How King Solomon prophesized that Europe would declare a trade war on Israel

Long before the kingdom of Israel, God made a covenant with Abraham that inaugurated the Jewish problem as the sun and the moon and the stars inaugurated creation. Like the heavenly bodies it was invested with perpetual motion. Whatever was done to Abraham and his clan of  monotheists in those formative days is being done, forty hundred years later, in ours.

King Solomon might well be describing the Jewish problem when writing, “Whatever has been will be. And whatever has been done will be done. There is nothing new beneath the sun.” No there’s not; and ‘what goes around comes around’ is the bland idiom on which we draw for sense or hope or satisfaction – and are seldom let down.

Did Solomon forewarn that one far day a bloc of countries would declare a trade war on Israel? Did the keenest mind of all time foresee Professor James Crawford of Cambridge giving the go-ahead? Or that the European Court of Justice would fire the opening salvo? Is it the Jewish problem all over again?

According to prototypes of the problem in the bible, it is. Compare for example the self-defeating spite and malice narrated in Genesis with the eerie parallels of today. http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/24838 And who was it borrowed a strategy out of the Book of Numbers for their modus operandi? By instinct or design, what world movement latched onto a cunning insight of the owner of a donkey with a Hebrew tongue? It was the boycott movement of course. BDS took a leaf out of Balaam’s book and ran with it. How the wily wizard thought, the path his mind took, is practically the boycotters manual. Since war after war had left Israel more invincible than before, a non-military assault might be worth a try. Thus began a war of words. Weaponize bad PR; condemn and demonize Israel in forums and media, on campuses and cable networks; harness kangaroo courts; haul Human Rights protectors and their fake halo brand onto the bandwagon; turn the Jews into a pariah people; infuse and unite the world with rank loathing for Zionists. http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/24168

In keeping with the bible, the hopes of BDS fell painfully short. Appetites cloyed by getting nowhere as the devil’s advocate were diminished further by Israel’s burgeoning development. The idea of stalling the mini juggernaut did no more than tantalize taste buds.

But then a knight on white steed sprang from Europe, brandishing a weapon purpose-made: a court of law answerable to Eurocrats who have a problem with Israel. They looked to Professor Crawford to give the initial nod. “There do not appear to be any European Commission laws which could be breached by a member state taking the decision to ban the import of settlement produce.”

Go for the end game, in other words. Ban products made by Jews conducting their business in forbidden territory. Make the opportunistic upstarts pay for dispelling the joker card held by the West, the ‘Two-State Delusion.’ Europe wants the territory for perpetual leaders on the lookout for holy war. Israel, on the lookout for holy peace, is making life difficult for Europe, teeming with immigrants on the lookout to make life risky for the Jews of Europe.

With the end game in mind – an outright ban on products made by undesirables – Brussels chose a gradual game. Pretend. After the legal opinion in 2012 the European Court of Justice finally tested the waters with a petty label in 2019. If products originate in Jewish-held parts of ‘Palestine’ then labels must convey the fact. Consumers have a right to make ‘informed choices’ when they shop. Of course they do.

Trade policy to bring a targeted country to heel is the art of manipulating commercial means for political ends. Sanctions lie at the polar end of trade policy. Call them ‘hard diplomacy’ they are a clear expression of intention. We’re told that the object of sanctions on Iran is to prevent it going nuclear.

On the other hand trade policy can be a ‘soft’ instrument with the purported purpose of hiding the real motive. We’re told that label regulations are meant to protect shoppers. In reality they could be a trade ban in a velvet glove. It is more than likely that Brussels anticipates petty rules to conceive a major boycott. In all probability they will. The latest communiqué drips with concealment. “The EU insists that products made in the settlements must not carry the generic ‘Made in Israel’ tag, and wants them to be easily identifiable to shoppers.”

What is the label if not a new type of yellow badge? Agreed – Jews are not made to wear it. Nor does the label objectify them as Jude or Juif or Jood. What it does is compel Jews, if they want to do business with Europe, to admit that their products are downright illegal. Thin-skinned importers will cost in subterfuge logistics, legal risk, reputational harm, picket mobs, threats. They’ll do the math. Better not stock Israeli goods at all.

Martin Schulz, ex President of the European Union, warned Israel that Europe will have its way. “There is enormous pressure, also in the European Parliament, to label products because a lot of my colleagues consider the settlements illegal. They think the rule should be that products coming from regions with an illegal status couldn’t have normal access to the European market.”

A cauldron of support and protest. Lies of consummate cunning, bold from knowing that the UN General Assembly already passed how many resolutions condemning Jewish settlements as a violation of law. Better not buy from Israel at all.  Kauft nicht bei Juden – ‘Don’t buy from Jews’ – became, ‘Made in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.’

People connect the yellow badge with the Holocaust. In point of fact it predates Nazi Europe by a thousand years and more. Already in medieval times it was mandatory for Jews to identify themselves. This opened up opportunities galore. Treat the Christ killers like pestilence; isolate them; deprive or deport them; declare open season on Jews. Let mobs with an axe to grind, grind it on Jews.

Now that cultural norms bow to Diversity, you’d think that identification tags would be items for collectors? Not at all. Physically separating Jews might be a thing of the past, but the eternal obsession to quarantine them seems to have lost none of its power. Our global village may not be the medieval hamlet, but the hallmarks of the yellow badge are there. Borne not worn, labels on traded goods have taken over the function of the yellow badge, ‘Jewish-made’ comes in for Jewish born. Be it wine or cosmetics, tech or soda, accommodation or chocolate, if Jewish exporters are domiciled in forbidden territory they become the new targets of old hatreds. Boycotted by stores, besieged by mobs, shunned by shoppers, products have to carry a warning label – e.g., ‘Made in the Occupied West Bank.’ As consumers are warned off alcohol and cigarettes, now they’re warned off the deleterious effects of buying from militant, oppressive Jews offering their suspect wares.

What is the contemporary slur now that it is infra dig to slur Jews outright? What identity gets people spitting angry? What name brings anti-Semites out in their droves? Zionist! Jude has metamorphosed. Nowadays you don’t hate Jews; you hate Zionists, or Israelis, or Settlers. They are all of a one. “There is no such thing in the world as Jew and Israeli,” said Anis Mansur, late confidant of President Anwar Sadat. “Every Jew is an Israeli. No doubt about that.” The UN Human Rights Commission makes no distinction either, with a February 2020 blacklist of companies domiciled in Jewish settlements. Don’t support the Jews, is what the human rights body is warning international companies in the ‘West Bank.’

Academia dishes out the same treatment. “All Israeli academic institutions, unless proven otherwise…” The manifesto of the ‘Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’ echoes from Nuremberg in the 1930s. A head of faculty at the University of Manchester wrote to her Israeli colleagues:

I will always regard and treat you both as friends, on a personal level, but I do not wish to continue an official association with any Israeli.” It was fatal in Nazi Europe to associate with Jews. To have Zionist connections now can be fatal to an academic career.

How do we know that Europe’s trade war is not about ‘occupied’ territory? How do we know it’s really about prospering Jews? There are three giveaways.

One is the bald-faced lie that supports the ruling of the European Court of Justice:

“Settlements give concrete expression to a policy of population transfer conducted by a State outside its territory, in violation of the rules of general international humanitarian law.”

In fact Article 49, where these rules are laid out in the Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibits the mass transfer of Germans into territory captured by Nazi forces during WWII. The rules were not framed with future Israelis in mind. They, freely and independently, without force or dictate, chose to set up home or factory in Judea and Samaria. What is in violation is the trashing by Europe of international trade law and treaties.

A second give-sway came to the notice of Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at George Mason University School of Law and head of the Center for International Law in the Middle East. About the European court ruling Kontorovich said,

Jewish products are the only ones to have to bear special labels based on their origin. (The ruling) also shows it’s not about the Palestinians. In the Golan Heights there are no Palestinians, nor discussion of a Palestinian state. Yet the Europeans imposed the same rule. And we know it’s not about occupation because they don’t apply the rule in any occupied territory anywhere (else) in the world.”

The third give-away is a mendacious title chanted by anti-Semites like a mantra: ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’ or ‘OPT’. This is nothing more than a battle cry. You have to mangle international law into nonsense to apply to land that Israel took from Jordan and Egypt in the Six Day War. http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/south-african-jewish-leaders-thrown-chance-of-a-lifetime/

A bench of judges making up law on behalf of their Jew-baiting masters is prophecy in motion.

But how can it be! Men of Justice with qualifications as long as your arm! And cultured and all!  “Whatever has been will be.” The Einsatzgruppen, Nazi execution squads that roamed Russia to perpetrate a parallel Holocaust, by bullets, had lawyers in their ranks. A Commander Otto Ohlendorf, had degrees from three universities and a doctorate in jurisprudence.

