Category Archives: 5770

Stopping Moses

Deuteronomy Fiction: Vezot Habracha

Stopping Moses

Bukki and his friends hid behind the gooseberry bushes on the Moabite plain. Heart-sized red fruit adorned the bright green bushes. Bukki’s back was to the flowing Jordan River, with the walled city of Jericho sitting lonely in the distance. From the Moabite plain Bukki heard the moaning of a million voices. Some of his friends cried as well.

“Moses is really going to die,” whimpered Assir, a chubby five-year old. “He is leaving us. We will be alone.”

“Quiet,” Bukki hissed to Assir and the other children. At seven years old, Bukki was the oldest and the natural leader. “Moses is almost here. Wait until I stop him, and then follow the plan.”

“I’m scared,” Assir sniffled. “What if he gets angry? We’ll die.”

“Don’t worry,” Bukki waved his hand. “Moses will not hurt us. And even if he does, it’s worth the risk.”

“I’m not sure,” Assir implored.

Bukki peaked through the bushes and spotted Moses approaching, escorted by Joshua.

“Look, Joshua,” Bukki overheard Moses. “Wild gooseberries. I love these. God is gracing my last moments.” Moses plucked several of the ripe fruit, careful to avoid the thorns of the bush. He placed them in the folds of his robe. “I will save these for the climb up the mountain.”

“Stop!” Bukki jumped out from the bushes and blocked the path of Moses who towered above him.

“Hello, Bukki,” Moses said. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m not going to let you die.” Bukki’s voice trembled.

Moses smiled. “It is God’s command. I have always followed God’s command.”

Bukki waved at the bushes. Assir led a row of four other children from behind the bushes. They walked between Moses and Joshua and grabbed on to Moses’ robe from behind. They closed their eyes.

“Oho!” Moses gasped. “What trickery have you hatched, Bukki?”

Bukki stepped forward and grasped the hem of Moses’ robe.

“We will not let you go. If you can’t go up to Mount Nevo, you can’t die. We will hold on to you for the rest of our lives. We are much younger than you and can hold on as long as we need.” Bukki looked up at Joshua. “No disrespect to you sir, but we want Moses to stay with us and take us into Canaan.” Joshua nodded silently.

Moses looked down and around at the children surrounding him.

“Then we might as well make ourselves comfortable,” Moses said as he sat down on the ground.”

The children sat down, still holding on to his robe.

“You are very brave,” Moses said, “for daring to stop me. God has requested my presence and you are delaying my mission.”

“There is one more mission we want you to do. Take us into Canaan.”

Moses sighed. “I wish to with all my heart, my dear Bukki. I would like nothing better than to feel the earth of the Promised Land beneath my feet. To breathe the air of its mountains. To taste its fruit. Its grapes. Its figs. To sit in the shade of its trees. To drink the sight of its sunrises and sunsets. But it is not to be.”

“So come with us. I don’t always listen to my parents,” Bukki whispered. “You have argued with God before. It’s right here across the river. Please.”

“I have often argued with God, and I argued much on this point, but I always listen in the end and so must you. My mission with the Children of Israel is complete. It has been long and difficult. God has assigned the conquest of Canaan to Joshua. You must let me go.”

The other children looked nervously at Bukki.

“No,” Bukki pouted. “We need you. How will we manage without you?”

“That is why I must leave. You need to learn to manage without me. You have Joshua, you will have other leaders. You, Bukki, will be a leader one day as well. And you have the Torah. Never forget the Torah. Never let its words leave your mouth. That will guard you better than anything. It is God’s word and we must follow it.”

The children continued to hold his robe.

“Have you heard, how I killed Og the giant?” Moses asked.

The children nodded.

“I jumped to a very great height. Would you like to see that?”

The children looked at each other in confusion.

“But first I want to give you each a gift.”

Moses stood up and out of the folds of his robe he removed the ripe gooseberries. He raised his hands like a magician and showed one fruit in-between each of his spread out fingers. He flung one fruit at each of the children, one at Joshua and put one back in his robe. Bukki let the fruit bounce off his chest as he held tight to Moses’ robe. Joshua caught his fruit. The rest of the children caught the fruit letting go of the robe.

Moses crouched for a second and then leapt a dozen feet into the air. Bukki, still clutching the robe, was pulled along, screaming. Moses caught Bukki in midair and they both fell back to the ground, with Bukki in Moses’ arms.

Moses put Bukki back on his feet. Bukki’s whole body shook. He had let go of Moses’ robe.

“I need to go now, Bukki,” Moses said.

“I don’t understand.”

“You will one day.”

“We will miss you.”

“I know. I will miss all of you too.”

Moses began to walk up the mountain, never to be seen by mortal man again. As he ascended, he drew the remaining gooseberry out of his robe and took a hearty bite.

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Deuteronomy Chapter 34

1 And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, even Gilead as far as Dan; 2 and all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah as far as the hinder sea; 3 and the South, and the Plain, even the valley of Jericho the city of palm-trees, as far as Zoar. 4 And the Lord said unto him: ‘This is the land which I swore unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying: I will give it unto thy seed; I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.’ 5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. 6 And he was buried in the valley in the land of Moab over against Beth-peor; and no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day. 7 And Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated. 8 And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days.

Secondary Sources:

Rashi: The Children of Israel tried to prevent Moses from ascending Mount Nebo.


Bukki is the grandson of Pinhas son of Elazar son of Aaron, the High Priest. Mentioned in I Chronicles 5:31

Assir is the grandson of Korach. Mentioned in I Chronicles 6:22

Removing Adam’s Curse

Tzvi Ilan ben Gita update: Ilan is doing great. He is scheduled for surgery tomorrow to put back parts of the skull. He still has issues with word recall and difficulties moving his left side, but otherwise there is good daily progress in his movement and functionality.

Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Vezot Habrachah

Removing Adam’s Curse

At the very beginning of the Torah we are informed that humanity is to suffer eternally because of Adam’s primal sin, for his inability to control himself:

“Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in toil shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.” Genesis 3:17

The result has been that we have to work hard for a living – very few individuals enjoy a paradisiacal existence.

At the very end of the Torah, the tribes of Joseph are blessed extravagantly:

“And of Joseph he said: Blessed of the Lord be his land; for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep waters that crouch beneath. And for the precious things of the fruits of the sun, and for the precious things of the yield of the moons. And for the tops of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the everlasting hills. And for the precious things of the earth and the fullness thereof, and the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush; let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the crown of the head of him that is prince among his brethren.” Deuteronomy 33:13-16

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) explains that this blessing comes to free Joseph’s descendents from Adam’s curse.

What made Joseph unique among his brothers that his descendents should inherit such a blessing? That they should be the only ones amongst humanity absolved from Adam’s curse and blessed with easy wealth and bounty?

