Category Archives: Bilaam

Beware the Curse

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/balak-beware-the-curse/

Netziv Numbers: Balak

Beware the Curse

“An orphan’s curse would drag to hell, a spirit from on high; but oh! more horrible than that, is a curse in a dead man’s eye!” -Samuel Taylor Coleridge

An enemy with a slightly greater understanding of God’s relationship to the Jewish people rises up against us. Balak the King of Moab, fears the Israelite approach to his kingdom. Though Israel merely wants to pass by peacefully and God has ordered Moses not to fight the Moabites, Balak nonetheless hires a powerful man to help with his struggle against Israel.

Balak understands that physical force cannot prevail against the Jewish nation. Therefore, he hires the sorcerer Bilaam, who is reputed to have the power to effectively curse whom he wants. What follows is an ironic, comical and embarrassing tale of Bilaam attempting to curse Israel and in three successive attempts, with God’s direct involvement – blessings come out of Bilaam’s mouth to the great chagrin of Balak.

The Netziv on Numbers 22:11 explains that the plan of this diabolical duo was faulty in its spiritual understanding. The Netziv states that curses only work where there is sin. At that moment in the desert when Bilaam set out to curse Israel, he could not see or find any sin. His attempts to curse would prove ineffective because there was no negative spiritual act for it to take a hold off.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali for whom we mourn deeply.

 

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 21 – Romance with Strings

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 21

Romance with Strings

Sumahtrid the sorcerer chanted the regular chant. He stood in a dark rented room in the Philistine city of Ashdod, a few miles north of Ashkelon. Young, man-sized Beor sat quietly, brooding in a corner. The flickering of the flames in the center of the room made his shadow delirious against the stone walls.

Smoke filled the room. Sumahtrid called to his dead master, Dirthamus, expecting warm praise for having delivered Ruth to King Perath of Ashkelon. Dirthamus’ silhouette took form in the smoke. Sumahtrid was pleased once again with his ability to call upon his master from the netherworld.

“You fool!” Dirthamus’ ethereal ghost yelled at Sumahtrid. “Ruth has escaped! She was rescued by none other than Boaz. Failure! This is an utter failure! You are a failure! Oh, why did I take on such an incompetent as an apprentice? Do you know how much you’ve embarrassed me in front of my own master? My existence here is bad enough without adding this shame.”

“What? Impossible!” Sumahtrid declared. “How?”

“It doesn’t matter how! The question is what are you going to do about it? My unbearable anguish has multiplied.”

“What anguish?”

“The anguish of the netherworld. The vivid, painful reminder of every mistake. The constant reliving of a miserable life. The meaningless failure my existence has been. Swallowing burning coals would be more pleasant than having your very thoughts and memories stabbed into your consciousness like hot daggers. My one remaining purpose is to spread misery, to promote chaos in the land of the living, and even that is failing.”

“And your master Bilaam is with you as well?”

“Yes. His torment is even worse. His failure grander. But he still finds time to look at me with an evil eye. They are laughing here in hell at my latest failure. Bilaam and the late Pharaoh are taking bets if you’ll succeed or not.”

“Truly? What are they betting for?”

“Nothing. Just an old habit and the minor pleasure of being right.”

“Who’s betting against me?”

“Pharaoh. He says once you start with the Hebrews, the end can’t be good.”

“What does Bilaam say?”

“He still has hopes for you. He was pleased with your naming your apprentice after his father. He said his father was a mean, cruel, backstabbing son of a jackal and he thinks young Beor may live up to such notoriety.” Dirthamus smirked in Beor’s direction. Beor looked through slanted eyes at the dead sorcerer.

“What should I do?” Sumahtrid asked in confusion.

“The direct method has not worked. Ehud is too powerful and he is watching Boaz and Ruth. You must find a secondary path. Derail their relationship. Understand their sensitivities and weaknesses and exploit them. Use agents. Under no circumstances can those two wed. It will restore order to Israel which we cannot allow.”

“I understand, my master. I will obey. I will not disappoint you.”

“Disappoint me? You are a living disappointment. I’m a dead disappointment. There is little that divides us. Agghh!”

“What’s the matter?” Sumahtrid asked.

“Just a more intense recollection than usual of how an Israelite drunkard outwitted me. It is always painful here, and they keep changing the level of pain so you never get used to it. I leave.”

Dirthamus’ ghost disappeared with a wounded looked on his face.

Sumahtrid looked over the fire where his master had stood and wondered out loud: “Is this what awaits me as well?”

“Yes,” Beor whispered from the corner. It was the first time during his cruel apprenticeship that he had uttered an original, non-repetitive word.

*

Ruth arose at the crack of dawn, thanking God for the solid thatch roof over her head and a bed she considered her own. She shuddered at the thought that she might have awoken in the bed of Perath, King of Ashkelon and been imprisoned to the Philistine by invisible chains, as her sister Orpah was. Orpah had sensed strong life within herself right away. The previously lifeless stomach now held the seed of a child. Did Orpah know the terror she would unleash upon the world? Did she have visions of the giant Goliath destroying all in his path? Ruth pondered her empty womb and the realization that after all these years she might yet be able to carry a child. She had been too busy with survival to give it much thought. But now that she had the shelter of Naomi’s home and the sustenance of Boaz’s field, she needed to consider her future.

A simple yet pleasantly sown dress waited for Ruth by her bed. Naomi must have stayed up through the night finishing it, Ruth thought. Naomi lay unconscious on her own bed and Ruth dressed and moved about the house quietly, so as not to disturb her mother-in-law.

She walked through the street of Bethlehem unmolested. The men kept their distance, remembering the beating she had given the last man impudent enough to touch her. Some of the braver women approached her. They complemented her on her new dress and inquired about the wild stories they had heard of her abduction and her subsequent rescue by Boaz. Ruth blushed and downplayed the events, attributing them more to misunderstandings than to some nefarious plot.

Ruth reached Boaz’s land and was surprised to see the overseer, Garto, greet her with a warm smile.

“Ah, Princess Ruth, I’m so happy to see you,” Garto bowed to Ruth. Ruth looked at Garto apprehensively. This was the man that had suggested that she lie with him so that she may glean from the field. Sensing her apprehension, Garto cleared his throat.

“I know that at our first meeting, I was perhaps less than appropriate,” Garto explained. “I didn’t realize who you were. I thought you were just some common wench. I didn’t realize you were a woman of importance. I apologize for my behavior. Let us start again. I am Garto son of Leshem of the Tribe of Ephraim. I sold my ancestral land to my brother and have moved here to Bethlehem. I am unmarried and seeking a wife. I am a hard, diligent worker, which is why Boaz and others have hired me to oversee their harvest.”

“I see,” Ruth said, not sure how to respond. “Well, I appreciate your apology, though I would expect one should treat all women with respect, no matter what their station. May I glean here today?”

“Yes, yes. Of course. Go right ahead.” Garto stepped back and let Ruth enter the field. She found Boaz’s maidens cutting the golden sheaves and gleaned behind them. Ruth looked around the field for signs of Boaz, but did not see him. Garto, with his sharp eye, called out to workers who had missed harvesting an area or who didn’t make it until the end of a row. He also kept an eye on the gleaners, ensuring that they only take what rightfully belonged to the poor.

Garto walked into the field towards Ruth.

“How are you doing, Ruth?” he asked.

“Fine, thank you,” Ruth responded, reaching for another head of grain without looking at Garto.

“There are a few more over there.” Garto pointed.

“Thank you,” Ruth said and picked up the grain she had overlooked.

“You know, if you leave a bundle by the side, no one will take it. That way you don’t have to drag it with you wherever you glean. Then, if you make a series of bundles you can gather them all at once. It will save you time and effort.”

Ruth looked at Garto with new respect. That was the most helpful thing anyone had said to her in the field. For the first time she noticed that most of the gleaners were doing as Garto had suggested.

“That was most kind of you to point out. Thank you, Garto.” Ruth looked him in the eye.

“It is my pleasure, Princess. I hope you will think more kindly of me. I am here to assist you as I might.” Garto bowed and returned to the shade of the guardhouse.

Ruth watched his broad receding back and thought to herself that the overseer was not so bad after all.

*

Boaz and Ploni stood facing each other in Boaz’s spacious house. An observer might have confused them for a mirror image. Ploni was the youngest and only surviving son of Nachshon the Brave. Boaz was the oldest and only surviving grandchild of Nachshon the Brave. The uncle and nephew were close in age, in looks and in body structure. They both had long thick white beards. They had both aged considerably from the time they had fought alongside Joshua. But that was the end of their likeness. Ploni had a permanent scowl on his face. The wrinkles of his forehead and cheeks attested to a skin that had rarely laughed. Boaz’s face was calm and passive yet quick to smile. He was not smiling now.

“The rumors are spreading like fire through a parched field,” Ploni accused Boaz. “You dishonor the last days of our family.”

“Since when do you pay attention to the gossip of housewives, Uncle?” Boaz responded.

“Since it was reported to the council of Elders. Multiple witnesses saw you riding with that heathen woman pressed to your back. Have you lost all sense of shame? People are saying that you have taken her as a concubine and old Zelda yelled to an entire crowd that you had Amitai killed to save this woman, a daughter of Eglon, no less.”

“Then listen to me, Uncle, and tell the Elders so that we may set the record straight. I have not had any relations with Ruth. She is a noble woman, as Zelda herself later attested. And Amitai, Amitai sacrificed his life that Ruth may live. She is a great woman and you and all others err to disparage her and distance her. She has come under the wings of our people and we must honor her.”

“A Moabite, a daughter of Eglon, will never be honored amongst us,” Ploni replied. “We shall be better off if she leaves.”