King Solomon had vision all right, rear view and forward. Nothing is new beneath the sun.

Why Job in the Book of Job had to suffer

Narrated by his contemporary, Balaam the prophet 

If I am to follow my record in true prophetic fashion, I had better go on; and instead of leaping the days or the years, I will pass to the following winter. Fourteen moons after I left Pharaoh confronting the menace posed by the prolific Habiru (people who give me goose bumps thinking of them as Jacob’s fuse or God’s device) the covenant between God and Abraham is about to go into perpetual motion. The tribes are about to have cold water poured over their collective inebriation. They are on the cusp of finding out just what the Almighty meant by the bris bein habetarim, the covenant He made with a deeply sedated patriarch. If there was another way to make the bris I can’t think of it. Even for a man with the fortitude and faith to pass all ten supreme tests, the fates decreed in the covenant were too cruel and protracted to expect Abraham to make a wakeful deal with his Maker.

To get the bondage going, the provocative touch-ups I proposed took Pharaoh’s fancy: trap God’s Chosen one step at a time, I said. Job – now there is a God-fearer who makes good sense – was the willing witness. My other colleague, Yethro the priest of Midian, had the temerity or the foresight to locomote out of the palace on his gangly legs in case he should commit to anything he’d later regret.

Of ironic consequence about Job: one blustery morning at Charan market place, whom do I run into but a mutual friend of the magnate! Bildad a clansman of Shuah from the sons of Keturah, a wife of Abraham, was my distant cousin. He had come from Uz whence he’d gone to mourn with Job. I couldn’t get over what had happened – I haven’t yet.

The brutality of the destruction of a man who was blameless and feared God! What a great   achievement it was, remembering that Job had dwelt in Babel at a time when the people took council against God and built the Tower whose top reached into the heavens. For shunning the idolatrous project he was rewarded fitfully. Job grew to be the greatest man in the East, blessed above all except Abraham. Exempt from the ups and downs of mortals was part of his mystique. God, it seemed, would always protect and never test Job.

When deprivation and death dispersed the mystique like a puff of air, it was far from the normal bad luck story. Nothing was natural about the sequence of events from which the magnate emerged a pauper, infested with sores and prostrate in his mourning sackcloth on a bed of cold ash. Job had learnt the worst lesson that life can teach – that it makes no sense.

To me certainly the case made none –or too little for clarity. It was why I invited Bildad for lunch. I wanted to understand how his friend came to grief. His was not the average misery that catches up with people of every rank and fortune. Nor, to my discernment, did cousin Bildad think so. He wanted from me self-assurance, an affiliation with what had gone on which my clients pay me to give them.

I was wrong.

I took him to the tavern where the staff knew me after the cruel episode, now four years old, leading to my father with his head clubbed in being found in a filthy alleyway. The name ‘Son of Beor’ had followed me, and with it attitudes and looks I had to fend off. The patron, the wife and the stubby waiter asked about the patch I had begun wearing over the blind eye. “Accident,” I said, lifting the patch to satisfy morbid curiosity. The patron, grown fat on his own rich Mesopotamian cooking, waved us on.

With the windows shuttered to keep out cold blasts, the smell of cooking and melting butter was not dispersed by the outer door constantly opening and closing. I recognised a few people who were having early lunch, and I bowed to them before sitting down. Some looked away, others nodded. I ordered a flagon of brandy because I wanted to give Bildad time to disclose more than details of what had happened there in Uz. No life is charmed. Blessing or chance had been with Job longer than normal, but they seldom endure. Before the year was out he learned the lesson to the bitter dregs.

At the end of our long bench a young soldier had his hand in a girl’s lap. I envied the simplicity of his happiness, or his misery, whichever it might be. Job’s ordeal, so my cousin told me, began with theft and fire and killing. Marauding bands from Sheba and Kasdim raided his livestock before putting the servants to the sword. Of any consolation, the adversaries were human. Not so the bolt of lightning that eradicated what remained after the raiders. A phenomenon is problematic – no prediction or precaution could have forestalled it. The freak occurrence wiped out Job. What God had given God took away, every last head.  The great magnate was no more.

We were down to the dregs of brandy when Bildad revealed the next blow, compared to which the first had been a low-order calamity. Out of nowhere a sirocco wind collapsed the house where the children of Job were feasting together, crushing all ten sons and daughters beneath the rubble.

Had the angel of death passed overhead?

Often in life Job had asked friends, ‘Why are things the way they are? Why are they always perfect? As a precaution he sanctified the siblings daily. He rose before dawn to offer ten burnt offerings, in case any of them had despised God in words or deeds. Perhaps they had – too badly for roasted meat to appease the Almighty. The news, brought by the surviving servant, finished Job.

Though God was not finished with him. To put the seal on complete ruin and humiliation He smote the down-and-out griever with a skin disease that would have tested the faith of an Abraham. The stricken man had to squat on a pile of ash, to absorb puss from his wet sores below the waistline; the dry sores above it sent Job wild scratching like a mangy dog.

Whew! I was astounded that Job had the will to live. My favourite detail from our audience with Pharaoh: even as he is now pleading with Heaven to put an end to his life, I remember the hearty magnate standing at Pharaoh’s throne in his silken camelhair robe, over a snow white undergarment fastened at the waist by a gold-brocaded belt and buckle stamped with the legend, ‘House of Job.’

“A man must do…What?” I said to Bildad. “I mean for God to pitilessly chastise him until he screams out, ‘May the day of my birth be dark. Why did I not die from the womb?’ For what horrific sin did God punish our friend?”

Bildad made a feeble effort to look sober. “That’s what we tried to get out of him,” he said thickly. “He wouldn’t confess to anything.”

“Nothing wrong with that– wouldn’t you be in denial in his place?”

Bildad got to his wobbly legs, and using his palms on the table as an anchor, he craned forward, “Good day, Balaam. I’ve got errands to do.”

“Stay, Bildad. I may be in a position to help.” I laid a hand on his hairy knuckles to keep him. With a look of bewilderment he gazed around the tables as though he was trying to fit me in.

I summoned the compact waiter. He never had to ask for my order because I let him bring the Speciality of the Day. It was capon off the bone today, coated in flour and butter and sour cream and egg yolk. Hungrily we ate, not curtailing for a moment a wolfish intake of Job’s reversal of fame and fortune.

I said, “You referred to other mourners.”

“Oh, I keep thinking everyone knows. The wife sent word to three friends. Like me the others were not….” He put the fork down and jabbed a thumb down, making a joke in Nuzi – not a dialect I understood.

“Do I know them?”

“Eliphaz, a grandson of Esau, and Zofar from Naamite. We told Job the same thing. If God is just then evil befell your family because you have guilt on your soul. We didn’t spare his feelings.”

I dabbed my mouth to suppress a smile. “Exalted company,” I said. “Well, I should think you brought a lot of comfort to the mourner.” Oddly he contradicted me.

“So we might have done. The wife, however – that wife! By the time we arrived she had driven rebellion into his skull. ‘Life in your condition serves no one.’ She meant herself, Balaam: Job had nothing more to give her. ‘Renounce your faith and blaspheme and die rather than endure the prolonged poverty and pain of a devoted servant of God.’ I tell you, Abraham wouldn’t have stood up better to her belittlement. ‘The Lord gave and the Lord took’.

“Job said that?  Heroic, Bildad. He passed a test that God never gave to anyone I can think of.”

Bildad said, “Listen to the clarity after all he had lost. ‘God gave me the children and the property and He has the right to take them back. I acquired them; therefore they did not belong to me. I was born naked and I will return to the earth naked.’ If only he had kept it up!”

“To have such brave words to say! He was always a model of correctness and faith. But what did Job feel? Bildad, there’s the question. Even a donkey feels resentment when made to suffer.”

He leaned back and shook a finger at me. “You’re too clever, Balaam” he said. “True – lips don’t have to get their words from deep down feelings. I happen to be able to tell you what Job’s feelings were. At heart he blamed the constellations. His fate lay with the star sign he was born under. I heard him curse the star on the day he was born for ruling events in his life. It would be better had he blamed God. Idolaters give the stars power over events. At heart Job renounced God. He blasphemed!”

I agreed – a victory for the werewolf spouse. Would Job be spared prolonged suffering, as she’d hoped? God terminates the life of a sinner quickly – a painless punishment. But the whole idea of reward and punishment is full of pitfalls. Simpletons and children like a story which turns Destiny, the oldest enigma of the world, into something a person can control. Be good to get blessings, be bad to get punished. How easy it makes life.

Our waiter stopped by.“Another flask, Bildad?”

He slid the empty one at the waiter. “We warned Job about blasphemy,” he said, immune to the grim look of the waiter.