The sages called Joseph “The Righteous” based on a single act of his. He resisted the seduction of Potiphar’s wife (remember Genesis 39:12?).

Apparently the path to an effortless livelihood is leading a life of overcoming and resisting temptation.

May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life, Health, Happiness and Success. May we overcome the many temptations around us and thereby enjoy the resulting hassle-free financial reward.

Gmar Chatimah Tovah, Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,



To the memory of R’ Yisrael Kimche z”l, father of R’ Alan and R’ Shlomo Kimche. A pillar, he left 113 descendents. For article (in Hebrew) with much more on this incredible man click here.

The Fiery Baton

Deuteronomy Fiction: Vayelech


The Fiery Baton

The northern wind howled outside the tent. The tent sat in the middle of the camp on the eastern bank of the Jordan River. The clouds that had surrounded and protected the Israelites for forty years were gone. They disappeared months ago, following the death of Aaron, the High Priest. The raw wind and hot sand scoured the pink soft skin of the Israelite tribesmen.

Moses and Joshua were alone as usual, silent in the tent. Moses, standing upright, eyes closed, was in a deep trance yet conscious of his surroundings. He was in the midst of his communion with God. Joshua stood near the tent entrance.

Was it resignation Joshua saw on the face of Moses? At one hundred and twenty years old, Joshua’s master was still a physically impressive presence. His aura was overwhelming. Joshua had served him with unyielding dedication for forty years. He had learned to interpret the minutest facial expressions to get an insight into his master’s thoughts.

No. It wasn’t resignation; it was a sad determination. Moses intended to fulfill God’s will to the last instruction, fully aware of all the disappointments and failures of the last forty years.

“It is you.” Moses opened his eyes and with an indecipherable face turned to Joshua. “You shall lead them into Canaan.”

“I am honored, my master,” Joshua bowed. “But perhaps there are others more qualified?”

“It is your destiny.” Moses smiled as if remembering an old tale.

“But what about Elazar or Pinhas? They are of your family and already priests of God.”

“No,” Moses said and slashed the air with his hand. “Priesthood and kingship can never be shared. It is a disastrous combination.” Moses closed his eyes with a pained look.

“What about Caleb? Caleb has the blood of kings in his veins. He is a natural leader and a master strategist. He would be excellent.”

“Caleb is a great man,” Moses nodded, “and he will be of immense value to you, but it is you Joshua, you and only you who will lead the Children of Israel into the Promised Land.”

“I have always been your assistant. How can I now lead?”

“Enough!” Moses roared. “You would deny God’s wishes in this?”

“I serve and obey.” Joshua’s body shook for a moment as he bowed again to Moses.

“I know your fear and your hesitancy. I resisted this burden more determinedly than you. But you must be strong and valiant. God has chosen you by name and He shall be with you as He has been with me.”

“Am I not right to fear?” Joshua asked. “I have been next to you through all the travails. The battle with Amalek, where you were barely able to stand on your own. I was with you when the burden of leadership was so heavy you begged for death. I was with you at each rebellion, when God repeatedly desired to wipe us out. And it was only you, my master, you who stood up to the Almighty. You who spoke with God face to face as no mortal has and no mortal will. How can I hope to take your mantle? To take this fiery baton from you.”

“Just as God helped me defeat Og and Sichon, so will He help you defeat the kings of Canaan. Just as we have set out tribal allotments for Reuven, Gad and Menashe on the east of the Jordan, so will you succeed in allotting the rest of the tribes in Canaan.”

“But you are able to speak with God. I am not.”

“The era of Instruction shall indeed end with me. But you will begin the epoch of Prophecy.”

“God shall speak to me?”

“When He needs to.”

“What if I fail?”

“Success and failure are in the hands of God. We can only strive. Strive with all our might, but the striving does not ensure success. You will do a good job, Joshua.” Moses closed his eyes. “I see you defeating the Canaanite kings and setting the borders of the tribes. There will remain pockets of resistance. The whole land will not be conquered in your day. No, that will only occur long in the future. But the Children of Israel shall follow God all the days of your life.”

“You comfort me, my teacher.”

“Let me do more than comfort you. Let me show you. Take my arm.”

Joshua clasped the right forearm of Moses. Moses’ hand wrapped around Joshua’s forearm. They both closed their eyes.

Joshua saw images flash across his closed eyelids. The walls of a fortified city tumbling down. Giants slain by Caleb. An entire platoon of soldiers abandoning a fortified city and caught by an Israelite ambush. King after king and city after city falling to the Israelite onslaught. The lords of Canaan fell before the Israelite tribes like wheat under the scythe.

Moses let go of Joshua’s forearm. Their eyelids fluttered open.

“You will do well, Joshua. Remain strong and valiant and you will succeed. Are you ready?” Moses asked, looking deep within Joshua’s eyes for a hint of any weakness, any hesitancy; any clue that Joshua was less than God’s new chosen leader.

But Joshua’s eyes reflected the steely resolve that Moses knew was there all along.

“I am ready.”

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Deuteronomy Chapter 31


1 And Moses went and spoke these words unto all Israel. 2 And he said unto them: ‘I am a hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no more go out and come in; and the Lord hath said unto me: Thou shalt not go over this Jordan. 3 The Lord thy God, He will go over before thee; He will destroy these nations from before thee, and thou shalt dispossess them; and Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the Lord hath spoken. 4 And the Lord will do unto them as He did to Sihon and to Og, the kings of the Amorites, and unto their land; whom He destroyed. 5 And the Lord will deliver them up before you, and ye shall do unto them according unto all the commandment which I have commanded you. 6 Be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them; for the Lord thy God, He it is that doth go with thee; He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.’ 7 And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel: ‘Be strong and of good courage; for thou shalt go with this people into the land which the Lord hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it. 8 And the Lord, He it is that doth go before thee; He will be with thee, He will not fail thee, neither forsake thee; fear not, neither be dismayed.’


Joshua’s resistance and hesitancy to the appointment mirrors that of Moses himself and God’s anger in the beginning of Exodus.

The objection of Moses against handing leadership to priests relates to that eventual occurrence in the Hasmonean dynasty where the priestly line also took over kingship with disastrous results.

Caleb is of the Judean royal tribe and we do see more of him down the line.

Delusional Blessings

Tzvi Ilan ben Gita update: Recuperation continues. Ilan is able to speak in full sentences. He is able to walk with a cane or walker. He is eating solid food and we hope that his trach will be removed tomorrow.

Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Nitzavim

Delusional Blessings

Humans are the only creatures that can make things up. This has given rise to art and literature, poetry and prose, architecture, technology and all the advances the human race has benefited from. However, there is a self-destructive side to imagination as well. Humans are also the only creatures that can deny reality.

All other creatures, when confronted with danger, instinctively react. Man has somehow neutralized this primordial instinct in itself.

“Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turns away this day from the Lord our God, to go to serve the gods of those nations; lest there should be among you a root that bears gall and wormwood; and it come to pass, when he hears the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying: ‘I shall have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart–that the watered be swept away with the dry’; the Lord will not be willing to pardon him, but then the anger of the Lord and His jealousy shall be kindled against that man, and all the curse that is written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven.” Deuteronomy 29:17-19

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) explains that when the stubborn man hears the word of God, hears the warnings, hears the punishments, he blesses himself and says “it won’t happen to me.” He thinks perhaps others may fall victim to the consequences of their actions, others will feel the wrath of God. But for some egocentric reason, he will be spared. He will be the lucky one who is immune to God’s judgment, who will escape the consequences of his actions.

But it is exactly that man (or woman, or family, or tribe) that will receive the harshest punishment of all. They will receive ALL the curses. To top it off, they will receive the curse we only lay on our worst enemies – their name will be erased from existence.

In this period of repentance we need to wake up from our self-delusions. We need to honestly confront ourselves. That way lays the path to forgiveness, redemption and blessing.

May we all successfully prepare ourselves for a New and Sweet Year.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the young women who have come to Jerusalem for a year, to study Torah together with the Arts. By combining these two areas they are making healthy, rooted use of their imaginations. Hatzlacha Rabbah.

Nation vs. Religion

Tzvi Ilan ben Gita update: Thank God, we are seeing consistent progress. He is able to speak more and remembers and follows more of what’s going on. He is also moving more, though he cannot walk yet unaided. He has just started eating real food.

Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Ki Tavoh

Nation vs. Religion

Everyone has got it wrong. And it is this error that has created confusion. People think of and define Jewishness as a religion. In this, they are mistaken. Jews are a Nation.

In a related way, people are making a fatal mistake about Islam as well. When the Jihadists start spilling Christian blood in the streets of Europe, people may realize their mistake – or then again, perhaps not – or maybe we’ll see the resurgence of the Crusaders.

It may not be politically correct, but by calling these Nations “religions” politicians and the media make believe that it is just a matter of spiritual beliefs or ritual practice. They don’t understand that we are talking about National allegiance to a people, a cause and a geopolitical reality. The current nation-states are merely a backdrop to these conflicts.

Nations on the other hand are classically defined as a collection of people within a certain geographic area and/or with a certain common genealogy. Judaism gives great value to both geographic connections (namely the Land of Israel) and genealogy (how many peoples trace their ancestry back thousands of years?). But that is not nearly the whole picture.

“On this day you have become a Nation.”

Deuteronomy 27:9

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach makes a very simple statement on this verse. When the Israelites accepted the Torah – that is when they became a Nation. What defines the Jewish Nation are not borders or genetics – it is the allegiance to the Torah – to God’s word and mission for us on Earth.

That is what unites us. It is not the language or the geography or even the common ancestry, though we may share many of those things. It is the commitment to the principles, laws and details of the Torah. The Torah and the Jewish Nation have transcended empires, continents and time itself. Jews individually and through their ethical teachings have served as a beacon of light to civilization and history. That’s a Nation I’m proud to be a part of.

May we always be united in our nationhood and call a spade a spade.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the Rebbe of the Shomer Emunim. He has been preaching some of the above for many years now. Especially the doom and gloom bits of the coming global clash between Islam and Christianity – over Israel. Don’t say you weren’t warned…

Angelic Paramour Assassin in Training

Deuteronomy Fiction: Ki Tetzeh

Angelic Paramour Assassin in Training

If a man be found lying with a woman married to a husband, then they shall both of them die, the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; so shalt thou put away the evil from Israel.” Deuteronomy 22:22

Now Eli was very old; and he heard all that his sons did unto all Israel, and how that they lay with the women that did service at the door of the tent of meeting.” I Samuel 2:22

“When an earthly court cannot find the sinner guilty, the heavenly court metes out the correct punishment.” Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 37b, Sotah 8b, Ketubot 30a,b).

“I always start with a leaf,” Mitael said as he floated above a white mare and wagon. “It’s become my trademark. Other angels have joined me to watch as I mete out a death sentence, but you’re the first apprentice I’ve had since the ascension of Eli the Priest.”

“I’m honored,” Lomael replied floating nearby beside a large oak. The morning sun shone brightly through him on the reds, yellows and greens of the majestic tree. “I heard the workload increased and the heavenly tribunal ordered additional assassins.”

“Here we go,” Mitael pointed below. A squat blacksmith walked across the dirt courtyard of the large stone house. The house was the largest on the outskirts of Shiloh. The blacksmith carried three heavy mallets of different sizes. “Watch the master at work, Lomael. Each act we do has to be simple, delicate, and undetectable.”

Mitael gestured to a yellow leaf on the oak tree. The leaf descended to the ground, zigzagging gently. Mitael orchestrated the movement of the leaf with his hands. The leaf touched ground exactly under the right foot of the blacksmith as he was stepping down. The blacksmith slipped, sending his three mallets flying. Mitael conducted the heaviest mallet towards the wheel of the parked wagon. The blacksmith fell on his rump. The lightest mallet bounced on his head. The heavy mallet slammed into the wheel of the wagon, knocking out two of the four bolts holding the wheel in place. The mare neighed.

The blacksmith rubbed his head, looked at the offensive leaf, picked up his mallets and continued to a work shed on the other side of the courtyard.

“You always require proper preparation,” Mitael explained. “That is the key to success. It is much harder to improvise all the elements. You must study your subjects, know their surroundings and disturb as little as possible. Our success is measured by leaving doubt. Humans have to fear, but there must always remain the element of doubt.”

Lomael nodded repeatedly as Mitael lectured.

“Now we get to see our subjects in their final act,” Mitael said.

A tall, beautiful woman with lustrous short black hair walked out of the house. A small red silky cloth wrapped her hair, revealing more than it concealed. A light purple dress clung closely to the curves of her body. She walked purposely to the wagon, mounted the open wooden carriage and took hold of the long reins.

“I’ll meet you in Shiloh,” she called to the house, snapped the loose reins and quickly trotted away.

“Maralin,” a deep voice called from the house. “Wait. Let us ride together.”

Maralin was already out of earshot.

“You see, Lomael,” Mitael pointed at the departing Maralin. “She has no patience for her husband. Why is she in such a hurry?”

A brawny man on a brown stallion waited on the right side of the road. As Maralin approached he smiled and matched speeds with her wagon.

“That is the Adulterer,” Mitael pointed. “See how close to her he rides? See how he keeps looking at her body? See how she keeps smiling at him, welcoming his attentions?”

The Husband, a thin man with soft curls, left his house on a grey mare. He spotted Maralin in the distance and galloped to catch up. Maralin and the Adulterer approached the gates of Shiloh.

