Sunday, October 27, 2013

Esav At Home; or, A Sympathetic Soliloquy for the Passed-Over Brother

Scene: Night. The wilderness encampment shared by Be’eri and Elon, princes of the Hittite Tribe. Esav ben Yitzchak v’Rivkah has just paid the mohar, the bride-price for Judith bat Beeri and Basemat bat Elon. He lies in a tent, drinking spiced wine and getting acquainted with his two new pagan brides.

            Call me Esav; some call me Edom, the Red-haired, the Mighty One, who breaks men in half like pieces of rotten wood. My story? You want to hear about me? I understand your curiosity, my being your new husband, but forgive my saying that no one has ever taken an interest in my life before—everyone who came to sit under my father Isaac’s roof always wanted to hear about my younger brother Jacob. ‘God’s favorite,’ they called him, and why? Because he was clever! Tricky is what I called him; not-to-be-trusted, the one you had to watch always, the one you were afraid to turn your back on.
            It’s been that way all of my life, and I don’t know why. I am the elder brother; I am supposed to be the favorite! And yet, for as long as I can remember, even when we were little and just starting out to be shepherds, Jacob could do things I couldn’t do, like keep the sheep grazing in one place, stop them from wandering off. I just couldn’t do that—I was always distracted, by the wind, the sun, birds flying by, dust-motes wandering in the wind, just like that, just-like-that—(he sips some wine and stares off into the fire, suddenly distracted)….
            What’s that? Eh? Oh, and so my parents took me off shepherd duty—they got tired of the sheep wandering off while I was skylarking—and ‘prenticed me to my Uncle Ishmael, the archer, the hunter. He taught me all he knew, about creeping through the woods—so quiet, so quiet!—and sneaking up on a deer, getting so, so close that that old buckhorn couldn’t smell you, though you were so dripping with sweat in your hot leather vest and breeches that you could smell yourself, half-a-mile off; ‘Crouch down in the high grass, boy,’ Uncle Ish would whisper, clapping his big horny hand atop my head for emphasis, to make his point, ‘Take your aim, and nail that big-horn buck, right there in the throat—there, that’s the way!’—and I would pull back my bowstring, so, so taut, and let the arrow fly—and, before you could say, ‘Halleluyah, Great God of Hosts!’ there would be roast venison for dinner. Papa loved it when I brought him fresh meat; sometimes, he would get so emotional, he would kiss my hands: ‘The hands of my son, the hunter!’ he would say.
            You see, that I could do: I could hunt. And Uncle Ish—and Papa, they were so proud of me! Papa especially; I think because Grandpa Abe never let him hunt; he always had to be chasing after the sheep and goats, and Grandpa never let Papa have any fun—and then, there was that Evil Day, that day that Papa and Mama don’t talk about, that day that Grandpa took Papa, and almost (whispers) sacrificed him, to the God-Who-Is. Can you believe it? Well, now (takes a deep gulp of wine from the cup which Judith fills)—thank you, my love—
            But Jacob! I could never figure him out. Pretended to be my friend—(mimics Jacob’s higher voice):‘C’mon now, Esav, Big Red (so he called me; he knew I was sensitive about my hair and my fair skin burning in the sun, and us supposed to be twins, though he was darker than I)—have some red bean stew—it’ll bring out the red in your hair! Ha! Just a joke’—but I was hungry, and the deer and pheasant just weren’t there for the hunting, that hot hot day—
            ‘Brother Jake,’ said I, nice as you could want, ‘Gi’me some of that there red bean stew, please.’
            But he cocks an eye at me, and I think in my head, ‘Uh-oh—what’s this boy going to fool me with now?’
            ‘Tell you what, Big Red,’ he smiles at me, ‘I’ll sell you the stew, a big bowl of it, and a honking chunk of bread, too—for your birthright paper!’
            To tell you the truth, I was relieved. What good was that old paper? I was hungry enough to die, and I knew that Papa loved me anyway, and would give me what I needed when the time came—and Papa was young, death was far off! So what good was that birthright to me at all?
            ‘Here it is,’ I said, and took the paper out of my hunter’s bag, and wrote an ‘X’ on it to sign it over to him, and got my big bowl, right away.
            But now, my belly’s full of good roast meat, and I’ve had my fill of wine, and I have you two lovely ladies for my wives—and I may have to kill my brother (Drinks). Life’s a funny thing, O God-Who-Is!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Chap. VIII. Clymene & Strap Enter the Dismal Wood, As the Sun is Setting. Be Warned by the Ouroboros!