“The man’s overworked, if you ask me, I said when he had on. “As for our friend, he’s landed in a fix I wouldn’t wish even on the Israelites in Egypt.”

Bildad cleared his throat. I had the odd sense that, like one of my servants, he was waiting  for me to scold him.

I said, “If Job is righteous, as he thinks he is, then what’s his punishment for?”

Bildad looked around at new patrons who had joined our table. “Will you be taking revenge for your eye?” he asked.

“I shall bide my time. Revenge will come when and where it suits me.”

And I thought of what had become of the greatest man in the East. Bildad put his hand on his belly, and doubled up.

“The wind,” he said. “I get the wind badly.”

“You shouldn’t take liquor, cousin.”

“The sufferers,” Bildad said, “that’s what I’m here for. They send for me when they are suffering.” He raised eyes bleary from a diseased liver and said harshly and hopelessly, “I’ve never been any good to contented people, Balaam.”

“Don’t talk nonsense.”

“If people want to avoid trouble they go to you. When they get into trouble I’m the one they go to for comfort. Don’t mind me, Balaam, it’s that dark house I’ve come from – it got me down.”

Of course, I thought, of course – He was affected by more than the calamities on one family. He had risked stumbling on truth – the truth that gives no explanation for suffering. Could I tell him? Would he like or hate me for it? I knew the truth. Righteous and wicked suffer alike, and there’s no difference, and that’s what I can’t tell, and will never be able to, because all people have a portion of both in them.

I said, “From what I’ve heard Job understood that his troubles were not a coincidence – one calamity followed another. What could he blame if not his unlucky stars? He chose the lesser evil. Did he blaspheme? A prickly predicament for anyone! He had to either believe that God entrusts the constellations with supervising the world, or believe that God was wrong to punish a righteous man. Of the two is there a better one?”

“I don’t know,” Bildad said. “I can tell you, though – Job attributed another heresy to God, who created the constellations and allowed people to be born under foreboding signs that were bound to cause them trouble. That’s not all. He argued that it is beneath the Almighty to look after His lowly creatures. Divine Providence over man, he said, is not possible. On the one hand, God’s infinite superiority precludes being interested in the problems of this man or that man. On the other hand, if a man were to change his behaviour, it would make God change His knowledge of that man. How proper is it to believe in such a thing? Job alleged that God knows nothing of our deeds, good or bad. His own deeds seem to support him. He got up every morning in the dark to trudge off to his fields to slaughter a fatted calf. A servant strung the carcase over the flames on Job’s own altar. Every day he knelt to God, ‘Lord, pardon my sins. Pardon the sins of my family. Pardon, pardon, pardon…Was a lifetime of honest work and pure devotion not good enough for God Almighty?”

“How did you get over the difficulty? What did you tell him?”

“I? What could I tell him other than what I hold to be true. The children perished in their banqueting house because the daily feasts led them to levity which led to God expel them from the world.”

“A little harsh, Bildad?”

“I think not. After explaining why his offspring all died, I comforted the father. Job’s reward will come if he seeks God with sincerity and not hypocrisy. The loss he suffered will be small compared to the blessing that God will give him to make up for it. If indeed Job did not sin, God must have made him suffer to reward him all the more. The prosperity that he’ll enjoy at the end will be greater than it had been before calamity knocked him flat.”

I hummed. Did Bildad not see that he had piled inconsistency on top of Divine judgment that was over-rigorous? Is it really how he understands Providence: The prosperity of the wicked is for their punishment, while the tribulations of the righteous are for their good? Can two identical happenings – the wicked and righteous are made to suffer – lead to different results? Like a wild storm that blows off both the fruit and the leaves from a tree, so God in a rage chastises both the wicked and the righteous. It cannot be.

“There are all kinds of people,” Bildad said when I made the point to him. “There are people who do all kinds of evil which God rebukes with all kinds of punishment. Think about that.”

“You asked Job to think about it?”

“Balaam, he thought like a heretic. The saga of the wrongly punished. He doesn’t fear Divine Justice since he’d done nothing to be punished for the sake of humbling and frightening him into being an obedient, brain-dead beast. And he made up a new rule. I never heard it before. It is better to deny Divine Providence than to attribute injustice to God. He has a clever answer to everything. He berated me, he berated Eliphaz and Zophar. Why do we continue to hammer him for sinning and rebelling? Even if he had transgressed it was not proper for God to be heavy-handed with the rod – especially if whatever Job was guilty of had not been deliberate. To err is human to forgive is divine.

Could I reveal what I knew, I wondered? Could I tell a friend that I’d led Job astray, by giving bad advice? What use would it be? I am wiser now – I suspect the cause of Divine anger. God wants us to intervene to frustrate some Divine evil decree. We are judged favourably if we do or harshly if we don’t – whatever the outcome of the decree. I insisted that God had hardened Pharaoh’s heart. The bitter bondage decreed at the covenant between God and Abraham would be implemented in Egypt, like it or not. Let it go. Let God do whatever it was He decreed. I should have known better. I overlooked the lesson with the sale of Joseph by Jacob’s other sons. By Divine decree they would sell Joseph, come what may. Yet they sinned doing it, and were punished. I had put a stumbling block before the blind – my fellow councillor at Pharaoh’s throne. And Job lost everything because he took my lead.

“I’m a wizard paid by clients to nullify adversaries, Bildad. A troublemaker. The one adversary I have no power to nullify is God.” And looking away I heard Bildad laugh miserably, Ho! ho, ho.”

 

 

 

Why Job in the Book of Job had to suffer

Narrated by his contemporary, Balaam the prophet

If I am to follow my record in true prophetic fashion, I had better go on; and instead of leaping the days or the years, I will pass to the following winter. Fourteen moons after I left Pharaoh confronting the menace posed by prolific Habiru (people who give me goose bumps thinking of them as Jacob’s fuse or God’s device) the covenant between God and Abraham is about to go into perpetual motion. The tribes are about to have cold water poured over their collective inebriation. They are on the cusp of finding out just what the Almighty meant by the bris bein habetarim, the covenant He made with a deeply sedated patriarch. If there was another way to make the bris I can’t think of it. Even for a man with the fortitude and faith to pass all ten supreme tests, the fates decreed in the covenant were too cruel and protracted to expect Abraham to make a wakeful deal with his Maker.

To get the bondage going, the provocative touch-ups I proposed took Pharaoh’s fancy: trap the Chosen people a step at a time, I told Pharaoh. Job – now there is a God-fearer who makes good sense – was the willing witness. Third on our team, Yithro the priest of Midian, had the temerity or the foresight to locomote out of the palace on his gangly legs in case he should commit to anything he’d later regret.

Of ironic consequence about Job: one blustery morning at Charan market place, whom do I run into but a mutual friend of the magnate! Bildad a clansman of Shuah from the sons of Keturah, a wife of Abraham, was my distant cousin. He had come from Uz whence he’d gone to mourn with Job. I couldn’t get over what had happened – I haven’t yet.

The brutality of the destruction of a man who was blameless and feared God! What a great   achievement it was, remembering that Job had dwelt in Babel at a time when the people took council against God and built the Tower whose top reached into the heavens. For shunning the idolatrous project he was rewarded fitfully. Job grew to be the greatest man in the East, blessed above all except Abraham. Exempt from the ups and downs of mortals was part of his mystique. God, it seemed, would always protect and never test Job.

When deprivation and death dispersed the mystique like a puff of air, it was far from the normal bad luck story. Nothing was natural about the sequence of events from which the magnate emerged a pauper, infested with sores and prostrate in his mourning sackcloth on a bed of cold ash. Job had learnt the worst lesson that life can teach – that it makes no sense.

To me certainly the case made none –or too little for clarity. It was why I invited Bildad for lunch. I wanted to understand how his friend came to grief. His was not the average misery that catches up with people of every rank and fortune. Nor, to my discernment, did cousin Bildad think so. He wanted self-assurance from me, the sort of affiliation with what had gone on that clients come to me to give them.

I was wrong.

I took him to the tavern where the staff knew me after the cruel episode, now four years old, leading to my father with his head clubbed in being found in a filthy alleyway. The name ‘Son of Beor’ had followed me, and with it attitudes and looks I had to fend off. The patron, the wife and the stubby waiter asked about the patch I had begun wearing over the blind eye. “Accident,” I said, lifting the patch to satisfy morbid curiosity. The patron, grown fat on his own rich Mesopotamian cooking, waved us ahead.

“A table near the stove,” he said to the waiter. With the windows shuttered to keep out cold blasts, the smell of capons and melting butter was not dispersed by the outer door constantly opening and closing. I recognised a few people who were having early lunch, and I bowed to them before sitting down. Some looked away, others nodded. I ordered a flagon of brandy because I wanted to give Bildad time to disclose more than details of what had happened there in Uz. No life is charmed. Blessing or chance had been with Job longer than normal, but they never endure. Before a year was over he learned the lesson to the bitter dregs.

