Beshalach by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Beshalach: The Egyptian Version

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Despite a strong defence and adverse weather
All arms combined magnificently together. 

–Robert Graves, “The Persian Version of the Battle of Marathon, Greece”

Scene: The Egyptian Bank of the Sea of Reeds, up near the Nile Delta. Off, we hear cries of triumph by Israelites, singing, led by Miriam the Prophet, Sister of Moses. They are celebrating their successful Crossing of the Sea, their general liberation from Egyptian Slavery, and so forth. Before us is a Regiment of Egyptian Light Cavalry“Sobek-the-Crocodile-god,” commanded by Lieutenant Setep-en-re. A MAJOR comes riding up on a dun-colored charger. The lieutenant, only recently graduated from the Royal Egyptian Military Academy (Thebes branch) with a degree in Chariotry, salutes enthusiastically.

Lt: Save Ra! Save our Holy Pharaoh! What is the Major’s pleasure?

Maj (curtly, businesslike): Lieutenant, you are to hold your position here, as Reserve Forces, backing up my command, the Regiment “Horus-the-Killer-Hawk.” I will take my regiment and proceed directly into that breach between the waters (pointing). Depending on the Situation, you will either proceed, or no. Most importantly, wait for my further orders. I repeat: do nothing without orders from me.

Lt: I will hold fast here, as per your orders, Sir! If it please the Major, what is our objective, Sir?

Maj: Our objective? Why, to gather that Rabble of Slaves, killing those who resist, and herd the remaining men, women, and children back to the treasure-cities of Pitom and Ramesses. They will resume their rightful labors, and their wretched lives. Understood, Lieutenant?

Lt: Understood, Sir!

Maj: Very good. Hi-ya!

(He strikes his mount with a quirt and gallops off, heading toward the Sea. The Lieutenant remains behind, as per orders. A Corporal, acting as Charioteer-Driver to the Lieutenant, salutes him and asks:)

Corporal: Sir, begging the Lieutenant’s pardon, Sir. Are we to understand that we are not allowed to engage the Enemy?

Lt (Sighing, eager to fight): Sadly, Corporal, that is correct. We are acting as Reserve, this time. Reserve only.

Corporal (He is in his late teens, and joined the Army to see action): Oh, Sir! How I wish that we, too, could storm into the surf and have at that—that—Hebrew Slave-Gang. How they and their Invisible God have laid waste to our beloved nation!

Lt: That is true, Corporal—hold the horses steady, can’t you? They are disturbed by the salt smell emanating from the waters. Here (He scribbles an order on a slip of papyrus)—send that to Lt. Waset, with my compliments, and tell him to bind cloths around the horses’ mouths, to prevent their smelling the Sea.

Corporal: What if we are ordered into action, Sir? Cloths will make it difficult for the horses to breathe.

Lt (with exaggerated patience): If we are ordered into action, we will take the cloths off.

Voices off: See the three Regiments of Horse enter the surf, there! How their armor gleams in the sun! How magnificent they look—All honor to our Royal Egyptian Cavalry!

Color-Sergeant (from the next chariot over: he is a grizzled veteran of twenty years’ service): Aye, shine like the sun in his glory, my brave boys!When I was Riding-Master in the Luxor Stables, I trained those boys to straighten their lines; I did, indeed! (Under his breath:) There, there you go, Lieutenant Khendjer, there you go, Captain Mernef; smartly, smartly. Hold your lines steady—steady, steady….

Voices: See the horses buck and rear!

Color-Sgt: Aye, well, they are not used to water; they require hard-packed earth to do their job as proper chargers, they do.

(Sound of horses bucking and snorting. Voices: How I wish we were going in, too! Just watch me—I will make those evil Hebrews go down in the depths like a stone. Killing and booty—that’s for me! Oh, hush up, Private Senusret, can’t you? You have never been in battle! etc.

Lt: Hold your lines, Men! We are in Reserve, this mission; do not dare move, unless and until I give the word. Let one man break orders and move his mount forward, and I will see him get one hundred strokes of the cat-o’-nine-tails!

Corporal: Sir, Sir, do you see what I see?

Lt: What is it, Corporal (Shading his eyes)?

Corporal: A strong east wind is blowing, and—and—it is all very curious, Sir. The water—the walls of water—are collapsing upon our men and horses!

Lt: What Israelite sorcery is this?

Corporal: Oh, it is terrible—our bold and brave horsemen, drowned in the Sea!

Lt: Yes, now I see them: all drowned, poor fellows. Wearing that heavy body-armor, steering our heavy chariots—they never had a chance, poor devils.

Corporal: That Invisible God of theirs blew with His wind, and the sea covered our comrades; they sank like lead into the mighty waters.

Color-Sergeant: Woe! Our chosen captains are sunk in the Sea of Reeds.

(The Troopers mutter excitedly: “We must exact revenge”—“Just let me and my horse charge into the surf, and I will slay Hebrews, right and left!”—“Woe! My best friend, Nehesy, was standard-bearer in “Osiris the Afterlife” Regiment, and he is drowned!”)

Corporal: Lieutenant! Begging the Lieutenant’s pardon, Sir, but may we not charge into the fray, and slaughter those thieving, murdering Israelites?

Lt: Listen to me, you mutinous Dog: our orders, delivered by Maj. Wegaf himself, are to hold fast, right here! Until the Major or a superior officer contravenes those standing orders, what can we do?

Color-Corporal (sadly): It matters not, Lieutenant: no orders will be changed. The Major and three Regiments of Royal Egyptian Horse are drowned, all dead….

(A Brigadier General gallops up; all salute.)

General: I am Gen. Hetep, of the King’s Royal Household Guard, “Thoth of Magic.” Listen, you men! We are Egyptian soldiers; we never lose. You survived the greatest battle fought in recent memory. Here is my plan. Regiment—reverse course! We will return to Thebes the Capital, and declare this battle to be a famous Victory!

Lt. (stammering; he cannot believe it): Are those—are those your orders, Sir?

Gen: Yes. Those are my orders. All salute! (They do so) Ra save our beloved Pharaoh, Ramesses the Great!

The Regiment (in one voice): And our Blessed Nation.

Gen: Regiment—forward to Thebes and our Monarch’s palace, for a splendid parade!

(Egyptian Horsemen and Chariots exit, harness-bells jingling and wheels creaking. Israelites continue dancing and singing, on the Sinai bank of the Sea of Reeds.

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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