“You are wrong and you have detained me long enough.” Boaz rose. “I am sorry that you are of a different opinion, but I see that further discussion will be a waste. Good day, Uncle. I must go to my field.”

Ploni turned and walked out of the house, followed by Boaz.

“Do not make matters worse for yourself,” Ploni warned. “Distance yourself from this woman and do not sully the House of Nachshon in its last days. Let us die out with a good name if not with any progeny.” Ploni hobbled to his home, leaning heavily on his walking stick.

Boaz mounted his horse and rode out of Bethlehem towards his field.

“Mind if I join you?” Ehud asked as he caught up with Boaz on his own mount.

“Not at all, I would welcome some friendly company.”

“Ploni?”

“Yes. He has warned me to distance myself from Ruth. The council is upset.”

“What will you do?”

“Keep my distance.”

“She is special.”

“Indeed. Nonetheless, there is little to be gained by upsetting the Elders. I will let matters and rumors calm down. As long as she is safe and sustained, I am content.”

“Boaz, I think she must be the one from Joshua’s prophecy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Remember when Joshua said I would kill your future father-in-law?”

“You have killed many men.”

“Yes, but how many were as meaningful as my killing Eglon? She must be the one!”

“Impossible.”

“Think, Boaz. Remember Joshua’s words. Remember the joint vision we just had. I know who that young hero must be. He is your progeny. A descendant of Boaz and Ruth.”

“No!” Boaz stopped his horse. Dust from the road swirled around the neighing stallion. Ehud was slower to stop and rode back to Boaz.

“It is the truth,” Ehud said.

“Vered,” Boaz said simply, tears streaming down his face. “My dear Vered. She must have known. I can’t, Ehud. I can’t bring myself to even think such a thing. The pain, the loss, the wound is still raw. Don’t push me. Give me time. Let’s wait until the end of the harvest to discuss. Perhaps the pain will have eased by then. Besides, the Elders would likely stone me in their revulsion of Ruth. Let it rest, old friend. Let us be patient. If God could have waited all this time to bring us together, He can wait a little longer.”

“Very well. I will remain. I still need to keep my eye on the two of you.”

“I am glad for your presence, Ehud. Thank you.”

The two rode into Boaz’s field and to the guardhouse, where they dismounted and tied their horses. Garto greeted Boaz and gave him an update as to the harvest. Ehud left to scout around the field. Shortly thereafter, all the workers congregated by the guardhouse for the meal, including Ruth.

“Hello, Boaz,” Ruth said. “Am I still welcome at your meal?”

“Yes. Please. Partake.” Boaz gestured that she should sit down, finding it difficult to speak at length to her.

“Thank you, Boaz. I became concerned when I did not see you at the field today.”

“Business matters. Was occupied. Occurs frequently.” Boaz murmured, not looking at Ruth directly. Ruth sat where she had last time, next to what was Boaz’s regular seat. But Boaz went and sat at the other edge of the circle, where Garto previously sat, the furthest away from Ruth. Garto, seeing his customary seat taken by Boaz, gladly sat next to Ruth and started an amicable conversation with her, telling jokes and getting her to laugh. Boaz was relieved by Garto’s intervention.

After the meal, Ruth and the workers returned to the field.

“Garto, a word please,” Boaz requested.

“Yes, sir.”

“I am pleased that you have befriended Ruth. She has been without friends or defenders since her arrival and I may be limited in my interactions with her. There are many that do not like her and that would even do her harm. Please keep a close eye on her and also upon her coming and going from the field. I will add to your wages for this service.”

“It will be my honor to look out for Ruth,” Garto said with great sincerity.

“Very good, that is a relief. It will be easier for me to leave the field knowing you are watching her. I may be more occupied in town over the coming weeks, so I will likely come to the field less often than is my want. Also, Garto, tomorrow, bring swords, for yourself and the men. The sorcerer that attacked previously is still on the loose and may make a second attempt, so stay alert and organize the men to harvest closer to Ruth and the women.”

“Understood. It will be done.”

“Good. I will leave now. God be with you, Garto.”

“May God bless you, sir.”

Boaz nodded, untied his horse and rode out of his field, for the first time in his life feeling as if he were being chased out of his own property. He looked once to the field to seek Ruth. Their eyes met. Boaz broke the contact quickly and rode away. Ruth stood looking at the back of her protector, her savior, not understanding the distance. She returned to the gleaning and making of bundles, as Garto had taught her, happy with the distraction of her work.

Towards evening, Ruth took her respectable amount of grain to the threshing floor, crushed and winnowed the barley and put the day’s production into her sack. When all the workers had gone, Garto stood by the guardhouse waiting.

“You have gathered a worthy amount of grain,” Garto commented.

“Thank you. Your advice was most helpful.”

“Come, I will walk with you back to Bethlehem.”

“That is most kind of you.”

The two walked on the road as dusk settled over the Judean Mountains.

Garto told Ruth more about himself. About his hometown by the hills of Ephraim. How he tired of tilling his own small land. As one of seven brothers, they had each inherited small lots from their father, who himself had been one of six brothers. Garto had wandered amongst the tribes of Israel. He had first worked as a hired hand, proving himself in the field and learning from different farmers. He learned how to best space the furrows dug by the oxen. He learned how to best plant the seeds and at what distance from each other. He had experimented with irrigation, but it was not as efficient or reliable as the rains, except during a drought, of course. Then he had hired himself out as an overseer, with greater and greater success. He was saving up money and hoping to buy a large field for himself. He had placed his eye on Elimelech’s vast fallow fields and now that Naomi had returned, he might discuss purchasing them from her. He would need enough money for oxen, plows, seed, workers, scythes, a new guardhouse, a threshing floor, storage houses and wagons. He was hopeful, as he had a good name in Bethlehem and Boaz was proving a trusting and generous master.

With every word Garto uttered, Ruth was more impressed: his diligence, his ambition, but most of all his normality. He was not of any significant descent. He claimed to be a distant cousin of Joshua, but wasn’t sure himself exactly how. He was not of grand stature and had no mortal enemies. He was too young to have fought in any of the major battles, though he was large and strong and not afraid to stand his ground and defend his own. With each step they took, Ruth liked Garto more. Her womb reminded her of her need to fill it, and she thought perhaps Garto would make a good husband. He clearly liked her and he was behaving extraordinarily well. Let’s see, she thought. I shouldn’t rush it. I should get to know him better.

Garto walked Ruth to the door of Naomi’s house.

“If it is okay with you, I’d like to meet you in the morning and walk you to the field. It would be a shame if anyone else would try to kidnap you. I will be armed.”

“That,” Ruth stammered, “that is most unexpected, and noble. Why, yes, Garto. I would appreciate it very much. Thank you.”

“God be with you, Ruth of Moab,” Garto bowed.

“May God bless you, Garto son of Leshem,” Ruth responded.

Garto turned around with a smile and left to his own house. Ruth entered Naomi’s house happier than she had been in a long time.

“Ruth!” Naomi exclaimed. “We were just talking about you.” Naomi motioned to the elegantly dressed young man sitting at the table with Naomi. He had the clothing, long hair and clean-shaven look of a Philistine, but he did not look like a Philistine. He wore a dark purple robe with the fringes of an Israelite peaking out from under the robe.

“Princess Ruth,” the young man stood up. “Allow me to present myself. I am Alron of Dan and I have come to seek your hand in marriage.”

* * * * * *

 

The Drive of Destiny

Ohr Hachayim Numbers: Balak

The Drive of Destiny

“Fate leads the willing, and drags along the reluctant.” -Seneca

Bilaam son of Beor was a particularly nasty character. He was no friend of ancient Israelites and rabbinic commentaries depict him as a completely evil sorcerer who was eternally damned. Nonetheless, he reached the heights of prophecy and technically is said to have achieved the level of divination of Moses himself.

[continued at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-drive-of-destiny/]

Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 23 – Clouds of War

Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 23

 Clouds of War

Mahlon narrowed his eyes as the Amalekite delegation trotted towards the royal stables. They are worse than the Moabites, Mahlon thought. They would kill us just for fun. He focused on the white mare of King Galkak. Shake him off, Mahlon requested of the mare. The mare shook its head. Shake him off! Mahlon commanded. The mare neighed, stood on its hind legs and pawed the air with its forelegs. Galkak fell off the horse, but somehow landed on his feet. Mahlon gritted his teeth.

“Easy, girl,” Galkak soothed his mare. “What happened to you?”

The mare neighed and pointed its head in Mahlon’s direction.

“Did he scare you?” Galkak asked as he led the mare towards Mahlon in the stable.

“Perhaps the horse no longer likes its rider,” Mahlon said to the approaching Galkak.

Galkak stopped and looked deep into Mahlon’s eyes.

“What do you want, Amalekite?” Mahlon spat to the side.

“I have had dealings with Elimelech, your father,” Galkak said quietly. “He is a great man. I’ve also known your uncle Boaz well, young Judean. You may find that we are not all as we seem, my impetuous Mahlon. Save your power for the true enemy. Now take care of my horse.” Galkak handed the reins to a speechless Mahlon. “I have business with the Tyrant.”

 

 

 

“Galkak!” Eglon announced cheerily from his throne. “Come sit next to us.”

Galkak walked in slowly, with half a frown on his face. His right hand shook intermittently. He sat to the left of the massive Moabite. Dirthamus the necromancer sat to Eglon’s right.

“You are looking gaunt, King of Amalek,” Eglon said with some concern. “What has happened? Soon you shall look like our cadaverous Dirthamus. Bring him some wine!” Eglon commanded his servants.

