebecca (whispering, more to herself): I wish you wouldn’t run….

Isaac (flustered and becoming angry, knowing what she thinks of his lack of courage): What’s that, Woman? Speak up when you talk to me!

Rebecca (not fearing him): I wasn’t exactly talking to you, Isaac; I was talking to our God, our Invisible God, the one you and Papa talk to me about, all the time. I am trying to get into the habit of telling Him my problems.

Isaac (not giving up): Problems? (Sarcastically) Such as what problems, my little Aramean Princess?

Rebecca (losing her temper): Such as being married to a man who feels the need to hide away whenever a—a—conflict takes place. Or run to his father. I don’t know you very well, Isaac son of Abraham, but where I come from—Aram between the Two Rivers, a country of courageous men—men are not so quick to fight. They talk. And they make peace. Or, at least, they don’t run away from a confrontation, and go crying to their papas to fix things for them.

Isaac (sputtering with rage, and shaking his spoon at her): Why, you—you—what do you know about me, you little snip of an Aramean hillbilly? My people come from Ur of the Chaldees, the mightiest city of our day, the—

Rebecca (coolly): …which you yourself have never seen, but which your dear, departed Mama Sarah used to tell you bedtime stories about, when she wasn’t spoiling you to death (he begins to cry)—Oh, Isaac, I’m sorry.

Isaac (sobbing): What do you care? Your mother isn’t dead (Rebecca begins to cry)—oh, wait, she is, too!

(They hug, trying to comfort one another)

Rebecca: Well, there’s no getting around it: we are a pretty pair.

Isaac: Yes, thrown together by Destiny.

Rebecca: Or our fathers. Or your father’s chief servant, Eliezer, my savior with the dozen camels, the boxes of gold jewelry for bribing a little Aramean hillbilly princess (he smiles at her teasing) and the deep voice. ‘Will it please you, Little Girl, to come to accompany me, to marry my Master Isaac, whom you have never met, in a land you have never seen? Harrumph, harrumph.’

(They are both laughing now, at the memory.)

Isaac: But, my little dove, my sweetest Becky, when I first saw you! There, in the sunset—

Rebecca: Yes: you were wearing a golden tunic and cloak, and wearing an ornamental sword—you looked like my tall, dark Desert Prince. So handsome. Whose sword was that, anyway? I have never seen it, since. (Teasingly) Was it a rental, from Shomerbaal in the Hebron Shuk? Or did you borrow it from some mighty sheikh?

Isaac (proudly, yet knowing she is still teasing him, refusing to get angry or take the bait): That sword is my father’s—he wore it when he married my mother.

Rebecca: So, Sheikh Isaac—where was it, at our wedding?

Isaac: Well, you know me, Becky—I had lost it, or misplaced it, or something. Never fear: it will turn up, when I’m—

Rebecca (finishing his sentence for him, as loving couples do): …looking for something else. Yes, My Isaac, I know you, far too well. I—oh, wait—I feel dizzy—(She starts to grow limp in his arms)

Isaac (alarmed): Becky—what’s the matter? (He struggles to hold her up) Rebecca—please don’t—don’t die! I love you! (Calling for help, loudly) I say—alarm! Alarm! Servants, ho! Eliezer, Anat! Come to me, Isaac, your master!

(Enter Eliezer and his wife Anat, half-dressed, but alert to any signs of danger in their young master’s home)

Eliezer: What is it, Master Isaac? What ails young Mistress Rebecca? Anat, my dear wife—let us attend to her….(They carry Rebecca, half-fainting, to a bed in the corner of the room, and Anat begins to gently pat her cheeks. Other servants, young and old, enter; they see Rebecca prostrate, and cluster around, concerned and worried.) Stand back, ho! Give her air—and fetch the strong drink—is there any honey mead about?

Anat (kneeling, after a quick examination of Rebecca’s face and body): My Young Master Isaac, has Mistress Rebecca eaten today?

Isaac (concerned, but somewhat crossly): Why, Anat, how should I know? I rose while still ‘twas dark, and have been out in the fields since ‘way before sunup—

Kigalla (another servant, just a bit younger than Anat, stepping forward): Begging your pardon for interrupting, Sir—my Mistress Rebecca did not summon me to bring her breakfast this morning, Senior Servant Anat. When I queried her why, she said, ‘I cannot seem to keep anything down, Kigalla. I will have only herbal tea and a tiny bit of barley bread, today.’ (She and Anat nod at one another, wisely.) Praise to Inanna—I mean, to Shekhinah! She is—must be—

Anat: Silence, Old Friend and Fellow Midwife Kigalla—(In a loud voice, to the crowd) All men out! Out, you rabble, hairy, smelly, useless men! Out! (Eliezer begins to protest, sees his wife’s face, thinks better of it—but Anat grabs hold of Isaac’s arm, and nods to her husband, Chief Servant Eliezer, to remain; he does so, with a firm grip on Isaac’s slender shoulder) You, Sir, Young Master Isaac, you stay right here—with my husband.

