Sunday, October 25, 2015

Vayeira: Voices Off: The Lesser-Heard Characters of the Parasha/Torah Portion

Voices Off: The Lesser-Known Voices of Parshat Vayera

By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Angel of Sarah’s Annunciation: We angels are formed of heavenly aether, and exist only to perform God’s will: we get one mission each; that is all. 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 now that Isaac is born, 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, Hagar, and I had been Father’s favorites, and now, that old wife of his, that Sarah!—to return suddenly to his attention, 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 that fellow, Abraham: to me, he seemed just another desert sheikh—and I saw that his wife, Sarah, was old. I had him over to the palace—a tent, really—and we shared some mulled wine; I drank more than I should have, I suppose. But then, by Dagon’s beard!—it was as though Sarah 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, battles, conquest—that, I understand. We Philistines are straightforward that way: we look, we see what we want, and we take it. And certainly, Abraham put up no sort of interference when I offered him a mohar, a bride-price, for his—what did he call her?—his sister. Why, it was as though he had done this, before! 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 the family so spread out, shepherding and all—it’s a way of life that involves wandering—for relatives to lose touch with one another. We only seem to see all the relatives at weddings, baby namings, and funerals, which is a shame: isn’t that sad? That’s why we were so happy to hear that Abraham and Sarah finally, miraculously, had little Isaac, 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. Smart, too, I’ll wager. Make someone a fine wife, someday. Baal is good!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Ehud of Benjamin & King Eglon of Moab

Ehud of Benjamin and King Eglon of Moab

By David Hartley Mark

For Benjamin N., A Current Leader of Israel
Judges 3:12-30
12 The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord strengthened King Eglon of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the Lord. 13In alliance with the Ammonites and the Amalekites, he went and defeated Israel; and they took possession of the city of palms. 14So the Israelites served King Eglon of Moab for eighteen years.
15 But when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The Israelites sent tribute by him to King Eglon of Moab. 16Ehud made for himself a knife with two edges, a cubit in length; and he fastened it on his right thigh under his clothes. 17Then he presented the tribute to King Eglon of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. 18When Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent the people who carried the tribute on their way. 19But he himself turned back at the sculptured stones near Gilgal, and said, ‘I have a secret message for you, O king.’ So the king said,*‘Silence!’ and all his attendants went out from his presence. 20Ehud came to him, while he was sitting alone in his cool roof-chamber, and said, ‘I have a message from God for you.’ So he rose from his seat. 21Then Ehud reached with his left hand, took the knife from his right thigh, and thrust it into Eglon’s* belly; 22the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the knife out of his belly; and the dirt came out.* 23Then Ehud went out into the vestibule,* and closed the doors of the roof-chamber on him, and locked them.
24 After he had gone, the servants came. When they saw that the doors of the roof-chamber were locked, they thought, ‘He must be relieving himself* in the cool chamber.’ 25So they waited until they were embarrassed. When he still did not open the doors of the roof-chamber, they took the key and opened them. There was their lord lying dead on the floor.
26 Ehud escaped while they delayed, and passed beyond the sculptured stones, and escaped to Seirah. 27When he arrived, he sounded the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites went down with him from the hill country, having him at their head. 28He said to them, ‘Follow after me; for the Lord has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand.’ So they went down after him, and seized the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites, and allowed no one to cross over. 29At that time they killed about ten thousand of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; no one escaped. 30So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years.
            My name is Ehud , and that is my story. Beyond those eighteen verses, no one knew anything of me—my life, my birth, my parents, or my struggles for freedom. I was as much a folk-hero as your American John Henry or Johnny Appleseed. But when the writers of Deuteronomy needed a man as a rallying-point, some long-forgotten titan to inspire the Israelite People back to a lost, ethical ideal—whether worship, a Land, a way of life—they seized upon my story, bulked it out, found me some ancestry—I became Ehud ben Gera, the Benjaminite, smallest of the tribes, yet powerful—and a fighter for freedom. If you were Israelite.

            If you were Moabite, I was a terrorist.
Mine—that is, Ehud’s—story follows a familiar, moralist-Deuteronomistic pattern:

The Israelites follow idolatry, and fall away from worship of God.

God punishes them by sending oppression, in the shape of a foreign Power, which enslaves, taxes, or oppresses them.

The Israelites suffer under this Power (Moab, in this case), and react by crying out to their neglected God, yearning to return to Him in penitence.

God inspires, and raises up, a previously-unknown Hero (Samson, Gideon, Elijah, Elisha, myself) who strikes a blow against the Oppressor.