            Holding hands—or claw to hand—the pair raced into the Dismal Wood, where the sun was already setting. A signboard pointed the way: Waie to Wisdomme: or, The Road to Learning Harde & Rockie Be; Not for the Squeamish or Easilie Discourragedde.
            Butterflies large and small, spiders spinning webs of blue and green and gold, retreated before the young pair.
            “Won’t do to have you two, won’t do,” said a largish mother-spider, hurrying her brood away.
            “A talking spider—a wonder! O Strap, my new, and best friend in this strange and unknown world!” breathed Clymene, her chest heaving, “Where shall we go?”
            “I am a scholar, a yeshiva shade-daemon,” answered the kobold, tilting his leathern wings into an attitude of concentration, “and see only this road. I am first in my class at the Daemon Yeshiva, and, by Ashmedai, my highest teacher, will do my best to excel in whatever tests or traps we may encounter!”
            “Then we cannot fail,” Clymene said, although not understanding everything that Strap was saying; as a Greco-nymph, she was bred and raised to be more ornamental than intellectual, but she thought him very daring with his brown skin and flashing golden eyes. And so, hand-in-hand, they moved along the path, claw by foot.
            The birds grew larger, crows and jackdaws, fluttering from tree to stone to tree, watching them, looking about. There had been squirrels and rabbits, but these retreated before the creatures of the night.
            The Wood grew darker, as the sun set and a huge harvest moon rose in the eastern sky.
            “O Diana,” said Clymene, “Virgin Queen of the night, please bless our progress this evening—may your arrows and hounds guard us as we—eek!”
            Her last words choked off as they turned the path and saw a serpent lying in the road, there, in the gathering dusk. No ordinary serpent, either: titanic in size, it lay in a circle, its head a-gleam and silvery-red like new-spilled blood, shiny scales tapering into a body of rainbow hue, but turning all flaked and old by the time it reached the tail. The young pair stood a bit farther away; the serpent’s eyes were closed, but its body pulsated, as though it were breathing: more, as though an electric charge were moving through its body.
            Strap was first to speak: “Sir Serpent, we are Strap, a Yeshivish Kobold, and Clymene, a Greco-Nymph. We are in lo—lo—we seek passage to the Waie to Wisdomme, and a haven of safety, there to fulfill our love. Will you let us pass?”
            The Serpent slowly opened one eye, the one closest to them. It raised its head from the coilly masses and groaned: a groan such as never had been heard before in earth or heaven; a groan to waken all the dead souls a-flit through Hell, or Hades, or Gehenna:
            “Who are you, young people? And why should I move from before you? I have lain in this path for ever and aye; I have seen better than you pass by, aye, and wiser, but they came to naught, to naught,I tell you…. This is the Road of Life, and woe to those who follow it; young and fair you may be, but old and spare you will end, begging for me to roll across your path; aye, and end your pointless seeking…. Good—bad—indifferent—it is Life, and you cannot question.”
            Having spoken, the Serpent closed its eyes, and resumed its measured breathing, with a sigh or groan or two thrown in, for good measure.
            “What shall we do, Sir Strap, my Lo—my dearest friend?” asked Clymene, opening her blue eyes very wide, and clutching her hands; she let drop a flower-petal or two, which skittered across the Serpent’s path, and instantly withered.
            Strap thought. “I will question him again. We could fly over him—I could carry you, Dear—my friend, but it is not polite, in daemon- or fairyland, to ignore what lies in one’s path. The Drabbis told us that whatever happens, happens for a reason.”
            The little kobold advanced a step toward the Serpent, and asked it again: “We bear you no ill will, Sir Serpent; we seek only to enter the precincts of Wisdomme. You are correct in saying that we are young, and full of hope. Will you bless our mission, therefore, and let us pass?”
            The Serpent looked up, and opened its mouth—not to speak, but to swallow its own tail, it seemed. It rose in the road like a chariot-wheel, spun three times from side to side on the path, and spoke again:
            Young kobold, I am the Ouroboros. Mark me well. Pass or pass not; go or stay; do or stand: it is all the same. All changes, all remains. Mark-me-well.
            “Oh!” exclaimed Strap, and knelt down in the road—“Do so, as well!” he whispered fiercely to Clymene, who followed his lead.
“Why are we doing this for a snake?” she whispered.
“I’ll tell you in a bit—“ said Strap, but the Serpent spoke again:
            Maiden! You are, this time in your life, in the prime of beauty, health, and loveliness: but there will come one day a time when you will age, and wither, and think back on these days as a dream, a passing cloud, a veil, an illusion. I am He-who-never-ages; I mark the seasons, dawns and dusks; I am the Power that cannot fail, the Force that reckons no starting or stopping. The Nameless One who rules the universe uses Me to measure its length and breadth, and, due to me, there are those nations and peoples which will live forever. I am the Covenant in the flesh. I am the Serpent that never dies. I am the Ouroboros!
            A flash; a whirring sound, as of a wheel; a clap of thunder; he was gone.
            “People come and go so quickly here!” said Clymene.
            Strap said nothing; he went over and sniffed at the path where the Serpent had lain.
            “There is nothing to do but continue,” he said.
            The pair held hands and walked along. The road seemed to be paved with carven blocks of jewels: chrysolite, carnelian, and emerald, shining in the moonlight. On either side were roses of all kinds, whose perfume filled the air. A sky full of stars: Bootes, the ox-driver, and his two hunting dogs.
            “How beautiful this place is!” said Clymene.
            “And I lo—lo—enjoy your company so much!” said Strap.
            Ahhrrr—Ra—Ra—Ra—a sudden sound made them halt, and look around: the moon still lit their path, the stars kept their courses. Strap took out his wand, and shone a beam of Storah-light upon an uppermost branch. A flutter of wings, and it was away.
            “Did you hear it?” asked Strap.
            “Did you see it?” asked Clymene, shivering; Strap held her tightly, and folded his wings around her; she warmed into his grasp, but it took a time before her trembling ceased.
            “What was it, Strap? What was it? So big, so formless—I could not see; and then, it flew away—so big—“ she whispered into his ear.
            “I saw it,” said the kobold, slowly, and carefully, not to frighten the nymph, “and heard—it was nothing.” But to himself, he said, “The chatter of a death-demon from a tree-top.”


