Shabbat Zachor: Amalekites, Egyptians, and a Promise

Shabbat Zachor: Amalekites, Egyptians, and a Promise

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

The Sinai Desert was still pitchy-black when Lt. Djer’s adjutant, Corporal Tem, shook his commander’s shoulder to awaken him. The lieutenant immediately arose—his training at the Royal Egyptian Army Military Academy (Heliopolis) stood him in good stead. He sat on the edge of his cot, blinking and collecting his thoughts.

            Today, we pull patrol-duty in our Northwestern Sector, he thought, I must set a good example for my troops.

            “It will be blasting-hot today in the wilderness, Sir,” whispered the corporal.

            The lieutenant smiled ruefully. “It’s always hot in this furnace, Corporal,” he said, tersely. “Have the sergeant-major rouse the troops—quietly. We are on full combat alert, as befits us fortunate soldiers who guard the Blessed Boundaries of Holy Mother Egypt from any invaders or ravagers.”

            The corporal nodded, saluted, and disappeared into the dark.

           The lieutenant did his morning toilet, dressed in his cotton undergarment, and began buckling on his bronze body armor. Djer’s armor fitted a bit more snugly than usual. He had gained a few pounds on his last leave to his home village. His parents raised sweet dates, plums and figs on a little farm close to the Nile River. Pa’s sweet melons were legendary for their size, heft, and color, and he regularly won first-prize in the farmers’ market. Patting his belly, Djer left the tent to inhale the pure, sweet desert air, tinged by a salty breeze from the Sea of Reeds to the north.

            “We await your orders, Sir,” came a voice from the shadows, which he recognized as that of Sergeant-Major Joser, his aide-de-camp in commanding 18th Regiment, Royal Egyptian Cavalry (“Jaws of Anubis”). “Will you be desirous of mounted chariots, Sir? It would not take but a half-hour to ready them for patrol and possible combat.”

           Djer had thought about this the previous evening, and decided. “It will not do for the sake of maintaining mounted silence to take the chariots,” he replied, “on the chance that we encounter a desert tribe of Bedouin, and require a surprise attack. No, Sgt-Major; this day, our troopers will ride their mounts.”

            “Very good, Sir,” said Sgt.-Major Joser, “I will have the troops ready their horses. All will prepare the saddles meant for warfare, not parade.”

            “Do so,” commanded Lt. Djer.

            Less than a hour later, the copper bugles sounded, and the 18th Regiment was under way.

            “Which direction, Lieutenant?” asked the Sergeant-Major.

           “Let us head towards the Sea of Reeds,” answered the lieutenant, “just to find any stragglers from that escaped mob of Israelite slaves. We are under orders to—deal with them.”

            “Deal with them by what means, Lieutenant?” asked the Sergeant-Major. He was a grizzled veteran of many encounters with Egypt’s many enemies. An eye-patch gave evidence of the Old War with the Nubians.

            “By any means necessary—including killing,” returned the lieutenant. I hate to think of murdering innocent women and children, even if they are Israelite, he thought. Still, we are under the orders of Capt. Sobek, who is in constant touch with the High Command at Royal Egyptian Army Headquarters. I have no choice.

The soldiers rode along in silence, whispering only when necessary. A blood-red sun was rising in the east. There was no sound, except the creaking of saddlery and the clank of lances against bronze armor.

            “Sir,” said the Sergeant -Major, “We must halt, to allow Siptah, the Jebusite Scout, to study the trail and tell us what to expect.”

            The lieutenant nodded. Siptah, agile and alert despite his advanced years—he was at least forty—practically vaulted over the head of his horse, and, lying on the ground, began sniffing eagerly, like a desert dog. Djer looked on in disgust—how could a human being, made in Osiris’s image, degrade himself into sniffing at the offal of passing animals? Still, he had to grant Siptah some credit—the scout was nearly always correct in his trail-judgment, and—besides an uncomfortable, earthy smell the scout had—Why can’t he wash more often?Djer would ask, holding his breath while he spoke with him—he was a pleasant enough fellow, and a great warrior, besides.

            “What news, Scout?” he asked.

            The elderly Jebusite grinned and rose, not bothering to dust the desert-sand off of his arms and legs. Arms akimbo, he stood before the lieutenant, not bothering to salute.

            “If it please the Lieutenant, Your Worship—” began Siptah.

