Vayelech by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

I, Gershom ben Moses

By David Hartley Mark


Call me Gershom. You may have never heard of me, but I am the firstborn son of Moses.

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 was, a one-man monument to his One True God, a beacon of light  in a world of idolatry, tyranny, slavery, and worse—

Did I mention that he was an expert storyteller?—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 never to make it to the Land of Israel, and why? Some testiness on the Almighty’s part about Poppa’s  having struck a rock, rather than speaking to it—petty, I daresay. Oho, you say, how dare I utter such blasphemy, such insults, against your God? For He certainly never acted or behaved like my God—no. Instead, he stole away my father, my only role model, away from me, as well as 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, survived. How so? By my wits; I work as a camel driver here, for a day or so; as a shepherd, elsewhere, for another few days; and then, move to a third, 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 bread, a pitcher of milk, I am content. That is my life of wandering—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 that Awesome Day on which the Holy One granted the Torah to all of Israel, I was—where? Off at the “Claws of Horus” Regiment of Chariot elsewhere in Sinai, hard at work polishing an Egyptian cavalry colonel’s boot-sandals—so, forgive me for missing the Grand Theophany.

I do remember spying a cloud of black smoke from afar, 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 Egyptian colonel’s employ, lighting out at midnight with the ruby that had adorned his sword-haft tucked into my belt—it would advantage me better than the colonel; 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—(bitterly) I am a mere mortal, and hardly fit to question 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, that ironic symbol of leadership—and 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 any further prophecy.

Well, goodbye, Shalom, Father mine! I will content me with visiting my mother, the poor dear—at least, she paid me and Elazar some attention while we were growing up, while Daddy lingered at the office—that of speaking with his God, I mean—

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

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 Moses is my father, and Zipporah 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….

What did you ever do for our mother, for Zipporah who loved only you, O Moses?

He still speaks to Joshua; he does not hear me…. O God! Am I not the true son of Moses, and not Joshua?

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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