Donkey love, Baal worship

So from the beginning my education bred taut feelings in the barn. The endurance of unrelenting peril warped us – Beor, Zadoc and me – in different ways.  My father made enormous demands on the tutor’s accommodating good nature.  He would make Zadoc sit up till midnight developing a new test for me while he ranted about the injustices meted out to our family. They were now very thick; but the healer hated my father and, to say the truth, I did the same. I had matured enough to catch him out; to understand that Beor was not super wise; that his judgements could be faulty, his thinking selfish, his dedication to me not the expression of paternal love. With the fall of my god went all safety.

One thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall little by little. They topple and shatter. To build them up again is the devil of a job, and gods anyway never shine the way they did before they crashed. A boy’s world is never whole again, and he grows into an adult aching and angry. What I endured made Zadoc furious. He cursed my father for persecuting a harmless boy, as he called me. At my young brother’s death, which happened at the end of my programming, I had learnt to regard Beor as an oppressor rather than a father, and had contracted a gutful of injured feelings.

Contrary to his crude ways and rapid judgements, Beor, enigmatically, could surmise connections more shrewdly than anyone I know. I remember the instance when he set me, through a protesting Zadoc, a problem more teasing than any so far. We were in the barn, in our usual habitat and positions, when Zadoc, after giving my father a dirty look, addressed me:

“Boy, you be careful. Attend closely. See if you can take your mind off that – that thing on you. Ready your mind for a problem close to your father’s heart.”

I half gleaned what it was going to be – the fundament of Beor’s collected gripes about the brotherhood of Abraham snubbing its nose at the men folk of our family We were only good enough, my father understood, when Abraham’s lackey and Isaac’s brat came looking for wives. Beor’s grandfather Besuel and his father Laban were there to produce daughters for the Hebrews to marry. I told myself I’d have to counter this impertinence to win the right to be left alone, to be unfettered from the tortuous threat of being stung to death. Through a fog of apprehension I heard Zadoc put the problem to me.

“Your family’s always been there for the Abrahams’ – you agree?”

“I agree, Sire, I agree.” Sweating, I could’ve murdered the one man who loved me. Zadoc looked affirmatively at his accomplice. My father nodded sombrely.

“Well, then Balaam,” resumed Zadoc, “Listen now. Isaac, the chosen son of Sarah and Abraham, was matched with Rebecca, a daughter of Besuel, your great grandfather. Correct?”

I pursed my lips and nodded impolitely.

“So, in other words, Isaac did not marry a born Hebrew?”

“No. Clearly not, Sire.”

“Then tell us, boy – how did Rebecca come to be a Hebrew. When and how did it happen? What conversion rite did the lady have to go through, as a male must go through, to join the house of Abraham?

Zadoc swam before my eyes. My father, out of sight at my left shoulder, bore my degradation pretty well, according to the low chuckle I caught.

My faint, quivering voice: “Rebecca? I don’t believe she got circumcised.”

My father, breaking down with a guffaw, took the unwitting jest well. As for Zadoc I saw his spare frame fold as if to express, ‘Lad, you sail too close to the wind!’

“So Rebecca did not convert,” pursued my interrogator. “Well, lad – then what did she do?  How was it that Rebecca, a daughter of your family, got accepted into the house of Abraham?”

I fought not to yield to a fiendish temptation to glance back and glean whatever clue might be written on Beor’s face. I stammered, “Sire –

“Well?”

“Nothing.  Sire, Rebecca didn’t do a damn thing, if I’m right. Abraham believed his daughter-in-law was selected in heaven for Isaac. Abraham and Sarah considered that no rite of passage was needful,”

A deadly quiet fell in that chilled barn. Time hung for an eternity. I imagined the scorpion, a tail length from my drop earlobe (a legacy from my family) waiting on Beor as keenly as I waited. There was Zadoc, eyes sunk more than ever; it gave me a start to be looked at by eyes hidden from me. At my back a porky hand jerked me so that I stumbled forward.

“Hey, clever young fellow! What you don’t know! My word – who taught the boy wicked truths like those? God be with you, son!” My father close up with leering scorching eyes, blocked my squinting vision. It took a few moments before I observed the critter clutched in his leather mitt – my reward for the daredevil answer. Imagine, if you can, my sudden joy. Imagine with what speed the nightmare fled from my thoughts, as I bathed in the extraordinary way I had acquitted myself.

And Beor, close to loving me, let Zadoc decide. “Sir, what do you think? We let the prodigy tell us more truths without the help of this thing?”

Zadoc put on his hat. Without a word he made for the door.

“Hi!” Beor, distraught,  Zadoc, hand pushing open the barn door, looked back long and hard. Beor – “Where you going in a hurry?

Zadoc, vinegary – “Death doesn’t like being played with too much. Enough’s enough.”

Beor: “Enough? What is?”

I crying out: “No – Come back; Sire. Do. Not cruel… It made me see things. No harm done. Thoughts are luminous to me now. Don’t stop. Give more questions.”

This brave outrageous claim was, in fact borne out by immediate events, because Zadoc resumed his role of interrogator, and I, giving way to a devilry which had been lurking inside of me, spoke more truths about the brotherhood of Abraham, which set me on a road at which end there’d be a confrontation with the Lord Himself.

So back on his box Zadoc got me to divine the ultimate truth dear to my father’s heart – if he knew it. Rebecca was no Hebrew – so much was clear. But what did it mean for Jacob, born from her? Completely, stunningly free from imminent agony, I applied myself to the question like a runaway carthorse.

“Sire, from mother to son. How could Jacob be one of Abraham’s when his mother carried the despised blood of our family?”

Beor with intensity not healthy for the abused vital organs in his body, prod me on. “And?” –   Coaxing me with hands atremble.  “Tell boy!  What follows from it? Don’t get shy now.”

You may ask: you an eleven year-old?  Yes, but. You say: can a wet behind the ears lad unravel  the genealogy of a family that criss-crosses boundaries and even nations? Even allowing for the truth of your supposed miraculous mind, can we believe that an urchin spoke like a sage with a beard? I say, maybe not so wet behind the ears, considering what my father did to spur my thoughts – the way he afflicted me. Anyway, not all children in our family were children.  Beor’s great aunt Rebecca was less than half my eleven years when she hit on the idea of Isaac for a mate. The precocious skittish Rebecca divined that her cousin was her match made in heaven. So certainly – I do fall within the realm of possibility. Maybe the words poured out of me from a terror-purified sub-conscience. Maybe this is what did it for me.

“Jacob’s four wives?” I said to Beor’s ferocious injunction.

“Ay, ay – they have to mean something further. Boy, don’t stop till the finish, boy. ”

I knew Beor knew the meaning as well as I. His overwrought mind I could tell, wanted me to know, and to speak the meaning which, to placate my father, I did.  All of Jacob’s four wives, I reminded both men, came from the house of my grandfather. Not one of them came from Hebrew stock. Rachel, Leah and their handmaidens, Bilpah and Zilpah – none entered the brotherhood of Abraham through any rite of passage. So what of the twelve sons they bore Jacob, himself from half and half blood stock? And here, I’m sorry to say, I revelled in my wisdom. Jacob, I concluded boastfully, bequeathed all Israel the blood of his detested uncle Laban.

The son of Laban – my disturbed father – who had been tramping to and fro like an endangered hen, stopped in his tracks. His cry of, “Israel!” startled Zadoc who was pulling on his riding boots now that the proceedings, as he thought, were over.

“What now, Beor?” he said with pique. “What’s Israel done to bother you?’

“What – I tell you what. Israel’s busy, if you hadn’t heard, making Egypt its own. God confound the nation. Seventy times seven times Jacob’s plague has multiplied at the cost of the host Egyptians. Like father like son. As Jacob paid back my father who gave him shelter and a new life, so the children of Jacob are paying back Pharaoh.”