The Hero succeeds, usually via a stratagem, against overwhelming odds.

 The Enemy flees, or is subdued, at least, temporarily, and “the Land has rest” for a limited period of time. In my case, the Deuteronomist editor chose eighty years, a multiple of four, a goodly sum.
There are but a few, minor details which make my story unique: my being left-handed—not a good thing back in those days; indeed, it was cursed—“left side” is sinistra in Latin, which becomes sinister, “evil,” in English, but my unique, left-handed fighting knife arm allows me to pass through the Moabite Royal Palace Security Checkpoint.

Indeed, my using a knife, and, certainly, King Eglon’s being enormously fat, conceals the weapon for a sufficient amount of time to allow me to escape.

My own people are starving, and this Moabite pig is so fat that his belly can, literally, swallow up a knife.

Could you imagine the jealousy which we Israelites suffered, peering through a fence at the Moabite riches? How long could we suffer, under such oppression?

No one ever questions why I struck a blow for freedom: this is the Israelite Saga of Freedom Fighters, after all.

And we two peoples never did get along. Why not? Look at the origins of Moab:
Moab (and Ammon, too) is a child of the incest which drunken Lot committed with his elder daughter following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Moab was one of Israel’s principal arch-enemies, for being a bastard sort of—cousin? We’re not certain; incest is like that. “Mo-ab” is a corrupted form of the Hebrew, “May-Av,” or, “From Father.” This may be a false etymology, but for Israelites seeking to insult the neighboring Moabite tribes, it was sufficient.

As a tribal chieftain, I have a tiny bit of prophetic powers, and I can tell you, Reader, that Israel’s history—if we may consider the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, to have elements of such—abounds with instances of Moab’s battling Israel several times throughout the Books of Kings.

Who won, in the end? It all depends on whose history you read, whose stories you take to heart.
Indeed, in the summer of 1868, a German missionary stationed in Jerusalem, one F. A. Klein, discovers a “large rectangular basalt stone, rounded at the top…inscribed with what looked like Hebrew words…the paleo-Hebrew script used in biblical times,” reading as follows:

                        I am Mesha, son of Chemosh[yat] King of Moab…. I made this high place for
                        Chemosh [a Moabite god], for he saved me from all the kings, and he allowed me
                        To see the downfall of all my foes. …Israel was lost forever.
(Quoted in Kugel, 2007, pp. 536-7)

            But Mesha was wrong, you see: whether Moab continued or not, I cannot say; there is only that one stone of relic and remembrance, and Mesha is dead.

I do know that Israel continues, today, and will do so, forever, by our God’s promise.

What I, Ehud, choose to emphasize, is the unwritten story—not my being a knife-fighter, or my striking a blow for freedom, or the spilled blood of that greedy pig Eglon, who probably believed that I wished a private audience with him, so I could pay him some sort of bribe.

My emphasis is later. I stress that a young, beautiful girl named Ruth will choose willingly to marry an Israelite, a young man named Machlon. He is, according to her eponymous book, a sickly fellow, and will die shortly thereafter.

Why? It is God’s will; God’s destiny. I am a warrior, not some philosopher.

And when he dies, this same young woman, Ruth, will choose to remain with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and to return with her to her people. Did I say that Naomi and her sons will come from Bethlehem, the City of Peace, in the Prophet Micah’s words?
“Your people shall be my people,” says Ruth to Naomi, “and your God my God.”

And Ruth is a Moabite. Yes, harken to me, to Ehud, killer of Moabites: this Moabite maiden, Ruth, will marry an Israelite, and conjoin with the Israelite People, of her own free will.
Thus, the Moabites and the Israelites, who have fought against one another for so long, will seek to become friends. They will be able, one day, to put down their knives—as I put mine down, in the end, after thinking, hard and long, about freedom—and learn to live together, in peace.
When can the guns and bombs and knives be put down? When can the hands that hold them be stretched out, in peace?

It is I, Ehud ben Gera, fighter for freedom (or, anti-Moabite terrorist, whatever you wish), who asks this Question.
            Which side will be first to speak of peace?

And to let that peace last—dare I say it? For more than eighty years?


