Category Archives: Moses

Battle of Amalek

Moses vs. Amalek
Moses supported by Aaron and Hur

Exodus: Beshalach

Battle of Amalek

“The reports are true!” Agag gasped from his perch on top of the low-lying desert mountain. “The Hebrew slaves have truly escaped. I did not realize they were so many! And the gold! I can see them carrying hordes of gold.”

“But they are so numerous,” Ephaz the sorcerer commented. “How can we hope to attack them?”

“We shall wait until the bulk of them have passed,” Agag answered still studying the passing Hebrew masses. “We shall then ambush their rearguard. It will be harder for such a large congregation, with women, children and old ones, to turn around and fight. By then we will have captured a respectable portion of the Egyptian loot.”

“But if the Hebrew god truly destroyed the Egyptian army at the sea,” Ephaz questioned, “perhaps we should proceed with caution?”

“Do you doubt your magical abilities?” Agag looked at Ephaz. “The Egyptian sorcerers and priests had gotten fat and soft. We are warriors. Our gods are with us. We shall be quick and cunning. We shall attack the Hebrews in their weak back. See how they lead with their warriors. They are expecting trouble from the front. They will feel safe once they have passed our position and will not expect an ambush. Do not fear Ephaz. Were you not the one who foresaw their arrival? Did you not cast the bones that determined that today would be the best day to attack?”

“Yes, my liege,” Ephaz answered, puffing up his chest.

“Ready the rest of the sorcerers,” Agag ordered. “I shall signal to the swordsmen below to come around. I want the sorcerers to hit the Hebrews with a full range of spells at the same moment as the swordsmen engage.”

* * *

It was delightfully easy, Agag thought. Fifty talents of gold. Two hundred talents of silver. Countless precious vessels and stones. I did not even lose one man. The Hebrews dropped everything at the first sign of trouble and ran like scared mice. They barely put up a fight, but rather retreated closer to Mount Horev. It was even reported that their leader Moses was so fearful – he was the first one up the mountain.

I will have to go for more. It is simply too easy and too tempting. If we could take so much with just an afternoon’s worth of marauding, what of a whole day or even several days with a weak and passive slave camp to plunder. Agag started to dance, clutching the prize jewels he had kept for himself. Hah! Where was this vaunted Hebrew god? The Egyptians must have truly turned to clay if such a miserable rabble were able to free themselves and take the wealth of Egypt with him. Perhaps we should make an incursion into Egypt itself if it is so weakened?

“It is time my liege,” Ephaz announced as the first rays of the sun appeared through the desert haze.

“Excellent,” Agag rubbed his hands in anticipation. “We shall mount a frontal attack on their position, as planned. I want a ring of warriors surrounding your sorcerers at the center position, and columns of spearmen, swordsmen and archers on the left and right flanks. I shall lead the middle position, with the rest of the camel riders.”

Agag quickly mounted his waiting camel, joined the two dozen riders standing at attention and together they rode to the front and center of the assembled Amalekite army.

“Sons of Amalek!” Agag called out in a booming voice from atop his camel. “You may have thought that we did well yesterday, but what is in store for us today is many times over! I promise you each a talent of gold and a pretty Hebrew slave-girl as well!”

The Amalekite army whistled, laughed and banged their shields together. One soldier called out: “Agag! I want two slaves!”

“You can have as many slaves as you can grab!” Agag responded. “Take prisoners! Young ones!” The army laughed some more.

Agag turned his camel to face the Hebrews, raised his sword and proclaimed:

“Amalekites! For wealth and glory!”

“For wealth and glory!” the Amalekite army chanted thunderously.

Agag and the camels trotted towards the Hebrew camp, followed on foot by a racing Amalekite horde.

As Agag approached the Hebrews, he discerned a long row of spears, shields and swords gleaming in the morning light. He stopped his camel and signaled for the army to stop.

“What have we here?” Agag whistled in surprise. “The Hebrews have some teeth after all. Even better. We should have to work a bit for our keep. Charge!” Agag commanded and galloped at full force into the Hebrew line.

Suddenly a middle-aged, blond-haired warrior sprinted from the Hebrew line to intercept Agag. The blond warrior slashed at Agag. Agag barely caught the edge of the sword on his shield. The sword continued its slashing motion, cutting the harness of Agag’s camel and dumping Agag unceremoniously onto the hard desert floor.

Looking up, Agag noticed a tall imposing man standing on the top of Mount Horev with a staff in his hand, arms raised high. For the first time in his reign Agag felt fear.

The blond warrior continued to slash at the rest of the camel riders, weaving in-between and underneath the camels. He moved like a whirlwind, killing one rider after another in quick fluid motions. The blond warrior was now joined by half a dozen other Hebrew swordsmen.

“Joshua! Behind you!” cried an older red-headed warrior to the blond whirlwind. Without looking, Joshua stabbed backwards and gutted his would-be attacker before moving on to his next target. “Thank you, Nachshon,” Joshua called back. Within minutes, Agag’s camel division had been annihilated.

The rest of the Hebrew line moved up to engage the oncoming Amalekites. The swords rang and clanked upon the shields while a cloud of dust from the scuffling enveloped the fighters.

Agag scrambled back behind his front line and found the commander of the archers.

“Quickly! Aim for those warriors and the rest of the line, before they all engage,” Agag ordered. “Fire!”

“Shields!” Joshua screamed, and the entire Hebrew army took a step back from their adversaries and raised their shields over their heads protectively. After the arrows bounced harmlessly off their shields, the Hebrews attacked with renewed vigor.

“Argh!” Agag clentched his teeth. “It did not work! I must find Ephaz.”

Agag found the sorcerers surrounded by their protective circle of swordsmen.

“Ephaz! What is occurring?” Agag asked hurriedly. “Where did these whirling dervishes come from? Why are you not doing anything?”

Ephaz looked at Agag as if coming out of a dream. He wiped the sweat off his brow and caught his breath. He pointed towards the top of the mountain. “That is Moses up there. Whatever magic we attempt to throw at the Hebrew troops he is able to stop. I have never come across anyone so powerful. No matter how arcane or exotic the spell, Moses is able to stop it.”

Agag looked bewildered. “What does that mean? How can one man stop all of you?”

Agag then noticed the Hebrew warriors continually looking up at Moses, as if he gave them strength or purpose.

“He is the key!” Agag pointed as well. “This Moses is truly the Redeemer, but he is still one man, and we can break him. Do not stop. Have all the sorcerers focus on bringing him down. Do not waste your spells on the troops. Everyone together. Keep hammering away. He is only human and he must eventually tire.”

Agag ran to the left flank which seemed to be making more progress. He intermittently looked up to see how Moses was faring. Other Amalekites saw Agag’s gaze and started looking up frequently as well. Soon the entire Amalekite army was shifting its gaze between the fighting, to Moses and the sorcerers, and understood that the battle was being waged on that plane as well.

Joshua, Nachshon and the other whirling warriors were decimating the right flank. Though Joshua was covered with blood and grime, his skill was such that there was not one scratch upon his body.

The left flank with Agag in the lead was standing up to the Hebrew warriors. Then suddenly Moses fell. He could not be seen any longer on the mountain top. Ephaz looked across the battlefield to Agag and wave a tired sign of success.

“Yes!” Agag cried, “The Redeemer is down. Let us press the advantage.”

A cheer went up from the Amalekites. They sensed the Hebrews weakening and attacked with greater force. The Hebrews looked to the mountain, but did not see Moses. The Hebrew warriors seemed to weaken and tire. They moved slower, without the dervish speed or deadly accuracy.

Agag and his men broke through the left flank and headed towards the unprotected Hebrew camp.

“Fall back!” Joshua commanded. Pointing towards the Amalekites breaking through, he yelled, “Stop them! Regroup in the middle! Form a semicircle!”

Joshua ran at breakneck speed across the battlefield. He vaulted himself and grabbed hold of Agag’s ankles before he would have clear access to the Hebrew camp. They rolled around on the dusty ground, but quickly got on their feet, swords in hand, facing each other.

“Ah, the blond whirlwind himself,” Agag spat the dust from his mouth. “Joshua, I believe I overheard.”

