Sunday, December 24, 2017

Vayechi: What Happened to Ephraim and Menashe?


What Happened to Ephraim and Menashe?

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Scene: The Marketplace of Thebes, imperial capital of Egypt during the New Kingdom. It is as crowded as American malls were in their heyday: merchants all noisily calling out about their wares. The air is full of the smells of fresh meat, cheese, old leather, spices, wine, and other items.
Standing by a coppersmith’s shop and looking at an ornamental shield is Menashe ben Yosef, Joseph’s younger son. He wears the off-duty dress of a Royal Cavalryman, and it is clear from the patterns of his sunburn that he has been wearing body armor, serving on desert patrol duty. Deciding he wishes to purchase the shield, Menashe calls out to the smith, who, bowing low, comes forward and begins to bargain with the young officer.
Suddenly, rushing through the crowd comes Ephraim, Joseph’s older son, his arms laden with rolls of papyrus, and a sack of soft clay tablets, ready for taking notes, hanging from his belt. He is hard-pressed to make way through the crowd, and the tall stack of papyri he carries makes it impossible for him to see in front of himself. Inadvertently, he bumps hard into his brother, who spins around, hand on bronze sword, ready to defend himself.

Menashe: Aroint thee, Varlet! Wilt lay hands on a Royal Officer of the Mighty Pharaoh Ramesses II? Defend thee, or I’ll have your guts in the dust of the street!

Ephraim: So sorry, Commander (seeing Menashe’s rank on his sword-belt). The fault is entirely mine. I was late for an appointment, and—

Menashe: You seem familiar. Did we serve together in B Troop, named “Horus the Hawk-god,” during the Mitanni Campaign last year?

Ephraim: No, I have never served, though I honor those who carry our Eagle-standard to defend our sacred lands against the invaders, be they Hebrews, Nubians, or others. I—

Menashe: My Brother Ephraim, is it you? By Ra, how many years has it been?

Ephraim: Menashe? My baby brother Menashe?

Menashe (bowing, half-mockingly): The same. (They embrace.)

Ephraim (looking in his brother’s eyes): You haven’t changed—

Menashe: Just a few scars earned in battle for the honor of King and Country. I began in the Royal Infantry, but then, when our Royal Ordnance Dept. was able to develop and improve upon the chariots brought to us by those accursed Hyksos, I switched to the cavalry. I am now Major, “Osiris god of Death” Troop, in charge of guarding the northwestern boundaries of our holy soil against Canaanite invaders. One more important battle, and I could be looking at a Lieutenant-Colonel’s wings on my belt.

Ephraim: How wonderful! Papa would be so proud—

Menashe: I have no father.

Ephraim (whispering): How can you deny the Grand Vizier Joseph, our honored father? He gave you the best upbringing and education; he sustained our homeland Egypt in its hour of need; he—

Menashe: Brother, Brother. Keep your voice down. These shops have ears, and I am a military officer of—of—Hebrew blood. Let us go into a tavern of which I know, where the barkeep is proprietor, and a friend. We will choose a quiet corner booth, and speak as freely as we can—(speaking more loudly) in public, under our new Pharaoh, Ramesses II, Ra bless him!

Ephraim (as they walk along, arm-in-arm): Well, Baby Brother, it is still so, so good to see you, after all these years!

Menashe: You know that I am wed to the army; how have you been supporting yourself, for all these years?

 Ephraim: Well, now I know that you, as a soldier, are privy to secret information from our War Department, and must be careful what you say and do. However, my own profession cannot be said to be disloyal, not in the slightest. I am a sculptor, in clay, wood, and or any other medium. Graven images are my life.

Menashe: How wonderful, Dear Brother! I do recall how artistic you were, back in the Pharaoh’s Palace, when Papa—Joseph, I mean—took us with him to work. I would be fidgeting in my chair, and you would be scribbling—I mean, sketching—away. I am glad that you are able to make a living at it.

Ephraim: Yes: I can proudly say that, when notable Egyptians are laid to rest, their sarcophagi, even their little wooden servant-shawabtis, are often the products of my studio. I employ six young men whose talents, while not equal to mine (Menashe smiles), are sufficient to pass muster with our clientele. When I bumped into you, I was between work appointments, and was rushing back to the studio to assign new tasks to my workers.