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Chap. VII. Clymene the Greek Nymph & Leatherstrap the Jewish Kobold Together at Last. But Where are They to Go? Beware of Bailiff Silenus!


Clymene was walking in a verdant meadow. At her feet were a riot of flowers, in all the colors of the rainbow: pink, her favorite; blue, gold, and red. She bent, picked a handful, and, as she strolled, smiling in the sunlight and inhaling deeply of their perfumes, wove them into a chaplet that she placed on her head, shining amid her golden curls. Far off—but not too far off—she saw a young satyr, muscular, dark-haired and bearded, sounding a horn made from a mountain-goat’s twisted horns: the sound echoed and re-echoed from hill to glen. He ceased,  lowered the horn, and slowly surveyed the valley and hills. When his glance met hers, she cast down her eyes, as a modest nymph is taught to do, but peeped up slightly, to see if he was still looking in her direction—as he was.
            She turned and ran, hearing his hoof beats gaining behind her, and suddenly fearful—they had not been introduced, and he seemed very large, and strong—she ran as fast as she could, but it did no good. Suddenly, she felt his rough hands on her silken scarf—why had she not pulled it in close, rather than let it trail behind?—and he cast her down to the ground.
            Desperate, she covered her eyes, crossed her legs, and awaited the inevitable—from a distance, she heard the roar of a nearby waterfall, crackling and crashing against the springtime rocks, which had only lately been freed after the melting of the winter ice—crack—crash!—crack—crash!—crack….
            She awoke: no satyr, no horn, no honor to protect; instead, she found herself covered with acorns, and saw Leatherstrap, the kobold, hovering outside her window. When he saw her eyes open, he grinned, and spoke: “Princess Clymene,” he said, and made a little mid-air bow, “I, Leatherstrap, thy humble kobold servant, do beg an audience with thee.”
            Clutching the bedclothes to her bosom, Clymene sat up in bed, rubbing her eyes with her other hand: “And is this the way a kobold suitor awakens his mistress?” she asked, in mock- anger.
            “Ah, no!” said Strap, “for among our people, the shadchan-kobold must examine the background, yichus-lineage, and appropriateness of both sides of each family. You must pardon me”—he said, glancing quickly at the ground beneath, and hopping over the windowsill, and into Clymene’s bedroom—“but I left a sage satyr beneath your window, empty wine-bottle at his side,  snoring like the Demomnibus at a red-signal—I overheard him telling a faun that he must guard you like the apple of his eye, or answer to the anger of Lord Pan. Please, Mistress Clymene”—and Strap knelt down a respectable distance from the nymphic bed, out of modesty and respect—“I do not wish to overstep my bounds. I am a good and honest student at the Daemon Yeshiva, and wish only to state my—my—best intentions here. I—I—think that I lo—lo—y—y….”
            “Don’t say it, Sir Kobold!” said Clymene, who had managed somehow to climb into her robe and tie it up to her neck, “I confess, I have f—f---feelings for y—you too, and we must be careful. That satyr you overflew is none other than Silenus, my great-uncle, and sworn officer and bailiff to my father My Lord Pan. If he hears that a Jewbold is in his daughter’s slumber-room, there will be Hades to pay.”
            “Let us go, then,” said Strap, “to somewhere we can be alone. And I swear by our Law, that I will not lay a hand, no; not a pinion on you. I just want, Mistress Clymene, to talk—just talk. You are like the moon in its flight to me; and the stars, as well. Just to talk….”
