Sunday, September 17, 2017

Haazinu: A Rosh Hashanah--Jewish New Year Adaptation for 2017-5778

Haazinu: A Rosh Hashanah Adaptation for 2017

By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

                                      Blossom, O Heavens, when I invoke,
                                      Let the round Earth attend to my saga;
                                      We laud the LORD, Maker of Heaven and Earth—
                                      Truly, all of our Universe springs from Him.
                                      We mortal beings are prone to missing the mark,
                                      To fail when we attempt an endeavor:
                                      It is our God’s duty to discern in us Right,
                                      And teach us that sin lacks all benefit.

                                      I could blame the Almighty for all that goes wrong,
                                      I could lay my shortcomings before Him—
                                      Accuse Him of lying in wait for me,
                                      Or sending before me temptation.

                                      God gives us free will and chances to choose;
                                      God loves human beings, not robots.
                                      But our free will needs responsible choices,
                                      Not grabbing at gratification.

                                      Our people lay claim to being Chosen, in truth;
                                      The world looks upon us as models,
                                      And, when a Jew errs, they must speed’ly repent,
                                      For their sin reflects on our People.

                                      While those of us blessed with high station in life
                                      Must accept that this comes with constraining:
                                      Their natural impulses they must dominate,
                                      Or tumble to th’ Pit, as did Korach.

                                      Beloved before God is telling the truth,
                                      And that is the theme of this Season;
                                      A leader who lies is a dysfunctional dolt,
                                      And God will dispose him in due time.

                                      O Israel! Let shine in our precarious world
                                      The deeds you confess, Rosh Hashanah;
                                      Though your deeds be dyed crimson,
                                      God will turn them to snow—
And so may this continue, forever.

Amen. Selah.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Kirby the Shih Tzu Meets Hurricane Irma: It's Not Pretty

Kirby the Shih Tzu Meets Irma: It’s Not Pretty

By David Hartley Mark

Scene: A living room. It is normally comfy and well-laid-out, but this time resembles an explosion in a camping store. Battery-powered lanterns, flashlights, and electric fans lie scattered about, on the coffee table (which properly is called “Kirby’s Klubhouse”), or on the lawn table which was brought in from the yard for safety, standing next to the large gas grill. Two enormous picnic cooler chests stand near the previously non-functional refrigerator, and paper plates cram the trash. In the midst of it all, Kirby the Shih Tzu sleeps, or tries to, in his furry beddy. He snores loudly, as do all dogs with tiny noses and an enormous need to rest.
Dave, his ostensible owner but always friend, enters the room.

Dave: Kirby? You up?

Kirby: Why are you bothering me? I just have to lie here for a bit, and get my nerves back together. This is a crazy house.

Dave: Well, you understand, we’re all kind of under the gun, here.

Kirby: Dave, when you adopted me from “Have U a Shih Tzu?” Rescue Home, you promised the people there that you would shelter and tend to my every need. Now, we’ve had this ridiculous windstorm, which has done nothing for my state of mind. You know how delicate I am—

Dave: Tell me about it.

Kirby: --and now, I’m a nervous wreck. It isn’t fair. Maybe I should go back to the Home.

Dave: Not a good idea, Kirby; I understand that they were slammed, too. This hurricane really knocked Florida and the Southeast all to—you know.

Kirby: The Home, too? My Dog! All my friends—Webster, Sheridan, and Courtney? Poor Old Courtney—she was pretty much of a basket case to begin with—always jumping up on people.

Dave: That’s why we didn’t adopt her.

Kirby: Adopt Courtney? You said I was your Forever Friend. Courtney was a nut job. I, on the other hand, am elegant, soft-barking, and always at your beck and call.

Dave: Please. All you do is chase Mommy around.

Kirby: Is she here now?

Dave: No; she went out grocery shopping.

Kirby: Howsabout you sneak me some people food?

Dave: Um—you’re getting a little chunky.

Kirby: Hey, so are you.

Dave: Never mind. Let’s talk hurricane. What do you remember?

Kirby: Well, long before you humans had even an inkling of Irma, I could sense her coming. We dogs get a whole static electricity thing going, in our fur.

Dave: That’s why you were so jumpy the whole time.

K: Yes: but there was more. How long do you think I can hold in my—you know?

D: I thought dogs could turn off their bladders.

K: Well, yes; but we have limits.

D: Hey, I took you out, plenty of times, there during the tornadoes.

K: Yes, but when you weigh only 16 lbs., Bad Things can happen. Just as I was assuming the position, a huge wind gust from the tornado came along, and nearly lifted me off the ground.