Kugel, James L. How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then & Now. NY: Free Press, 2007.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The New Sacrifice of Isaac: No Ram Redemptive--A Poem

The New Sacrifice of Isaac: No Ram Redemptive

By David Hartley Mark

                                    Dusk: three forms approach a Sacred Mount—
                                    An Old Man, his Son, a Donkey small
                                    Who bears a pile of sticks. And up the Mount they crawl
                                    The Old Man cannot fight against the pricks

                                    Of Conscience, of his God of Mystery
                                    Who ordered him to rise, to go and come
                                    Begin a new faith, leave ancestral home        
                                    And now, in hopes of pleasing Holy Wraith

                                    Will not withhold his Son, his only Son
                                    From off’ring him atop a fiery pile
                                    In hopes his ashes will conjure a smile
                                    From Lord Alone Who builds, creates, and smashes

                                    All that exists, on earth. The Old Man’s blind
                                    To all else, cannot see his murderous act:
                                    His progeny will lie dead: cruel fact
                                    Of life he’ll free him, but no future see.

                                    So on, in silence, toil the two. “O Father!”
                                    Asks the Son, and answers then
                                    Old Abram: “I am here, o’er rock and fen,
                                    My Isaac!” “As we begun,” the Boy says to the Man,

                                    “I looked, and saw the Wood, indeed the Fire, but
                                    “Saw not the Ram; where is the Ram, my Father?”
                                    Rheum blinded Abram’s eyes: he choked a bit,
                                    Replied: “My God provides, provides

                                    Himself a Ram, My Son!” The Boy was silent, realized:
                                    And the Two walked on Together.
                                    Unto the Place they came;
                                    The Race was run; the trials soon be past.

                                    So Abram, God-obsessed, did strongly take
                                    The Wood, the Rope, and tightly bound his Boy:
                                    He laid him on the thorny Altar High,
                                    Stretcht forth his Hand and seized the Knife—

                                    But Isaac forebore to weep; himself must die—
                                    Until an Angel (almost) half-appeared
                                    Within a covert, pinkish Cloud above—
                                    To show a Moment’s Holy Hesitance—
                                    To show a Demanding God’s enduring Love….

                                    But All for Naught! Quick-Sudden, out a bush
                                    Spurned Ishmael, the Arab-son, did leap:
                                    The Knife he seized, the Jewish Two he stabbed,
                                    Caught at the Ram, and off in Triumph did he sweep.



Tuesday, October 20, 2015

When the Angels Came to Jerusalem: Sort of an Apocalypse.

When the Angels Came

By David Hartley Mark

I. The Pensioners

            It all began with a knock on the door. Let me explain: my name is Yossi Elbaum: I live in Jerusalem, very close to the Old City. We have—that is, my wife Sarah and I—not left the house much, this past—how long is it? Two, three weeks? Since our people were attacked. Stabbed. Ach! Where else should a Jew be safe, if not in the Jewish State? We are pensioners, living on the little bit that I made as a shoemaker, years ago, and my Saraleh, let her be well, worked in an office, an insurance office. Klein, the man’s name was she worked for; Baruch Klein, from Stuttgart. That, plus what’s left that we receive from the Histadrut National Labor Union, keeps us alive, but barely.
            Religious? No, not really, though I like to go to shul once in a while: I see my friends there, you know. Believe in God? I suppose, though I was lucky to get here as a child, in a—I suppose you would call it sort of a Kindertransport, though it was from Rumania, not Germany. I don’t even remember all the details. Others in my family—those lucky to survive, of course—went to America, to New York, where else? We talk sometimes on the phone, in Yiddish. They don’t know how to speak it very well, so we get by, in a sort of pidgin Hebrew-Yiddish-English.

            Most of the family are dead. What can you do?

            Still, a Jew gets by. Or got by, until the attacks started. Shameful. Tragic. And now, I heard on the television that all of these soldiers, and more police, were coming to Jerusalem. I thought that would solve the problem. And when they came to knock on the door, I figured, well, let us see them, and get acquainted. Sara was ready: she had made some of her Mandelbrot, which everyone loves. Who doesn’t love my Saraleh’s famous Mandelbrot? You can dip it into coffee, or eat it as is. It’s already hard, so it takes a long time before getting stale.

            (No, My Dear, it doesn’t taste stale. We don’t keep it around long enough for it to get stale; everyone simply gobbles it up! What, I should lie to you, and we’re married already, Thank God, nearly sixty-five years?)

            So, where was I? Oh yes, the knock on the door. So I opened it. And the Angel is standing there. How did I know it was an angel? Well, for starters, he wasn’t in an Army uniform, which is olive and khaki. He was wearing white and gold. Robes, they were. And they sort of floated slowly, though there was no wind blowing, and they—shimmered, you would say—in the sunlight. It was late afternoon. I remember I could see the sun there, hanging directly over David’s Tower.

Yes, I remember: they shimmered. They were beautiful; absolutely lovely. Pure, the purest gold.

