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WEEKLY TORAH PORTION

Vayishlach: Esau’s Version of the Meeting with Jacob

 

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

 

“Should we hope for each other’s failure?

Or should we rather pray for their welfare?”

--Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel (adapted)

 

            When my messenger—Bitachon ben Emet, a good and reliable man—returned to our camp with news that my long-lost brother Jacob was on the march towards me, I began to feel nervous and fearful—those same old fears of self-doubt and insecurity with which I have wrestled, ever since he and I were growing up in the tent of our parents, Isaac and Rebecca. Well did I recall how he fooled me, so many times! That wretch— I found myself clutching and loosening my grip on the haft of my old, scarred broadsword, fearfully.

“Do you, Esau ben Yitzchak v’Rivka, the mighty desert chieftain, fear any mortal man?” my conscience asked me, “With the help of your father’s God, you will squash him like a bug!”

“Be silent!” I commanded myself (in my mind), knowing all these thoughts to be the work of the Yetzer Ha-Ra, the Evil Inclination; so did my fourth wife, Machalat bat Yishmael, explain to me once. It had been late that night, I remember; the dark red wine in the ‘skin was nearly gone—indeed, I felt warm all over—and it was just her and me in the firelight, with the stars sparkling above. Ah, the moonlight! How alluring did my Machalat appear....

“These demons in your mind, My Beloved Esau,” she said, stroking my cheek, “are mere phantasms. What do you fear most, My Lord?” she asked.

“I fear—failure, and being taken advantage of,” I replied, tilting the ‘skin back for one last gulp. Liquor was the only thing that steadied me during my “spells,” but I was careful about it. Drink has brought down more warriors than weaponry.

“Fail? What, you fail? O my hero, you!” She laughed softly. “But screw your courage to the sticking-place, and you’ll not fail.” She drew closer....

Arghh, Esau! Focus! Focus! It is naught but the Attention-Sprites, distracting me—where was I? Oh, yes—again, I looked down at Man-Killer, my old blade: I recalled killing Elchanan the Bethlehemite; in twain did I cleave him; he was all-too brast. I was master of combat; it made me feel better, more relaxed.

I began to plan: Jacob was coming! What should I do? By Baal, my brain was shutting down, as it frequently did, during a crisis. I had so many people and possessions to guard: God had blessed me with a troop of red-headed ruffian-children, as I had been, once. I grouped all of them with their respective mothers. No lioness will ever lose a cub.

Besides the redhead, I had also sired a pair of dark-haired, dark-eyed rascals, Machalat’s youngest; we had named them Datan and Aviram. They were no warriors-in-training, no. Instead, they spent their time in the shaman’s tent, studying the Sacred Scrolls I had inherited from Papa Isaac. I myself could not grasp that esoteric wisdom, so I never knew what they were thinking, unless I asked their mother:

“What are those two scamps plotting, hey? What are their names, My Dear—Rustam and Sohrab?” I had put the question to Machalat earlier that day. She was looking especially fetching that morning, wearing a cloth-of-silver hijab over a simple white linen robe—the perfect example of matronly modesty and no-nonsense taskmistress was she, my girl. She had been patrolling the camp, looking sharp to make sure that all, mistresses and maidservants, were doing their chores. As my favorite, she herself refrained from manual labor; instead, she had set the elder three—they were concubines, really—to grinding corn, baking clay pots, and hauling water from the well. If there were a lashing to be meted out, she would lay on with a will. Her overseeing left her time to tour our compound, eavesdrop on the latest gossip, and meet with my messengers—usually before I myself heard their report. So hard it is for me to pay attention! I am better able to parley with a gazelle than a man, though the beast always ends up being killed. And the man, often, as well.

Ah! But the question I put to Machalat about Datan and Aviram? I digress so easily—

Machalat fixed her sky-blue eyes on me: “They are studying the Law, My Lord,” she said. She had a way of answering me, her-master-her-husband, in a manner that was both endearing and a trifle insolent—these Abrahamic women are blessed with the sharpest tongues, no error. Ah, my Machalat! She is my beloved; she is fair, my God! She is fair; her lips are like a ribbon placed around the offering to a king. And her—

“Will it please you call out the troops, My Lord?” my Dear One interrupted my helter-skelter thoughts.

“The troops? And for what purpose?” I returned, all love-poetry gone from my fevered brain.

“Why, to repel your brother!” she answered sharply.

“My brother? What, that skinny creature Jacob? I had thought to take him on in single combat.” I fingered my sword. “Let him beware of me, by the Throne of the Lord!”

“Do you think a challenge wise, My Lord?” returned Machalat, her eyes flashing, “For you know that full-frontal-combat is not his style. No: he would rather hide behind multitudes of armed manservants than attempt to face you, man to man, with sword and buckler. He is full of tricks—you must keep him at a distance. Have you forgotten how he tricked you, not once but twice? Hearken to me, my confused Beloved: do you divide your troops, women, and children....”

