Parsha Vaera by David Hartley Mark

Synopsis: Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh—which one? Ramsses II, Thutmose III, perhaps even Hatshepsut, the Woman Pharaoh—the actual identity is not important to the Torah Narrative, which never gives more details than are considered necessary to tell the Story. The Theme is Clash of the Titans, in this case between Adon-i, God of the Israelites, vs. Pharaoh, god of the Egyptians. Here are some of the Actors:

Pharaoh’s Chief Sorcerer: Since we represent Egypt, the foremost Nation in the World, we constantly meet Challengers to our Power, and then, it becomes necessary for us to show our Mastery over the Forces both Above and Below. We were not overawed by these two back-country shepherds, Moses and Aaron, but it was necessary for us to show immediately that we could overpower them, lest Rumor reach our Slaves, who might be inspired to Revolt.

When Moses, the Leader, cast down his Shepherd’s Crook and it became a Serpent, this was an easy Trick to copy—but we never counted on his Serpent swallowing up ours. Indeed, Sekhmet, our Eldest Sorcerer, remembered the Famous Dream of the Hebrew, Joseph, who had told us often of his Vision of Lean Cows swallowing Fat Ones—and, for no Clear Reason, we all began to tremble.

“This is the Finger of that Desert God, Adon-i!” Sekhmet warned His Majesty, who was too caught up in the Demands of the Shepherd-Brothers to much notice. He will learn, soon enough: these Hebrews are a Force to be Reckoned with. We Magicians know; we rule our lives by Signs and Portents….

Aaron, Brother of Moses: My Baby Brother was never one for putting himself forward—during the time he lived in Pharaoh’s Palace, he never spoke up, but was always in the Shadows, concealing his Hebrewness, passing himself off as an Egyptian; that is, a Quiet, unassuming one.

The unfortunate Incident in which he slew an Egyptian Taskmaster was, in many ways, an Awakening for him. We did not see him for—how many?—perhaps five years, during which he fled to Midian, that desert village-nation, and made a life for himself there, marrying Tsipporah, the daughter of Jethro, the Village High Priest. He might have lived there, forever, but came back, one day, with a Haunted Look on his face.

“What brings you back to these parts, Brother?” I greeted him.

“You are to be my Spokesman,” he growled at me, and I was surprised at how he had changed; he had always been quiet, and smiling, whenever anyone did him a kindness; it was part of his being able to quickly fade into the Background of whatever place he found himself, sort of an Israelite Chameleon, almost.

“Spokesman for what?” I queried, and he took my arm—gripped it tightly, and I wondered at how my soft little brother had suddenly changed, as if overnight, into a thin, hawk-nosed, rawboned shepherd, more accustomed to squinting at the sun to tell if a scarce springtime Sinai rain were about to fall, than smiling at a young Royal Lady-in-Waiting of the Royal Egyptian Court in which we both had been raised.

Moses looked at me—stared me down, actually, until I found it hard to stand and take his gaze. This was a man who had spoken with God more than with Mortals.

“We are prisoners here in Egypt, Royal Prisoners, but enslaved, all the same,” he said bluntly and whispering-like, “and I mean to set us free—you, me, Miriam, and the tribal God called Ehyeh-Ahshare-Ehyeh—‘He Who Is,’ He Who appeared to me in the Desert in the Heat of the Day, and gave me a Mission to carry out. Are you for me or for our Enemies, Brother Mine, Brother Aaron?”

“You know I am with you, Moses,” I stammered, frightened of his intensity and clarity of vision.

“Good!” he smiled suddenly, and clapped me on the shoulder, “Then we shall not fail. Come: the game’s afoot.”

Miriam: You may think of me as merely a tambourine-player, a dancing troubadour, chanting the praises of the Invisible God, while the lapping wavelets of the Sea of Reeds would later wash back-and-forth over the defeated Pharaoh’s broken and tossing chariot-wheels—but I worked harder and more diligently long before that. While my famous brother stalked about Egypt like a man possessed, I went about my Holy Work more quietly.

I am Miriam, eldest of Amram and Yocheved’s Family, the Fearless Girl-Woman who rescued her Baby Brother from drowning in the Nile, and who assured that he would have both Adoptive Mother and Natural Mother to raise him, living in the lap of luxury, there in the very Palace of his Greatest Enemy—for the God we worship is a Lover of Irony, as are we Hebrews.

All during the Period of the Plagues, I met and taught the Women and Children to carry on our Sacred Customs, those which had nearly been lost during the Debilitating and Demoralizing four-hundred-years of Slavery. I kept our Holy Traditions alive: the Sabbath, which was later perfected at Sinai; the Laws of Family Purity, almost lost when Men would slave all week, and never have a moment’s rest to be with the Chosen-Ones-of-Their-Hearts, their Wives, let alone their Children; and, finally, the Laws of Kashrut, which have kept our People Separate and Special, all through our Long History.

You cannot number Israel unless you Reckon my Work. I am Miriam, Teacher and Guide of Israelite Families. Mark me well, you so-called “Upright, Righteous, Learned Men” so Quick to Forget what you mock as “Women’s Work.”

Pharaoh: How can this Moses claim to speak for an Invisible God? There are no such things; I know, for I am a god myself, and was raised as such. I will battle his God with all the powers I possess, both magical and physical.

Let him smite Our Mother Nile; let him fill our houses and granaries with croaking Toads; let crawling Bugs infest our People and Beasts alike, Disease penetrate the Skin of our very Bodies. I stood on my Royal Balcony to catch a breath of Air, so stale and foul has the Palace stench become, from Dead Frogs and Stinking Skin-Infections….

The Weather is taking a Turn; a Storm of Hail is coming. O God of the Hebrew Tribes! I call You to Wage Open Battle with me! Shall I saddle my horse? Blow, rain! Come, wrack! If I must die, ‘twill be with Harness on my Back….

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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