Vayeira by David Hartley Mark

Synopsis: Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh—which one? Ramsses II, Thutmose III, perhaps even Hatshepsut, the Woman Pharaoh—the actual identity is not important to the Torah Narrative, which never gives more details than are considered necessary to tell the Story. The Theme is Clash of the Titans, in this case between Adon-i, God of the Israelites, vs. Pharaoh, god of the Egyptians. Here are some of the Actors, both Major and Minor:

Pharaoh’s Chief Sorcerer: Since we represent Egypt, the foremost Nation in the World, we constantly meet Challengers to our Power, and then, it becomes necessary for us to show our Theurgic Mastery over the Forces both Above and Below. We were not overawed by these two back-country shepherds, Moses and Aaron, but it was necessary for us to show immediately that we could overpower them, lest Rumor reach our Slaves, who might be inspired to Revolt.

When Moses, the Israelite-Rabble Leader, cast down his Shepherd’s Crook and it became a Serpent, this was an easy Trick to copy—but we never counted on his Serpent’s swallowing up ours. Indeed, Sekhmet, our Eldest Sorcerer, remembered the Famous Dream of the Hebrew, Joseph, who had told us often of his Vision of Lean Cows swallowing Fat Ones—and, for no Clear Reason, we all began to tremble.

“This is the Finger of that Desert God, Adon-i!” Sekhmet warned His Majesty, who was too caught up in the Demands of the Shepherd-Brothers to much notice. He will learn, soon enough: these Hebrews are a Force to be Reckoned with. We Magicians know; we rule our lives by Signs and Portents….

Aaron, Brother of Moses: My Baby Brother was never one for putting himself forward—during the time he lived in Pharaoh’s Palace, he never spoke up, but was always in the Shadows, concealing his Hebrewness, passing himself off as an Egyptian; that is, a Quiet, unassuming one.

Everything changed, that day he left the palace and saw an Egyptian Taskmaster beating one of our brethren. He tried to reason with the villain, but to no avail—and he ended up killing the man, in a fair fight. From that point on, he became a proud Hebrew, an Egyptian no more.

He fled, and we did not see him for—how many?—perhaps five years, during which he fled to Midian, that desert village-tribe, and made a life for himself there, marrying Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, the Village High Priest. He might have lived there, forever, but came back, one day, with a Haunted Look on his face.

“What brings you back to these parts, Brother?” I greeted him.

“Our God sent me—and you are to be my Spokesman,” he growled at me, briefly, and I was surprised at how he had changed; he had always been quiet, and smiling, whenever anyone did him a kindness; it was part of his being able to quickly fade into the Background of whatever place he found himself, sort of an Israelite Chameleon, almost.

“Spokesman for what?” I queried, and he took my arm—gripped it tightly, and I wondered at how my soft, joking little brother had suddenly changed, as if overnight, into a thin, sunburnt, hawk-nosed, rawboned shepherd, more accustomed to squinting at the sun to tell if a scarce Sinai desert rain were about to fall, rather than smiling at a young Egyptian Lady-in-Waiting of the Royal Pharaoh’s Court in which we both grew up.

Moses looked at me—stared me down, actually, until I found it hard to stand and take his gaze. Though he was my younger brother, he seemed older, somehow….

“We are prisoners here in Egypt, Royal Prisoners, but enslaved, all the same,” he whispered fiercely, “and I mean to set us free—you, me, Miriam, and our tribal, Israelite God, who is named Ehyeh-Ahshare-Ehyeh—‘He-Who-Is.’ He Who appeared to me in the Desert in the Heat of the Day, and gave me a Mission to carry out. Are you for me or for our Enemies, Brother Mine, Brother Aaron?”

“You know I am with you, Moses,” I stammered, frightened of his intensity and clarity of vision.

“Good!” he smiled suddenly, and clapped me on the shoulder, “Then we shall not fail. Come: the game’s afoot.”

He stormed out, leaving behind him a wave of desert sweat and prophetic inspiration—but now, I admit, I have doubts—I have always been the comforter, the negotiator, the Peacemaker in the family, born as I was between two flamboyant, Burning Spirits—my elder Sister, Miriam, the Poet, a Prophet in her own right, a Leader of our Women, a Musician and Dancer—and a fine Public Orator, for I have heard her speak to our People in secret, of Freedom, of a Mysterious Mountain-God, El-Shaddai, whom she heard of in tales dating back to Nana Sarah, long-ago. And now, I have our Baby Brother, our Newly-Born Spark saved from the Fire, our Moses….

