Covenant Of Peace - Poem by gershon hepner
Balaam failed to curse the Hebrews but
he had another secret plan to make them fail.
There was among the Midianites a slut
who could seduce them, leading to betrayal
of God who loved them in their lovely dwellings
where they stretched out like cedars by the water.
Magician Balaam, skilled in fortune-tellings,
was also trafficker of women, an exporter
of promiscuity. Satiety
in sex he knew to be quite rare in any
Near Eastern nation; men professing piety
claim inhibitions, but do not have many.
Unlike magicians who cast spells with abrac-
adabra he preferred to make foes weak
by taking steps to loosen moral fabric,
exposing them to women who were chic.
Regarded highly as a prophet he
did not attempt to be respectable;
best things in life, he said, were free
especially the girls he thought delectable.
It seems that he on donkeys had a crush,
and used to lie with some to get his jollies;
when sitting on his ass he’d have a rush
far greater than with more expensive dollies.
He always traveled with his she-ass, peddling
pornography that titillates the masses,
though sometimes forced into back-pedaling
by angels, unresponsive to his asses.
It’s said he couldn’t hear an angel saying
that he should find himself a better trade;
although his she-ass, halting, started braying,
he could not understand the words it brayed.
The angel had to speak to him three times:
it seemed that he was deafer than a board.
He nearly added to his dreadful crimes
angelocide, but then withdrew his sword.
It’s wrong to try and kill an angel, you
should know, and even though it isn’t poss-
ible, attempting this is almost su-
icidal, and makes God extremely cross.
This story surely has a grain of truth;
though great as Moses, boatful Balaam stooped
to conquer with his cursing words of sooth,
till by a humble she-ass he was scooped.
The story has a magic unreality,
describing how the forces called angelic
confronted Balaam’s amorality.
The psychodrama is quite psychedelic,
without the mushrooms that are sometimes used
to reach such visions in the brave new world,
as Balaam aimed for, and keep us amused,
immune to all the curses that he hurled.
Once Balaam left the Moabite king Balak
who’d hired him to curse the Israelites,
the foes of Israel were extremely phallic:
seductive were the lovely Moabites,
alluring, sex-appealing, most attractive.
The contrast with the Hebrew girls was massive,
for Moabites seemed very lithe and active,
unlike the Israelites, too good, too passive,
which surely was a good thing in a way.
Good wives in Egypt helped their men be saved,
seducing them while under trees they lay,
enticing them although they were enslaved.
The mirrors with which they made up their faces
before they would perform a loving favor
for their husbands turned into oasis,
the tabernacle’s holy brazen laver,
containing water used to wash the hands
of all the Israelites when they would enter
the holy shrine, for Aaron’s reprimand
was vetoed—Moses told all women: “Enter! ”
Discovering at home their glory, Balaam
their modesty poetically praised,
but Moabites let all the Hebrews tail ’em,
while flaunting bosoms, hemlines being raised.
Trashy trumps what good wives may achieve
by being homely; married men will cheat
as long as fair seductresses like Eve
provide the apples they so love to eat.
Balaam told the women to beguile
the Hebrews sacrificing to their deities,
and help them to get laid in laid-back style;
once they’d atoned they all would be at ease.
Consider them extremely high-class tricks
whom Balaam cleverly had organized,
a plan that Moses never could deep-six,
by his own background compromised.
The clever plot the prophet Balaam hatched
caused all the men of Israel to prostrate
themselves to Baal-peor, his god, attached
immediately to the pontificate
of Balaam, major prophet of this god,
who hoped to prove Baal-peor superior
to Israel’s God who never gave the nod
to cursing Israel and appeared far drearier
than Him to Hebrews lying with a maiden,
when, making love, they would compare the two.
This was the god for which they had been waitin’,
they thought, such orgies being overdue.
Though Balaam feared the Lord could not be duped
by all his daring, dubious double-dealings,
he felt his losses all might be recouped
by touching Israel’s female-friendly feelings.
Then God to Moses very clearly stated:
“You must see that that orgy is curtailed.
In order for My wrath to be abated
the Hebrew leaders have to be impaled.”
But Moses did not do as God commanded;
instead he told the judges they should kill
the men who with the Moabites had banded,
perversely finding Baal-peor a thrill,
but did not kill the leaders who had or-
ganized the orgy in the organ lofts
where Moabites with hardware loved to whore
with Hebrew software great as Microsoft’s.
