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Nitzavim-Vayelech: Moses’s Final Days


By Rabbi David Hartley Mark


                                    Ha’ we lost the goodliest fere of all

                                    To the Cloud of Divinity?

                                    Aye lover he was of the Holy Law,

                                    And he made God’s People free.


                                                --After Ezra Pound, “Ballad of the Goodly Fere”


            Following the ambush of the Amorite manna-raiders, General Joshua entered the Command Tent and laid his battered wooden shield, hooped round with a bronze circlet, in a corner. On it, he laid down his brazen sword, whose blade’s nicks and scratches testified his having used it in many a battle. Caleb ben Yefunneh, his aide-de-camp and Colonel of the Israelite citizen-army, laid down a long spear and shield, heaving a great sigh of fatigue. The two old soldiers squatted near the small fire burning in the center of the tent; the smoke ascended through a small vent in the tent-roof.

            Joshua was exhausted—he had sat up with his men for three entire nights, waiting for the Amorites to come. The enemy had finally arrived and the outcome was bloody, but the Israelites had driven them off with a loss of only five men killed, six wounded. The Levites had carried the bodies to the healing-tent, where women took over their care.

Joshua sat back against the tent-wall and mused: As the smoke ascends, so must our souls go up to God. He judges us—and do we go to the Elysian Fields, or does He place our souls into another new mortal, perhaps a baby? Never mind; my head hurts. I....

            “You saved my life, General,” said Caleb.

            “No more than you would have done for me. I’m glad we were able to repulse those Amorites, when they came to seize our grain and abduct our young women,” replied Joshua, “Tell me, Old Friend—is our Rabbi Moses yet alive?”

Caleb nodded; it was his business to know such things.

“How much time do you think the Old Man has, Caleb?” asked Joshua.

            “Could be a day—or hours, even,” replied the grizzled Judahite, spitting into the fire, “he is dying hard.”

            “Aye,” replied Joshua, “he is giving the Angel of Death a tussle.”

            “D’you remember, General, that time he faced down Korach and his hordes, single-handed?”

            “How could I forget?” said Joshua, smiling at the memory, “I offered to stand alongside him then, but our Rabbi just scowled at me, that way he had—has—and said, ‘Some battles we must fight alone, Young Joshua. I shall not trust in mortal men, from whom there is no help. No: my help is the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.’”

            “And what about—this goes ‘way back—the Night of the Slaying of the Firstborn, in Egypt?” recalled Caleb.

            “What a tumult—a bedlam!” answered the Ephraimite, “with Egyptian noblewomen—those gloating beldames—screaming to Ra, Thutmose,  Osiris, and all their filthy heathen gods! It was not safe to be an Israelite among them, I tell you—the men feared us, but the Egyptian women would have torn us to shreds, had the Lord not been our protection!”

            “Yet, after all that,” said Caleb, dropping his voice to a whisper, “Is it fair, General, for this man, the greatest Jewish leader of all time, to suffer so for striking a rock?”

            “I cannot say; what, am I the Lord, to deal out justice as He sees fit? I am sorry, sorry to death that Moses is suffering,” agreed Joshua, “and, the Lord knows, I have served him since I was a boy.”

            “No one knows his every thought as do you, my General,” said Caleb, wiping his sword with a rag.

            “But, the Lord bless him,” said Joshua, smiling grimly, “he is giving the Angel of Death a run for the money. Twice already, had I feared we would lose him—but he sent the Angel packing, he did. He is the greatest warrior of us all.”

            “That he is,” said Caleb.

            The two old warriors settled back against the walls of the Command Tent, each lost in his own reverie. The flaps of the tent parted, and a young boy came in—an apprentice Levite, by his garb, a white robe and singlet.

            Joshua smiled: “It is young Ori, the littlest great-grandson of Kohen-Priest Elazar. What is thine errand, O High Priest Ori, my boy?” He teased.

            The boy bowed—a bit snobbishly, Caleb thought. That whelp! I stood by not sixteen years ago, at this babe’s circumcision. And his mother died at his birth—you’d think that would teach him to be humble!

            “If it please you, my lords,” said Ori, flourishing a long shepherd’s crook, half again as tall as he, “Nurse Yaffa sends her compliments, and asks if General Joshua ben Nun will from this time forward carry the holy and enchanted staff of Moses.”

            Joshua rose and the boy handed him the staff, made of stoutest blackthorn and polished to a darkened shine, mostly by the large, horny hands of Rabbi Moses. It seemed to vibrate in Joshua’s hands.

            “I will not—cannot—wield this magical staff,” he said, “for it was meant by God to be carried only by our rabbi. Let it be buried alongside him.”

            “How, then, will we cross the mighty Jordan River, when the time comes to enter the Land and begin our conquest?” asked Caleb, “Will you not need this staff to smite the river?”

            “I know from our spies that there are places where a man might stand with either foot astride the ‘mighty flood’ of the legendary Jordan,” answered Joshua, “and besides, I believe that our God-Who-Makes-Miracles will ease our way across, as He did at the Sea of Reeds, staff or no.”

            Caleb nodded: he could sense that Joshua, even prior to the Great Rabbi Moses’s passing, was already showing signs of Godly insight and prophecy.

            The young Levite, not knowing what to do, reached out to lean the Staff of Moses against a corner of the tent wall. Joshua shook his head vigorously.

            “No, Ori, No! Return the staff to Nurse Yaffa,” ordered Joshua, “and bid her lay it alongside our rabbi in his winding-sheet, when the time comes.”

            Ori bowed once more, and quietly left the tent, bearing the staff.

            “Will’t please you to have a sip of mead, my General?” asked Caleb, when all was quiet once more. He reached for a clay jug which stood close by.

            “No, thank’ee, Colonel Caleb,” replied Joshua, “for I wish to have my wits about me, when the time comes.”

            The two old soldiers closed their eyes and tried to rest. It was very hot, and there was not the slightest breeze blowing through the goatskin tent. Both sweated profusely; they were both wearing leathern back-and-breast armor. They had to be ready for whatever might ensue; the Amorites were still a danger to be faced, with their fortress on Mount Seir.

            The two dozed uneasily. Minutes passed—an hour, perhaps? Who could tell the time in the desert?

            Suddenly, the flap parted again. This time, it was an older priest, Rafu ben Mahlah, of the  class of priestly healers.

            “My lords, quickly!” he cried, “I fear that our rabbi’s end is near.”

            Joshua and Caleb shot a glance at each other, gritted their teeth, rose, seized their weapons, and raced out of the tent after Rafu….



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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Our Czech Torah - Holocaust Memorial Scroll

The Torah was shipped in 1989 following a request from Malcolm Black who was the President at that time. The Torah is about 200 years old and comes from Mlada Boleslav, a town in the Czech Republic.

Wed, September 30 2020 12 Tishrei 5781