Chayay Sarah by David Hartley Mark

Scene: c. 1400 BCE, give or take a century. A mud-and-straw house in Aram-Naharaim, or “Aram on the [bend of the Euphrates] River,” known to its inhabitants as Mitanni, the hometown of Bethuel, the nephew of Abraham the Hebrew. As the scene opens, Bethuel is seated on a cushioned divan near the fire, holding a cup of spiced date-wine; opposite him is Eliezer, chief servant to Abraham, on an errand to fetch a wife, Rebekah, for Isaac, son and heir to Abraham and Sarah.
Off to one side is a servant-boy, named Artama, holding a clay pitcher of wine, which he uses to fill the cups.
Outside, the night-wind howls, and jackals cry to the moon.

Bethuel: So, Eliezer, Chief Manservant to my Uncle Abraham, tell me: what happened on the Mountain called Moriah? You were just in the middle of the story. I do love a good story; we Hurrians have many. Do you know the one where Gilgamesh, the mighty hero, visits with the sailor who built an ark to survive the world-flood? (drinks deeply) His name—the sailor’s, that is—was Ut—Utna—I forget. Boy! Artama—what’s-your-face!—more date-wine. (Artama complies, filling his cup.) Shame about my poor old Aunty Sarah’s passing, though—(lifting his cup) To Aunty Sarah! May her soul repose beneath the wings of the goddess Inanna, and may we know no more sorrow. Say Amen!

Eliezer: Amen. (To the boy, waving off the proffered jug) None for me, thanks. I have a long camel-caravan ride tomorrow, and I must tell my boys that we’re saddling up before the crack of dawn.

Bethuel: Why leave so fast? I can entertain you and your men for days, yet. We so rarely get family visitors. I will miss my little baby Rebekah, but—perhaps you would like a bride, too? I have some new female slaves from Kizzuwadna, near the coast. They are built very powerfully—Ha! You know what I mean (drinks). Many babies.

Eliezer: Milord Bethuel, you have been very generous to me and my men with your hospitality, but may I presume to ask you a question?

Bethuel: Ask, ask, Servant Eliezer! Any servant of my uncle is a—no, that’s not right. Well, ask anyway…(He blinks, and rubs his eyes, in a vain attempt to clear his head)

Eliezer: Why did you never come to visit my master, Lord Abraham? Or even to stay in touch?

Bethuel: Oh. That. Well, there were—there were—issues.

Eliezer: Issues? Perhaps it’s better for me not to query—I am but a humble servant, you know—

Bethuel: No, it’s a perfectly fair question; family matters, after all, and you’ve been servant, man and boy, to my uncle; I consider you family, too, Elly—do you mind if I call you Elly? (drinks deeply; smacks lips) Ah! That’s good; deep and sweet. (To his serving-boy) Artama! Any salted nuts left, on that platter? And fill up my cup, Boy; I’ve a tale to tell. (Artama pours) Good, good. Well, let me tell you. Years ago, back in Ur, that Mighty City, before he and Aunty Sarah left, when my Uncle Abie started having his fits—his deep-dark-silences, y’know—

Eliezer: Fits? What fits?

Bethuel: Well, all of that—that—God-talk, of his. Talking about an “invisible god.” The neighbors, the authorities, got to talking amongst themselves. An invisible god? Ridiculous! How could there be a god whom one couldn’t see, or feel, or touch, or sense? Never happened before, you know. People felt uncomfortable around him. And some were making fun of him, behind his back. I felt embarrassed; bad for our family cattle business. Our whole tribe was getting a bad name, I thought. And so, it was time to put some distance between us. I never meant it to go so far, but what is a man to do, when one’s relatives kind of go off the—the— deep end, you know? Elly?

Eliezer (shaking his head, and disagreeing, with fervor): The God of my Master Abraham is great; He alone made the Heaven and the Earth, and is Greatly Exalted; He maketh the sea roar, and the mountains to dance; He—

Bethuel (as if soothing a religious fanatic): Yes, yes; I have no doubt. But you know, try to downplay that God-talk here in Mitanni. We don’t want to excite the neighbors. They pray to whomever they pray to. We don’t make a big deal about it. And the king likes it all to be quiet, and for folks to get along; he expects to be prayed to, as well. Nothing wrong with a little, occasional dove sacrificed on His Majesty’s behalf. To get along, one goes along; that’s my motto. And now (stretches and yawns) perhaps it’s time to get some shut-eye—particularly since you and your people can’t stay; it’s all for the good in the end; all for the good….

(Enter Laban, a sharp-eyed, sharp-eared young rascal of nearly twenty; he is breathing heavily, and trembling with eagerness about Something Suspicious)

Bethuel: What, Laban, you hyena’s whelp! Where have you been, out in the desert so late, in the dark, in the blackness? Were you not told to go abed, not three-four hours ago?

Laban: Yes, Papa, but the camels—all their baggage, Papa, all the golden wonderment of a caravan, such as I never saw in my life!

Eliezer: Well, Milord Bethuel, I am happy that your son admires all the riches my Master has sent to adorn Your Daughter Rebekah, who is to be My Mistress, when she marries my Young Master, Isaac.

Laban (hesitantly): Um, y-yes, that is what I have been doing: admiring, admiring… (he accidentally walks into the table, and a fat purse-bag, slung from his belt, jingles)

Bethuel: Been saving up that copper-coin allowance I give you, hey?

Laban: Yes, Papa; every agorah-coin of it, so I do; well, Good Night, Gentlemen…. (he leaves, quickly)

Eliezer: That was a pretty heavy mass of copper he was carrying there. Hm. (He stands, gazing thoughtfully after Laban, tapping his dagger hilt)

Bethuel (standing and stretching): Well, a good night to you, Eliezer. You are a good man, and, doubtless, a good servant to my uncle, Baal bless him. (He extends his right hand, in farewell.)

Eliezer (taking his hand): And you, Master Bethuel. May the God Most High bless your work and your field, your family and table. Good night. (Bethuel bows, a bit unsteadily, and exits. Eliezer is left alone, ruminating.) Now, where’s that copper armlet I brought, to gift the stable-boy with? I know that it was lying right there, alongside the low table where my goblet was placed. Why, no one saw it, except for Milord Bethuel, and—and—his son, Laban. Now, where’s Laban? (calling) Laban! Master Laban! (in a whisper, bitterly) Why, that little thief….


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

Enjoyed this archived service or article? Click here to donate $3 to OneShul (care of PunkTorah).

Support OneShul on GoFundMe

Leave a Reply