            “This is so, so bad, so evil,” said Clymene, “it has never happened before. And yet, I feel so much for you, as well.”
            “If so, then may I just—“ said Strap.
            “What?” asked Clymene.
            “Touch—touch your hand,” said the little kobold, reaching out his left hand.
            They touched.
            “Your hand is warm,” Clymene said, “and nothing like the hard claw that my nymphic tutors said it would feel like.”
            “And I did not die!” said Strap, “The drabbis did not tell the truth!”
            They sat together for a bit, quietly. The breeze blew in the window; they heard the sparrows chirping.
            “I should go,” said Strap, “but I cannot leave you. I feel so close to you….”
            “Is there no place for us to go?” asked Clymene.
            Strap thought. “I have never been there myself—but, perhaps—“ he said slowly.
            “Where?” asked Clymene, and she clutched his hand with both of hers.
            “The Dismal Wood,” said Strap.
            “No one goes to the Dismal Wood!” said Clymene.
            “I have my conjuring wand,” said Strap, “not mine, that is; I took Old Drabbi Increase’s, from his desk in the Study Hall; he won’t miss it; poor eldern kobold; all he can do is sit and mumble charms from kabbalah. I know my charms from the Law—the bits that I’ve learned in Daemon Yeshiva. If I have you with me, Mistress Clymene, I would face even a dragon, or bugbear. Please come with me—I lo—lo—lo—you know.”
            “And I you,” smiled Clymene, and blushed, “but how are we to get past my Cerberus at the gate, Uncle Silenus?”

            “I have one of my vampire-friend’s Invisibility Cloaks, from the Yeshiva,” said Strap, and he whipped it out of his sidebag. “Wrap yourself in it, Clymene, my lo—my friend, and we will be off!”

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Voices Off: The Lesser-Known Characters of Parshat Vayeira (Gen. 18:1-22:24)

Angel of Sarah’s Annunciation: We angels are formed of heavenly aether, and exist only to perform God’s will. I was happy to carry out my task: that is, to tell Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child, after all their years of waiting and yearning. Sarah laughed with joy—what else could she do, hearing of such an impossibility? They had settled down to their old age together—he, watching the sheep, she bustling ‘round, running a busy household of servants, and barely hiding her dislike for Hagar, who never let her forget who was, after all, the concubine who had delivered to her master a baby, and a son, at that. Prior to my descent from heaven to earth, the Archangel Gabriel told me that, among these humans, Shalom Bayit—the Peace of the Household—is a great and godly blessing. In fulfilling my task, I am glad to have served both God and man alike. And now, I must dissipate….

Ishmael: And what is to happen to me? All of my life, despite being the only child—and a boy at that!—trying so, so hard to be everything a proper son and heir could be for my father, for Ibrahim, learning the ways of a shepherd, and how to live in a desert wilderness, besides—to be suddenly cast aside, by a new baby? My mother and I had been Father’s favorites, and now, that old wife of his, that Sarah!—to come suddenly forward, just because some freakish luck had made her big with child? Was my mother worth, then, so little, to her lord my father? What will become of us? I will not soon forget this insult; no, indeed: it may take months, or years….