            I was surprised, and stood there without a word, for longer than I should have. This is not like me—you can see I have no lack of words. We Jews, you know….

Finally, the Angel spoke. Sort of a deep voice, but I wasn’t surprised. Beautiful Hebrew, too: the same Biblical Hebrew I remember from Psalms, from the Prayerbook:

            He said, “Is this the Elbaum Residence?” In that stately way, that special, classical Hebrew way. Not like a soldier would speak; no, not at all.

            And me? Well! I was struck dumb. Standing there like a shtumme, a deaf and dumb man. Finally, although I should ask his pardon, or God’s, for speaking this way, I asked, sort of chutzpahdik,

            “Who wants to know?”

            And he never got angry; he just got this wonderful smile on his face, and looked at me all so sweetly, and answered, “I am Katriel, the Crown of God; I am an Angel of the Lord, come down to earth, to visit you, Mr. Elbaum. May I come in?”

            So I let him in. What, an angel should be left standing in the street? I beckoned, and he walked in—I mean, sort of walk-floated, and began to walk-float, even before I beckoned—as if he had read my mind.

They can do that, angels. Amazing.

            I showed him into our little sitting room; Sarah calls it the parlor. She’s very European, my Saraleh. She’s not Rumanian, like me; she’s from France. Well, French Moroccan, anyway. She speaks Arabic and French, as well as Hebrew. She has much more culture than I do.

            “You’re a modern cultured lady, and you married yourself a Rumanian peasant,” I like to say to her, and she smiles, and kind of pushes at me with her elbow. She’s done that for years. We do love each other, very much. After all, we’ve been through so much, together….

            Children? Well, our daughter, Carmella, lives in Tel Aviv, with her husband Reuven—no, they have no children. Pity. I would have liked a grandchild. But what can you do? We also had our son Chaim, but he died in Lebanon, in ‘82. So long ago now, it seems….

Still don’t know what for, but we were very proud of him. He was going to be a scientist; he had already been accepted at Weizmann. Ah, well.

            The angel? Ah, yes. Well, he sat on the couch, or at least hovered above it; it was a little unnerving. And he never really spoke, but we heard his voice in our minds. The TV had been on, telling us of the stabbings in Beersheva, and Kiryat Gat, but we shut it off. Very depressing, it was. Those young Arab boys—who was giving them their instructions? Who was sending them out to die? Just imagine—well, I can’t imagine it, frankly. Terrible, just terrible. Innocent people, dying, right and left—but the angel was talking, in my mind.

            “There will be a meeting, tonight,” he was saying, “and we would like everyone in your your apartment block, indeed the entire neighborhood, to attend. Will it be a problem for Mrs. Elbaum? We can send a group to carry her, if she is unable to walk.”

            My Saraleh has a problem walking, you see. He—the angel, that is—could see her cane in the corner. She is very proud, and does not wish to use it. While he was speaking, this angel—what was his name, Katriel?—laid his hand, just briefly, on her leg, and, right there before me, I could see—the muscles seemed to knit together—how remarkable it was! Sarah turned to me, and said,

            “Yosef, my leg—my leg feels better! It feels stronger!”

            I tell you, it was a miracle from heaven. Amazing. ….

II. The District Commander’s Story

…As District Army Commander for the Western Wall, I can tell you that we were, despite what you may hear from the Prime Minister’s Office, stymied by this breakout of violence. I met with the Border Police Command, the Reservists’ Office, and the boys at Central Defense, and no one had a clear idea what to do, how to react. Finally, I found myself down at Ordnance, talking a Brigadier’s secretary out of activating a brigade of Skunk Gas Pumper-Trucks, and looking for a recent shipment of Kevlar Body Armor for the Border boys.

            It was hot work, there in the warehouse, with no air-conditioning available, and I was alternating between cursing at the Defense honchos on my personal walkie and taking calls on my cell. Finally, a sergeant came at me with another cellphone, and told me that somebody—an angel? What nonsense was this?—was waiting in her office, and wanted to see me right away.

            “Listen, Sweetie,” I said to her—and immediately regretted my choice of language—that course I took on no fraternizing with female personnel had, apparently, not helped—“I don’t have time to meet with any heavenly creatures. I have a brigade of Reservists soon to offload, and they’re going to need Kevlar to withstand these baby knife fighters coming at us from the West Ba—I mean, Judea and Samaria.” (You can’t be too careful with politika, these days.)

            “An angel, Brigadier,” she said, panting from the heat and her running, “an angel. Please. Come. Now.”