From this fanatical drift in our damp smelly barn, I skip a moon to preparations and a journey to serve Baal-peor, our diarrhoeic idol. The summer shone in full prime; it was a morning to make the city of Ar into polished brass, and the stone point on distant Mount Peor to stand up clear against the west. There was a glow on the land, and red wall flowers burned the air around them. Ponies rolled in green pastures and fowls made a dreadful gay racket. It was so magic a day that Beor, who took pride in his ugly mood before noon, greeted the servant in the kitchen. For his two boys it was the day of truth and, since my brother Akai and I were to bear the brunt of it, Orpah cooked us a hot breakfast.

Rarest and most improbable prize of all, Beor sat me down for a blessing. Making me stare into the crotch of his brown stained breeches, he laid unwashed hands on top of my dark curls.

“Balaam – you, all my family living and dead shall acknowledge.  Your hand will be at your enemies’ nape; kings will prostrate themselves before you.”

Oh, we were contented brothers, Akai and me. Though the blessing left us bemused it was a favour and eminence we could hardly bear. But my poor Akai – I must tell you that there are certain things in which he did not believe, against all possible evidence to the contrary. One was in a good father, another was in his blessing me. The fact that he had seen both did not make him believe them one bit more. His soul must have crawled with horror, for how can you believe in something that does not exist? For a punishment our father sending us to Mount Peor for the new moon rituals would have been cruel; but as a prize, a gift it was an honour. We felt more solemn and golden than at a good funeral. .

Our pilgrimage started by the pony stalls; it should have ended there but did not. All in good time though….On this perfect morning we are pampering and harnessing Akai’s piebald pony Seth and my coquettish donkey Sheba to a state of readiness. I made the farmhand rub the harnesses and polish the brass till they reflected the sun. With a tender touch I braided a red ribbon into Sheba’s mane, and made a red bow for her tail. I helped my brother do likewise with his pony. It may be that we bestowed on the animals the loving care our father never gave us. Rather than out and about here, Beor, not a man patient of his injuries, real or imagined, skulked about the dank house thinking and doing God alone knew.

How different Seth and Sheba were! Of peaceful, placid natures with not a jarring element, our pets had scarce heart to retaliate upon a fly. “Go!” I said to an overgrown one buzzing about her nose. I was eleven at this time. Whether my action was in unison to happy feelings at an age of pity, or to some unknown harmony in tune with mercy, I know not. The lessons of goodwill to animals I learnt from Sheba never wore out till the day I played games with Almighty God. I could bear most cruelties, but the mere thought of a donkey in distress speared me through the heart.

We had stitched conical leather hats together. Orpah stuffed into our saddlebags lumps of cheese and strips of salted pork, and bunches of beets and fig rolls with walnuts, telling me what she wanted us to complain to Baal on her account. I had described to young Akai the spectacle ahead of us. It had been a time of plenty for farmers, their flocks and their herds, so no child sacrifices would be burnt on the altar. We could look forward to nothing but sensuous and amusing rites. It would be my second ceremony on the mount. While we trotted along I made Akai picture the cursing and swearing in the name of Baal;, opening the bowels in front of the idol, offerings of beet-reddened excrement; wild, mixed togetherness of strangers. Baal, I warned him, selected pilgrims for blessings with no apparent logic or consistency. Some who had served Baal month in and month out, afterwards died horribly, whilst others attended upon him once after a record of utter neglect, yet went away to live long, bountiful lives.

We were by no means early arrivals. Pilgrims from distant parts had been gathering on the heights since the day before. A part of the melee was munching on beet; others, having eaten this obligatory red root, were spread out on their haunches before the temple, robes above hips, defecating in divine and sacred duty to the golden idol on its mahogany dais, his arm stretched upward. We covered our noses; the reek had a way of offending you and making you wretch .Worshippers by the hundreds attended nature’s calls in rows of gullies, mingling in a congregation of dark red waste. And flies! Clouds of excited buzzing flies over steaming heaps, pests along with pilgrims celebrating with freely-given offerings to the God of Opening.

There was the din of ribald chatter which non-believers wrongly construe as irreverence. Outside of their tents celebrants had set up tables laden with cheeses, jars of wine, melons, roasted fowl, meat pasties, shared around smoking fires with neighbors. Groups of laughing girls strolled about, arm in arm, smiling sideways at potential partners, and boys, pretending to ignore them, stood about in knots, gesticulating and waving their drinks. `Priests swarmed together, discussing points of worship with immense gravitas, their grey beards augmenting the patriarchal effect of gold chains and flapping white robes.

But in truth the scenes of merriment, indignity and ecclesiastical debate were a disguise for the anxiety of everyone there who anticipated, who feared, to witness the inexplicable – the trepidation of mortals waiting to witness the breaking of the veil between this world and the next. The nervousness swelled into a tightening of the chest and a susceptibility to tears when a bell tolled for a quorum of ten priests to chant the communal dirges. But then – a rude disruption. A hefty swinging fellow broke away from a group of obvious-looking Israelites. Before the priests standing behind the idol understood what was happening, the fellow had leaped onto the dais, turned around, raised his rear end to the idol, and lifting his robe high, wiped himself on Baal’s thick nose.

A deathly hush, caught from those nearest the temple, spread out and behind. The silent shock wave reached Akai and me on the fringe of the crowd. We heard the roughness of tongues, of whispers rising in rebuke. Whereupon the Israelite, emboldened by the outrage he had caused, turned on the mass and denigrated its beliefs. Fists were shaken, cussing broke forth. A quiet fury may acquire more power than a loud one. The quiet forced the gathering onto the gesticulating offender, who stood between ten priests, idol and murmuring horde. Hands reached out towards his legs to yank him off the dais. This was the story that reached me, trying to balance my brother on my shoulders, to give him a view of the eye of the storm. “Do you know what gives? Hey, brother, what’s going on?” – I shake with the struggle to stabilize Akai’s dangling legs. But now the gathering applied itself to pulling the Israelite down by the legs; but a hand he stuck out had managed to grab hold of the idol, and would not be detached. The god rocked on its base. Baal seemed about to topple. In the hot afternoon seized by a demonic muteness an improbable, spontaneous cheering erupted. My brother, shouting down at my head, informed me that a circle of priests had the offender in their midst and were chanting while they skipped around him. Then the cheering broke into a roar.

“And now?” I shouted up at Akai. He laughed and laughed. “Tell me or I let go!” I screamed.

“Balaam – a priest’s wiping himself on Baal’s nose. Like the man did. God almighty – a line’s forming for the chance to do it!”

My eyes, standing halfway out of my head, had salty sweat dripping into them, Given the circumstances, I saw that a carnival of singing, praying, excreting and fornication would be natural and inevitable.

 

Stick and carrot

As Beor stared into the cage with two grown, lively specimens his ideas took form. With a prodder of wire wrapped in a wad of wool he poked the male to rage until it attacked and killed its mate. He moved the survivor in his mitt to a bust of hardboard and positioned it on the collarbone within reach of the ear. He agitated the bust little by little. The critter stirred. Beor stooped to look. His tongue played with a plug of hemp as though whirling his pent up fury and memories and hopes around and up and down in his mouth. He waited an interval before agitating the bust again and then again, imperceptibly harder each time. He noted the growing intensity of movement. Suddenly  there was a flash of tail. A grayish drop slid from the earlobe of the bust, and Beor rubbed his hands. “It works,” he said aloud. “Now for a tutor. Then …” He gripped the scorpion in  the mitt and caged it.

Beor took a night and a day to come up with the person. He had looked forward to this moment. Bringing the project to life would cure his irascible conduct with people. He pressed his hands to his eyes until specks of colored light drove to his head. Then he got up and went to visit Zadoc in his cave dwelling a league or so from Ar.

The herbalist received him on his lookout of rock halfway up a cliff face which overhung  this hollowed out platform. The lockout gave Zadoc protection from all weathers. He had carpeted the rock floor with animal hides. A small fire burnt, and on a hearth of flat stones blackened pots steamed. The cave mouth at the back was shallow. This was Zadoc’s living quarter, and inside hung a perpetual dusk. The floor was covered with sheepskin rugs. Zadoc’s bed against the stone wall was an affair of sacking filled with dried moss.

“Figured I’d get a visit from you, though you’ve surprised me,” he greeted Beor.