Menashe: Am I keeping you from something?

Ephraim: No, I try to urge them on, to always be one or two days ahead of schedule, so I can spare some time to speak with you, O My Brother.

(They enter a tavern on a side street, cool and dark. The barkeeper, seeing Menashe, greets him:)

Barkeep: Ho Major Menashe, what news? How many Assyrian scalps have you brought triumphantly home on your chariot-prow? Did you bring me any gold or precious jewels from the loot of the slain?

Menashe (laughing): Semrep, you know that I am on temporary duty this day. Even a mighty warrior needs some time off.

Barkeep: You break my heart, O Great Soldier. What can I serve you, and this other gentleman?

Menashe (to Ephraim): What is your pleasure, Ephraim? Barley beer, the soldier’s drink?

Ephraim (to Barkeep): Have you any light-grape wine?

Barkeep: Of course. Sit, sit, gentlemen, and I will wait upon you myself. (He sings:)

                                                Why then, let the cannikin clink, clink, clink,
                                                Why then, let the cannikin clink.
                                                A soldier’s a man,
                                                A life’s but a span,
                                                Why then, let the soldier drink.

Both Ephraim and Menashe (applauding): Well done! S[DM1] emrep, I did not know you could sing. Why, this barkeeper ought to enter the King’s Competition for Best Singer, etc.

Barkeep: I thank you, Gentlemen. That is an old song, taught me by my grandfather, who carried a sword and shield into battle against the Hittites, long ago, during the reign of the Great Horemheb, who married a sister of our Beloved Nefertiti. He was a quiet, but altogether military, man, who cared only for the glory of Our Egypt, not his own, personal fame and taxing the people, and building like a fiend—all that this this current fellow does, the blowhard—but I speak too much. (He brings the drinks.) I will leave you to your personal business; doubtless it is high affairs of state, seeing you are both Hebrews. Ha! (He leaves.)

Ephraim (sipping the wine): What did Semrep mean by that last remark? Yes, we are Hebrews, and I have never denied it, but why did you not challenge him?

Menashe (whispering): One must know when to speak up, and when to stay quiet, Brother. Why, haven’t you heard that Hebrews—I do not say, “We Hebrews,” since I consider myself an Egyptian, born and bred—that Hebrews are being singled out, one at a time, and impressed into a Labor Corps under Pharaoh Ramesses II? Whom do you think is building the pyramids your art is filling?

Ephraim (shrugging): I had heard some words to that effect, and my oldest apprentice—I trained him myself—quit on me the other day. When I asked him why, he looked me in the eye mournfully and said, “Don’t you know that you’re a Hebrew, Master Ephraim? Everyone else does.” But I thought nothing of it. What shall we do, Brother, in light of this new, anti-Hebrew policy of the Pharaoh’s?

Menashe: I will continue to do my duty, to defend Ra and Country. And if any man, royal or lay, challenges my loyalty, I will draw my sword.

Ephraim: But what if your commander orders you to arrest Hebrews? To whom are you loyal? To your country or your tribe?

Menashe: To my—to my—I cannot say. Not yet.

Ephraim (draining the rest of the winecup): You may have to decide, soon. My own position, as a middle-class sculptor, is, I believe, fairly protected, but who knows when the Pharaoh’s Secret Police will come for me?

Menashe: We will stay in touch, the best we can. I will try my best to protect you, with my contacts and clean record in the army. I have served for ten years; does that not prove my loyalty? Osiris, my god! Damn.

Ephraim: May the gods of our land protect us from all harm!

Menashe: Amen! Well, I must go….

Ephraim: One more question, Brother?

Menashe: Anything. I have—had—a wife and two sons, but have not been in touch. Too many top-secret assignments, you know.

Ephraim: I, the same: an ex-wife, son and daughter, but gone from me. (Sighs) No, my question is, why did you disown our father?

Menashe (sadly): Don’t you see? Had he not brought us down to this wretched place, causing us to be born here, we would be free, free in our lands today. Goodbye.

