Category Archives: 5771

Review of Destiny’s Call, by Rabbi Yaakov Beasley

Destiny’s Call: Book One – Genesis

By Ben-Tzion Spitz

Valiant Publishing, 2011

Reviewed by Rabbi Yaakov Beasley, Editor, Torah Mietzion: New Readings in Tanakh: Bereshit, Yeshivat Har Etzion and Maggid Books, 2011

RESTORING IMAGINATION

In 1956, based on years of conferences and discussions between teachers and academics on the subject of what schools should teach, Benjamin Bloom published his groundbreaking Taxonomy of Learning Objectives and introduced the concept of higher-order thinking skills into the educational agenda. Instead of the simple and passive recall of facts, students were encouraged to actively analyze, evaluate and apply the information learned. While the particulars of Bloom’s taxonomy have been debated, the adoption of the principles has been near universal. For Jewish educators, however – special challenges emerge: how does one balance between the desire to encourage critical thinking on one hand and maintain a sense of reverence towards sacred texts on the other? An additional factor must also be considered – how to develop innovation and original thinking while maintaining the boundaries of centuries of commentaries and interpretations. Is there room for imagination in interpretation? These questions have been answered in one form or another by various authors and schools of thought during the past several decades. One very interesting response, however, comes from a brand new volume of Biblical fiction titled Destiny’s Call by Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz.

For several years, Rabbi Spitz has sent out a weekly email to hundreds of subscribers consisting of a short Dvar Torah and a short story on the parasha. From these archives, he has collected thirteen outstanding short gems, each one illustrating and expanding upon a particular story from Genesis, but in creative and often surprising ways. His stories manage to convey a sense of fresh and innovative thinking, while navigating the contours of traditional thought. The book also comes with a plethora of illustrations. There are hand-drawn maps of the Biblical landscape, a useful timeline of when within the biblical narrative his stories take place and genealogical charts showing the relationships of the various protagonists in his collection. In addition, each story is introduced with a reproduction of artwork from some of the great masters who illustrated the same scenes, including the famed Gustave Doré. Spitz has also included a list of discussion questions for each vignette that can be of great value to parents, teachers or book clubs, as well as a short essay outlining the process that led to the book’s creation. The end of each story leads the reader to the sources that were used to compile each story, whether it is the basic Biblical text, or more fascinating, the Midrashim, some of them rarely referenced. In the back of the book is a thorough glossary and index of Biblical references, rare for a work of fiction.

The use of Biblical characters in fiction is not new, as anyone who has ever read Thomas Mann (or more recently, Anita Diament) will attest. Indeed, the nature of the Bible as a text begs for this treatment. Unlike other literary works, the Biblical texts do not provide much detail or characterization, and only rarely are readers allowed access into the inner thought process of the personalities that inhabit them. There are, in Erich Auerbach’s formulation, texts “fraught with background”. In Jewish tradition, the Midrash was the first attempt to fill in these holes. Meir Sternberg’s theory of narrative centers around how “the biblical narrator navigates ‘between the truth and the whole truth’ by carefully managing narrative “gaps” or ambiguities by withholding information from the reader.” As such, many writers find it easy and convenient to use the sketchy outlines of the Biblical story as a springboard for their own creativity.

What separates Spitz from the above writers is that he is able to create tales that feel organically connected to the text and its message. He does this not by adding extraneous details to the plot of the story, or layering interpretation and commentary to the text, but by exploring the thought processes of the characters within them. Many of the stories deal with secondary and tertiary characters as they react to the momentous events around them. What motivated Lot’s wife to turn around to glance one last time at Sodom, despite the clear danger in doing so? How did Rachel feel upon seeing Jacob for the first time? What did the people building the Tower of Babel think? Like the Midrashic attempts to ascertain what Abraham thought during his three day journey to sacrifice Isaac,

Spitz is sensitive to the very human nature of the characters as they steer their way through events that ultimately become larger than life.

In summary, Destiny’s Call is an engaging read, and is strongly recommended both for the Shabbat table and the classroom. However, this work also accomplishes a much greater and more important task. Rabbi Spitz, through his vibrant stories, reminds us what it means to truly interact with a sacred text, and how reverence and the creative imagination can work together in our religious development while opening up new vistas in our understanding of the Biblical narrative.

[Special discount for schools and bulk orders. Visit http://valiantpublishing.com for more information.]

Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 7 – The Dreamer

Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 7

The Dreamer

Not yet, the Voice caressed him. You will not die yet, my son. I shall leech the poison from your veins and restore your battered soul. Do not give up the fight, Ehud. I still need you.

For what, Ehud thought to the Voice. Have I not done enough violence? Have I not killed enough of my brothers?

It was necessary, the Voice answered. The Tribes have forgotten Me. They have waxed fat on the wealth of the land. They have grown arrogant from their material success. Now darkness shall come and eventually they shall remember Me and cry out My Name.

But why, God? Why so much violence? Why brother against brother?

The Brotherhood of Israel was close to an end. Only by bringing them to the edge of despair can I salvage national unity.

I don’t understand. I don’t even know where I am.

You lay within the ashes of the city of Givaah, Ehud. The defenders of the city are dead. This city of evil has been burned to the ground. I have protected your body even as I drain the poison from you.

Givaah is destroyed?

Not only Givaah. The Tribe of Benjamin is on the brink of destruction.

How could this happen!?

I will show you.

Ehud felt himself rise from his body.

He saw his prone body covered under a layer of ashes, resting serenely on a thatched bed. Half-burned logs of oak, which had once been part of the ceiling, criss-crossed protectively over his body. They had fallen from the collapsed roof and shielded his body from the elements.

God, what is happening to me? Ehud thought agitatedly.

I am showing you what has transpired these past few months as your body has been recuperating. Do not fear, Ehud. Be strong and of good courage. You are still counted amongst the living. I have merely taken your spirit to see what you could not otherwise. I require that you witness and understand these events, for you shall be the savior of your people. I have found you worthy to walk in My ways, Ehud.

Ehud felt his consciousness rising above the city of Givaah. There was no life left in the city. He saw burned out husks that were once homes. The skeletal remains of men and children were strewn about the blackened fields. Old vultures nibbled on dry bones. A cold wind blew ashes and dead leaves into the air. Though his spirit had no mouth, Ehud imagined the taste of bile and slag.

His spirit ascended above the hills of Benjamin. Fields that should have been plowed for the winter grains lay burned and fallow. Ehud saw one desolate city after another. Skeletal structures of walls rose from blackened ground as if resisting burial. Then he saw the bones. Mounds and mounds of human bones thrown into ditches. Ehud cried with tearless eyes.

I have not shown you how they died. It was a massacre. This is one of the better places where the tribes showed a semblance of some compassion. Here at least they placed the dead into a mass grave. In many other battles the dead were left to rot where they fell. After the first thousand, even the Levites gave up burying everyone.

But come, there is more that I must show you.

Ehud’s spirit glided eastward, high over the pockmarked earth. He flew through clouds, marveling at their texture. As he exited a bank of clouds he could see the Moabite mountain range, across the Jordan River. He remembered Boaz telling him once of the search for the tomb of Moses upon those mountains and the Kenite Raskul who had mischievously guided them. Raskul in the end sacrificed himself to save Boaz’s bride, Vered, from the poisonous missiles of deadly Akavish, the insane Philistine whom they had vanquished together all those years ago.

Ehud’s reminiscing was interrupted as his spirit descended to the desert, still west of the Jordan River. He recognized the distinctive Rock of Rimon, the mountain stronghold his tribe had conquered from the Amorites decades earlier. He saw soldiers of Israel arrayed in the valley, surrounding the mountain.

His spirit penetrated the mountain and he found himself in a dark, torch-lit cavern.

“How much longer can we stay here?” Yakshal argued. Tall Yakshal had taken command of the surviving Benjaminites upon the death of most of their leadership. “The Israelites are starving us. I say we attempt escape and make for Moab. It is not so far and they have ever been friendly to us.”

Ehud noted the few hundred men assembled in the large cavern, listening attentively to grim Yakshal in the center of the gathering.

“Are you mad?” young Tamir asked. “The tribes will destroy us the moment we leave the Rock.”