Throwing off his shoulder bag, Beor said, “Brought a leg of venison for you,” He shook out the wrapped leg. “My boys dropped a buck on the hoof the other day. The oldest one’s coming on fine,” – alluding to what had brought him here.

Zadoc understood what Beor did not: the giver of gifts is more indebted to the receiver than the other way round. He had a brace of guinea fowl on the boil. “Interesting,” Zadoc said, as he put the meat out of reach of prying eyes and noses. He chuckled quietly at catching Beor sniffing a thin steam of broth drifting his way.

“Don’t want to keep it too long.” Beor jutted s his head at the venison in the cave. “Mighty warm walk it had on my back.”

Zadoc said, “No fear of that. It’s a while since I eat fresh-killed animal.” He went to the fire and ladled broth into calabash bowls. Beor blew over his while he plucked up courage. Fennel and something tart intrigued him.

“I never eat soup like it,” Beor observed. “Ever try stewing locusts?’

“Time when there was a plague of them I did. Kind of peppery.”

Zadoc, Beor saw, had enough of his beating around the bush. “I don’t like to disturb your peace and quiet or anything,” he said.

“What is it you need, brother?” Zadoc said. “Say, thanks for the outing. I was just sorry you got  no specimens for the trouble.”

“What did you think of my boy?”

“Oh – the older one,” Zadoc said. “Different, isn’t he? Can’t see him following in his father’s footsteps.”

Beor leaned forward excitedly: “Nor I. Balaam’s not one who’ll follow in anyone’s footsteps.”

“So,” Zadoc said, “Here you are on account of that.”

“Well – it’s like this….”

“No.”

Beor, “No? What’s no? Why no? You see…”

Zadoc interrupted, “I will not subject any boy to such a thing.”

“Hang on my friend, it’s not what you think. I’m not here to ask you to do  – that. I want you to fill the boy’s head with knowledge. Nature, genealogy, spells – things like that. Nothing dangerous, you understand.”

“I don’t think I do. Genealogy? Spells? Well – maybe spells.” He tapped his long brown forehead “My brother, nothing in here except plants and cures. Can’t see how it’ll  help the lad. You need to get him learning a whole lot of things.”

Beor aimed a finger.“Just so, brother; just so. He’d get that from the two of us. From you, nature, rituals, spells, God, the family story. .”

“Wait a minute!” Zadoc cried.  “God and your family?”

Beor said, “Don’t worry – you’ll get knowledge of that from me. How’d you think I came to advise kings and what not?

Both knew they were avoiding one subject, talking of minor subjects to avoid the major one. And Zadoc, dying for his late noon nap, “I don’t think I entirely follow. Where do you fit in?”

Beor, with the effulgence of a boiling geyser: “My dear man, knowledge and instinct, instinct and knowledge. The eternal conflict, not so? You give him the knowledge; I give him the instinct.”

“Right. And the purpose?”

“Why, to bring out the powers troubling the boy’s guts. I can tell what’s inside Balaam as clearly as you can tell a storm brewing inside dark clouds. You know God spoke to my father?”

“Who – Laban?”

“Before my father caught up with the runaway Jacob, God came to Laban. Warned him not to lay a hand on the scoundrel. Father told me and brother Chazzer. What did God have in mind, I always wondered? You know, that was the last occasion the Almighty appeared to a non-Israelite. After my father, it never happened again. Not a cross word or a vision to anyone since that time. God’s stopped speaking to our people.”

Zadoc grunted and went to the overhang of rock to relieve himself. Beor resumed. “It’ll happen again one day soon. I feel it in my bones. The nations need a prophet.  They’re panting to have their prophet.”

Zadoc asked, “You don’t think there’re enough prophets from your family? I’d kind of thought the families of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are full of prophets blessing and cursing till their souls can’t take more.”

Beor jumped up as though burnt by the rock under him. He combed his scrappy beard through with his fingers. “Exactly! Only Israel can produce prophets. I’ve heard say their scholars claim Israel’s exclusive right to receive divine visitation. The yichus must come from Abraham, they say. You got to be a descendant and you got to be circumcised. Friend, they tell us you got to be born into the family to have prophecy.”

Zadoc listened calmly. Like most people he knew about the brotherhood of Abraham. And he  chuckled caustically. “I can see a wife’s finger in that muddy pie.”

“What do you mean?”

“Abraham’s concubines, remember. Their offspring got circumcised. And are they part of the brotherhood?  Not. There’s Ishmael who got circumcised by Abraham. The family didn’t admit him to the brotherhood. And all the children of his concubine Keturah? Not circumcised, but Abraham’s seed? Sarah was known to be a jealous wife. Could’ve been her that dictated who’s in or out the brotherhood. ”

“Oh,” Beor said, “No doubt of it. Sarah hated Abraham putting himself out for his nephew. My forefather Lot was no favorite in her household. The clan’s devilish adept at understanding God’s mind to suit them. Well, let’s see them complain when the nations get Balaam for a prophet. I want to see the Israelites then, my god!”

“Beor – Beor. Your family had no one circumcised. And what did God tell Abraham? ‘From Isaac will your seed be called.’ Jacob was Isaac’s seed. Israel come from Jacob’s seed, which you’ll admit, your family do not.”

Beor looked out at the hillside, and a jagged vindictiveness speared him through and made him feel better than he remembered feeling. “Never keep the story straight, do they? Always make it so they come out on the right side of God, he said. Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca, Rachel – they twisted meanings to come out as God’s own. Always they doing God’s will. I was right there when Jacob, doing God’s will of course, played my father dirtier than he got played. ”

Zadoc wondered when his uninvited guest would leave him to his retreat. “Anyway,” he said,  “hatred never does anyone any good.”

“Putting wrong to right and seeking justice aren’t hatred.”

“And revenge?”

“Nor that. We’ll raise a prophet in their face. Zadoc, don’t miss the boat. Our Balaam’s the chance of a lifetime – of lifetimes without end.”

“Our? I tell you what, every instinct tells me to stay out of this. Other hand, every impulse drags me to get into your dreamings.”

What made the herbal healer agree to dream a venereal wracked sadist’s dream? Why, little by little, did the vision of me trampling on the Chosen People capture Zadoc as surely as it captured my lip foaming father? Why, in the following months did Zadoc dedicate himself to the fantasy of all disappointed men – of making their offspring take the burden?

Perhaps Zadoc feared what Beor would do without his moderating influence. Perhaps the legendary golden touch of Abraham’s clan aroused even temperate Zadoc to envy? Or maybe it was Beor’s flattery – “Your wisdom and my rigor, Zadoc; a great combination for bringing out the talents of a boy. You teach, I motivate.” But what difference could it make to me, the subject of their wild folly to make genius look average?

A live peril on your shoulder is a wonderful thing to fire the brain. You want a quick head on you, not a grave head. Zadoc my interrogator and Beor my tormentor between them made me as quick as a lightning bolt. A scorpion skulking near enough to tickle my ear lobe added to the fruits of their labors.  I took the burden of stick and carrot. The effect, I need hardly tell, was electrifying. The barn rang with my furious attempts at difficult questions. Some indeed had no right or wrong answers, only good or bad ones. My father decided whether good or bad. Employing an actual rod in a schoolroom is hurtful and insulting to master and scholar alike. A beating makes for mutual hatred. Fear, to be effective, must unite teacher and learner, not drive them apart. Thanks to a full grown stinger sensitive to movement of my head or body, three of us went through torment together, sweated like pigs in unison, learnt together, and rejoiced together after mornings without mishap.

How the system worked: The purpose was partly to instruct their protégé and partly, by torture, to quicken his mind. The learning was helped by torture, and the torture helped the learning. The two intermingled and made the whole greater. All credit to my father. Beor recognized that reward, one half of the cycle, must be commensurate to penalty, to complete the cycle. Where the penalty is terrible the reward must be wondrous. It was a system meant to condition me to reward and punishment. These were the counterparts, and Beor understood them as well as he envisaged the end product. Four weekly sessions over ten moons equipped me with an army of knowledge: geography, nature , rituals and pagan gods, origin of the Hebrews, encounters with God and, best of all, the pot luck generations on whose bent shoulders I climbed into the world to fulfill some yet unknown though great purpose .

