Category Archives: Re'eh

Daily Clarity (Reeh)

Daily Clarity (Reeh)

In wisdom gathered over time I have found that every experience is a form of exploration. -Ansel Adams

Moses, on the eastern bank of the Jordan River is addressing the nation of Israel in his epic swan song. Before they enter the land of Canaan, to conquer it under the leadership of his disciple, Joshua, Moses continues his final lecture that we know as the Book of Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book of the Five Books of Moses.

Moses has delved into our history, our sins, as well as God’s deliverance. Moses discusses the laws we need to keep, the ethics that underlie God’s commands and now, in the Torah reading of Reeh, he touches on a recurring theme, that of free-will, where he implores us to choose wisely.

In the first verse of the reading of Reeh, Moses declares: “See, I place before you, today, blessing and curse.”

The Berdichever wonders as to the emphasis in this verse on the word “today.” He explains that God renews all of creation on a daily basis. The world we are living in on Tuesday is a completely different world than the one we inhabited on Monday. Likewise, the world we experience on Tuesday is different from the world we will encounter on Wednesday. God, in His infinite power, somehow recreates, rebuilds, reanimates the entire cosmos every single day. Every star, every planet, every molecule and every subatomic particle is brought into existence again and again by God’s will every day.

And just as the universe is renewed on a daily basis, we humans are also granted a daily renewal. That daily renewal includes the capacity of greater clarity. We are given the ability to see the world with a new set of eyes every single day. We have the capacity to see better, deeper, clearer than we did yesterday.

That in and of itself is a recurring blessing. We can perceive, apprehend and understand what we couldn’t understand the day before. By realizing the newness, the freshness of the new day, we also concretize the new blessings that accompany that day. “Today” and every day is a blessing. Each and every day is a new blessing. Each and every day we receive new blessings. Each and every day God is personally bestowing on each and every one of us new blessings.

The more we realize the extent of the blessings, the more we receive, the more we appreciate, the more we enjoy.

May our days be filled with ever-growing clarity and blessings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

On the weddings of my nephews: Saadya (Stephen) to Addi, and Avrumi to Liba Ahuva. Mazal Tov!!

Secret Jerusalem (Re’eh)

Secret Jerusalem (Re’eh)

The first rule in keeping secrets is nothing on paper. -Thomas Powers

There is an ancient Jewish tradition regarding an eternal, concentrated divine connection to the city of Jerusalem, and more specifically to the Temple Mount. What was known as Har Hamoriah (Mount Moriah) within Jerusalem is attributed as a focal point of God on earth going as far back as Adam, continued with Abraham and the binding of Isaac, and formalized when King David bought the land as the site of the Temple which his son Solomon would build.

However, if we look in the Five Books of Moses, Jerusalem is not mentioned in that regard. Instead, we repeatedly get the mysterious phrase “the place that God will select.” Only after King David’s conquest of Jerusalem and the building of the first Temple, do the other prophets of the Bible refer to the holy city with love and yearning.

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Deuteronomy 12:5 (Re’eh) wonders as to the flagrant and consistent absence of “Jerusalem” throughout Moses’ books and the presence of the vague and prophetic “the place that God will select.” He answers that the hiding of the identity of God’s focal point in the world was purposely kept hidden for as long as possible, for at least three different reasons, as follows:

  1. If the nations of the world would have known that prayers and sacrifices made in Jerusalem are accepted, they would have gone to battle for it, causing great bloodshed.
  2. If the Canaanites living in Israel at the time would have known that the Jewish nation were to conquer its land and worship God from Har Hamoriah, they would have destroyed the place with every means at their disposal.
  3. If the tribes of Israel would have known of the supreme importance of Jerusalem, they would have fought amongst themselves to claim that area. Even though they had known of the spiritual importance of Jerusalem and Har Hamoriah, they didn’t realize that that would be “the place that God will select.”

Subsequent history did prove that Jerusalem became a place of great bloodshed and destruction as well as a point of contention between the tribes of Israel, with the Temple on Har Hamoriah being the pivotal point of the conflicts.

