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Parshat Vayikra: Amalekites, Egyptians, Israelites, and a Promise


by Rabbi David Hartley Mark


            The Sinai Desert—North-east Miliary Command, in Royal Egyptian Army terms—was still pitchy-black when Lt. Djer’s adjutant, Corporal Tem, shook his commander’s shoulder to awaken him. The lieutenant immediately arose—his training at the Royal Egyptian Army Military Academy (Heliopolis) stood him in good stead. He sat on the edge of his cot, blinking, rubbing his shaven-bald head, and collecting his thoughts.


Today, we will mount patrol-duty in our Cavalry Command, he thought. As Commander of 18th Regiment of Royal Egyptian Cavalry, War-Password “Jaws-of-Anubis,” I must make certain that my  troops are battle-ready. The desert will not forgive me, or them, if we are not prepared for whatever may ensue.


“It will be beastly hot today in the wilderness, Sir,” whispered the corporal, bringing Lt. Tem his washing-bowl and copper shaving blade.


The lieutenant smiled ruefully. “It’s always hot in this furnace, Corporal,” he said. “Have the sergeant-major rouse the troops—quietly. We are on full combat alert, as befits us fortunate soldiers who guard the Blessed Boundaries of Holy Mother Egypt from any savage invaders.”


The corporal nodded, saluted, and disappeared into the dark. Tem smiled to himself; he preferred to be alone in the early-morning silence.


The lieutenant put on his cotton undergarment and buckled on his bronze body armor. His armor fitted a bit more snugly than usual; he had gained a few pounds on his last leave to his home village. His parents raised sweet dates, plums and figs on a little farm close to the Nile River. Pa’s sweet melons were legendary for their size, heft, and color, and he regularly won first-prize in the farmers’ market. Patting his belly, Djer left the tent to inhale the pure, sweet desert air, tinged by a salty breeze from the Sea of Reeds to the north.


“We await your orders, Sir,” came a voice from the shadows, which he recognized as that of Sergeant-Major Joser, his aide-de-camp, “Would ye desire mounted chariots this morning, Sir? It would not take but a half-hour to ready them for combat. Hark to the horses, Sir; they are eager for blood and plunder! Ha!”


Djer had thought about this the previous evening, and decided then. “It will not do, for the sake of maintaining mounted silence, to take the chariots,” he replied, “for their straps and wheels will creak in the morning damp, and alert our enemies of our approach. We may require a surprise attack. No, Sgt-Major; this day, our troopers will ride their mounts, and keep conversation to a minimum, for only passing along my commands.”


“Very good, Sir,” said Sgt.-Major Joser, “I will have the troops ready their horses. They will prepare the reins and leather fittings for warfare, not parade.”


“Do so,” commanded Lt. Djer.


Less than a hour later, the copper bugles softly sounded, and the 18th Regiment was under way.


“Where away, Lieutenant?” asked the Sergeant-Major.


“Let us head towards the Sea of Reeds,” answered the lieutenant, “in case there are any stragglers from that escaped mob of Israelite slaves. We are under orders to—deal with them.”


“Deal with them by what means, Lieutenant?” asked the Sergeant-Major. He was a grizzled veteran of many encounters with Egypt’s surrounding enemies. An eye-patch gave evidence of his personal sacrifice during participation in the Ten-years’ War with the Nubians. When asked what he had done to the massive Nubian spearman who had stabbed him in the eye, the laconic Joser would gaze heavenward for a second and reply, “That’s one poor b**tard no longer walks this earth.”


“Troopers—I order you, on behalf of King and Country, not to spare the Israelite hordes! We will deal with them by any means necessary—including killing,” ordered the lieutenant. He thought, I hate to think of murdering innocent women and children, even if they are Israelite, he thought. Still, we are under the orders of Lt. Col. Sobek, our sector commander. He is in constant touch with the High Command at Royal Egyptian Army Headquarters. There is no choice left to me.


The soldiers rode along in silence, whispering only when necessary. A blood-red sun was rising in the east. There was no sound, except the creaking of saddlery and the clank of lances against bronze armor and fighting saddles.


“Sir,” said the Sergeant -Major, “We must halt, to allow Siptah, the Jebusite Scout, to study the trail and tell us what to expect.”


The lieutenant nodded. Siptah came galloping up on his spavined horse, grinning through a mouthful of brown, khat-stained teeth. Agile and alert despite his advanced years—he was at least forty—Siptah slid easily off his horse, and, lying on the ground, began sniffing eagerly at the ground, like a desert dog. Djer looked on in disgust—how could a human being, made in Osiris’s image, degrade himself into sniffing the offal of desert animals? Still, he had to grant Siptah some credit—the scout was nearly always correct in his trail-judgment. Besides an earthy smell of sweat and body odor the scout had—Why can’t he wash more often? Djer would ask, holding his breath while he spoke with him—he was a pleasant enough fellow, and a great warrior, besides.


“What news, Scout?” he asked.


The elderly Jebusite grinned and rose, not bothering to dust the desert-sand off his arms and legs. Arms akimbo, he stood before the lieutenant, not bothering to salute.