“We shall surely perish if we stay,” Yakshal retorted. “I would rather take my chances outside, than die of starvation in this hole.”

“What does Prince Giltar say?” Tamir looked at Giltar. The prince of Benjamin sat against the cavern wall with his head bandaged.

“I am no longer worthy of guiding what remains of our people,” Giltar stated in a raspy monotone.

“You are not even worthy of being alive,” Yakshal replied hotly.

Giltar looked at his wrinkled hands wordlessly.

“He may have some ideas worth listening to,” Tamir insisted.

“His ideas and arrogance have led to our utter destruction,” Yakshal said. “I would sooner kick him in the face than listen to his cursed voice.”

“I am deserving of all your hatred and loathing,” Giltar said as fresh tears streamed down his face into his grey beard, “and were it not for some inner compulsion, my own hands would have ended my blighted life. But now at the very end, as I drink the full cup of failure, I think I perceive some truth. It is all from God. We had forgotten the God of Israel and the instruction of Moses. In our pride we worshipped our own strength. We must remember to rely on God. Yakshal, I think that you are correct that we cannot allow ourselves to starve to death. But I would wait. I would wait until we have no choice. Salvation may yet come from elsewhere. Let us be patient, and when our supplies run out, I would seek peace with our brothers; perhaps their tempers have cooled as well.”

All the survivors started murmuring at once, debating Giltar’s suggestion.

Ehud’s spirit flew out from the cavern, northwest across the desert.

He approached the city of Bet-El where the armies of Israel were assembled.

Ehud spotted Boaz with his fiery red beard berating rotund Gheda. They were surrounded by the princes and generals of the tribes.

“How is this possible?” Boaz cried. “How is it possible that we have destroyed a tribe of Israel?”

“They brought this upon themselves,” Gheda coughed. “If they had not been so obstinate, if they would have accepted unification, all of this bloodshed could have been prevented.”

“You are deranged,” Boaz pointed his finger at Gheda. “We are all guilty of this madness. We must protect the survivors at the Rock of Rimon. But how shall the Tribe of Benjamin continue if we have massacred all of their women? Furthermore, in your anger and stupidity,” Boaz pointed at all the princes, “you swore that your daughters shall not marry into Benjamin. Shall a tribe perish before our very eyes?”

“I have a solution,” Gheda stood straighter. “There are those from amongst us that did not participate in our war or in our vow.”

“Who? All the tribes are here.” Boaz said.

“The residents of Yavesh Gilaad from the tribe of Menashe did not send their sons to battle nor are any of their elders present. Their daughters shall marry into Benjamin.”

“Just like that? Knowing them, they shall refuse.”

“This is a matter of survival. There is no choice.”

The other tribal leaders echoed their approval.

“Don’t you see?” Boaz pleaded. “You are repeating the same mistake again. You are forcing your will on our brothers. You will force their daughters to marry the Benjaminites against their will?”

“We may have been forceful in our attack on Benjamin, but must be equally forceful in remedying the situation. The residents of Yaveeh Gilaad must be punished for their treachery; for not joining our cause. We can at least salvage their women to save the Benjaminites.” Gheda noted the other princes nodding their heads in agreement. He lifted his fist and his voice. “We march now! To Yavesh Gilaad. For vengeance, and to bring wives to our brothers in Benjamin. Let us go!”

Ehud’s spirit floated eastward across the Jordan River. He witnessed the sun rising and setting in rapid succession. He arrived at the city of Yavesh Gilaad of the tribe of Menashe. He saw the unprovoked attack by the tribes of Israel against the quiet city. An army, twelve thousand strong, stormed the unprotected city. Every single male resident, including children, was run through by spear or sword. The few that attempted escape were shot by vigilant archers. Every woman with her hair covered, the traditional garb of a married woman, was likewise murdered. The only ones spared were the women with hair blowing frantically yet freely in the winds of battle. Ehud saw the massacring army then ride westward with four hundred maidens, captives of war.

His spirit followed the marauding army back west, across the Jordan and into the desert, until they reached the Rock of Rimon. Ehud’s spirit flew ahead of the Israelite army and once again penetrated the walls of the cavern.

“We are on our last rations, Giltar,” Yakshal accused the prince of Benjamin. “Shall we starve to death or shall we take our fate into our own hands and escape this tomb?”

“I would sue for peace, Yakshal. I am willing to go out myself, unarmed, though they may shoot me on sight. Then you will no longer need to seek my opinion.”

“If you go out, they will know we are desperate. I cannot allow it.”

“You cannot stop me.” Giltar stood up slowly from his position against the cavern wall. “You will have to kill me if you disagree with my actions.” Giltar walked to the cavern entrance.

Yakshal intercepted Giltar and held his sword to the elder man’s neck.

“I should kill you, Giltar,” Yakshal said, looking at the Benjaminites on either side of him. “You have caused us such losses, such destruction, that I should kill you for threatening us further. But I will not.” Yakshal lowered his sword. “It is a lost cause in any case and I will not be guilty of placing more blood on my hands, but I will not let you pass.”

“Stand aside, young man!” Giltar said with a voice from his past. “You are now the one who would doom us to death, when I give the only possible hope for life. Let me ask for peace. At most you lose a worthless old man. It will not alter or detract from the disadvantage you have. Move aside, I said!”

Yakshal, surprised, moved out of Giltar’s way. Giltar shuffled slowly but steadily towards the cavern opening. He hesitated by the entrance, took a deep breath and stepped into the open air to face the army of Israel.

Thousands of troops surrounded the rocky mountain outcrop. Fresh forces galloped to join the bivouac. Several hundred bound women sat in front of the approaching riders as they descended to the valley below the Rock of Rimon. Fat Gheda rode at the front of the new forces, with a determined grin on his face.

“Sons of Benjamin!” Gheda called out. His voice echoed between the valley and the mountain. “We mean you no more harm!”

“Not much more harm is possible,” Giltar called down. Hearing Giltar unharmed, Yakshal, Tamir and the other Benjaminites exited the cave and joined him.

“We wish to make some small restitution; that a tribe of Israel shall not perish,” Gheda said.

“Will you bring our sons and daughters back from the netherworld? Will you bring our wives and children back from gruesome death? What is this small restitution? You have assured the destruction of Benjamin. Israel will forevermore be incomplete.”

“Nay, Giltar, Prince of Benjamin. We have brought you wives. Young women that you may marry and thereby regenerate your tribe. Four hundred women, all young and of child-bearing age.”

“Who are these women and why are they bound? You would have us take unwilling brides?”

“These are the daughters of Yaveesh Gilaad. Their fathers did not join us, nor did they swear off their daughters from you as the rest of the tribes have done. We have punished them and killed all their inhabitants. These women are the only survivors. They have nowhere to go and no family to object. All the tribes are in agreement as to this action. They shall be your brides.”

“Four hundred brides for six hundred men?” Giltar asked. “Which third of our men shall remain brideless?”

“We have considered this as well. You decide the matching of these women as you see best. Whichever men still lack brides shall go to the festival of Shilo. At the summer festival, when the moon is full in the month of Av, those families that remain true to the traditions of Moses still go on pilgrimage to Shilo. Their daughters dance in the field during the festival. Each man should lie in wait and grab a woman he fancies. We shall explain,” Gheda patted the pommel of his sword, “to their fathers that your men can keep their daughters and that it would not be breaking the oath of all the tribes. By taking the women against their will, they have in no way violated the oath. What can they do if their daughters are taken by force? Our oath remains unbroken. Our forces shall meet you at Shilo on the fifteenth of Av to ensure that it is done.”

Gheda motioned to the soldiers to release the women. The soldiers cut the bonds of the women and dumped the fresh orphans unceremoniously on the dusty valley floor. The girls, already numb from the massacre of their families, barely flinched at the pain from their falls.

“We leave you,” Gheda waved, “in peace.”

“Wait!” Giltar called. “Our food supplies are finished. Leave us some provisions.”

“Very well. Captains! Organize sufficient provisions for them and the women and any mounts we can spare. We would not have our restored tribe flounder with its new lease on life.”

Gheda trotted out of the valley, leaving the four hundred women and the provisions at the Rock of Rimon. The army of Israel followed him. Ehud watched as the tribes made their way back to the desert road and then dispersed north, west, east and south; each man to his home.

