I, Gershom ben Moses by David Hartley Mark

Vayeilech (וילך)
Torah: Deut 31:1 – 31:30
Haftarah: Isaiah 55:6 – 56:8

Call me Gershom. Or not. You may have never heard of me, but I am the firstborn of the “First Prophet of Israel, Chief of the Prophets, both of those who preceded, and those who followed him, who spoke with the Lord God face-to-face,” as easily as I am speaking to you, now.

And yet, you have never heard of me, Stranger. Well, why not? Poppa never had much of a home life—oh, but Momma loved him so much!—Zipporah was her name; it meant “Little Bird,” and she was, indeed, his little bird, always flitting and twittering around the mighty oak he represented, his being the strong terebinth of a monument to his One True God, in a world of idolatry, tyranny, slavery, and worse—


Oh, he could tell us stories, and did!


—When he was home, that is. Was. Rarely, I mean.


And why? Well, you see—and I could, perhaps, forgive him now, now that he is dying—he was always, always, leading Israel—Israelites, I mean; he never made it into the Land of Israel; some testiness on the Almighty’s part about his having struck a rock, rather than speaking to it….Petty? I daresay. Small-minded? How dare you utter such blasphemy, such insults, against my God? Though I doubt whether He was, is, was ever, truly, MY God—He it was, Who stole away my father, my only role model, away from me, me and my only brother, Elazar, poor fellow….


And Elazar—“God has helped”—Ha! What sort of name is that, for a little lost boy, a Lost Boy such as Elazar? He is gone; dead, probably, gone, without a trace. I, at least, go on. How do I survive? By my wits; I work as a camel driver here, for a day or so; in another place, as shepherd; move to a third, in time to help gather in a harvest of flax—I get by. I am always on the move. If I can snare a couple of coins, I am happy. If I can cajole Milady Housewife into giving me a crust of baked bread, or something more, I am ecstatic. That is my life: to wander.


The original Wandering Jew, though I have not sinned.


Well, what could possibly be my sin? To be the Son of Moses? Here, listen to me: on the Awesome Day on which the Holy One granted the Torah to all of Israel, I was—where? Off at the “Claws of Horus” Sinai Chariot Regiment, hard at work polishing an Egyptian cavalry captain’s boot-sandals—yes; I do remember that.


I also remember spying a cloud of black smoke boiling off the top of a distant mountain—Sinai, it must have been, for the smoke-pillar moved to leeward, and I heard the sound of a shofar blowing, getting louder and louder. Later, I abruptly left the Egyptians’ employ, lighting out at midnight with the ruby that adorned his sword-haft tucked into my rucksack—it would serve me better than him; he was a rich man, and I a poor one, in need of bread and drink.


Today, I have finally caught up with my People, but it is a sad day: my father is dying—there, near the Sanctuary-tent. I still have not introduced myself to, or spoken with him: he just goes on babbling his last-minute instructions to that Joshua fellow.


Joshua! That upstart—who died and made him the next leader? Still, I will content myself—I am a mere mortal, and hardly fit to counter the designs and plans of the Most High. There they are, together: Poppa lies on a litter on the ground; Joshua, his sword and shield resting against a nearby tree—an oak, again, of course, the plant of leadership—are whispering, back-and-forth, of the instructions which God has sent—to Joshua, this time. The Old Man is too aged and feeble to receive proper prophecy.


I will content me with visiting my mother—


(Gershom stops a woman who is passing by, in the camp)


I beg your pardon, Madame: do you know my dear mother, Mistress Zipporah bat Jethro? She is the wife of your leader, our Moses.


Why do I ask?


Well, this might seem strange—but they are my parents, and Zipporah is my mother.


Why does a tear come to your eye? I know she is very dear to all the women who know her—


What is that you are saying? Dead? My mother dead?


O my mother—dead? O Moses! How could you neglect her for all of these years, and callously bury her without ceremony or eulogy, without even sending messengers to attempt to seek out my brother Elazar, and me—have we not been shadowing this mighty people, for all these years?


My father! My father! You, who will soon ride heavenward in the chariots of Israel….


Where have you been for our mother, for Zipporah who loved only you, O Moses?


He still speaks to Joshua; he does not hear me.


The rest is silence….


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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