Leviticus Fiction: Shmini
This week’s short story can be found web-exclusively at The Times of Israel.
Leviticus Fiction: Shmini
This week’s short story can be found web-exclusively at The Times of Israel.
Exodus Fiction: Ki Tisah
Available web-exclusively at The Times of Israel.
Now available on The Times of Israel
A new and revised version of the story will now be available web-exclusively at The Times of Israel: Ops & Blogs
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.”
* * * * * *
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.’
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 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.
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.
“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.
“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:
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.
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.
|Title||Joseph receiving his brethren|
|Production Date||late 16th century?|
|Medium||oil on canvas|
|Size (hxw)||1536 x 2013mm|
|Credit Line||Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, gift of James Tannock Mackelvie, 1882|
|Copyright Status||No known copyright restrictions|
|Acquisition Method||Long Term Loan|