Vayaytsay by David Hartley Mark

Jacob had a dream: a ladder was set into the ground; its top reached up to the Heavens, and there were Angels of God going Up and Down on it (Gen. 28:12)

Call me Ketaniel, the “Wee One of God.” I’m a little angel, not even a Cherub yet—not a pink-cheeked, bewinged fat boy on a Valentine (that’s not Jewish, anyway), but a rip-snorting, eagle-winged, lion-clawed, woman-faced Chimera. I am not that. No. I’m just a tiny fella, newly-born of Heavenly Aether. You don’t get born as an Angel, either; you just kind of pop into Existence, and you live for as long as your Mission takes—

So there I am, one of a Coming of Angels, all of us moving up-and-down a Ladder, fast as we can—I’m going down, it seems. I want to stop, take a Look around—never been in this Place before; Heavens, I’ve never been Anyplace before—but there’s no time to waste; as soon as I dawdle, the Seraph-Flame above scorches me, and the Ophan—that is, Divine-Chariot-Wheel— below, tries to run over my fingers—

“Move, can’t you, youngster?” asks the Ophan, twirling and whirling—that’s all those Heavenly Wheels can do; they spin so fast that Divine Sparks fly in all directions, but they get precious little done, and they go nowhere; they just make a Blessed Holy Racket doing it—

“Down! Be climbing down with you!” crackles the Seraph, all-aflame with Sacred Fire, “Else I’ll be toasting your wing-tips, see if I don’t!”

–So I keep on climbing down—falling down, really, and a good thing it is that my Newly-Fledged Wings are working, or I’d’ve tumbled straight down, sure—instead, to escape my climbing-partners, I let go the Ladder, and float-fall-freely down, to Jacob himself, right where he’s standing, all Center of Attention, he, Young Prince-Master Jakey. He can’t see me—he’s not on a High Enough Plane of Prophecy as yet, but I can take a good look at him—

He favors his Mother Rebekah, that I can tell: he has her high brow, grey eyes, and he’s blinking up at the Sky, where the Ladder-Top disappears into the Cloud-Bank; it’s night-time, but he’s shading his forehead, and squinting those Shepherd’s eyes of his, to see where it goes—but of course, he can’t see into Heaven; he’s mere Mortal, he. We angel-folk are all around him, but we might as well be moths on a summer’s eve, for all he’s not seeing us, our being mostly invisible—but then, as we’re flittering and fluttering away, up, down, and about, all like a bunch of lightning-bugs on a hot August Eve, the ground shakes, and the heavens turn darker still, considering that it’s Night, and we hear the Voice, the Voice that can only be—

God’s. And God says, in a Still Small Voice, but still rumbly enough so that only Jacob can hear, for the First Time (but certainly not the Last) in his Life:

“I am the Lord your God, Jacob. You do not, as yet, know Me, but I am God to you, as I was to your Grandfather Abraham, and your Father Isaac. I will reveal My Self to you in due time. This land that you lie upon—cherish it; it is Holy Ground, which your ancestors will possess, but only if they are worthy of it, and agree to live upon it in Peace.”

Jacob steps back, all-trembly-like, and puts his hand on that little knife he carries—the selfsame one his mama gave him—not to protect himself—poor, lost, friendless Boy, out in the World alone, for the first time in his life!—but to cut his bread and meat. He is no Warrior, this one: he must live by his wits. But then, God continues:

“And to protect you, as you go off to the Land of Aram, to be with your Family—and I warn you, my Son, My Jacob, that you be careful! For, though they be Family, there will be those who love you, those who desire you, and those who will fear and hate you—so, be wary. I am with you, but you will need some closer help, some bodyguard, a little Divine Cherub to be with you, always—and let that be—let Me see—hm….

One would not think that a God so Mighty would have to think, but then, this is a God of Old, and sometimes forgetful; it’s understandable; He’s got a lot to remember, after all—the heavens stop in their tracks; the stars ceased to spin; the rushing waters some distance away ended their babbling—and then, God spoke again:

“As you are new and entering into the World, so do I have a new Guard for you, and he will dedicate his protection to you: my Cherub-in-training to watch you—let it be Ketaniel; let him fly forward.”

And God smiled upon me: nothing anyone could see with their eyes, but I could feel it—a warmth in my Angelic Innards, of Divine Approbation and Approval. One never knows when it will come, but all of us, Angel or Mortal, have their Time and their Place; we must be always ready for the Summons from the Holy One.

And then, Jacob spoke: “Surely, then, is the Lord God in this Place?”

And I answered him, in his Mind, “If God is here, this place is awesome, indeed.”

He trembled again, and said, “How full of awe is this Place! This cannot be anything less than the House of God, and this is the Gate of Heaven.”

And before I could get out of the way, that silly sot had popped a cork and poured olive oil on my angelic head. Did he not know, not realize, that God wants the heart—God wants deeds of lovingkindness, not mere outward show? But then, what he said next—you must understand, he’s just a Boy, this Jacob—truly bothered me:

He got a look in his eye—a look I did not like. It was—it was a mixture of fear, but some of the Old Jacob beneath it: the same, tricky fellow who had stolen the Birthright from his clumsy, foolish Brother Esau, who had wrapped goatskin about his arms and fooled his own Father Isaac (granted, at his Mother’s suggestion, but still), and who was off to impress the Distant Relatives with his Shepherding Erudition.

“If God will favor me, and protect me, and prosper me—why then, I will worship God. And if He returns me safely home to my Mother and Father, why then, I will give Him a portion of my goods.”

It was a Young Man’s Prayer, an Innocent’s Prayer, a Prayer of Nerve and Chutzpah; but Fate, and Sad Experience, and Family (both Good and Evil) would turn the Prayer Upside Down, and soon enough…

My work as Guardian Angel, I could see,

Young Jacob’s Prayer had quickly cut out for me.

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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