Pesach by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Weekly D'var - Pesach

Day 1 Pesach 5778: I, Joshua, Conqueror of Canaan

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

 

Scene: A rough-looking tent, much in need of a woman’s gentle touch—and some housekeeping. Scattered about are the accoutrements of a man of war: scuffed and bent short swords, a couple of battered shields of wood with a bronze circlet protecting the edge, and a sharp stone affixed as a boss; a spear-hilt, its sharpened head hacked off, leans against a tent-corner, useless; but, never fear: its mate leans alongside it, ready for use.

The remains of hasty meals litter the floor: a half-eaten chunk of pita, some matzo, scattered, burnt bones of poultry and beef. Prominently displayed is a leathern bota of strong Edomite wine, and a barrel of barley beer, wooden cups lying on top, ready for a council of war, or more recreational activity.

Finally, a tallit, or prayer-shawl hangs on a tent-peg; its yellowed neckline and shredded edges testify that the wearer has given it hard use.

As our eyes become accustomed to the dimness of the tent, we behold Brigadier General Joshua, prophet, disciple of Moses, and conqueror of the Promised Land, seated on a rough wooden stool. An upended wooden winecup lies beside him. He is in deep thought, planning the Israelites’ next foray into the Land that the LORD GOD promised Abraham, but left in trust with that same God, since Jacob descended to Egypt. With him is Calev ben Yephunneh, his trusted second-in-command.

 

Joshua: If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly:…But in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor….

Calev: A perutah for your thoughts, My General.

Joshua: What? Oh—Calev—I was just thinking to myself. How goes our campaign against the Canaanite? That blow I received from that massive swordsman at the City of Ai still plagues me, and it garbles my thoughts. Ow—(he drinks more wine).

Calev: As of today, My General, we have conquered the City of Jericho, and that of Ai. The Gibeonites have surrendered to us, and will be our servants—woodchoppers and water-drawers—in perpetuity, I believe (Joshua Ch. 8-9).

Joshua: Are the People safe for the moment? I do remember building that Altar to the Lord atop Mt. Ebal, to placate Him, and also to give reassurance to the common folk.

Calev: Well, I’m not so certain that one altar will accomplish all you intended for it, but the people are quiet, for the moment.

Joshua: I am so tired, so very, very tired—my head aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my limbs, as though of poppy-elixir I had drunk—

Calev: No rest for the weary, My General. Our spies report that the Five Kings of the Mountains—those of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon—are preparing a massive counter-thrust against our forces (Joshua Ch. 10).

Joshua: Really? I hate mountain-fighting—if our enemy holds the high ground, we will be hardpressed to take him out.

Calev: Does your faith in God ebb, General? I am surprised.

Joshua (patiently): Calev, old friend: you must know by now that God’s promises, while high-sounding and majestic, translate into military success only if we are ready, alert, and up to the task.

Calev (sighing): I would hate to think that my faith is stronger than yours, General. After all, did you not learn the religion at the feet of none other than Rabbi Moses?

Joshua: Yes: but it was my Master who often despaired of the fate of us Israelites. I recall how we fought Amalek shortly after the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds—it was in the early morning rain, I recall, and our warriors were tired and depressed from having marched all the night long, while Amalek was fresh. My Master was relatively young, then, but his arms were weary—we almost lost the battle!

Calev: Isn’t it always that way, though, General? The enemy is alert and poised, while we must struggle to lift up our swords. It will be that way for as long as we and our people are wanderers. When we have a land to defend, I believe we will do you, our late Moses of blessed memory, and the Almighty One, proud. In the meantime, I have someone waiting just outside whom I believe will lift your spirits.

He claps his hands, and Rachav, the woman of Jericho, enters.

Rachav: Greetings, General Joshua. I offer you the peace of God.

Calev rises to leave.

Joshua (crying out): Colonel Calev, where are you going? Do not leave me with—with—this person of ill repute!

Rachav: You do me an injustice, General. I protest that I acted as I did because when my young husband died suddenly of an illness, I had no recourse but to do what I did. Through speaking with one Batya bat Zipporah, granddaughter of Moses, I learned the True Faith, and adopted it as my own.

Joshua: You mean that you are of our Israelite beliefs?

Rachav: Yes: and I promise you that, although you are the God-ordained prophet and I a far lesser individual, that God will, indeed, grant you this land. Where is your faith?

Joshua: Do not, I beg you, speak to me of faith. I have slain many, and keep asking God, Why are You commanding us to act this way? And I get no answer…

Rachav: Lie down, General, and I will teach you the ways of peace.

Joshua: When will peace come to Israel?

Rachav: In God’s own, good time….

(Calev smiles and exits.)


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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