The Benjaminites walked cautiously down the mountain turning their heads from the women of Yaveesh Gilaad towards the provisions on the ground.

Young Tamir was amongst the first to reach the bottom of the valley.

“Would you take me as a bride?” a young blond girl approached Tamir. “I don’t want to marry some old grouch.”

“Umm, sure, why not?” Tamir answered distractedly. “Would you mind if I have something to eat first and then I’d be happy to talk to you.” Tamir dug into the Israelite supplies and chewed heartily into some dried meat.

“Men,” the girl humphed.

Ehud’s spirit sped back westward to his body at Givaah. He opened his eyes to see a bright morning sun. He tried to move his body and felt his limbs to be stiff but healthy. He moved the beams of wood that were atop his body and stood up from his bed.

God, are you still with me? Ehud thought.

Eternally, though I may not always be so direct.

What should I do now?

Eat.

Ehud noticed the rumbling in his stomach. He sympathized with Tamir several miles away as he looked around his surroundings for any trace of food.

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Book of Judges, Chapter 20

43 They inclosed the Benjamites round about, and chased them, and overtook them at their resting-place, as far as over against Gibeah toward the sunrising. 44 And there fell of Benjamin eighteen thousand men; all these were men of valour. 45 And they turned and fled toward the wilderness unto the rock of Rimmon; and they gleaned of them in the highways five thousand men; and followed hard after them unto Gidom, and smote of them two thousand men. 46 So that all who fell that day of Benjamin were twenty and five thousand men that drew the sword; all these were men of valour. 47 But six hundred men turned and fled toward the wilderness unto the rock of Rimmon, and abode in the rock of Rimmon four months. 48 And the men of Israel turned back upon the children of Benjamin, and smote them with the edge of the sword, both the entire city, and the cattle, and all that they found; moreover all the cities which they found they set on fire.

Book of Judges, Chapter 21

1 Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah, saying: ‘There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife.’ 2 And the people came to Beth-el, and sat there till even before God, and lifted up their voices, and wept sore. 3 And they said: ‘O LORD, the God of Israel, why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be to-day one tribe lacking in Israel?’ 4 And it came to pass on the morrow that the people rose early, and built there an altar, and offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings.

5 And the children of Israel said: ‘Who is there among all the tribes of Israel that came not up in the assembly unto the LORD?’ For they had made a great oath concerning him that came not up unto the LORD to Mizpah, saying: ‘He shall surely be put to death.’ 6 And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother, and said: ‘There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day. 7 How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing we have sworn by the LORD that we will not give them of our daughters to wives?’ 8 And they said: ‘What one is there of the tribes of Israel that came not up unto the LORD to Mizpah?’ And, behold, there came none to the camp from Jabesh-gilead to the assembly. 9 For when the people were numbered, behold, there were none of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead there. 10 And the congregation sent thither twelve thousand men of the valiantest, and commanded them, saying: ‘Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the little ones. 11 And this is the thing that ye shall do: ye shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man.’ 12 And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead four hundred young virgins, that had not known man by lying with him; and they brought them unto the camp to Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.

13 And the whole congregation sent and spoke to the children of Benjamin that were in the rock of Rimmon, and proclaimed peace unto them. 14 And Benjamin returned at that time; and they gave them the women whom they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-gilead; and yet so they sufficed them not. 15 And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel. 16 Then the elders of the congregation said: ‘How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?’ 17 And they said: ‘They that are escaped must be as an inheritance for Benjamin, that a tribe be not blotted out from Israel. 18 Howbeit we may not give them wives of our daughters.’ For the children of Israel had sworn, saying: ‘Cursed be he that giveth a wife to Benjamin.’   19 And they said: ‘Behold, there is the feast of the LORD from year to year in Shiloh, which is on the north of Beth-el, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Beth-el to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah.’ 20 And they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying: ‘Go and lie in wait in the vineyards; 21 and see, and, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. 22 And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come to strive with us, that we will say unto them: Grant them graciously unto us; because we took not for each man of them his wife in battle; neither did ye give them unto them, that ye should now be guilty.’  23 And the children of Benjamin did so, and took them wives, according to their number, of them that danced, whom they carried off; and they went and returned unto their inheritance, and built the cities, and dwelt in them. 24 And the children of Israel departed thence at that time, every man to his tribe and to his family, and they went out from thence every man to his inheritance.

25 In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes.  

END OF TEXT OF BOOK OF JUDGES

(Don’t get nervous. The story is not over yet. We’ll hopefully be spending much more time on earlier chapters of Judges and tie it all in to Ehud, Eglon, Boaz and a few more characters…)

The Teacher’s Sacrifice

Kli Yakar Deuteronomy: Vezot Habrachah

The Teacher’s Sacrifice

“Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.” -Aristotle

Jewish law dictates significant esteem and honor to ones teacher – sometimes above that of a parent. In our current age such a concept may seem unfathomable. How can this often minimum-wage earner, this socio-economic struggler, this stranger who lectures us, this quasi-professional who may not be qualified to otherwise participate in the workforce be placed on a pedestal above the people who brought us into the world?

As a student, I was subjected to a plethora of mediocre and perhaps even lousy teachers, with a sprinkling of good ones. Once every few years I would cross paths with an extraordinary and even inspiring teacher. I feel their impact to this day. I am now privileged to live in a community with an inordinately high percentage of teachers. I find most of these teachers to be passionate, dedicated and inspiring (and easily qualified to have chosen any profession they may have desired). However, the Kli Yakar (Deuteronomy 33:9) hints at the price they pay – and he is not referring to the financial one.

Moses blesses the tribes in his final speech. The Tribe of Levi was apparently destined to be a tribe of teachers, instructing the Children of Israel as to God’s Laws. To the Levites Moses states the following hard-to-understand line:

“Who said of his father, and of his mother: ‘I have not seen them’; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew he his own children.”

The Kli Yakar explains that these Levite/Teachers are so committed to their studies; they are so absorbed in their teaching profession, that they simply have insufficient time for their family. Not for their parents, not for their siblings and not even for their own children.

This is unfortunately not an uncommon phenomenon among teaching families.

May we all, teacher and non-teachers alike find the right work/family balance and may we also remember that our family are perhaps our most important students.

Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Chatimah Tovah,

Bentzi

Dedication

To all the teachers in my life. Thank you.

Unconditional Generosity

 Kli Yakar Deuteronomy: Haazinu

Unconditional Generosity

Before a final exam or some other major challenge in my life, I would often turn to God and pray. “God, please help me do well,” I would think, or “just get me through this bind,” and then I’d promise that I’d behave, or do something good, or something along those lines. The foundation of such thinking was a classic barter system. God will do something for me and in return I’ll do something for Him.

The Kli Yakar (Deuteronomy 32:6) explains that such a premise is entirely mistaken and that I just didn’t understand this aspect of God. God doesn’t ‘need’ anything from us. And He doesn’t do things for us in exchange for some favor or assistance we provided Him. God is unconditionally generous. There are no strings attached. We may and will receive reward and punishment as a consequence of our deeds, but the life, health and good fortune that He provides can be independent of anything good or bad we may have done. He gives because He is faultlessly generous and giving, whether we are deserving or not.

According to the Kli Yakar, the ‘negotiation’ mentality or belief in the quid pro quo system was both ancient and widespread. Moses berates the entire nation for it, calling us “a vile and unwise nation” on this specific point. We just didn’t get it. God is not some deity that we bring sacrifices or gifts to in order to assuage His anger or get on His good side.

So too, the Kli Yakar directs us in our giving. Ideally, it should be free of ulterior motives. We should give, whether it is time, money, assistance or resources, because it is the right and appropriate thing to do. To expect some advantage, some leverage, some payback down the line, while it may be the reality of many relationships, misses the point. Such generosity is conditional and therefore lacking.

May we free our minds of the barter mentality in our relationship with God and others, strive for the level of unconditional giving, and may we all be inscribed in the Books of Life, Health, Success and All Good Things in the coming Year.

Ktivah Ve’chatimah Tovah,

Bentzi

Dedication

To our parents. Models to us of unconditional generosity.