“Let me demonstrate her immodesty,” Mitael turned his wrist toward her. A sudden gust of wind blew her skirt up. The Adulterer stared at her long legs with a wolfish grin. Maralin smiled back and slowly pushed her dress down. The right wheel of the wagon wobbled. The long reins swayed.

“Soon we will need to improvise,” Mitael said. “The punishment for adultery is strangulation. However no earthly court will find them guilty. The Husband suspects something and rumors have started to flow, but not enough to dissuade Maralin or the Adulterer.”

“So you will cause them to choke?” Lomael asked, rubbing his hands together.

“It will be close enough. Burning and stoning are much easier punishments to cause. Decapitation is the hardest. Decapitation is the biggest challenge.”

Maralin and her paramour entered the city gates. The hooves of their horses clanked loudly on the worn cobblestones. Merchants, artisans and farmers walked across the large plaza buying, selling and carrying their wares. The Husband trotted rapidly through the gates, just a few paces behind Maralin and the Adulterer. The Husband called out: “Maralin! Wait for me!”

“Now’s our chance,” Mitael pointed. An old brick-mason was crossing the plaza ahead of Maralin. He carried half a dozen heavy clay bricks and walked gingerly, favoring his left side. Mitael snapped his fingers and a gust blew. The small red cloth unraveled from Maralin’s hair and flew away in the breeze.

“My head covering!” Maralin exclaimed as she reached out, uselessly clawing at empty air.

A young scribe walking from the opposite direction looked at the red cloth and at Maralin. He did not notice the brick-mason approaching. The scribe bumped shoulders with the brick-mason. The brick-mason was captivated by Maralin’s plight and he didn’t discern the brick sliding from his pile. He kept walking and only a few steps later realized his load was lighter.

Maralin and the Adulterer kept trotting forward. The wheel of Maralin’s wagon hit the brick. The wheel slid off the axle of the wagon. The wagon collapsed to the right sending Maralin, still holding the reins, flying in the air, while her white horse crashed into the Adulterer’s.

Mitael pointed at the confusion of the horses. The reins enwrapped Maralin’s neck. Maralin knocked into the Adulterer. He caught her while still riding and tried to untangle her, but he too became entangled. The end of the rein got caught in the bit of the Adulterer’s horse. The pair fell off the brown horse and held onto each other. They dangled by their necks, knees dragging on the cobblestones between their galloping horses. A mass of brown, white and purple careened through the plaza. They left a thin trail of red from their bleeding knees. The horses, panicking, tried to separate from each other, pulling tighter on the reins around the couple’s necks.

Screams and shrieks filled the stone plaza. Maralin and the Adulterer writhed and convulsed as they tried to claw the suffocating reins off their necks. Finally, when the struggling of the couple stopped, the Adulterer’s horse released its hold upon the reins. Maralin’s horse stopped, free of the pull of the Adulterer’s horse, though still weighed down by the couple on his reins. The pair fell, lying on the floor, enwrapped in one another’s arms.

The Husband jumped off his grey mare and ran to lean over Maralin. A crowd surrounded the trio on the worn cobblestones.

“Maralin! What happened?” the Husband cried as dark red contrasted with Maralin’s purple dress.

“You?” Maralin coughed blood. “You were not worthy of me.”

“What?” the Husband asked with a wild look in his eyes. “But I love you. I always have.”

“I know,” Maralin looked at the Adulterer lying dead in her embrace. “But I don’t love you, and now I die with my lover.” Maralin smiled and then coughed more blood. The smile vanished, replaced by a grimace. And that was how she died.

“Incredible!” Lomael exclaimed. “How did they fall together and confess?”

“I only planned the strangulation,” Mitael coughed. “Their dying in each other’s arms and the confession were unexpected.”

“I don’t understand. How could that happen?” Lomael asked.

“Occasionally God takes a direct interest.”

“I thought that was our job?”

“It is. But sometimes God adds His own details.”

“But why?”

“I don’t know. It’s a great mystery. I think He just likes a good story.”

* * * * * *


“Mar” = bitter and “Alin” = I will cause someone to lie

“ael” is common angelic suffix.

“Mita” = Death

“Lom” from Lomed = Learner

Competitive Comparisons

Tzvi Ilan ben Gita Update: Fantastic progress! He’s walking (with assistance) and talking (with some difficulty). He is doing intensive rehabilitation and we look forward to more progress every day. Keep the prayers going.

Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Ki Tetze

Competitive Comparisons

There is something healthy about pitting oneself against an opponent, striving, pushing to reach one’s potential, and via the competition reaching new heights of personal performance.

On the other hand, there is always the danger of comparisons, of feeling better or worse than someone as a result of the competition. The Bible repeatedly compares the performance of people (see Kings, where each descendent of King David is held to his standard of devotion). However the Torah does seem to draw the line when there is a major difference between who is being compared.

Amongst the plethora of commandments in Deuteronomy, there is at least one that looks out for inter-species relationships and potential competition:

“Thou shalt not plow with an ox and a donkey together.”

Deuteronomy 22:10

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) gives a number of reasons as to why God should care and legislate such a particular commandment.

One of Hizkuni’s reasons is that God wants to spare the feelings of the donkey. One cannot compare the strength of an ox to the strength of a donkey. To have them work side by side, doing the same work, plowing the same field, would embarrass the donkey. In order to spare the feelings of the donkey or any other weaker animal, the Rabbis legislated that animals of different species shall not plow, pull or otherwise work together.

The Torah recognizes that not all animals are created equal and situations which highlight the difference to the detriment of one of the parties need to be avoided. For creatures that just don’t have the inborn capability to compete with each other, it is plainly unfair to stand them side by side.

However in areas where we are equal or closely so, it seems it is fair game to ask, “If he can do it, why can’t I?”

May we only engage in healthy competition – and win.

Shabbat Shalom,



To my children starting their school year. Go get ‘em.

Left-handed Justice

Deuteronomy Fiction: Shoftim

Left-handed Justice

Court of 23 elders

How could she leave me? When I need her most, just steps away from death, she abandons me. Avital, my love. I didn’t do it. I thought you believed me.

The platform they built for me stood in the distance, surrounded by golden fields of wheat. There hadn’t been a beheading in Yarmut in a generation. We all knew how it worked. We had learned the laws as children. A man accused by two witnesses and found guilty of murder was executed by the sword. But it was rare that two valid witnesses were ever by the scene of a murder. I was the lucky one.

I looked at my cursed hand. In the land of the right-handed, anyone different is an easy pariah. I inherited my left-handedness from my mother, a Benjaminite. It was common enough within the Tribe of Benjamin. Here among the Judeans, the land of my father, I’ve been teased ever since my playmates could talk. ‘Lefty, lefty,’ they would jeer, as if just picking up a stone with the wrong hand was a crime.