“If it please the Lieutenant, Your Worship—” began Siptah.


“Just Lieutenant will do, Siptah,” said Djer, fanning the air before his face. How can the poltroon live with himself? he thought, breathing through his mouth, “Give your report, please.”


“A gaggle of Israelites passed by—oh, perhaps one-two hours ago,” said Siptah.


“Good; we will shadow them, and make certain they are moving well out of Imperial Territory,” answered Lieutenant Djer.


Siptah raised one gnarly hand. “I have more to report, Lieutenant,” he said, and his grinning face grew grim, “There is also a war-party of Amalekites following the Israelites, perhaps just one-half hour behind.”


A voice from behind Djer called out gleefully, “What luck! Let the Amalekites finish what we ought to have done to those filthy Israelites!”


Without turning, the lieutenant called out, “At ease, Corporal Henut! Silence in ranks!”


“Begging your pardon, Lieutenant,” returned Henut, “but I have no love for those abominable Israelites—they laid waste to my homeland, including my father’s little idol-shop! That Invisible God of theirs, jealous no doubt of my father’s stock-in-trade, caused it to be destroyed by that insidious hailstorm. I hate those Israelites with every fibre of my being.”


Nodding at the Sergeant-Major, Djer ordered the detachment to halt.


“Military Police Detail!” ordered the lieutenant, “Apprehend Corporal Henut, and bring him to me.”


Henut found himself bound in papyrus-ropes, standing before his commander. “What’s this, Lieutenant? I hope I won’t have to request an audience with the Provost-Marshal, to protest your laying hands on an innocent soldier who said no more than expressing a permissible hatred of Egypt’s enemies….”


“At ease, Corporal Henut!” thundered the lieutenant, “for speaking out in ranks, and for contravening a direct order—”


“Begging the lieutenant’s pardon,” interrupted Henut, “What order was that?” He strained at his bonds, and glared at his commander.


“Our orders are to shadow the Israelites, not to attack them,” answered the lieutenant, “nor to aid or abet any other people or nation who choose to attack them. We are merely in an observer capacity.”


“Yes, Sir,” said Henut, sullenly. I might still be visiting the Provost’s office, he thought.


“And for your outburst,” answerered Djer, “I am reducing you in rank to Private, and fining you your next three weeks’ wages. I run a strong, proud outfit, Private, and I will not have layabouts such as yourself besmirching our unit’s record. MPs! Keep him under close guard, and, once we return to our Forward Operating Base, he is to go into the stockade for one week.”


The MPs led Henut away; because the unit was in the field, he was allowed to re-mount his horse under their watchful guard. The detachment spurred on, again.


“What is that noise I hear, Sir?” asked Sergeant-Major Joser, “Is it the sound of rejoicing? Are the Israelites observing one of their pagan festivals?”


Lt. Djer listened. “It is not the sound of rejoicing or singing,” he returned, “It is the sound of war—hear the women’s screams!”


As the cavalry detachment mounted the hill, they beheld a ghastly sight: a band of Amalekite Bedouin marauders were attacking the Israelite refugees who had only recently escaped from Egypt. Worse, instead of attacking in front of the line, where the soldiers and young men were—which would have been honorable war-practice—the Amalekites were attacking the rear of the line, deliberately choosing to slaughter helpless elderly, women, and even children. People screamed and blood flowed.


“What shall we do, Sir?” asked the Sergeant-Major, “Our orders are explicitly to shadow the Israelites, and not interfere with their Exodus from our kingdom.”


“Still,” mused the lieutenant, “The orders said nothing about the deaths of the innocent.”


The screams of the victims were clearly audible; some of the younger troopers felt sick.


“What are you suggesting, Sir?” asked the old sergeant-major, already guessing what was on his young commander’s mind.


“Sergeant-Major!” commanded Lt. Djer, himself unstrapping his bronze short sword, as well as his cavalryman’s shield, “I order you to have the bugler sound the ‘charge,’ so that we may rescue helpless civilian Israelites from those armed desert bandits.”


“You heard Lt. Djer,” called out the Sergeant-Major to the young bugler, “Prepare to sound the charge, on his order!”


“Wait a second,” said Djer, wheeling his horse about, in order to face his troops.


“Soldiers of Imperial Egypt,” he said in a stentorian voice, “I am commanding you to join me in defending a group of helpless elderly, women and children from a mob of murderous Amalekites. You know our enemy: he is merciless, and so must we be. If you bear any ill will towards the Israelites, you may fall out and remain under guard back here with our Military Police detachment, although I must warn you that I will arraign you later for refusing a direct order from me, your commander. But I hope and expect that every man-jack of you will gain great honor for both our Mother Egypt this day, and for Anubis, for whose ferocity and fairness our regiment is named. Will you join me? Bugler—sound the charge! Boots and saddles, my boys—let the Amalekites taste your bronze!”


Sadly, the remaining record of the 18th Regiment of Horse (“Jaws of Anubis”), Border Patrol Detachment, Royal Egyptian Army, has been lost. May Osiris welcome their glorious dead, and give plaudits to their triumphant heroes


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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