Ephraim: Goodbye, Brother. May the gods protect you!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Vayigash: Joseph Plots to Survive in Egypt


by David Hartley Mark

            A smooth, gleaming-white Egyptian moon had risen over the Great Sphinx and the Pyramids. Joseph, Vice-Pharaoh, Agriculture Minister, and Royal Officer Plenipotentiary, sat in the office of his home: it was cool and dim in the shadow of the Great Pyramid. From the ceiling hung a brass oil-lamp, which swung gently in the evening breeze. Opposite him sat Snefru, Minister of Protocol to His Royal Majesty, Seti I. They sipped at spiced wine in tall clay beakers, cooled by December snow which  swift riders had brought back from the hills of Uru-Salim, a minor Jebusite mountain city in the Hebrew’s home country of Canaan, to the north.

            Wine loosens the tongue, as they say, and both Joseph and Snefru had reached that pleasant state of semi-inebriation where all the world’s a fine and lovely place, and a man feels he can bare his heart and soul to a comrade. And so did the two think of one another: Snefru was Sudanese, a refugee brought to Egypt by parents fleeing the civil wars of their homeland. As for Joseph, all the nobility of Egypt knew his story: the poor, enslaved Hebrew teenager who had been brought to Egypt by Ishmaelites—or were they Midianites? It was no matter. He had first served Potiphar as servant and then chief-of-household, until an unfortunate encounter with Zuleika, Lady Potiphar, had landed him in prison. Clearly, he had been to blame—or was it she?

            Egypt did not care; its royal subjects, virtually enslaved to their semi-divine Pharaoh, were used to scandals in high places, but they never complained—they dared not complain, for to do so would mean either a lifetime spent in the prison-pit, or bleeding out one’s life and strength in a Royal Trireme, chained to a bench and brought to the lash.

            So was life under Seti I: a bluff, former military man, who wished only for his orders to be carried out, no matter how arbitrary or foolish they might sound. To cross Pharaoh Seti meant certain death.

            With his native wits about him, Joseph was quick to recognize the nature of the monarch he served, who held the power of life and death in his hands, as closely he held his royal scepter and flail. The Hebrew, longing for his father and family, willing even to forgive the brothers who had treated him so badly, wished only for a friend in whom to confide—and had found that friend in Snefru, whose being Sudanese, Joseph believed, made him an outsider, as well.

            The hours went on, measured by the water-clock which stood in a corner of Joseph’s office; he directed his serving-boy to bring another jug of wine, and he and Snefru drank each other’s health, yet again. The Sudanese, whose dark eyes seemed to glow in the moonlight like a leopard’s, was telling his Hebrew friend about his parents’ dangerous trek from the killing fields of Sudan to the safety of Imperial Egypt:

            “After we escaped the prison camp where the Ethiopian invaders had imprisoned us,” Snefru was saying, his words slightly slurred by too much spiced wine, “my parents would find or make us a hiding-place by day. We would travel at night, the moon and stars lighting our way.”

            “It must have been extremely dangerous, Friend Snefru,” said Joseph, thinking of his own journey down to Egypt, the sun burning hot, his flesh, bare now with his Coat of Many Colors torn off and dipped into lamb’s blood, hands tied with a rough leather thong, riding a camel with head uncovered and the hamseen blowing sand into his face, which he was unable to protect—he had to cling to the beast with all his might.

            “Ah, Joseph, my Hebrew friend and fellow Royal Officer, you have no idea!” expostulated Snefru, taking yet another sip of the delicious wine. “My baby sister was captured by the Ethiopian guards when we escaped—she panicked and would not heed my father’s warnings to, ‘Run to the East! Run as fast as you can!’ And, after he scooped me up and raced into the thicket, Mother there before us, I could hear her screams as the Ethiopians pierced her in a hundred places with their short spears—I will hear her screams until I die, I believe—”

            And he took another, deep draught of wine. “And what of you, Friend Joseph? As a Hebrew, you are certainly suspect to your enemies in the King’s Court—how do you protect yourself?”

            Joseph grimaced. He put down his wine-beaker; he preferred a clear head, at least partially. “Briefly, I make myself indispensable to His Majesty by taking on more and more responsibilities: crops, cattle, slaves, and the like. That way, if I lose face and he decides to do away with me,”—and Joseph tellingly drew his forefinger across his neck—“he will think twice. Where will the great Seti, Ra bless him!—find another officer who can perform all the tasks which I willingly undertake?”