Avimelech, Philistine King of Gerar: Really, I bore no ill will against the fellow: to me, he seemed just another desert sheikh—and I saw that his wife was old. I had him over to the palace—a tent, really—and we shared some mulled wine; more than I should have had. But then, by Dagon’s beard!—it was as though she bewitched me; she appeared to me in a dream, and said, “Avimelech, take me for your wife!” I’m not the deepest thinker, you know: fighting, killing, battles—that, I understand. We Philistines are straightforward that way: we look, we see what we want, and we take it. And certainly, he put up no sort of interference when I offered him a mohar, a bride-price, for his—what did he call her?—his sister. Who knew the cat had claws? I was glad, in the end, to let them go; good riddance, say I. I must remember his tribe—Hebrews, were they?—and be careful of them in the future.

Bethuel, Abraham’s Nephew: It’s the nature of modern life, I suppose, with all of us so spread out, shepherding and all, for relatives to lose touch with one another—we only seem to see the extended clan at weddings, baby namings, and funerals, which is a shame: sad, it is. That’s why we were so, so happy to hear that Abraham and Sarah were finally blessed with a child, Ashtoret bless them all! And I was lucky, as well: a beautiful little girl. Rebecca, we call her: just a little mite, but already knows her letters, and is following her older sisters to the well, with a little clay jug on her tiny shoulder that I had Ishbaal, the potter, spin for her on his wheel. She looks so sweet, trailing after the older girls. Baal is good!

Friday, October 11, 2013

My Absolutely, Very Last Word on the Pew Survey, and a Modest Proposal

            Jews love to hear bad news. Well, maybe not, but our history, our “Oy Vey History,” has conditioned us to it, to the extent that we embrace bad news, and clutch it to our collective bosom. I have been, for most of my life, a Pessimistic Idealist—meaning that, I believe Messiah (more like a Messianic Age, with all of us as messiahs, provided we do our part to stop b*tching and moaning and, instead, help to clean up humankind’s collective mess) will come, but, in the meantime, I would less than surprised to leave the building this minute to find that I have, not one, but two, flat tires on my car. Growing up in a bad neighborhood in New York City will do that to you.
            As for the Pew Survey, I have read the collective hand-wringing articles, as well as the brave, Leonidas-at-Thermopylae responses by rabbis, cantors, and Jewish professionals young and old (mostly young; the older types, like me, have been chuckling into our tea and going on with what we have been doing for decades: teaching and leading), and believe that, now, it’s time for me to put in my two shekalim.

Something We Should Do Immediately, Which Will Benefit Everyone

Move Bar-Bat Mitzvah up to Age 16—or better, even: 18, just before the little darlings go to college. This 13-year-old charade does us no good. The worst, absolute worst thing one can do with one’s child is to take a 13-year-old, just when they’re starting to become a mensch, and tell them, “That’s it, Kid. You now know everything there is to know about being Jewish.” Then, we throw in a DJ, disco lights, a game of 7-Up vs. Pepsi, and sit back to stuff ourselves on overcooked prime rib (trafe, of course) and watch Bar/t Mitzvah Babylon.
A 16-year-old is hardly mature, but she does have the sitzfleish (Yiddish, “attention span”) to absorb the more complex parts of Maimonides’s 13 Principles, a page of Talmud, some of Judah HaLevi’s poems of yearning for Zion, or Abraham Joshua Heschel’s majestic prose.
Of course, this will require a major, massive buy-in by Jewish parents everywhere, nuclear families, single moms and dads, interfaith families, the works. I hope that, perhaps, some chavurah in Oregon or South Dakota may adopt this idea. Because without it, we’re just Jewish lemmings, and it’s a long way down.