Two Yarmut court officers walked me slowly towards the platform. A crowd lined the road from the courthouse to the executioners block. People from the surrounding villages had come to see the spectacle. The angry teenage sons of Poshu came from Zanoach, with ripped tunics, still mourning his death. Laborers from Bet Shemesh left the grape harvest to watch the spectacle. I was strangely proud of the large crowd of neighbors that arrived from Azeka.

One of the officers at my side announced in a loud voice, “Yiter son of Lachmi of Azeka has been sentenced to beheading for the death of Poshu of Zanoach. He has been accused by Shiven and Rumon, also of Azeka, for the murder. If anyone has evidence otherwise, please come forward now.”

How I hoped to be saved. Someone else did it! I had no love for Poshu, but I never wished him dead. I tried to recall how my week had started and how I ended up walking to my execution.

Poshu’s messenger had arrived at my home on Sunday. ‘We must talk about Shiven’s field. Meet me at the tavern of Zanoah early tomorrow,’ his message read. Poshu was not a man to be ignored.

At first light on Monday, I saddled my tired stallion and set out from Azeka. I rode past the city of Yarmut nestled amongst rolling green hills and reached Zanoach as the sun broke through the top of the Judean Mountains. In the back of my mind I knew Avital would be taking this road back home from visiting her parents in the land of Benjamin.

Poshu sat in his usual corner of the tavern. Long ago Poshu had demanded of the tavern-keeper a sturdy chair to support his wide girth. A long sword was sheathed on his left side. The tip touched the floor behind him. A bejeweled dagger hung from his belt on the right. Poshu was nursing a large cup of wine. Two equally large cups, both emptied, sat next to the third one in his beefy hands.

“What kept you so long,” Poshu demanded as I approached his table.

“I came as quick as I could, sir,” I responded, eyes looking at the wooden beams of the tavern floor.

“Well, sit down, Yiter, I don’t have all day.”

I slowly sat down on the chair opposite Poshu keeping the table and his temper at arms length.

“I have bought the vineyard of Shiven and his partner,” Poshu stated.

“Rumon,” I added.

“Yes, yes, Rumon. The vineyard west of the Azeka spring. The one bordered by the old olive trees on the north side.”

“What!?” I exclaimed. “That’s not possible. That’s the collateral they gave me. I’m taking possession of the vineyard this week from them. They’ve defaulted on their loan one time too many. The court will award it to me. Without a doubt.”

“I bought that field,” Poshu pounded on the tavern table, “and I’m getting that field.”

“You need to take up your claim with Shiven and Romun,” I said. “They had no right selling it to you. They need to give your money back.”

“You and I know those fools don’t have any money, and they will yet pay for their deceit, but I will not take a loss just because you made a bad loan.”

“A bad loan?” I stood abruptly. “You were the one who made a bad buy. I have solid contracts to prove my ownership of those fields.”

“Let’s make an agreement ourselves,” Poshu put his hand out, urging me to sit again. “I will pay you half price for the field. That’s a fair resolution.”

I did not sit down. “I’m sorry for your loss, Posh., I’m sorry they sold you a field already spoken for, but I see no reason why I should lose as well. Even at full price, I would not be interested in selling.”

“You young fool. If you don’t agree to half, I will take the whole thing.”


“Leave that to me.” Poshu gulped down the rest of his wine.

“Then we have nothing further to discuss.” I walked out of the tavern.

The officer at my side interrupted my reverie as we walked closer to the platform.

“If anyone has evidence otherwise, please come forward now,” he repeated.

Avital, where are you? You were by my side the entire trial. You kept saying that it was a mistake, that I was innocent. You had such conviction and such hate for my accusers. I was stunned by your ferocity. My beautiful Benjaminite bride. Married less than a month and then thrown into this nightmare. I could not have asked for a more loyal, trusting, steadfast partner. When all the evidence was clearly against me, you did not give up hope, did not stop believing in me. Where did you go? Why? You were so strong during the trial. The trial…

Shiven and Rumon stood in the middle of the stone and timber courthouse. They faced the twenty-three elders sitting in long robes in a semi-circle.

“Rumon and I had been riding south from Bet Shemesh, we turned east at Yarmut towards Zanoach. We saw them arguing on the road outside Zanoach,” Shiven said. “Then they fought. Yiter pulled out a knife and stabbed Poshu. With his left hand. Yiter then dragged Poshu’s body to the side of the road next to the sheaves of wheat. We saw it all.”

Several of the elders nodded their heads. One elder turned to another.

“He was found by the side of the road, with a knife protruding from the right side of his torso,” the elder said. “A thrust only a lefty could make.” The elder looked knowingly at me.

“When did this occur?” the middle elder asked.

“Midday,” Rumon answered quickly, “as the sun was high in the sky.”

Avital squeezed my right hand. “They lie,” she whispered fiercely. “They will not succeed.”

“We shall interrogate each witness separately, to determine the veracity of their testimony,” the elder announced.

The next day the verdict was given. I was guilty of murder. Avital ran out of the courthouse without a word.

“Admit your fault,” one of the elders approached me as I neared the platform. “Seek God’s forgiveness so your death may expunge your guilt.”

“I am innocent,” I said. I had said it all before to no avail. “Shiven and Rumon are lying. They want to get out of their debt and hold onto their land. They probably killed Poshu and are laying the blame on me. Masterful actually. They get rid of their two creditors in one blow.”

The elder had heard it before and nodded, not expecting me to change my story.

I climbed the platform, resigned to my fate. The somber executioner sharpened his sword with a large whetstone. The officers tied me to the executioners block. It was better that Avital was not here to witness my ignominious end. But how I missed her. One last look. One last touch would have been a comfort.

“Yiter son of Lachmi of Azeka has been sentenced to beheading for the death of Poshu of Zanoach. He has been accused by Shiven and Rumon, also of Azeka, for the murder. If anyone has evidence otherwise, please come forward now,” the officer called out one last time.

A grey mare I recognized galloped towards us. I thought my heart would burst. It was Avital! She drove her horse as if Philistine hordes were chasing her. “Wait!” she screamed. “He’s innocent! Don’t touch him!”

The elder signaled to the officers and the executioner to stop. Avital rode straight to the elder.

“I have proof,” she said breathlessly as she dismounted the horse. “I have witnesses. They are right behind me. Shiven and Rumon lie. They did not see Yiter kill Poshu. They sought to incriminate Yiter in order to get out of their debt and hold on to their land.” She pointed an accusing finger at the partners in the crowd. Officers of the court converged on the pair.

“How do you know?” the elder asked.

“I have witnesses.” Avital calmed herself. “They saw Shiven and Rumon in Bet Shemesh midday Monday. There is no way they could have witnessed what they described.”

Two horses approached carrying a middle-aged man and a teenager. They both still wore aprons. I recognized them as the tavern-keeper and his assistant from Bet Shemesh. They dismounted and walked to the elder.