D: I remember: both Mommy and I made a grab for you.

K: Well, that was it for me. My mother didn’t birth me to be Orville or Wilbur. I could have sailed off, over the trees. By-By, Kir-bye.

D: You did look surprised. Anyway, between that and losing power, we figured, once the storm was over, that we needed to get out to a motel for a couple of days. 92-degree heat will do that to a person.

K: Dogs, too.

D: Didn’t you like the motel?

K: Well, yes. But there were so many dogs. Big ones.

D: Weren’t there a couple of smaller dogs, too? You met them.

K: There was a little silky terrier named Cosmo, and I thought we could be friends—he was smaller than I am. But he started barking like a maniac, and lunged for me. I thought he was going to chomp my face off.

D: Yes, he was a sweet little guy.

K: Are we talking about the same dog? Next, I met a couple of yellow labs, who wanted to be my best friends. When they sniffed me front-and-back, I felt a weird sensation running through my entire body.

D: Well, having hot breath on both your face and tush will do that.

K: Then, I’m walking in the hall with Mommy and you; everything is fine. You know how I love a nice carpeted hall for running up and down. Suddenly, there’s this sheep dog—he must have weighed 800 pounds—named Carl. He comes galloping up and almost blows me over. “Tastes like chicken,” I hear him say. Thank Dog that Mommy snatched me up and asked the owner guy to grab Carl’s leash. I could have been lunch.

D: Anyway, finally we made it to the room.

K: Yeah, sure. But on the way up in the little moving room—I remember thinking, “Is this where we’re going to sleep? There’s no room for beds!”—the door opens up, and a couple get on with three gigantic bulldogs. Their mommy is yelling, “They’re gentle! They’re gentle!” Meanwhile, Larry, Moe and Curly slobber all over me.

D: Lots of dogs, Kirb, lots of dogs.

K: So you figured that it might be nice to go to the Sawgrass Mall. That is one big mall.

D: I carried you the whole way, too.

K: Except when Mommy stuck me into a shopping cart, here and there. You guys also thought it would be a good idea to try sticking me in a Tommy Hilfiger bag.

D: Um, that didn’t work out. Carrying you was best.

K: Yeah, well, except that you got me all sweaty.

D: Well, excuse me, Sara Lee.

K: Hey, when you’re little, you have to be careful. In the food court, while you were eating your pizza, these two little girls came over.

D: They thought you were cute.

K: Of course, I’m cute. Cute is my job. But this one little girl—

D: She was only four. Cut her some slack.

K: Slack? How would you like a rug rat yelling in your face, “Nice Doggie! Nice Doggie!” Why didn’t you stop her?

D: Well, her father was telling me about his dogs, how one died at fifteen and the other was poisoned, and his eyes welled up.

K: That’s too darn bad, but he totally ignored his daughter yelling, “Nice Doggie!” and patting me. I had to take matters into my own paws.

D: And you growled at her.

K: It wasn’t a big growl. And she ignored it, too. Thank Dog that Mommy distracted her away. Dog knows, the father wasn’t doing it. Who asked you to talk to him?

D: Well, the father was crying. “I really want a dog,” he says.
“Well, you have kids,” I say.
“Oh, yeah—right,” he says.

K: Idiot. He should have saved me. Then, we walked the mall. We walked and walked.

D: Hey, I was doing the walking and carrying.

K: At least, I had a little slurp of your ice cream, at the end.

D: That’s true.

K: Let’s not do hurricanes any more, OK?

D: I’ll see what I can do….

NItzavim-Vayelech: Moses is Dying Hard

Nitzavim-Vayelech: Moses’s Death is Hard

By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

                           Ha’ we lost the goodliest fere of all
                           To the Cloud of Divinity?
                           Aye lover he was of the Holy Law,
                           And he made God’s People free.

                                    --After Ezra Pound, “Ballad of the Goodly Fere”