“No thanks, Boss.” Galkak put his hand out. “I’d rather not.”

“Who is this impostor?” Eglon squealed. “Where is the true Galkak? I have never in my entire life seen you refuse a drink. That is one of your more endearing characteristics. Are you ill?”

“The rumors are true, then,” Dirthamus hissed from the side, a cruel smile on his face. “He has given up the drink. See how he shakes. He must still be suffering from the lack. If he’s not careful, he may die.”

“Galkak,” Eglon said with more iron in his voice. “I have summoned you here for various reasons. First, I wanted to see for myself if the rumors were true. Will you not have a drink? For old-times’ sake?” Eglon offered his own wine skin.

“No, Boss. No. Please. Don’t.” Galkak forced the words out of his mouth as his eyes started to tear.

“I see. And what is this I hear of rebellion of the Amalekites against you? Know that rebellion against you is rebellion against me. You have been a loyal and steadfast vassal all these years. Almost eighteen years since we conquered Canaan together and subjugated those restless Israelites. You have been by my side throughout and now I need you to remain strong. We have one last effort to safeguard our Empire forever.”

“You know me, Boss.” Galkak gripped his own thigh to keep his hand from shaking. “I’m tough as nails and no unhappy subjects are goin’ to stop me. Just tell me what you wan’ me to do.”

“I knew I could count on you.” Eglon clapped his hands, his enormous girth shaking and his triple chin wiggling. “I want you to bring all your soldiers here, to the plain of the Jordan. We shall punish the Israelites with a massacre they shall not soon forget and that shall forge the union between us and the Egyptians.”

“I don’t get it, Boss. What’s the connection? What’s the plan?”

“I want you to meet the new commander of my army. He is a brilliant young tactician and a fearless warrior. Call General Bagdon!” Eglon ordered.

Tall, dark-haired Bagdon entered the audience chamber. Only a thin scar from his ear to his mouth marred his otherwise handsome features.

“General Bagdon,” Eglon said. “Meet our vassal and ally, King Galkak of Amalek.”

“Galkak the drunk,” Bagdon said, as he looked at the Amalekite with disgust. He then looked at Galkak closely. “You remind me of someone.” Bagdon contorted his face as he tried to recall the connection.

Dirthamus looked from Bagdon to Galkak and couldn’t help but notice a resemblance.

“Bagdon son of Avod, Prince of Simeon,” Galkak stated loudly. “Your reputation for cruelty and ruthlessness precedes you. My congratulations. But Boss, can an Israelite, can a son of a prince no less, be trusted with this new plan?” Galkak turned to Eglon.

“Bagdon has my complete and utter trust. He has proven himself countless times that he is a son of Moab. He has earned his place on the backs, blood and corpses of the Israelites. I think they may even fear him more than they fear me. No, Galkak. Bagdon is the right man for the task. And once our union with Egypt is complete, I have promised him my daughter Orpah as wife.”

“So what is the plan, then?” Galkak asked, holding his thigh tighter.

“We are to assemble all the Israelite firstborns on the Jordan plain, shortly after the upcoming Tribute,” Bagdon answered. “Then we are to kill them all. Their ears will be collected and sent to Pharaoh as proof of the slaughter and as dowry for the marriage of Princess Ruth to Seti, Pharaoh’s heir. Thereby the Empires of Moab and Egypt shall be united. We shall be the greatest power in the world.”

Beads of sweat formed on Galkak’s brow and his skin turned greenish.

“Are you unwell?” Eglon asked.

“It’s nothin’, Boss. Just the lack of drink. It happens sometimes.”

“What can we do?”

“I jus’ need some fresh air, that’s all. Please excuse me.”

“By all means, Galkak. Go and return when you’ve recuperated.”

Galkak rose from the chair and walked unsteadily out of the chamber.

“Strange,” Eglon said.

“Indeed,” Dirthamus agreed. “I shall have to investigate further. Excuse me, sire.”

“Yes, yes, Dirthamus. Go make sure he is well. We cannot afford for Galkak to fail us just now.”

“Certainly, sire. We cannot afford any weakness.” Dirthamus hobbled out of the chamber, his wooden staff clattering loudly on the stone floor.

 

 

Mahlon was surprised by Galkak’s early return.

“I’m sorry, I was rude –” Mahlon started saying.

“Never mind that.” Galkak grabbed Mahlon by the arm and whispered. “Eglon is planning to kill all the Hebrew firstborns.”

“When? Why are you telling me this?”

“After the Tribute. Why am I telling you? I will reveal a secret to you, young Mahlon. A secret that has been eating me alive for eighteen years. I am no Amalekite! I am Galkak of Simeon. I fought in the Israelite militia alongside Boaz, Amitai and Ehud. I must warn Ehud of Eglon’s plan. The time has come for us to fight back. This planned massacre cannot be God’s will. Have we not suffered enough under Moabite tyranny? Does your family, does Elimelech not cry out to God for salvation? I’ll inform Eglon that I’m leaving to bring my troops. You must alert the other loyal princelings and get the word out to the princes. Beware of Bagdon. He suspects me. He doesn’t realize I am related to him. Prince Avod is my cousin, though I haven’t seen him in more than two decades. If Bagdon unmasks me, my effectiveness will be neutralized. Be strong and of good courage, Mahlon son of Elimelech son of Nachshon the Brave. We shall need every man we can get, and I suspect you are well placed to save Israel.”

Without another word, Galkak mounted his horse and rode out of the stable. He found his Amalekite retinue, gave them orders and rode out of the City of Palms.

Dirthamus hobbled into the stable a few moments later.

“Mahlon, blast your inscrutable mind,” Dirthamus rasped. “Have you seen Galkak?”

“The Amalekite King?”

“Is there a different Galkak, you dimwit?”

“No, I haven’t seen him.”

“Prepare me a donkey and my wagon,” Dirthamus ordered.

“Where are you going?”

“That is not your concern, Judean.”

“If you want me to harness the donkey properly, then I do need to know. Is it a short ride or a long one? Is it on trodden roads or on hilly terrain? If I attach the harness too tightly, the donkey will tire quickly. If I attach it too loosely, you’ll have a rickety ride.”

“I am going to the tribe of Simeon.”

“I know the road. Your transport will be ready in just a few moments.” Mahlon ran to his favorite donkey, Chamrah, his plan already formulated.

 

 

 

“Prince Seti,” Eglon exclaimed. “What an unexpected surprise.”

The heir of Egypt stood in front of Eglon in a resplendent robe of white linen woven with golden threads and adorned with colorful gemstone embroidered around the collar of the robe.

“You did not think we would merely allow our new ally to fend for himself,” Seti said. “We wish to provide whatever assistance you might need. And I of course have come for a personal reason. I wish to gaze again upon the beauty of my intended. I wish to see Ruth.”

“Call for the princess!” Eglon commanded. “In the meantime, Seti, please meet the commander of our forces, General Bagdon. I have promised him the hand of my second daughter should he succeed in this venture. That would make you brother-in-laws!”

Bagdon bowed to Seti. “It will be my honor to serve you and our grand alliance.”

“Bagdon,” Seti said pensively, “you do not look Moabite. What is your origin?”

“I am born of the tribe of Simeon and a loyal soldier of Moab.”

“Interesting, Eglon. You bring a Hebrew to quash the Hebrews. That is somehow ironic. In Egypt too, before your forefathers escaped, we made good use of the Hebrew leadership. They drove their own brothers in the slave pits. They were some of the harshest taskmasters.”

“My mission is to see to the glory of Emperor Eglon and now to Pharaoh as well,” Bagdon declared.

“That is encouraging to hear. Ah, Ruth,” Seti exclaimed as Ruth entered the audience chamber. “My beautiful desert flower. How are you? I have missed you.”

“I am well, Seti,” Ruth stated plainly. She wore a simple white cotton dress, with her red tresses pulled back under a white shawl.

“I have come to ensure your father’s success in his upcoming campaign. We are eager to receive the promised dowry.”

“Of course, Seti.” Ruth looked down.

“Are you unhappy?” Seti asked.

“I am distressed by this unwarranted massacre you are planning.”

“My love, you are young and do not understand,” Seti answered. “The Hebrews are slaves. For generations they were enslaved to Egypt. Then, under the influence of that renegade, the sorcerer Moses, they escaped. But it was not merely an escape. Those thankless upstarts, those crude thieves, looted Egypt. Every ounce of gold, every talent of silver was stolen. We clothed them, we fed them, we employed them and this is how they thank us? Devastating plague after plague ruined our beautiful land. The Nile ran red with blood. Animals and pestilence destroyed our crop. Fearful hail and petrifying darkness attacked us. And then the firstborns. They claim it was their God, but every firstborn of Egypt died. Every one. This cannot go unavenged. This is our opportunity. And the death of every Israelite firstborn will be our vengeance. It will signal our ascendance, Egypt’s return to its full strength versus man and god.”

“Splendid, Seti,” Eglon interrupted. “I could not have explained it better myself. Now what assistance did you have in mind? We have sufficient troops, do we not, Bagdon?”

“Our united forces,” Bagdon explained, “including the Amalekite and Ammonite regulars, number ten thousand men. That should be more than enough against unarmed rabble. We could use more horses however.”

“We have horses aplenty,” Seti stated. “What type do you need? We have Arabian, Barbs, Hunters, Nubian and Tarpans.”

“A horse is a horse,” Bagdon said in confusion.

“This is the commander of your forces, Eglon? A man who does not understand the difference between horses? Bring someone who knows the difference between a stallion and a mare,” Seti stated.

“Call for Mahlon, the Royal Stable Master,” Eglon ordered. “He is the best with animals.”