Joshua answered with a quick slash aimed at Agag’s neck. Agag deftly parried and returned with a brutal overhead cut to Joshua’s arm. Joshua parried and attacked. The pair moved back and forth as their sword skills were evenly matched.

“Where did a slave like you learn to fight?” Agag asked as he blocked a twisting cut to his abdomen.

“I was with the Israelite tribe of Ephraim when we attempted to escape Egypt 30 years ago,” Joshua answered with heavy breathing. “You made a mistake to think all of us were bricklayers.”

“True, but I see that without your Moses, none of you are as fast or as deadly,” Agag looked up again to make sure Moses had not returned. “Was he your only magician?”

“Moses is not a magician,” Joshua gritted as they each held on to the other’s sword arm, their swords meeting inches away from their faces. Joshua then pushed forcefully against Agag’s sword and released him at the same time, sending Agag back a few steps. “Moses is the Prophet of God. Not some mere charlatan.”

“My mistake loyal Joshua,” Agag teased. “But it seems this Prophet of yours has disappeared. And look, my troops are overcoming your warriors. I see Hebrew blood is just as red as ours.”

“We are the chosen of God,” Joshua slashed angrily. “A heathen like you would not understand.”

“Oh, I understand very well,” Agag stepped out of reach of the sword. “I understand your claim to be the favorite of some higher power. But you are fools. You are fools that are being manipulated by charismatic leaders. Leaders that bring up fables and myths from the past to ensnare your minds.”

The Hebrew warriors were now suffering terribly at the hands of the Amalekites. They were being pushed inexorably back to the Hebrew camp. The semi-circle of defenders was getting smaller and being spread thin trying to stop the Amalekite advance.

Joshua ended up behind enemy lines. Other Amalekite swordsmen approached Agag and Joshua. Agag motioned that he wanted Joshua to himself.

“You are a good fighter,” Agag lowered his sword slightly. “If you join us, I will make it worth your while.”

“You do not know us, nor understand us,” Joshua raised his arm, leveling his sword towards Agag’s face.

“Perhaps, but I know that soon all the wealth of Egypt shall be mine,” Agag smiled. “Delivered very thoughtfully by its Hebrew slaves. I wonder if Egypt would reward us for bringing the slaves back? Or perhaps we should make use of them ourselves? I do not know what we would do with all the old ones though? What did they have them do in Egypt?”

“As God is my witness,” Joshua spat out, sword still ready to attack, “you shall not succeed. If you had seen or comprehended the powers that are at work, you would never have even dreamed of touching us. For this I am sure your damnation will be eternal.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Agag noticed movement on top of the mountain. Moses was up once again! He was supported by a person on either side holding his arms up. The long staff waved in the air like a flag of battle. A cry of joy came from the Hebrews who noticed their rejuvenated leader. Suddenly, it was the Amalekite army being pressed backward.

Agag also stepped back from Joshua and yelled at the surrounding swordsmen in a panic, “Kill him! Kill the Hebrew!”

Half a dozen swords stabbed at the place where Joshua had been standing. Three swordsmen fell dead. Joshua was outside the circle, weaving and whirling and slashing again. Agag ran back to his sorcerers. Joshua cut down the rest of the swordsmen and chased after Agag.

Joshua was met by Nachshon and a few others who had broken through the Amalekite line.

“For a moment I thought we had lost you,” Nachshon said, clamping Joshua’s arm.

“I never lost faith,” Joshua squeezed back. “How are we doing?”

“The Amalekite line is in disarray,” Nachshon said with a confident smile. “The danger has passed.”

“That is good,” Joshua nodded while still running. “Let us dispatch their leader and the sorcerers and then deal with the rest.”

Joshua and the others reached the circle of swordsmen guarding Agag and the sorcerers.

“You no longer seem so confident,” Joshua called out to Agag.

“You are rabble!” Agag cried from behind his swordsmen. “You are nothing! That gold should have been mine!”

“This is not about the gold,” Joshua explained while directing his soldiers to surround the Amalekites. “You dared attack the people of God, the children of Israel. The people of the world were in mortal fear of us, for what our God did to the Egyptians. Now other nations may try to attack us like you have. You have indeed shown us to be mere mortals and you have brought into question the omnipotence of God. You have made us bleed. For that, you and the name of your people shall be blotted out from under the heavens.”

Joshua signaled and the Hebrew warriors started whirling and bringing down one Amalekite after another. The swordsmen were the first to fall, followed by the sorcerers. Eyes wide with fright, Ephaz the sorcerer urged Agag, “Lay a dying curse on them, my liege; we should not fall so ignominiously!”

“Yes, a dying curse,” Agag looked at Joshua with dispassionate eyes. “With my dying breath,” Agag announced, “I call on the forces of the world – nay – on the Hebrew god himself,” he chuckled dryly, “that my progeny and the Amalekite heirs, be they physical or spiritual, shall be an adversary to the children of Israel – until the end of days!”

Joshua reached Ephaz and Agag, and in one swift powerful motion beheaded both of them.

“Did you hear his curse?” Nachshon asked Joshua, standing in a ring of dead Amalekites.

“Yes,” Joshua answered solemnly. “And I fear God will keep him to his word.”

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Exodus Chapter 17

8 Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. 9 And Moses said unto Joshua: ‘Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek; tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.’ 10 So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. 14 And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Write this for a memorial in the book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.’

Deuteronomy Chapter 25

17 Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way as ye came forth out of Egypt; 18 how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, all that were enfeebled in thy rear, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God. 19 Therefore it shall be, when the LORD thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget.

1 Samuel Chapter 15

1 And Samuel said unto Saul: ‘The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over His people, over Israel; now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD.  2 Thus saith the LORD of hosts: I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he set himself against him in the way, when he came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.’  4 And Saul summoned the people, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah. 5 And Saul came to the city of Amalek, and lay in wait in the valley.

7 And Saul smote the Amalekites, from Havilah as thou goest to Shur, that is in front of Egypt. 8 And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 9 But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, even the young of the second birth, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them; but every thing that was of no account and feeble, that they destroyed utterly.

32 Then said Samuel: ‘Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites.’ And Agag came unto him in chains. And Agag said: ‘Surely the bitterness of death is at hand.’  33 And Samuel said: As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.

Esther Chapter 3

1 After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him. 2 And all the king’s servants, that were in the king’s gate, bowed down, and prostrated themselves before Haman; for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not down, nor prostrated himself before him.

Secondary Sources:

“Go out and fight with Amalek.” Moses said, “I will concentrate on the spiritual aspects of this war; you, Joshua, concentrate on the physical fighting.” Zohar 2:65b

Joshua weakened Amalek…with the edge of the sword. He beheaded the Amalekite warriors. Mechilta Beshalach 5:1

Joshua weakened Amalek. He smote them as if they were mice. Lekach Tov, Shemot 17:13

What reason had Amalek to settle on the border on the way of the Israelites’ entry into the Land? His grandfather Esau had commanded him to encounter them on the way, so he uprooted himself and resettled there. Bamidbar Rabbah 16:18

Whenever the Holy One, Blessed is He, mentions Amalek, He curses him. Shocher Tov 118:1

Unreferenced sources (I read them, but can’t find them now):

Joshua fought 30 years earlier in failed attempt by the tribe of Ephraim to leave Egypt.

Various references to the Amalekites using magic in their attack.

Extrapolations: Agag is name for Amalekite king, similar to Pharaoh, Avimelech and many others from that era.

Metallic Doom

Egyptian Army Drowning

Exodus: Beshalach

Metallic Doom

“So the graduations hang on the wall /
But they never really helped us at all /
No they never taught us what was real /
Iron and coke, chromium steel.”
Billy Joel, Allentown

In Moses’ Song of the Sea, a part of the daily Jewish liturgy, there is also a curious metallic reference regarding the drowning Egyptians:

“Thou didst blow with Thy wind, the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters.” Exodus 15:10

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) makes an even more interesting comment regarding lead (‘oferet’ in Hebrew).

“From the word ‘ofar’ (dirt/ground in Hebrew – same letter roots), because the six types of metals, if they are placed in the ground, they will be diminished, but lead, will increase.”