It all happened in the barn shed beside the pig pen on one side and the mule and pony stalls on the other. For a school it was a damp barn. And you could hear skittering life going on beneath the piles of soggy straw. The way I acquitted myself, though, with neck in dire proximity to a lethal threat, made my two coaches proud. I developed the habit of thinking on my feet at an age when friends were still pants-wetting pups. Before long I could turn a bellicose mind to anything, and do it at heartbeat speed from the peril of hell.

Pain fills my head, obliterating  thoughts of  gratitude, when I recall Beor and Zadoc putting me through my paces. I sit like a block of wood on a hard chair. Beor, gloved, stands at my elbow; Zadoc, in a frightened scraped voice puts the questions from a pumpkin crate acting for a dais. My father, eyes narrowing in anticipation, calls me to order. “”If you learnt what you had to,” he says. “Balaam, look at me!”

My eyes had squinted to my left shoulder. I look Beor in the face.

“If you learnt what you had to,” he says, “if you attend carefully to Zadoc and got the answer to  mind, say it loud, say it quick. Don’t let that something near your neck scare your mind empty. Don’t fidget more than you have to.  Balaam – curse if you will. If it helps, curse loud and ugly. Your father wants to remove that thing you hate and fear. So give Zadoc good quick answers.”

Zadoc had listened to this advice with a turned up face sharp with guilt at the cold, hard  obsession he was aiding and abetting.

“How Moab got its homeland,” he announces.

“Ready!” I shout.

Zadoc forlornly peers at me and warns, “Careful, son.” Then tugging his robe back onto his thin shoulders, begins: “Balaam, who dwelt in our land (Moab) afore our nation took it over?”

My hand nearly shooting up – “Emim! The Emim, sire.” The dour face tells me I must try again. I wrack the mind for an answer for the sake of Zadoc. Silent seconds go by. In the cold damp, sweat trickles by my right eye. Zadoc prompts, “But what name were the Emim known by?

“Oh – giants! The Refa’im, sire.” Zadoc’s shoulders lift. I take a sweet breath. Through a thin robe I’m aware of the scorpion on my collarbone. Zadoc nods at Beor as if to say, “See. You see what we’ve got here!”

Zadoc goes on. “The Refa’im had previously dwelt in the land of Ammon. What name did Ammon give these giants?”

This one I remember well. “Zamzumim! Og who survived the Flood outside of Noah’s Ark was the chief of the giants.”

My interrogator swallows a great gulp of water. It’s possible to observe his damp hairline; to watch the unsteady hand on the water bottle. I felt I was through the confidence-building part. Sitting on my right, Beor breathes warm winey breaths onto my head.

“Balaam, Abraham was promised whose lands? And which people came from Kaftor to take the lands from them?”

“Sire, again the Refa’im. God promised Abraham all their lands. Then the Avim conquered those lands, Sire, and then came the Kaftorim and took the lands from the Avim.”

Zadoc snaps up straight as a victor does after landing the fatal blow. Confidently now – “And, Balaam,  you know that Abraham made an oath to Avimelech. Abraham promised that his family would never take the land of Avimelech’s Philistines?”

“Sire, I do know.”

“Well then – listen boy. How will it change Abraham’s oath now that the Kaftorim have taken the land from Avimelech? Is the oath in force? Balaam?”

“”I’m thinking, I’m thinking!” Agitated I sway a little. Then it came to me – a good answer. At the same moment I remember what I’ve got on my collar bone. My eye had caught a movement down there. Zadoc’s eye caught my terror, and my father caught Zadoc’s frozen silent language. His mitted hand was poised by my ear. With the deftness of a striking adder Beor had the scorpion clamped in his mitt.  He hurried it through the cage door.

“Well, boy!” Zadoc’s voice was heavy with love. “Your answer, if you please.”

“Sire, it would annul the oath. Abraham’s descendants can take the land because a different people live on it.”

Thus we entered a state of affairs which was nothing less than evolutionary. Its effect on mankind would be damn startling.

The Progressive Passover

A people liberated from slavery. No wonder Passover is a time when advocates for a State of Palestine feel drawn to play a Progressive Moses. ‘Let the people go!’

Passover, many think, comes around for a melodramatic appeal to the conscience of Israel. Have pity. Remember – your people were enslaved in Egypt and so howled in torment it made the Almighty act .Hear oh Israel the cry of people in bondage. Let the Palestinians go. Let them make unto themselves a nation.

This, in one form or another, is the cry and substance of the Progressive appeal. Well-intentioned and calculating people make it, none more than devotees of human rights who make a career from their devotion. Listen to them. In what they say and in what they believe lie the fatal flaws of the type. Today Moses gets up in a human rights T-shirt.

Uri Zaki is a modern Moses. The ex director of Israeli human rights outfit, B’Tselem (in the image of), Zaki thought he’d stir up American Jews with an impassioned Passover appeal. Let the Pals go. What Zaki actually said was, “Israeli settlements in the West Bank make it practically impossible for the Palestinians to realize their right to self-determination in an independent and viable state of their own.” https://blogs.timesofisrael.

The fatal flaw in Zaki’s browned-off appeal lies where? Look for the duty of one party to give and the right of the other party to receive. In an egg shell Progressives comprehend human rights in those terms. They award rights to one party and impose obligations on the other. To make their allocation of rights and burdens sacred they like to borrow from the bible, believing parts of it or none. Progressives are adept at making theology their handmaiden. Concepts in Judaism or Christianity in their clever hands meld seamlessly with leftwing dogma. Bible-borrowing Christian leftists borrow Jesus, not to beat swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks; they bring him on for mundane acts you or I can do. They tell Jesus to walk through a military checkpoint in the West Bank, and to report how the Son of God coped with the cruelty of Israeli border control. https://wordpress.com/post/enemiesofzion.wordpress.com/144

Jewish Progressives don’t have a Messiah; they fetch their catch-all tool from Judaism – the concept of tikun olam or making the world a better place. Do-gooders in droves are drawn by tikun olam like moths to electric light. They boil a multitude of meanings down to the right of Palestinians to want things and Israel’s duty to supply them. Pals are owed and “Benjamins’ owe. That’s the goo boiled down from a deep principal with more meanings than the octopus has tentacles.

And the benefits – they go to whom and to what? The lives of a clutch of millionaire kleptomaniacs are made comfy and effortless. From their silk-covered divans the heads of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas table demands; then they sit back, leaving it to Progressives of capricious conscience to tell Israel to meet the demands more than half way. Pal leaders are exempt from adulthood. Given victim status no criticism, never mind criminal penalty, may touch them.

It’s the old story of the spoilt kid, and it brings to mind a quip made by the famous Israeli ambassador, Abba Eban. I think it would be the first war in history that on the morrow the victors sued for peace and the vanquished called for unconditional surrender.” http://www.blog.standforisrael.org/featured-articles/seven-great-quotes-from-israeli-and-jewish-leaders  A bittersweet joke! The Six-Day war had ended in a stunning victory for Israel and world leaders lined up to force bitter medicine down the victor’s throat: the remedy of land for peace. Today more than five decades later the formula (or mantra) keeps Israel trying to keep Washington and Brussels keep the wolf at bay – the wolf in boycotting garb.

One thing has changed since Israel made the error of vanquishing the Arabs in 1967: the stakes have been upped. Today world leaders demand that Israel gives more than land for peace. Another failed Sharia state and nothing less is on the table – unless Israel wants Brussels to stop trying to keep the wolf at bay.

Give Pals the West Bank, hot dammit! Never mind they lost wars they started. Like the spoilt kid, Palestinian tyrants want everything and they want it on their own terms, unconditionally. Possession of land may be nine-tenths of the law, and ‘Benjamin” may have the possession, but who holds victim losers to law? Victims are defined by rights. Other claimants for a state to call their own (the Kurds for one) must drool at the mouth looking at the pampered Pals. And whose rights have to make room for the Chosen Victims? None but the Un-Chosen People making do with an already slip of hostile homeland. But hey – who cares! White and Jewish makes a combo for the biggest villain of them all. When human rights are dished out, ‘dark’ victims, especially when under the bondage of Benjamin, get it all.