At the end of our long bench a young soldier had his hand in a girl’s lap. I envied the simplicity of his happiness, or his misery, whichever it might be. Job’s ordeal, so my cousin told me, began with theft, fire and killing. Marauding bands from Sheba and Kasdim raided his livestock before putting the servants to the sword. Of any consolation, the adversaries were human. Not so the bolt of lightning that took care of what the raiders had left behind. A phenomenon is problematic in that no prediction or precaution could have forestalled it. The freak occurrence wiped Job out. What God had given God took away. Unmatched property of livestock and produce now tallied to a perfect nil. The great magnate was no more.

We were down to the dregs of the brandy when Bildad revealed the next blow, compared to which the first had been a low-order calamity. Out of nowhere a sirocco wind collapsed the house where the children of Job were feasting together, killing all seven sons and three daughters beneath the rubble. Had the angel of death passed overhead?

Often in life Job had asked friends, ‘Why are things the way they are? Why are they always perfect? As a precaution he sanctified the siblings daily. He rose before dawn to offer ten burnt offerings, in case any of them had despised God in words or deeds. Perhaps they had – too badly for roasted meat to appease the Almighty. The news, brought by the surviving servant, finished Job.

God was not finished with him though. To put the seal on complete and utter ruin, He smote down-and-out Job with boils from head to toe. For relief the stricken man had to sit in a heap of ash to absorb puss from wet sores below the waistline and to scratch the dry sores above it.

Whew! I was astounded that Job had the will to live. My favourite detail from our audience with Pharaoh: even as he is now pleading with Heaven to put an end to his life, I remember the hearty magnate standing at Pharaoh’s throne in his silken camelhair robe, over a snow white undergarment fastened at the waist by a gold-brocaded belt and buckle stamped with the legend, ‘House of Job.’

“A man must do…what?” I said to Bildad. “I mean for God to pitilessly chastise him until he screams out, ‘May the day of my birth be dark. Why did I not die from the womb?’ For what horrific sin did God punish our friend?”

Bildad made a feeble effort to look sober. “That’s what we tried to get out of him,” he said thickly. “He wouldn’t admit to sinning in any way.”

“Nothing wrong with that– wouldn’t you be in denial in his place?”

Bildad got to his wobbly legs, and using his palms on the table as an anchor, he craned forward, “Good day, Balaam. I’ve got errands to do.”

“Stay, Bildad. I may be in a position to help.” I laid a hand on his hairy knuckles to keep him. With a look of bewilderment he gazed around the tables as though he was trying to fit me in.

I said, “What shall we eat?” I summoned the compact waiter. He never had to ask for my order because I let him bring the Speciality of the Day. It was capon off the bone today, coated in flour and butter and sour cream and egg yolk. Hungrily we ate, not curtailing for a moment a wolfish intake of Job’s reversal of fame and fortune.

I said, “You referred to other mourners.”

“Oh, I keep thinking everyone knows. The wife sent word to three friends. Like me the others were not….” He put the fork down and jabbed a thumb down, making a joke in Nuzi – not a dialect I understood.

“Do I know them?”

“Elefaz, a grandson of Esau. and Zofar from Naamite. We told Job the same thing. If God is just then evil befell your family because you have guilt on your soul. We didn’t spare his feelings.”

I dabbed my mouth to suppress a smile. “Exalted company,” I said. “Well, I should think you brought a lot of comfort to the mourner.” Oddly he contradicted me.

“So we might have done. The wife, however – that wife! By the time we arrived she had driven rebellion into his skull. ‘Life in your condition serves no one.’ She meant herself, Balaam: Job had nothing more to give her. ‘Renounce your faith and blaspheme and die rather than endure the prolonged poverty and pain of a devoted servant of God.’ I tell you, Abraham wouldn’t have stood up better to her belittlement. ‘The Lord gave and the Lord took’.

“Job said that?  Heroic, Bildad. He passed a test that God never gave to anyone I can think of.”

Bildad said, “Listen to the clarity after all he had lost. ‘God gave me the children and the property and He has the right to take them back. I acquired them; therefore they did not belong to me. I was born naked and I will return to the earth naked.’ He made us proud.”

“Cousin – I never thought more of anyone. To say what he did. But what did Job feel? Bildad, there’s the question! Even a donkey feels resentment when made to suffer.”

He leaned back and shook a finger at me. “You’re too clever, Balaam” he said. “True – lips don’t have to get their words from deep down feelings. I happen to be able to tell you what Job’s feelings were. At heart he blamed the constellations. I know because I heard him curse the star on the day he was born for ruling events in his life. It would be better had he blamed God. Idolaters give the stars power over events. At heart Job renounced God. He blasphemed!”

I agreed – a victory for the werewolf spouse. Would Job be spared prolonged suffering, as she hoped? God terminates the life of a sinner quickly – a painless punishment. The whole idea of reward and punishment is problematic. Simpletons and children like a story which turns Destiny, the oldest enigma of the world, into something people can control. Be good to be blessed, be bad to get punished. How much easier it makes life!

Our waiter stopped by.“Another flask, Bildad?”

He slid the empty one at the waiter. “We warned Job about blasphemy,” he said, immune to the grim look of the waiter. I said, “The man’s overworked, if you ask me. As for our friend, it’s a bad fix Job landed in.”

Bildad cleared his throat. I had the odd sense that, like one of my servants, he was waiting  for me to scold him.

I said, “If Job is righteous, as he thinks he is, then what’s his punishment for?”

Bildad looked around at the new patrons sharing our table. “Will you be taking revenge for your eye?” he asked.

“I shall bide my time. Revenge will come when and where it suits me.”

His hand on his stomach he looked at me in wonderment while I thought of what had become of the greatest man in the East. Then he doubled up..

“The wind,” he said. “I get the wind badly.”

“You shouldn’t take liquor, cousin.”

“The sufferers,” Bildad said, “that’s what I’m here for. They send for me when they are suffering.” He raised eyes bleary from a diseased liver and said harshly and hopelessly, “I’ve never been any good to contented people, Balaam.”

“Don’t talk nonsense.”

“If people want to avoid trouble they go to you. When they get into trouble I’m the one they go to for comfort. Don’t mind me, Balaam, it’s that dark house I’ve come from – it got me down.”

Of course, I thought, of course – He was affected by more than the calamities on one family. He had risked stumbling on truth – the truth that gives no explanation for suffering. Could I tell him? Would he like or hate me for it? I knew the truth. Righteous and wicked suffer alike, and there’s no difference, and that’s what I can’t tell, and will never be able to, because all people have righteousness and evil in them.

I said, “From what you tell me, Job understood that his troubles were not a coincidence – one calamity followed another. What could he blame if not his unlucky stars? He chose the lesser evil. Did he blaspheme? A prickly predicament! He had to either believe that God entrusts the constellations with supervising the world, or believe that God was unjust to punish a righteous man. Of the two is there a better one?”

“I don’t know,” Bildad said. “I can tell you, though – Job attributed another heresy to God – that He created the constellations and allowed people to be born under foreboding signs that brought them trouble. That’s not all. He argued that it is beneath the Almighty to look after His lowly creatures. Divine Providence over man, he said, is not possible. On the one hand, God’s infinite superiority precludes being interested in the problems of this man or that man. On the other hand, if a man were to change his behaviour, it would make God change His knowledge of that man. How proper is it to believe in such a thing? Job alleged that God knows nothing of our deeds, good or bad. His own deeds seem to support him. He got up every morning in the dark to trudge off to his fields to slaughter a fatted calf. A servant strung the carcase over the flames on Job’s own altar. Every day he knelt to God, ‘Lord, pardon my sins. Pardon the sins of my family. Pardon, pardon, pardon…Was a lifetime of honest work and pure devotion not good enough for God Almighty?”

“How did you get over this difficulty? What did you tell him?”

“I? What could I tell him other than what I hold to be true. The children perished in their banqueting house because the daily feasts led them to levity which led to God expel them from the world.”

“A little harsh, Bildad?”

“I think not. After explaining why his offspring all died, I comforted the father. Job’s reward will come if he seeks God with sincerity and not hypocrisy. The loss he suffered will be small compared to the blessing that God will give him to make up for it. If indeed Job did not sin, God must have made him suffer to reward him all the more. The prosperity that he’ll enjoy at the end will be greater than it had been before calamity knocked him flat.”