Ruth’s face brightened at the mention of Mahlon.

“Prince Seti,” Eglon cleared his throat. “Mahlon is a masterful stable-man and there is no one with better command of the horses. However, he is Israelite and I am not certain of his allegiance.”

“I understand. I shall keep my discussion with him purely technical.”

A few moments later Mahlon entered the chamber.

“Mahlon, bow to Prince Seti, heir to Pharaoh and future husband to Princess Ruth,” Eglon commanded. Mahlon bowed stiffly. “Seti is going to supply us with horses for our troops and we wanted your opinion as to the disposition of the horses.”

“How many horses are we talking about?” Mahlon asked.

“As many as you need to reinforce your cavalry,” Seti said. “What types, man, tell me what types.”

“We could use a dozen Arabians for the commanders,” Mahlon said. “Two dozen Nubians for the front line riders, half a dozen Tarpans for the scouts and as many Barbs as you are willing to part with.”

“Barbs?” Seti raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, they are not as pretty as the Arabians, which is why I only requested the Arabians for the vain commanders. The Barbs are the hardiest breed and do best in our desert.”

“This is a man who knows his animals,” Seti declared with obvious admiration. “Perhaps you will let me take him back to Egypt. We can use a man like this ourselves.”

Ruth looked at Mahlon in a mild panic.

Mahlon looked at Ruth in confusion. She doesn’t want me to leave, he realized.

“Mahlon is one of our royal hostages and his absence at this stage would be noted,” Eglon explained. “Perhaps in the future he can be spared.”

Ruth sighed softly in relief. Why is she relieved? Mahlon wondered. She is sad. She knows about the upcoming massacre and is against it, he sensed. She doesn’t want to be married to Seti. She is still a prisoner, after all these years.

“You did not request any Hunters,” Seti noted. “We find them to be formidable animals.”

“They are cruel and ill-tempered animals that will just as quickly trample their own rider as their prey. The Moabites are not proficient enough riders to control such wild and dangerous beasts. They would end up biting the backs of the other horses and create havoc in the cavalry.”

“You are wise as well as knowledgeable.” Seti smiled. “Eglon, make sure to save this royal hostage for me. I think our business for today is done. My Princess,” Seti curtsied to Ruth and exited the chamber.

“You are dismissed,” Eglon said to Mahlon.

Mahlon bowed lightly to Eglon and looked into Ruth’s sad eyes. She seemed to be saying to him, get away from here, but he already had other plans as he backed out of the chamber.

 

 

 

“Galkak? What are you doing here?” Ehud asked as Galkak entered the smithy quickly.

“Eglon means to kill all the Israelite firstborns,” Galkak answered breathlessly.

“I know.”

“How do you know? I just found out myself. He means to assemble and massacre them all after the Tribute.”

“God came to me in a dream. He told me of Eglon’s plans.”

“What else did He tell you?”

“We are going to fight.”

“How?”

“I’m working on it.”

“Well, you better work quickly, because you’ll be fighting against ten thousand trained, armed and brutal professional soldiers. You don’t have any weapons! What are you going to do?”

“Cut the head off the snake.”

“And then what? That Bagdon seems fairly vicious and they have Egyptian backing.”

“We need to make our effort and God will take care of the rest. I am quietly trying to assemble an army. We will attack the day of the Tribute, right after we’ve delivered it to Eglon. I think now may be the time to use your influence on the Amalekites against Eglon.”

“I will. Also, Elimelech’s son is in charge of Eglon’s stable and I believe he can be of some help.”

“Yes. He has some mental power. We will need everyone’s help in the end.”

“That’s an understatement.”

“Go, Galkak. Have faith. The time has come. The day you’ve waited for all these years is approaching and your painful toil has not been in vain. You will use your position to save your brethren. Go. Pit the Amalekites against the Moabites and that may ensure our victory. Perhaps get word to the Ammonites as well. All will be nervous about what an Egyptian alliance will do to their positions.”

“God better be with us, or it’s goin’ to end really badly.”

“Have faith, Galkak. Do you want a drink before you leave?”

“No, I’ve given it up.” Galkak said and left the smithy as quickly as he entered.

Ehud raised his eyebrow and said to the door: “If Galkak can give up drinking, there is hope indeed.”

 

 

Chamrah knew this human. He had been one of Bilaam’s apprentices many many years ago. The human was ill-tempered and smelly and avoided the light in his strange covered wagon that she pulled up the Arava Road. Mahlon had instructed her what to do. She liked Mahlon. He was the first human, except for the one episode with Bilaam, who understood her. Whenever she wanted more hay or water or a scratch behind the ear, Mahlon had been there. He often commented to her about her intelligence and her unnatural lifespan. She loved hearing his complements. Mahlon had often said she was his favorite animal in the stable.

Now he had given her an important mission. She was to strand this foul sorcerer in the Judean Mountains. It went against her nature, to abandon one of her charges, but Mahlon had convinced her that it was imperative, that this Dirthamus was on a mission of evil and that he needed to be delayed. That’s all he had asked for.

Chamrah knew Mahlon had cut into her harness. He had thought to her, when you leave the desert mountain and reach the trees of Judea, break free. Break free, leave him there and come back home.

“Blasted animal,” Dirthamus muttered. “Can’t you go any faster? It’s just like Mahlon to saddle me with a slow, stupid, sickly beast. Go!” Dirthamus whipped Chamrah’s backside. Chamrah instinctively quickened her pace. I won’t have any compunction about leaving you behind, she thought.

They climbed up the mountain road, accompanied on either side by pink and tan craggy mountains, rivulets of loose stones and a sprinkling of shrubs. As they ascended higher, the shrubs grew in number. Chamrah spotted a rare tree or two amongst boulders and rocks of various sizes. The road started to level and finally they reached the tree line. Wide oaks and tall ferns marked the end of the mountain desert.

Chamrah put on a burst of speed. Dirthamus, surprised, fell back into his wagon. Chamrah felt the leather of the harness tear, but not completely. She tried another burst of speed, but the harness held. Now what, she thought.

“What is wrong with you, you dumb animal? Dirthamus yelled and whipped Chamrah.

God’s not going to open your ears like he did your master Bilaam, Chamrah thought, so I won’t even bother with a reply. There’s the solution. Chamra spotted a fallen tree trunk by the side of the road. She ran towards the tree at full speed.

“Stop! Stop!!” Dirthamus screamed, seeing the large trunk ahead.

Chamrah jumped over the trunk. The wheels of Dirthamus’ wagon slammed into the fallen tree, sending Dirthamus flying out of the wagon. He landed on the hard road several feet away. Chamrah’s harness tore free from the wagon and she trotted casually to the fallen sorcerer.

“Come,” Dirthamus croaked and reached out to Chamrah from the ground.

I don’t know if Mahlon would have wanted me to do this, but I detest this human, Chamrah thought as she turned her back to the sorcerer.

“Come, beast,” Dirthamus commanded.

Chamrah kicked the sorcerer in the face, sending him back a few more feet, unconscious. I hate sorcerers, she thought. They’re so dumb.

 

 

Galkak had assembled all the Amalekite leaders. They sat around the large rectangular table in his palace. He would deal with their rebellion once and for all. He looked around at each face and calmly tried to take in each thought as Yered had taught him.

“You, the leadership of Amalek and the people of Amalek, are unhappy with my rule,” Galkak announced. A murmur of agreement answered his statement.

“But I am not the source of your unhappiness. It is Eglon. He is and always has been the source of my power. He tells us what to do. He holds us back from our old ways, from attacking the Israelites at will, from marauding caravans, from ambushing merchants. He has turned us into his guards and tax-collectors. Is this what you want?”

“No!” was the unanimous answer from around the table.

“Good. I admit I’ve been his puppet all this time. And that is only because I thought it was in our best interest. But I have learned something disturbing and this alliance, this subservience to the Moabites must come to an end.”

“What has happened?” one of the Amalekite leaders, Harpag, asked.

“Eglon has sold us to the Egyptians.”

“What do you mean?” Harpag asked.

“He means to ally with Egypt and attack his old allies, us and the Ammonites.”

“Why should we trust you?” Harpag pushed. “You’ve always been in Eglon’s confidence. How do we know this is not some elaborate ruse?”

“You ask a valid question, Harpag, and you have little reason to trust me. But let me ask you this. Why should I wish to betray the man who has given me power, if not to bring freedom to Amalek? It may be suicide, but I will risk it. Do you fear his might? Do you think that our forces cannot overtake him, if we have the element of surprise?”

“What are we going to do?”

“We are going to play along with Eglon. We are going to pretend we are still his loyal subjects. We are going to join Eglon in the upcoming attack against the Israelites, but then, when the time is right, we will turn on Eglon and the Moabites and regain our freedom. Will you join me? Will you all join me?”

“Yes!” was the unanimous answer. “To war!”

 

* * * * * *

 

Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 11 – Inspired Leadership

Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 11

Inspired Leadership

“I am feeling inspired,” Eglon stated from atop his chariot, in front of two thousand troops. “Are you feeling inspired, Galkak?”

“Um, sure boss,” Galkak rode on a white mare next to Eglon. He took another swing from his wine skin. “Your wine always inspire me. This is Judean, right?”

“Yes, an excellent vintage, my dear vassal. Don’t go drinking it all away before the sun has even climbed these hills of Amon.”

“Doncha worry, boss,” Galkak burped and patted the packs on his horse, “I have a few other skins stashed for emergencies.”

“You are incorrigible, my friend, but I guess we all must be allowed our vices. But where was I? Yes! Inspired! The gods are with me! Everything has gone according to plan. No, even better than planned! I was informed by my agent that the timing of the Reuvenites was perfect. Elimelech is dishonored and broken and Ehud is on the run. Perfect!”