Otherwise—and here, I address myself to our “cultural Jews”—I’m kind of cultural, myself—when and where were you turned off to, and by, synagogue-based Judaism? Things have changed; the old rabbis with the herring breath (They were my teachers, too) are all dead and gone, let them rest in peace. Shul is different, now. Visit a shul some Friday night, just for fun. Bring your doubts, your dislikes, your neuroses. Maybe the service will be different; maybe not. Is there a discussion group before or after the service? If there is, be prepared to ask your questions—though I realize that most people are too shy to speak up if it’s their first time there. Does anyone come over to greet you, show you a prayerbook, ask if it’s your first visit, offer to show you around, answer your questions?
What about the rabbi—is she personable? Young? Old? Perky? Cerebral? Does she seem to know what she’s talking about? And the cantor, if there is one—does she teach the music to the congregation, or concentrate on tours de force? Are the children invited to be an active part of the service? Is there a discussion, or a sermon, or both? Do congregants comment, in a give-and-take format, or does the sermon come Down from The Mount?
I attended a local church recently, as guest speaker, and noted that the lyrics of the songs were projected on the wall, PowerPoint style (no big hardware investment, there) while a three-piece musical group—electric guitar, piano, and drums—played. The singing and hand-clapping were joyful and loud. The service was a derivation of left-wing Christianity, in which Jesus is regarded merely as a teacher, and so they did and said nothing offensive to people of other faiths. I wondered how many “chameleon Jews” were in the congregation that morning, besides me and the congregants from my shul who had come to support me. Jews make very good chameleons, fading into the gentile milieu; sadly, I have met far too many Jews only after they had died, uninvolved with the organized Jewish community, but wanting only a Jewish funeral. Ah, well....
My congregation is traditional at our Shabbat morning service; we sing a capella, with a traditional cantor, and it’s 80% Hebrew. We do make transliteration sheets available, and many folks learn the tunes and the words, just by coming. There is nothing warmer or more satisfying than singing the old tunes together; it's really Jewish meditation, but no one ever thought to call it that. 
The Friday Night Service, on the other hand, is in what I have named a “God-Shmooze” mode; I summarize the Torah portion, point out the contradictions in the text, describe any and all halachote (Jewish laws) which may have originated from them, and ask my congregants for their reactions. We may also touch upon any and all Jewish issues of the day, which we also do in our weekly Jewish Current Events Discussion Group. Friday night is an hour, 7:30-8:30 pm; Shabbat morning is two-and-a-half, but folks come in late, and no one chastises them (9:30 am-12 noon, with an abridged Torah Reading and two rabbinical comments, one before the Sh'ma, and the other before the Torah Reading). 
 One of our main selling-points is that I love to challenge our congregants about the old-style beliefs they may have learned growing up and which they have held dear all their lives, even without understanding their meaning. I explain the origins of Jewish law and custom, and remind them that our ancestors, prophets and paragons all, were still human beings, just like us. We love to talk, sing together, argue, and shmooze over coffee, tea and cake at the end of the service. Most of them are seniors, and I cherish the stories they have written in my Memoirs Writing Class, and the life-lessons that they teach me, every time I go. I am the richer for knowing them, and honored to be their rabbi.
We have a sizeable contingent of younger Jews, as well, and Jews-by-Choice, whom I treasure. I am very careful to take nothing and no one for granted, and am always ready to explain and simplify our Jewish complexities. I find it endlessly fascinating how our faith and practices can complicate what ought to be simple-- consider shatnez, for example-- that esoteric mixture of wool and linen, or the Orthodox practice of making an eiruv tavshilin, a mixture of meat and bread, to enable a traditional housewife to cook on the second day of yuntef (holiday) for Shabbat. Only we Jews, a people devoted to casuistry and deep thought, could have created Judaism-- but we have all of our lives to learn about it, and pick and choose.
Still, there are many different kinds of shuls out there, and I invite you, Reader, if you have not done so recently, if you are content to stash their Judaism deep within, along with other determinants of your personality—political party, sexual orientation, city- or suburbs-dweller, coffee or tea, Yankees or Red Sox, smooth or chunky—to take your Judaism out, from time to time, lay it on the table of your heart and mind, and ask yourself: What am I doing now, this minute, to identify with my people, the Jews? The best place to do that is not in a deli or coffeeshop. It’s still in the synagogue. Give the synagogues, and their rabbis and cantors who work so hard, another chance. Thank you.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Avram, Sarai, Hagar, and Lote: The First Family of Judaism Speaks; or, Why Your Family is Dysfunctional-- It All Began Here

Hagar: I was never meant to be anyone’s concubine; I was the noble daughter of the priest of Osiris in our village. But then, the soldiers came. Pharaoh Amenhotep II, the Conqueror, destroyed my home and killed my family, on his way to battle the Seven Rebel Princes. When Avram saw me in the slave-market by the Nile, I covered myself with a veil—a veil? It was nothing more than rags—and tried to hide behind Serug, that giant Hivite plowman. I was trembling—who was this strange, dark man who smelled of goats, with his hard hands and big beard? The Egyptian men I knew had neither beards nor hair: they shaved it all. But when Avram paid Ekhtep, the slave-merchant, two gold coins for me, took out a flinty knife and cut my bonds, he smiled. I looked into his deep, brown eyes, all wrinkled from the desert sun—and I felt better, safer. This man, I knew, would be kind to me.