            So, I had no choice. And there they were, just like in the illustrated Tanakh-Bible my Grandma had given me when I was little, growing up on the Kibbutz—she never gave up, my Polish Grandma, trying to make us little savages religious, or at least, feel guilty about it…where was I?

Yes, there they were, the angels: all decked out in white-and-gold, like male models on their way to a nightclub. Two were carrying spears, so help me, and all had wings. Moving wings. Very buff, in sort of Roman-soldier uniforms.

Like performers at a male strip bar, I remember thinking.

            “What’s this about, Boys?” I said to them, “Hurry up; tell me your story. I’ve got an Army to run, and terrorists to chase after.”

            The tallest of the three stood up—now, I stand over six feet in my stocking feet, but, I swear, he towered over me, head and shoulders both. His hair was blonde, his eyes sky-blue, and he looked at me dead seriously as he saluted, which I returned. He then spoke:

            “Brigadier Yair Shalvi? My name is Michael, commanding First Coming, Holy Beings of Adonai. I bring orders directly from Metatron, Archangel Plenipotentiary, Heavenly Host of the Lord God Almighty. Your men are to cease and desist, and break off contact with any and all Arab people.”

            It was all I could do not to laugh in his face.

            “Do you know to whom you are speaking, Sir?” I replied, “I am Commanding Officer, First Jerusalem District, and have under my care the Western Wall, and the Old City and environs. So far today, this military district reports three attempted attacks, one successful, with three casualties, and the attacker, luckily, shot dead. I will do no such thing as you suggest. Why don’t you three costumed clowns go on to whatever party you were planning on attending?”

            He raised one hand, and his two followers lifted up their spears, but continued, calmly:

            “Brigadier, I am not surprised that you do not trust us. We are Angels of God, as I said. I bring orders from the Lord God Himself. God is displeased with human behavior—not just yours, Sir, but that of all humanity. God is in the process of making great decisions—decisions weightier than I can mention right now. In the meantime, your men must stand down.

“All Jerusalem residents, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and those of no faith, will gather in the Municipal Soccer Stadium, in different sections which my angels shall designate, at 1900 hours this evening. You have no choice; please do not resist us.”

            “By order of Worshipful Metatron, and the Lord God Almighty,” he said, and stared me directly in the eyes.

            As he said, I had no choice. I picked up my cellphone, and called Central Command….

III. The Yeshiva Student

…By the time we arrived at the Municipal Stadium, the place was nearly half-full. Angels of all types—Cherubim, Sphinxes, Chimerae, Ophanim, Holy Beasts, all being led and directed by Archangels—hovered above and around the entrances and exits. Anyone carrying a weapon had it removed and confiscated.

            As I went through an Angelic Checkpoint, a winged lion with fiery eyes stared at me: it appeared to have x-ray eyes, and I was permitted to pass. After me came that wild-eyed Zealot, Mordechai Ben-Chinam; he was not so lucky; no.

The angels nodded from the moment they spotted him; two beefy Chimerae seized him, and gently but firmly led him into a special chamber off to the side. It had clear sides, like a giant, diamondlike crystal—they locked Mordechai inside, and, while he beat against the glass,  beams of light appeared and surrounded him. It became too bright to watch, and I had to turn away. But when the lights all cleared and disappeared, the angels led him out, appearing more docile.

            “What happened to that man?” I asked a small cherub who hovered nearby.

            “God has his will,” the creature answered, and smiled angelically.

            It did send a chill up my spine….

            I am a yeshiva bochur, a Talmud student from one of the many yeshivote, rabbinical academies, near the Western Wall. When our particular Coming of Angels—their leader was Uriel—came to our Bet Midrash, our Study Hall, we welcomed them. Perhaps our familiarity with them from the daily prayers made us less surprised to see them in the Holy City. Have we not been praying for them, and awaiting their arrival for thousands of years?

            The Rebbe of the Yeshiva himself, the Nashelsker, whose father and grandfather had lost nearly their entire families in the Holocaust, led the singing and dancing through the yeshiva halls and into the streets, carrying the Sifray Torah, the Holy Scrolls. We were exhausted, and stood around our Holy Visitors, drinking l’Chaim—To Life!—in schnapps, Arak, wine, whatever we had—though it was hardly the Holy Shabbat.

            And when the Angels told us to gather in the Stadium, we did not hesitate: each of us grabbed a Holy Sefer-Book from the table or bookcase, and raced off, to hurry to do God’s will. Was Moshiach-Messiah about to arrive?