To the memory of Gavriel Michael of Forest Hills, NY. His life was one of unconditional generosity and kindness to those around him and most especially to my grandmother, neighbors for many decades. He passed away today in NY and will be buried tomorrow in Jerusalem.

 

Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 6 – Surprising Monarchy

Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 6

Surprising Monarchy

“Don’t smell right, I tell ya,” Galkak said as he took a whiff of his neighbor’s jug of water and patted the filled skin at his side. “Mead’s my drink. Or some fine wine. Water’s fer animals.” Galkak burped unceremoniously.

“Suit yourself, you drunkard,” Agtar said as he took another swig from his jug of water. “You’re going to get sick from drinking that stuff all day, Hebrew. There’s nothing like some cool water on a hot day.”

Galkak of the Tribe of Simeon and Agtar the Midianite sat on the ramparts directly over the gate of the Amalekite stronghold, looking out to the craggy desert landscape in the valley separating the tribes of Israel from its eastern neighbors. Galkak’s bright red nose, rosy cheeks and slurred speech hid a sour disposition. Galkak fidgeted with his spice box as he looked northwards. He could see the southern edge of the Sea of Salt in the distance, not far from his tribal home.

“Sell anythin’ today?” Galkak asked Agtar.

“A few necklaces, a couple of earrings. For some reason the Amalekite women are not interested in anything besides gold. I’m having trouble selling my silver jewelry here. I did sell a nice silver bracelet to the princess. She’s a funny one. How about you? You’re far from home to be peddling your wares.”

“There’s war by us. I ain’t no farmer wit’ notin’ to do in the summer. The Prince of Simeon called all our men to march north ‘gainst the tribe of Benjamin. I went the other way. Didn’t help none though. Nobody’s buyin’ my spices today. I bring ‘em finely ground cinnamon from Egypt, I bring ‘em nutmeg from Damascus and I bring ‘em Safron from Tyre. People wrinkle them noses and jus’ say “not today.” I don’t know what’s wrong with ‘em. My stuff is good.”

“Let me smell that,” Agtar offered.

Galkak opened the wooden lid of his spice box and placed the compartmentalized container in front of the Midianite’s nose.

“You won’t be selling that stuff to anybody if that’s how it smells.” Agtar wrinkled his nose.

“Whatcha talkin’ ‘bout?” Galkak stuck his nose in the box. “Smells fine as ever! You’re jus’ as messed up as these Amalekites. You’re all sick or somethin’. I need to get outta this city.”

Neither Galkak nor Agtar noticed the soldiers on the ramparts falling gently to the floor.

 

Captain Rhogag rushed to his former monarch’s body and propped it up in the throne. General Harpag retrieved his dagger and wiped it off on the dead king’s robe.

“Let’s call Neema and see if we can complete this coup,” Rhogag said.

Harpag ran to the door and called out:

“Call the princess! Right now!”

They heard footsteps running away.

“What if she doesn’t agree?” Harpag asked.

“She will. Matters will become very complicated otherwise.”

“I am here,” a female voice stated, banging on the locked door.

Harpag unlocked the bolt, let the princess in, shut the door after her and bolted it again.

“What is going on? Rhogag? I heard you had returned.” Princess Neema then looked at the throne. “Father? Father!?” Neema rushed to the throne. She felt for a pulse at his neck and found none. She fell on her knees placing her head on her dead father’s lap. She sobbed in her father’s cold lap.

“Who did this!?” Neema turned around violently, her long black hair catching up with her face after a second.

“Who did this, I asked!”

“We did.” Rhogag stepped closer.

Neema rushed with arms raised towards Rhogag.

Rhogag stepped back, raising his own arms in defense.

Neema hugged the Amalekite captain.

“Rhogag, my love! You have freed me!”

“You are not upset?” Rhogag asked, confused.

“Upset at the demise of that suffocating tyrant? Upset by the end of my imprisonment? Upset by the loss of a father who only saw me as a tool of his political ambitions, seeking what marriage would be most advantageous? I am free. Free! Free to decide my own destiny, my own life! No, Rhogag, this may be the happiest day of my life!”

“Then marry me, Neema. Marry me now and let us cement a bright new future for you and the people of Amalek.”

“Marry you?” Neema laughed long and loud. “Why would I want to marry you, now that I’m free? I only encouraged your courtship as a way to free myself of marriage to someone of Father’s choice. You were merely someone of some small stature that Father might have considered, but that I could have controlled.

“It would be in your interest to marry me, Neema. You may have war upon you otherwise.”

“You threaten me, Captain Rhogag of the Northern Ridge?”

“You are a little bit behind the times, Neema. I am Rhogag of the Moabite army, which currently surrounds your city. A city whose water has been poisoned and whose only salvation is by your marriage to me and thereafter my allegiance with Eglon.”

“Is that all Eglon wants? Allegiance? I can spare us both a miserable marriage and merely give him our allegiance. You can join him and lead our men. You too, Harpag, though I am surprised you were so instrumental in the murder of a man you were so loyal to. I will sit here in our palace and do as I please.”

“You are naïve, Neema, to think you will remain unmarried or decide so simply how you live,” Harpag replied. “Though you have inherited the throne of Amalek, Eglon will not deal with a woman. He will only recognize a man as ruler of Amalek. If you do not take a husband quickly, Eglon may decide he would have you as a bride, or force you to marry someone of his own choosing. You will not easily withstand his influence. You are still an object of power and you have this brief window of time to choose your fate. Rhogag’s offer is reasonable. I suggest you consider it seriously.”

“Your majesty!” a guard’s voice from behind the door called. “Are you alright? We heard yelling.”

“We should open the door,” Neema suggested.

Harpag slid open the bolt. Guards and servants came rushing in.

“Guards! These men murdered my father! Confine them until we decide their fate.”

“Neema! Don’t!” Rhogag yelled. “Everyone will die. If I don’t return shortly, he will attack!”

“A few more minutes will not kill us, I hope. I need some moments alone to consider how to proceed. Guards, take them from my sight! And someone call the priests to take my father’s body.”

“Shall we prepare for a royal funeral?” one of the servants asked.

“Yes. No! Let us wait. In fact, do not tell anyone of his death. Say merely that he is ill. There is a certain king I need to speak with first. Do not let the prisoners speak with anyone. I may yet gain some further advantage out of this death.”

“What advantage, my lady?” the servant asked, as his stomach made a violent noise.

“Your queen, rather,” Neema corrected, looking at the man strangely.

“My queen. What advantage will you gain by this murder?”

“I can think of several. Bring to me Harpag’s second-in-command.”

“Yes, your Majesty.” The servant walked away with a sickly pace. He would collapse before he reached the unconscious second-in-command.

 

“Tell me, Dirthamus,” Eglon purred to his blind seer in his wagon-borne tent. “Has our pawn succeeded?”

“My influence on General Harpag was successful. Together with Captain Rhogag they have assassinated Nahish,” Dirthamus hissed from beneath his rags.

“Wonderful!” Eglon clapped his thick hands. “Then we can proceed.”

“There is a complication. The princess has locked up our pawns and is taking control to herself. She’s a feisty one.”

“So much for our romantic agent. No matter. With the king dead and the water contaminated, that is enough of an edge for us. Men! We march!”

One thousand Moabites together with ninety-nine Amalekites from the Northern Ridge outpost trotted southwards. They crested the hill and came within sight of the unsuspecting city.

“Is that the Amalekite army returnin’?” Galkak hiccupped as he asked Agtar.

“Hmm,” Agtar looked at the approaching army. “They seem to be in a rush.”

“That’s no rush! Their attackin’! Captain of the Guard! Ain’t nobody on duty? Close the gates?” Galkak called out, looking for the ever-present Amalekite soldiers.

The soldier at the gate was slumped on the ground. The soldiers on the ramparts had also collapsed. Below, within the city, he saw the bodies of both soldiers and civilians strewn on the ground. More were collapsing every moment.

“What’s happenin’ to everyone?” Galkak asked, his panic growing.

“I don’t know,” Agtar answered as he held his chest. “I’m not feeling so well myself.”

“Hey! Dontcha drop off on me now leavin’ me alone with an entire army. Run down and try to shut the gate! I’ll watch ‘em from here. Hurry!”

