Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hukkat: The Tale of Og, the Giant

Hukkat: The Tale of Og the Giant 

By Rabbi David Hartley Mark 

Welcome to my Cave, Stranger! What frightens you? Oh, I see: you have never seen my like before. 'Tis true: I am the last, the very last, of the Rephaim, the Great Giants of Old. I am not one of your Israelites, who worship an Invisible God. Your Jewish tradition states that I am an Amorite, a proud, warlike, nomadic people. But that is not the entire truth. I am far older than the Amorites. Sit down by my fire—is it not a lovely, gigantic fire, worthy of its kindler?--and listen to my tale. 
Know, Mortal, that there is a—dare I say it?--mythological layer to your Torah. Oh, the rabbis might have tried to slough it off, or cover it up with their Talmudic casuistry—but it is there, sure enough. Here is Gen. 6:4: "The Fallen Angels [Nephilim] appeared on earth—when the Divine Beings cohabited with the daughters of men, who bore them offspring. They were the heroes of old, the men of renown." 
This was my origin: son of the mighty angel Shemchazi, who took to wife the youngest daughter of Adam and Eve, sister of Seth; her name was Ts'eerah. She was the human female who gave me life.  
As a babe, I drank the milk of two-dozen female oxen. I was a strapping youth, I tell you! You ask how tall I am? Eh? The Talmudic rabbis (again, their God bless 'em) had us Rephaim-Giants at 23,000 ells, or 100,000 feet—can you imagine? But I am about twenty-five feet tall, no error. Tall enough, I would say.  
The humans of those days—just after Adam and Eve, mind you—were a stubborn, sinful, and rebellious breed. I and my brother giant Goliath would be out hunting giant cave-bear, and we would see them—well, never mind. Um, sinning; let's leave it at that. It was only inevitable that God would send a Flood. I can't say what Goliath did to survive, but I sought out Brother Noah, and he let me ride atop the Ark—that was a merry voyage, I'll tell you!  
All through the pouring rain, and he would be passing me gobbets of meat and bread through the skylight—even stuck in the dark, wet, smelly menagerie of the Ark, Missus Noah was a wonderful cook. Still, by the third day of the third week, I became green-faced and seasick. Ah, memories.... 

A tight little ship for an ocean trip 
Was the vessel named Noah's Ark; 
No craft that blew could match her crew 
As she plowed the waters dark. 

Cho: Blow ye winds, hi-ho; 
A-sailing we will go 
We'll stay no more 
On Canaan's shore 
So let the music play-ay-ay; 
I'm off on an elephant's back 
To seek humanity's track: 
I'm off to my love with a pure-white dove 
To flap her wings away! 

Old Noah, he could barely see 
Through the pouring rain and mist: 
His missus, she wished with him to be 
And then the two of 'em kissed 


I say there, that was a sea-trip! Good that the lions left the sheep alone, however. And the unicorns and jabberwocks totally missed the boat.... 
So: where was I? Yes. The years went by, and the Lord God commanded me—He gave me powers of prophecy, don't ye know, though not so great as Friend Moses—to shadow the Israelites. I was to whittle 'em down to size, if they got too proud, too hoity-toity.  
I found myself in the Kingdom of Bashan, where the locals all seemed monstrous—how shall I say this?--short. Awed by my massive height, they chose me as king. Who could blame them? My being king led to my last mention in God's Book. The Torah, of course. How else could an old rascal like me, son of a fallen angel and all, be mentioned in this Sacred Document? Still, there I am, in Num. 21:33:  
"The Israelites marched...up the road to Bashan, and King Og of Bashan...came out to engage them in battle." 
The story goes that the Israelites utterly destroyed me and my people, and that Moses personally slew me. Humph!  
I ask you. I, an Immortal, half-fallen-angel—how could that elderly rabbi (whom I respect, make no mistake) have raised a sword to defeat, let alone chop up, one such as I? It's all editing, y'see; all clever writing.  
Truth is, we sent out perhaps a couple of platoons to give battle to your folk. It was a mere gesture—a reconnaissance by force, let us say.  
And I live on, as you see. Forever. It is my glory, and my doom: to afflict Israel when they become too self-assured, too prideful. Why? Because I, Og, a creature who is half the son of a fallen angel, is also part demon, and Israel must forever be reminded of their fallibility and their tendency to overreach.  
What's the clock? You must go, Stranger: my cave-door will swing shut, until God or the Fates ordain that it open again, for me to exit and work my wiles (or God's) against Israel. Here is some Torah for you to chew on: 