However, the many prophecies about Jerusalem also promise that it will become a city of peace, a city of brotherly love, a city of wisdom, of justice, of light, of instruction. Its spiritual power is indisputable and a source of inspiration and longing for more than just the Jewish people.

May we live to see all of the prophecies of Jerusalem fulfilled, and get to enjoy and bask in its spiritual light.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To our son Elchanan, on staring his active military service.

Blessings and Curses come from within

Blessings and Curses come from within

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. -Thomas Jefferson

God prefaces many of His commandments with the line “when you enter the land,” meaning, many of these commandments need to wait until we’re in the Promised Land or are somehow dependent on the land itself. However, after one of these common introductions God goes on to give an unusually specific location and direction as to where the people of Israel should go and what they should do there.

He orders them to congregate at the twin mountains of Gerizim and Ebal next to the city of Shechem. There, in what turns out to be a massive natural amphitheatre, the assembled nation of Israel are to proclaim the blessings that will be accorded to themselves and their descendents should they listen to God’s commandments, as well as the curses that will befall them should they choose to ignore God’s directives. What is physically unusual about the setting is that although the two mountains are almost identical in their shape, size, location and elevation, Mount Gerizim is verdant and alive; Mount Ebal is barren and desolate. Not surprisingly, the blessings were uttered upon Mount Gerizim, the curses on Mount Ebal.

Rabbi Hirsch on Deuteronomy 11:29 elaborates:

“Both of them rise from the same soil, both are watered by the same precipitation – rain and dew. The same air passes over them both; the same pollen is blown over them both. Yet Ebal remains starkly barren, while Gerizim is covered with lush vegetation to its very top.”

“Thus we see that blessings and curses are not dependent on external circumstances. Hence, whether we are blessed or cursed is not dependent on the superficial conditions that are imposed upon us, but on how we deal with them – on our attitude…”

Whether we are blessed or cursed is not dependent on any outside force. Our fate doesn’t rely on good or bad luck. Happenstance should not determine our inner reality. The opposite is true. Our attitude, how we see the world, how we perceive things, how we react, how we internalize the reality around us, that will determine whether we are blessed or cursed. It is completely in our hands.

May we be grateful for the blessings in our lives and see it as such.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the tail end of summer. It is beautiful and blessed.

 

Surviving Calamity

 

Surviving Calamity 

To live is to suffer; to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering. -Roberta Flack 

sufferingContinuing his farewell speech, Moses declares that God places before each of us blessings and curses. The blessings are stated as rewards for what we do right. The curses are punishments for what we do wrong. They both come from God. There are a multiplicity of ways and explanations as to how to understand divine reward and punishment and the related age-old question of why bad things happen to good people.

The Sfat Emet in 5635 (1875) advises us to understand our personal mishaps as messages from God. God is trying to get our attention. Hence, once we understand and incorporate the divine message into our lives, the “curse” has done its job. However, if we wallow in our suffering, if we blame God or the world for the undeserved ill that befalls us, if we don’t learn the lesson, if we don’t move on – the likely outcome is that the curse will continue to run its course, or in some cases become more severe.

But if we accept God’s will, the Sfat Emet continues, if we understand deeply that both the good and the bad come from God, if we seek to improve ourselves after our calamities, then there is a higher probability that we will grow due to our misfortunes, that we will gain the compassion, the empathy, the resilience that we may have been lacking.

May we withstand our trials and get through them stronger, wiser and kinder.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication 

To the memory of Gene Wilder.

 

 

 

The Metaphysics of Charity

Baal Haturim Deuteronomy: Reeh

The Metaphysics of Charity

There never was a person who did anything worth doing, who did not receive more than he gave. -Henry Ward Beecher

giving saplingBeing charitable is a Jewish value that is recorded already from the stories of our Patriarch Abraham. In the time of Moses it is codified as law, including the requirement to tithe. The Rabbis give further clarification as to the percentage and measurements of different agricultural donations that each farmer was expected to contribute.

The Baal Haturim on this week’s Torah portion provides a number of pointers as to the metaphysical reality of charity. He states in Deuteronomy 12:19 that the act of giving charity leads directly to increased wealth. In Deuteronomy 15:8 he explains that if a person listens to and provides for the poor, God in turn will listen to and provide for the charitable person. The inverse is also true. If a person ignores the plea of the poor, God is likely to ignore the potentially charitable person.