Agtar ran down the stone stairs of the ramparts and reached the open gates. Arrows whizzed by as he closed one of the heavy oaks doors. A spear pierced the wide folds of his robe as he closed the second door. A shower of arrows and spears wedged themselves against the closed doors as Agtar finally placed the heavy beam across both doors, locking out the attacking army. Agtar promptly collapsed to the floor, clutching his chest.

“Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy,” Galkak murmured rapidly to himself as the Moabite army surrounded the city. The majority of Eglon’s force concentrated on the gate and Galkak standing on the rampart above it. Galkak took a swig of mead from his skin and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. He saw all the chariots with their riders, the cavalry and the hundreds of infantrymen. He noticed an unusual wagon with a tent over it, close to Eglon.

A woman, who could only be the princess, ran out of the castle towards the gate rampart, followed by a handful of servants and priests.

“Who rules here?” Eglon bellowed from atop his chariot.

Galkak looked down at the large man with utter horror.

The princess ran up the stairs, her long skirt in tow, followed by her escort.

“Who rules here, I say? Is there no one who speaks for Amalek?”

Princess Neema reached the top of the rampart and looked at the army surrounding her city. She looked along the ramparts and within the city. Bodies of Amalekite soldiers were strewn everyone. Poisoned. We have lost, she thought. There is not one soldier left.

“I rule here!” Neema called down to Eglon, as she stood next to the open-mouthed Galkak.

“Hah!” Eglon laughed. “You do not look at all like Nahish. I thought a man ruled Amalek.”

“I am Neema daughter of Nahish, and I rule in his place.”

“Is there no man left standing that can take the reins of your people? I shall not deal with a woman. What of your dashing Captain Rhogag or your General Harpag – those are capable men – I would deal with them.”

“Pfah,” Neema spat over the wall. “They are traitors and I will have them killed before the day is over. You shall have to deal with me or no one.”

“Very well, madam. Though I hate to kill such an obviously enchanting woman. If you do not produce a man that I may discuss the terms of your surrender with, then we shall fire all of our arrows into your lovely city, killing you and anyone unfortunate enough to have you as a leader. We shall then smash your puny gates and kill any survivors.”

Neema looked around wildly. There were no men stirring on the ground; just unconscious husks in armor or loose robes. The servants and priests on the ramparts with her had all cowered out of sight of Eglon. Only the strange inebriated-looking merchant stood at her side facing the might of Moab.

“Wait!” Neema pleaded. “He will represent us,” she pointed at Galkak. “He rules over us!”

“Ah, a man I can talk to,” Eglon grinned. “And what is your name and rank my dear fellow?”

“Um,” Galkak looked confusedly from the princess back to Eglon. “What’s that to you, fatso?”

“Are you referring to my girth? You insult your attacker? Is this any way to open negotiations?”

“Watcha want, big guy?” Galkak said with a little more verve taking yet another fortifying drink from his skin. “I figure you just want us to open them gates for you. Otherwise your nice little army will get tired real quick in this desert heat while we sit pretty and safe here. You’ll have to do better than that to scare us, right princess?” Galkak said with growing confidence.

“Your king is dead. Your army is poisoned and non-functional. It is true it would be a great inconvenience to lay a siege and break through your gates, but we shall, if we must. Are you open to negotiations?”

“Sure, fatso. Tell us whatcha want and whatchur offerin.’”

“Tell me your name first, you foul-mouthed ill-mannered drunk. I can see your drunken features from down here.”

“I’m Galkak! I’m the power here now, fatso. I have me an entire army at my command, so you better talk fast before I pour some burning oil over yer men.”

“Very well, Galkak, ruler of Amalek. These are my terms. I shall lift my siege of your city, I shall leave your people unharmed, I shall give all Amalekites free passage upon one simple condition.”

“What condition?” Princess Neema asked.

“Woman!” Eglon yelled. “Silence yourself and do not speak in front of your betters. Another word from you and I shall have my archers bring you down.” Eglon motioned to the archers near him who adjusted the aim of their bows to Neema.

“Galkak of Amalek, how do you answer?” Eglon continued.

“Sounds good so far. Watcha want in return?”

“You shall be a vassal unto me. You and your army shall be mine to order, to join me on the wars I wage and to fight the battles I command. Your land shall be mine. I shall determine who lives where, how resources are used and all tax collections shall be mine. Very simple really. Vassals or death.”

Galkak looked at the princess. She nodded her acquiescence.

“How do I know you’ll keep your deal, big guy? Once I open the gate you may have a change of mind?” Galkak ended his question with a burp.

“Ah, caution, thoughtfulness. I like that. I can see how you grew in the ranks of the army, my tipsy Galkak. You have no assurances, except this. I am a loyal ally and a generous master. It is in my interest to preserve Amalekite strength to attain my ambitions. You too will gain greatly from our conquests. I can use a man of your courage and intellect, Galkak. I shall make you a general of my armies where you will know fame and fortune. What say you, Galkak of Amalek?”

“If you wanted our strength, why’d you poison us, then, huh?”

“The poison will only have a temporary effect. Soon your men will be whole and well again. As another sign of my magnanimity I command that you release Captain Rhogag and General Harpag. Yes, I know that the princess has imprisoned them. My ears and eyes go far and deep. I do not forget my allies and I preserve capable men. What say you, Galkak? Let us avoid bloodshed, but rather unite under my banner for a glorious future.”

The princess looked around, wondering how Eglon had known. She nodded to her servants and indicated that they should release the prisoners. This Galkak is impressive, Neema thought. He has handled himself marvelously against Eglon, as uncouth as his speech is. But who are you? I’ve never seen you before. Are you even Amalekite? She nodded encouragement to Galkak to accept Eglon’s terms.

“Okay, fatso. We’ll go along with your deal, with one other condition.”

“You are testing my patience, man. Make a reasonable condition and let us be done with it. It is not getting any cooler out here.” Eglon wiped the sweat of his mostly bald head, his single ponytail of red hair having absorbed only some of his perspiration.

“I want the wagon,” Galkak pointed at the tent covered wagon near Eglon.

“What? What nonsense are you talking about, man?”

“It must be valuable, whatever’s in there. We’ll keep it safe as long as you keep your end of the deal. But if you start misbehavin’, then we sell or break or destroy whatever is so precious in there, big guy. Got it?”

Eglon doubled over in laughter.

“You are so precious, my dear Galkak. You remind me of a Benjaminite blacksmith I’m fond of. So perceptive. So sharp. Yet still does not know what he is talking about. The tent is non-negotiable. Open the gates and accept my terms or prepare to die. I tire of this discussion.”

“Okay, okay, okay – I just wanted to squeeze some more out of the deal. Hold onto yer horses. We’re opening the gate.”

Galkak ran down the rampart stairs and removed the beam from the gate doors. He swung the doors open and went to attend to Agtar the Midianite, still unconscious by the gate.

“What happened?” Agtar stirred as Galkak sat him up.

“You missed all the fun. You better get out of the way before the Moabites trample you.”

Galkak helped Agtar stand up and move out of the way of the approaching army.

Amalekite soldiers and civilians throughout the city stirred to consciousness.

Captain Rhogag and General Harpag ran towards the gate and the Moabite King on his chariot.

Eglon entered the city first followed by the tented wagon and the other chariots.

Eglon stopped his wagon in front of Galkak and Agtar. Rhogag and Harpag joined them. Captain Rhogag bowed low.

“Welcome, my liege. I greet you in the name of all of Amalek,” Rhogag said.

“Thank you, Rhogag. I give you credit for part of the job, but not the whole thing. This fellow here, Galkak, is now my representative for all of Amalek. But do not fear. I shall yet reward your efforts and give you a rank and responsibility commensurate with your skills. Greetings, General Harpag. I understand you were instrumental in the coup and that shall not be forgotten.”

Harpag bowed lightly to Eglon.

Neema came running down the rampart stairs and confronted Eglon.

“I am still a princess of Amalek and my place will not be denied,” Neema said.

“My dear, Neema.” Eglon smiled. “The royal line of Amalek has been suspended with the death of your unfortunate father. Galkak here is the new ruler of Amalek as you yourself declared on the walls of your city in front of your people and my entire army. It would be good for all of you to accept and encourage this new reality. My treaty was with King Galkak of Amalek and any enemy of his, my loyal vassal, is an enemy of Moab. You would do well to remember that. However, I am not an ungracious Emperor. I believe in maximizing the use of my loyal subjects. I am sure, Neema, that we can find for you an appropriate marriage worthy of your beauty, pedigree and temperament. But let us not be hasty. My friend Galkak, will you not host me graciously in your palace as is customary of a client state, or will you leave me to shrivel out here in the sun like a prune?”