            “Ah, Joseph, you are a clever one!” smiled Snefru, “and I cannot hope to equal a man of your talents. I have that I can do, to handle the constant and continual embassies of foreign secretaries from other lands. We Egyptians, as you know—and, with your permission I include you in that designation—are notoriously suspicious of foreigners.”

            “I am aware,” said Joseph solemnly, “that, in our language, ‘stranger’ also means ‘barbarian.’ We Egyptians are the pinnacle of civilization, and I mean, by my efforts, to keep that position for our kingdom. However—”

            Snefru leaned forward, eager to hear what his clever Hebrew friend had to say. Joseph continued:

            “To insure our supreme rank among the nations, I must gather around me a cabal—no, a committee, if you will—to guarantee that, when Seti dies, Ra save him!—that the next pharaoh is equally amenable to receiving groups of foreigners who pledge their loyalty. Will you join me in this task?”

            Unhesitatingly, Snefru raised his cup, and pledged, “To Egypt! And to the happy outcome of your plans for an orderly succession, Ra willing. May all nations find refuge in our happy land!”

            It was late; the dawn from peeking over the eastern cliffs. Thus having pledged their fealty to one another, Joseph and Snefru embraced and parted. Joseph opened the door with his own hands and asked:

            “Will you go home, Friend Snefru? The hours grow late, and we both have a full slate of royal duties for tomorrow.”

            “Aye, Friend Joseph, I will. I am weary, and your delicious wine has befuddled my head. I have a slight headache, as well.”

            “Go with Ra,” said the Hebrew, patting his friend on the back. He closed the door, saying, “No, Boy; no, Pami, my servant. What, may I not tend the door’s openings and closings in my own house?”

            After Joseph bade him farewell and goodnight, Snefru did not go home, contrary to what he had told his friend. Instead, he walked a short distance through the streets of Heliopolis, turning into a nondescript hut, built of baked clay. There, by the light of a single oil-lamp, he found a short, squat, but muscular Nubian, whose face was pocked by old smallpox scars. His head was shaved, and he gave the impression of having been a wrestler or boxer years before. A half-drunk cup of barley beer stood before him, and he stared silently—first, at the moon clearly visible through the window, and then, at Snefru, whom he grinned to see.
            “What have you to report, Minister of Protocol Snefru—or, shall I say, Raneb, since that is your real name? Make it worth my while, and I will not cut your wife’s throat. Such a lovely throat it is—”

            Snefru—or was it Raneb?—began to tremble. “Please, Royal Security Sergeant Osorkon, spare my family, as you have kindly done all these years—have I not been a faithful spy for you?”

            “Well,” said the sergeant, “it did take my seizing your oldest boy and putting him into the prison-ships to convince you, but yes, you have been a good and useful spy. What have you to report? Don’t make me ask you again.”

            “I spent tonight with Joseph, Lord Sergeant,” stammered Snefru, “and came posthaste to report our conversation.”

            “The Hebrew slave-boy and lover, eh? Wine was involved, my drunken Snefru,” nodded the lawman, “for I can smell it on your breath. Well, tell your story, and quickly! Otherwise, I will send your daughter, in chains, to the copper mines in the Western Desert. A shame: such a lovely thing she is, indeed….”

            Hearing this, tears sprang to the Sudanese’s eyes; he stood, and told Sgt. Osorkon all that he and Joseph had discussed. As Snefru spoke, the web of suspicion and rebelliousness grew around Joseph….

            “Perhaps a spell of slavery for these pesky Hebrews would be in order,” mused the sergeant, “That would end their plotting. No slavery this year or the next, but I can see it coming, I’ll wager. If not this pharaoh, Ra save him! Then, the next.” He laughed, a bitter laugh.