Thus says the Lord: 
Let not the wise glory in their wisdom; 
Let not the strong glory in their strength; 
...But only in this should they glory: 
That they are devoted to Me.  
For I, the LORD act with kindness, 
Justice, and equity in this world; 
For in these do I delight. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Lots of People, Walking: A Poem for the Refugees

Lots of People, Walking

By David Hartley Mark

I see from the Internet
That 2016 was a Big Year
For people becoming Refugees
Displaced Persons
Asylum Seekers

65 Million altogether

I read this on my cellphone
Driving home from teaching
I drive into my garage
I kiss my wife
I hug my dog
He’s getting a shampoo & haircut
He’s a little

But I love him

A two-year-old sits
Under a filthy windblown tarp
And shivers

We eat dinner

There’s really nothing on
The TV
Except one Stand-Up Comic
Talking about Congress and
The President
It’s all pretty funny

After the soldiers tied
Her husband’s arms
Behind his back
And stabbed him
Multiple times,
Joyce took her
Nine children
And fled
South Sudan
For Uganda

I really go to sleep too late
But I love reading poems of W.H. Auden:
Especially what he has to say
About the devastation
Of Sept. 7, 1939

What is it happened then,

11.25 million refugees
Are children;
The majority come
From Syria,
Of course

I fully understand
The massive threat
To Western Europe
Of these savages
Who are welcomed
With open arms
And then, turn to bite
Their hosts
They must be stopped
Expelled perhaps
Or ghettoized

I should know about ghettos
Being a Jew
Though I have never
Thank God
Lived in one

The UNHCR Report on Refugees showed
That, despite the main focus on Europe,
It is the poorer countries that host
Most of the world’s refugees

And that there are barely
Any whites
Among them

Monday, June 19, 2017

Korach & Rosh Chodesh Tammuz: Priestly Pretenders' Rebel and Old Fertility Gods vs. New

Korach—Rosh Chodesh Tammuz:

New Adonai vs. Old Asherah

By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or an Asherah, a sacred pillar; for I am the LORD your God. –Lev. 26:1

And Korach and his men rebelled against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, "You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?" –Num. 16:3 (translation mine)

My name is Pirya, “Fruit of the God Yah.” I am thirteen years old. I have been living with Savta, my grandma, since my parents died in the Plague of the Firstborn—they were out in the street and were murdered in the panic and melee, Savta said.

I do not cry for them anymore; I was very little then, and it was a long time ago.

I wish I could just enjoy being thirteen: Savta says that I am starting to become a woman. She sighs and says that, had we reached our Promised Land by now—Moab, Midian, or Israel, she doesn’t care where—I would have had a great party, a coming-of-age feast. I could invite all of my friends. But this Great Sojourn in the Desert of Moses goes on and on, she says.

Savta mutters to herself, but I can hear her. “’It is God’s Will,’ says Rabbi Moses. I do not like this newfangled God. Not like the Old Days, with the Old Gods….”

“What were the Old Gods like, Savta?” I ask, because it is hot outside, and I can’t go to play with my girlfriends in the heat. Nothing to do but listen to Savta’s old stories.

“Ah, well, Peery—“ says Savta, looking about warily, though there is no one in the tent but the two of us, “they were mighty gods: gods of the earth, and of the sky—and when they—they—danced together, the rains poured down, and the crops grew! Ah me—I was younger, and prettier, and had a special job in the Holy Temple of Ishtar….”

“Did you make the offerings, Savvy?” I ask.

“Something like that,” she smiles, showing me a toothless grin, and she kisses me. Her eyes become dreamy and faraway. “Ah, I wore cloth-of-gold, and a tall headdress, and a veil, and danced before the—the—worshipful men, and put them in a—a—proper feeling of offering….Well, never mind. Where was I?”

         “Tell me more about the Old Ways, and the Old Gods, My Sweetest Savta,” I beg, and pull at her sleeves.

“I will tell you more,” says Savta, “It is Rosh Chodesh Tammuz,” Savta declares, “The beginning of HIS month, of the god who lifts up the plants, who causes the flowers and grains to sprout. And, in the Old Faith, which rightly belongs to and is conducted by us women, we build Asherote, sacred branches about which we twine flowers, as thanks to the Goddess Asherah and her powers, which give the earth the power to grow, and the heavens the might to send down healing rain, even in this dryasdust desert. She is princess to Prince Tammuz, the Grower-of-All-Things.

         “I would like to do that!” I cry, “and I know that my friends would, as well! Oh, Savta, could we?”