“But what does that do for us, boss? We’re marching on Amon. The Israelites are the other way.” Galkak motioned at the dense forest and then backwards, west past the Jordan River.

“Ah, yes. The Amonites are the last piece of the puzzle. We shall gather them and then we shall be unstoppable against the weakened Israelites. Ha! Oh, I wish I could chuckle evilly! I just don’t have the skill. You try, Galkak. Give an evil chuckle.”

“Heh, heh, heh,” Galkak cackled evilly.

“Excellent, Galkak! That was most excellent. I feel much better now.”

“I aim to please,” Galkak hiccupped.

A Moabite scout galloped rapidly through the Amonite forest towards the King and his army. Eglon raised his hand. The entire army came to halt. The cavalry in the front raised their spears. The supply wagons stopped in their tracks. The foot soldiers readied their swords.

“Your Majesty,” the scout said breathlessly. “We are found out. The Amonites know we are coming. The gates are closed and their army is on alert. A full deployment of soldiers is manning the walls day and night. They have prepared for a siege.”

“Hmm,” Eglon rubbed his smooth chin. “This complicates matters. I was hoping for another quick and painless victory. I spoke too soon about the gods’ inspiration. We have lost the element of surprise.”

“I’ll take care of it, boss,” Galkak volunteered.

“Whatever do you mean, King of Amalek?”

“Gimme a day, some gold and that old windbag, Dirthamus, and I’ll conquer the city for you.”

“Now is not the time for your jests, my vassal. How do you propose to do such a thing?”

“Leave it to me. Just make sure to show up tomorrow with the full army and they’ll submit like sheep to the knife.”

“Truly? Galkak, you are full of surprises! I knew I was inspired to make you King of the Amalekites. Let us discuss it with Dirthamus.”

Eglon and Galkak dismounted and walked to a nearby covered wagon. They entered the dark and musty mobile tent to confront the cadaverous frame of Dirthamus.

“What is this action I see in your mind, Eglon?” Dirthamus hissed.

“The Amonites know we come. Our dear Galkak has a plan that involves you,” Eglon answered.

“Blasted Amalekite!” Dirthamus spat at Galkak’s feet. “Why is your mind closed to me? I do not like uncertainty.”

“Must be all the drinking, you old pile of bones,” Galkak smiled. “It’s protectin’ me from your getting your tentacles into my thick head.”

“Thick indeed,” Dirthamus answered darkly. “What is this plan of yours? How will you conquer the Amonites?”

“I don’t want to spoil the surprise. You just come along like a nice pet now and do as you’re told and the big boss here will be able to stroll into Rabbath Ammon without breakin’ a sweat.”

“I don’t like this,” Dirthamus said. “I have always suspected you, Galkak. You do not even look Amalekite. There is something you are hiding in that befuddled brain of yours.”

“Nonsense, Dirthamus,” Eglon said. “You worry too much. Galkak has been an excellent chap. Loyal, insightful and entertaining. What more can I ask for in a vassal? If he does this thing for me and delivers Rabbath Ammon into our hands, he will have proven himself beyond all doubt. I order that you stop this bickering, Dirthamus, go along with King Galkak of Amalek and you will follow his every command as if it were my own. I tell you, I am inspired. The gods are whispering to me that Galkak will succeed and the Amonites will be in our hands. Am I clear, Dirthamus? The gods are with me!”

“Yes, my liege,” Dirthamus answered.

“That’s the spirit!” Galkak patted the bony Dirthamus on the back.

“Do not touch me!” Dirthamus yelled.

“This is going to be a fun trip,” Galkak patted the cringing Dirthamus again.

Galkak trotted leisurely atop his white mare which was now pulling Dirthamus’ wagon. They were on the ancient King’s Road, approaching Rabbath Ammon from the south. Rabbath Ammon was the largest fortified city between Damascus to the north and Eglon’s Kir Moav to the south. They had left the forested ascent from Bet Hayeshimot and now traveled on the sparse mountain range parallel to the Jordan River. If Eglon could hold Rabbath Ammon, he would control the entire eastern side of the Jordan and one of the two main caravan routes between Egypt and Mesopotamia. If Eglon could control the second route, the one that traversed Canaan, he would have dominion over most of the world’s trade. But Eglon would have to conquer the Children of Israel first.

Galkak whistled merrily as he took a swig from his ever-present wine skin.

“Is that a Hebrew tune you are whistling?” Dirthamus asked from within his tent.

“Why, yes it is!” Galkak answered and continued whistling.

“I find it highly unusual that the King of Amalek should be whistling a tune of their sworn enemies.”

“I’m learning from Eglon. He always likes to know his enemy. I know a lot about the Israelites.”

“Is that so, Galkak? So you must look forward to our upcoming campaign to destroy the tribes of Israel.”

“Of course. It’s been a lifelong dream. I’m so lucky to have it fulfilled in my time,” Galkak said unenthusiastically.

“I hate them as well. I have waited long decades to squash those escaped slaves.”

“Slaves? That’s ancient history. How old are you?”

“I was there when Moses led them in the desert. I was with Bilaam, my master, when he tried to curse the Hebrews. I am not the first of my guild to serve the King of Moab. But I shall succeed where Bilaam and Balak failed. Balak wanted to curse the Israelites, but that is not enough. He feared battle with them, and rightfully so. The Israelites had just demolished the Emorite kingdoms. Moses was unstoppable and their god protected them. But now they are leaderless and their protection has been removed. We saw to that. We have encouraged their sins. We have encouraged their worship of our gods – of any gods, for the god of Israel is a jealous god and he hates infidelity.”

Galkak shivered in the desert sun.

“You really think it will work?” Galkak asked.

“Undoubtedly. Eglon is much more conniving than his grandsire ever was. He is patient. He makes wonderful use of allies and pawns. And the gods truly seem to be on his side. His time has come.”

“Well, I’m glad I’m on his side then,” Galkak drank from his skin again as the walls of Rabbath Ammon came into view.

The walls were thirty feet tall with ramparts of ten feet. The city itself was enormous, standing like a dark mountain on the lighter sandstone of the plateau. The city was hundreds of years old, harking back to the times of Abraham. It was founded by Amon, the son of Lot, after the apocalyptic destruction of Sodom. Galkak spotted their flag coming into view above their massive closed gate. It was a tan banner like that of the other nation descendent of Lot, Moab, also a desert people. Three elements adorned the flag. A golden sword flanked by a yellow sun and a blue river.

“What is the meaning of their flag, Dirthamus?” Galkak asked.

“The flag of Amon? It is the color of the desert they are born in. The sword needs no explanation. They sit between the river and the sun, for they are the first to greet the sun in its great journey through the sky.”

Galkak slowed down as he approached the ominous gate.

“Identify yourself!” the guard atop the gate of Rabbath Ammon called down to Galkak with his covered cart and a fresh wine skin in his hand.

“Me? I’m just a lonely spice merchant. I have fresh spices from Egypt!” Galkak pointed at his spice box and burped.

“What’s in the carriage?” the guard asked.

“The carriage? Oh, yeah. It’s my uncle. He’s an old nasty man that hates the sun, and anythin’ alive for that matter. You’re welcome to take a look, though he may bite your head off.”

“Go away, merchant!” the guard answered. “Have you not heard? The Moabites are soon to attack!”

“Attack? Here? Then let me in!”

“The gates are closed to all except important business. Spices are not critical.”

“Listen, man,” Galkak clinked some gold coins together making sure the guard could see them. “If you let me in, I’ll make it worth your while.”

“Open the gate!” the guard ordered.

Galkak could hear heavy beams being removed from the large oaken doors.

One wooden door opened slightly. Spears protruded from the door opening, followed by the head of the guard from the ramparts.

“What is your name?” the guard demanded.

“Galkak.”

“Where are you from?”

“I’m a Midianite merchant. Now let me in before those Moabites come. Here, for your troubles.” Galkak placed a golden coin in the palm of the guard’s hand.

“I need to inspect your wagon,” the guard said as he weighed and felt the gold in his hand.

“If you must, but I warn you, he’s quite horrible.”

The guard stuck his head in the tent wagon.

“Let us in, you weak-minded fleabag,” Dirthamus commanded.

The guard removed his head quickly.

“You were right. He really is scary. Why do you keep him with you?” the guard asked.

“He has a lot of money and if I take care of him I’ll inherit it when that piece of rotting meat finally dies,” Galkak answered with a resigned expression.

“Good reason. One more coin for the old man,” the guard put out his hand.

“Okay, but let us in already!” Galkak placed a coin in the guard’s palm.

“Welcome to Rabbath Ammon,” the guard announced and motioned Galkak to the door. “I hope you survive your stay.”

 

Eglon drove his chariot at the head of his army. He enjoyed the morning breeze as it flowed over the mountain range of Amon. As his army approached Rabbath Ammon, a lone figure on a white mare with Dirthamus’ wagon rode to them.

“Is that Galkak?” Eglon wondered at the strange rider.

The rider had three large palm branches strapped to his back. His face was painted in black and on his head he wore the skull of a bear with wild pink and white feathers attached to the skull. He was draped in a lion’s fur and carried a big stick with three small clay spheres on top.

“Hi, boss!” Galkak waved his stick making a loud and disturbing sound.

“Galkak! Why are you dressed in such a horrid way? How was your mission?”

“We’ll find out the answer to both shortly. Are you ready?”

“Yes. How is Dirthamus? I was concerned about the two of you together.”

“See for yourself. Old skin n’ bones is doin’ great.”

Eglon entered Dirthamus’ tent.