I hummed. Did Bildad not see that he piled inconsistency on top of too-rigorous Divine judgment? Is it really how he understands Providence: The prosperity of the wicked is for their punishment, while the tribulations of the righteous are for their good? Can two identical happenings – the wicked and righteous are made to suffer – lead to different results? Like a wild storm that blows off both the fruit and the leaves from a tree, so God in a rage chastises both the wicked and the righteous. It cannot be.

“There are all kinds of people,” Bildad said when I made the point to him. “There are people who do all kinds of evil which God rebukes with all kinds of punishment. Think about that.”

“You asked Job to think about it?”

“Balaam, he thought like a heretic. The saga of the wrongly punished. He doesn’t fear Divine Justice since he’d done nothing to be punished for the sake of humbling and frightening him into being an obedient, brain-dead beast. And he made up a heresy. One I never heard before. It is better to deny Divine Providence than to attribute injustice to God.

He has a clever answer to everything. He berated me, he berated Eliphaz and Zophar. Why do we continue to hammer him for sinning and rebelling? Even if he had transgressed it was not proper for God to be heavy-handed with the rod – especially if whatever Job was guilty of had not been deliberate. To err is human to forgive is divine.

Could I reveal what I knew, I wondered? Could I tell a friend that I’d led Job awry: that I’d been ignorant at the time? What use would it be? I am wiser now – I suspect the cause of Divine anger. He wants us to intervene, to frustrate an evil decree that He made. We are judged favourably if we do or harshly if we don’t – whatever the outcome of the decree. I insisted that God had hardened Pharaoh’s heart. The bitter bondage decreed at the covenant between God and Abraham, the bris bein habitarim, would be implemented in Egypt, like it or not. Let God do what He decreed to do. I should have known better. I put a stumbling block before the blind – my fellow councillor at Pharaoh’s throne. And Job lost everything because he took my bad advice.

“I’m a wizard paid by clients to nullify adversaries, Bildad. A troublemaker. God is the one adversary I’m powerless to nullify.” And looking away I heard him laugh miserably,  “Ho ho ho!”

A grave to die for

“The world is ready for new explanations,” to quote Zadoc. The puzzle, you see, is that I   explained the meaning of the King’s flyaway bird with the utmost plainness. The disappointment was in finding nothing near the events foretold by my oracle bird when the time came. The monarch pished and pughed at first most terribly – I had a good name for telling the future. The event would happen in two hundred and ten days, to have faith in my prophesising. Well, the time had come and gone, but no sign of the army on our borders. In the King’s chamber we went over the prophecy again and again with great application, studying every word and every letter of it through and through. Still we could make nothing of it that way.

“Perhaps there is more meant than in the plain words?” said the king. “Your bird, Mr Balaam, wouldn’t speak of armies or give dates for nothing. Study the mystic and the allegorical sense. Here is a quiet room. Ask for another audience when you are ready.”

Now, I find it needful to add that, with the prodigal gifts I owe to God and to merciless conditioning, went the gift of verbal criticism. Imprisoned in a chamber until I could explain the failed prophecy, I got out my pocketknife and tried experiments on the words and letters, to see if I could not scratch better sense into, or out of them. “Pshaw! One letter more.” I thumped my fat rump to urge on my defeated brain. Mystic meaning – come, come…”It would not. I snapped my fingers in a frenzy of despair. “God damn – I marred a whole word! Scratched it clean out!” I held the leaf to my eyes – bit my lip – tore up the leaf in a passion.

Here – why here rather than at another time in my captivity I am not able to tell – came the clank of the door bolt. A servant stuck his head in and cocked it impertinently. At his heels going clickety clack I solaced myself down the long passage with two possibilities; one that the walk would end at the chopping block or, two that the king would receive me, tired of my vaunted tricks; I would be humiliated before being shown the door. I go no further with similes that when I entered the hall, Balak’s eyes were greater than his known appetite, his zeal greater than his known pomposity. A runner, a lithe ragged Hittite, was being hurried out as we hurried in, causing a quick scuffle, to the amusement of my rivals lounging at a messy table. Balak with a cup halfway to his lips, told me not to stand staring unless I wanted the last of goose liver to go before I came to my hungry senses. The positive mood put fire in my head.

I had one side of the table to myself. The two court wizards opposite chomped and sipped at leisure. The king unfurled a scroll on a space cleared of plates, decanters, scraps. I sat vigilant and attentive.

“Don’t be shy!” Zebulan shoved an oval platter at me. “There’s enough there.” Gad, next to him, slid a plate of baked wafers across the table. They had already had the missive read to them, by the way all eyes were on me. This reading was for my benefit. Balak, let me say, was not my idea of monarchy. My choice of king would not lisp or squint or talk loudly, or lick his lips or pick his teeth or speak through his nose or blow it with his fingers on coming to a significant sentence. There were many such.

Old Jacob was dead. All of Egypt mourned. Pharaoh led a procession of thousands with Joseph, the favourite son. The embalmed patriarch was carried all the way to Canaan, a walk of 77 days.  He was going to be laid to rest in the cave of Makhpelah facing Mamre, bought by Abraham, bequeathed to Isaac. (The spat between Isaac’s twins, over the birthright, was about to raise its ugly head after decades of peace, even as the coffin of one of them, gold, encrusted with jewels, adorned by royal vestments, was about to enter the ground). Jacob’s twelve sons took turns to carry the bier.

You can only dream to be put into the ground in Makhpelah. Royalty and riches will not help. You’ve got to be born for it. Three couples lie there in the ground: Adam next to Eve, Abraham next to Sarah, Isaac next to Rebecca. And these elite of the elite are not like ordinary dead. The bodies, some believe, do not lose their looks. And now Jacob was going into the ground next to Leah – though many would have to die for it.

Balak said, “Your great enemy lying with your great aunt, Mr Balaam.”

Self-importantly – “Yes, my lord.”  The diners across the table shifted irritably. They understood I was a gesture-maker, a flaunter of high family.

“You know Makhpelah?” His fluey lips seemed to want to suck and taste the words.

“I do, sire.”

“Perhaps you wonder who wrote to me? An old and very good ally. King Angias of  Africa.”

I showed no recognition, and Balak resumed reading.

When the funeral procession came to Bramble Barn at Mamre, a combined force assembled to prevent the burial was waiting for it.  Every king in the land of Canaan had joined with Jacob’s twin, Esau and Abraham’s son, Ishmael and his son Keturah. Esau even at a hundred and thirty seven retained the ruddy look and dogged bearing of a hunter. He approached the sons of Jacob at the head of the mourners. Confrontation was always a theatrical event for Esau. He addressed the twelve sorrowfully, as the heartfelt brother of the deceased.

“My nephews, God should comfort and bless you with long life.” The sons returned the sentiment. Now Esau put aside family formalities and spoke haughtily.

“You head for the Village of Four, named to honour the four couples meant to be buried there. Three couples already are. The two remaining grave plots must be divided equally between my father’s two sons. Your father Jacob buried Leah in one; therefore the last plot is reserved for me.”

The sons were stunned. “But our father owned the cave. He bought it from you.”

Esau shook a finger at them. “Uh, uh. Jacob bought my birthright. That is all. Our father Isaac left the cave to both his sons. I am part owner.”

“No! Uncle, you sold everything to your brother.”

It appeared that Esau had anticipated this argument. He immediately asked for the deed of sale. Of course the brothers had not brought it with them. They pondered mightily. Eventually it was decided that Naphtali would run back to Egypt to fetch the document. Even for a runner as swift as the young brother it was a four day journey, return.  Meanwhile Jacob lay unburied – an affront to the mourners. To God. A grandson, Chushim, would not have it. “How can you let my grandfather lie there in his coffin! A disgrace!” He drew a sword. Before anyone could stop him, he charged at Esau who had his back turned. In a fit of fury the zealot swiped the head off old Esau. The head fell right onto the coffin. There it was, staring at the mourning crowd. Not everyone was horror-struck. The cock-a-hoop grandson yelled that Jacob had opened his eyes and saw the head of his twin. “The saint rejoices to see vengeance. Jacob washes his feet in the blood of the wicked!”

The words butted into my thoughts as I stared at the window with a hard gaze, trying to master my stomach spasms and the knotted whirls in my heart. Balak’s eardrums seemed to pick up the clues, the beat of my blood, rhythmic and quick and abuzz with family feuds. He looks at me approvingly, “Did you hear, young man, Jacob and Esau are no more. Now the sons go at each others’ throats.”

Me nodding, “Yes, my lord.” The king, grinning, returned to the text and read.

Well, pandemonium broke out in the mob of mourners. “Ai Ai, they’ll kill us all – you see if they don’t! They took the head and buried it before Esau’s family saw it. With the torso the brothers were not quick enough. The family of Esau spotted the torso lying in the field and  attacked the Israelites with demented fury. Their allies joined. A hundred and forty against twenty five. God must have been with Joseph and brothers. They killed eighty without suffering even one casualty. A grandson of Esau, Tzefu, with fifty others they took prisoner. Joseph had them chained and marched to Egypt. The survivors grabbed the torso of Esau and ran off.