            Outside the window, the Egyptian moon looked down, in sadness and suspicion.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Saga of Moy Roore

The Saga of Moy Roore, 
With Borrowings from the Book of Job 

By David Hartley Mark 

There was a man who dwelt in the land of Alabuz, and he was upright in his own eyes, save for a touch of pederasty, which he swore had never happened, anyway. And lo, he lookt out upon the mighty Land of America, and it vexed him much: for he beheld but sin, rapaciousness, and racism, a great deal of which was caused by him, but the causes of which he did not notice. 

And Moy put on the full armour of his God, which was essentially a larger vision of himself, and he girded himself with self-righteousness, and took up the sword of cruel vengeance upon both sin and sinners, the latter of which consisted mainly of folks who disagreed with him. And he gathered about himself all of his followers, those who feared the same imaginary demons which beset him. And Moy began to scream, and to fulminate, and to swear before the Creator that, unless he went to Congress, Congress would continue to do and perform things with which he disagreed. How he was to cleanse Congress from inside Congress he did not bother to explain, since he would then be no longer part of the solution, but of the problem. 

And Moy begged the Divine to send him justification in his struggles and crusade. And he announced that he did not hate minorities, although this was false. And his cries reached unto the welkin. 

That particular celestial day, the Lord God was having a meeting with Satan,  and He queried of the Adversary: 

"Just who is this guy Roore who persists in taking My Name in vain, and making trouble generally?" 

And Satan replied, "Beats me. Clearly not a Deist, as were the Founders." 

"What do you propose we do about him?" Asked God. 

"Leave him to me," replied Satan, "I will afflict him with various beliefs, and he will end up losing the election to a Democrat, the like of which has not been felt in Alabuz since the late 1970s." 

"Do so," said the Creator, "but spare his life, since about half of the state supports him, and I spend a great deal of My time trying to teach humanity a lesson." 

"What lesson is that?" Asked the Adversary. 

"Love ye one another, as I have loved you," smiled God. 

"That is more than somewhat doubtful for this guy," said Satan, "but hey, You're the Boss. Wish me luck." 

And Satan afflicted Moy Roore with spiritual blindness, and certainty-born-of-error, yet more racism, and a decided lack of knowledge regarding American History. This caused him to state loudly and in public that slavery had been good, that antebellum America had been Eden, and that all of Mankind's woes were caused by assaulted women coming forward and confessing their physical violations by men in power. 

"I can prove that from the Bible," said Moy Roore to Satan, who by day had disguised himself as a campaign manager, though the MAGA cap fit badly against his horns. 

"How so?" Asked Satan, who had moved into the Roores' front-hall coat closet, from which he could better emerge to whisper in their ears whilst they slept. 

"Why, Eve in the Garden of Eden," quoth Moy. 

"That is a long shot," said the Adversary, "since, even if you concede that I myself was in the Garden, I never laid a claw on her. Sorry, Moy. And you know that I can quote Scripture to my purpose." 

"Humph," said Moy, and he fell back upon the common politician's trick when declaiming a lie, which is to shout it loudly and often to people ignorant of the subject you are discussing. After, you wait for applause, which is both loud and long. 

At last, even Satan tired of Moy's company, for the man was clearly a blowhard and ignoramus, so he called in three Companions for Moy: Flinch D'Connell, Bawl Fryan, and Ton Old Dump. 

And Moy was gladdened to see them, and presented them, not with the Southern Hospitality for which his state is famous, but rather with outcries and criticisms. 

To the former two leaders, Moy said, "You have given over our Country and Party to sinners and lechers!" 

"Um, excuse us," interrupted D'Connell, "but aren't you the lecher?" 

"That is irrelevant," said Moy, "because you have not enforced the laws of my god in the Congress, as is your patriotic duty!" 

"Just wait for the Tax Bill to go through," said Fryan, "and you'll see some enforcement. We and the rich are going to make out like flies on excreta. 

"You ought to have put the full faith and credit of the US behind my campaign," said Moy, "and I would have helped you carry the congressional majority!" 

"Believe me," said Dump, shaking his belly, "it's all for the best. We will end the year with one legislative victory, and after that, will come my deluge of more oppressive American laws!" 

"What about me?" Asked Moy. 

"We need you down here," said Dump, "to reach out to the loonies and bible-thumpers, not to mention the Alt-Right. You're just perfect for them. I do the same, only worldwide." 

And Moy was appeased.