In the ancient world, the six other types of metals were as follows:

  1. Gold
  2. Silver
  3. Liquid silver (Mercury)
  4. Copper
  5. Tin
  6. Iron

Lead is the heaviest naturally occurring element. So it is no surprise for Moses to compare the quickly sinking Egyptians to this heavy metal. Hizkuni however adds another angle by showing another difference between lead and other metals.

According to Hizkuni, these other metals when buried or sunken will eventually corrode, decompose or lose from their original mass, at a known rate, thereby becoming lighter. I believe this was due to chemical reactions with the elements of the ground. This would probably not occur as easily with many modern alloys.

Lead on the other hand attracts elements of the ground to itself, thereby becoming more massive and heavier. So too, the Egyptians were destined not only to sink, but to stay sunken forever.

May we, as opposed to the Egyptian army, rise up and stay light.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To my father, and the many other metal traders, miners and explorers out there.

To Matan and Ruti Nachmani on the birth of their bechor, Avinoam, and to Gabi and Tova Leah Nachmani for this first grandchild. May they all have tremendous yiddishe nachas.

Pharaoh’s Cousin

Exodus: Bo

Pharaoh’s Cousin

I hate him, Pirit thought as she lay in bed. He will destroy us all.

Pirit tossed and turned. There was no possibility she could relax. She feared the darkness would not lift, like in the last plague. She was still traumatized by that paralyzing endless night. She would forever curse the unreliable sun, yet pray for its return.

Cousin Pharaoh has doomed Egypt, Pirit fitfully mused. And Moses has ever delivered on his word.

“The firstborns shall die”, Moses had said in his deep and authoritative voice. The chill she had received from the announcement had struck her as if her firstborn, Rabret, had been executed on the spot.

Oh, sweet Rabret, Pirit moaned to herself. Only fifteen years old. Just now entering manhood. Small tears streamed down Pirit’s face at the thought of losing him.

There was a tense quiet throughout the Egyptian night, as if the entire country was expectantly holding its breath. Word had spread like wildfire of Moses’ latest declaration. This tenth plague promised to be the worst by far and to touch every home – how could it not? Poor and wealthy alike would suffer. Pirit’s mind churned restlessly. Only the childless would be spared the pain of losing a child they never had.

Yet Pharaoh still refuses to let the Israelites go! Pirit screamed in her head. He is mad! But what can we do?

Then it started. Pirit heard a soft moaning from far away. She stayed in bed trying to ignore it – hoping it would go away. Then the moaning got louder – and closer. But it was not really a moan. It was a cry – a cry of bitterness, and sorrow, and anguish. And the cry multiplied and got louder. Pirit thought it was like a living thing, the cry. Growing in strength and form and power. Before she knew it, the cry was overwhelming. It was all around her. It seemed as if every stitch of the Egyptian fabric was crying in excruciating pain. She could not hold back longer.

Pirit unclenched her tightly closed eyes and rose from her bed. She walked, as if to her own execution, to Rabret’s room. The room was abnormally quiet amidst the communal screaming of Egypt. Perhaps he is just sleeping peacefully, Pirit prayed. But there was no movement. No breathing sounds. No gentle rising and falling of his young chest. No outward sign of life. Very gently, Pirit touched Rabret’s shoulder. It was cold in the warm Egyptian night.

“Rabret,” Pirit shook him. “Please wake up my darling.”

But there was no answer. Losing hope Pirit pulled on Rabret’s shoulder to see his face.

She stepped back, holding her hands to her face, with a thick stream of hot tears rolling down her cheeks. Rabret’s face was a frozen, dead, grimace of pain. The only way to interpret it is that his life had been cut short urgently, powerfully and violently. He was an empty husk now.

Pirit rushed back to embrace her lifeless son. Her firstborn. Her Rabret. “Oh no. Not my sweet Rabret. Oh, no.” And then Pirit started to wail. A keen, piercing, heartbroken cry that joined the voices of the rest of Egypt in a discordant symphony of pain.

* * *

This madness has gone on far enough. I do not care if it is treason or blasphemy, Pirit thought as she stomped her way to her cousin’s palace. She was not alone. Other nobles, royals and advisors were making their way, teary-eyed to Pharaoh’s audience chamber.

“My son. My heir,” Pharaoh was murmuring, holding the Prince’s scepter loosely in his hand.

Pharaoh was sitting, bent over on his throne, surrounded by a growing, unmoving audience. Pirit pushed through the group and without announcement or introduction, addressed Pharaoh.

“How many more children do we need to sacrifice?” Pirit demanded. “How many more!?”

“What can we do?” Pharaoh asked no one in particular.

“Let the Israelites go!” Pirit shouted.

“That is what they want,” Pharaoh said weakly, still looking at the boy’s scepter. “But it is too late now. All is lost.”

Pirit approached the throne, uninvited, to the quiet gasps of those around.

“Cousin,” Pirit addressed Pharaoh. “All will be lost if you do nothing. Let them go as you should have done long ago. How much more must Egypt pay for their enslavement? Who knows what the next plague will bring? Please cousin, for the sake of my other children, your other children – for what still remains of Egypt. You must release them – now. Listen to the screams! They are getting louder!!”

“I feel like a puppet in the Hebrew god’s hands,” Pharaoh started clenching his teeth. “Every time I have thought to release them I feel a compulsion to keep them enslaved.”

“Then by Ra. No, not Ra,” Pirit looked at the large statue of the god, her lip curling in a sneer, “by the Hebrew god, who has proven himself to be all powerful and has reduced Ra to a meaningless sculpture – I swear by the Hebrew god,” Pirit knelt down and grasped firmly on to both of Pharaoh’s ankles, amidst further gasps of the audience, “I shall not leave you until you go and free the Israelites.”

Pharaoh looked down at his cousin, shocked into awareness by her bold and daring violation of his holy person. He recognized Pirit’s ancient gesture. It was the physical vow of a supplicant, not to let go of the provider, until their wish was granted, or they were killed for the mere impropriety.

However, a murmur started in the audience chamber, with the backdrop of the wailing growing stronger. “Pirit is right,” Pharaoh heard. “He must let the Hebrews go.” Another voice added. “We are lost.”

“Pharaoh has doomed us.”

“What can we do?”

“He must let the Hebrews go.”

“Let the Hebrews go.”

‘Yes. Let the Hebrews go.”

“Let the Hebrews go,” someone said as a chant, with a wailing counterpoint.

“Let the Hebrews go,” the chant was picked up.

“Let the Hebrews go,” the entire room said.

“Let the Hebrews go!” reverberated throughout the palace.

* * *

Pharaoh ran out of his palace, the Prince’s scepter still in hand, followed by a large entourage led by Pirit.

Pharaoh walked unsteadily, looking from doorway to doorway for signs of the home of Moses or Aaron. They were in the Hebrew quarter of his city, where he knew Moses and Aaron had taken up temporary residence.

“Where is Moses?” Pharaoh cried. “Where is Aaron?”

But there was no answer.

“Hebrews!” Pharaoh called out. “Please help me! Where are Moses and Aaron!?”

Out of breath, leaning on the doorframe of a Hebrew home, Pharaoh was surprised to feel a sticky substance on his hands. He looked at his hands. To his horror, they were full of blood.

“Moses! Aaron!” Pharaoh screamed, above the sound of the general wailing, which was noticeably quieter in the Hebrew quarter.

“I am sorry! I was wrong!” Pharaoh continued. “You and your people may go! Please! Go!”

“I am here Pharaoh,” Moses appeared in one of the doorways. Aaron was beside him and they were followed by other Hebrew elders.

“Oh Moses,” Pharaoh got down on his knees. The rest of the entourage followed suit. “Go, go. Please!

“I was wrong. Go. Take everyone that you wanted to take. Women, children, animals – all the animals. Take everyone and get out quickly. Now. Please. Leave. Leave before we are all destroyed.”

Moses turned to the Hebrew elders and directed them to go ahead and give word. They were all dressed for travel, carrying satchels and fully laden bags, as if they had been expecting to be released.

