Parsha Eikev by David Hartley Mark

“Remember all the long way that God made you walk all these forty years in the Wilderness, in order to test you and try you out, that God might learn what was in your hearts, whether you would observe the Commandments, or not. God made you hunger greatly, but then fed you the manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had ever known of, in order that you might know that not on bread alone does a man or woman live, but on all that God says, does man live. Your clothing did not wear out, nor did your feet swell from the long walking, these forty years. Know in your hearts that God is trying you, disciplining you as a father disciplines his son. And you shall observe the Commandments of God, to go in all the Ways and to fear and hold God in awe” (Deut. 8:1-6).

Scene: Night: a Desert Camp. In the distance, goatskin tents full of sleeping Israelites: the Elderly, Women, Children.
You see before you several young Israelite Farmer-Shepherd-Soldiers sitting around various campfires, on Guard, protecting the Children of Israel, just entered into their New Land, called Canaan now, soon to be called Israel. As you approach the biggest fire, a tall, greybearded warrior, armed with small shield, short bronze sword, sharp-tipped javelin close at hand, rises, and holds out his hand in greeting. His name is Joshua ben Nun, Leader of the Israelite Tribes. He speaks to you.

Call me Joshua; some call me Hoshea, meaning “God will Save.” I am the student, disciple really, of Our Rabbi Moses, of blessed memory, and took over leadership of Israel after my Master died—died by the Hand and Word of God, and was buried by Him, May God rest his soul! I do not fear the burden of leadership: these people—my Boys here—born into freedom, are good fighters: they will follow me to Perdition’s Gates, if need be, to beat back these Canaanites, Jebusites, Hittites, or Whichever Enemy the Lord God throws before us.

Hearing a noise from afar, Joshua suddenly sniffs the air, looks around suspiciously, and spits into the campfire before him. He nods at a nearby warrior, who, without a word, takes up his own sword and small shield, and disappears into the Dark, along with two Others, on a mission whose Purpose only Joshua and they know.

What’s that? Did you see that Boy I just sent off, with the two other warriors? That is Reuel, a boy I trained myself—heading one of my Special Night Revenge Squads. He is going out to pay a visit on King Sichon’s boys—the Amorites, our enemies-of-the-moment. They were stealing some of the Reubenites’ sheep; they thought we were cowards, and would let them get away with it. We stole some of theirs back. They then kidnapped one of our men—a Menashite, a young boy named Mehalel—sad, really: barely sixteen, he was, but insisted on staying alone out there on the lowlands, guarding the sheep and goats. I won’t tell you what they did to him, but they won’t do that, anymore. For every one of us they hurt, we take out three of theirs. It’s a harsh life, here in our Promised Land.

Talk peace? Hmm—let me tell you, Stranger, that may be worth trying someday—but, when? It’s true that Old King Sichon is weaker than ever before, what with the weather getting warmer, the grass drying up, and his people moving East to find better and richer farmlands, but now, there’s a new group—call them the Sea-Peoples, do they? Rachmiel, is that right?

A Voice from the Dark calls back, ‘Ay, My Lord Joshua. Philistines, they are; a sea-faring folk, with weapons of that new metal—iron, it’s called.’

Joshua continues:

Iron? Pah! (spits again) I never yet met any man, any weapon, that my old blade here (pats his scabbard) and my javelin could not take down, man-facing-man, look ‘im in the eye, just as my Uncle Chur showed me, back in the Plains of Moab—how long ago was that?—ten?—years ago. (Stands.)

Here, young’uns, make me some room, draw back from the fire, and let an Old Man show you: keep your weight balanced for’ard, left-arm-behind-shield, right-hand-holding-sword, keep sword low, and (suddenly lunging forward)—Ha! Ha! All done.

Smiles; squats down, and resumes his seat by the fire, reaching for the goatskin of spiced wine, watered-down for the sentries to drink, yet stay alert, the whole night through.

Ohoo, you young’uns may well laugh, but I can still take any two-three of you down, in single combat: three against your Old Uncle Joshy, here—(Laughter of admiration from the Young Men around the fire)

So: what are you asking me? Whether it’s indeed hard to be a Hebrew? (Thinks, tapping his dagger against his teeth) I will say this, Stranger: I am a Man of Action, not of Thinking—I leave Deep Thought to Elazar and Itamar, those Kohen-Priestly-types, who learn and teach our Children the Sacred Scrolls, those bits of Holy-God-lore that they call our Torah, our Way-to-Live—but I have spent the largest part of my Life in Battle, and survived—survived, Ay, and to see men, perhaps better and wiser than myself lying in the sun, dead—rest of their bones, and Souls’ Delivery to God!—and picked upon by kites and vultures, before we could give them proper burial, and a prayer to speed them on their way, to the Lord our God—but I’m a Hebrew, proud to be, among those who ‘scaped from Pharaoh’s slavery-jail, so many, many years ago, and I will fight for my people, my Torah (It’s called Torah, then? I had forgot), and my God.

So, no: to answer your question. It’s not easy to be a Hebrew. Perhaps it will become easier, one day. Yes: when we have our land secure, and will have beaten back our Enemies ‘round about. Yes: then, and only then, will we have Peace.

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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