Balak’s reading began to falter as I began to fidget. “Mr Balaam?”There are frowns around my eyes and tufts of moustache between my lips.

“Sire, I am staggered by this account, I am digesting where it may lead. Sire, you had me brought here – so I thought for my prophecy failing to happen.”

“You were brought for that,” sniggered one of the full bellied seers opposite me. “Let the king come to the end he’s coming to.” They were glad for me to be a false prophet because that is what they were. So far so good. But did they want to steal, or at least have a claim to some final success? But who looks into the finer points when he’s hungry and anxious?

The king said, “A little patience, young Balaam. I’m doing my best for you, if you’ll allow me to continue?’ There was glad whispering among my detractors sitting opposite.

So, read Balak, three days later Jacob was laid to rest in the cave of Makhpelah, the very day his twin was buried on far away Mount Seir – or the torso of Esau was buried, to be exact. Now all the men of Seir joined with the men of Eliphaz to form a huge army. It headed to Egypt, to wage war on Joseph and to rescue Tzefu. Joseph and brothers, joined by Pharaoh’s  army, went forth to battle. They killed one hundred thousand of Seir’s men. Eliphaz and the remnant of his army fled. Joseph’s army caught up with them, and killed more, making the few survivors disperse in panic.

After their heavy losses, a great argument erupted between the men of Seir and the family of Esau. “You caused all our mighty warriors to be killed by the sons of Jacob. We no longer want you in the land of Seir. Go to Canaan. That is where Esau lived.  What do you want in our land?”

The Esau clan did not want to leave Seir, and a running battle ensued.  I, King Angias, was a close ally of the family. I got a message that the Seirites were going to drive them out.  Could I send troops to fight with them? I did: my 500 infantry and 800 cavalry reinforced the men of Esau. But the Seirites also made a plea to their allies, the men of the East. My spies got hold of the message. It read –

Here Balak drew breath and looked at me, to warn me to be wide awake. “Balaam, listen carefully now. The message I am going to read was written five days before what you foretold would happen on our border. You will hear that it is dated 18 Tishrei, which was three days after Jacob’s burial in Makhpelah.” And Balak read the message as if my life hung on every word. Still, I did not guess what was coming; not even when my sour companions got up and begged the king to excuse them – some unavoidable business. They knew from  the first reading; they had heard what was coming, and left me to my triumph. I moved to a chair nearer the king.  “Young man,” he said, “this is what the Seirites wrote in their message for assistance.

“You know of the evil that the sons of Esau did to us. They dragged us along to fight Jacob’s sons, and all our best men were killed. Our Seirite army was going to march on Moav, depose King Balak and rule the land. Now we have no army for it. We ask your help to take revenge on the army of Esau.” Well, the men of the East sent 800 expert swordsmen. The two armies met in the Paran Desert. On the first and second days the Seirites prevailed and killed 258 of my troops helping the Esau army. When my men saw how so many fall they regretted joining  them and went over to the enemy. The men of Esau asked me for reinforcements.  Again I obliged. With 600 extra troops the Esau army took the offensive and killed thousands of Seirites, and decimated the enemy. They fled, with the army of Esau in pursuit. The latter took the city of Seir and massacred every living soul. They divided the city into five parts,, one for each of Esau’s sons. They appointed my fellow African king, a very wise man and expert in world affairs, the King of Seir.

Here Balak paused to blow his nose like a victory trumpet. My prophecy was borne out. My inner ecstasy knew no bunds.  Balak’s enormous nose blow however signified something quite different. He leaned forward at me to whisper, “Bela ben Beor.”

“My lord?”

“The name of the king they appointed King of Seir. The name, Bela ben Beor.”

I laughed. What?

“Another one from your father’s loins you never knew?” The king spoke with a ring of sadness. Poor me, so badly brought up. I could see that he wondered why I did not resent it. “Don’t you worry. I intend to bring you to King Bela ben Beor’s notice.”

He could do want he wanted. I was flattered by the power of prophecy I had shown.

“Well, well, so the army I predicted, the one that would come to threaten Moav, Sire, turned out to be the Seirites. If your ally had not sent his troops to help the army of Esau defeat them, the Seirites would have massed on our border on 23 Tishrei, the day I foretold.”

“You got it right. Good god, if this is not something in your bloodstream –”

For the first time I felt I was not overstepping the boundaries of what God permitted me to do or know or be. The terrible twins were dead. The conflict between Jacob and Esau had passed to the next generation. I felt certain that my life was fated to be crossed with Israel – the name by which the descendants of Jacob were coming to be known. The king must have been feeling the same – that new forces in the world were in play. “Born on the same day, buried on the same day, eh Balaam. That was Jacob and Esau. From womb to tomb at each other’s throats.”

I let my secret out. “I used to think, sire, that when Jacob died I would somehow reclaim the  ancestral property he swindled out of my grandfather. I’m thinking it now. I would have spat on Jacob’s corpse before he went into the ground.”

“He was the ruin of your family. You have the right to ruin his.”

I got the feeling that Balak’s words were meant to excite me and make me eager to  act. He wanted me to say that I felt capable of killing and destroying. Well I did. I had often tested the idea in my mind. and felt good about it. No guilt. None. I would love to destroy Israel. But I said no such thing to Balak. In a different context I remarked that it was only a matter of time before I would meet my new bastard sibling. the King of Seirite. A melodious title.

House with a difference

 The body cart had jerked away over the baked clods, and we looked on as the workers pounded the site level with their spades. The palace had sent a prince to represent it. In thrall at a notable’s violent death he blew his lips and stamped muck off his kidskin boots and flicked specks off the lapel of a spotless tunic. After the interment we three stood about on a morning dark with lowering clouds. I had lent Zadoc my father’s old army cloak and his black beaver cap, and he bobbed intermittently over the grave like drops of tar. The prince, with a rough face from a youthful case of acne, collected the royal ensign used to drape the body carts conveying heroes to their rest, doffed his cap at the grave and to us then sauntered off to his pony grazing on one of the old graves reclaimed by tumbleweeds and briars.

“Well – Beor’s gone to his hate,” Zadoc said grimly to me.

“He had the grace to exit quickly,” I said. It would not leave me, my outrage and humiliation when I learnt how my father paid the price he deserved. I hurled a metaphorical brick at Zadoc for the way he maintained a neutral deportment, neither of sympathy nor of satisfaction. “Beor’s carcass should’ve been left in the street for the rats and dogs.”

“Correctly, your father deserved no burial rites. You have a right to hate him.”

“Sir, he lived as he died.”

My one support in the world bent his head. “The end was ugly.”

“He took my money. My father spent what I earned before I saw it. He drank and engaged in a sick profanity. That little prostitute paid the price.”

Zadoc flicked with his boot at a lump of dug earth. I did not bother to ask why he held back, why he refused to condemn his partner in my punishment. I knew it was for my sake.

“An angry spirit has gone out of the world. Son, don’t let your heart rejoice – it’ll warp the powers you learnt from cruelty. Beor got what he deserved. Leave it there – feeling good at a death isn’t the way.”

“I don’t feel good, I feel free. I never hated my father – mostly he scared me. When I was too young to know I admired him. When Beor returned from wars I believed he had fought in them. I compared him to legendary Abraham – a fearless trailblazer who fought and won against all odds. Call me naïve, I was playing with toy armies at that age. When I grew up I understood that my father hero went to war for money. No, he didn’t – he saw no combat. He got paid for giving advice! Mostly his payment was in kind: he got a share of the loot. I doubt Beor went near enough to a battle to run away from it.”

Prior to Beor’s final disgrace, Zadoc, who would not hurt a fly, had tried to bend my spirit away from physical conflict. “No one in your family engaged in combat,” he would remind me. Old Lot, great grandfather Besuel and grandfather Laban – none went to war. This is how they fought – from up here.” I can see him tapping the cliff face that was his forehead. I dig back in the debris of my youth for the mentor’s words, and his face when he said them. “Balaam, your father once told me that his ancestors put together won’t amount to the powers of your mind.” Zadoc had cast a furtive look at the swollen lip and cut cheek I got from asking my dreaming father why I could not get circumcised. “It is hard being a father’s sacrifice to a god. But you think other sons don’t have fathers who treat them like half slaves, half scapegoats!” Zadoc’s scolding was as naked and ruthless as love. I heard myself saying, “Thanks, but I survived and he’s dead. What’s your lesson?”

“You already know that. You paid the price when I agreed with your father that you have a destiny. I didn’t know of a painless way for you to realize it.”