Wordlessly, Moses turned to leave.

“Moses, my Lord,” Pirit pleaded. “Is this the end? Will this end the deaths and the destruction in Egypt?”

Moses looked at Pirit with a solemn, sad face. “That will depend on you,” he pointed at all of them, “you and the will of Pharaoh,” he pointed at Pharaoh.

Pirit shivered, if it is up to us and Pharaoh, then we are truly doomed.

And without a further word, Moses turned his back on the Egyptians, never to see his birthplace, the land of the Hebrew oppressors again.

* * * * * *

Sources:

Exodus Chapter 11

4 And Moses said: ‘Thus saith the Lord: About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt; 5 and all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the first-born of the maid-servant that is behind the mill; and all the first-born of cattle. 6 And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there hath been none like it, nor shall be like it any more. 7 But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog whet his tongue, against man or beast; that ye may know how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. 8 And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, and bow down unto me, saying: Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee; and after that I will go out.’ And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger. {S} 9 And the Lord said unto Moses: ‘Pharaoh will not hearken unto you; that My wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.’ 10 And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh; and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go out of his land.

Exodus Chapter 12

5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year; ye shall take it from the sheep, or from the goats; 6 and ye shall keep it unto the fourteenth day of the same month; and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at dusk. 7 And they shall take of the blood, and put it on the two side-posts and on the lintel, upon the houses wherein they shall eat it. 8 And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; with bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; its head with its legs and with the inwards thereof. 10 And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; but that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. 11 And thus shall ye eat it: with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste–it is the Lord’s passover. 12 For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and there shall no plague be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.

29 And it came to pass at midnight, that the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the first-born of cattle. 30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead. 31 And he called for Moses and Aaron by night and said: ‘Rise up, get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as ye have said. 32 Take both your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also.’ 33 And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, to send them out of the land in haste; for they said: ‘We are all dead men.’

II Kings Chapter 4

25 So she went, and came unto the man of God to Mount Carmel. And it came to pass, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to Gehazi his servant: ‘Behold, yonder is that Shunammite. 26 Run, I pray thee, now to meet her, and say unto her: Is it well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with the child?’ And she answered: ‘It is well.’ 27 And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came near to thrust her away; but the man of God said: ‘Let her alone; for her soul is bitter within her; and the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told Me.’ 28 Then she said: ‘Did I desire a son of my lord? Did I not say: Do not deceive me?’ 29 Then he said to Gehazi: ‘Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thy hand, and go thy way; if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not; and lay my staff upon the face of the child.’ 30 And the mother of the child said: ‘As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee.’ And he arose, and followed her.

Life of the Party

Exodus: Bo

Life of the Party

Pharaoh and Moses conduct a basic debate as to the meaning of celebration and worship. In Pharaoh’s worldview, celebration is an adults-only event and worship is a somber business.

The Jewish view is completely at odds:

“So Moses and Aaron were returned to Pharaoh and he said to them, “Go and serve God, your God. Who will be going?

Moses said, “With our youngsters and with our elders shall we go; with our sons and with our daughters, with our flock and with our cattle shall we go, because it is a festival of God for us.” Exodus 10:8-9

“Not so; let the men go now and serve God, for that is what you seek. And he drove them out of Pharaoh’s presence.” Exodus 10:11

The composition of the ‘Exodus’ party becomes the breaking point during the final negotiations between Moses and Pharaoh. Only after the tenth and last plague, the Plague of the Firstborns (see dramatic rendition below), does Pharaoh relent and allow everyone; women, children and livestock to leave to the purported celebration.

Pharaoh has trouble comprehending or allowing for children to be part of celebration or worship. He does not understand that worship of our Deity can be festive in nature. Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) explains that because it is a festival the children are not only preferable, but required. Without children, according to Moses and the Jewish tradition, there is no party.

May we always have opportunity to be surrounded by our children for celebration, worship and all festive occasions.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To the Sao Paulo families of Gerta and Moni Benedek and to Yudith and David Wulcan for their warm and exquisite hosting. It was a real treat to celebrate Shabbat with them and the accompaniment of their family members.

To Ari and Esther Jacobs on the further expansion of their family, with the engagement of Yehudah to Atara Piha of Neve Daniel. Mazal Tov!

Drinks at The Hungry Crocodile

Exodus: Va’era

Drinks at The Hungry Crocodile

The hieroglyphics on the wall announced the day’s menu. The menu however, had not changed in over two months; and most of the menu was not available. An old toothless priestess played a melancholy tune on her harp in a dark corner of the hall. Rumor had it that her older brother was killed during the attack of the wild beasts, and she had not played a happy tune ever since.

The tables of the tavern were filled with groups of the higher echelons of Egyptian society talking quietly to themselves, or loners commiserating with their drinks.

One table was filled with muscle-bound black eunuchs from Pharaoh’s palace.

“I was there, I tell you,” big Leras, Royal Eunuch, whispered in his high-pitched voice to his audience around the circular table. “I was there when Moses announced the next plague.”

“So what did he say?” bulky Doigo asked in an equally high voice. “What will the next plague be?”

“Hailstones,” Leras intoned as he scratched the scabs from his receding boils. “Moses said that whoever or whatever will be out in the fields tomorrow, will die from the hailstones. If you are indoors, you will be spared.”

“And you believe that charlatan, Leras?” Fanir, the Priest of Ra, asked from the adjacent table, sitting with other priests. “Have you, and your fellow eunuchs lost faith in the gods of Egypt?”

“I did not realize you were eavesdropping, Fanir,” Leras accused. “Besides, your faith in your gods has blinded you to reality. The god of the Hebrews has proven himself to be more powerful, and there is nothing they or Pharaoh have been able to do to stop him.”

“Be careful, Leras,” Fanir warned. “You speak both blasphemy and treason. Not even your position of Royal Eunuch may save you from punishment.”

“You are a fool, Fanir,” Leras grinned and made a pushing and slicing motion with his hands towards Doigo and the rest of the eunuchs at his table. “Egypt is crumbling before our very eyes and I for one intend to be on the winning side. This Moses is masterful. His presence alone is impressive and the way he stands up to Pharaoh is most inspiring.”

“What? You wish to join with him in their worship in the desert?” Fanir asked.

“You are truly brainless,” Leras grinned even wider. “Do you for a moment believe his god is going through all this trouble merely for a day of worship? They mean to be free and to leave Egypt. Any fool can see that. But you, it seems, are not even a fool!”

Fanir glanced around the tavern, his face turning red from embarrassment. He looked meaningfully at his fellow priests. “I shall not allow such an insult to go unanswered,” Fanir declared to his tablemates. The five priests rose from their chairs as one, and faced the eunuch’s table.

At that moment, the door to the tavern opened and silence reigned throughout the hall. Even the old harpist stopped her playing. Two strangers walked in. Two Hebrews! Their skins were unblemished, with no scars or boils on them. They had the happy demeanor of men who had eaten well – something no Egyptian had experienced for months. They swaggered into the tavern carrying a fresh side of beef between them.

“Ho! Innkeeper!” the taller Hebrew, Datan, called out. “We heard you Egyptians have not had fresh meat for some time.”

“What is that to you, slave?” Parnet, innkeeper of The Hungry Crocodile responded, all eyes watching the exchange.

“Oh, we just thought, you might enjoy something other than the blood-soaked fish you seem to enjoy so much,” Datan teased.

“Yes,” the shorter Hebrew, Aviram, added, “we also heard how popular frogs became on your menu. Boiled frogs, baked frogs, grilled frogs, frog pie, and what was our favorite, Datan? Oh yes! Stuffed frog – with frog stuffing! If the plagues were not enough, your menu would kill you!” Datan and Aviram laughed unkindly.

“You Hebrews think you are funny,” Fanir, the priest called out from his table. “Laugh now, but do not forget that you are still slaves.”

“Slaves?” Datan asked mockingly. “You are behind the times, priest. We will soon be rid of Egyptian taskmasters, assuming there are any left after our God is through with you.”

“Enough talk, Hebrew,” Parnet interrupted. “How much do you want for the meat?”

“200 shekel,” Datan answered slowly.

