Sunday, December 10, 2017

Miketz: The Cup-Bearer's Midnight Confession


by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Midnight in Heliopolis, Egypt, during the reign of Seti I (1291-1278 BCE). The throne room of the Pharaoh, dark now, in the middle of the night. We see the Cup-Bearer, lately freed from prison, sprawled on the King’s royal throne, normally a capital offense, but His Majesty is safely in bed. The Cup-Bearer, Semnet, speaks:

Who’s there, ha? (drunkenly) Is that you, Stranger? The Royal Soothsayer told me that you would be paying me a visit. Come in, come in, and we will drink your health!

(Waves his winecup around, spilling some of its contents—it is the Pharaoh’s Own Cup, another act of sacrilege, for the Pharaoh is a god, and mere mortals may not use his personal items.)

There now! Have I spilt some of the king’s wine onto the king’s throne? Oh, I am undone, surely—if anyone should discover my trespass and theft, I will die for certain—hanging, drawing and quartering will be my fate, certainly!

(He gives a bitter laugh.)

Well, yes, Stranger, I admit that my crimes are daring, not to say foolhardy, of me—but I have cause to risk my life, cause enough. I do not fear death, nor being escorted into the Afterlife by Anubis and his lot. Why, do you ask? Because my life is done, in any case. Ever since I was imprisoned for neglecting to strain His Majesty’s wine sufficiently—by my neglectful actions, King Seti caught a wine-seed in his teeth! Ha! Can you imagine a worse act of negligence on my part? For his Royal Teeth to catch a common grapeseed—and the Royal Teeth are blackened and rotten, as any one of his queens or concubines will tell you—for that crime, he threw me into prison!

(He drinks, only to find the cup empty. He looks around and  examines the wine bottles he has emptied, and becomes disappointed.)

The wine is gone—into my commoner’s belly, I’ll warrant you! Stolen from the King’s Own Wine-Cellar, too. And drinking from his cup! Ha! Crime upon crime, say I….

But Stranger, I will confide in you—I know that you will not tell His Majesty of my sins against the Sacred Personage of Pharaoh. Why am I drunk and seated on the Royal Throne? Because of that accursed Hebrew, that Joseph….

(He sits in silence for a bit, brooding.)

…because I can tell that he will be the end of us all, us native-born Egyptians. I have heard already of his becoming Minister of Agriculture, Vice-Pharaoh, and Minister Plenipotentiary—that weaselly Hebrew! Soon, he will bring the rest of his tribe down here, with their cattle and One-God-isms—why could he not remain in Canaan, where he belongs? Our garrisons in Sinai would have crushed him; but no.

No, you are correct, Stranger: the Hebrews have not yet arrived. But just today, I put my ear to the keyhole of Joseph’s private chambers, and heard him berating his—his—fellow tribesmen. Can you imagine, I heard a rumor that that rabble of sack-hauling, grain-seeking desert Bedouin are his brothers? No good will come of this, surely—

And more news, Stranger: those Hyksos tribesmen, they who ride in chariots swifter than ours, are approaching our gates, and will be here (so my scouts tell me) in but a week’s time. Between the Hyksos and the Hebrews, where are we native Egyptians to go?

Oh, Stranger! Were I the Pharaoh, I promise you, I would be mustering my troops to drive out the Hebrews, this Joseph in the forefront. And I would send three battalions of the Royal Army to thrash the Hyksos, and drive them away! If only, if only….

(Sounds of marching boots coming towards the throne room. The Cup-Bearer throws down Pharaoh’s winecup, and hides behind the throne, whispering fearfully: )

Who’s there, ha? Holy Osiris shield me! If I am caught in here, I am doomed, for certain—

(The door crashes open, and a platoon of Royal Guardsmen enters, led by Captain Mendis. The captain calls out: )

“I heard noises coming from this room—Guards! Go and search—I hope that I was hearing only the voices of dead Pharaohs past, and that no one is here alive, in the Sacred Precincts of our Holy Pharaoh!”

(The Guards search the room thoroughly, and bring forth the Cup-Bearer, who is trembling in fear for his life. They drag him before the captain.)

“Explain yourself, Cup-Bearer! What led you to take such liberties in the Sacred Chamber of our King-god, Pharaoh Seti I, who shines like the sun and reflects like the moon?”

(The Cup-Bearer is shaking with fear, but he answers boldly: )

Do you not fear the double threat of the Hebrews led by Joseph, and the Hyksos, who are fast approaching? Or are you naïve and trusting, like our oaf of a Pharaoh?

(The Captain replies: )

“Silence, blasphemer against His Majesty! As long as I bear a sword and shield to defend my Pharaoh and commander, I fear nothing. Pah! You worry for nothing—and now, your life is forfeit. Take him away!”

(The Guards drag out the cup-bearer, who is crying and protesting. After they haul  him through the double doors of the Throne Room, we hear his final scream.)

