Pesach Day 8 by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Isaiah, Prophet of Peace

Day 8 of Pesach

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

 

It was late, and I had yet to write an article about the Eighth Day of Pesach.The Torah portion was a pastiche of kosher laws, sacrificial directives, and a plea for tzedakah, charity—no unusual insights there. I had to teach in the morning, and weariness was creeping over me. The hour-hand crept past midnight—

I must have dozed, because I woke with a start. Kirby, my Shih Tzu, blinked his saucer-like eyes at me: “When are you going to give me a treat and put me to bed, Dave?” Truly, I had forgotten all about him. I picked him up, set him in my lap, and scratched his floppy ears and warm, pink tummy. He blinked and rubbed his head against my hand, but I could tell he still wasn’t happy.Instead, he stared at the bentwood office chair that I had bought because it reminded me of Grandpa Henry’s—

But then, I realized that I wasn’t alone. A small cloud had appeared, hiding the chair from my eyes—possibly a smaller version of the cloud that settled over the Tent of Meeting when Moses stood before it, millennia ago—but this cloud seemed to be covering something, or someone. I dropped Kirby to the floor; he walked over to the bentwood and stood on his hind legs, sniffing and snorfling at whatever was concealed in the cloud. I suddenly heard an old, creaky voice, saying:

“Nice doggy. Let me scratch your chin; there! Oh, what am I saying? Dogs are unclean—go away, little dog! Go away—oh, wait: come back—don’t be upset with me….”

The cloud had cleared away, and I beheld the form of an old man wearing a long, white robe, and holding a knotty, wooden staff—

“Are you Moses?” I asked the form.

The elder managed to crack a smile, and replied in a firm, bold voice: “Moses? No, my son: I am Isaiah!” He stood and stretched. Kirby sniffed at the bottom of his robe, wagged his tail, and lay down at his feet.

“Of course—that’s the subject for my essay!” I said, “Not the Torah portion, but the Haftorah! Well, Sir Prophet: why did your words become the Haftorah for the Eighth Day of Pesach?”

“Because I speak of peace, and prophesy good fellowship amongst humanity,” said Isaiah, not hesitating, “and there is no better time to herald the Coming of Messiah, than the conclusion of Pesach, and the beginning of springtime! Have you been enjoying the spring, my son?”

“Well, it’s Florida, and kind of monoseasonal,” I said, “but I understand your meaning.”

The prophet paid no attention. “Yes,” he said, “my prophetic career was difficult—Judah, my beloved Southern Kingdom, was caught between the hammer and anvil of Assyria and Egypt. There was little chance that we would survive this massive conflict, since both nations had to cross through our territory in order to wage war on one another.”

“And so, you counseled—?” I coaxed him.

“I counseled uninvolvement,” he replied, shaking his staff, “but did they listen to me, the kings and their officers? No: they were consumed with pride, and the overweening belief that God would bail them out of whatever scrape they managed to get themselves into. Indeed, I mostly retired from the royal court, with all of its politics and personalities. I cannot abide organizations where everyone believes that they are right, or where a strongman leads foolishly.”

“But you did not give up hope, Isaiah?” I asked.

“No: how could I? The people needed me; the nation needed me, as well. And whether I myself wrote the entire book that bears my name, or two other anonymous prophets aided me, my goal remained clear: to implant the hope that, at the End of Days, a Messiah—human like you and me, my son; not any supernatural or superhuman figure—would come to conquer our enemies, and to gather the people into their own land.”

“Well, Israel is very strong today, militarily,” I tried to reassure him.

“I am no warrior,” said the prophet, and I could detect a note of sadness in his voice, “I am a man of peace.” He whispered, “Peace, peace—both far off, and nearby….”

“Tell me once more the mighty words that you have given us, and the entire world,” I urged him.

The elder smiled, leaned back in my grandfather’s chair, closed his eyes, and began to recite. I, too, closed my eyes, listening to the echo of his mighty words:

                        The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,

                        And the leopard lie down with the kid;

                        The lion shall eat straw like the ox,

                        The calf and young lion graze together,

                        And a little child shall lead them. …

                        For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord,

                        Even as the waters cover the seas.

–Isaiah: 11:6, 9

 When I opened my eyes, he was gone.


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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