“200 shekel!?” Parnet shouted. “Are you out of your mind? Why I used to pay no more than 20 shekel for an entire cow, let alone one side.”

“Of course you did,” Aviram responded loudly, “but that was before the wild animals ravaged the herds, and the pestilence decimated them. It is no problem. We are sure that The Wet Hippopotamus down the road would love to offer fresh meat to their more esteemed clientele.”

“Now, now, now, my dear Hebrews,” Parnet put out his hands in appeasement, “there is no need to drive such a hard bargain. Let us sit in the back room and reach an equitable price, without disturbing the customers.”

“Lead the way, good innkeeper,” Datan replied and winked at Aviram. They followed Parnet behind the counter and into the kitchen still carrying their fresh meat. The eyes of all the Egyptians followed the carcass hungrily.

“You see, Finar,” Leras snickered, pointing at the exiting Hebrews. “This is just the beginning. At the end Egypt may be begging from the Hebrews for more than just some fresh meat. You priests are such a wretched lot. I can not believe you still pray to your pathetic gods for help.”

“Your intransigence is outrageous,” Finar answered, pounding his fist on the table. “The Hebrews may have the upper hand right now, but your rebelliousness is inexcusable. I shall report you to Pharaoh personally and I will be happy to supervise your execution.”

Leras motioned to the other eunuchs. Doigo got up smoothly, turned around and suddenly pushed the priest closest to him. “Hey! Watch it you clumsy fool!” Doigo yelled at him.

The startled priest pushed Doigo back. “What are you doing? I did nothing.”

“Nothing!? You call this nothing!?” Doigo’s shout reverberated throughout the tavern. Doigo then smashed his beefy fist into the priest’s confused face. The impact made a satisfying ‘crunch’ sound as Doigo broke the priest’s nose. A second later a loud crash announced the priest flying into the table.

“Fight!” some customer yelled and the entire tavern was on its feet.

Leras picked up his table and threw it, plates, cups and all towards the priests. Then the fighting started in earnest. Chairs were broken on people’s heads; bodies went flying through the air. There was a high concentration of white priest robes mixed with muscular black bodies in the center of the melee.

Excited by the action and showing more life than she had since her brother’s death, the old priestess played a merry tune.

In the midst of the chaos Leras closed in on Finar. He grabbed Finar by the collar and in his other hand he discretely pulled out a knife. “Say your prayers quickly, priest. You can no longer threaten a man and expect to get away with it.”

“You dare not harm me, eunuch. I am a sanctified priest of the mighty god Ra. You will suffer eternal damnation in the underworld if you harm me.”

“I doubt it,” Leras whispered as he quietly thrust his blade between the priest’s ribs.

Finar crumpled to the floor joining other unconscious priests.

Parnet, followed closely by Datan and Aviram ran out of the kitchen into the main hall.

“What is going on here?” Parnet wailed.

“This is truly pleasant. To see the Egyptians fighting with each other,” Datan commented.

“Yeah, we should come here more often,” Aviram approved. “Perhaps we can even sell tickets for viewing?”

Leras gave a piercing whistle. As quickly as it started, the fighting stopped.

The priestess returned to playing a more subdued tune.

One of the conscious priests examined the wounded.

“He is dead! Fanir is dead! He has been stabbed!”

“I think perhaps he just tripped during the fighting,” Leras explained, showing the blood on his hand. “If anyone wants to make an issue of it,” Leras looked menacingly at the priests, “they may find themselves tripping as well.”

“N-No Leras,” the priest stuttered and took a step back. “This was just an unfortunate accident. Your theological arguments are very persuasive.”

“Ah. So there is some wisdom in the priesthood after all,” Leras nodded.

Datan and Aviram looked apprehensively at the dead priest and Leras standing over him.

“This Leras is dangerous,” Datan whispered. “We have our money. Let us leave this zoo.”

Datan and Aviram made their way to the door, stepping over debris from the fight.

Leras noticing the movement, called out to them. “Hebrews!”

Datan and Aviram turned around before the entrance.

“We – we do not want any trouble,” Datan stammered. “We did not see anything.”

“I have a message for your Moses.”

“And what would that be then,” Aviram breathed out, turning back to the entrance.

“Tell Moses that the palace eunuchs are with him. We support his struggle and will follow him,” Leras raised his bloody hand. “Whether he likes it or not.”

* * * * * *

Sources:

Exodus, Chapter 9

18 Behold, tomorrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the day it was founded even until now.

19 Now therefore send, hasten in thy cattle and all that thou hast in the field; for every man and beast that shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die.’

20 He that feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses;

21 and he that regarded not the word of the Lord left his servants and his cattle in the field.

Exodus, Chapter 12

37 And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, beside children.

38 And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.

Mixed multitude: an assembly of idol worshipers from different nations that converted. Rashi, Exodus 12:38

Caring Spectators

Exodus: Va’era

Caring Spectators

When the world was young and cable-less, people were not troubled overmuch by distressing news from far reaches. It was just an item of interest – almost like the weather. Even today though, with an overload of images of misery, violence, poverty and war, we have often become uncaring spectators. We watch more out of curiosity than any deep sense of helping the plight of the needy.

However, for many volunteers, there has been that intersection of seeing the plight of a downtrodden, suffering people that moves them to action. I recall an interview years ago with a photojournalist covering a famine in Africa. His goal in filming the starving miserable children was to generate awareness and action. He succeeded. Donations and volunteers poured in from all over the world.

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) claims that seeing the distress of another is a prerequisite for successful action. Knowing or hearing about the distress is apparently not as powerful.

After Pharaoh cries for mercy from the plague of the hailstones, Moses announces that he will go out of the city in order to stop the hail. Many commentators think it strange – why doesn’t Moses just stop the hail where he’s standing?

Hizkuni explains that the devastation of the hailstones was mostly on the crops, in the field, outside the city. Moses needed to see the damage and destruction firsthand in order to pray for relief. He wouldn’t be as effective praying from afar.

May we be willing (and able, when appropriate) to get up close and personal when we need to relieve the distress of others. Apparently, it’s the best way.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To Haiti and all those affected by this week’s natural disaster. For some reason, God seems to be giving this country a particularly hard time over the years.

And to the staff and crew of El Al’s Sao Paulo flight. I was pleasantly surprised – even amazed, by the gracious service. May this spread to all their routes.

Harbinger of Light

Exodus: Shmot

Harbinger of Light

Pharaoh's Daughter retrieves baby Moses from the Nile

“638 male babies have been thrown in to the Nile,” the Captain read from his papyrus scroll, “18 male babies have been absconded by their families to further districts, and one male baby is unaccounted for.”

“What does ‘unaccounted for’ mean?” Pharaoh asked in irritation from his throne.

“We have searched every crevice of the family’s home,” the Captain explained apologetically, “and that of their neighbors, their relatives and anyone they are in regular contact with. We have searched behind every bush and under every stone, but the baby is nowhere to be found.”

“What does the family claim?” Pharaoh demanded. “What do they say happened to the baby?”

“They claim the infant has already been thrown in to the Nile, but there is no mention of this in our records.”

“Are you sure?”

“We are certain, O Pharaoh. Our records are impeccable. Our forces have not supervised the throwing of the Amram child into the Nile.”

“Amram, you say,” Pharaoh nodded pensively. “It would have to be his child. He is the leader of the Hebrews. His child would certainly be a candidate to be the destined Redeemer. Where can he be?”

“I can answer that, Father,” a striking young woman declared as she strode into Pharaoh’s audience chamber.

“Daughter, what is the meaning of this?” Pharaoh asked in surprise and annoyance.

“I can report on the unaccounted child that you have not managed to drown yet.”

“Daughter, I know that you disapprove of our activities, however bear in mind that this is for the greater good of Egypt.”

“Pfah,” the daughter made a spitting motion, “you would slaughter innocent babes and still call yourself a hero? You put too much weight in your astrologers’ omens.”

“Daughter, beware of that tongue of yours or we can have the offensive organ removed, even from you, my precious jewel.”