Finally, the Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 15:10 details that we should be careful to provide the solicitant what they need. He brings as an example the story of King David who when he was seeking refuge from the ire of King Saul escaped to the Cohanic city of Nov where they provided him with bread and a sword, two things he was in dire need of.

May we have the capacity and opportunity to be generous to those in need and may we see our generosity divinely and abundantly rewarded.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Rachel and Shalom Berger on their abundant celebrations.

Inseparable Pair

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/reeh-inseparable-pair/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Reeh

Inseparable Pair

There is one evident, indubitable manifestation of the Divinity, and that is the laws of right which are made known to the world through Revelation.” -Leo Tolstoy

The Bible details and repeats the account of the divine revelation of God to the entire people of Israel, where He, in His Awesomeness, speaks the famous Ten Commandments in front of the multitude of the Jewish nation who heard and accepted and survived the direct and powerful encounter with God. The giving of the commandments at Mount Sinai was probably the most extraordinary moment in all of human history.

However, Jewish tradition tells us that much more than ten commandments were conveyed at Sinai. In fact, the entire corpus of what we know as the Five Books of Moses, including all 613 commandments were transmitted directly to Moses at Sinai. Moses painstaking writes down, verbatim, the words of God to the world.

Yet there is even more. The Netziv on Deuteronomy 12:1 explains that not only was the Written Torah given to Moses at Sinai, but also the Oral Torah was delivered. There is an entire field of knowledge, much more expansive, deeper, filled with mysteries and secrets, that was given over to Moses during his personal encounter with God. The Oral Torah explains the Written Torah. The Oral Torah is inseparable from the Written Torah. The Written Torah cannot be understood, and in places does not make sense, without the explanations of the Oral Torah.

While it is true that the Written Torah is a fundamental, sacred document for us, it is just one part of the puzzle. It is incomplete, even defective, when studied alone, without the complementary Oral Torah. Parts of the Oral Torah were eventually committed to writing. The process started around 2,000 years ago with the Mishna, followed a few centuries later with the Talmud and subsequently with the written codes of law and rabbinic commentaries and explanations.

Both the Written and Oral Torah are our tradition. If we are to embrace our tradition, we should do so fully, completely, understanding it holistically, keeping the inseparable pair united.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the new banim and bnot sherut (young volunteer teachers from Israel) that have arrived in Montevideo. May they have much success in transmitting our written and oral traditions and having a positive impact on our community.

Divine Entrapment

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/reeh-divine-entrapment/]

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy: Re’eh

Divine Entrapment

“One must be aware that one is continually being tested in what one wishes most in order to make clear whether one’s heart is on earth or in heaven.” -Pir Vilayat Khan

The Bible presents a thorny theological issue with the case of a false prophet. The false prophet is someone, usually charismatic, eloquent and powerful who may have the ability to read divine signs and even foretell the future. He would seem to be someone with the authority of God, but there is something off about him, something that just doesn’t add up.

The false prophet changes something. It may be a little thing, it may seem inconsequential. What the false prophet changes is the law. He reinterprets the Law of Moses against the structure and tradition of the sages. We don’t know his reasons, but the bottom line is that he is wrong.

How can God allow a being such as a false prophet to exist? How can God bless an individual with prophetic ability that will mislead the people of Israel from their faith, beliefs, traditions and rules?

Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 13:4 explains very simply, based on the verses, that God sends the false prophet to test us. He wishes to test us and demonstrate that we overcome. We should not be swayed by the charismatic leader. We should not be fooled by holy charlatans. We should not be tricked by apparently divine signs. We need to think for ourselves. We need to understand the laws and traditions and not rely on magical incantations or otherworldly promises. We must remain strong in our faith, in the unbroken traditions and the chain of law that has kept us as a people to this very day.

May we see tests of faith for what they are and pass them with flying colors.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all of the people who guided us in our voyage to Buenos Aires. They were each true prophets that led us to a wonderful trip and fantastic food.