“Divide?” I asked, puzzled. “Divide how?”

She blew out her breath with exasperation. “Look here, my Husband,” she said. Taking a stick, she squatted down in the desert dust and traced a pattern for me to follow—I have always been better with shapes and letters than with people barking at me.

“Pay attention, My Precious!” she ordered, with the correct mix of urgency, command, and gentleness. “Here are your four wives—Anah and Oholibamah—both of them Canaanites, and Adah, your Hivite princess—(Machalat snorted; Adah was her great rival, though they feigned great love for one another) they are to go in front. I, Machalat, with remain in the rear, obviously for the greatest safety, along with my sons, Datan and Aviram.

I began to tremble—imagine, a great, strong hunter-killer like me, trembling! It was the brain-fever—despite any number of charms, potions, poultices, and superstitious claptrap I had endured over the years, I had never lost it. Indeed, the only thing that calmed me down during these fits (other than alcohol, which was unhealthy) was to shoulder spear and shield, tuck along a small quiver of herb-potion-tipped arrows, and go crashing into the underbrush in search of some poor roebuck or other. Yes, that was the ticket: I would have to go hunting, just this afternoon. Just—

            “Does my plan please you, My Lord?” asked Machalat sharply, breaking into my reverie.

            “Ah? What? Of course, My Dear,” I replied, knowing that I would not have to give the matter further thought; Machlat would take charge, and I would be able to show up at the end of the business, and take full credit. I would feel her sardonic smile at my back at she stood well close to the action—but not too close; Jacob might pull out a belt-dagger and turn traitor to me, his brother. Machalat would be standing on my right, a safe distance back, but she carried a dagger, too. I had seen her split a willow-chip from fifty cubits with a single throw. A warrior herself, my girl.

            Machlat, looking at her map on the ground, mumbled something.

            “What’s that, My Dear?” I asked, marvelling at her ability to plan and execute—execute my brother, I hoped.

            “Yabbok,” she said, “We will move once Jacob crosses the River Yabbok.”

            And she went off smiling, to gather her sons.

            So what transpired in the end, you ask, Stranger?

            Why, all went off as I—that is, Machalat—had planned. My little sneak of a brother, it turns out, was more fearful of me than I of him—can you imagine? He sent me an enormous gift of cattle—so many head, that I could not see the earth beneath their hooves! I made a great show of declining, but he insisted—why should I deprive him of the mitzvah of honoring his elder brother? So I accepted.

            I went so far as to invite him to tag along for a few mil, but he declined. Well and good. That scoundrel! While sponging off his father-in-law Laban,  he learned a new set of tricks, and added them to his own. I am well rid of him.

 

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OUR RABBI - David Hartley Mark

WATCH RABBI MARK , To Life, L'Chaim #217 - Rabbi David Mark (You Tube)

Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Rabbi David Hartley Mark was born in New York City, and grew up on the Lower East Side, that legendary Jewish immigrant neighborhood, attending Hebrew Day School. He was first from his school, the East Side Torah Center, to attend Yeshiva University High School for Boys—Manhattan. David attended Yeshiva University, where he attained a BA in English Literature, a BS in Bible and Jewish Education, and a Hebrew Teacher’s Diploma (HTD). He spent his third year of college at Bar Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, where he developed a fluency in Hebrew, and toured around the country. He has also attained a Certificate in Advanced Jewish School Administration from the Hebrew College in Brookline, MA.

David attended the City University of New York Graduate Center, where he earned an MA degree from Queens College, as well as an M.Phil. degree, majoring in 17th Century English, specializing in the work of John Milton, as well as the Romantic Poets. A year teaching Hebrew School in a Reform temple in Brooklyn convinced him of his great love of Judaism, and he began attending the Academy for Jewish Religion, Yonkers, NY, where he was ordained a rabbi in 1980.

 

He met Anbeth, who was hired as temple secretary the same day he was hired to teach. They were married in 1978. They have two grown children, Tyler and Jordan, as well as a grandson, Aidan.

 

Rabbi Mark served pulpits in Warren, NJ, Fayetteville, NC, and Portsmouth, NH, in which last pulpit he spent 22 years, a record for that state. Seeking warmer climes, as well as closer family members, he and Anbeth took the pulpit of Temple Sholom in 2009. He also fulfilled a lifetime dream of teaching English at Keiser University in Ft. Lauderdale.  

 

OUR CANTOR - Javier Smolarz

Cantor Javier Smolarz

Cantor Smolarz comes to us originally from Argentina and via Congregations in various U.S. localities, joining Temple Sholom in September of 2018, where he has been wholeheartedly embraced by the Congregation.  His strong beautiful singing voice is coupled with a great sense of presence and decorum, but with a warm welcoming demeanor - all of which enhances our morning minyans and shabbat and holiday services.

 

 

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