“What do you know of the whereabouts of Shiven and Rumon this past Monday?” the elder asked the two.

“They were sitting in my tavern,” the older man replied, “from mid-morning until early afternoon. They had a wild look about them. Shiven was excited whispering ‘we’re saved’ and ‘this is it.’ Rumon said ‘we’ve got to get our story straight, those elders are sharp.’

“You see,” Avital interrupted. “It was impossible for Shiven and Rumon to be in Zanoach and witness what they claim. They were in Bet Shemesh at the time. Yiter is innocent.”

“The girl is right,” the elder proclaimed. “Yiter, you are free.” The officer untied the ropes binding me. I ran to Avital and embraced her.

“Shiven and Rumon,” the elder continued. “You shall take Yiter’s place. You shall be executed as you clearly plotted for your fellow.”

“Let us leave,” Avital pulled my hand quickly. Together we mounted the grey mare and rode home to Azeka. Avital sat behind me. I looked back to see the court officers binding Shiven and Rumon.

“You saved me, my love,” I said. “How did you find the new witnesses? How did you know where they were?

“Because I know who killed Poshu,” she said.

“It was Shiven and Rumon,” I answered. “You proved it with the new witnesses.”

“No. It wasn’t them. They must have discovered the body after Poshu was killed. After they realized their good fortune, they dragged him to the side of the road, so he wouldn’t be found quickly. That would give them a stretch of time to implicate you.”

“If it wasn’t them,” I asked, “then who killed them?”

“It happened so suddenly.” I could feel her trembling behind me.

“You saw it? You were there?” I stopped the horse, dismounted and helped Avital down to the ground. I did not let go of her hands.

“I was riding back down the mountain from mother. After I passed Zanoach, I saw Poshu riding in my direction. I tried to avoid eye contact with him. He recognized me. ‘You’re Yiter’s wife, aren’t you,’ he bellowed. I could tell he was drunk, though it was only mid-morning. I gave him a wide berth as our horses reached each other.

He intercepted me and unsheathed his sword. He held the tip to my neck. ‘Not so fast, young lady,’ he smirked. ‘We have business to discuss. Let’s talk here on the ground like civilized people,’ he pressed the blade into my neck. I dismounted. He landed on the ground with a thud, keeping the blade to my neck.

‘Your husband is an arrogant fool and you will pay for his pig-headedness.’

‘What has he done?’ I asked.

‘He would deny me my land, so I will take it from him.’

‘How can you take land?’

His smile grew. ‘I have arranged some documents to show the land belonged to me before he received it as collateral. I will have his land. But first I will have his wife.’

He suddenly dropped the sword and grabbed me by the back of my neck. With his left hand he gripped my right arm and bent it behind my back. Pain shot up my shoulder.

‘Yiter will rue the day he crossed paths with me,’ he breathed on me. I can still smell the stink of him on my face.

‘Please. Don’t,’ I pleaded. He twisted my arm further. My left hand fumbled against his side. I felt a dagger. I pulled it out of his belt and thrust it into his chest. He stepped back looking in shock at the dagger. Blood covered the jewels on the dagger turning them all to rubies. He then fell back, hands clutching the weapon protruding from the right side of his chest.

I jumped on my horse and rode home as if he were still chasing me.”

My mouth hung open as Avital finished her story.

“Avital,” I said. “I don’t believe it. All this time it was you. You were the lefty. You knew all along. And Poshu. That pig. He deserved to die. But why didn’t you say anything?”

“I didn’t expect Shiven and Rumon to accuse you, nor for the elders to find you guilty. Once they sentenced you, I knew I had to prove them wrong and had no time to waste. They had said they had ridden from Bet Shemesh, so that is where I searched. I asked everyone I met if they had seen them Monday. I finally found the tavern-keeper and he remembered seeing them noon that day. I came back as soon as I could.”

“And just in time,” I hugged her.

Avital pulled me closer with her strong left arm.

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Deuteronomy Chapter 19:

15 One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth; at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall a matter be established. 16 If an unrighteous witness rise up against any man to bear perverted witness against him; 17 then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges that shall be in those days. 18 And the judges shall inquire diligently; and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; 19 then shall ye do unto him, as he had purposed to do unto his brother; so shalt thou put away the evil from the midst of thee.


Yiter: Talmudic name for ‘lefty’

Rumon and Shiven: play on classical Talmudic use of ‘Ruven and Shimon’.

Poshu: Shortening of ‘poshea’ (villain)

Avital: common Hebrew name

Long live the politician!

Tzvi Ilan ben Gita Update: Great progress! He is awake and aware, though not talking yet. He has been moved to the Rehab Clinic at Mt. Sinai Hospital in NY. He is able to move his body and can even walk with assistance. We’re hoping to see even more progress while in the clinic.

Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Shoftim

Long live the politician!

“The King is Dead. Long Live the King,” is a phrase whose origin is shrouded by the mists of time.  Its usage is noted as far back as 1272 England upon the death of King Henry III and the succession of his son Edward I.

The Bible hints at such thoughts in Deuteronomy 17:20:

“May he (the king) prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel.”

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) teases out an additional lesson from the verse. Hizkuni explains that once the mantle of leadership is thrust on a king, his aging accelerates. The worries, the responsibilities, the burden of carrying an entire people are so heavy that the king will die faster then he would have otherwise.

For that reason as soon as the old king has died and the new king takes his place, he requires the blessing of “Long Live the King.”

We have seen a similar effect of accelerated aging on modern day presidents, prime ministers, politicians and other people carrying the burdens of the many.

This effect seems to be independent of political views, intelligence or even altruistic tendencies. In any case, we wish that these leaders always do more good than harm and may they have long lives to continue to serve their public. (And the evil, corrupt, damaging and outright inept leaders can go ahead and die at an accelerated rate.)

May the leaders that God sends us be better than what we deserve.

Shabbat Shalom,



To my nephew, Saadya Epstein, on the occasion of his Bar-Mitzvah. We wish him both leadership and a long, healthy life.

Stone Hunters

Deuteronomy Fiction: Re’eh

Stone Hunters

“You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations that you are driving away worshipped their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every leafy tree. You shall break apart their altars, you shall smash their pillars, and their sacred trees shall you burn in fire, their carved images shall you cut down and you shall obliterate their names from that place.” Deuteronomy 12:2-3

“He (Hezekiah) did what was proper in the eyes of the Lord, just as his forefather David had done. He removed the high places, shattered the pillars, and cut down the Asherah-trees.” Kings II, 18:3-4

Peluf gripped his grey beard as he sat on his stallion of the same color. He waited in the middle of the castle courtyard. His mounted troops entered through the arched stone gate, trotting loudly on the cobblestones, dispelling the early morning mist. The finest horsemen from the Jerusalem province had answered his call. Not his call. The new king’s call. Hezekiah son of Ahaz.

