Bamidbar by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Bamidbar: Will There Ever Be Peace?

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark


Scene: The Wilderness, with Israel on the move. The Israelites are marching in tribal order, with the Levites in their dynasties bearing the component parts of the Mishkan, the Desert Sanctuary. In the vanguard of the People Israel marches Joshua ben Nun, Moses’s primary disciple. He is struggling, with voice and lance, to both arrange the Israelites in proper marching rank, and to keep a hawk’s-eye on their surroundings, for fear of attack by the many desert tribes. A special group of small boys and girls, the Flowers of Israel, are assisting him, as best they can.


Joshua: Children of Reuben, ho! Careful you do not slow down—there, now you’ve done it, Leader Elizur ben Shedeur—now, the Shimonites are treading on your heels. Shimon, slow down!

Perachya (A small girl): General Joshua, may I be of service?

Joshua: Oh, Perachya—yes. Please run as quickly as you can; present my compliments to Nachshon ben Amminadav, Leader of Judah, and ask him to please, please slow his people down, or they will swiftly overtake the Shimonites marching before them!

Perachya: At once, General. (Perachya runs off)

Joshua: Oh, what’s the use? Every tribe wishes to get closer to the Mishkan-Shrine; every tribe believes itself to be the leader. (He waves his lance, to get the attention of the People.) Fools! Dolts! Do you not know that the Lord, He is God, and our Leader alone? Ah, God—

(Another small child, Dodi, a boy of ten, steps forward.)

Dodi: General, would it not make sense for the Levite trumpeters to sound a sennet, the better for the people to march as one to their music, and at the same pace?

Joshua: A capital idea, Dodi! Can you race up to the Levites in the lead, and have them send the trumpeters—and the drummers, now that I think of it—back here, so that I may direct them properly?

Dodi: May I tell them that it was my idea?

Joshua: What chutzpah! Still (He pats Dodi on the head), it is a small favor for a young boy to ask. Yes. Go! (Dodi runs to carry out his mission.) Let me climb this little hillock, the better to observe this disfigured mob of my people (Waves his lance, shouts) Gad! Naphtali! Step it up, or we will leave you in the wilderness! Do you not remember our fate at the hands of Amalek? By the Beard of Hashem, they almost beat us, there—had our Lord not stepped in to rescue us!

(Joshua stands a while and observes the mighty host of God’s people) Still, I must say that it is a joy and honor for me to be military chieftain of this Nation. I only hope that I will, with God’s help, be able to protect them from any threats, foreign or domestic.

(Another helper-boy, Avidan, a youth of twelve, runs up, panting.)

Avidan: If it please you, General, I was in the center-guard, and observed that Menashe and Benjamin are stopping to watch—two of their shepherds—are quarrelling over the ownership of a milch cow. People are crowding to watch the fight, and their line-of-march is straggling.

Joshua: When will this ever end? Would that God preserves my life and health long enough to get this people to Canaan, and then I will happily die. Unless—

Avidan: Unless, as I heard from Rabbi Moses, God plans for you to undertake the conquest of all of Canaan.

Joshua: Does my Rabbi Moses speak truth? Of course, he does—after all, he is the greatest of all prophets, both of those preceding and those who will follow.

Avidan: Will the battle for Canaan be hard and cruel?

Joshua (nods): That is the nature of warfare, my son Avidan. I myself have seen as many as a dozen of our soldiers struck down by arrows or sword-blows. Even a cudgel can kill.

Avidan: But why must we fight? Why can we not slowly and steadily enter the Land, and avoid disturbing any of the current inhabitants? We might even make friends.

Joshua: This is not for me to know or to guess, my son. I am but a simple soldier. I set out in life to be a shepherd—and I believe I would have made a good shepherd. But I have spent my entire life as a warrior, under arms.

Avidan: Can there never be peace?

Joshua: This is a question for our seer Moses, not a rough-and-ready lance-bearer like me.

Avidan: Supposing—and I hope to be a soldier in the Conquest of Canaan, perhaps serving under you—

Joshua: It would pain me greatly to have to lead you in battle, my young warrior.

Avidan: But I will, one day, be grown, and chosen to be a soldier. Supposing that I led a delegation of young men like me, to approach the Canaanites and offer peace?

Joshua (shakes his head): It is our Israelite fate to fight, Avidan—perhaps for eternity.

Avidan: It just doesn’t seem right. Why must our new home be under endless siege? Why should the elders make all the rules, and send us youth off to die?

Joshua: I cannot say. Perhaps the Situation will change, in God’s good time—but I doubt it. How can you trust a Canaanite?

Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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