Just then there came from all the Israelites
a Simeonite, attracted to a stunner,
a gorgeous princess of the Midianites,
a people of whom Jethro was front-runner,
a priest who once gave Moses his own daughter,
who bore him Gershom first, then Eliezer,
and then for forty years gave Moses quarter
and showed his gods––young Moses not professor
of any faith in God, his first encounter
with Him in Midian at a Burning Bush.
We gather that the most distinguished founder
of Israel’s faith could not now make a push
against a princess of this nation which
had sheltered him when long ago he fled
from Egypt, while for forty years his niche
was with a lady Midianites had bred.
When Moses saw this with the other Israelites
he wept as did they all: paralysis
affected them, confused by the delights
that led them down the primrose path of phalluses.
Moses knew full well it was his duty
to kill the princess and the Simeonite
who now prepared to make love with the beauty.
But for the reasons stated he took fright,
so different from the way he raised his hand
to kill that cruel Egyptian who had struck
an Israelite, and hid him in the sand,
quite unafraid, it seems, to run amok
before he went to Midian, where he learned
to be far less impassioned and to think
most carefully before he ever turned
to violence. Though he was on the brink
of acting as he should have done, he dropped
the ball since he saw more than just one side
of Hebrew problems. In his tracks he stopped,
as frozen as a Jew at Passiontide!
Doing nothing meant he disobeyed
the Lord who had commanded him to kill;
by harming Midianites he’d have repaid
the good acts of his hosts with ones most ill.
Inertia Moses now exhibited
had clearly happened many times before.
His conduct seemed to God inhibited
when he was standing by the Reed Sea shore,
afraid to cross until God gave the order:
“Do not cry to Me, but cross the water! ”
When all the Israelites rebelled because the spies
had said that Canaanites were far too strong,
he could not face the protests and the lies
till Caleb helped by Joshua said: “They’re wrong!
The land we just have crossed is very good,
and if the Lord is pleased to bring us there
we’ll conquer it! ” Both men then understood,
and dared to do what Moses did not dare,
and so it was they later led the Israelites
to Canaan, leaders fresh who were not tired,
and did not fear the hard but righteous fights
from which their leader often had retired.
Indeed, when Korah tried opposing him,
his first reaction was a deep despair,
afraid that his position had turned grim,
believing God Himself might well declare
that He was tired of His faithful leader,
and thought: “On houses of you both a plague! ”
and that his time had now expired, pleader
far off his message, aging and too vague.
To Phinehas there was a clearer vision
of what the situation now required,
and he prepared to make a fast decision
as quickly as the crisis now required.
Heroically this Aaronite arose,
while holding in his hand a mighty spear,
and in a chamber none had thought to close
he found the princess with his Hebrew peer,
the leader of the tribe of Simeon.
His name was Zimri, hers was Cozbi, both
the leaders of their people, both far gone
in making love as they were plighting troth
to one another in the name of Baal-
peor, attached thus to idolatry
just like the Israelites when turning tail
from God and building golden calves, scot-free
of all the laws the leader Moses brought
from Sinai on the tablets God inscribed.
Like them the tribal leader Zimri thought
the tablets had been wrongfully prescribed.
When I describe the act of Phinehas
I’ll point out what the midrash emphasizes,
the details over which bible tends to pass,
and thanks to its omissions bowdlerizes.
Approaching both the sinful lovers he
hid blades within his chest, and he exclaimed:
“Like you, I want my senses to be free:
though I’m a priest, I’m not the least ashamed! ”
They let him in to join their bacchanalia.
He entered and he stabbed, while they were lying
on top of one another, joined by genitalia,
which he pierced quite simultaneously.
A miracle, he killed them while they cleaved,
enabling all the Israelites to see
that they by fornicating had deceived
the God of Israel with their intercourse
within the Tent of Meeting, His own house,
deceiving all their partners too, of course––
they both were married and betrayed a spouse.
(The midrash’s words most probably are due
to language that the bible uses for
the chamber where the action happened to
kill Zimri and his princess paramour.
The word is qubah, “canopy, ” some say,
like that in which the Bedouins used to marry,
but it sounds like neqebah, to convey
the innuendo of the wish to harry
the female genitalia since neqebah
means female. Phinehas aimed at the hollow
of Cozbi, ointing at it with his saber.
From this the ideas of the midrash follow.)
The crime scene was untouched and not disturbed,
so everything remained for all to see
how sexual appetites that are not curbed
can lead a people to catastrophe.