Peluf did not miss King Ahaz. He did not mourn the untimely death. His son, Prince – no, no longer Prince, but King, King Hezekiah was a different breed of man. Hezekiah was more like his grandfather, King Yotham. Both men of God. Hezekiah was untried though. A young man of twenty five years. Young and untried.

Ahaz on the other hand, that link between grandfather and grandson had been unlike either. Ahaz had embraced the local idol worship and dragged many of Israel with him. Peluf himself was ambivalent about idol worship. He was a career soldier – now commander of the King’s cavalry. He did as he was ordered whether he believed in it or not. Distasteful or not. It was usually distasteful.

King Hezekiah had declared himself on a mission. He was a firebrand with bright short red hair and a fiery long beard to match. Less than a month after his father’s death, Hezekiah proclaimed he would rid the land of idols. The veteran soldiers had laughed at the idea. The idols had stood since the days of Solomon son of David. The people, both Israelites and the ancient tribes loved their idols. For over two hundred years idols had graced almost every valley and every mountain of Canaan.

Peluf’s battalion was ready. Hezekiah had insisted on a majority of new recruits. It was clear Hezekiah wanted as many green soldiers as possible. He knew the older soldiers were cynical. Experienced, but still cynical. He hoped the new blood would turn the tide.

Peluf couldn’t recall the last time he had seen such energy amongst the King’s troops. The horses champed at their bits, eager to gallop. Young Hezekiah addressed the mounted battalion.

“We go today to cleanse the land,” Hezekiah declared from atop his white steed. “We must remove ourselves from the worship of these false gods. There is only one true God. And he is not of the handiwork of man. We must destroy the idols – all the idols. There must not remain a shred of their pollution in our land.”

The younger soldiers raptly followed Hezekiah’s words. Some of the older soldiers snickered quietly.

“Men, soldiers of Judeah, grab your swords.” Hezekiah unsheathed his. “Any idol we encounter we must smash, destroy. If anyone gets in our way, we shall rid the world of them and their idols. We have given warning. We have given the blatant worshippers a chance. Any that stand in our way have brought a death sentence on their heads. I wish to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, but we shall not allow this evil worship any longer.”

Hezekiah raised his sword and trotted towards the gate and the front of the battalion. Peluf rode to the right of his new lord. “We march!” Hezekiah shouted. A hundred horses and their riders followed Hezekiah, all with raised swords.

The troop quickly reached the Valley of Geihinom. Hundreds of people were assembled in the valley. They were all Judeans. They clustered around dozens of idols spread out through the length of the valley. Thin wooden idols, fat clay idols and a few imposing stone idols stood out. Men, women and children of all ages stood around the idols. They had not believed Hezekiah’s threats.

“People of Judeah,” Hezekiah called to them sword still in hand. “Give up this worship, move away from this abomination or perish with it.”

An old woman, next to the idol closest to Hezekiah called back to him.

“Leave us alone. These are the gods of Israel. We shall die before forsaking them.”

“It is the Law of Moses that you have forsaken. How can you betray him and our God?” Hezekiah called out.

“Moses?” the old woman barked a laugh. “That was hundreds of years ago. What relevance does his Law have to our lives? He was a desert dweller, a nomad from a backwards era. We are sophisticated mountain folk. We need the gods of the mountains. It is you Hezekiah who is the fool. You should have followed in your father’s footsteps. King Ahaz knew the value of our gods.”

Hezekiah charged her and stabbed her through the stomach with his sword. He dismounted and smashed the large clay statue she had been defending. The broken pottery fell into the pool of blood oozing from the dead woman. The cavalry followed suit and attacked people and statues. Most of the people fled, now convinced that Hezekiah would carry through with the destruction. A few of the elderly did not move and stood bravely in front of their idols, protecting their gods. Others hugged the statues to depart this world together with them. Clay statues were smashed, wooden ones burned and stone ones defaced and broken. After a few hours the Valley of Geihinom became a wasteland of broken gods.

Peluf was pleased and impressed. He was pleased that his young soldiers had destroyed the idols efficiently. None of them showed bloodlust. Hezekiah’s orders had been to let the people run away. Only those standing by their false gods were to be struck down and that is what happened.

But he was mostly impressed with the young King. Hezekiah set his mind on this destruction and had thoroughly wiped out the idols in this stronghold of the false gods. The next target would not be so easy.

“To the Pillar of Baal,” Hezekiah shouted to his soldiers. “Let us make haste.”

Hezekiah’s army rode northeast. The green lush hills surrounding Jerusalem gave way to sparser, drier land. They followed the ancient road down towards Jericho. The thorny bushes showed themselves less frequently until they reached the Judean desert. All they could see were rolling, dead yellow hills. In the distance through the summer haze they could glimpse the palm trees around the broken walls of Jericho. To the south they saw the lip of the Sea of Salt, where nothing lived.

A hint of green peaked out from between two mountains. Hezekiah’s troops followed the trail entering a narrow valley. Chalky red sandstone formed a wall to their right and left. In the middle of the Wadi a stream of fresh water trickled through. Thick green vegetation hugged the stream. The troops cantered on either side of the stream raising a thick cloud of dust that filled the Wadi.

“Let us send scouts ahead and above, your Majesty,” Peluf gestured. “We will not take the Pillar as easily as the Valley and this Wadi is too easy to ambush.”

Hezekiah nodded his agreement, eyes looking up and ahead.

Peluf motioned to his captains. Three pairs of soldiers trotted forward. Each twosome had an older soldier paired with a younger one. One pair went further down the Wadi, the other two pairs scrambled up the sides of the Wadi to scout from above. The rest of the cavalry proceeded along the Wadi.

The pair that went down the Wadi returned less than an hour later. The younger soldier was panting, the older one, Shaku, scratched his short beard as they approached Peluf and Hezekiah.

“Report,” Peluf commanded.

“Your majesty, Commander Peluf,” Shaku bowed. “This Wadi spills out into an open plain facing the Pillar. There are perhaps a thousand people standing in front of the Pillar. They have been warned of our approach and the destruction in the Valley. They are prepared for battle.”

“Weapons?” Peluf asked.

“Axes, shovels, pitchforks and some rusty swords. There are a handful of archers too,” Shaku answered.

“Estimation?” Peluf asked.

“Most of them are on foot. We can defeat them, but we would suffer great losses.”

“Your Majesty?” Peluf asked.

“Is there an obvious leader?” Hezekiah asked the soldier.

“Yes, your Majesty. There was a priest of Baal in his white robe riding a horse in front of the crowd, warning them how the Davidic line was a threat to their lives. He is accompanied by armed guards.”

“I see. What do you suggest Peluf?” Hezekiah asked.

