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….”


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.

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.”  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.” 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.” .”

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?”


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?”


“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?”


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.

Crazy deal

“You see the predicament,” Laban said. “We had to marry older Leah before younger Rachel – whom it delights me to say we are now free to betroth.” The ‘we’ and the ‘free’ were my grandfather’s exit doors. By the ‘we’ he passed the blame onto others who had stopped him giving Jacob the bride he expected to get. Now no one could stand in the way. By the ‘free’ he would give Rachel away out of goodness of heart – free; it was only fair after Jacob had got a raw deal. As far as the contract could be honoured Laban had honoured it. Still, he felt bad about the whole thing.

What aplomb! He deflated the cheated, glaring, quick-breathing newlywed without a glimpse of triumph or pulling of rank. As a cobra charmer will snap his fingers to coil the serpent into a receptacle, it was as if Laban snapped and Jacob’s rancour fizzled like a watered fire.

Laban helped himself from little dishes on the breakfast table. “Well,” he said, “I can’t offer you anything, can I? You’re forbidden unsupervised food. I saw you eat nothing at your wedding. Leah nibbled, but as a non- Hebrew after her parents she could eat.”

“Sir, forgive me repeating, I worked seven years for Rachel not for Leah.”

Contrition crept into Laban’s manner. “Poor darling. Son, for Leah’s sake wait out your seven wedding days. Upon my word your love shall be your bride on the eighth day.”

Jacob, mouth making bird motions: “Very well then. If we must wait we must.”

And Laban, quick to seize the moment, “Believe me son, I’d hold the wedding tomorrow had not my oracle advised against it. Don’t bundle and mix two celebrations he told me. It never portends well for a marriage. We’d be gamblers to rush ahead.”

He now took Jacob by the arm and sat him in a chair and resumed breakfasting. Turning about while chomping – “I tell you what, I’m going to give you Rachel on credit. No – think nothing of it. I’m not one to make lovers wait.”

“I really wish you wouldn’t talk like that –”

“Why for heaven sake! Love and happiness – what’s to be scared of! When they’re offered grab with both hands. You know, I think I will have that inscribed and mounted for your bedchamber. Look, marry first then work off your seven years. Notice – the same bride price as for Leah. What could be fairer?’

For Jacob it was more a question of what could he do. Head lost in a cloud of private dreams (or were they divinations?) he grasped that both cousins were destined for him. Trapped like a domestic slave he passed a week waiting for the inevitable. He was a bystander to the arrangements for his nuptials. They would be nothing like the first public, ostentatious affair; this one would be quick and family-only. Came the end of Leah’s bridal week, Jacob wed Rachel, really for the second time, and began to work off her dowry of seven hard years, for the second time. By day he made Laban wealthier than he had ever been. By night he summoned the libido to father eleven sons and twelve daughters and keep two sister-wives and their handmaidens (one of them too young to menstruate, but that was Jacob) happy. He was not your tired drooping octogenarian. From four wives, who fought to have him in their beds, he fathered twenty three children in a matter of seven fertile years. I believe it fore-shadowed the miraculous baby boomers of Jacob’s family in Egypt.

A final child (Joseph – Egypt’s saviour in-waiting) was delivered on the last day of the seventh year, and right off Jacob went to the uncle he knew would again not keep his word.

“I’m ready to make a new life with my family,” he announced with all the matter-of-factness he could muster. “Fourteen years are up, uncle.” The calm way Laban took the news confirmed Jacob’s fears.

“God yes,” he said, “they are, aren’t they. How quickly time goes.”

Jacob in a nervous flurry, “What did you have when I started? Seventy thin animals, two unmarried daughters, and no heirs. Under me a thousand rams, goats, oxen and camels were added to your stock every year, fourteen times over. You’re a wealthy man, father. Me? I stand before you with no means of support. The time has come to work for the welfare of my family. We’re off to a new life in a new land.”

Laban never could tolerate having a fait accompli dropped at his feet. The incident had to be met with a consequence. Jacob ought to have consulted with him, not tell him what he was going to do. Fourteen years give habits, good or bad,  time to germinate and infiltrate; Laban, let it be said, had learnt to take his nephew for granted. My grandfather refused to admit that his nephew was not a debtor any more, that Rachel and Leah were fully paid for, that the son-in-law, older than he, owed him not a brass bit.

What makes a good swindler great is a talent to assume different parts, to know when to dictate and when to plead, when to be firm and when to bend. Now my grandfather dropped his dignity to play the hapless patriarch. He whined about being a widower. He fondled the head of Naphtali, who hugged his father’s legs, and who reminded Laban of when his two boys were toddlers. The sons now lived on their own properties. He had grown used to having his grandchildren around. Life would be droll if Jacob packed up and took them away.

“Of course my family will go with you,” he said sorrowfully. Jacob never knew he had it in him. “To say nothing of the good fortunes you brought me.”