 

Prophetic Frauds

Ohr Hachayim Deuteronomy: Re’eh

Prophetic Frauds

 “The wisest prophets make sure of the event first.” –Horace Walpole

In the summer of 1503, over the course of his fourth and last voyage, Christopher Columbus and his crew found themselves stranded on the island of Jamaica. His ships were damaged by a major storm and no help was forthcoming. After six months of native hospitality, Columbus’ crewmen had overstayed their welcome and the locals refused to provide the Europeans with any more food.

[the rest of this Torah Insight is at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/prophetic-frauds/]

Wear Sunscreen

Kli Yakar Deuteronomy: Re’eh

Wear Sunscreen

“If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.” Mary Schmich

There is a story of a man who is shown a vision of Hell. It is a roomful of people with their elbows locked straight. They have forks in their outstretched arms and tables brimming over with all the food they would want to eat. But their forks can’t reach their mouths and so they live in eternal torment and hunger, not being able to feed themselves, though surrounded by food.

The room next door is Heaven. The people in Heaven have their elbows equally locked and are also surrounded by food, yet they’re eating merrily. One person feeds his friend. Simple and effective, yet a solution those relegated to Hell can either never think of or bring themselves to do so.

The Kli Yakar (Deuteronomy 11:26) quotes a similar interpretation as to the equivalence between Heaven and Hell (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Nedarim 8b). According to the Talmud, Heaven and Hell are exactly the same “place” (not even separate rooms). In that common afterlife, the spiritual strength of the sun will be released. The wicked will be burned by it, while the righteous will rejoice in its splendor.

Somehow our actions in this world build a sort of ‘spiritual sunscreen’. Those that develop it will enjoy the spiritual sun of the afterlife. Those that don’t build up such a sunscreen will suffer in the world-to-come.

May we figure out how to get that sunscreen, and put it on.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To conventional sunscreen that lets us enjoy the summer sun (in the northern hemisphere — though the southern hemisphere gets its fair share of the sun even in their winters).

Stone Hunters

Deuteronomy Fiction: Re’eh

Stone Hunters

“You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations that you are driving away worshipped their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every leafy tree. You shall break apart their altars, you shall smash their pillars, and their sacred trees shall you burn in fire, their carved images shall you cut down and you shall obliterate their names from that place.” Deuteronomy 12:2-3

“He (Hezekiah) did what was proper in the eyes of the Lord, just as his forefather David had done. He removed the high places, shattered the pillars, and cut down the Asherah-trees.” Kings II, 18:3-4

Peluf gripped his grey beard as he sat on his stallion of the same color. He waited in the middle of the castle courtyard. His mounted troops entered through the arched stone gate, trotting loudly on the cobblestones, dispelling the early morning mist. The finest horsemen from the Jerusalem province had answered his call. Not his call. The new king’s call. Hezekiah son of Ahaz.

Peluf did not miss King Ahaz. He did not mourn the untimely death. His son, Prince – no, no longer Prince, but King, King Hezekiah was a different breed of man. Hezekiah was more like his grandfather, King Yotham. Both men of God. Hezekiah was untried though. A young man of twenty five years. Young and untried.

Ahaz on the other hand, that link between grandfather and grandson had been unlike either. Ahaz had embraced the local idol worship and dragged many of Israel with him. Peluf himself was ambivalent about idol worship. He was a career soldier – now commander of the King’s cavalry. He did as he was ordered whether he believed in it or not. Distasteful or not. It was usually distasteful.

King Hezekiah had declared himself on a mission. He was a firebrand with bright short red hair and a fiery long beard to match. Less than a month after his father’s death, Hezekiah proclaimed he would rid the land of idols. The veteran soldiers had laughed at the idea. The idols had stood since the days of Solomon son of David. The people, both Israelites and the ancient tribes loved their idols. For over two hundred years idols had graced almost every valley and every mountain of Canaan.

Peluf’s battalion was ready. Hezekiah had insisted on a majority of new recruits. It was clear Hezekiah wanted as many green soldiers as possible. He knew the older soldiers were cynical. Experienced, but still cynical. He hoped the new blood would turn the tide.