But what of me? Who speaks for Aaron?

I am a man who chooses to pray for Peace—

Can we not choose that Path?

Can we not negotiate with this Pharaoh, rather than setting this god-King against our invisible God? War will erupt, for certain; innocents will die, perhaps on both sides….

Could they not dwell in Egypt, we remain in Goshen?

I will give it thought, and perhaps speak to the others… perhaps Joshua, or Caleb, will incline their thoughts my way….

Miriam, Sister of Moses: You may think of me as merely a tambourine-player, a singer and dancer, chanting the praises of the Invisible God, while the lapping waves of the Sea of Reeds would later wash back-and-forth over the defeated Pharaoh’s broken and tossing chariot-wheels—but I worked harder and more diligently long before that. While my famous brother stalked about Egypt like a man possessed, I went about my Holy Work more quietly and far more diligently than he.

After all, who rescued Baby Moses from certain death in the Nile? Had I not directed Bitya, the Princess of Egypt, to fetch him from the rushes, he would have been a quick bite for the crocodiles!

I am Miriam, eldest of Amram and Yocheved’s Family, the Fearless Girl-Woman who assured that Moses would have both Adoptive Mother and Natural Mother to raise him, living in the lap of luxury, there in the very Palace of his Greatest Enemy—for the God we worship is a Lover of Irony, as are we Hebrews.

All during the Period of the Plagues, I met and taught the Women and Children to carry on our Sacred Customs, those which had nearly been lost during the Debilitating and Demoralizing four-hundred-years of Slavery. I kept our Holy Traditions alive: the Sabbath, which was later perfected at Sinai; the Laws of Family Purity, almost lost when Men would slave all week, and never have a moment’s rest to be with the Chosen-Ones-of-Their-Hearts, their Wives, let alone their Children; and, finally, the Laws of Kashrut, which have kept our People Separate and Special, all through our Long History.

Israel would not have survived without my tireless Work. I am Miriam, Teacher and Guide of Israelite Families. Mark me well, you so-called “Upright, Righteous, Learned Men” so Quick to chase us women back to kitchen and nursery!

Zipporah, Wife of Moses: And what of me, Wife to Moses? Am I not a Woman, a Leader in my own right? I am the Daughter of a Priest, a Leader of Midian, First Family of a Proud Desert Tribe, which was enemy to Israel, and is now their Friend….

Where are you now, my Moses, my Lover, my erstwhile Egyptian Fugitive-Prince? We embraced beneath a stubborn Sinai moon, and you promised me the World.

“I will build you a House in Midian, Zipporah my Sweet,” you breathed against my neck, “of stones, not mud-brick. And we will have many sons there. I will be Priest in place of your worthy Father, there one day.”

I loved you—and you returned my love—until that day, when you came home, stinking of burnt thorns, with a peculiar flame in your eyes, and would not speak to me. You gulped water from our well, and curled up in a corner of the tent, refused to wash, ate nothing of my dinner, and would not speak to me.

Where did I lose you, in that wilderness, my Moses, my Love?

I, too, have feelings, Moses! You cannot cast me off, for this Mission of yours….
Perhaps Miriam can help. We are in need of counseling; you will not speak to our boys; they cry for their Daddy.

There is more to life than Work. There is more to life than even your God.

There is your Zipporah, as well.

Pharaoh, Moses’s Antagonist: How can an Invisible God exist? There are no such things; I know, for I am a god myself. I will battle this Israelite God with all the powers I possess, both magical and physical. Where are my Sorcerers?

I am the Pharaoh, Son of Ra, the Sun-god. I head the Greatest Empire the Earth has ever known. I alone stand off the Barbarian Hordes who would invade our land. I have smitten the Hittites and the Syrians; I stood at the breach when the Phoenicians tried to invade, and they fell, full of my arrows…. My Cavalry makes the sea and skies tremble!

Let this Desert-God dare to touch Our Mother Nile; let him fill our houses and granaries with croaking Toads; let crawling Bugs infest our People and Beasts alike, Disease penetrate the Skin of our very Bodies. I will stand on my Royal Balcony and brandish my sword against this God, as long as I have strength in my arms….

The Weather is taking a Turn; a Storm of Hail is coming. O God of the Hebrew Tribes! I call You to Wage Open Battle with me! Boy! Saddle my horse!

Blow, rain! Come, wrack! If I must die, ‘twill be with Harness on my Back….

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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