Jacob wavered.

“I admit,” said Laban, assuming a coating of honesty, “it’s because of you I’m blessed.”

“And it’s because of Hakodesh, the Holy One that I’m blessed.”

“My son, we can be partners. Name your price. You’ll find me more than accommodating. I won’t haggle a bit. Go ahead – what will it take to make you stay? You can earn more working for me than you ever dreamed possible. Why risk working for yourself.”

The plea, Jacob knew, affected him more than was good for him. One way or another he would emerge penniless again. He’d never get the better of his uncle – not in a straight deal. But, but…If a deal was not straight? If it were utterly absurdly hopelessly biased, if it was a game the crook couldn’t possibly lose? Would Laban not jump at a last opportunity to upstage him? The more Jacob thought, the more this line of thought grew budding shoots.

So shrewd Rebecca’s boy cooked up another of his crazy schemes. Having got the birthright of his twin for a bowl of soup, and the blessing meant for him by cooking meat and dressing up, what was on the boil now? Did Jacob forget that Laban wasn’t a greedy foolish Esau, or a blind croaking-his-last-breath Isaac? Neither. The idea had descended with angels on a dreamt ladder. Whatever scheme, however mad, he cooked up, God would provide signs that Laban owed him all his property.

The deal Jacob presented was so convoluted that even brilliant minds differ on the exact workings of it. “I don’t want money,” he declared. “Nor any property.”

Taken aback Laban asked what he did want.

“Odd-coloured sheep and goats born under my care. Sir, if I’m to work another six years for you, let me make the terms and conditions.”

He knew every trick in the book, my grandfather, yet this one got him. Odd-coloured animals! Had fourteen years of sun and cold brained his nephew? Caustically: “Do you want to tell me what you have in mind?’
“I know it will seem complicated…”

Laban set his jaw. ‘Son, let’s hear it.’

“Basically the rules would be as follows. We – you and I – will go through your flocks picking out non-white animals.”

Laban stifled a guffaw.

“All non white animals, whether spotted, speckled or dark, will be pastured away from your white breeders, which I will tend.”

“What will be with the non-white flock?  I’m sorry; you were saying?”

“Look at the pure white flock under my care as the base flock. Should any non-white lambs and goats be born among them – whether spotted, speckled or dark – those will belong to me. All white stock remain your property. Uncle, those are my terms for a work contract.”

Laban smacked his lips in the way he would savour ripe cheese. His thoughts were deep – the long private thoughts of somebody who needs to alter a whole course of life. On the veranda of Jacob’s quarters he sat on a cane chair, his buttocks ballooning over the edges on both sides. He had come from a rendezvous with a concubine, and exhaled perfume. Fourteen years of manoeuvring had taken a toll on the relationship. Uncle and nephew had long ago abandoned any pretence of trust and respect. They were adversaries, hardly bothering to hide it.

Now a joke at the nephew’s expense: “How do I know you won’t sneak non-white stock from my flock to breed with your white stock? Ho, ho, ho.  Don’t worry – my dry humour again.”

“What’s on your mind, uncle?”

“Well,” said Laban, eyes agleam, “look at the problem like this. What if the white breeders under your care happen to mingle and mate with my non-whites? I don’t say you’ll do such a thing deliberately; but that way you could produce non-white stock for your property.”

Red like a beetroot, Jacob – “How about if you moved your flock far, far away – a three-day walk? There’d be no chance of intermingling.”

Laban raised his bulk from the chair. He took a while to stand straight, then shot a hand out. “Son, you made a deal” – not hiding his relish. “I don’t see any problem – not on my side! Ho, ho, ho! His joviality boomed like a gong. For decades he had laughed joked cajoled amused clients into making ruinous deals. The cheeriness made Jacob itch. He’d have to bank on God to come up with miracles – a strictly forbidden thing to do. His father-in-law’s laugh sounded like the bark of a hungry hyena.

They wrote and revised, added and subtracted – the contract took up a whole day and half a night. Before it was sealed Laban kept thinking of loopholes and of details for plugging them up. It had to be amended ten times. Finally it was done. He stamped the document with the purple, red and gold seal of three horned devils, back-to-back, supporting a lion standing on two dragons rending each other, interlaced all through by a symbolic serpent. Then Laban’s boys (my father Beor and his brother Chazzer) drove the non-white flock to the other side of the mountain.

Now began a battle of wits. Jacob took the white flock under his care – or should have done under the contract. Laban was taking no chances. He wanted his flock to be large and Jacob’s to be small.

He inspected each animal minutely, insisting that the slightest fleck on the coat of a sheep or a ram made it non-white and belonged to his flock. At the same time it gave Laban the opportunity to remove every healthy animal in Jacob’s flock; he left the poor fellow with hundreds of sickly animals. Jacob would have to work a miracle just to keep them alive, never mind breed them. First trick to my cunning grandfather.