         Following the skirmish with Amorite manna-raiders, General Joshua entered the Command Tent, and laid his battered wooden shield, hooped round with a bronze circlet, in a corner. On it, he carefully placed his brazen sword, whose blade’s nicks and scuffs testified to having been used in many a skirmish and battle. Caleb ben Yefunneh, his aide-de-camp and Colonel of the Israelite citizen-army—such as it was—did the same. A small fire burned in the center of the tent, and they squatted near it.
         “You saved my life, General,” said Caleb.
         “No more than you would have done for me. I’m glad we were able to repulse those Amorites, when they came to seize our food and abduct our young women,” replied Joshua, “But something of greater import concerns me—our Rabbi Moses is fighting for his life. How much time do you think the Old Man has, Caleb?” asked Joshua.
         “Could be a couple of days—or hours, even,” replied the grizzled Judahite, spitting into the fire, “he is dying hard.”
         “Aye,” replied Joshua of Ephraim, “he is giving the Angel of Death a tussle—as he belabored our people, in his prime.”
         “D’you remember, General, that time he faced down Korach and his hordes, single-handed?” asked Caleb.
         “How could I forget?” said Joshua, smiling grimly at the memory, “I offered to stand alongside him then, but our Rabbi just scowled at me, that way he had—has—and said, ‘Some battles we must fight alone, Young Joshua. And the Lord stands beside me, here. I shall not trust in mortal men, from whom there is no help. No: my help is the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.’”
         “And what about—this goes ‘way back—the Night of the Slaying of the Firstborn, in Egypt?” recalled Caleb.
         “What a tumult—a bedlam!” said the Ephraimite, “with Egyptian mothers—those gloating beldames—screaming to Ra, Thutmose,  Osiris, and all their filthy heathen gods! It was not safe to be an Israelite among them, I tell you—the men feared us, but the Egyptian women would have torn us to shreds, had the Lord not been our protection!”
         “Yet, after all that,” said Caleb, “he is dying hard.”
         “I am sorry, sorry to death that Moses is suffering,” agreed Joshua, “and, the Lord knows, I have served him since I was a boy.”
         “No one knows his every thought as do you, my General,” said Caleb, wiping his sword with a rag.
         “But, the Lord bless him,” said Joshua, smiling grimly, “he is giving the old Angel of Death a run for the money.”
         “That he is,” said Caleb.
         The two old warriors settled back against the walls of the Command Tent, each lost in his own reverie. The flaps of the tent parted, and a young boy came in—an apprentice Levite, by his garb, a white robe and singlet.
         Joshua smiled: “It is young Ori, the littlest great-grandson of Kohen-Priest Elazar. What ails ye, Ori my boy?”
         The boy bowed—a bit snobbishly, Caleb thought.
         “If it please you, my lords,” said Ori, flourishing a long shepherd’s crook, half again as tall as he, “Nurse Yaffa sends her compliments, and asks if General Joshua ben Nun will from this time forward carry the holy and enchanted staff of Moses.”
         Joshua rose, and directed that the boy hand him the wooden stick, made of stoutest blackthorn and polished to a darkened shine, mostly by the large, horny hands of Rabbi Moses. It seemed to vibrate in his hands.
         “I will not—cannot—wield this magical staff,” he said, “for it was meant by God to be carried only by our rabbi. Let it be buried alongside him.”
         “How, then, will we cross the mighty Jordan River, when the time comes to enter the Land and begin our conquest?” asked Caleb, “Will you not need this staff to smite the river?”
         “I know from our spies that there are places where a man might stand with either foot, astride the ‘mighty flood’ of the legendary Jordan,” answered Joshua, “and besides, I believe that our God-Who-Makes-Miracles will ease our way across, as He did at the Sea of Reeds, staff or no.”
         Caleb nodded: he could sense that Joshua, even prior to the Great Rabbi Moses’s passing, was already showing signs of Godly insight and prophecy.
         The young Levite, not knowing what to do, made as if to lean Moses’s Staff against a corner of the tent wall. Joshua shook his head vigorously.
         “Return the staff to Nurse Yaffa,” ordered Joshua, “and bid her lay it over our rabbi’s winding-sheet, when the time comes.”
         Ori bowed once more, and quietly left the tent, bearing the staff.
         “Will’t please you to have a sip of mead, my General?” asked Caleb, when all was quiet once more.
         “No, thank’ee, Colonel Caleb,” replied Joshua, “for I wish to have my wits about me, when the time comes.”
         The two old soldiers closed their eyes and tried to rest while seated. Both sweated profusely; the day was very hot, and they wore leathern back-and-breast armor. The Amorites were still a danger to be faced, and they could sweep down in a moment from their fortress on Mount Seir.
         Minutes passed—an hour, perhaps? Who could tell the time in the desert? The two dozed.
         Suddenly, the flap parted again. This time, it was an older priest, Rafu ben Mahlah, of the priestly healing class.
         “My lords, quickly!” he cried, “I fear that our rabbi’s end is near.”

         Joshua and Caleb shot a glance at each other, gritted their teeth, rose, seized their weapons, and raced out of the tent after Rafu….