Shelach Midrash by David Hartley Mark


A Leather Fragment, Inscribed with Hebrew Letters, Found in a Clay Jug, But Lately Dug Up on the Road to Hebron; Newly Translated by Rabbi David Mark—

Wilderness of the Negev, 1440 BCE—I, Caleb ben Yefuneh, second-in-command to Joshua ben Nun, we who headed the twelve spies appointed by Moses to spy out the land—and every spy a prince of his tribe!—write this chronicle of our spy expedition on a strip of leather, which I am placing into a clay jug, to be buried here, beneath the shade of the second palm tree from the left, in the Wadi Eshkol, on the way to Hebron. Perhaps one of my great-great-grandchildren will dig it up one day. I know that Joshua will give a report to Moses upon our return, and Moses will give it to Machir the scribe, who will record it with the rest of the documents of our Israelite wanderings. But I am a man of action, not of words; and so, forgive me, whoever reads this, for I cannot lay claim to words of godliness or poetry, as do Moses and Aaron the High Priest, or even Joshua, my friend.

Day One of the Mission—We lay all day in a sandy ditch alongside the city of Jericho, which impressed me with its enormous walls. For us raggle-taggle former slaves, they seemed to go up to the sky! Though we prayed for a cooling breeze, the blazing sun blasted us; our tongues swelled, and our lips blackened; we had filled our goatskins with water at the town well in Hebron the night before, while all the householders were asleep, but their water was so salty and foul, that we could not drink it—we would have died of thirst, had a young woman, Rahab by name, not happened along. She took pity on us, and brought us cool, fresh grapes from the nearby vineyards, during the peak of the day, when the Jericho guards hid themselves from the heat in their sentry-boxes, there, high atop the city walls. We thanked her, and told her how we were no idol-worshipers, but prayed to the One True God, the invisible He-Who-Is, who alone created heaven and earth.

“And did this God create me, too?” asked Rahab, who, to us, appeared a loose woman, and a strumpet, although clever enough.

“Most assuredly,” we promised her.

“Then do not forget me,” she said, winking her eye at Joshua and me, “when you return, to conquer this city. I, too, will worship this He-Who-Is, if He will have me.”

Day 10 of the Mission—We have penetrated the land, as far as the Jebusite city of Uru-salim in the hill country. Our group has taken on two opinions: the majority of the men, led by Palti ben Rafu the Benjaminite and Gadi ben Sodi of Zebulun, have convinced themselves that the land is populated by Anakim, the “giants” our grandmothers told us legends about when we were small children. Do they not realize that we, together with the power of He-Who-Is, can overcome any obstacle?

Day 36 of the Mission—I fear that the cowards who cry of unconquerable cities with walls reaching heavenward, those who doubt the power of our Israelite God, will overcome the ability of Joshua and me to convince our people that we can take and possess this land. Even if our Lord God, in His wisdom, does not choose to utterly wipe out the heathen tribes—for if He does so, who will prevent wild animals and insects from overrunning the entire land of promise?—then, perhaps, we might, with the blessing of He-Who-Is, be able to live in peace with the remainder. I am no coward, but I cannot see fighting so many peoples, so much more numerous than we. If our God is a God of love, how can He countenance never-ending war? Sooner or later, there will have to be peace. Let there be peace, O’ God of Moses and Joshua! But I must go; it is time to cut a bunch of grapes, and fine, big, juicy grapes they are!

Here ends the fragment….

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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