Peluf couldn’t recall the last time he had seen such energy amongst the King’s troops. The horses champed at their bits, eager to gallop. Young Hezekiah addressed the mounted battalion.

“We go today to cleanse the land,” Hezekiah declared from atop his white steed. “We must remove ourselves from the worship of these false gods. There is only one true God. And he is not of the handiwork of man. We must destroy the idols – all the idols. There must not remain a shred of their pollution in our land.”

The younger soldiers raptly followed Hezekiah’s words. Some of the older soldiers snickered quietly.

“Men, soldiers of Judeah, grab your swords.” Hezekiah unsheathed his. “Any idol we encounter we must smash, destroy. If anyone gets in our way, we shall rid the world of them and their idols. We have given warning. We have given the blatant worshippers a chance. Any that stand in our way have brought a death sentence on their heads. I wish to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, but we shall not allow this evil worship any longer.”

Hezekiah raised his sword and trotted towards the gate and the front of the battalion. Peluf rode to the right of his new lord. “We march!” Hezekiah shouted. A hundred horses and their riders followed Hezekiah, all with raised swords.

The troop quickly reached the Valley of Geihinom. Hundreds of people were assembled in the valley. They were all Judeans. They clustered around dozens of idols spread out through the length of the valley. Thin wooden idols, fat clay idols and a few imposing stone idols stood out. Men, women and children of all ages stood around the idols. They had not believed Hezekiah’s threats.

“People of Judeah,” Hezekiah called to them sword still in hand. “Give up this worship, move away from this abomination or perish with it.”

An old woman, next to the idol closest to Hezekiah called back to him.

“Leave us alone. These are the gods of Israel. We shall die before forsaking them.”

“It is the Law of Moses that you have forsaken. How can you betray him and our God?” Hezekiah called out.

“Moses?” the old woman barked a laugh. “That was hundreds of years ago. What relevance does his Law have to our lives? He was a desert dweller, a nomad from a backwards era. We are sophisticated mountain folk. We need the gods of the mountains. It is you Hezekiah who is the fool. You should have followed in your father’s footsteps. King Ahaz knew the value of our gods.”

Hezekiah charged her and stabbed her through the stomach with his sword. He dismounted and smashed the large clay statue she had been defending. The broken pottery fell into the pool of blood oozing from the dead woman. The cavalry followed suit and attacked people and statues. Most of the people fled, now convinced that Hezekiah would carry through with the destruction. A few of the elderly did not move and stood bravely in front of their idols, protecting their gods. Others hugged the statues to depart this world together with them. Clay statues were smashed, wooden ones burned and stone ones defaced and broken. After a few hours the Valley of Geihinom became a wasteland of broken gods.

Peluf was pleased and impressed. He was pleased that his young soldiers had destroyed the idols efficiently. None of them showed bloodlust. Hezekiah’s orders had been to let the people run away. Only those standing by their false gods were to be struck down and that is what happened.

But he was mostly impressed with the young King. Hezekiah set his mind on this destruction and had thoroughly wiped out the idols in this stronghold of the false gods. The next target would not be so easy.

“To the Pillar of Baal,” Hezekiah shouted to his soldiers. “Let us make haste.”

Hezekiah’s army rode northeast. The green lush hills surrounding Jerusalem gave way to sparser, drier land. They followed the ancient road down towards Jericho. The thorny bushes showed themselves less frequently until they reached the Judean desert. All they could see were rolling, dead yellow hills. In the distance through the summer haze they could glimpse the palm trees around the broken walls of Jericho. To the south they saw the lip of the Sea of Salt, where nothing lived.

A hint of green peaked out from between two mountains. Hezekiah’s troops followed the trail entering a narrow valley. Chalky red sandstone formed a wall to their right and left. In the middle of the Wadi a stream of fresh water trickled through. Thick green vegetation hugged the stream. The troops cantered on either side of the stream raising a thick cloud of dust that filled the Wadi.

“Let us send scouts ahead and above, your Majesty,” Peluf gestured. “We will not take the Pillar as easily as the Valley and this Wadi is too easy to ambush.”