That was fatal flaw one. Flaw number two, Moses in a Human Rights T-shirt forgets the other side to the equation. The right to self-determination involves a big supposition – that of lawful ownership. By all means let people make unto themselves a nation, but where shall they do that? On what land? On whose land? Except for the Kingdom of Jordan, no land west of the Jordan River was ever held by a people recently named ‘The Palestinians.’ Israel took this bit of real estate in a defensive war when such a claimant still had to be conceived. Well – could Jordan not ask for the West Bank back? No it could not because it was never Jordan’s to have and to hold. At the time Israel snapped up the territory Jordan had no right to be there. Not even the Arab league makes a case for the West Bank to go back to Jordan.

So the Progressive Moses looks to Israel. At Passover time thoughts on bondage and liberation run riot. We must allow Palestinians to enjoy the same basic rights to self-government and independence that we, the Jewish State, have been privileged to enjoy since 1948.” David Newman, a professor at Ben Gurion University, goes on to write of “fundamental Jewish religious values” as recounted at Passover. (Handy tikun olam pops up again). It is incumbent on the Jews of today, Newman believes, to ensure that other peoples are not oppressed, even more when they are under “our own control and for whose wellbeing we have direct responsibility.” https://www.jpost.com/Author/David-Newman April 14, 2014

After marrying rights to responsibilities, Newman divorces them. Israel gets the responsibility and the Palestinian settlers get the rights. Your Progressive Moses can be clever but not wise. He knows of no such a thing as reciprocity. Jews must part with their promised land and leave enemies at liberty to rain down rockets on the metropolitan hub of Israel. The ‘fundamental Jewish values’ espoused by the professor come with that sting in the tail.

Diplomacy, having no truck with the bible, comes with a sting of its own. Looking back on American brokered peace talks before the Trump era, it is easy to forget the generic players on the game board – landowner and supplicant. Obama’s negotiator John Kerry hammered Israel for dangling carrots which the other player did not find terribly juicy. Not even negotiators acting for Israel stopped to recall natural law. The owner of real estate needs do nothing until a person who would like to have it brings an offer. Should the latter be unwilling to meet the owner’s terms, the owner carries on with his life.

Cornered, Zaki the Priest and Newman the Dean would have to admit that no laws or treaties give the Big Victim the right to “self-determination in a viable state of its own.” There are only Accords made in Oslo, and they’ve been trashed time without end. But even when the Accords were in mint condition they conferred no rights to self-determination. The Progressive Moses ignores principles of law while he scatters rights and obligations like confetti. Odder yet, our Moses is often the first to insist that Israel abides by the law.

Unpacking the biblical thunder in ‘Let the Pals go free!’ one discovers a fake product. Obligations come without rights and rights without obligations. The demand of the modern Moses comes down to, ‘Give Pals what they want, hot dammit!’

Well – why not, if only to satisfy some quirky view of fair play. The Jews got their state, why deprive the neighbors? It might even help Israel’s own security. So say do-gooders toying with real baddies. But look at the way they put their case. Don’t put a spanner in the wheel by telling Palestinian leaders to recognize a Jewish state. Obama’s man Kerry, only thinking of Israel of course, scolds it for putting the spoilt kid out of temper by insisting that a Jewish state, a paid up member of the UN, exists. Other come-and-go hopeful negotiators throw up their hands with Kerry. Stop the tantrums. Give the kid what it damn well wants for heaven sake!

Problem is, no one can fathom what the kid wants. And here’s fatal flaw number three. How many times did Israel offer what everyone told Israel the kid wanted? Again and again Palestinian leaders were invited to establish a home they could call their own. Arafat then Abbas were offered land on which to make a home. After tearing the RSVP’s to shreds, they launched Intifadas and threw the bits of paper at Benjamin’s pale face.

Then there’s Gaza. Were not The Victims in bondage in Gaza before they got it, lock stock and barrel? For nothing? All they had to do in Gaza was make unto themselves a nation. You’d think Moses the Progressive would be happy. Think again. “In 2005 Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip, which increased Palestinians’ control over their lives…However, Israel continues to hold decisive control over major aspects of people’s lives.” .” https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/four-questions-about-the-israeli-palestinian-conflict/

Here was Zaki the Priest prodding Pharaoh to let the people go, after Pharaoh had already done that. What did unelected leaders do with the gift which came with no strings attached ? They warred and they jawed. But then it’s not for Gaza’s elect to uplift the lives of their subjects, to build a nation. It’s for Israel to do that for them.

Zaki the Priest and Newman the Dean, like all Moses prophets in Human Rights T-shirt, go about with blinkers. They fail to see the bottom line of giving land away. Let Palestinians have the Temple Mount, half of Jerusalem and Judea-Samaria – all the parts in dispute. Where will this leave the Benjamins? It will leave them looking suspiciously like colonial usurpers. After all what historical connections do the Benjamins have to Tel Aviv?

‘Let the people go’ is all well and good. But at Passover time Jews ought to have their own people in mind. This could involve treating foes with a strong hand and an outstretched arm so that never again will they be a footloose and powerless people begging other nations, not to let them go, but to let them in.

Signs and portends

When I turned five there were prodigies and portends all winter, but I never took notice until afterwards. Below Mount Horeb a bush burst into flame which couldn’t be doused or smothered. A scarlet calf was born in the Valley of Aijalon. In Padam Aharayim a donkey bellyached in Aramaic about its feed. A cloud drifting in over Moab formed the Hebrew letters C-H, alluding to curses. Mushrooms grew out of an altar on which priests burnt sacrifices to Baal-Zebub. Fish in their blue millions teemed down the Jordan from Galilee and were cast up on the shores of the Salt Sea, belly up. Bullfrogs croaked in King Arioch’s bathwater. Perhaps it all meant nothing. You never pay attention to such things until afterwards, and by then it’s too late. Anyway, open miracles were the least of my concerns when a scheme to make me great was being hatched.

Looking back you can often find the day of birth of a new era, whereas at the time it was one day hooked on to the tail of another. Tail is right – it was the day Beor took us along to collect new specimens for his whip-tail hobby. The event pitched me (brother Tahash had two benign years ahead) over the start line of crazy adulthood. I’d got through childhood not badly, in fact quite the envy of gnat-bitten striplings in our palace compound. I had a mother who couldn’t do enough for her little stepson. Now schooling loomed and grimaced at me in nightmares. I thought my trepidation came from within. Not: my father was being bitten by the fever from the other end. The product of his loins was ready for the long awaited experiment. I was to be educated like no boy had ever been.

…Meanwhile on donkey back we climbed a steep eroded trail into the hills. I couldn’t stop myself taking backward glances at Beor, only to recoil: the look I’d learnt to fear was on him. There was a singleness of purpose in that good eye. Picture Abraham entering into a covenant with his Maker, and that would be the look I mean…Or Abraham the time he raised a knife to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. Turned out I was not the only one who looked askance on my father. Alongside him rode Zadoc the herbalist who’d taken a shine to Beor’s scorpion science. He regarded him with something akin to an interest which feeds on the unknown and unknowable. Perhaps cruelty was exotic to Zadoc. Beor attracted him because he couldn’t understand him. He felt there was something amiss, though what it was he couldn’t figure out.

We stopped under a clump of cypress trees on high ground. While my brother helped me tether the donkeys, the men went and urinated. Zadoc engrossed with his own puddle, “Back there you had the look of a man who needs a fight.”

“I can give you the courtesy of my fist anytime,” said Beor.

“I don’t mean that,” Zadoc said firmly. “What you want to fight is nothing alive and breathing.”

Beor chuckled – not a happy sound. Passing water had become a struggle and a torment. It burnt him when he sprayed the ground like intermittent rain. He shook himself off. “Do I now?” he said. “And I thought I got out of the fighting habit.”

“Beor, you never got into it. But I tell you what – causes do need fighting. A man may keep busy enough on them to forget his anger.”

Beor regarded the words benevolently. Fighting a cause had given him gratifying times. He still lived to get revenge on Jacob for spiriting away the family estate. Revenge would come, he felt, if only he let it play on his mind. “Well, why don’t me and you think on that,” he said.