“Galkak is mad,” Dirthamus greeted Eglon.

“I have no issue with insanity. Will whatever he has in mind work?”

“Undoubtedly. I would not make an enemy of that man. You chose well when you elevated him. But he has drained me and there is much to do now that you have arrived. He will instruct you.”

Eglon exited the tent and returned to his chariot.

“What is the plan, King Galkak of Amalek?”

“We will march upon Rabbath Ammon slowly and noisily. Instruct the troops to bang their spears and shields or make noise whenever I shake my stick.”

“Will the walls fall?” Eglon asked incredulously.

“I’m not Joshua and this ain’t Jericho, but they’ll be terrified. When the gates open, you’ll know what to do, boss.”

“Men!” Eglon turned around and addressed his troops in a booming voice. “King Galkak of Amalek, though strangely attired, shall lead our conquest of Rabbath Ammon. He requests that when he shakes his mighty war staff you are all to bang your shields, spears and weapons and make a ruckus, as if the very minions of Sheol were at your feet. Though I do not understand his tactics, he has my full faith and trust. I believe in him and in our victory. May Kemosh watch over us and give us victory today. For glory!”

“For glory!” the men chanted and marched towards the fortified city.

Every several paces, Galkak raised his staff and shook it. The entire army thundered noise as two thousand soldiers banged their weapons and yelled at the top of their lungs. Galkak grinned broadly each time. When they were just outside of arrow range, Galkak ordered a stop.

“Are you ready, you old sourface?” Galkak called to Dirthamus in his tent.

“Yes, you oaf. Let us be done with it,” Dirthamus opened the flap of his tent and covered his eyes from the painful sun.

Galkak shook his staff again. The army roared noise. A thousand eyes looked at the loud Moabite army from behind their tall walls. Galkak rested his staff. An ominous quiet followed.

“Listen to me, you bunch of lily-livered flea-bitten excuses for men!” Galkak bellowed to the soldiers of Amon. “We’re here to kill you! We’re gonna gut you like pigs. We’re gonna cut out your entrails and make you eat ‘em. We’re gonna skin you alive. We’re gonna take your women and eat your children. We’re gonna do every nightmarish thing you’ve ever dreamt of and some that you haven’t. We’ve got the power. We can kill you without even having to touch you. There is only one hope for you. Surrender. Whoever surrenders will be spared. No answer? That’s fine. Watch now as I strike you down!”

Galkak pointed his staff at a tall Amonite soldier on the ramparts to the left of the gate. Galkak shook his staff and the Moabites blasted sound across the distance. The tall soldier fell on the spot, writhing in pain. Galkak pointed at another soldier, with the same effect. Soldier after soldier fell, each writhing in pain on the ramparts of Rabbath Ammon amongst the rumbling of the Moabite army.

Galkak rested his staff.

“Have you had enough?” he called out. “That was just a small taste of our power. If you open your gate now, you shall all be spared; otherwise I’ll smite you all!”

Galkak shook his staff again. The Moabite army reverberated noise across the mountainside. Galkak pointed at select soldiers and they too fell to the floor.

“Surrender! Surrender!” was heard from Rabbath Ammon. “Open the gate! Open the gate! We don’t want to die!”

The gate creaked open. Galkak rested his staff. Silence pervaded the world. A cheer went up from within the city. The gate opened fully.

Galkak removed his costume and winked at Eglon.

“It’s yours now, boss. I’ll see you inside. You should check on Dirthamus and make sure he’s still alive.”

“How? What? Where are you going?” Eglon asked in utter confusion.

“I’m going to pay my actors. I’ll see you at the party!” Galkak rode to the city.

“Captain!” Eglon called to the nearby officer. “Take half the men into the city. Hold the gates and the ramparts. Disarm the Amonites and hold their king for me. Retain order, remain firm, but don’t hurt anyone you don’t need to. You know the drill. I’ll be there when I can.”

Eglon ran to Dirthamus’ tent. The old man was unconscious on the wooden planks of the wagon.

“Water! Bring me water!” Eglon yelled. “And some reviving salts, quick!”

A soldier returned with a water skin; another came with smelling salts. Eglon lifted the bony creature and gave him some water. He then placed the smelling salts under Dirthamus’ nose. The old man gagged to consciousness and pushed Eglon’s hand away.

“Get that repugnant odor away from me,” Dirthamus said weakly.

“What happened? How did Galkak know you had fallen? How did he strike those men down?” Eglon asked.

“Mad. I told you the man was mad,” Dirthamus chuckled dryly. “It was all a sham. The man is a charlatan of the highest order. He has learned much from you as to deception. You may even be able to learn a thing or two from him.”

“How did he do it?” Eglon pressed.

“Not now. See to the city. Galkak is a gambler of the highest order and this scheme can fall apart at a moment’s notice. Secure the city before something goes wrong. I am fine. I will recover, no thanks to that wily vassal of yours. Go.”

Eglon left Dirthamus and rode his chariot to the city. He was pleased to see his men holding the gate and the Amonites unarmed and passive. He rode to the palace to meet his next vassal. Galkak caught up with him. He had washed his face and was in his normal merchant’s robes.

“By Kemosh! You did it, Galkak!” Eglon gushed.

“Of course, boss. Did you have any doubts?” Galkak grinned.

“Not anymore. But how did you do it?”

“Fear and greed.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Of course you do, boss. Dirthamus helped me find the greedy, weak-willed soldiers of Amon. I gave ‘em a gold piece each to collapse when I’d point my staff at ‘em and promised ‘em another two gold pieces if they really did it. I used Dirthamus’ mind-influence power to spread fear in the city. We spotted the army’s leadership and instilled fear in ‘em as well as in Zakir, the King of Amon. Now, I had Dirthamus put terror in the hearts of the troops whenever they saw their fellow soldier collapse. That crone was working really hard there at the end, between ratcheting up the general fear and instilling panic in the soldiers on the ramparts. I take it he’s okay?”

“I found him collapsed in his tent, but we revived him.”

“Good. I’d hate to lose such a mean fellow.”

“Galkak, you are precious. Now let’s see how Zakir of Amon will receive us.”

Eglon and Galkak stopped at the entrance to the palace. Moabite guards stood at attention.

“Everything in order?” Eglon asked.

“Yes, my liege,” a soldier answered. “The Amonites have offered no resistance and we heard the King of Amon is waiting in his chambers to surrender personally to you. Our men are guarding him.”

“Excellent, excellent!” Eglon rubbed his beefy palms together.

Eglon and Galkak climbed the stairs of the palace. Every fifty feet stood a Moabite soldier at attention. Eglon beamed with pride. They entered a large antechamber. To the right was a massive statue. The statue had the torso of a man, made out of brick and clay and the metallic head of a bull, with large pointed bronze horns. Great openings in the torso revealed a roaring fire underneath the statue.

“Ah, great Moloch,” Eglon bowed reverentially to the idol. “We shall be kind to your people and put them to a great purpose. We shall feed children to your fire to satiate your appetite and to celebrate this bloodless victory.”

“Children?” Galkak asked.

“Of course children. Moloch does not desire adults, though I have heard there are some priests that will make exceptions. His preferences are newborns, though I understand the priests will sometimes wait a few years before taking a child from their parents. Not my favorite god,” Eglon whispered, “but I never take my chances with gods – I worship them all. Let’s find Zakir.”

Eglon and Galkak entered Zakir’s audience chamber. Two Moabite guards nodded as they walked through the doors. Zakir, a short grey-haired man with a neatly trimmed beard, fell from the throne to the ground when he spotted Eglon.

“My liege!” Zakir exclaimed while still bowing. “I and my people are yours. Just spare us from the wrath of your sorcerer. We have never beheld anyone so powerful. We have never even heard of such a power. Please spare us and be merciful!” Zakir whimpered.

“Rise Zakir, King of Amon,” Eglon motioned. Zakir stood up.

“Do not be afraid,” Eglon said as he sat on the throne of Amon. “Comfortable. I approve. Come, Zakir, sit here beside me. You too, Galkak.”

Zakir and Galkak sat themselves on less ornate chairs on either side of the throne.

“Zakir, it pleases me that you have shown judicious judgment and refrained from battling us. I wish to conserve the strength of Amon, as well as your rule – under my dominion, of course. Do you accept such terms?” Eglon asked.

“Yes! Of course, my liege! This is more than I could have hoped for. Your compassion and wisdom know no bounds. I hereby pledge my allegiance to you and shall ever place myself and my people at your service.”

“That is good, Zakir. Now meet my other vassal, King Galkak of Amalek. He and his people have benefited greatly by accepting my dominion. Together we shall form a grand alliance!”

“I am thrilled to meet the King of Amalek, but what is the purpose of our alliance?”

“Nothing less than to conquer and destroy our mutual enemy, the Israelites, and to dominate the trade routes of Canaan.”

“Israelites? What a coincidence. You know that our relations with them have been tense at best, but yesterday, one came to our city, warning of your attack, insisting that you would conquer the city and demanding to meet you once you had arrived.”

“You don’t say! There is an Israelite here that warned you, predicted my victory and is now waiting to meet with me. Who?”

“He said his name was Ehud.”

* * * * * *

Notes:

Eglon gathered the nations of Amalek and Amon for his attack upon Israel.

Zakir, according to archeological records, is the name of an Amonite king.

Kemosh and Moloch are the names of gods that Moab and Amon worshipped.

Warrior Prophets 2: Assassin. Chapter 1: Copper Threat

Warrior Prophets II: Assassin

Chapter 1: Copper Threat

 

Eastern view of Kir Moav (in modern-day Jordan)

“Remember to keep your peace in Eglon’s palace,” Ehud warned Ashtom as they rode the rickety carriage east towards the Jordan River, facing the rising sun. Hawks high above cried greetings to the approaching dawn.