“Of course, of course, big – eh, yer Majesty. Right this way.” Galkak walked towards the palace, hoping he’d figure out where the throne room was and that someone had at least cleared out the body of the old king.

* * * * * *

Evil Thoughts

Kli Yakar Deuteronomy: Nitzavim

Evil Thoughts

There is a concept in Judaism that one is only punishable for what one does. You can plan a heist, but are only found guilty for the act of attempting to rob a bank, not for the thought of robbing a bank.

There is however a caveat to this rule. There are some evil thoughts that are punishable. Just the firing of the neurons in your brain focused on some particular evil idea is liable to divine retribution. The horrible, punishable thought is ‘idol worship’, or more properly translated, ‘strange worship’.

The Kli Yakar (Deuteronomy 29:18) draws this conclusion from an interesting verse:

“And it comes to pass, when he hears the words of this curse, that he blesses himself in his heart, saying: ‘I shall have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’”

The evil thinker may believe that as no one besides himself is aware of the thoughts of his heart, then he is both guiltless and beyond punishment. Well – he’d be wrong. God knows.

God knows what is in the heart and mind of man. If man’s mind is preoccupied with ‘strange worship’, with devotion to things, and concepts and pleasures that are beyond those prescribed by tradition – that is punishable. Just the thinking of it is highly problematic. The Talmud states that in some cases the thought of sin can be worse than the sin itself.

Thankfully, however, the converse is also true. In repentance, just the thought itself can count. If someone decides to change his ways, if he truly, earnestly, from the bottom of his heart has committed himself to improve his actions, just that thought is counted as repentance – even if he did nothing yet. Not only that, but the Kli Yakar adds that based on such a powerful thought, based on the commitment, God Himself will help the penitent with the act of repentance. When the sinful opportunity comes again, God, based on the person’s soulful repentance will assist in helping the sinner overcome the temptation.

May we start thinking good thoughts, abandon strange worship and get on the bandwagon of the people God is promoting.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To our friend, Ruth Lieberman of Alon Shvut, on her instrumental assistance in getting Bob Turner elected to the 9th Congressional District in New York (my home district of Forest Hills). Though politics is filled with strange worship, there is clearly some divine promotion going on. Click here to read about her amazing accomplishment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 5 – The Berserker

Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 5

The Berserker

“Congratulations, Ehud!” Prince Giltar slapped Ehud on the shoulder. “That was a masterful battle. We did not lose a man! You were brilliant to focus your attack on Boaz. I think the Judeans have learned their lesson.”

“This is not cause for celebration,” Ehud muttered as he walked in the moonlight with Giltar outside the gates of Givaah.

“We have defeated our enemies. What more can you ask for?”

“It is not done. They are still camped around us.” Ehud motioned at the army surrounding them. “They will attempt again tomorrow, with greater force. We must prepare.”

“Are they mad? What chance do they have without their vaunted hero?”

“We are all mad to be engaging in this senseless battle. Nonetheless, they outnumber us and if anything they will be further enraged by their defeat.”

“What will you do?”

“We must prepare the ground. If we cannot best them with numbers, we shall let the land assist us.”

“I leave it to you then, Ehud.”

 

 

“I will not take any chances this time,” Elimelech said to Gheda in the Prine of Judah’s tent. “We shall go with a force five times as large as Benjamin’s and I shall lead them myself.”

“It is prudent to use overwhelming force,” Gheda said as he patted his stomach, “but is it wise for you to lead? Or anyone from one of the tribes for that matter?”

“Who else but someone from one of the tribes?”

“A Levite perhaps. We are neutral as far as the tribes are concerned. We have no tribal inheritance. We have no territorial interests. We are spread about amongst all of the tribes and known to all of them. We are the natural unifiers of all the tribes. And with such an overwhelming force, victory is assured.”

“And which Levite do you suggest to command the armies of Israel?”

“Why I would think it would be obvious to you, Elimelech. I should lead the united tribes of Israel. I have been at the forefront of the unification effort. It was my woman that was killed by the hand of those murderers. I should be the one to both exact retribution and bring the tribes together in victory.”

“There is some sense in what you say,” Elimelech volunteered hesitantly. “Perhaps we should lead together.”

“You know as well as I do, Elimelech, that there can be only one leader at a time. The tribe of Judah had its chance today, and that did not turn out well at all. I’ve spoken with the other princes about this. They insist that you stay behind tomorrow and allow me to take the reins.”

“You discussed this behind my back?” Elimelech asked in growing anger. “What military experience do you have? How will you deal with Ehud? He is the biggest threat.”

“Each of us must do what we can to secure victory, Elimelech. I am not without guile in earthly matters. I know how I shall deal with Ehud should our paths cross.” Gheda patted his sheathed sword.

“In any case, there are not many warriors of Judah left on the field,” Gheda continued. “Perhaps it would be better if you tended to the wounded amongst your family and consoled the mourners amongst your many cousins. How many thousands did you lose today?”

Elimelech closed his eyes and grimaced at the reminder of the disaster.

“Very well. I shall stay behind. I just want this over with already.”

 

 

“Pass the butter,” Gheda commanded his arms-bearer, Ralton.

Ralton, the young gangly Levite, reached to the other side of the wide table Gheda had placed in front of his tent. The table was laden with fresh bread and pita, olive oil, wine, mead, figs and scallions. Gheda had ordered a sumptuous breakfast for himself and was sitting beside the table enjoying the food surrounding him. “All must take note of who is in charge now and that we are in command of the situation,” Gheda told young Ralton through a mouthful of pita, as a thin rivulet of olive oil dripped from his fleshy lips.

“Gheda, the troops are ready. We are wasting precious minutes of the day,” a commander from the tribe of Dan urged.

“Calm yourself, commander,” Gheda waved his flabby hand. “There is no rush. I shall not run at Givaah like some green soldier. Let them become anxious as to the time and method of our attack. We have the strength of numbers and we shall destroy their resistance in due time.”

“Yes, Gheda,” the commander answered. “However our men are also tiring, and after yesterday’s massacre, they are not feeling so confident, even with our numbers.”

“Can’t a leader eat his breakfast in peace?” Gheda slammed his beefy fist onto the table, making the dishes bounce. “Very well, commander. We shall proceed. Ralton, give me my sword.”

Ralton took the sword in its scabbard from against the breakfast table and handed it to Gheda as he rose from his chair. Gheda smoothly drew the sword from its scabbard, careful not to touch its sharp edge. He noted with approval the dark liquid staining the cutting side of his sword. One slice will suffice, Gheda thought.

“Take me to the front line, commander,” Gheda bellowed. “We shall finish this pointless resistance and earn our place in history.”

Gheda, Ralton and the commander walked down from the encampment to the troops in the valley surrounding the city of Givaah. The Israelite army was organized in three waves of attackers. The princes expected that one wave would be enough, but they had decided on two more as reinforcements.

As Gheda walked through the waiting soldiers, he noted that the men were perspiring in the rising summer sun. He was comforted by the endless number of soldiers, but slowed his pace as he saw the Benjaminites arrayed in front of the gates of Givaah.

“I don’t need to be in the very front,” Gheda said to the commander. “A general should be able to direct his men from some distance. He needs to see the bigger picture. I shall stay here in the second battalion. You, commander, you should lead the first attack.”

“As you command, Gheda. The battle plan has been decided already, you merely need to order when to start and direct us as you see fit.”

“Very good, very good. Let’s get on with it then. Proceed.”

The commander walked briskly to the front of the line.

“Forward!” the commander ordered, sword drawn. Thousands of swords left their scabbards as the tribes of Israel marched against their brother once again.

Gheda was excited by the movement. The second wave, of which he was a part, marched forward, up the hill to Givaah. Parts of the wheat fields they were trampling seemed abnormally moist in the late morning. Gheda tried to spot Ehud. Ehud is the one we need to watch out for, he thought. There he is! At the very front of his men. Is he praying? It won’t help him. But they are not moving to engage. Are they wet? Why do they all seem as if they’ve bathed in the Jordan. Very strange.