I was in the time of life when the later action of heredity begins, the blemishes of ancestors appear – a spot of vanity, or the lick of greed, or touch of cunning, making me prise flattery out of Zadoc. He took the bait and talked of my potential and Abraham the legend in one breath – feared, elevated, turning whatever he touched into gold. As we talked over the fast despatched remains of my daydreaming father I felt nostalgic knuckles kneed my collarbone. Zadoc told me the world was ready for new explanations and alternative realities. “To give Beor his due, it made him proud just to dream to me what you’d become.”

I clicked. “Proud!  I never saw it in him.”

“You didn’t have to. After his father’s humiliation by Jacob, Beor lived to see you rebuild the family reputation. He had a wistful hunger for glory, even if it had to be glory from sadistic acts.”

“A sadistic act killed him, sir. Anyhow, the glory he dreamed for me and the glory I want are far apart.”

“But a friend to me, Balaam. Rooted in himself. But a driven heart. Like your stepmother. You got it from them.”

Hard as Zadoc tried I saw my father as he had been in the final years – sullen, impotent, resentful, remote, cruel. In his pain Beor wanted to bite everyone near, even himself, like a dog in a trap. Meanwhile I took the lesson and made gold from it. My idea of glory set me on a road Beor would have despised because it was beyond his talents and powers. He was a man of strong impulses and perhaps faith, but he lacked clarity of vision – something I would prove I had, in abundance. Now I lost no time deploying it to advantage. Two moons after Beor was gathered to our people I was in the business of giving men a taste of paradise. The cruelty I had suffered for my father’s crude vision gave me the flight of fancy, the inspiration, to build a business that minted money.

Before my fifteenth birthday (I was a late developer when set beside the girls in our family, Rebecca and Rachel, who married and were doing God’s work shortly after they could walk) I had grasped that my father’s delight in driving the little prostitute mad with a scorpion was a surrogate for the sexual fulfillment denied him by the symptoms of his gonorrhea. Cruelty allowed Beor to escape his pain for a while. And this made me think. How was it different from worship? It would have horrified Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to think of holy devotion and whoring as two parts of one thing: escapism. Gods are worshiped to forget hardships, to make fraught lives bearable, and how is visiting prostitutes different? Devotion and copulation give release to the body and the spirit. For that matter, nearly all men worship or copulate in nearly every place nearly every day, and it is a funny thing, but they seldom like to do them at home. I think back to the fateful day I took my dear brother to worship Baal on Mt Peor. Had I not tackled and taken the life of that cruel herd boy, my brother would not have disported in the tent for group copulation. Then he would not have died from a lung infection. Then our father would not have dunked his sorrow in drink; and drink would not have led to his whoring, which led him to take revenge on the prostitute; which led to his murder. Did everything go back to my fault?

But you know the brothels? They are in every town and city today. I invented the business of quiet, orderly houses where men can pay to evacuate the sexual energy that makes a man, whether crook or paragon, jittery and do it discreetly, and keep his doings private and reputation intact. There are benefits for girls that choose to work in my houses. They are fed and clothed and taken care of until they are too old, when they are kicked out. There are rules and discipline. Everyone wins. At the end of the day there is money for the girls, a wage for the tough, fair madam I put in charge of each house and, at the end of the day, a percentage for me. Everyone served and satisfied.

The Israelites were. They flocked to the establishments I set up for them in the dessert. In forty years of wandering and sinning and punishing and repenting, fed by the manna and led by the Shechina or Cloud of Glory, the liberated people complained and hankered for the fleshpots back in Egypt. They had escaped from bondage. Who would not fall, in that bleak and boring dessert, for the allure of another escape? Clients were mainly the airev rav, the quick converts who had bunked out with the two million Israelites pouring through the gates of Egypt. Mainly but not all.  Not a few proper Israelites were tired of subduing niggardly individuality to the new commandments and traded the wrath of God for what the whorehouse offered. Pharaoh had broken their backs for two hundred years. Liberated they wanted their private space and license to go with it. Cometh the need, cometh the service – what could be more businesslike?

For now dream-explanation kept me busy. Living alone should have given me freedom to cut loose, but I was mesmerized by the transformations taking place in my life, and doing whatever I wanted seemed hard to do. I looked different and I thought differently. I denied that tears in my eyes were for the death of Akai’s pony Seth, the last living memory of my brother. No: curse that I said. Not for Akai. They were for his pony, mauled one night by a Caracal. I had a tender heart but looked rough. Light orange fuzz appeared on my chin which, like my broad face and beetling forehead, looked brutal. Protruding upper teeth made my lower lip almost disappear beneath the upper. My large, dark, spirited eyes simmered like the broth of my soul. With long arms and a stumpy figure I had a sense of absurdity, walking with mingled desperation and high style, covering the town in my swing as I called on clients who were tormented by dreams.

As a dream merchant I met more competition than I met as a whoremaster. Actually, I was the first and only operator of brothels in the east. On the other hand I was one of many seers using the bird method. By manipulating the forces of tum’a or ritual impurity, we make birds from a mix of metals to reveal secrets of the future. After interpreting the dream of the old soldier at the inn, through a prophetic state reached by meditation, I turned to the simpler art of bird-making. I got a smithy to fashion a bird’s head from gold, the beak from silver, the wings out of copper, and legs and feet of brass. The separate parts were quickly assembled. Each time you need the bird to speak you insert in its mouth the tongue of a real bird.

How it worked. Put the artificial bird on the sill of an open window, to face the sun by day and the moon by night. Wait seven days, and the tongue begins to make a tinkling sound. Then pierce the tongue through with a golden needle, and the bird begins to talk. It can be used to interpret a dream or divine what the future holds. Before putting my bird to use I pilot tested it on the dream of my first client, the demented army officer. Sure enough, .my bird came up with the interpretation I had given, word for word. I tell you no lie, a lot of satisfied clients spread the word about the validity of my interpretations which, by the way, did not come cheap.

As happened with Jacob’s favorite son imprisoned in Egypt, my powers eventually came to the attention of a King. And this was odd. Because Balak ben Tzippor (the name implies, “King Balak, who can divine the future by means of a magic bird”) was more expert than anyone at using bird magic. His bird revealed to him secrets no one else knew, among others, that he, a Midianite, would one day be crowned King of Moav. And it happened. Yet one day the king seer was stumped for meaning. While bowing to his creation and offering it incense, the metal bird spread its wings and flapped out the window. No bird had ever used its wings. As if this was not mad enough, Balak’s bird returned, not like Noah’s dove after forty days, but after three hours and a half. It flew back in ahead of a fiery flame and settled on the window sill. At the window the flame did an about turn and swept up to the sky. When the king touched the bird’s tail he burnt his fingers on the metal. What did it all mean!

As Pharaoh of Egypt had done when he had a troublesome dream, Balak summoned his wizards to the palace. Each gave a different interpretation of the miraculous event. Vexed,  the king asked around. A palace official knew another official whose future I had prophesized correctly using my bird. The king sent for me. I arrived with it under my arm, and had him repeat the behavior of his bird. “A week, Sire,” I said getting to my feet. “No later, Mr Balaam, I shall have your head if you are.”

I went home, selected a quail from the aviary, wrung its neck, removed the tongue, and inserted it in the beak of my metal bird. On the seventh day after the tinkling sound the oracle spoke. “The king’s bird,” it chirped in a lower key falsetto, “flew away and came back two hundred and ten minutes later with a burnt tail. So it will be in the days of King Balak. He will feel threatened, two hundred and ten days hence, by an army beyond his borders. Should he dispatch his army to do battle, he will not prevail and his army will flee back like his bird, damaged and disabled.”

By now, though behaving oddly, I felt confident, clairvoyant and cheerful. I had a mean old woman in to clean the house, to clean it to the bone. To let her get on with it, I moved into the tool shed and got the farm worker to fire up the old forge. I found that I could cook my boiled and fried meals quicker on the forge than I could on the kitchen stove. I did not have to wait for the coals to heat the stove. The bellows forced quick flaring heat from the coke. I wondered why I had not thought of it before. And I laid a bed of straw wide and long enough to sleep my Sheba and me. In the vacated house, the woman dug grease out of the stove that had cumulated since my brother died. She leached the walls of a brown shiny nastiness deposited by cooking fat and oil lamps. She pickled the floors with lye and soaked the blankets in soda, complaining the whole time to herself.

“Men – dirty animals. Pigs is clean compared. Rot in their own muck. Look at oven – lard from Methuselah.”  When finally she grumbled away from the shining house I stayed in the shed and lived in a kind of savage filth, taking satisfaction in allowing her work to turn back to dust and decay. What I had vaguely in mind was to offer the house to Zadoc for the winter. I mentally composed him a letter.