I like the ‘rod method’ for what Jacob devised. He made rods of different patterns by peeling sticks from poplar trees. Some he left with bark on, and these were his brown rods. He peeled other sticks for spotted, speckled or striped rods. The brilliant part though, was how the innovative son of Isaac put the rods to work. When a sheep or goat came to drink at the trough he waved a rod at the female – sometimes a spotted rod, sometimes a streaked or a brown rod. At the waving a female would take fright, step backwards and, at this very moment the ram would mount her from behind.

Auto-suggestion in the human brain is not unknown. Perhaps it exists among the lower creatures. Whatever the truth of it, when Jacob waved a mottled or a striped rod in front of ewes and rams at the moment of conception, the offspring would have coats of the same pattern. When he waved a brown rod, lambs were born brown. According to a rod’s markings so were the markings conceived at the moment he waved the rod.
People argue that offspring by nature must take after parents. In the general case this is true. But God made man to bend nature to his will. To digress, here’s a story I heard from my wizened tutor who played a big role in a motherless boy’s upbringing. A black couple came to a sage by the name of Yehudah the Prince. The wife had given birth to a white baby. “This obviously is no child of mine,” the father said. “We are black, both of us. It cannot be possible that we could produce a white baby. My wife has been unfaithful.”
‘Have you any pictures in your house?’ the sage asked.
‘Of white people or black?’

“In that case,’ the sage declared, ‘at the time you conceived your child your wife must have been looking at the pictures. It is very similar to what Jacob did with Laban’s animals.”
Jacob discovered the power of mind over matter applied to animal husbandry. In no time he developed a non-white flock which grew to a size making it impossible for one shepherd to wave rods at every sheep and goat. So he improvised. Marked breeders were led in front so that followers would look at them and give birth to marked lambs and kids. And he improved the quality of the woolly breeders. At aggressive ewes he waved rods; at old and feeble ones he did not wave; hence their offspring were poorly white specimens which belonged to Laban…Thus he lit the fire of envy in the camp over the mountain.
Jacob’s freakish flock reproduced at a cracking rate. It did not take long for news to spread. People from far and wide came to buy livestock from the inventive Hebrew.  They paid a premium price. With the money Jacob bought camels and donkeys, slaves and gold. Soon no one could count the sum total of his wealth.

Laban and sons grew pale. The brothers felt that keen envy of dissolute youngsters who fear the loss of their unearned pleasures. “By stealth,’ they complained, “our cousin has taken over father’s property.” The complaint echoed all over Charan. It was a cutting envy; the poor refugee had learnt to beat their father at his own game. The upstart made the feared dealer look weak and foolish all over Charan. One after another clients foiled Laban’s crooked plots.

A reputation in business is like an egg shell – crack it and there’s no going back. Laban even lost the respect of his sons, ashamed of a father at his wits end. They indulged in snide remarks. “Father swindled others, now our Hebrew slave does the same to him.”

Laban tried every trick in the book. When he saw lambs being born that were rightfully Jacob’s he altered the contract. All spotted animals were supposed to go to Jacob. When Laban saw how many there were, he insisted it was a contractual fault. “I really meant that animals with large ring markings would belong to you. So the spotted animals actually are mine.”

Then Jacob fashioned a rod with ring markings; sure enough newborns had coats with rings. Laban swore that he actually meant rings with spots. “So all animals with entirely dark rings belong to me.” Then Jacob cut rods with dark rings and spots; sure enough animals were born with similar markings. And so it went on. Laban, my father told me, meddled and fiddled with the contract a hundred times. Exasperated and humiliated, his fury knew no bounds. He was being outwitted at every turn by the refugee who had fled Hebron for his life. In public Laban spoke of Jacob as an ingrate who stooped to cheating a family which had succoured him, treated him like family, for twenty years.

Did Jacob cheat? He thought he did – or might have done. He was not comfortable in himself. Why else would he later tell his wives a different version of how his flock grew while Laban’s diminished: “God has taken away your father’s livestock and given it to me. I served him with all my might, but he cheated me, changing my wages all the time. God himself came to my help.” So – Divine Providence helped him get wealthy. He just waved wands to help God. And another sign of mental anguish: Jacob’s thoughts were full of ewes, a word perilously close to ‘usury.’ Did Jacob take interest on what Laban owed him for twenty years? If Laban’s white flock was legal payment, the increase of it might be interest; though my cousin has my sympathy after grandfather took the woolly white breeders away, leaving not even the principal amount.

Jacob – a true heir of Abram (before God added h and a) – played the ‘ram’ game with Laban which his grandfather had played with Abimelech to become wealthy in livestock. And my aunt Rebecca who helped Jacob usurp her other son’s birthright: was it shrewd business or deceitful practice? One or the other, here were models for the eternal gripe against the descendants of Jacob: invite Israel to move in to bring prosperity, later pick on Israel for getting wealthier than necessary at the expense of their naively generous hosts.