The tribes marched resolutely up the hill as the Benjaminites stood their ground. Ehud seemed to be counting to himself.

“Swords!” Ehud bellowed. A wave of swords left their scabbards and appeared in the hands of the Benjaminite defenders. Ehud continued counting quietly to himself. The front line of the Israelites narrowed the distance. A normal army would have used the downhill advantage to meet our advance, Gheda thought. Why is he letting us get so close?

“Archers! Now!” Ehud exclaimed.

After those words time moved at a painfully slow pace for Gheda. He noticed half a dozen Benjaminite archers with fire on their arrows letting loose their projectiles. The front line of the tribes, led in an orderly unison by the commander, fell into an extremely long and deep ditch, stopping the assault. The fire arrows hit their hidden marks and the entire field seemed to go up in flames. A wall of flame rose in front of Gheda’s wave, cutting his group off from the first wave of Israelite attackers, now stuck between the trench and the fire. Another wall of fire rose behind Gheda, separating his wave from the third group behind him.

“Charge!” he heard Ehud yell.

The Benjaminites jumped over the trapped Israelites in the deep ditches, lopping off hundreds of heads as they crashed into the first wave of attackers. The Benjaminites hacked and sliced into the panicked soldiers who were unable to advance or retreat. Many of the Israelites ran to the sides, trying to escape the deadly Benjaminites and the blazing fire. Very few of the attackers of the first wave survived.

“Through the fire!” Ehud commanded.

Gheda then saw a sight he would never forget for the rest of his life. Thousands of Benjaminites jumped through the wall of fire. He finally understood Ehud’s brilliance. Their soaked robes, shields and head gear protected the Benjaminites from the flames. An army of steaming men appeared amongst the confused Israelites. Trapped between walls of fire and soldiers that could only be compared to the minions of Hell, pandemonium ruled the Israelite attackers. The Benjaminites methodically cut down the Israelite soldiers. Ehud ran from melee to melee, tearing down whatever resistance built up.

“Attack Ehud!” Gheda finally found his voice. “He is the key! Attack Ehud!”

Some of the Israelites took heart from the command, and turned to find the short blacksmith. Gheda, despite his wide girth, moved quickly, avoiding other deadly squabbles, until he was directly behind Ehud. Ehud was surrounded by half a dozen Israelites. Ehud, a sword in each hand, stood blocking the blows of the Israelites surrounding him, ducking under fatal slices. Gheda, feeling the heat from the flames, fell to the ground and crawled towards Ehud. Ehud stepped away from the pressing Israelites. Gheda crawled within sword’s-reach of Ehud’s leg.

Let it end, Gheda thought, as he nicked Ehud’s ankle with the tip of his sword. Gheda crawled away from the fracas and ran parallel to the walls of fire, seeking an exit.

“Retreat!” Gheda called out. “Retreat! Let’s get the out of this hell.”

The Israelites, confused yet again, ran in either direction trying to escape the fires. The Benjaminites pursued the army of the tribes, killing many from behind. Bodies littered the burning wheat fields of Benjamin.

“Enough!” Ehud called out woozily. “Let them run. Put out the fires. Perhaps they got the message this time, though I don’t know what trick I would use tomorrow.”

Ehud surveyed the carnage. Again he could see thousands of corpses. Not one Benjaminite dead. Why don’t they understand? he thought. Why don’t they give up this damned battle? This will scar our relationships for generations to come.

Ehud walked slowly through the field and then promptly fainted, as the poison coursing through his veins finally overtook him.

 

 

The tribes of Israel retreated from around Givaah. They regrouped at Bet-El. The princes of the tribes had all ripped their robes and placed ashes on their heads. All of them had lost family members on this second day of defeat. All of the survivors, ashen-faced and smelling of smoke, wept and took upon themselves a fast. Priests and Levites offered animal sacrifices to God, begging for mercy, forgiveness and understanding. Gheda sat in the center of the camp, head bowed in shame, embarrassed by the failure and secretly bemoaning all the wasted meat of the animal sacrifices.

“You walked right into a trap,” Elimelech accused Gheda as nightfall settled. “I will lead the army myself!” Elimelech faced the other princes. “We cannot count on just mere force. We must use some of our own subterfuge.”

“But we lost so many,” the prince of Naftali said. “God is clearly on their side.”

“They have done evil!” Elimelech answered. “They are defending criminals, and now at their hands we have lost forty thousand of our finest men. Forty thousand! In just two days! We cannot just walk away.”

“Let us ask the priest,” the prince of Naftali said.

“Let us,” Elimelech agreed.

The princes sought Pinhas the High Priest amongst the torches lighting up the night. He stood in front of the Ark of the Covenant overseeing the offering of the sacrifices and consoling mourners.

“High Priest,” Elimelech approached, head bowed.

“Yes, Prince of Judah. What is your request?” Pinhas responded.

“I would ask a question of God.”

“Do you not tire of these efforts?”

“I tire to the death, but I would not walk away from evil.”

“Yet you would cause it. You would nurture it until it grows to a beast beyond your control. Elimelech, these deaths are at your feet. Your hands have slain our brethren and I am unsure if a lifetime in the Jordan River would cleanse you of this damnation.”

“I asked you! I asked before each battle if we should proceed! I had the consent of God Himself!”

“You asked poorly,” Pinhas pointed at Elimelech and spoke more forcefully than he had in years. “Your questions presumed you should attack. God leads man to where he takes himself. You sought destruction. Vengeance. Power over your brethren. It is true the sons of Benjamin have erred, but you have fought, you have all fought, for the wrong reasons. God is not amongst those with false hearts or erroneous ideals. You have brought this sorrow upon us all.”

Elimelech and the princes stood silently in front of the High Priest. All the blood drained from Elimelech’s face. He had always had his doubts. He had always been unsure of the cause, but no one had blamed him before. No one had placed the exclusive blame for the massacre upon his shoulders.

Elimelech fell on his knees. His head dropped into his hands and he started crying. He cried painful racking sobs. “What have I done? What have I done?” Elimelech asked the palms of his hands. The princes stood, shaken by the sight of a broken Elimelech. Slowly, Elimelech stopped crying. He wiped his face, stood up and looked at Pinhas.

“What shall we do?” Elimelech asked, his voice hoarse and quiet from the tears.

“What would you ask of God?” Pinhas retorted.

Elimelech stared at Pinhas. He lifted his head heavenward. He looked at the princes surrounding him and the soot-covered soldiers behind them.

“Should we go out again, to fight with our brother Benjamin, or should we desist?”

Pinhas closed his eyes, grimly pleased with Elimelech’s question.

The stones of the High Priest’s breastplate remained dim. After a moment the etched letters of the stone lit up. The shining of the letters was brighter, longer and more elaborate than the previous two times.

In a voice not fully his own, Pinhas announced:

“Go up, for tomorrow I shall deliver them into your hand.”

Elimelech let out his breath and relaxed his shoulders. He knew what he would do and he now understood that God was finally on his side.

 

“They are fools,” Prince Giltar said from the front of the army of Benjamin.

The tribes of Israel were marching yet again upon the city of Givaah.

The tribes came from the north, as they had previously, though Givaah was not encircled as the two battles before.

“This shall be simple,” Giltar said to tall Yakshal by his side. “We shall defeat them, even without Ehud, though I hope he recovers from his malady.”

“The healer thought it might have been poison,” Yakshal said. “Though he has yet to regain consciousness.”

“No matter. The tribes cowered before our ferocity and this time we shall chase them all the way back to their lands. Ehud was too merciful, holding back our full might.”

“Yes, Prince Giltar.”

“I see Elimelech himself leads the attack now. That is appropriate.”

“Elimelech!” Giltar called down to the approaching army. “Are you so thick-headed that you wish to test our mettle personally? Turn back now, or we shall destroy you utterly.”

“Give us the criminals, or it is you who will be destroyed,” Elimelech called back, not slowing his pace or that of the soldiers with him.

“Never!” Giltar yelled.

Elimelech, jaw clenched, continued his march.

“Charge!” Giltar commanded.