            As I entered the Stadium with my classmates and took my seat, high up on the benches near the silent scoreboard, I heard students from other yeshivote singing “The People of Israel live; our ancestors yet live.” It was persistent, and comforting.

            On the other side of the stadium, a group of young Muslim students were humming one of their holy songs: it was different, but they, too, seemed happy, and as docile as we. Muslim-type angels, led by one Jibreel, were hovering above.

            There was no bitterness or rancor whatsoever, between the two groups. It seemed remarkable to have all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, young and old, rich and poor, Jew, Muslim, Christian, and secular, all in that one place, and have no arguing, no fights, no bloodshed—a miracle!—take place, whatsoever.

In the middle of the stadium was a gigantic pile of rifles, taken from the soldiers; nearby was a great heap of shining knives that the holy creatures had confiscated from the young Arabs, and yet another pile of pepper spraycans, carried by a nervous Jewish, and some Arab, citizenry. Rubber tires intended for blocking streets stood off to another side. I had never seen anything like it, before. I saw also a smaller pile of slingshots and round stones.

Such a great pile of weaponry of destruction was both frightening and relieving. We all prayed “Thank God, thank God” to see them there, lying confiscated, useless, forgotten.

            Suddenly, there was a great sounding of sirens, and a huge motorcade pulled up, alongside one of the gates of the stadium—we could not see who it was, but, when they entered, we were amazed to see that it was none other than our Prime Minister and his Cabinet and their families. Every Cabinet Member, every politician, had their own angelic escort.

            We were happy—and amazed, as well—to see them.

            On the other side we heard the sound of helicopter rotor-blades, and saw an Israeli Air Force copter landing. Another miracle: the President of Palestine disembarked, bringing along with him representatives of his own governing body, and their relatives. Of course, there was a large Coming of Angels with them, too.

 This was all nothing short of history-making. Everyone was taking pictures with their cellphones—we had been allowed to keep our cellphones, and the Twitterfeeds and other social media were abuzz.

            Finally, when every single inhabitant of the Holy City, both Old and New, was assembled and seated—and, remarkably, there were no handicapped! All had been healed, by some miraculous infusion of angelic power—the leader himself, Metatron, the Arch-Regent of God, the Prince of Kabbalah, took the stand which had been erected—but it was found to be superfluous, for the mighty Seraph did not stand, but hovered, and swooped and soared, causing us to track his progress through the skies, as he climbed and dove to make his point. Remarkably—though we humans were used to it by this time—we did not hear his voice, but it echoed and re-echoed in the depths of our minds and hearts, in whatever language we spoke:

            “People of Jerusalem—People of Israel and Palestine! I address you all, for the first time in history, as a group. Having seen all the bitterness, rancor, and divisiveness between you, I am free at this time to disclose that the Lord God was, after decades of patience and forbearance, entirely upset and angered over what you have called “The Situation.” After consulting with us, His Heavenly Host, as He did at the very Beginnings of Time and Creation, the Lord God decided to do something totally unheard-of before in human history.

“God decided to intervene. As He did when His Jews were slaves in Egypt, reached out of Heaven and into human history.
“In His decision to evoke and enact peace in this, His Holy Land, among peoples whom God holds very dear to His heart, God took a drastic, but necessary step: He removed that aspect of human free will which He had previously totally and openly granted, and replaced it with a—“—here, the Archangel seemed to hesitate a moment—“sense of equanimity, patience and understanding, an ability to retreat from absolutist points of view, and share this enormous gift, this bounty which God has given to His people—and you are all, His people—in this, His Holy Land.

            “You are, all of you, participants in a great experiment—not just merely human any more, but partially divine—no longer free to indulge the animalistic tendencies of your nature, the carnal impulses of your beings, but to fully realize the better, more godly aspects of your selves, and recognize that it is better by far to live in peace.

            “Does this require a permanent concession of your pride, and a partial surrender of your absolute free will? It does.

            “Does this mean that an angelic force must remain on earth to—dare I call it?—police the peace, forever? Yes, for good and for bad; but we pray and hope that it will be for the good.

            “I leave it up to you: to return to the baser nature of your previously all-too-human selves, or to concede that smallest particle of your pride, your self-righteousness, and that selfish aspect of your respective religious and political traditions, in favor of peace and fraternity.

            “The choice is yours.”

            And the angel waited for our response….

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Jack the Ripper in Tel Aviv: All Shiny Boots, Long Cape, & Wideawake Hat....