Sarai: So much to do, in this traveling circus Avram calls our family! That nephew of his—Lote—thinks himself some sort of prince; he never picks up after himself, never bathes or washes his hands, and thinks nothing of tramping sand and dirt into my nice, clean tent. I have my share of farm-chores, too: to gather the eggs from the chickens, milk the goats, and make sure that the pi-dogs are fed, or they will kill and eat the fattest sheep. All Avram and his lout of a nephew have to do is go on ahead of our caravan, and look for grass. I yearn to see some greenery in this wilderness, but our grazing beasts, these endless nibblers, these goats, sheep, and cows, chew it all up, and we have to move again.

Lote: How long does Uncle Avram believe he can keep me under his wing, like some child? I have been working for him, for—for—ever since we left Ur-of-the-Chaldees, and then, Charan—leaving all my friends, all the comforts of city life—Ur alone had 12,000 people, a metropolis! And now, to be tramping all over this desert, tending sheep not my own, and listening to Old Lady Sarai’s complaints, day and night, just because a fellow likes to drink a little once in a while—I wish that Hagar were my wife; yes, I do, but that won’t happen, now that Uncle has gotten hold of her; her belly is big with his child, while Auntie Sarai complains all the more; she’s barren as a goatskin drum. I must leave Uncle Avram, take my fair share of the flocks, and go. Every night, I hear the singing and dancing-sounds teasing my ears from Sodom and Gomorrah, those wondrous towns near the Salt Sea—that is where I would like to live. Yes, I must ask—no, demand—of Uncle, my hard-earned half, and be on my way….

Avram: How long, O’ Mysterious One? My love, my fair one, my Sarai—I see her, each day, becoming more dried and drawn and parched, like the flowers of this desert, lacking water, since we lack a child? You have promised us that we will become “like the stars of heaven, which cannot be counted, like the sands of the seashore, many, without number”? That is fine, Lord, a lovely thought, and I bless You—but I would settle for one, fine fat boy baby, whose sturdy legs would follow me and my flocks, to wander this wilderness, to enter the Promised Land of which You have spoken. Hagar will bear me a son, You have promised: will he be the one, the son for whom I yearn? That would not be fair to Sarai, my princess, my lovely. I seek You, Lord:  in the sunrise, when the fiery orb comes up, flaming and fearsome to look at, as I imagine You, but a thousand thousand times brighter; in the sunset, when the day cools down, in the reds, pinks, and purples of coming night—show Yourself, O’ Lord! What will you have me do, that I might have a son of Sarai? A son, a son (weeps)….

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Chap. VI. The Nymph & the Kobold: The Palace of Pan. Clymene’s Capers with the Jewish Kobold are Unwelcomed by Papa.