The men of Benjamin ran down the mountain towards the army of Israel, swords and spears extended. The two armies crashed into each other, shield clashing into shield. The men of Israel held their own for a few moments, but the force and momentum of the Benjaminites became too much to withstand.

“Fall back!” Elimelech ordered.

The men of Israel quickly retreated on the road, heading northward.

“Give chase!” Giltar commanded. “We shall cut down every single one of them. All men, after me!”

The men of Israel sped ahead of the pursuing Benjaminites. They descended into the valley, climbed the hill opposite Givaah and then descended to the other side, facing the city of Michmash. The soldiers of Benjamin cut down the retreating stragglers of Israel. Giltar was in the lead, hacking at the men around Elimelech. One of his victims was a young nephew of Elimelech. The youth, with barely any hairs for a beard, fell to the ground in an unnatural position. Elimelech saw his nephew fall out of the corner of his eye. Giltar almost reached the back of Elimelech, when Elimelech turned around with a creeping madness in his eyes.

“Hold!” Elimelech ordered his men. “Enough! I shall not suffer the loss of another one of my men! Elimelech raised his sword and attacked Giltar with a mad fury. Giltar, surprised, stepped back, slipped on blood on the ground and fell backwards. He knocked his head on the hard road and lost consciousness.

Dozens of Benjaminites jumped into the fray to protect their leader. Elimelech stabbed at them in rapid succession, hacking, slicing and pounding them with an inhuman rage.

“Die!!” Elimelech yelled as he cut through the entire Benjaminite front line. It was as if a tornado had exploded in their midst. Elimelech possessed a sudden unstoppable strength, speed and energy that shocked the Benjaminites. The tide had quickly turned in favor of the Israelite army. They crashed into the confused Benjaminites, with Elimelech wearing down any serious resistance. Behind the Benjaminites a large cloud of thick black smoke rose into the bright summer sky.

“Givaah is burning! Givaah is burning!” the Benjaminites cried, seeing their city in flames. From the side of the road new Israelite forces attacked the Benjaminite army.

“Kill them all! Kill them all!” Elimelech yelled insanely. The standing Benjaminite army, more than twenty thousand strong, was quickly annihilated. A few hundred managed to escape the Israelite troops and flee eastward to the desolate mountains of the Desert Road.

Still enraged, soaked in blood and standing amongst the Benjaminite corpses, Elimelech called out:

“Do not stop! Every city, every village, and every farm of Benjamin we shall burn to the ground. This is a day none in Benjamin, none in Israel shall forget. Go! Now! Burn every one!”

The Israelite army spread out along the entire territory of Benjamin. None resisted them. There were none left to fight. They placed to the torch every walled city, every village and every farmstead they could find. The stone, wood and thatched structures burned quickly in the summer heat. From the mountain of Bet-El, Pinhas, the High Priest, could see the fires throughout the region south of him. A land of lush green was suddenly pockmarked with angry red flames and dead brown enclaves. He wept openly, tears rolling down and caressing the etchings of tribal names upon the stones of his breastplate.

The army of Israel had become as locust, extinguishing Benjaminite life and property wherever they came across it.

Elimelech was drawn eastward. He couldn’t say why. Perhaps to find the few Benjaminites that escaped the ambush. He and his men came upon a shepherd in the descent towards the Jordan River.

Elimelech, sword high in the air, ran towards the lone shepherd amongst his flock. Elimelech’s men followed their wild leader. Elimelech yelled as he impaled the shepherd. The shepherd looked at Elimelech and asked, “Elimelech?”

“Hafniel!? What are you doing here in the land of Benjamin?” Elimelech grabbed his dying cousin in his arms.

“I came to buy some sheep from my brother-in-law,” Hafniel said weakly as his life ebbed away.

“Your brother-in-law was from Benjamin?” Elimelech asked, confused.

“Of course. We’re all related,” Hafniel said with his dying breath.

Elimelech laid Hafniel gently on the ground. He released his bloody sword, as if it were on fire and ran. He ran eastward. He ran down the Desert Road towards the Jordan River. He passed the remains of the walls of Jericho, sitting desolate and lonely, and vaguely remembered their fall, a lifetime ago. He passed the encampment of Gilgal where all of Israel had lived united as one large family. He kept running until he reached the bubbling waters of the Jordan. He threw himself, fully clothed, into its waters. He closed his eyes, wishing he would drown, but his body floated to the surface. The river carried him southward towards the Sea of Salt.

I am a murderer, Elimelech thought to himself. They were all my brothers. It didn’t have to be this way. Pinhas was right. A lifetime in these waters will not cleanse me of my sin. How many lives? How many generations have I destroyed? God will not forgive me. He will not forgive any of us. We shall surely suffer for such horrific deeds.

The river washed Elimelech on to the eastern bank of the Jordan River, at the mouth of the Sea of Salt. Where am I? Elimelech wondered. This must be the territory of Reuben. But Elimelech was wrong, for now it was the under the dominion of Eglon King of Moab.

 

* * * * * *

 

Biblical Sources:

 

Book of Judges, Chapter 20

24 And the children of Israel came near against the children of Benjamin the second day. 25 And Benjamin went forth against them out of Gibeah the second day, and destroyed down to the ground of the children of Israel again eighteen thousand men; all these drew the sword. 26 Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto Beth-el, and wept, and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even; and they offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before the LORD. 27 And the children of Israel asked of the LORD–for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, 28 and Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days–saying: ‘Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease?’ And the LORD said: ‘Go up; for to-morrow I will deliver him into thy hand.’ 29 And Israel set liers-in-wait against Gibeah round about.

30 And the children of Israel went up against the children of Benjamin on the third day, and set themselves in array against Gibeah, as at other times. 31 And the children of Benjamin went out against the people, and were drawn away from the city; and they began to smite and kill of the people, as at other times, in the field, in the highways, of which one goeth up to Beth-el, and the other to Gibeah, about thirty men of Israel. 32 And the children of Benjamin said: ‘They are smitten down before us, as at the first.’ But the children of Israel said: ‘Let us flee, and draw them away from the city unto the highways.’ 33 And all the men of Israel rose up out of their place, and set themselves in array at Baal-tamar; and the liers-in-wait of Israel broke forth out of their place, even out of Maareh-geba. 34 And there came over against Gibeah ten thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and the battle was sore; but they knew not that evil was close upon them.

35 And the LORD smote Benjamin before Israel; and the children of Israel destroyed of Benjamin that day twenty and five thousand and a hundred men; all these drew the sword. 36 So the children of Benjamin saw that they were smitten. And the men of Israel gave place to Benjamin, because they trusted unto the liers-in-wait whom they had set against Gibeah.– 37 And the liers-in-wait hastened, and rushed upon Gibeah; and the liers-in-wait drew forth, and smote all the city with the edge of the sword. 38 Now there was an appointed sign between the men of Israel and the liers-in-wait, that they should make a great beacon of smoke rise up out of the city.– 39 And the men of Israel turned in the battle, and Benjamin began to smite and kill of the men of Israel about thirty persons; for they said: ‘Surely they are smitten down before us, as in the first battle.’ 40 But when the beacon began to arise up out of the city in a pillar of smoke, the Benjamites looked behind them, and, behold, the whole of the city went up in smoke to heaven. 41 And the men of Israel turned, and the men of Benjamin were amazed; for they saw that evil was come upon them. 42 Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel unto the way of the wilderness; but the battle followed hard after them; and they that came out of the city destroyed them in the midst of the men of Israel. 43 They inclosed the Benjamites round about, and chased them, and overtook them at their resting-place, as far as over against Gibeah toward the sunrising. 44 And there fell of Benjamin eighteen thousand men; all these were men of valour. 45 And they turned and fled toward the wilderness unto the rock of Rimmon; and they gleaned of them in the highways five thousand men; and followed hard after them unto Gidom, and smote of them two thousand men. 46 So that all who fell that day of Benjamin were twenty and five thousand men that drew the sword; all these were men of valour. 47 But six hundred men turned and fled toward the wilderness unto the rock of Rimmon, and abode in the rock of Rimmon four months. 48 And the men of Israel turned back upon the children of Benjamin, and smote them with the edge of the sword, both the entire city, and the cattle, and all that they found; moreover all the cities which they found they set on fire.