Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mattot-Massay: Spoils of the Midianite War

Mattot-Massay: Spoils of War 

By Rabbi David Hartley Mark 

"Moses spoke to the people...'Let men be picked out from among you for a military campaign, and let them attack Midian to wreak the LORD's vengeance upon Midian [for seducing the Israelites into worshiping Baal-Peor, and committing carnal sins with the Midianites]...The Israelites took the women and children...captive. ...Moses became angry with the army commanders...and said to them, 'Slay every male child, and...also every woman who has had relations; but spare the virgins.... and divide the booty...between the combatants and the community. ...And from [these shares] you shall give [a tenth] to the Levites [of gold, silver, and precious cloth]…." (Num. 31) 

Scene: A Midianite Battlefield. Shofarote-sounds and drumming are heard. Screaming of women and children. Then, gradually, silence. ENTER two Israelite combatants, anonymous citizen-soldiers, conscripted dogfaces, as one would see in any war. They are weary and bloodstained. Both wear leathern body-armor, and carry both spears and swords.  

One is Tsuribaal ben Sodi; the other is Nebo ben NamerTsuribaal is a tall, rawboned Simeonite, dependable at the plow, with a shepherd's crook, or a sword in wartime. Nebo is young and slightly built; he would be better suited to wield a clay tablet or parchment scroll of Torah, than a long lance. Both are blood-smeared; Nebo is limping. They come to a largish rock and sit down, leaning against it. 

Tsuribaal: What happened to your leg, young Nebo? I see that you do not walk steadily upon it.  

Nebo: It's nothing. Just a scratch.  

Tsuribaal: Tell me, O' Mighty Warrior! (he grins) Was this not your first battle? 

Nebo: Except for maneuvers under Captain Caleb—yes. And I hope it's my last one.  

Tsuribaal: Why, do you shrink from a healthy bloodletting, by the Word of God? By Yah's Beard, I love this! To see our enemies—that is, the Lord's enemies—running before us, and to feel the vibration in my arm-muscles when I skewer a—a—Midianite on my spear, and lift him, dangling, into the air! Why-- 

Nebo: Did you kill children? I did not.  

Tsuribaal: Was it not the Word of God? I did-- what the Lord commanded.  

Nebo: Spare me the details. Murderer. 

Tsuribaal: What did you say?  

Nebo: Nothing. I said nothing.  

Tsuribaal: Look, look there! 

(A line of Midianite women and children, guarded by Israelite fighters, is prodded off toward the Israelite lines. The prisoners are weeping, pleading, and crying.) 

Nebo: Tsuri, what will happen to them? 

Tsuribaal: That rabble? Whatever Moses and the LORD decide. It is not for us lesser types to interfere. Never forget, Bookworm, that those same women beguiled our best men into sinning against Our God Most High. And for that-- 

Nebo: How do you know that they are all guilty? 

Tsuribaal: I? I don't have to know anything. God said it, I believe it; that settles it.  

Nebo: I cannot believe what you are saying.  

Tsuribaal: I never said this, Bookish One: you were there, as well: God commanded us, through Moses, to kill all the male children, and the married women. (He runs his thumbnail down his spearhead, testing it for sharpness.) And my war-lance will settle it, in the end.  

Nebo: But, what if we were to talk to the Midianites? To their leaders? 

Tsuribaal (laughing): You are a caution, young one! Who is there left to talk to? You surely have heard that we already slew those scoundrels, the Five Kings of Midian! And that donkey-headed prophet, Balaam, as well.  

Nebo: Balaam? Why? What did he do? 

Tsuribaal: Rumor had it that he was the instigator of that sinful orgy at Baal-Peor—the one that got us all in trouble in the first place (Spits). Well, good riddance, say I. 

Nebo: I had thought—he was a good man. He blessed us, after all. 

Tsuribaal: I trust no one. The only good Midianite is a dead Midianite.  

Nebo: Did you know that Moses sought shelter among the Midianites, long ago, when he fled Egypt after killing the taskmaster? Jethro, his father-in-law, and Zipporah, his wife, were Midianites. 

TsuribaalHm? No. I did not know that. But what's past is past.  

Nebo: Perhaps we should re-think-- 

(The sound of screaming begins again.) 

Tsuribaal (Shading his eyes, looking off, smiling): Must be our comrades killing the captives, by the command of God, I daresay (spits). Hear me, Nebo-son-of-books: it's a sad, harsh world out here. I didn't create it, nor did you. We must survive in it, somehow. And if you don't like my way—that of killing our enemies, regardless of their gender or identity—I challenge you to find a better way. 

Nebo: Perhaps I will, Tsuribaal. Perhaps I will.