Yitro: Voices Off by David Hartley Mark

Moses prepares to climb Mt. Sinai, leaving Aaron in charge of an exceedingly nervous People. The Prophet ascends, penetrating the Very Thick Darkness, where he will remain for forty days and nights. The Israelites hear the Lightning and see the Thunder; the Mountain shakes, the People fear, and stand afar off. The Torah-Text itself passes from Human Drama to Words of Teaching, through the Ten Statements/Aseret Ha-Dibrote, known popularly as the Ten Commandments.

Gershom & Elazar, the Estranged Sons of Moses: We are the Sons of Moses, but we scarcely appear in the Text of the Torah. It is hard to be the sons of a Great Man. And truth to tell, Papa was rarely home: he was always off, somewhere—speaking with He-Who-Is, teaching Torah to the People, judging their legal matters: is this chicken kosher? Who moved the boundary-line of whose property? Or arguing with the Mixed Multitude about why such-and-such was forbidden, or might cause God to become Angry. He was a fine Go-Between, a Diplomat of years’ experience, always smoothing the negotiations between a backsliding Nation and an ever-more-demanding God.
But he was never really there for us: when we were young, he had no time to play; when we were teenagers, he was not there to answer our questions—that became the job of Grandfather Jethro, who knew very little of this New Faith which Papa was creating, along with his God and his People, though Grandpa did his best. And when we became men, setting out on our own lives’ paths, we did not think to tell Papa Good-by—who was there to say it to? Mama had died, of a broken heart, and Papa had checked out, long ago.
It is sad when a man is married to a community, and not to his family….You say, it happens often? That is cold comfort, indeed.

Joshua, Moses’s hand-picked Disciple & Successor: I cannot say the same as they. I don’t know why, but Rabbi Moshe was always there, for me. From the start, he groomed me for leadership, and I strove to fulfill his expectations. It is true that I was more a Man of Action, and he a Man of Thought, but what of that? We complemented one another. That time, I took the field against Amalek, I knew that Moshe would be seated there, between Uncles Aaron and Chur, lifting up his hands, which were heavier than usual, that day. How we hacked and cut at the hands of Amalek, that fearsome battle! It was just like those Amalekite dogs, to attack us so cowardly-like, in the rear, when we were weary and weak, struggling along in the wilderness, after the Reed Sea’s Splitting, and having aroused the women and babes at Midnight, shocked and scared, for the Exodus from our Egyptian Captivity….
But it surprised me no end, when the Battle was over, and I and my Boys were struggling back to Camp, to report to Rabbi Moshe, and there, before I could open my mouth to report on the dead, the wounded, and the booty, he gave me one of his famous looks—the kind that stares down deep into a man’s soul and freezes the blood—and said, softly but clearly, “Amalek is not those people you have killed this day, Joshua Boy: Amalek is the Evil within yourselves; have you cut that evil out of your heart? Well, have you?” And he spun around on his heel, and walked off.
My comrades were upset, but I caught his meaning…. and never forgot.

Datan & Aviram, the Rebels: Do not expect us to say anything good about Moshe, even to the extent of honoring him with the title, “Rabbi.” He is no rabbi of ours: he’s a Levite; we are from the Tribe of Reuben, which ought to lead—our grandfather was the Eldest Son of Jacob, known as Israel. Why did he, or this Mysterious God who both kills and preserves, not slay us in Egypt? Because we are rebels, and disagree, and we, too, are necessary to this People. This New Nation, conceived out of slavery, called Israel, will never be rested or complacent. They, we, must always question, and argue, and wrangle, with one another. It is our doom, our fate, but our salvation, as well. Only by questioning shall we discover the Truth; only by arguing will we settle Matters of Torah. Woe unto you, O Moses, when all shall agree with you! Neither for you nor any rabbi, judge, prophet, or king to follow you will there ever be peace. How can there ever be peace for such a troublous people? For truly, the future belongs to such as us: we will sow the seeds of doubt before Moses’s leadership, forever….

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

Enjoyed this archived service or article? Click here to donate $3 to OneShul (care of PunkTorah).

Support OneShul on GoFundMe

Leave a Reply