Isaac (puzzled, as the room empties quickly): What? Why? What—what’s happening?

Anat (As the room is now empty, she strokes Rebecca’s cheek, and Rebecca opens her eyes): Young Master—what’s happening, is that you are about to become a father (glances at Rebecca’s slim form, presses her belly)—of twins, I should say. Praise to the Heights! Our tribe increases! Good stars and constellations to our dear, sweet mistress and master! (Speaking and pointing with her thumb to a young maidservant) You, little Avdiella, run and summon Old Master Abraham—he will be so, so happy! Mazel Tov! (All clap and cheer)

Eliezer (hitting Isaac a stunning blow on the back, so that he nearly stumbles): Mazel Tov!

(Laughter; the sound of flutes, drums, and timbrels)


Who is Fit to Lead America?

Who is Fit to Lead America?
The Words of Past Presidents

Compiled & Edited by David Hartley Mark

Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.
Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.
If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.
--George Washington

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.
But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.
Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.
[The US has a] government of laws, and not of men.
--John Adams

I cannot live without books.
Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.
Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.
When angry, count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.
Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.
--Thomas Jefferson

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.
You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt.
Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.
--Abraham Lincoln

To educate a person in the mind, but not in morals, is to educate a menace to society.
Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.
--Theodore Roosevelt

You do not lead by hitting people over the head - that's assault, not leadership.
Never let yourself be persuaded that any one Great Man, any one leader, is necessary to the salvation of America. When America consists of one leader and 158 million followers, it will no longer be America.
Get it all on record now - get the films - get the witnesses -because somewhere down the road of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened.
--Dwight Eisenhower

Sources: BrainyQuote, Goodreads, WikiQuotes

Friday, November 18, 2016

Morning, with Ibises, at Prayer: a Poem

Morning, with Ibises, at Prayer

By David Hartley Mark

                                                O Lord God I thank you
                                                On this greyblack sunbreaking throughclouds
                                                Florida November morning:
                                                While putting a new plastic garbage bag
                                                Into the brightgreen plastic can
                                                That stands on St. Augustine’s Grass
                                                By the curbside
                                                If we had a curb

                                                I stopped
                                                From my inthoughts
                                                And worries
                                                Of politics
                                                And America
                                                And Washington
                                                And the World….

                                                For the Lord God had sent me
                                                A minyan—a prayer-quorum
                                                Of ibises
                                                White and grey,
                                                Spotted and speckled,
                                                Brown and Black,
                                                Moving as One—

                                                Silently praying,
                                                In their own Ibis-fashion
                                                To the God Who made Ibises,
                                                Worms for their Provender,
Bugs for Variety,
Also Women and Men:

Bending and Bowing,
Straightening, Stretching,
Paying Obeisance
To the Lord of Us All.

“Mortal!” they admonished me,
In their silent ibisitude,
“We dwell in peace—
“Why on Earth
“Can’t you?”
Thus, having berated me,
Silently, Stilly,
My flock of Ten Zen Masters
Moved quietly away

Spreading their wide wings
Quitting this dull earth
Leaving it to us—

First, pray.
Then, work.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Fighting Nazi Stephen Bannon: My Letter to Sen. Marco Rubio


Dear Sen. Rubio,

As a Jew, a rabbi, and an American, I am very concerned over the appointment of the racist Stephen Bannon to be Donald Trump's chief of staff. (I am not happy with many of his other associates, either, including his vice-president.) Bannon is well-known as a head of, a scurrilous, racist, anti-semitic online rag which regularly prints lies about President Obama, African-Americans, Jews, and other issues.

I have been a rabbi for nearly forty years. I am also a college English professor, with the majority of my students African-American and Hispanic-American. These are wonderful young people (and some not so young) who are hard-working, with jobs, and most of them with families. They are eager to achieve their piece of the American Dream, and I am privileged to be able to help them as much as I can.

Sen. Rubio, I am very busy with my weekend Shabbat temple job (Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach) and my teaching. You, Sir, are busy, as well, with all the tumult in Washington, D.C.

I would be happy to invite you to speak at our congregation, knowing, of course, that your schedule is immensely crammed with duties of all sorts. I am honored that you, Sir, are our senator, and look forward to your strong efforts in leading us against any sort of divisiveness which may be approaching our nation in the future. I note that you are the son of immigrants, as well, and doubtless repudiate racism in any form. I would be happy to assist by writing any sort of letter you would ask me to.

