Sunday, August 14, 2016

Vaetchanan: A Poem of Strife--God, Moses, & Israel


By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

                        See: God roared His anger at Israel’s Gold Calfling
                        Not caring they built it for to ride Him upon it
                        Like the bull they had heard Mighty Baal-of-Thunder
                        Would ride: their infantile notion of God,
                        An Invisible God, as a puff-cloud, a wispling—
                        Was an idea unthinkable, their being idolaters by nature,
                        Believing dolls of wood, or stone, or clay
                        More real, and more worth their hard-won worship
                        Like Terach’s stone statues, like Rebecca’s home teraphim.
But Old-New God commanded a perch ‘mid Cherubim
                        Who bowed heads atop His Ark of the Covenant,
                        A pine box dipt golden both inside and outside—
                        So God was most angry.

I, Moses, tried to calm Him….
“Forty years will they wander,” our testy God thundered,
                        “This stubborn-backed, stiff-necked, refugee rabble
                        “I troubled Myself to extricate from Egypt
                        “At no small exacting of lives or of labor,
                        “Nor did they pay heed to my time-honored Teaching,
                        “So out in the wilderness, wild and unbounded
                        “I bind them to die.”

                         I, Moses, begged, saying: “Your pardon I plead You,
                        “For they are slaves still, and like servants are starving
                        “For study and succor of Your slow salvation—
                        “I beg you, O’ Lord God, that You not destroy them—
                        “For once the Egyptians you so straitly humbled
                        “Will hear of Your vengeance on sore-beset Israel
                        “Your patience the Nations will laugh to derision—“
--Which first gave Him pause.

He thought then, and answered:
                        “You’re right. I’ll not kill them. Instead, let them wander
                        “A full forty fulsome, in years young to yearning,
                        “So that this generation, who ‘scaped all my plaguing
                        “Will die in the desert, and never see Canaan.”
“Will You give them Your Torah?” I begged our Liege-Lord.
“I’ll grant them My Torah,” He agreed then, not grudging,
                        “But in eras oncoming, they’ll spurn it as specious,
                        “Withdrawing themselves from its wisdom full wondrous,
                        “Assimilate, agitate, ignore all My Teachings
                        “And totally turn from their tribal traditions.”
“But is there no help?” I begged of our Sovereign,
                        Wondering why I should worry, not worship,
                        And longing for lessons from God’s Holy Letters,
                        Their learning to lavish, in solitary splendor.
“You, Moses! Stand up to them; they are backslid and stubborn;
                        “Magnify miracles to make Me amazing,
                        “And—I warn you!—should they stray, I lay the strife strictly
                        “On your shoulders—your leadership will be legacy lasting.”
I knew He left no choice: I bowed my head to Him,
                        And you, O my Israel! must now face your future.
                        Tefillin, mezuzote, Shabbat, and the Torah—
                        These weapons—no, tools!—are the legacy for you
                        To treasure, to transplant, and telecom forward.