Hezekiah nodded his agreement, eyes looking up and ahead.

Peluf motioned to his captains. Three pairs of soldiers trotted forward. Each twosome had an older soldier paired with a younger one. One pair went further down the Wadi, the other two pairs scrambled up the sides of the Wadi to scout from above. The rest of the cavalry proceeded along the Wadi.

The pair that went down the Wadi returned less than an hour later. The younger soldier was panting, the older one, Shaku, scratched his short beard as they approached Peluf and Hezekiah.

“Report,” Peluf commanded.

“Your majesty, Commander Peluf,” Shaku bowed. “This Wadi spills out into an open plain facing the Pillar. There are perhaps a thousand people standing in front of the Pillar. They have been warned of our approach and the destruction in the Valley. They are prepared for battle.”

“Weapons?” Peluf asked.

“Axes, shovels, pitchforks and some rusty swords. There are a handful of archers too,” Shaku answered.

“Estimation?” Peluf asked.

“Most of them are on foot. We can defeat them, but we would suffer great losses.”

“Your Majesty?” Peluf asked.

“Is there an obvious leader?” Hezekiah asked the soldier.

“Yes, your Majesty. There was a priest of Baal in his white robe riding a horse in front of the crowd, warning them how the Davidic line was a threat to their lives. He is accompanied by armed guards.”

“I see. What do you suggest Peluf?” Hezekiah asked.

“If you still wish to attack, I would hit them with two columns. One straight on and the other hitting them from the west. Never corner your prey. If we can hit them hard and fast enough, perhaps they will flee towards the east. That way we can minimize losses on both sides. If they become desperate or hold fast there will be few people standing at the end, on either side.”

“We may have to risk it,” Hezekiah held on to his long red beard, “but I just had another thought. Let us call for a parley.”

“A parley?” Peluf’s eyebrows shot up. “For what? What will you negotiate? They will never agree to anything.”

“I know,” Hezekiah smiled. “But perhaps a little deception can save much bloodshed. You, I and Shaku shall call for parley. We shall bring the troops to the mouth of the Wadi and then we shall proceed and seek their leader. Shaku, prepare a flag.”

The other pairs of scouts returned and confirmed Shaku’s report. Peluf sent them back to wait for the main force by the mouth of the Wadi. Hezekiah, Peluf and Shaku entered the plain leaving the main force behind them. The threesome trotted slowly. Shaku carried a spear with a white cloth tied to its head.

Past the plain was an imposing cliff face. Sculpted into the cliff was an immense statue standing the height of ten men.  The Pillar of Baal.

Peluf had never seen the Pillar before. An irrational desire to get off his horse and genuflect to the Baal overcame him. He looked at his King. Hezekiah’s face contorted. He seemed angry and fearful and desperate at the same time.  Hezekiah paused for a moment and closed his eyes. When he opened them, Peluf could only see the anger that remained.

The priest of Baal noticed the delegation. He assembled two of his guards and they trotted forward on their horses. The two parties met midway between the large crowd of Baal-worshipers and the mouth of the Wadi.

“King Hezekiah,” the priest sneered. “I expected you to come charging through the Wadi, sword raised high, cutting us down like wheat under the scythe. I received reports of your carnage in Geihinom.”

“I may yet do that,” Hezekiah answered.

“So why do you seek parley?”

“You have assembled a powerful force, Priest. I wish to make my life easier.”

“I can believe that, though do not expect me to cooperate.”

“Do you know the history of the Pillar?” Hezekiah asked.

“The Pillar goes back to antiquity. It is one of the strongest gods. We serve and obey.”

“We are not sure when the Pillar first came into existence,” Hezekiah stated. “But I do know it was refurbished in the day of my ancestor, King Solomon, by one of his wives.”

“See,” the priest pointed at it gleefully, “even wise Solomon approved of the idols.”

“I don’t know what he approved or how wise he was on these matters,” Hezekiah whispered to Peluf.

“There is a secret and a power to the Pillar that has been handed down from father to son, since Solomon’s day,” Hezekiah declared to the priest.

“Is that why you would destroy it?” the priest asked.

“Yes, but not for the reasons you think.”