         “I—“ a line a doubt crosses her brow, “I am not sure. It has been years since we Israelites worshiped Asherah, and joining it—her—with Tammuz, God of Spring, is a powerful charm. I am not sure whether a small girl should lead such a procession through this Camp of our new, Holy God. It could be—dangerous?”

         “I am no mere girl!” I say, stamping my foot, until the dust devils swarm about it, there on the floor of our tent, “I am a Daughter of Israel, practicing an Ancient Rite of Our People!”

         Savta grins, again. “O Little Pirya bat Deborah, you have the true fire of an Asherah-Priestess! You remind me of me, truly. No men’s God for you. Well. Go out, gather timbrels and drums, hand-cymbals and bells. And have your friends gather flowers to adorn poles for Asherote, and to welcome the fertility god, Tammuz, who brings forth both life and death!

         I race out the back-flap of the tent, and dart like a finch from house to house, telling my friends of my plan. In less than an hour, I  gather nearly twenty girlfriends, all eager to decorate Asherote-poles and welcome Asherah and her consort, Tammuz.

I hear from another grandmother—Mistress Gavriela, who lived once by Ashkelon, the Seaport, and knew sailors from different lands—that the goddess and god have many names: Ishtar, Isis, Ceres, Persephone; her consort was also Adonis, Frey, Bacchus, Dionysus, Pan…. All the names make my head spin. Never mind; it is time for our little Asherah-Parade. We are just about two-dozen little girls with musical instruments; what could be the harm? People are all sweating and depressed in the heat. This will surely cheer them up.
As we walk out onto the beaten-sand boulevard of the camp, with the Sanctuary before us, we hear how deathly quiet it is. Little Miriam—she is only five—gives a slight tap on her tambourine, and its sharp sound makes us all jump. Galya, her sister, tries to start singing, and I join in, but my mouth is all dry, and the words “For to GOD belong the earth and its fullness; the heavens, and all that are in them….” stick in my throat.

         And then, we see them. Standing before the Sanctuary. Not Aaron and his sons, Elazar and Itamar, whom most of us know well, for their having led services, all these years. No: someone different: a tall, handsome man, with oiled hair, with two short, fat men—greasy-looking, and leering, ugly—next to him. Behind them, a great crowd of men, with censers, wearing an odd assortment of what is supposed to be priestly garb, I suppose.

         The handsome man sees us, and beckoned: “Come here, pretty little girls! Come here, to your friend, High Priest Korach! I have sweets for you….”

         And then, far down at the other end of the Sanctuary-Boulevard, we hear the voice of Rabbi Moses behind us, quavering, but still strong with authority: “You, girls! Separate yourselves from that evil Korach’s congregation, for the LORD will consume them in a moment!”

         “Candy—yum! I will come to you, Sir Korach!” cries Galya suddenly, and she went to run towards them.

         “And me! Wait, Sister!” calls Little Miriam, throwing down the timbrel, and chasing after. Korach laughed, as he scooped the girl up in his arms.
         I see the sun cloud over—it is very sudden. Lightning flashes—On a clear day? I think—and thunder rolls.

         “Never fear!” shouts the rebel Korach to his raggle-taggle band, “with these two pretty little hostages, what will the Great God Yah dare do to us? Lord God!” he shouts, as he shakes a fist at the gathering black clouds, “I demand that you leave those old fossils, Moses and Aaron, and select me, me, me! To be Your High Priest! I, and I alone! Select—“

         But then, there within our sight, the ground begins to move—back-and-forth, back-and-forth—

         My girls and I cannot help but stare—is he mad, to dare the anger of the Lord God? We are frozen with fear. Suddenly, I feel myself being snatched off my feet: I look up, and see the tired, wrinkled face and greying beard of General Joshua. “Don’t be afraid, Little Girl,” he says, huffing from his age, “I’m just saving you from falling down a deep, dark hole—look away, for God’s sake!”

         I hug him, as tightly as I can. Three or four other girls are also clinging to the old soldier, like baby possums.

         “Hold on, or follow us, Girls!” comes another voice. I look: it is Colonel Caleb ben Yefunneh. Captain Chur is there, too. As they carry us away, running as fast as they can, I hear an enormous, cracking noise; I turn around, and see the ground split open: Korach and his mob are gone.

         Vanished into the ground, as the LORD GOD promised….

         When the dust settled, the earth  returns to its place—and the Korachites are vanished, swallowed up. But where are our friends, the little sisters? Nothing left but Miriam’s tambourine….