Vaetchanan By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Vaetchanan ( ואתחנן)
Torah: Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11
Haftarah:  Isaiah 40:1 – 40:26

See: God roared His anger at Israel’s Gold Calfling
Not caring they built it for to ride Him upon it
Like the bull they had heard Mighty Baal-of-Thunder
Would ride: their infantile notion of God,
An Invisible God, as a puff-cloud, a wispling—
Was an idea unthinkable, their being idolaters by nature,
Believing dolls of wood, or stone, or clay
More real, and more worth their hard-won worship
Like Terach’s stone statues, like Rebecca’s home teraphim.
But Old-New God commanded a perch ‘mid Cherubim
Who bowed heads atop His Ark of the Covenant,
A pine box dipt golden both inside and outside—
So God was most angry.

I, Moses, tried to calm Him….
“Forty years will they wander,” our testy God thundered,
“This stubborn-backed, stiff-necked, refugee rabble
“I troubled Myself to extricate from Egypt
“At no small exacting of lives or of labor,
“Nor did they pay heed to my time-honored Teaching,
“So out in the wilderness, wild and unbounded
“I bind them to die.”

I, Moses, begged, saying: “Your pardon I plead You,
“For they are slaves still, and like servants are starving
“For study and succor of Your slow salvation—
“I beg you, O’ Lord God, that You not destroy them—
“For once the Egyptians you so straitly humbled
“Will hear of Your vengeance on this treasured People
“Your patience, forebearance, they’ll laugh to derision—“

–Which first gave Him pause.

He thought then, and answered:
“You’re right. I’ll not kill them. Instead, let them wander
“A full forty fulsome, in years young to yearning,
“So that this generation, who ‘scaped all my plaguing
“Will die in the desert, and never see Canaan.”

“Will You give them Your Torah?” I begged our Liege-Lord.

“I’ll give them the Torah,” He agreed then, most readily,
“But in eras oncoming, they’ll spurn it as specious,
“Turning away from its wisdom full wondrous,
“Assimilate, agitate, ignore all My Teachings
“And totally turn from their tribal traditions.”
“But is there no help?” I begged of our Sovereign,
Wondering why I should worry, not worship,
And longing for lessons from God’s Holy Letters,
Their learning to lavish, in solitary splendor.

“You, Moses! Stand up to them; they are willful and stubborn,
“Magnify Me with miracles to make them dependent,
“And—I warn you!—should they stray, I lay the blame fully
“On your shoulders—to lead them will be your fate bitter.”

I knew He left no choice: I bowed my head to Him,
And you, O my Israel! must now face your future.
Tefillin, mezuzote, Shabbat, and the Torah—
These weapons—no, tools!—are the legacy for you
To treasure, to transplant, and telecom forward.


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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