“You would silence the only one who tells you the truth? You are surrounded by these sycophantic mongrels who have twisted your mind with superstition and half-truths. They will lead you and Egypt to nothing but misery.”

“Captain,” Pharaoh turned away from his daughter, “leave us, and on your way out, call for the Royal Executioner, and my advisors.”

The daughter took a step back at mention of the executioner.

“Daughter,” Pharaoh returned his gaze, “do not joust with me in such a tone, and certainly not in front of my underlings. I think perhaps a lesson in respect is in order.”

“How can I respect a cold-blooded murderer?”

“I will show you.”

Moments later the Royal Executioner walked in, followed by Pharaohs advisors, Jeinis and Jimbrei.

“Executioner. What temporary ways do you have to silence a person?” Pharaoh looked meaningfully at his daughter, “I know that tongues do not grow back, but is there something short of cutting a tongue that may teach a long-lasting lesson in etiquette to the Princess?”

“Irons, Pharaoh. Irons are the way.”

“You would close her mouth with irons? While I am tempted by the notion, I would like something less unseemly.”

“No, Pharaoh. I meant hot irons. If we poke her tongue or the inside of her mouth with hot irons, she will not talk for a while, but eventually it will heal.”

“How long will she be silent for?”

“I am not sure. The few times I tried it, the subject died from their wounds, but I would be very careful with the princess. It would take perhaps several months to heal, maybe even a year.”

“A year is very good then. Be careful her beautiful features should not be marred. And if she does not speak again in a year, Executioner, you will lose more than your tongue.”

“But, Father,” the daughter exclaimed in alarm, “I thought you would want to know about the unaccounted child?”

“Yes then. Tell me.”

“Only if you do not unleash your henchman on me.”

“That, my dear, will depend on the nature of your answer.”

“I have the baby.”

“You do? Good work. Hand him to the Executioner and we shall dispose of him presently.”

“No.”

“What do you mean ‘No’?”

“I shall not hand him over. He is my son.”

“Your son? Your son!?” Pharaoh got off his throne and started shouting. “What in the name of Ra are you talking about!”

“I found him in the river. I have adopted him to be my son. By all the ancient laws, he is mine. You can not have him.”

“Have him? I do not want to have him! I want to kill him! He may be the most dangerous thing to the Egyptian empire and you are protecting him?”

“Yes. And if I could, I would protect every single one of those innocent babes who you believe are so dangerous.”

“Daughter! You go too far!!”

“No! I do not go far enough! I will never hand him over. If I could save even one child, I will have done my duty.”

“You would dare? You would dare rebel against your own father’s command? This is treason. I would not spare even you from punishment.”

“I dare. I should have done this long ago.”

“So be it. Executioner! We shall execute the Princess right here and now without delay. I cannot stand even a moment further with this rebellious child. Do it now!”

The executioner hastily grabbed the Princess and a cushioned bench and prepared her for beheading. He forced her kneel on the floor, and then firmly tied her torso to the bench leaving space for her head to hang over the side of the bench. He tied the Princess’ hands behind her back and placed a pan on the floor where her head would fall. Pharaoh paced back and forth seething in anger, yet holding back tears. The executioner then removed his sword and ran his fingernail over its edge to check its sharpness. He spread his legs and raised his sword. He lowered the sword slowly to the Princess’ neck to make sure of the angle and distance needed to make a quick clean cut. He then raised the sword again and tensed his powerful muscles, getting ready to bring it down again, strongly and rapidly.

“O Pharaoh,” Jeinis bowed down, “if I may be so bold as to interrupt.”

“Proceed Jeinis,” Pharaoh raised his hand to the executioner in a halting sign, happy for the reprieve and hoping Jeinis would provide a different solution. The executioner in the meantime slowly lowered his sword.

“From the most recent signs, it seems that the latest crisis is over,” Jeinis continued.

“What do you mean?”

“He means, O Pharaoh,” Jimbrei interjected, “that according to the stars, the Redeemer has already been thrown into the Nile.”

“Already thrown? That is a relief. Is the danger over then?”

“Um, not exactly,” Jeinis mumbled.

“Well is there danger or is there not?”

“Pharaoh knows how difficult it is to read the stars,” Jimbrei intoned. “It seems the need to throw the children into the Nile has passed. The danger from the destined Redeemer is still out there, but it is vague and hard to read. We must remain on watch.”

“But you can stop your drowning of the children?” the Princess interjected, from her tied and kneeling position by the bench.

“Yes, Princess,” Jimbrei answered reluctantly.

“Then there is no reason I cannot keep my son, Father.”

“If it will stop your incessant bickering, blasphemy and rebelliousness, I will let you keep this child – but on one further condition.”

“And what would that condition be?”

“You shall not adopt another one of the Hebrews again. This shall be your one and only child from that people. You shall not afford them protection in this fashion. And if I sense that this child is a threat in any way, it will be the executioners block for him.”

“It is agreed then. Congratulations Father, you are now a grandfather.”

“Spare me the melodrama. Release the Princess,” Pharaoh motioned to the Executioner. “Let us examine this child then.”

“Oh Father, you will love him. He is such a precious child,” the Princess chirped as the executioner untied her and helped her up.

“I shall be the judge of that.”

“I shall bring the baby,” the Princess said as she proudly strode out the hall.

Pharaoh sat back on his throne, relieved. How did I deserve such a difficult daughter? He thought to himself. Though I wish my soldiers were half as brave as she is – then the entire world would be terrified of us, he thought of her with fatherly pride.

“Is it wise to let her keep the child?” Jeinis inquired of Pharaoh.

“If it will appease my judgmental daughter; than it will be worth it.”

“If this is indeed the child of Amram,” Jimbrei added, “it could have curious ramifications.”

“Hmm. Do I want my enemies’ son in my house? If he were a hostage it would be one thing, but as an adopted child, I am less sure.”

“It is good to keep one’s friends close, Pharaoh,” Jimbrei quoted, “but it is better to keep one’s enemies closer.”

“Yes, we shall keep a close eye on the son of Amram. He may yet be of use to us.”

Pharaoh’s daughter, beaming with joy, walked back into the hall with a baby bundled in her arms.

“Here Father, is my son.”

“He, he is beautiful!” Pharaoh stuttered.

“I told you he was special.”

“What is on his skin? He seems to be shinning or glowing. Is this sorcery?”

Jeinis and Jimbrei peered at the baby as well and made various arcane hand motions.

“Get your paws away from my baby!” the Princess embraced the baby defensively.

“We do not sense any magic around the baby – he is truly an outstanding specimen,” Jimbrei concluded.

“Let me have another look at him, daughter.”

“Just move your minions back.”

“Jeinis, Jimbrei, please give the princess some space.” The advisors backed away obediently, though still peering at the child with open curiosity.

The Princess again showed Pharaoh the baby. Pharaoh drank in the sight of the baby and seemed to calm down and even enjoy looking at him. “He is truly beautiful. What is his name?”

“I have called him Moses, for from the water I drew him out.”

Moses. A chill went up Pharaoh’s spine at the mention of the name. Egypt may yet rue this day, Pharaoh thought to himself quietly. The day that we let Moses live and brought him into my house.

* * * * * *

Sources:

The Egyptians were worshipers of the god Ra. In Hebrew “Ra” means evil. The name PhaRAoh, includes the name “Ra”. It could be that the source of the word “Ra” in Hebrew comes from the complete abhorrence of the Egyptian worship of this false god and their intrinsic evil. The Egyptians set the benchmark as far as the Jewish people are concerned for the concept of Evil. From class by David Nativ.