“If you still wish to attack, I would hit them with two columns. One straight on and the other hitting them from the west. Never corner your prey. If we can hit them hard and fast enough, perhaps they will flee towards the east. That way we can minimize losses on both sides. If they become desperate or hold fast there will be few people standing at the end, on either side.”

“We may have to risk it,” Hezekiah held on to his long red beard, “but I just had another thought. Let us call for a parley.”

“A parley?” Peluf’s eyebrows shot up. “For what? What will you negotiate? They will never agree to anything.”

“I know,” Hezekiah smiled. “But perhaps a little deception can save much bloodshed. You, I and Shaku shall call for parley. We shall bring the troops to the mouth of the Wadi and then we shall proceed and seek their leader. Shaku, prepare a flag.”

The other pairs of scouts returned and confirmed Shaku’s report. Peluf sent them back to wait for the main force by the mouth of the Wadi. Hezekiah, Peluf and Shaku entered the plain leaving the main force behind them. The threesome trotted slowly. Shaku carried a spear with a white cloth tied to its head.

Past the plain was an imposing cliff face. Sculpted into the cliff was an immense statue standing the height of ten men.  The Pillar of Baal.

Peluf had never seen the Pillar before. An irrational desire to get off his horse and genuflect to the Baal overcame him. He looked at his King. Hezekiah’s face contorted. He seemed angry and fearful and desperate at the same time.  Hezekiah paused for a moment and closed his eyes. When he opened them, Peluf could only see the anger that remained.

The priest of Baal noticed the delegation. He assembled two of his guards and they trotted forward on their horses. The two parties met midway between the large crowd of Baal-worshipers and the mouth of the Wadi.

“King Hezekiah,” the priest sneered. “I expected you to come charging through the Wadi, sword raised high, cutting us down like wheat under the scythe. I received reports of your carnage in Geihinom.”

“I may yet do that,” Hezekiah answered.

“So why do you seek parley?”

“You have assembled a powerful force, Priest. I wish to make my life easier.”

“I can believe that, though do not expect me to cooperate.”

“Do you know the history of the Pillar?” Hezekiah asked.

“The Pillar goes back to antiquity. It is one of the strongest gods. We serve and obey.”

“We are not sure when the Pillar first came into existence,” Hezekiah stated. “But I do know it was refurbished in the day of my ancestor, King Solomon, by one of his wives.”

“See,” the priest pointed at it gleefully, “even wise Solomon approved of the idols.”

“I don’t know what he approved or how wise he was on these matters,” Hezekiah whispered to Peluf.

“There is a secret and a power to the Pillar that has been handed down from father to son, since Solomon’s day,” Hezekiah declared to the priest.

“Is that why you would destroy it?” the priest asked.

“Yes, but not for the reasons you think.”

“Will you tell me the secret?” the priest questioned.

“Let us talk privately,” Hezekiah suggested.

“I shall speak with you only with my guards,” the priest answered.

“As you wish, though you may regret it.” Hezekiah dismounted but motioned to Peluf and Shaku to stay.

Hezekiah walked slowly away from Peluf and Shaku. The priest walked with him. They were surrounded on either side by the priest’s guards.

“Your Majesty,” Peluf called.

“Stay,” Hezekiah answered. “This discussion is not for your ears.”

When they were out of earshot, Hezekiah spoke to the priest earnestly. He pointed at the Pillar. He pointed at the mouth of the Wadi where the concentrated force of his cavalry could be seen. He pointed at the afternoon sun creeping towards the mountains to the west.

The priest’s eyes opened wide. He looked at his guards with distaste. He nodded slowly towards Hezekiah and then, as if realizing his action stop abruptly and stood straight. He excused himself from Hezekiah and walked back to his horse in a barely controlled run. His guards caught up with him, both of them with tight smiles on their faces. The priests and the guards galloped back to the Pillar, with the priest yelling and waving his hands at both guards.

Hezekiah walked calmly to his white horse with a smile on his face.

As he mounted, Peluf asked, “What did you say to them?”

“It’s a secret,” Hezekiah winked at him and turned his horse back to the Wadi. “Now we will see how long it lasts.”

From the mouth of the Wadi they saw the priest and his guards return to the mass of people and dismount. The priest took out a knife and stabbed one of the guards. The guard fell. The priest stabbed repeatedly. The other guard ran yelling towards the base of the Pillar. A crowd followed him. The priest, with blood on his hands, demanded an ax from a nearby farmer and chased the other guard. The entire mass of Baal-worshippers converged on the Pillar. Further away, yet still in the shadow of the Pillar, the dead guard remained alone in a pool of his own blood.

The surviving guard climbed the side of the Pillar with his sword in hand. Others followed. He climbed higher and higher until he reached the top of the Pillar’s head. More people climbed up the Pillar until the statue was covered with bodies like ants encasing an overripe fig just fallen from a tree.

The guard swung his sword and hacked at the sandstone. A piece of stone fell off, knocking a young man off the statue. Baal-worshipers stepped and climbed on the fallen body to get closer to the statue. Axes were swinging and rocks were crumbling. The falling rocks hurled many of the climbers to the ground. Those who remained clamored for space, flinging off neighboring climbers at will. The space was quickly filled by other eager climbers.

“What is happening?” Peluf asked Hezekiah.

“They are seeking gold,” Hezekiah answered.

More bodies piled up at the foot of the Pillar. The head, torso, arms and legs of the statue were no longer recognizable. Dust and rock joined the growing pyramid of carcasses. The hungry Baal-worshipers ate away at the mountain stone like a swarm of locust.

“What gold? I never heard of any gold there,” Peluf turned to Hezekiah.

“It is an ancient secret, handed down from King to King since the time of Solomon,” Hezekiah smirked.

“Truly?” Peluf’s mouth hung open.

”No,” Hezekiah answered. “I made it up. But it is curious that fervent Baal-worshipers would kill themselves and destroy their precious idol for it.”

“You told him there was gold behind the idol?”

“Yes. I revealed to them the ancient secret that one of Solomon’s wives, during the refurbishment of the Pillar, placed half of Solomon’s wealth, gold, silver, diamonds, rubies and endless precious stones behind the Pillar. That is what gave it special power and attraction. I told him I had come to take that wealth. That my troops were here to secure the area and the treasure before my engineers arrived to dig and scrape it out. I offered to share the treasure with him if he made way for us.”

“You lied.” Peluf accused.

“Yes, would you have preferred a frontal attack?”

“No. It was brilliant, my liege.” Peluf bowed low from the seat of his horse. “Should we attack now? We can clean up this mess easily ourselves.”

“No. Let us go home. We have caused enough damage for one day.”

As they departed, Peluf saw more bodies falling. The head of the Pillar was obliterated. In the light of the setting sun, something seemed to shine where the head had been. Peluf kept riding away.

* * * * * *