Jack the Ripper in Tel-Aviv

By David Hartley Mark

            Two young girls left a club on Ha-Yarkon Street, giggling and chatting. They leaned against a wall covered with colorful, half-torn Rock Star posters, breathing deeply of the salt sea air, trying to clear their heads of the dirty martinis and the “other stuff” they had enjoyed within. They bent their heads, shielding their cheap, flickering lighter from the strong breezes coming off the Mediterranean.

            Suddenly, HE was upon them: all shiny boots, long cape, and wideawake hat—a wraith from Victorian Times:

            Are you Mary Clarke? I must find Mary Clarke….

            Three strokes from his shiny, sharp blade, and the girls were down; the Ripper slipt off into the shadows. Their blood dripped into the gutter. The halflit cigarettes dropt from their hands; their fingernail polish shone in the halflight of the streetlamps.

            Soon after, their boyfriends Avi and Udi came outside, looking for them:

“Girls! Where are you? Did you run away? The night has just begun. Come in: they’re playing your favorite song….”

            They saw the bodies in the street, and began to scream:

“Police! Police! Terrorists! Find them!”

as lights snapt on all around, and men and women began to emerge from the clubs and coffee shops and restaurants up-and-down the boulevard….

            The Tel-Aviv Central Bus Station:

The Ripper waited in the Shadows. He saw a fat, mustached bus-driver walking back and forth, calling:

“Hallo! Bus to Hadera-Afula! Hallo! Hadera-Afula!”

            A cloud moved in front of the moon. The Ripper made his move. As the driver looked up at the sky, and then checked his watch, the Ripper plunged his long knife into the man’s protruding belly.

The driver fell, sighing quietly, and died.

            Again, the Ripper fled into the shadows.

            Jerusalem: the Old Shuk, the Arab Market.

Near the Wall, near the Dome of the Rock. Nothing but empty streets and shadows. People huddled behind locked doors. Fear alone walked the streets. Soldiers and Police.

            The Ripper leaned against the wall of a shop with its burglar gates pulled down, smoked his thin brown Russian cigarette, watched and waited for a victim.

He finally saw two young boys.

            As they approached, he hunched his shoulders, felt his long blade in the scabbard beneath his armpit, hanging next to his pepperbox pistol—the one his aunt, the Queen herself, Victoria, had gifted him with—patted downwards toward the shorter knife he kept in his tall boot, and pulled himself back into the shadows.

They were joking and laughing as they came closer.

            As the boys drew abreast, the Ripper sprang outwards, prepared to slash the closer one first, and stab the second in the heart, while whirling around after killing the first victim. His eyes widened; the blood beat in his veins; he inhaled deeply of the Shuk’s foetid air—a mixture of fresh leather, rotten meat, and old cheese—they were getting closer!

            Closer! Closer! Clo--!

            He sprang, drawing his knife as he leapt—

            Allahu Akhbar! Die, Jew! Cried the first boy in Arabic, as the Ripper landed before him, and the second boy, just thirteen, drew a kitchen-knife, and stabbed the tall English killer in the back.

            Staggering, the Ripper fell to his knees in the gutter. The two boys held their kitchen knives high, lifting-and-stabbing in a monstrous carnival of death. He dropt his blades; his blood dripped among the cobblestones….

            Die Jew Die Jew Die….

            The Ripper lay in the gutter, a fictitious killer only, and died an imaginary death.

His body vanished. He never existed.

            The Real Boys, real killers, walked on.

            Who taught them to kill?

            Where and when did they learn?

            Who is responsible?

            How will it all end?

            Can there ever be peace?

            The Moon watched, vapidly….

Lech-Lecha: Avram's Divine Madness

Lech-Lecha: Avram’s Divine Madness

By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

            I am Lote ben Haran. You may have heard of me—and, perhaps, not in a good way. Yes: that I fled Sodom and Gomorrah, lost my wife, and had an—unfortunate occurrence—with—um—family members. But that is not the way I would have chosen to be remembered throughout all time, in the Holy Books, in the Torah. No. Think of me, rather, as a founder—co-founder, at least—of Abraham’s Religion. Yes. That would be nice. Abie and I—we went through a lot, together.

            And am I not mentioned there, in the opening verses of this week’s Torah portion? No? Well, I am, at least, listed at the end of Noah, the preceding story: there! “Terach took his son Avram, his grandson Lote ben Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Avram, and they went together from the City of the Chaldeans to journey to the Land of Canaan” (Genesis 11: 31).

            So, you see, I was with Uncle Abe from the beginning—though he never liked me to call him by that name. No: for him, it was always, “Avraham Avinu,” “Abraham, Our Father,” like some lofty idol himself, which is ironic, for he was a man who made his mark on the world by fighting against idol-worship. Well, that’s all done. There are no idol-worshipers, anymore. Or are there? I cannot say….