Ehud, the stout Benjaminite blacksmith, with his apprentice, tall Ashtom, entered the narrow part of the Jordan River at the height of the summer. The River had lost its former power. The pair of strong donkeys carrying Ehud’s carriage were able to navigate the crossing easily. The only fear was that the light carriage would be tossed by the river’s current.

“Sit on the back of the carriage to stabilize it,” Ehud commanded Ashtom as he navigated the donkeys over the slippery stones of the river. Ehud’s calloused and scarred hands held the reigns confidently. Ashtom scrambled onto the carriage to spread himself over the back of the wagon. His simple linen robe fluttered with the breeze.

“Why can’t I speak my mind if I wish?” the thin youth asked from behind, holding tightly onto the edges of the wooden carriage.

“Because your mind is still ill-formed and I fear that what may come out of your mouth will be at best nonsense and at worst highly offensive. You would disgrace me and our tribe. Shall I leave you outside the palace with the donkeys?”

“No, no. I’ll behave.”

“Promise that you will not say a word within the confines of the palace.”

“I promise, by God Almighty, that not a word will pass my lips.”

“Good. Eglon has been gaining power of late and we would be best served to keep our friendly relations.” Ehud ran his hand through his short dark beard. The brown of his beard matched his thick brown curls and his deep brown eyes. They contrasted with the white linen robe he saved for formal occasions. There was nothing he could do though to clean his darkened hands or soot stained fingernails.

“Are you afraid of him?” Ashtom asked.

“He has not given us cause to fear him and our militia is unrivaled amongst the tribes of Israel. Nevertheless, it is wise to be cautious with allies, and I’m sure he has not forgotten the ignominy his grandfather suffered at our hands.”

“You mean Balak? The one who tried to curse us in the desert? That’s ancient history.”

“The memory of a monarchy lasts longer than that of mere plebes, especially regarding injury. You can sit up front again.”

The carriage left the river behind and scaled up the slope towards the plains of Moav. Ashtom climbed back to sit next to Ehud. They rode on the well trodden path southward, the King’s Road, parallel to the glistening Sea of Salt, towards the capital of Moav.

“If you are so suspicious, why do we do business with him?”

“He is the best source of copper and we need copper to work.”

“Are there no friendlier sources of copper?”

“Friendlier perhaps, but more expensive as well. In any case, Eglon is friendly enough. We need not seek enemies where they do not exist. The days are tense enough as it is.”

“You mean with the other tribes?”

“Yes. Whatever we do or say seems to upset them.”

“Why should we care? The tribe of Benjamin is strong enough without the other tribes. We are the strongest!” Ashtom pounded his chest.

“Perhaps, but they are still our brothers.”

“If they don’t feel the same way, what’s the use of our ‘brotherhood’?”

“The problem is they wish for a stronger brotherhood, while our tribe is happy to remain independent, the way Joshua left us.”

“That is their problem, isn’t it?”

“For now. But their problems may become our problems.”

 

 

Ehud and Ashtom trotted down the long road through the Tribe of Reuben as the sun reached its zenith. Wide, sparsely vegetated pastures accompanied them to the left and right. They crossed the Israelite boundary, the Arnon River, and entered the dusty dominion of Moav. Israelite and Moavite merchants traveled both north and south on the King’s Road. The King’s Road was an ancient roadway that had been in continuous use for centuries. It started from the Kingdom of Edom in the south, passed through Kir Moav, Eglon’s capital, and continued north all the way to Damascus.

By late afternoon, Ehud could see Kir Moav in the distance. The fortress city was carved into the mountain. It sat perched on a massive cliff, at least a league high, overlooking the deep valley to the west. Vultures spiraled over some dead prey below. The thick tall walls of pinkish stone surrounding Kir Moav appeared as is if they had grown out of the mountain itself. Except for the King’s Road that ran north-south through the heavy gates of the city, there was no other access to the city. To the southwest was a treacherous ascent and to the east, miles of endless desert. On each visit, Ehud, the seasoned tactician, always contemplated how one might take the city by force, and always concluded it could only be done from the inside. No army could long lay siege in this unforgiving desert. The city’s weakest point, always the gate, was made of three reinforced layers of hardened copper. Ehud always marveled at the workmanship, his blacksmith fingers eager to touch the metal. Since the founding of the people of Moav, none had succeeded in conquering their stronghold. They had lost the plains to the north generations before to the Amorites, a people that Moses subsequently destroyed. The land, now twice conquered, was bestowed by Moses to the tribes of Gad and Reuben. Ehud suspected that the offense remained in Eglon’s memory as well.

Two armored guards at the gate waved Ehud in. Ehud led his donkeys through the busy sandstone streets of Kir Moav. Men and women in light robes with cotton head scarves walked purposely through the open marketplace of the main road. Stalls were filled with radishes, carrots, turnips, dried figs, dates, almonds, cinnamon and a colorful variety of fruits, vegetables and spices. The smell of freshly baked bread wafted through the streets, together with grilled meat. Ashtom eyed the fresh produce hungrily.

“We will eat from our own rations,” Ehud said, noticing Ashtom’s gaze.

“Their stuff looks so good,” Ashtom said longingly.

“Half of it is imported from our own fields and costs three times the price here. We will eat after we finish our business in the palace.”

Eglon’s palace commanded the southwest quadrant of the city. Large pink sandstone structures of previous generations made up the palace complex. Eglon’s addition was distinctly taller and grander, a testament to Eglon’s rise in fortune. Ehud was shocked to see over one thousand troops camped outside Eglon’s palace.

“He has never had so many troops before,” Ehud stated.

“Is this trouble for us?” Ashtom asked.

“He would be mad to attack us and he knows it. He is most likely preparing for an attack upon Amon.”

“Then we are not in trouble.”

“No. Not yet. Let us see if he is as welcoming as in previous years.”

Two guards recognized Ehud and waved him through the palace gates. They rode to the entrance of the palace undisturbed and stopped their wagon in the shade of the palace stables. A royal stableman rushed out of the stables and quickly grabbed hold of the reigns.

“How long do you expect to stay, sir?” the young stableman bowed.

“Just long enough to conduct our business and collect our yearly copper,” Ehud responded. He removed the sword with its sheath from his side and placed it in the back of the cart.

“You too, Ashtom,” Ehud pointed at the boy’s short sword. “Leave your weapon behind.”

“Why? I thought we needed them to protect ourselves from brigands.”

“That was on the road. Now we are in the King’s palace where we are under his protection. A lone sword will do little good if we are threatened. Besides, it is insulting for those not of his guard to bring a weapon into his chambers. Now stop arguing and take it off!”

“Fine,” Ashtom pouted as he removed the sheath and short sword from his belt.

Ehud grabbed a small copper vessel from the back of the cart together with a clay jug. He opened the jug and poured oil into the copper vessel and gave the copper vessel to Ashtom.

“Hold this carefully and don’t spill it,” Ehud commanded.

Ehud and Ashtom walked up the stone stairs to the palace.

Guards with spears stood on either side of the entrance. They allowed the visitors through, into a large antechamber. Tall marble pillars supported a high vaulted roof. High windows let a desert breeze into the room.

A short wizened old man stood erect next to the doors of the King’s audience chamber.

“Greetings, Benjaminite,” the usher welcomed Ehud.

“Greetings, Tramon.” Ehud bowed lightly.

“Is your station the same? Shall I announce you as in the past?” Tramon asked.

“My status has not changed. You may announce me as usual.”

Tramon opened the heavy door to the chamber, faced the king on his throne and with a voice that belied his size announced to the roomful of court attendants:

“Ehud son of Gera, of the Tribe of Benjamin! Blacksmith, Captain of Thousands, Representative of the Elders of Benjamin for matters of Trade to the Kingdom of Moav!”

 Ehud walked past more marble columns. Woven tapestries adorned the walls. One depicted a scene of the Patriarch Abraham looking in anguish over the city of Sodom. A second tapestry showed the destruction of Sodom with bright red flames and hailstones reducing the city to ashes. A third scene was an immodest couple in a cave, Lot and his daughter in one of the more famous incestuous stories from the Book of Moses. Lot was both the father and the grandfather of Moav, the founder of this powerful nation. For some reason Moav’s descendents relished the lurid story of their ancestor. The fourth tapestry showed Balak, King of Moav, Eglon’s grandfather, on a mountaintop together with Bilaam the Sorcerer, overlooking the desert camp of the Tribes of Israel. Ehud stared in appreciation of the fine workmanship as he slowly walked towards Eglon.

“Is it not magnificent, Ehud?” Eglon asked rising from his throne to Ehud.

“Beautiful work, your Majesty. Your taste in adornment is inspiring.”

“Ehud of Benjamin!” Eglon grabbed Ehud in a bear hug. “It is absolutely delectable seeing you. You are by far my favorite delegate.” Eglon let the shorter man go. Eglon was a full head taller than Ehud. Eglon was large and muscular though pale despite the desert sun. His head was shaved bald, except for a tuft of crimson hair that he wore in a tail Egyptian-style. He was swathed in a white cotton robe, with a heavy belt and necklace of solid gold.

“It is wonderful to see you as well, your Majesty. Putting on some weight?”

“Ah, Ehud. That is what I love about you. You will not fawn upon me as do these sycophants that surround me and visit me.” Eglon motioned with both hands at the crowds of attendants hugging the stone walls. “Yes. I have put on some weight. My mother always said I was too thin. I think the extra weight sits well on me, regally even.”