The conduct Phinehas considered treason
was still apparent after rigor mortis,
so Israelites in every mating season
should only spend their time with legal daughters
of Jerusalem, although the king
who wrote most lovingly in his great Song
about these daughters had a major fling
with alien queens, offense that was so wrong
the Lord decided that his kingdom should
be split in two––for immorality
destroys the crooked timbers’ rotting wood,
though it may please with blithe congeniality.
Phinehas had acted boldly in a way
that proved he truly was a perfect judge
because he made the guilty parties pay,
whereas his leader clearly seemed to fudge
the issue that confronted him, leaving
a junior priest to save the sinful nation
from disaster, and thereby achieving
no medal but a great divine citation,
for God had sent a plague that killed some twenty-
four thousand of the Israelites who sinned
and died while Moses’ dolce far niente
was little more than blowing in the wind.
Phinehas’s timely intervention
stopped this plague at once as David would
in Jebus do by gaining God’s attention
with sacrifices in the royal hood
where he became the capo who gave orders
to all the warriors who had help him reach
the seat of power which lacked any borders
once he instructed priests how they should preach.
The link between King David and our hero
is relevant, I think, because it proves
that Phinehas like David was primero,
both heroes of whom God indeed approves.
While David was the ancestor of kings,
Phinehas was ancestor of priests
who once the Babylonians clipped their wings,
led Israel in Judea, arrivistes.
What was the great divine citation
that Phinehas received from his brave act?
God said to Moses: “Joy and jubilation!
Because of him My people is intact.
Phinehas the son of Elazar
the son of Aaron, Highest Priest, turned back
My anger, for his choice was to debar
My foes from making a surprise attack
on Israel. That is why I make with him
a Covenant of Peace which is eternal.”
Of peace his action was the antonym,
yet by his deed he saved the very kernel
of that same code that God on Sinai gave
to Moses who now clearly was unable
to act with force in order to protect
God’s laws. His silence was like that of Abel,
attacked by Cain with terrible effect
when both of them were standing in a field
and Abel held his tongue while Cain was raising
his hand: no weapon would he wield
while thinking of the Lord whom he was praising.
From Abel who had offered God a sheep
as sacrifice no priests would be descended.
From Moses likewise, since he chose to weep
instead of killing those who had offended
the Lord by their misconduct God withdrew
all priesthood, and awarded it instead
to Phinehas, the man with greatest zeal.
The blood which he on God’s behalf had shed
became the rationale of this new deal,
establishing a priesthood that is based
on willingness to take steps to preserve
God’s people when it seems that they are faced
by enemies who from His laws would swerve.
There is a similarity between
Elijah and our hero Phinehas.
Like Phinehas Elijah was most keen
to act with zeal, not Hamlet, Fortinbras.
He said to God: “Please take my life for I
have acted with great zeal on Your behalf:
for all Your laws the Israelites defy,
and at Your prophets they prefer to laugh.
Since it is clear that I alone remain,
it seems my zeal no longer is of use.”
God did not like to hear the man complain
about His people, and He said: “I choose
to fire you, for you will be replaced
by Shaphat’s son, Elisha. Give your cloak
to him, for he is far more to My taste.”
As for his zeal, it seemed to be a joke,
since God rejected him though He’d commended
bold Phinehas since he had so much zeal.
Now here’s the difference: Phinehas had mended
the nation he defended. The ideal
for which Elijah aimed could undermine
the people whom he ought to have protected.
If you are zealous you must draw a line,
because fanatics may be misdirected.
Your duty is not only to the Lord,
but also to the people whom you serve.
I think that’s why the Lord chose to applaud
bold Phinehas who did not lose his nerve
but fired old Elijah whose behavior
appeared to be excessive. All extremes
must be avoided: no one needs a savior
whose main obsession is fulfilling dreams.
Zealous people wish to have authority
transforming them to unkind thought police,
though God prefers us all to give priority
to loving one another and to peace.
The moral of this poem seems to be
that sometimes those too close to God can not
see in the wood an individual tree,
quite unprepared to cut a Gordian knot
that they themselves quite intricately tied.
They’re too involved in small print and minutiae
to see a panorama that is wide,
and far too plain and modest to be pushy.
Only those who’re willing to use force
know how to save a Covenant of Peace;
regrettably, we all need force, of course,
in order that our peace may never cease.
But though a man like Moses deeply cares
to make sure all the laws are fair and just,
we also need a Phinehas who dares
to bend the laws in ways a leader must.
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