Zadoc scratched his head. When trouble came to wild men Zadoc wanted none of it. He was a self contained kind of person. There was nothing he could not do because, other than find cures from growing herbs, there was nothing Zadoc wanted to do very much. “Me! I’m no thinker,” he said to Beor on the walk back. “Somebody always gets hurt when I think.”

Beor dealt with the rebuff in the ancient way. He came up and gave a long leisurely tug at my cumbersome family nose…. And to my brother Tahash transfixed: “Enjoying it little one? Don’t be sad. We’ll have a good spread by and by.”

My brother all his cut-short life never smiled. He grinned. His lips were full and his mouth wide, and when he grinned his eyes crinkled and something warm and scary came out of him. Our father’s last born was not a good risk for Beor.

“Not bad boys the ogre’s raised,” I could see Zadoc thinking by his look.

Beor let me dole out the food on tin plates. Orpah, bless her, had packed a basket of cold collations, flat bread, pickles, a red and black berry pie and something Beor lit upon – a small keg of an alcoholic tonsil teaser. Caraway had spiced the mixture in the keg and added something old fashioned. Beor chomped, he tore and he slurped and when he felt bloated he rated his impression from both ends. For now he was the sober consultant who advised imperiled kings and threatened generals how to win battles. He lay back and let the trunk of the cypress take the weight of his mountainous lethargy…Murmuring, “Explore later…”

The herbalist, giving up on Beor, started off to scour the hillside for arrowroot and hemp.

“Come back,” Beor patted the ground. “Sit a while. I’m trapped in a cage like my scorpions. I want to run something by you while the brats are scampering about.”

Zadoc in a temper rocked back on his heels, thinking, “I always get them. If there’s a bugbear within a hundred leagues he’s drawn to me.” Stone-faced he sat next to Beor in the shade under the boughs and hugged his knees. From the ragged sleeves of a vest, brown wrists like gnarled grapevines protruded.

“Have you consulted a seer?” Zadoc asked.

“Don’t care who or what. Hot damnit, I need thinking help.”

Zadoc looked from an angle into the inflammation of Beor’s face. “Okay, let’s hear it,” he said resignedly.

Beor – “I’ve seen visions. Anyone would in my shoes.”

“And you believe them?” Zadoc asked spitefully

“I don’t find it a matter for believing or not,” Beor said. “When you see a red sun flatten as it goes into the sea do you tell yourself every time that you’re seeing a trick of distance? Or do you just admire the vision? Eh?”

“Okay…”

The valley, between the ranges and below the foothills, basked in a gold autumn sunshine. Stalks of willow herb and goose-foot and thistle raised their heads above the yellowing grass. If Beor let serenity calm him I never saw it. The way I picture him, his head is slunk forward, .the default posture of a hunted man not a hunter. I can’t see Beor stooping to a meadow of poppies or scanning a blue mountain or tut-tutting at a graceful gazelle. Today he had a mulling, chewing-over-something disposition. It went so far to prompt him to turn his head and spit to the side of the tree. He might have been marking a space for truth and trust just as a fox will mark territory.

He said, “You know, cypress trees kind of take me back to Charan and to people… ”

Zadoc let his head fall back against the tree.

“You sleeping?”

“No….”

“I was about to say, there was a shepherd who’d gone to a wedding outside of Charan. On the way back, his belly full of food and drink, he thought he’d take a nap. He found a shady spot beneath a tree –a cypress just like this one. While he slept on his coat a scorpion came and wriggled into his ear. There it stayed until he startled it by waking up. Horrible to say, it stung him right inside the ear.”

The herbalist shifted. He was a man of iron simplicity who had no time for horror tales. “Beor, where you going with this?” he said.

Beor tried to find a quick, rough answer. He pulled the bung and took a swig from his jug. and wiped his mouth. When his mind dug into something it would not let go. “I’m coming to that,” he said. “Be patient. Anyway, it stung him – phut! Like that. Poor fellow must’ve flung about in agony. He must’ve run screaming through the trees, tearing at his head..There was no one to hear his cries. He ran for a nearby village, but he never reached it. Fell dead, not far from the road. A shepherd came upon him the next morning. Lordy lord – what a sight! You don’t want never to see such a thing. From the sting his head had swelled up as if his brains were pregnant.” Beor tapped the ground. “To this day I won’t ever sleep on the ground.”

Zadoc dropped his eyes and watched a black ant try to climb an avalanche of dry leaves. He helped it by moving the leaves away with a twig. Then bitingly, “And now you study the critters, eh?”

“So I’m a brute with mad designs? Is that it?” Beor shouted.

“I’ve known people do strange things.”

Beor stiffened. “Meaning my scorpion practice? You don’t like my business, huh?”

“What does it matter what I like. There it is. But it does seem to me your interest has an end in mind.”

Zadoc saw his words go home. The silence, unbroken for a minute or two, ended when Zadoc asked, “Did you ever drink yerba tea?”

“No.”

It’s aromatic with a mild physic. Can you drink from my jug?”

“I don’t know why not.”

Zadoc fetched the jug from the basket. “Careful!  Here – wrap a cloth around to get a hold.”

After a while – “Beor, what was that story for? Something aching you? Can you stop circling around and tell me straight.”

“I would if I knew what it was. As a matter of fact I do know.”

“So – you have a mind to do something. Well?”

Had I not been down the hill with my brother catching rock rabbits I could’ve told the herbalist straight. You see, I knew what Beor had a mind to do. It wasn’t that he told me straight. I caught the meaning from a harsh and bitter voice when he extolled the use of lightning quick thought and reaction while we watched two scorpions in a cage fighting to the death. I saw my father’s eye and jaw locked with an angst which could not be spoken, and I connected fight with fantasy. It made me want to run from there and never come back. In a desperate bid for meaning my father was going to follow the way of Abraham. Beor planned to sacrifice a protégé son on the altar in order to write history. He planned to test a son just as God tested Abraham, who made the son he was going to sacrifice build the altar.

Take your son, your only one whom you love – Balaam.

Beor (by what distorted play acting we don’t know) convinced himself that he had a son gifted with prophecy. He and Abraham, I and Isaac…And, despite (or because of) Beor’s madness, he converted intention into deed, and proved his method. ..Except I hadn’t Isaac’s gifts and Isaac had not mine. Different yet similar: God and Abraham the faithful, God and Beor the beast. Take your son….

What a craziness my father had cooked up. Or genius – I don’t know. There it was, gnawing at the mind’s separation of fantasy and reality. I was to be tested and perfected on no harmless altar of timber. My altar would be a living, deadly contraption. And the prize if I came through the test? Immortality! Sought-after by all, earned by an elect few – the curse of being immortal!

…A destiny which is seldom positive in the lives of the elect. By the time lasting fame – or infamy – comes to them they are most of them dead. For any who are alive it becomes a question of whether a man is blessed or cursed by knowing what his eternal fate will be. What if you knew your character or deeds would be poured over time without end? What man can stand the thought of being public property for all time? Heroic deed, maybe: knowing your fate could be bearable. But for a monumental failure you can’t be forgotten soon enough. Who could live with the knowledge that a momentous disaster or acute embarrassment or personal setback would amuse or edify one generation after another, at his expense? Trouble is, we have no say in the matter. A man cannot pick and choose how he’ll be remembered. History – the will of the Almighty, deals this card. For heroic deeds or crass it makes no difference – a man has immortality thrust upon him. Over time his deeds will be enlarged, decorated, tidied up to form a tale worth telling. Over what will make his reputation, man has no control.

Zadoc naturally recoiled at the idea: schooling by a scorpion tickling a lad’s bare neck! Beor disclosed the demented scheme: penalty and torment, reward and relief. What made the idea original: the stick and carrot method is nothing new. Fear and reward drive the whole world. Creation works on the duality of stick and carrot. Do what is bad for healthy development and pain will come. Do what is good for development and be rewarded. Beor understood this perfectly. But he adapted stick and carrot to lift the stakes to a whole new height. And in this he was clever: he used a born killer in two roles – to impart the fear and to dangle the prize.