The daughter of Pharaoh went down to bathe in the river. Exodus 2:5. She went down to immerse (i.e., cleanse) herself from the idols of her father (i.e., she immersed for the sake of converting to Judaism). Tractate Sotah 12b

“This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Exodus 2:6. How did she know? She saw that he was circumcised. Said R’ Yochanan: She prophesied unknowingly: this one alone is cast into the Nile; no others will be cast. The Egyptian sorcerers had divined that the redeemer of Israel would be punished by means of water. After Moses had been cast into the water, they no longer saw that sign, and the decree was cancelled. Tractate Sotah 12b

Said Pharaoh, “I dreamt that all of Egypt was on one pan of the balance, and a lamb was on the other, and the pan with the lamb outweighed all of Egypt.” At once he sent for all the sorcerers of Egypt and told them his dream. Jeinis and Jimbrei, the chief sorcerers, said to Pharaoh, “A male child will be born in the congregation of Israel, by whose hand the whole land of Egypt will be laid waste.” Targum Yonatan, Shemot 1:15

Amram was the head of the Sanhedrin. Shemot Rabbah 1:13

It came to pass when Pharaoh had sent the people out. Exodus 13:17. Said the Holy One, Blessed is He, “You sent out the fathers, but my sons you cast into the Nile. In retribution, I shall cast you into the sea and destroy you, but I will take your daughter and let her inherit the Garden of Eden. Shemot Rabbah 20:4

These are the sons of Bithiah daughter of Pharaoh whom Mered took. Chronicles I 4:18. Mered is Caleb. He rebelled (“mered”) against the counsel of the Spies; she rebelled against the counsel of her father. Let the rebel come and marry the rebel. And one Sage says: He saved the flock; she saved the shepherd. Vayikra Rabbah 1:3

Said the Holy One, Blessed is He, to Bithiah daughter of Pharaoh, “Moses was not your son, yet you called him your son. You, too, are not My daughter, but I shall call you My daughter.” (Bithiah=Daughter of God). Vayikra Rabbah 1:3

* * * * * *

Notes:

This story came out of an attempt to answer a question in my mind:

In the text, Moses’ mother is afraid that her son will be drowned in the Nile together with all the other newborn males. She makes a desperate gambit by hiding him in the Nile itself. As fate would have it, Moses is discovered by the Princess, who then returns the baby to the mother for nursing and who is subsequently returned to the Princess once he is weaned, perhaps even years later.

How could Moses have returned home without danger of being taken by Egyptian forces?

The answer in my mind is that there must have been some special dispensation with royal approval. The midrash points out that the edict was revoked after Moses had been placed in the Nile by his mother as this confused the Egyptian astrologers. However, there must have been a period of time between the hunt for Hebrew babies and the revocation of the edict. Hence the scene of the Pharaoh’s daughter attempting to protect Moses, which is also supported by the midrash.

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Exodus: Shmot

Harbinger of Light

“638 male babies have been thrown in to the Nile,” the Captain read from his papyrus scroll, “18 male babies have been absconded by their families to further districts, and one male baby is unaccounted for.”

“What does ‘unaccounted for’ mean?” Pharaoh asked in irritation from his throne.

“We have searched every crevice of the family’s home,” the Captain explained apologetically, “and that of their neighbors, their relatives and anyone they are in regular contact with. We have searched behind every bush and under every stone, but the baby is nowhere to be found.”

“What does the family claim?” Pharaoh demanded. “What do they say happened to the baby?”

“They claim the infant has already been thrown in to the Nile, but there is no mention of this in our records.”

“Are you sure?”

“We are certain, O Pharaoh. Our records are impeccable. Our forces have not supervised the throwing of the Amram child into the Nile.”

“Amram, you say,” Pharaoh nodded pensively. “It would have to be his child. He is the leader of the Hebrews. His child would certainly be a candidate to be the destined Redeemer. Where can he be?”

“I can answer that, Father,” a striking young woman declared as she strode into Pharaoh’s audience chamber.

“Daughter, what is the meaning of this?” Pharaoh asked in surprise and annoyance.

“I can report on the unaccounted child that you have not managed to drown yet.”

“Daughter, I know that you disapprove of our activities, however bear in mind that this is for the greater good of Egypt.”

“Pfah,” the daughter made a spitting motion, “you would slaughter innocent babes and still call yourself a hero? You put too much weight in your astrologers’ omens.”

“Daughter, beware of that tongue of yours or we can have the offensive organ removed, even from you, my precious jewel.”

“You would silence the only one who tells you the truth? You are surrounded by these sycophantic mongrels who have twisted your mind with superstition and half-truths. They will lead you and Egypt to nothing but misery.”

“Captain,” Pharaoh turned away from his daughter, “leave us, and on your way out, call for the Royal Executioner, and my advisors.”

The daughter took a step back at mention of the executioner.

“Daughter,” Pharaoh returned his gaze, “do not joust with me in such a tone, and certainly not in front of my underlings. I think perhaps a lesson in respect is in order.”

“How can I respect a cold-blooded murderer?”

“I will show you.”

Moments later the Royal Executioner walked in, followed by Pharaohs advisors, Jeinis and Jimbrei.

“Executioner. What temporary ways do you have to silence a person?” Pharaoh looked meaningfully at his daughter, “I know that tongues do not grow back, but is there something short of cutting a tongue that may teach a long-lasting lesson in etiquette to the Princess?”

“Irons, Pharaoh. Irons are the way.”

“You would close her mouth with irons? While I am tempted by the notion, I would like something less unseemly.”

“No, Pharaoh. I meant hot irons. If we poke her tongue or the inside of her mouth with hot irons, she will not talk for a while, but eventually it will heal.”

“How long will she be silent for?”

“I am not sure. The few times I tried it, the subject died from their wounds, but I would be very careful with the princess. It would take perhaps several months to heal, maybe even a year.”

“A year is very good then. Be careful her beautiful features should not be marred. And if she does not speak again in a year, Executioner, you will lose more than your tongue.”

“But, Father,” the daughter exclaimed in alarm, “I thought you would want to know about the unaccounted child?”

“Yes then. Tell me.”

“Only if you do not unleash your henchman on me.”

“That, my dear, will depend on the nature of your answer.”

“I have the baby.”

“You do? Good work. Hand him to the Executioner and we shall dispose of him presently.”

“No.”

“What do you mean ‘No’?”

“I shall not hand him over. He is my son.”

“Your son? Your son!?” Pharaoh got off his throne and started shouting. “What in the name of Ra are you talking about!”

“I found him in the river. I have adopted him to be my son. By all the ancient laws, he is mine. You can not have him.”

“Have him? I do not want to have him! I want to kill him! He may be the most dangerous thing to the Egyptian empire and you are protecting him?”

“Yes. And if I could, I would protect every single one of those innocent babes who you believe are so dangerous.”

“Daughter! You go too far!!”

“No! I do not go far enough! I will never hand him over. If I could save even one child, I will have done my duty.”

“You would dare? You would dare rebel against your own father’s command? This is treason. I would not spare even you from punishment.”

“I dare. I should have done this long ago.”

“So be it. Executioner! We shall execute the Princess right here and now without delay. I cannot stand even a moment further with this rebellious child. Do it now!”

The executioner hastily grabbed the Princess and a cushioned bench and prepared her for beheading. He forced her kneel on the floor, and then firmly tied her torso to the bench leaving space for her head to hang over the side of the bench. He tied the Princess’ hands behind her back and placed a pan on the floor where her head would fall. Pharaoh paced back and forth seething in anger, yet holding back tears. The executioner then removed his sword and ran his fingernail over its edge to check its sharpness. He spread his legs and raised his sword. He lowered the sword slowly to the Princess’ neck to make sure of the angle and distance needed to make a quick clean cut. He then raised the sword again and tensed his powerful muscles, getting ready to bring it down again, strongly and rapidly.

“O Pharaoh,” Jeinis bowed down, “if I may be so bold as to interrupt.”

“Proceed Jeinis,” Pharaoh raised his hand to the executioner in a halting sign, happy for the reprieve and hoping Jeinis would provide a different solution. The executioner in the meantime slowly lowered his sword.

“From the most recent signs, it seems that the latest crisis is over,” Jeinis continued.

“What do you mean?”

“He means, O Pharaoh,” Jimbrei interjected, “that according to the stars, the Redeemer has already been thrown into the Nile.”

“Already thrown? That is a relief. Is the danger over then?”

“Um, not exactly,” Jeinis mumbled.

“Well is there danger or is there not?”

“Pharaoh knows how difficult it is to read the stars,” Jimbrei intoned. “It seems the need to throw the children into the Nile has passed. The danger from the destined Redeemer is still out there, but it is vague and hard to read. We must remain on watch.”