“Will you tell me the secret?” the priest questioned.

“Let us talk privately,” Hezekiah suggested.

“I shall speak with you only with my guards,” the priest answered.

“As you wish, though you may regret it.” Hezekiah dismounted but motioned to Peluf and Shaku to stay.

Hezekiah walked slowly away from Peluf and Shaku. The priest walked with him. They were surrounded on either side by the priest’s guards.

“Your Majesty,” Peluf called.

“Stay,” Hezekiah answered. “This discussion is not for your ears.”

When they were out of earshot, Hezekiah spoke to the priest earnestly. He pointed at the Pillar. He pointed at the mouth of the Wadi where the concentrated force of his cavalry could be seen. He pointed at the afternoon sun creeping towards the mountains to the west.

The priest’s eyes opened wide. He looked at his guards with distaste. He nodded slowly towards Hezekiah and then, as if realizing his action stop abruptly and stood straight. He excused himself from Hezekiah and walked back to his horse in a barely controlled run. His guards caught up with him, both of them with tight smiles on their faces. The priests and the guards galloped back to the Pillar, with the priest yelling and waving his hands at both guards.

Hezekiah walked calmly to his white horse with a smile on his face.

As he mounted, Peluf asked, “What did you say to them?”

“It’s a secret,” Hezekiah winked at him and turned his horse back to the Wadi. “Now we will see how long it lasts.”

From the mouth of the Wadi they saw the priest and his guards return to the mass of people and dismount. The priest took out a knife and stabbed one of the guards. The guard fell. The priest stabbed repeatedly. The other guard ran yelling towards the base of the Pillar. A crowd followed him. The priest, with blood on his hands, demanded an ax from a nearby farmer and chased the other guard. The entire mass of Baal-worshippers converged on the Pillar. Further away, yet still in the shadow of the Pillar, the dead guard remained alone in a pool of his own blood.

The surviving guard climbed the side of the Pillar with his sword in hand. Others followed. He climbed higher and higher until he reached the top of the Pillar’s head. More people climbed up the Pillar until the statue was covered with bodies like ants encasing an overripe fig just fallen from a tree.

The guard swung his sword and hacked at the sandstone. A piece of stone fell off, knocking a young man off the statue. Baal-worshipers stepped and climbed on the fallen body to get closer to the statue. Axes were swinging and rocks were crumbling. The falling rocks hurled many of the climbers to the ground. Those who remained clamored for space, flinging off neighboring climbers at will. The space was quickly filled by other eager climbers.

“What is happening?” Peluf asked Hezekiah.

“They are seeking gold,” Hezekiah answered.

More bodies piled up at the foot of the Pillar. The head, torso, arms and legs of the statue were no longer recognizable. Dust and rock joined the growing pyramid of carcasses. The hungry Baal-worshipers ate away at the mountain stone like a swarm of locust.

“What gold? I never heard of any gold there,” Peluf turned to Hezekiah.

“It is an ancient secret, handed down from King to King since the time of Solomon,” Hezekiah smirked.

“Truly?” Peluf’s mouth hung open.

”No,” Hezekiah answered. “I made it up. But it is curious that fervent Baal-worshipers would kill themselves and destroy their precious idol for it.”

“You told him there was gold behind the idol?”

“Yes. I revealed to them the ancient secret that one of Solomon’s wives, during the refurbishment of the Pillar, placed half of Solomon’s wealth, gold, silver, diamonds, rubies and endless precious stones behind the Pillar. That is what gave it special power and attraction. I told him I had come to take that wealth. That my troops were here to secure the area and the treasure before my engineers arrived to dig and scrape it out. I offered to share the treasure with him if he made way for us.”

“You lied.” Peluf accused.

“Yes, would you have preferred a frontal attack?”

“No. It was brilliant, my liege.” Peluf bowed low from the seat of his horse. “Should we attack now? We can clean up this mess easily ourselves.”

“No. Let us go home. We have caused enough damage for one day.”

As they departed, Peluf saw more bodies falling. The head of the Pillar was obliterated. In the light of the setting sun, something seemed to shine where the head had been. Peluf kept riding away.

* * * * * *