Uncle Abe was a shepherd and a tradesman, through and through. Even when he got older and could easily have passed the business on to me, he still came to the office every morning, back there in Ur of the Chaldees—we would call it, “The City”—which is what Ur means, after all. I would be sitting there with Eliezer—good fellow, Eli; he was our Chief Shepherd, and so devoted to the Boss—I mean, Uncle Abe—he would have died for him. I myself was Chief Financial Officer, which is no small thing, when your finances depend upon goats, sheep, cows, and donkeys. Still, I preferred the company of quadrupeds to that of  human beings, as I learned when I lived in Sodom and Gomorrah.

On that particular morning, Eli and I were going over the papyrus records of the week’s receipts. I was thinking of switching over to clay tablets; the Phoenicians to the North had done so, and it was the latest technological advancement in the record-keeping field. When you’re dealing in livestock, quickly shipping your fleece, cheese, milk and meat to the customer is your Number One priority….

Anyway, Uncle Abe came abruptly into the office-tent, and couldn’t seem to settle down on his usual corner mat, facing the door; he just stood there, chewing at a straw, but we could tell something was bothering him. He looked odd: his hair and beard were all disheveled, as if he hadn’t slept properly, and he was pacing back-and-forth like a caged animal, mumbling in that absent-minded way that Aunty Sarai had warned us about.

From time to time, he would get up, and sweep his massive grey Bedouin’s-cloak behind him, as if ready to leap onto a camel or donkey, and ride off Quixotically. Then, he would tip-toe to the tent-flap, peel it back ever-so-slightly, and peer out at the desert, far beyond the City’s walled-and-gated boundaries. It was making us nervous.

“Agorah-coin for your thoughts, Uncle?” I ventured, in as innocent a tone as I could.

“Journey far—He wants me—all of us, I mean—to journey to the Far Land,” Avram would whisper, through his cracked lips—Aunty Sarai was always after him to smear some olive-oil-balm on ‘em, but he, old fellow that he was, could never remember. And he wasn’t eating properly, either; I could make out the cheekbones in his lean and narrow face.

He was beginning to resemble a hawk of the desert, he was. Eli and I stole a glance at each other; I could tell the boy was worried: was the Boss losing his mind?

“Journey where, Lord Avram?” I asked, switching to the formal address that I knew he preferred, as the Head Sheikh of our little family desert tribe.

He turned, as if hearing my speech for the first time, and gave me a look to freeze my soul.

“What matters it to you, Lote ben Haran?” he answered, in a voice both sad and almost sneering, “for your final destiny is not with me. You will die in a cave, off somewhere, forgotten.”

“My fate is with you, Milord,” I continued, switching from the familiar Hebrew to the more high-flown tones he was using, “Are we to enter the Desert, and what do we seek there?”

“Only my God—the Mysterious One—can answer that, and He will send me to—to—a Place, far-off from here,” my uncle replied, “Beyond that, He is silent.”

“What is there for you to find in the desert?” I asked, “What can you possibly lack here, in the City of the Chaldeans, here in the farthest-advanced Metropolis on the face of this earth, gifted to us by the sky-god Marduk and the earth-goddess Tiamat?”

Before my eyes, Avram began to tremble.

“Those idols do not live in my House!” he shouted, “For we worship only the Invisible God, the One True God! And I swear to you, Lote, Son of Haran, my nephew, that my God will, by my sword and my faith, one day, rule this entire world!”—he paused, breathing heavily; Eliezer ran to offer him water, but Avram waved him off, gasping for breath; he was no youngster, after all. He continued: “I must go out now, to tell Sarai my wife to pack. We will leave tonight, guided by my God and the stars—I will find what my God has in store for me, and for all humanity; yes, for the Egyptians in the South, and for all the World, from the Phoenicians in the North, and all the undiscovered lands beyond—I must go—“

He pushed back the tent-flap, and was gone. Eliezer and I were left alone, shaking our heads.

“The Old Man has lost his mind, for certain,” said Eliezer, clicking his tongue.

“That makes no difference to you or me, Eli,” I answered, “We are responsible to him, to Aunty Sarai, and to the business. If the Boss-man says we must wander through the desert, we do not question; we just close the office, pack up the records, and ready the flock to move. You and I must gather the Boys, and see to it. Is Tsuribaal, the Assistant Chief Shepherd, back from his day off?”

Eliezer nodded. We both sighed, picked our heavy leather duffle trail- bags out of the office corners, and went home to pack….