We have come too far to turn back now. My Polish and Austro-Hungarian immigrant grandparents would be horrified at the developments here in America today. We are a nation of immigrants, as I tell my students, even those of us who were born here. I love my students and want to see them all be safe and succeed.

Thank you for your attention.

With Best Wishes,

Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Vayeira: The Donkey's Testimony


By David Hartley Mark

            All have heard, I am sure, of the Sacrifice of Isaac, how the Lord God demanded that Abraham take and sacrifice his son, his only son, whom he loved, that is, Isaac. Abraham was commanded to take his son—the younger, not the elder; Ishmael was, by this time, bending his bow in the wilderness of Paran, and seeking a bride from Egypt—and sacrifice him upon Mount Moriah, which may or may not have been the Temple Mount, in centuries to come.

            Of course, this was only a test. Why God chose to do this is shrouded in mystery. At the last minute, God changed His mind, sent an angel to clear things up with poor, deluded old Abraham—the various Jewish commentaries have given reasons enough for this—and conveniently planted a ram in the thicket, there for Abraham, His good and faithful servant, to snare, slay, and sacrifice. Well and good, except for the ram, whose selfless donation to the drama the Jewish People memorialize each year, by sounding the shofar, or ram’s horn, on their High Holy Days. It does not return my Brother Ram to life, but I am certain that he appreciates being thought of.

The shofar is, of course, the supreme symbol of the High Holies. It has given rise to a belief that, just as Isaac was willing to make the supreme sacrifice—I am personally uncertain of this; after all, his father never formally asked him—so should all Jews be similarly willing. Well, I have my doubts, but I do believe in the power of Tradition.

You may ask, how do I know so much about this and various other traditions? I am no angel, Seraph of flaming fire, or emissary of the Lord God Almighty; no. I am a far humbler messenger. I am none other than the donkey who bore both Master Abraham and Son Isaac to the Place of Sacrifice, Mount Moriah. Today, it serves as the possible foundation of the Temple, which Jews believe will be rebuilt when Messiah arrives.

A donkey, you say? And you, perhaps, laugh up your sleeve. But Gentle Reader, I am no ordinary Jack, or male donkey. No, indeed: I am a creature of legend and Midrash, of story and myth. I was created at twilight on the Eve of the First Sabbath. I am pure white in color. I rode with Noah on the Ark; I carried both King David and King Solomon into the Holy City of Jerusalem, on their respective Coronation Days, and it will be my holy task to bear the blessed weight of none other than Messiah into that noble city, when the End of Days arrives—what we call Eschatology. The Temple will be rebuilt, and Universal Peace will reign.

Do you laugh, Reader? Well, I can counsel you: stranger things have happened. I myself speak only of bearing the ruler or holy leader—that is, Abraham, David, Solomon, and the like. There are instances I could name where people have chosen such as me—a donkey, that is—as a political leader, and borne the consequences.

Well, I will keep silent. Abraham did what he felt best: that is, to follow the Lord’s instructions blindly, and not argue with Him. There are self-styled godly people such as that in the world today, I understand. Still, it baffles me how these same people can pick and choose what verses they prefer to enforce from the Bible, using them as cudgels to beat their neighbors over the head with. Even more strangely, they choose to ignore other verses which one might consider fundamental to the proper ordering of society—when Abraham and Abimelech settled their disagreement over sharing a well, for example. Abimelech saw that Abraham was a stranger, but he struck an agreement which gave both of them access to the well and its benefits (Gen. 21:25-34). They might not have loved one another, but they did respect each other. Though Abimelech was a pagan, he showed a great deal of good judgment in dealing with Abraham, a stranger in his land.

Don’t misunderstand me, Reader—I myself pick and choose—not from the Bible, of course, but when I eat my provender. There are grains I prefer, and I eat them first, such as sweet oats, while bitter sorghum is not my favorite, but I do get around to nibbling at it, sooner or later. Yet I wonder at human leaders who sin and brag about their mistreatment of—of—women, for example, and then play the saint, once they enter office. I have never mistreated a jenny—that is, a female donkey—in my entire life.

Well, enough of this. I am a donkey, and my task is to bear my burdens patiently, and not complain. I bore my masters Abraham and Isaac to the mountain and back again, even when I knew their mission was pointless, though noble in intent.

I have seen leaders, prophets, and kings come and go, and, unlike your human leaders, I exist forever. I will therefore keep silent, munch at my hay, and stand ready to admire the superior wisdom of you humans. We donkeys have small brains and are easily impressed, but never fear: we are always able to smell donkey-like behavior on the part of self-serving, big-headed, sanctimonious humans, especially those whom you have chosen to be leaders.

My dear Abraham made mistakes, but he learned from the Torah of God, and his love of humanity. I can only hope and pray that your leaders will humble themselves sufficiently to do the same.