“It is certainly royal weight.”

“Ah, Ehud. I love it. What is that trinket I see in your servant’s hand?”

Ehud motioned for Ashtom to hand him the copper vessel.

“Your Majesty.” Ehud held the copper vessel with a flourish. “What can we present to a king so wealthy and generous? Knowing your fondness for things of high quality, we humbly present you with a small gift, of one precious item within another. Note this copper vessel. It is copper of the highest quality, from your very own mines, worked and polished until it almost shines like gold. However, this is no typical vessel for holding oil. Note two innovations. The first is the cover. No longer must you worry about insects flying or crawling into your dish. See how perfectly it fits over the dish. The second innovation, and this I have not seen by any other blacksmith, is that the cover is attached to the dish. You see how this hinge keeps the cover in place, yet allows the cover to be easily removed and replaced? This cover can never go missing. The two are joined forever in wholesome and complementary partnership. Within is the finest virgin olive oil, the first pressing, from the choicest grove in Benjamin, from my father’s own estate.”

Ehud handed the vessel to Eglon. Eglon played with the cover, opening and closing the vessel. He looked carefully at the workmanship, noting the lines of the engravings, the curve of the metal, the smoothness of the polish. He dipped his pinky into the oil and tasted it. His eyes lit up. He placed the vessel on his throne and with tears moistening his eyes gave Ehud another bear-hug.

“Ehud, this is the most precious, meaningful gift I have ever received. Your hands and mind made this vessel. Absolutely ingenious. I have always said you are the greatest blacksmith between Egypt and Aram. I am honored by your gift. And the oil is truly pristine. I shall savor every drop.”

Eglon sat back on his throne, placing the vessel in his lap. He snapped his fingers and a white-robed attendant was at his side. A moment later the attendant returned with a plate carrying freshly baked pita. He placed the plate on a low table next to the throne. The King of Moav grabbed the pita, ripped it in half, dipped the pita into the oil and stuffed a handful into his mouth. A beatific smile graced his face.

“Behold!” Eglon bellowed to the chamber as he chewed. “This is a true friend! A gift from the heart! What need I for gold or silver or poems about myself. A gift of intelligence, a gift of understanding – that is a true gift. Come Ehud, let us do our business. I know you have come on a long road. State your request.”

“Your Majesty, we merely seek the normal allotment of copper, as in previous years.”

“Of course, of course. Most reasonable, my dear friend. There is unfortunately a small complication.”

“Complication?”

“Yes. The demand for copper has increased significantly this past year and the supply has not kept up, with obvious results.”

“The price has gone up.”

“And the amount we can sell is reduced.”

“How much?”

“We can only provide you with half the allotment of last year.”

“Half!? Where has all the copper gone?”

“You might have noticed my troops outside.”

“I was going to ask about them. I presume you are realizing your ambitions over Amon.”

“Ambitions? No, no. I am the least ambitious of people. I merely seek to quell some disturbances with our unruly neighbors. There is nothing like several hundred copper swords to quiet a border. Of course it is not as good as the Philistine iron, but the Amonites will understand our message.”

“That is quite a force to send a message. It is a force that would even give a Tribe of Israel pause.”

 “Israel? That is the furthest thought from my mind. Why do you say such thing? Are the Benjaminites finally tired of their brothers’ unification efforts? Do you suggest an alliance against them?”

“No. Though we do not see eye to eye with our brothers, I would never dream of fighting them. The council of Elders will eventually sort out our disagreements. I, for one, merely have pity for the Amonites that will face your force. But please, let us return to the matter of the copper. How much will it cost?”

“The same amount as in previous years.”

“The same price for half the copper? That is robbery!”

“Come now, Ehud. You are a man of the world. You understand very well the mechanics of supply and demand. You are of course free to seek elsewhere. I understand the Egyptian supply at Timna remains strong, or perhaps the Philistines would be willing to part with some of their precious iron.”

“You know very well that the Tribe of Simeon has the exclusive concession from the Egyptians to sell to the other tribes of Israel – and they are charging a hefty price. And the Philistines that are ready to sell iron are charging extravagant sums. You know I have limited choices.”

“My dear Ehud, I do like you so. Because of our friendship, because of your exquisite gift, I shall grant you a boon. I will spare some more copper than I would have normally allowed. We shall make it three quarters of the usual shipment. Am I not generous? For the normal price in gold that I am certain you carry in your pouch there.”

A servant entered the chamber hurriedly and nodded at Eglon.

“See, the copper has already been loaded onto your transport.” Eglon smiled. “Let us conclude our exchange and end it in a friendly manner.”

“Your Majesty, I see you have seen the matter through. You are generous in your extortion. Here is my tribe’s gold, though I will have much to answer for upon my return.”  Ehud handed Eglon a heavy sack with gold. Eglon weighed the sack in his hands.

“Exact as always, Ehud.” Eglon smiled. “Now will you eat with us to celebrate the successful conclusion of our negotiations?”

“I am honored, but first with your permission, I will see to the quality and amount of the copper. Your servants in the past have not always been so exact or careful. Three years ago some foolish servant thought to convince me that ingots of lead were merely rusted copper.”

“Yes, I remember the ignoble fellow. I assigned him to the mine itself to teach him the difference. When you are done with your arrangements, please return for the evening meal.”

“Yakshal of Benjamin!” the old usher at the door announced. “Courier of the Benjaminite Elders!”

Ehud turned to see a tall muscular man in sweat-drenched robes approach. Yakshal bowed towards Eglon.

“Your Majesty,” Yakshal said breathlessly, “I carry a message for Ehud son of Gera from the tribal elders. I beg your pardon that I may deliver it, as it is of the utmost urgency.”

“Speak,” Eglon commanded.

“Ehud,” Yakshal faced him. “You must return immediately. There is talk of war.”

“War!? Against who?”

“The tribes of Israel.”

“What? What madness is this? I just left this morning and all was quiet.”

“We received word at noon that the tribes were assembling against us. Our elders have decided to repel these invaders. I was sent with our fastest horse to call you home.”

“What pray tell,” Eglon asked, hiding a smile, “has caused this threat of violence?”

“There was terrible incident in one of our cities, Givaah. A concubine was raped and subsequently died. Her master, a man of Ephraim, a troublemaker if there ever was one, cut her corpse into pieces and sent one to each tribe. The tribes assembled and vowed vengeance against us unless we give up the men of Givaah. Our elders refuse, claiming it’s an internal matter. As we speak, the combined armies of the rest of the tribes are gathering against us. Ehud, there is no time to waste.”

“Ehud, you will ride in the dark?” Eglon nodded at the setting sun outside the windows.

“I have no choice. Yakshal, I will take your horse. You and Ashtom return with the donkeys and the copper in the morning. Ashtom, make sure there are no errors with the amount. Your Majesty, with your permission, I shall answer to the call of my elders.”

“Of course, Ehud. May I offer some assistance? An alliance? We joked about it earlier, but the gods seem to have a wicked sense of humor.”

“I shall convey your generous offer to our elders, though my hope is that we can resolve this madness before coming to bloodshed. That I shall attempt, even if I stand alone.”

“Good fortune then, Ehud. I shall await with bated breath word of developments.”

“I am certain your spies will keep you well appraised. Goodbye your Majesty.”

“Goodbye my friend.”

Eglon hugged Ehud one last time, a single tear moistening his eye.

Ehud, Yakshal and Ashtom departed the audience chamber.

Eglon sat back on his throne and called for his chief-of-staff.

“Ritka, what are your thoughts on this development?”

“Beneficial.”

“Truly. We shall move up our attack on Amon. We march in the morning.”

“Yes, my liege.”

“Ehud is naïve to think they’ll avoid war. It’s been building up for years and that dead concubine is the spark that will light the fire. The Benjaminites have been too arrogant and their brothers will cut them down to size.”

“What role do you expect we shall play, my liege?”

“If we time our campaign correctly, we will pick up all the pieces. Benjamin and all the other tribes shall be mine!”

A hawk outside the city walls squawked in agreement as it swooped upon its prey. The unlucky desert rat squirmed in the hawk’s claws as the setting sun turned the world red.

 

* * * * * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evil-Eye Protection

Kli Yakar Numbers: Balak

Evil-Eye Protection 

"Chamsa": Ward against the evil eye.

In Judaism, there is a concept that people have the power, just by looking at others with evil thoughts, of somehow causing something negative to happen. The “chamsa” (upraised palm symbol) is popular in Sepharadi culture as a ward against the “evil eye.” The Kli Yakar explains that there is something more effective.

When the evil sorcerer, Bilaam, attempts to curse the Children of Israel in the desert, he is confounded time and time again by God. God forces Bilaam to bless the nation of Israel instead. In one of the most famous lines uttered by Bilaam, he states: 

“How goodly are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel.” Numbers 24:5

The Kli Yakar quotes the Talmud (Tractate Bava Batra 66a) that part of the blessing was based on the fact that no tent opening looked onto the opening of its neighbor. The Children of Israel practiced a noteworthy modesty, not seeking to cast an eye upon the goings-on of other households. Bilaam realized that if the Children of Israel had already taken proper precautions against the evil eye internally, then he would have no chance to cast an evil eye himself. 

The Kli Yakar adds that the merit of the “tents” protected Israel from the evil eye. The tents are a synonym for none other than study of the Torah, of Jewish law and tradition, which protected and continues to protect the Children of Israel from the evil eye.

May we never have an “evil eye” cast upon us, or at least protect ourselves with study and modesty. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi 

Dedication 

To the newlyweds, Rachel and Greg Malsin. It was one of the more fantastic weddings of my life. “May you build a steadfast home inIsrael.”