“But you can stop your drowning of the children?” the Princess interjected, from her tied and kneeling position by the bench.

“Yes, Princess,” Jimbrei answered reluctantly.

“Then there is no reason I cannot keep my son, Father.”

“If it will stop your incessant bickering, blasphemy and rebelliousness, I will let you keep this child – but on one further condition.”

“And what would that condition be?”

“You shall not adopt another one of the Hebrews again. This shall be your one and only child from that people. You shall not afford them protection in this fashion. And if I sense that this child is a threat in any way, it will be the executioners block for him.”

“It is agreed then. Congratulations Father, you are now a grandfather.”

“Spare me the melodrama. Release the Princess,” Pharaoh motioned to the Executioner. “Let us examine this child then.”

“Oh Father, you will love him. He is such a precious child,” the Princess chirped as the executioner untied her and helped her up.

“I shall be the judge of that.”

“I shall bring the baby,” the Princess said as she proudly strode out the hall.

Pharaoh sat back on his throne, relieved. How did I deserve such a difficult daughter? He thought to himself. Though I wish my soldiers were half as brave as she is – then the entire world would be terrified of us, he thought of her with fatherly pride.

“Is it wise to let her keep the child?” Jeinis inquired of Pharaoh.

“If it will appease my judgmental daughter; than it will be worth it.”

“If this is indeed the child of Amram,” Jimbrei added, “it could have curious ramifications.”

“Hmm. Do I want my enemies’ son in my house? If he were a hostage it would be one thing, but as an adopted child, I am less sure.”

“It is good to keep one’s friends close, Pharaoh,” Jimbrei quoted, “but it is better to keep one’s enemies closer.”

“Yes, we shall keep a close eye on the son of Amram. He may yet be of use to us.”

Pharaoh’s daughter, beaming with joy, walked back into the hall with a baby bundled in her arms.

“Here Father, is my son.”

“He, he is beautiful!” Pharaoh stuttered.

“I told you he was special.”

“What is on his skin? He seems to be shinning or glowing. Is this sorcery?”

Jeinis and Jimbrei peered at the baby as well and made various arcane hand motions.

“Get your paws away from my baby!” the Princess embraced the baby defensively.

“We do not sense any magic around the baby – he is truly an outstanding specimen,” Jimbrei concluded.

“Let me have another look at him, daughter.”

“Just move your minions back.”

“Jeinis, Jimbrei, please give the princess some space.” The advisors backed away obediently, though still peering at the child with open curiosity.

The Princess again showed Pharaoh the baby. Pharaoh drank in the sight of the baby and seemed to calm down and even enjoy looking at him. “He is truly beautiful. What is his name?”

“I have called him Moses, for from the water I drew him out.”

Moses. A chill went up Pharaoh’s spine at the mention of the name. Egypt may yet rue this day, Pharaoh thought to himself quietly. The day that we let Moses live and brought him into my house.

* * * * * *

Sources:

The Egyptians were worshipers of the god Ra. In Hebrew “Ra” means evil. The name PhaRAoh, includes the name “Ra”. It could be that the source of the word “Ra” in Hebrew comes from the complete abhorrence of the Egyptian worship of this false god and their intrinsic evil. The Egyptians set the benchmark as far as the Jewish people are concerned for the concept of Evil. From class by David Nativ.

The daughter of Pharaoh went down to bathe in the river. Exodus 2:5. She went down to immerse (i.e., cleanse) herself from the idols of her father (i.e., she immersed for the sake of converting to Judaism). Tractate Sotah 12b

“This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Exodus 2:6. How did she know? She saw that he was circumcised. Said R’ Yochanan: She prophesied unknowingly: this one alone is cast into the Nile; no others will be cast. The Egyptian sorcerers had divined that the redeemer of Israel would be punished by means of water. After Moses had been cast into the water, they no longer saw that sign, and the decree was cancelled. Tractate Sotah 12b

Said Pharaoh, “I dreamt that all of Egypt was on one pan of the balance, and a lamb was on the other, and the pan with the lamb outweighed all of Egypt.” At once he sent for all the sorcerers of Egypt and told them his dream. Jeinis and Jimbrei, the chief sorcerers, said to Pharaoh, “A male child will be born in the congregation of Israel, by whose hand the whole land of Egypt will be laid waste.” Targum Yonatan, Shemot 1:15

Amram was the head of the Sanhedrin. Shemot Rabbah 1:13

It came to pass when Pharaoh had sent the people out. Exodus 13:17. Said the Holy One, Blessed is He, “You sent out the fathers, but my sons you cast into the Nile. In retribution, I shall cast you into the sea and destroy you, but I will take your daughter and let her inherit the Garden of Eden. Shemot Rabbah 20:4

These are the sons of Bithiah daughter of Pharaoh whom Mered took. Chronicles I 4:18. Mered is Caleb. He rebelled (“mered”) against the counsel of the Spies; she rebelled against the counsel of her father. Let the rebel come and marry the rebel. And one Sage says: He saved the flock; she saved the shepherd. Vayikra Rabbah 1:3

Said the Holy One, Blessed is He, to Bithiah daughter of Pharaoh, “Moses was not your son, yet you called him your son. You, too, are not My daughter, but I shall call you My daughter.” (Bithiah=Daughter of God). Vayikra Rabbah 1:3

* * * * * *

Notes:

This story came out of an attempt to answer a question in my mind:

In the text, Moses’ mother is afraid that her son will be drowned in the Nile together with all the other newborn males. She makes a desperate gambit by hiding him in the Nile itself. As fate would have it, Moses is discovered by the Princess, who then returns the baby to the mother for nursing and who is subsequently returned to the Princess once he is weaned, perhaps even years later.

How could Moses have returned home without danger of being taken by Egyptian forces?

The answer in my mind is that there must have been some special dispensation with royal approval. The midrash points out that the edict was revoked after Moses had been placed in the Nile by his mother as this confused the Egyptian astrologers. However, there must have been a period of time between the hunt for Hebrew babies and the revocation of the edict. Hence the scene of the Pharaoh’s daughter attempting to protect Moses, which is also supported by the midrash.

“Elementary, My Dear Watson”

Exodus: Shmot

“Elementary, My Dear Watson”

“…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Sherlock Holmes”

As Moses gets ready to return to Egypt and start the process of Redemption, God advises him:

“Return to Egypt, for all the men that were seeking your soul have died.” Exodus 4:19

The prime rabbinic commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi), explains that God is referring to the dangerous duo of Datan and Aviram of the tribe of Reuben. They plagued Moses from his first foray in Egypt and through the desert, until their unnatural demise during the story of Korach. The obvious question is why does God refer to them as dead, if they are still very much alive? Rashi answers that they had become impoverished and according to the Torah, someone who is penniless has the status of the deceased.

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) is not satisfied with the curt answer and proceeds to investigate in detail how Rashi came to such a conclusion. He starts by referencing the relevant Talmudic passage (Tractate Nedarim 64b):

“There are four that are considered as if they are dead:

–          the pauper,

–          the leper,

–          the blind,

–          and one without any children.”

Hizkuni then combs through the biblical text to determine which of the above situations might apply to Datan and Aviram:

In Number 16:14 they tease Moses and say: “Will you poke out our eyes (i.e. do you think we are blind),” ergo – they are not blind.

In Numbers 16:27 it refers to their “wives and sons and children,” ergo – they have children.

And one cannot say that they were lepers, as they were found within the Israelite camp, where lepers were not permitted, ergo – they are not lepers.

So if you eliminate leprosy, blindness and childlessness, and they are still walking around, the only category of “death” that Datan and Aviram can possible fit, though one might think improbable – is poverty.

May God spare us from all forms of “death” and instead give us the opposite: health, vision, children and wealth and may we enjoy “life” with them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

In memory of Dr. Sherman Weidenbaum, Shlomo Zalman ben Chava, of Waterford, CT., the father of our friend and neighbor, Abby Dishi.

He was a man who combined chesed, creativity, strength, and integrity. He was a master educator, communicator, and friend to the world. For just a little bit about this wonderful man, who lived life to the fullest, click here.