Dear sire, Of course you have to be loyal to me. I was your experiment. You and Beor said I was going to be great. I was tortured but also flattered by your heartfelt commitment. You gave me what I deserved. I am overcome with happy pride from my late ventures. It means my life as an abused boy did not ruin my talents or sympathies. Where does greatness come from? How do I get some? I long to give you what you and my father wanted. For your attentions to me I want to repay you with human sympathy and greatness.   

As it turned out, I wasn’t far from doing so. The commission is almost upon me and great things await.          

South Africa – Darker clouds over a Diaspora dream

South Africa – Darker clouds over a Diaspora dream

The clouds were dark in March 2016, when “The State of World Jewry” was published with my take on South Africa. “Today it is difficult for a Jew not to feel the weight of being a South African. Part of the problem is that all social and economic indicators are heading to hell in a basket.”

Three years later it is difficult for a Jew to admit that the basket has indeed arrived. Hell is not the end of the world, though. Life in a basket case country is not entirely bad. After all, how much lower can indicators head? The economy is already in ICU. In hell you have to deal with elements more or less stable, more or less controllable, more or less mad. Only one thing really matters – to recognise what brought you to hell and what will keep you there unless you learn how you got to hell.

So it is bigger than a Greek tragedy that the lesson has been lost on, of all people, Jews! Before the ballot in May I heard a member of my shul in Houghton, Johannesburg express the popular concern: “The new President must be allowed to do what he needs to do.” Like ideas in fashion, it lacks insight. The statement, true in every word, is all together false. How so?

Take a well known example. News that the UN condemned Israel for disproportionate force is completely true. By omitting the all-important UN’s record on Israel, the news is wholly fake. So it is with the statement that the “President must be allowed to do what he needs to do”. Does he know what he needs to do? Do we know what he needs to do? Sure – he needs to rescue a broken down country by fixing all the broken parts: the power and water utilities, the police and the courts, the national airline and railway, and every public service gone to hell. And sure, to work such miracles he will need to root out corruption and incompetence. Every word of this may be true, all of it is false. The doctor who wants to cure your fever instead of your flu is false the same way.

What actually ruined the Diaspora dream? What is making Jews in droves abandon South Africa for greener pastures? Do even the émigrés grasp what broke their beautiful dream? Probably they’d blink if told it was the missing M word. A Merit-free society is a doomed society. Slummy state schools and hospitals and courts and policing and power grid and wholesale looting are symptoms. A discarded meritocracy is the fundamental cause.

South Africa went to hell in a basket after merit became the last consideration for filling jobs. Incompetence! your mind flashes. Not just. Corruption. Racial tensions. Service delivery protests. The culture of entitlement. Arrogance in high office. Treating public coffers as a piggy bank. Awarding tenders to pals. Running the country to ruin. Everything goes back to when merit was ditched. A society that regards Merit as a dirty word is ripe for destruction.

Suppose you had zero merits relevant to power generation. You land a plum job on the strength of your colour, your gender, your standing in the political party, your crook of a friend in the President’s Cabinet. There you are, taking it easy in the executive chair. Would you not be disposed to do favours for your pals? Especially since law and order is a bought commodity, which will never catch up with you. Why not! What is not earned is not valued. Easy come easy go is the mother of a witch’s brew of indolence, turpitude and brazen extravagance.

Before a society celebrates the defeat of an evil system it should look at itself in the mirror. Today investors, including the state’s own pension fund, avoid the power utility it owns like the plague. Under wicked Apartheid the market rated the bonds of this utility a perfect risk-free asset. Under Apartheid the railways ran like clockwork. State schools were the equal of any in the world, and ran a tight ship. State hospitals were models for Britain to emulate. Merit was king. Why should it not work as well for a democracy rich in talent as it worked for evil Apartheid?

At the installation of South Africa’s new President, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein asked God to bless the incumbent. Unless President Ramaphosa performs a somersault and rebuilds a meritocracy, even a blessing from above can’t remake the ruined Diaspora dream. That will need an open miracle. As for now, Jewry will have to take heart from the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s prophecy: South Africa will be good for Jews until and after Moshiach comes.

 

 

The skin deep Zionist leaders of South Africa

Skin deep Democrats are fools, but can Zionists sometimes be their equal? http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/23885? Are all Zionists necessarily wise?

Evidence that  replies with a resounding ‘No’ is ample. Zionist leaders, from America to the bottom tip of Africa, pick fights (it’s what they are paid to do) by groping for the nearest blunt instrument. This compels them to pick a second fight when the opponent, betting his good luck will continue, gives as good as he gets – or better. The ultimate victim? That would be all the Jewish bystanders who had nothing to do with voting their ham-handed, perpetual leaders into office.

Take South Africa and the latest fight picked by two unaccountable communal bodies acting as one – the Jewish Board of Deputies and the Zionist Fed. Like almost every fight they’ve fought, the latest one is against an anti-Zionist government acting in cahoots with BDS. The fight, drawn out and ongoing, is over a looming left-right punch: a government that singlehandedly made bedlam of a near perfect country, wants to downgrade its embassy in Israel, then follow it by sending Israel’s ambassador packing, “to the Dead Sea.” (Is that an echo of Hamas and its old threat to send Zionists packing to the Med?)

Fighting this fight, like they’ve fought others, Zionist leaders, to be polite, have been ham-handed. One, they forgot the obvious maxim, that you hit the opponent where he’s weakest. Instead, the Jewish Board’s Zev Krengel called his opponent names. He picked on the lady driving the government’s Israel-bashing, and called her names – called her Jewry’s “single biggest enemy in government.” How she loved it. With her backers and the anti-Zionist media in tow, the “biggest enemy” accepted Krengel’s gift with alacrity. Call an anti-Zionist a ‘racist’ and you’d better take care you don’t open a door to be saluted back, with interest on top.

Floored by the knock-out tag, ‘racist,’ and by diatribes on Israel and ad hominem attacks on him in the media, Zev Krengel lies spread-eagled with a bleeding nose on the canvas. A cartoonist would seize on the image. There’s the Zionist leader flat on his back, bleeding, yet claiming victory: “Our voice has been heard,” he croaks from the canvas…And is echoed by the local Jewish paper. There it is, headlined on the front page; Krengel’s hollow triumph: The Zionist “voice has been heard.”

It would be difficult, you’d think, to find a worse case of tom-foolery. Think again. Year in and year out the same Jewish Board and Zionist Fed have flattered to deceive their rotten government. They’ve lost no opportunity to tell hard core Israel haters they can “play a role in the peace process.” The Jewish Board chanted their nonsense again last week. It “appealed to the government to use its experience in peace building…to resolve the (Palestinian) conflict. Did you ever! Is it possible that Zionists, of all people, can be the opposite of smart? The government, soaked in evil, rode its luck. President Ramaphosa (his own son was caught with fingers in the till and snout in the trough) told the Jewish community his government “will continue to play a meaningful role in negotiations aimed at achieving a lasting peace in the Middle East.”

Note:

  • The word, “continue.” The ruling party of South Africa has never played a role, nor will it or could it ever be a role player, meaningful or not, in the cock and bull morality play titled “the peace process.’
  • “Experience in peace building.” The Jewish Board knows better than you or I that the country had one brief peace building government in twenty five years. The era of Nelson Mandela is old old history. Two successors, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, took a different path – the path of harping on white privilege and white monopoly capital and Israel the oppressor. There’s peace building for you.
  • The Jewish Board, said their statement, “reaffirms the right of its elected leaders to criticize” (the government). Suppose you were that government. Would you understand that the Board was elected by the Jewish community by popular vote, so that the Board speaks on behalf of the community? I think I would. The truth is quite different. The communal bodies are run by perpetual leaders, neither elected by the community nor with a mandate to speak on the community’s behalf.

It would be surprising were unaccountable leaders not self-serving, arrogant, foolish people.

Take the ultimatum they gave to an associate body: remove Steve Apfel from your list of attendees or be denied entry to our Board meeting. Then there was their fight with the Freedom of Expression Institute. This Institute, manned by anti-Zionists, made mincemeat of the Board, again because it neglected to hit opponents where they hurt. I stepped in on my own – it was quite obvious the Institute was violating its mandate, and was dependent on corporate donors. Presented with the acid proof, the Institute backed off, quiet as a mouse. The Jewish Board never forgave me.

I guess I should’ve known better than to offer to identify the Achilles heel of the government and its BDS tail. The Board and the Fed never acknowledged my offer.

It would be bad enough if communal bodies stopped at such leadership; but they are resource hungry as well. Some foolish donor must have thrown money at the Zionist Fed, because it now seeks to grow – a job spec for a CEO tells.

Alas, Democrats have no monopoly on foolishness. Zionist leaders in the Diaspora are a far cry from the visionaries and intellectuals of old.