            “Just Lieutenant will do, Siptah,” said Djer, fanning the air before his face. How can the poltroon live with himself? he thought, breathing through his mouth, “Give your report, please.”

            “Israelites passed by—oh, perhaps one-two hours ago,” said Siptah.

            “Good; we will shadow them, and make certain they are moving well out of Imperial Territory,” answered Lieutenant Djer.

            Siptah raised one gnarly hand. “I have more to report, Lieutenant,” he said, and his grinning face grew grim, “There is also a war-party of Amalekites following the Israelites, perhaps just one-half hour behind.”

            A voice from behind Djer called out gleefully, “What luck! Let the Amalekites finish what we ought to have done to those evil Israelites!”

            Without turning, the lieutenant called out, “At ease, Corporal Henut! I called for silence in ranks!”

            “Begging your pardon, Lieutenant,” returned Henut, “but I have more than a bone to pick with those abominable Israelites—they laid waste to my homeland, including my father’s little idol-shop! That Invisible God of theirs, jealous no doubt of my father’s stock-in-trade, caused it to be crushed beneath the weight of that insidious hailstorm. I hate those Israelites with every fibre of my being.”

            Nodding at the Sergeant-Major, Djer ordered the detachment to halt.

            “Military Police Detail!” ordered the lieutenant, “Apprehend Corporal Henut, and bring him to me.”

            Henut found himself bound in papyrus-ropes, standing before his commander.

            “Corporal Henut,” said the lieutenant, “for speaking out in ranks, and for contravening a direct order—”

            “Begging the lieutenant’s pardon,” interrupted Henut, “What order was that?”

            “Our orders are to shadow the Israelites, not to attack them,” answered the lieutenant, “nor to aid or abet any other people or nation who choose to attack them. We are merely in an observatory capacity.”

            “Yes, Sir,” said Henut, sullenly.

            “And for your outburst,” answerered Djer, “I am reducing you in rank to Private, and fining you your next three weeks’ wages. I run a strong, proud outfit, Private, and I will not have rapscallions such as yourself besmirching our unit’s record. MPs! Keep him under close guard, and, once we return to the Forward Operating Base, he is to go into the stockade for one week.”

            The MPs led Henut away; because the unit was in the field, he was allowed to re-mount his horse, under their watchful guard. The detachment spurred on, again.

            “What is that noise I hear, Sir?” asked the Sergeant-Major, “Is it the sound of rejoicing? Are the Israelites observing one of their pagan festivals?”

            Lt. Djer listened. “It is not the sound of rejoicing or singing,” he returned, “It is the sound of war—hear the women’s screams!”

            As the cavalry detachment mounted the hill, they beheld a ghastly sight: a band of Amalekite Bedouin marauders were attacking an Israelite refugee line—only, instead of attacking in front of the line, where the soldiers and young men were, the Amalekites were deliberately slaughtering helpless elderly, women, and even children.

            “What shall we do, Sir?” asked the Sergeant-Major, “Our orders are explicitly to shadow the Israelites, and not interfere with their Exodus from our nation.”

            “Still,” mused the lieutenant, “The orders said nothing about the deaths of the innocent.”

            “What are you suggesting, Sir?” asked the old sergeant-major, already guessing what was on his young commander’s mind.

            “Sergeant-Major!” commanded Lt. Djer, himself unstrapping his bronze short sword, as well as his cavalryman’s knife and shield, “I order you to have the bugler sound the ‘charge,’ so that we can redress the imbalance between civilian Israelites and armed desert bandits.”

            “You heard the Lt. Djer,” called out the Sergeant-Major to the young bugler, “Prepare to sound the charge, on his order!”

            “Wait a second,” said Djer, half-turning in his saddle to face his troops.

            “Soldiers of Imperial Egypt,” he said in a stentorian voice, “I am commanding you to join me in defending a group of helpless elderly, women and children from a mob of murderous Amalekites. You know our enemy: he is merciless, and so must we be. If you bear any ill will towards the Israelites, you may remain under guard back here with our Military Police, and I will arraign you later for refusing a direct order from me, your commander. But I hope and expect that every man-jack of you will gain great honor for both our Mother Egypt this day, and for Anubis, for whose ferocity and fairness our regiment is named. Will you join me?”

Sadly, the remaining record of the 18th Regiment of Horse (“Jaws of Anubis”), Border Patrol Detachment, Royal Egyptian Army, has been lost. May Osiris welcome their glorious dead,and give plaudits to their triumphant heroes.


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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