            Nightingales sang and chirped; butterflies blundered in their hobbledehoy patterns from flower to flower, and a small waterfall gurgled its way through the central courtyard. Golden trays lay scattered about, overflowing with grapes, cheeses, chocolates, and other tidbits. It was cool and dark—darker than outside: tall palm trees cast shadows on wicker chaise longues, and one had to look carefully to see satyrs and nymphs entwined together, murmuring softly—and some were doing more than murmuring. A small band of fauns stood off in the corner, playing flute, triangle, and muted drum. It was the heat of the day: best not to move too much, or too quickly. There was wine, as well; wine, easily gotten from a tall cask planted significantly in the center of the courtyard, with row upon row of dully-shining pewter goblets, and fat little cupids flying trays of more food to and fro. It was a warm day, almost too warm….
            No one moved. One or two of the satyrs sighed: Was the Boss in one of his moods? There would be Hades to pay, then. The nymphs they squired felt the change, and frowned: was the dalliance over?
            “SILENUS! Damn you, drunken sot, old toper, show yourself!” Into the midst of the midsummer’s-day resting and drinking time strode Pan, a tall, muscular satyr of indeterminate age—he was immortal; they all were—with a frown curling up the fine goatish features of his face, and his normal smile curved into an angry scowl. He stood in the middle of the gathering, listened for the creaks of wicker—Silenus, he knew, was no lover; he was a drinker—and tapped his long claws on the wine-cask. “Well, Silenus? Show—“
            “Here, Your Grace,” came the voice, as its owner struggled out of a pansy-bush, brushing off the leaves and petals, and managing a sly smile. “Here, presented for duty, an it please you.”
            “Took you long enough, you tub of grapes—have you seen this?” asked the King of the Forest, shaking a scrap of scented paper under Silenus’s nose.
            “Pardon, Your Rectitude, but my eyes are not what they were, three hundred years past, when you and I would go to raid the sleeping-quarters of the Laestrydaemonian virgins. D’you remember, Lord Pan?”
            “Yes, yes—look, look! In Clymene’s writing, my own daughter—see?” urged Pan, holding the paper carefully before Silenus’s eyes.
            “H’m,” said the elder, “Who is this ‘kobbyboy’ to whom she is sending this billet, then?”
            “A Jewbold,” whispered Pan, while all the satyrs and nymphs pricked up their ears.
            “A what?” asked Silenus, “Pardon, Your Goatsworth—my hearing is not good.”
            “A HE-brew-w-w,” hissed the goat-god, as quietly as he could manage, which wasn’t much. The surrounding woods began to echo, “A Jew! A Jew!” before dying down.
            “May Hermes’s caduceus bless you!” cried Silenus, patting Pan on the back.
            “I did not sneeze, Sir Deaf Ears!” said Pan, grinding his teeth, “I said, ‘a Jew.’ Clymene is keeping company with—one of Them. A Jew!”
            “Ah! I see. Oh, wait. That is—that is—not good, Lord Pan,” said Silenus soberly, as best he could.
            “Do I not know that?” asked Pan, “can she not find a proper satyr, centaur, or minor god—even a Greek mortal would be preferable to those scrabbly leatherwing airpushers! There is a reason that we dwell in the woods, they in the air. You must watch her, Silenus—watch her at all times. Keep my innocent girl away from Them. And safe. I appoint you.”
            “I, my liege?” Silenus said, alarmed. “I am hardly young enough. Take one of those young centaurs, those over-muscled fourleg beasts with nothing but time on their hands. I am busy, Lord, busy—“
            “Doing what? Drinking?” snorted Pan, “And chasing nymphs? This will be better for you, Silenus, better indeed! And healthier. No, no, that is my wish, and my command—but I hear your voice, and your protests. You may choose one, perhaps two, of those younger boys—(pointing over to the satirical group)—to help you—but you yourself will be, ultimately, responsible for my Clymene—perhaps you will introduce her to a more favorable match—that would be good; yes! To give me grand-satyrs, or centaurian babes….Yes: not for nothing am I god of the woods; I can always see my way out of them….”
Praising his own wisdom, the forest god walked off, thoughtfully, stopping to take a bunch of grapes and fondle a closeby nymph, who smiled, giggled, and followed  him off, after waiting a respectable distance.
            Silenus stood, the fumes of wine which pervaded his brain slowly clearing. He looked around at the satyrs and nymphs who, seeing his face slowly darken with anger, began to turn back to one another—but they could not escape his growling tones, so unlike the happy, carefree god adorning amphorae, goblets, and winebowls:
            “You may well turn away, hoi polloi goats’-feet and mountains of female flesh—for I, Silenus, oldest god of the harvest and the grape, have been demoted and relegated to nursemaid for an adolescent nymphling—but all, or some, of you will help me; help me, indeed you shall! Nessus! Choreoi! Amphion!”
            Two satyrs and a centaur slowly disengaged themselves from their nymph companions and, sighing, came toward the fat-bellied god.
            “How can we serve you, O’ Silenus?”
            “Follow young Clymene wherever she goes,” said Silenus through clenched teeth, “and, if she meets that jewbold anywhere, you are to snap-his-neck. That is all. We will have no more socializing, no intercourse, social or otherwise, with any jewbolds.”
            The three nodded grimly, turned, and disappeared into the forest.
            Silenus smiled, for the first time in that hour of the day. He reached for a bunch of grapes, but then, shook his head.

            “My work is done. I have delegated and relegated the job to those three tyros. Now, I too can rest and have a quiet cup. You there—young woman—what did you say your name was?”