Mattot-Massay by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Mattot-Massay: The Midianite War

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark


“The LORD spoke unto Moses, saying, ‘Avenge the Israelite people on the Midianites; then you shall be gathered to your kin.’

“Moses spoke to the people, saying, ‘Let men be picked out from among you for a campaign, and let them fall upon Midian to wreak the Lord’s vengeance against Midian. You shall dispatch on the campaign a thousand from every one of the tribes of Israel. …Pinchas ben Elazar served as a priest on the campaign, equipped with the sacred utensils and the trumpets for sounding the blasts….They took the field against Midian, as the Lord had commanded Moses, and slew every male.”

–Num. 31:1-3, 6-7


Field Report, Military Command, Midianite Forces in Canaan

Submitted by Generals Evi & Rekem

Joint Chiefs of Tribal Conscript Army, Midianite Nation

As Transcribed by Sgt. Pi-Baal, Recording Secretary


  1. On the 29th day of the Month-of-the-Moon, our scouts detected a dust cloud in the west, signifying movement, as if by a great army. Asherat-Busha, our sharp-eyed Chief Scout, identified them as Israelite Bedouin, by their garb, as well as the presence of a War-Priest, later identified as Pinchas ben Elazar, sounding a trumpet of silver, and waving a censer in his other hand.


  1. We mustered our troops and ordered our cavalry to mount their four-wheeled chariots. After a quick consultation, Generals Tsur and Reva decided that our infantry, well-equipped with bronze swords and shields of wood and leather, would assemble in pincer-formation, with the cavalry held in reserve for a final charge, once our foot soldiers surrounded and wiped out most of the Israelite rabble. Then, the cavalry would mop up any survivors.


  1. Chief Scout Asherat-Busha also detected the presence of their prophet, one Moses ben Amram, seated near the top of a nearby hill. He was striving to keep his arms aloft, but was too weak to do so. Our War-Prophet, Ben-Milchama, deemed this a good omen.


  1. Curiously, a great black cloud, as from a burning brazier, preceded the Israelites. Ben-Milchama prophesied that this cloud symbolized the evil intent of the Israelites. To entice Baal to our side, he exhorted our men to beat their shields with their lances or swords, thereby producing a tumult that would frighten the Israelites, and show them that we Midianites are not to be under-estimated for prowess or bravery.


  1. To respond to the Israelite threat, our War-Priest, Raash ben Kol, lit several smudge-pots, whose smoke blew towards the Israelites. Our men’s shield-beating continued.


  1. When our forces met in combat, our men availed themselves well; the Tribes of Menashe and Zebulon panicked and ran away, allowing our charioteers to chase them and pick them off, though some few escaped. The tribes of Gad and Reuven—it was easy to distinguish them, since each tribe held its standard high, as a means of communication—did, however, shouting, “Gilead! For Gilead!” work as shock-troops, inflicting a deal of wounds and death on our Midianite Division 17, Brigade 6. That command would have been completely wiped out, had Moses not lowered his arms from fatigue. Our boys rallied and, forming a phalanx, were able to defend themselves from these fanatical Reuvenites and Gadites, whom they drove off in disarray.


  1. The battle ended with our troops triumphant, and the Israelites beaten back to their own lines. No booty was available or seized, with the exception of the vessels carried by Pinchas ben Elazar, who was a madman in the midst of the battle—it took four of our best warriors to subdue and kill him. We are in the midst of discussions with the Israelites about prisoner exchange; they seem eager to have Pinchas’s carcass returned, which gives us stronger bargaining power.


  1. Finally, a foot-patrol sent out to spy on the Israelites’ post-battle activities reports that the Tribe of Reuven is rebuilding the destroyed towns of Cheshbon, El-aleh, and four others (so small and worthless, as to not deserve mention in an official dispatch). We are still discussing our response to this scandalous activity—as if these Bedouins believe that they shall conquer and inherit the land from us!—but will probably decide to leave them to their folly, and do nothing further of an aggressive nature, save to defend ourselves, our sacred honor, and our Land, Baal protect us!

Submitted, this day of Ur-Sin, the Moon-god, by Sgt. Pi-Baal, Secretary

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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