Zadoc uncomprehending – “You must be joking!” Then Beor, making sense of it:

“You don’t understand. I could’ve had class. I could’ve been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bruiser which is what I am.”

He was gathered to his people, five years later, before he knew the good sleep of work well done.

Victim Politics – the game of loser takes all

The players of victim politics speak clearer than mere allegations can do.

  • When Ace Magashule, a career henchman who helped make South Africa fail, says, “We have been building the white people’s roads‚ their houses‚ working their farms, now it’s time for a black person to own land and farm,” – that’s victim politics.
  • When a Palestinian delegate calls on the UN “to hold Israelis accountable for violations and crimes in the Palestinian Territories” – that’s victim politics.
  • When Hilary Clinton blasts misogynist homophobic Islamaphobic xenophobic racist America – that’s victim politics.
  • When black actor Jussie Smollett pays for staging a white hate crime on him – that’s opportunistic victim politics
  • When a flyer at the University of Illinois declares, “Ending white privilege starts with ending Jewish privilege” – that’s victim and Jew-hating politics combined.

When life is good there are people who seek out others to make it worse, to level inequalities. It is hard to get the mind around this, but they do. Victim manufacturers put a group, be it black or Muslim or gay or transgender or feminist, in the most secure place a human can be: victims deserving to be protected from all criticism. Protected how? Not always by law but more effectively by social mores with the constraining power of law.

In the West you daren’t criticize Muslims or Islam from fear: the fear of being painted Islamophobic or, as ten dead workers at Charlie Hebdo taught, from fear of one’s life. Arab Christians are burned bombed beheaded to near extinction, yet the Pope utters hardly a peep. Britain’s Union of Students won’t condemn Islamic State because that would be Islamophobic.

Social mores making us tiptoe around different cultures are strict but uneven. For people of one culture mores are ultra lax. If Muslims are off limits and sacrosanct, you’re allowed to say what you like about Jews, provided you call them Israelis, or better, Zionists. Where  Muslims are treated with kid gloves, people have no qualms about laying into the Jews. The student body that won’t condemn ISIS votes to condemn Israel, and to boycott it. In the court of phobias, Judaeophobia does not rank with Islamophobia on the scales of justice.

Without a villain you can’t have a victim, and they are demarcated by two factors: (1) Colour of skin and (2) Gender. White plus male is a villain by default. Black plus gender-free is a victim by default. White and Christian (even when non-white) is never victim material. Dark-skinned anti-Christian can never be villain. Julie Burchill  “Everyone is ignoring the danger to Christians in Muslim countries,” bewails Manor Rumalshah the Bishop of Peshawar. “Europeans don’t give a damn about us.” Damn right they don’t because the perpetrators are (a) Muslim and (b) supposedly of darker hue.

Jews, different as they must be, fall into distinct categories. The six million ‘white’ Jews living at home can only be villains. Their darker adversaries, from stone throwers to kite fliers to human bombs, are not just victims but victims above and beyond every other on planet earth, and in Paradise above where lush meadows with 72 virgins await a Palestinian martyr who dies in the act of killing the Jew villain.

White Jews residing in the West have an option Israelis don’t. They may aspire to victim status. There’s a term and condition to the privilege. Jewish victims must be handy for activists fighting on behalf of dark refugees who are victims by default. The claim that Anne Frank is a Syrian girl is to make a one-on-one comparison with the Holocaust. This is where Jewish victim status begins and ends. Should the descendants of Holocaust victims cry anti-Semitism they are painted as extremists or Zionists trying to close down critics of Israel. There’s also the colour barrier. Linda Sarsour says that Jews can’t be victims of hatred because they’re white, and there aint no such thing as anti-white racism.

Victims are the flavour of our time. It doesn’t mean they walk away scot free. It is all well and good to be paraded in the media as washed up on beaches or occupied by Jewish settlers, or despised for being transgender or black or female while the levers of power and privilege are controlled by white males who want to keep it that way. That’s where victims come in handy. Whom the gods love they drive crazy with utopian visions of fundamental change.

An angry refugee or angry LGBT or angry Me TOO makes a handy battering ram. The good fortunes of comfortable visionaries depend on angry hurting cannon fodder. When Democrat public servants protest for open borders for Central Americans they consider their own careers. Refugees create a demand for social workers and educators. In time refugees will vote Democrat – for the party which acts on their behalf. As the refugee population grows so their voting power grows. Somali Congresswoman Omar won in Somali-dense Minnesota. Black and Latino voters will vote Democrat as long as the Democrats and CNN’s s cry loud and long enough for them to believe they are objects of white hatred.

Palestinians make the best battering ram. They must remain stateless or hundreds of NGO’s like B’Tselem will be made redundant and the owners will lose free money from the EU or the Ford Foundation, or become bereft of moneybags George Soros. And what will happen to all the UN agencies dependent on keeping the Palestinians in their 70-year condition of angry stateless victims?  God forbid they should ever lose value. A peace deal is in the interest of no one with a fat regular pay cheque.

The bottom line is that victims are economic and political assets. The comfortable win the game and the losers take all.

Scaly aggressor

 When Laban died from a fit the year after Jacob quit Charan, the brothers were unprepared for how little their father was worth. They were equally shocked by how little he looked. The runaway cut not just with family assets, he cut my grandfather down to size. Laban and kinsmen returned empty-handed from their gallop after the caravan, ostensibly to kill Jacob, recover the stolen teraphim gods and livestock, and rescue the ‘hostages’ –Jacob’s bigamous brood  of wives and children. The old master of all he surveyed had dwindled to a gnome. The strutting, stroppy, swagger gave way to a forward-leaning gait, as if Laban scanned the horizon for his enemy. The leader who once held gatherings in thrall turned into a brooder who muttered. The dealer who left trails of ruination became the butt of mirth. The patriarch of an extended family was left with no one to manipulate .The fruitless chase proved to be my grandfather’s backbreaker. Jacob took away his life and property together. On top of all, a run of poor crops and trifling deals followed the great escape.

After Laban was gathered up to his people the sons were left with tracts of difficult land and no technique for using it. As for the flocks which had multiplied under Jacob’s care, they atrophied with everything else. The turn of events crippled brothers Beor and Chazzer. They blamed their poverty on the duplicity of their cousin; they grew bitter from complaining. After a lay-about existence under the family roof the young men now faced the mundane and demeaning task of supporting themselves. Of all habits self-indulgence could be the most difficult to unlearn. They were not up to it. My uncle more than my father had no talent or will to craft a livelihood.

The grudge they bore cut deeper than the loss of property and status. The complaint that Jacob had wheedled the family out of everything was no simple contractual argument, it was faith, and over time it solidified into dogma. The sons of Laban came to believe in the innate malice of the sons of Jacob. It was, like the belief in one God, piously held. It owed more to the idea than to what the cheating cousin had actually done. A lifelong grudge with a scorpion in the tail (Beor would nearly be one) stung my father and uncle where it hurt. No – they weren’t Jacob’s first victims – Esau had that honour. But the havoc he left behind got to them; it infuriated before it infatuated the sons of Laban. Their bowed shoulders carried everyone ruined by Jacob, past and present. The complaint, ‘Israel acquired its wealth from us’ grew into a battle cry of men at war. I know, because when God endowed me with divination I heard the echo in the canyon of time.

Cast adrift by the patriarch of Israel, the brothers went different ways. Chazzer found a tenant for the rundown estate and moved to the city of Ammon far from Charan and Laban’s vacant pastures. He rented a homestead erected in the courtyard of a ruined manor. The location smiled on the libertine; a quick walk brought him to the marketplace from which radiated alleys teeming with houses of harlotry and taverns with doors that never closed. Here the moderate income of an immoderate man went on gambling, drinking and gratifying a taste for pretty girls close enough to womanhood.  

My father had his inclinations – quite the opposite they were to my uncle Chazzer’s. He had a wild sporadic mind. Beor acted before he sometimes thought; and when he did think it came from the seat of his pants. And he liked things for wrong reasons. He liked war but hated fighting; liked making children but shirked raising them; liked indiscipline but hated disorder. That Beor fathered children here there and everywhere, half siblings who for the most part did not know half their siblings, seemed his way of vaunting indiscipline. He lived for licence – perhaps a reason why he preferred being a mercenary for different kings rather than fight for one.