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Peace of Jerusalem

The Peace of Jerusalem

by David Hartley Mark

                                                The Lamb said to the Lion,
                                                “I’m getting off here—this is my stop.”
                                                While the Lion shot tear gas grenades
                                                And water cannon
                                                And young men without jobs
                                                Or hope
                                                Burned flags and posters
                                                Of the American Satan

                                                After morning prayers,
                                                Thousands of demonstrators
                                                Flocked out of their houses
                                                Of worship
                                                And marched,
                                                And hollered,
                                                As long as the cameras were on

                                                While other young men
                                                In flak jackets
                                                Shot rubber bullets
                                                To stop them
                                                From the same four cubits of Land
                                                Which both sides lay claim to

                                                An Intifada is brewing,
                                                And thousands will die
                                                For a few stone buildings

                                                And the Presence of their G-d

                                                While the Presence ascends,
                                                Saying, “I cannot abide here
                                                In a place of War;
                                                My Place is with peace.”

                                                And the voice of the cockroach
                                                Is heard on TV:
                                                “This was the right thing to do.”

                                                Hear the voice of Jeremiah:

                                                “Among all Her lovers
                                                She hath none to comfort her,”
The City of riotousness,
                                                The unshared City,
                                                In smoke and in fire,
                                                In the Shadow of God.



Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Self-Righteous Cockroach

The Self-Righteous Cockroach 

By David Hartley Mark 

There was a cockroach who, despite living a filthy life, being scorned by the other denizens of the animal kingdom, and having difficulty earning their trust, had yet another fault: he could never tell the truth. Other animals and more industrious insects shunned him, but he never noticed: he was also an egotist, braggart, and narcissist. Sycophant flies clustered around him, since he always knew where to find the choicest offal. 

Despite the cockroach's disagreeable lifestyle, he lived richly for a roach, never realizing the utter decay and disgrace of his surroundings. He felt himself irresistable to female cockroaches, despite their bringing lawsuits against him from time to time, for using his heavy weight and extensive antennae to take liberties with their shells and lower parts. The cockroach thought nothing of these legal matters; he kept a stable of renegade owls to defend him in Animal Court, usually countersued his opponents, or settled out of court. 

The cockroach—whose name was Lump—might have gone on living his hedonistic lifestyle, moving from mate to mate, and always seeking out a pile of excrement to erect into what he considered a fitting monument to his greatness. One day, however, he heard that the animals were having an election, and, after making a bet with a scorpion that he could win, entered the race. 

It was a great surprise to one and all when the cockroach won. The Animal Authorities suspected Foul Play—they knew that the cockroach's fly-cohorts had been seen having carrion with some waterbugs from Aissur. A rumor spread that the waterbugs had crawled into the voting machines and altered them, so that a vote for the opponent, a female moose of some doubtful political characteristics named Billary, translated into a vote for Lump, the Cockroach. Nothing could be proven, however, and so Cockroach Lump was elected Animal President Lump. 

The animals strove to return to their routine lives, expecting their new president to be similar to his predecessors, if a bit slower to learn Animal Federal Procedures. They were surprised and shocked to learn that their new leader did not put his legislative proposals through the normal channels—that is, the Animal Parliament—but, rather, made assemblages of filth, carrion, and excrement in the Animal House garden, forming it into sentences which were both questionable in meaning and smelly. On the first day, a plover circling over the Presidential Palace spotted Lump's Lumps of carrion, laid out to read: 


Upon closer examination, Animal Agents of the ABI, studying President Lump's Poopy Piles, found evidence that the waterbugs, together with an Irish Setter named Glynn (he was Lump's Chief of Dogstaff), had provided the offal to construct the sentences. 

During a press conference, the Sparrow- and Wren-Reporters questioned Lump extensively about the Poopy Pile, but he denied any waterbug involvement, and referred them to Glynn, the Setter. The following Monday, Glynn tendered his resignation. Alarmed, the Animal Parliament—which consisted largely of members of Lump's Insect Party—called for an investigation, due to animal outcry. The head of the investigative team was a retired head of the ABI, a bloodhound named Sniffor, who was known for being both perspicacious and patient.  

Lump, seeing he would have to defend himself, fell back on his Poopy Pile method. A flock of Canada geese heading for warmer climes spotted the scum of Lump's efforts: 


"It all looks very suspicious," said a Sparrow to a Wren.  

"It's all the fault of Billary," said Lump, as a press conference. He then went on to 
commit more animal troops to foreign countries, recognize the City of Peace as the capital of Canaan—which led to immediate war—and cut back the acreage in Animaldom's National Parks.  

Animaldom was in an uproar. Both parties wrangled in Parliament, the Animal media buzzed nonstop, and Lump went off to play Flog and construct his Poopy Piles. 

No one knew what might happen next. 

Only Sniffor the Bloodhound licked his paw, and kept on with his investigation. 


When you vote for a cockroach who gives off a stink 
Don't be surprised at how he will think— 
And if poopy's his life, his dwelling, his house, 
You may end up wishing you'd elected a louse.