Vaetchanan by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Vaetchanan: The End of Moses’s Prophecy

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

 

The PROPHET Moses speaks:

 

Cry what shall I cry?

All flesh is grass; still, I envisage

The Citizen-Soldiers of Shim’on, Judges of Dan, Mariners of

Zevulun, and Knights of Judah, David’s-Kingdom-to-Be;

 

O Israel! When you go storming over the Jordan

To conquer the Land which GOD has promised,

Plashing the Mighty Jordan—a pitiful trickle

In the Place you will cross—

 

Counting by number the weapons of war

Your Expeditionary Force will brandish:

 

Twenty-four thousand wooden war-clubs,

Scarce two-twenty brazen blades,

Five hundred and forty-four shields of wood and skin,

Forty-four thousand wagons of war,

Six field kitchens,

And the Kohen-Priest appointed for Battles.

 

Flaming the pagan Cities of Canaan into mounds of ashes,

Slaughtering the inhabitants:

The men & women; the old &the children

In the Name of the One-True-God

Whose purpose you serve

Annihilating, eradicating, and rooting out

The idolatry

Which rises in His nostrils, as a stench—

 

Be aware that, I, Moses, will not be with you; no.

I will die on this side Jordan,

To be buried in the Mountains of Moab

By the selfsame God

Whose ire I provoked

When I smote

The Rock.

 

This I beheld, a prophetic vision:

 

I pleaded with God to preserve my power

Of prophecy, and not to leave me mere mortal,

My Disciple Joshua inheriting my gift

To speak with God fearlessly, and foretell the future.

We two ventured off to the pure Tent of Meeting

Where a Prophetic Cloud from heaven descended—

Not on my head, but Joshua’s,

For the first time ever, in our lives together—

He communed with the Lord for hours, it seemed,

While I stood there jealously, marveling, humbled.

 

When the Cloud rose, Joshua’s face shone with light;

I begged him: “O tell me the words which God uttered!”

He smiled beatifically, but shook his head sadly:

“Lord Moses, when you received counsel from Shaddai

“Did you share it with me?”

So that I realized that visions had ended.

“Take me now, Lord! A profitless, moribund prophet—”

 

But I heard God’s Voice; it was speaking within me:

“No, Moses. Teach Torah; that is your sole mission—

“To those born in the Wilderness,

“Lacking all memory

“Of plagues or of Pharaoh,

“Of manna or Reed-Sea;

“You will come to Me

“At a time of My choosing….”

(With thanks to T.S. Eliot’s unfinished poem, “Coriolan,” 1931.)


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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