Beor ‘fought’ in military escapades for freedom –for his own flighty existence. Let full time soldiers do the bloodletting, he thought. “I never been one for a club in hand, my boy – nor a bow or sword,” I can hear him murmur while he lay back on his bed in our palace flophouse. “I guess your father’s better at telling others how to kill.”

Battlefields and taken towns meant hunting grounds to him, which meant looting at will. Wild boars, goats, wine vats, virgins – all were fair game. Animal, vegetable and mineral were for the taking. Beor preferred that his human prey would run from him and not tamely submit to violation. The sport was in the chase. Wild since birth (“Another Esau, aren’t you!” his mother Dina and father Laban would chortle over their boy), being an Esau type tickled his fancy until the ripe age of thirty eight when ravages from syphilis and an abused liver ended him off. Whether he marched east with battalions on Midian or south on Hazor or west on Gibeon or north on Barak the chief of the Kedesh, Beor thrived on seeing countries, on helping himself to livestock and poultry, and chasing girls up into haystacks. He was not subject to the discipline of the regulars. Nothing on the march was prohibited – violent or playful.   

I was born a few months before my father went off on one of his long campaigns. Two years passed before he returned with one eye, a body wracked and ruined and a face inflamed by fierce heat and cheap drink, and hobbling, not from any wound, but from discomfort in and around the top of his uncircumcised pride. The clap did nothing to his vitality; but his swagger of old became a hobble. Soon after daybreak he banged at the door of our flophouse in the palace compound. It woke up the servant who slept in a lean-to on the side of the rambling quarters. Before he went away Beor hired this young Moabite woman named Orpah for a housekeeper. While he was gone the teenager who had shared his bed abandoned their infant for a spice trader double her age who took her away no one knew where. I was left motherless and fatherless. On his return my father hobbled about town for a day seeking word of the escapee. He told drinking mates what he would do if he found her, brandishing the tavern owner’s carving knife. He planned to alter my mother’s face so that “even a drunk eunuch won’t take out after her.” His light of love seemed to have got word of Beor’s intentions, for she was never found….While I got a better mother. Without ado the housekeeper took the place of the girl who had pushed me out then dropped me off. My father took comfort in Orpah differently.

When she opened the door he stumped through to the cheerless living room where he slung down his bundle on the grainy flagstones and flopped into a chair before a fireplace with old coals. His tunic was soiled from having been slept in for a week. The looted boots he pulled off had no laces and emanated a stink of dirty socks and excrement. He looked moistly through bloodshot eyes. He gave an order for something to eat and for his son to be brought to him. When Orpah led me up by the hand my father said huskily, “This the boy?” He roughed the dark curls of the scared mite who clutched onto the maid’s skirt. It was as if he roughed up the inside of my head with my curls.

My proxy mother had all the right qualities. Orpah took wire brushes and buckets of lime to the walls and floor to make our flophouse cleaner than a pigsty. Her teeth were crooked and her skin freckled; she was not pretty like my runaway mother, so Beor had no need to watch her. She had health and strength, and never complained when some months after Beor’s return she fell pregnant with my half brother Mahlon. Whether she loved us no one knew because no one wanted to know, and she never said anything . When Beor talked she gave a vague impression of listening while she went about the housework.

The youthful hard working taciturn woman turned out to be just right for my father who entered on a new career – that of advisor to the King of Moab.  All that energy which had made him wild now made him thoughtful.  Officers of the king listened respectfully to Beor explaining what mistakes in combat had been made at what point, and what would have been a better plan. The streak which made Beor ruthless now made him crafty and creative. Soon his penetrating military mind led to other commissions. The Midianite and Philistine armies consulted him. They took advice on matters of organization, of personnel, of weapons of war. He acquired inside knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of different enemies and added this to his armoury. He travelled from Moab to Midian, from Gaza to Jericho. We did not see him for months on end.

Father told us to be thankful our wellbeing was in the hands of Orpah who treated us equally and washed and fed us. To be motherless, he said wheezing from one working lung and rolling the one good eye, was more gain than shame. “Old family rule – fathering not mothering. Always was. Don’t you forget it!”

I remember, so I wouldn’t forget, the way he stabbed lessons into my ribs with a heavy finger. So began my induction into the enormity of birthright and lineage. When father spoke of the progression from motherless Lot to motherless Laban and Beor, he gave way to a shrill, more terrifying manner, draining the colour from young cheeks and impressing two boys with their gargantuan gift of Moabite blood. He told us we’d have our day of reckoning over the clan of Abraham, blessed and commanded, so they thought, to shine God’s light on mankind. “Enough” I can hear my toddling self say, “I don’t want to listen. It’s not fathering I need.”

For all his bad health Beor retained vigor. The spoil of war on his manly organ had a different repercussion. It soon became clear that my father was prone to mania. We learnt when to keep out of his way…Not always possible, after he began to look around for a remedy for his pain and discontent.

From where comes discontent? You are warm enough but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You are loved but you wander on paths of yearning. And to prod you on there’s Time. The end of life is not terribly far away – you know in the way you see the finish line, when you come into the stretch – and your mind asks, “Have I done enough? Have I eaten enough? Have I had women enough?  What has my life meant so far; what can it mean in the time left to me?” And now we come to the poisoned dart. It isn’t vanity or ambition when you ask, “What am I worth?” Man seems to be born with a debt he can never pay, try as he .might. It piles up ahead. If he ignores the debt it poisons him, and if he tries to make payments the debt goes up.  

Beor’s deep in himself discontent led to an obsession with a cruel critter. He collected and studied and preserved and experimented with the scorpion. New and old types crawled on the floor of cages stood on shelves in a disused barn. Every week new specimens abandoned themselves to a life of captivity and ease. Beor put day old chicks in the cages, field mice, sometimes, heavily mitted, his own fingers, to make his pets strike out with tails of venom which produce apoplexy and agonized death.   

That the venom and sting of a scorpion resides in the tail enthralled Beor more than anything. While fangs administer the poison of snakes and spiders, a scorpion attacks with the tail. It does have fangs, and grasping pedipalps to pin down prey. But death comes from an unexpected quarter: a venom-injecting barb at the tip of a coiled tail. Imagine a foe which comes at you with three weapons and you don’t know which of the three he will kill you with. And how well calibrated is the killing blow. A scorpion kills fast and it kills economically – precisely the right amount of venom for the right size of prey: a weak dose for rodents and insects, heavier doses for mammals. The scaly body not just kills efficiently, it self-protects. When food is scarce the metabolism of a scorpion drops close to death, allowing it to survive on a single insect for up to a year. In the blink of an eye – or seven (two eyes atop the head and five fronting the armor-plated body) the look-alike corpse, to the cost of its unlucky prey, will spring to life. 

My father favored the green and yellow variety which could be painted dummies. He fed chicks or mice into a cage, then recorded the time it took to die after the attack. He observed the females, how many males would come calling, and how many the female would favor. He recorded gestations and births, notching up to fifty at a time, all carried on the back of the mother for five months. Once, in the grip of icy weather, he froze four specimens for two days in ice; then he watched what happened when the rigid bodies thawed. To his utter amazement they revived. None the worse for wear the mini monsters stalked away as good as new. 

His two sons bore the brunt when Beor’s fixation hit on a new outlet. An impatient man has no business educating. Beor was not an educator who waited for a boy’s gradual development. The sooner a boy could make his mark on the world the better. Our father detested quiet orderly respectful conduct in a boy; that was always the slow type. To his way of thinking a quick learner is a scared learner, and a scared learner is alert and active, and these are the fruits of fear. They are also the qualities of a soldier. Beor’s schooling methods were shot through with combat ideas. To abbreviate the learning process he made use of fear. One thing he did not do, and perhaps it was clever of him: he never made himself the educator, an object of fear. He never wielded a stick or cracked a whip or manhandled us. He let his scorpions do the talking. He let scaly aggressors panic boys into shape.