Nethaniel son of Tzuar, prince of the Tribe of Yissachar, slowly approached the bottom of the plateau. The air was heavy with moisture. The rustling of hundreds of thousands of feet behind him sounded like sandpaper rubbing wood. Moses had announced that all the Children of Israel should attend the assembly. It was to be a special assembly. This was to be a declaration to the entire Israelite nation; a declaration carrying significant importance.
Moses stood on top of the plateau overlooking the assembled tribes of Israel. Miraculously, his voice rang clearly throughout the assembly. Nethaniel, who was standing in the front, felt the voice of Moses reverberating in his head.
“If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them,” Moses relayed the voice of God, “then I will give your rains in their season, and the land shall yield her produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.”
Nethaniel pictured torrential rain falling from the sky. He could see dark clouds pouring an unending stream of water for days and nights. In Egypt he had only known the passive watering of the Nile on the flat Egyptian delta. The idea of seeing God personally pour water on the mountainous fields of Canaan took his breath away.
“And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time,” Moses continued, “and you shall eat your bread until you have enough, and dwell in your land safely.”
Nethaniel could almost touch the granaries and storehouses brimming over with barley, wheat and spelt. He could smell the succulent, freshly picked figs and grapes.
“And you shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. And five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand; and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.”
The image of a young red-headed man flinging a stone at a giant materialized in front of Nethaniel. The stone hit the giant squarely between the eyes. The giant fell, crashing to the ground. The young man rushed to the fallen giant, grabbed the giant’s sword and decapitated him. The young man turned towards the army of the giant, sword in hand. The entire army, thousands strong, fled in a panic from the visage of the red-headed youth. Nethaniel grinned from ear to ear at the vision.
“And I will set My tabernacle among you, and My soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be My people.”
A majestic building, the likes of which Nethaniel had never seen, rose in front of him. Millions of Israelites surrounded the building. Hundreds of Priests and Levites worked in the courtyard. A bright white cloud descended rapidly from heaven and quickly filled the building. Sweet tears ran down Nethaniel’s cheeks.
“But if you will not hearken unto Me, and will not do all these commandments,” Moses said in a deeper voice, “and if you shall reject My statutes, and if your soul shall abhor My ordinances, so that you will not do all My commandments, but break My covenant; I also will do this unto you: I will appoint terror over you, even consumption and fever, that shall make the eyes fail, and the soul languish; and you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. And I will set My face against you, and you shall be smitten before your enemies; they that hate you shall rule over you; and you shall flee when none pursue you.”
A vision materialized of young, scrawny men in rags, scrambling in terror, though no one pursued them. They clutched at dried sheaves of wheat, with dead husks falling from their fingers. Nethaniel watched, confused.
“And if you will not yet for these things listen to Me, then I will chastise you seven times more for your sins. And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass. And your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield her produce, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruit.”
Nethaniel envisioned dark clouds again. But these were dry clouds that blotted out daylight. Rust colored, they mirrored the dead earth below. The sweet tears that had fallen down Nethaniel’s cheeks turned salty.
“And if you walk contrary unto Me, and will not hearken unto Me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins. And I will send the beast of the field among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your ways shall become desolate.”
Wild animals that Nethaniel had never seen before carried small children in their jaws. A trail of blood led from their weeping parents.
“And if in spite of these things you will not be corrected unto Me, but will walk contrary unto Me; then will I also walk contrary unto you; and I will smite you, even I, seven times for your sins. And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute the vengeance of the covenant; and you shall be gathered together within your cities; and I will send the pestilence among you; and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy.”
An apparition formed of old women huddled together against the stone wall of a city. Rats squealed as they scampered through the open sewage flowing through the paths of the besieged city. Young children with stomachs bloated from hunger ran from doorway to doorway, hiding from the rain of arrows falling on the city. One child fell to the ground, an arrow protruding from his chest. Nethaniel fell to his knees and sobbed quietly.
“And if you will not for all this hearken unto Me, but walk contrary unto Me; then I will walk contrary to you in fury; and I also will chastise you seven times for your sins. And you shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall you eat.”
An image appeared of a bone-thin, young mother with tears streaming down her dirt covered face, looking feverishly at her two toddlers. She rolled dried bones on the floor to choose one of them. The mother looked through red eyes at the unlucky one the bones had chosen. She called the young toddler to her bosom and sang him a sweet lullaby. When the child was calm in her arms she grabbed a rusty copper knife. With a curse on her lips she cut across the child’s abdomen and held his screaming mouth tightly until his breath stopped. She then cut strips of flesh from the dead child’s thigh. She chewed hungrily on one strip and gave another to the second toddler wailing beside her. Nethaniel moaned at the sight.
“And as for them that are left of you, I will send a faintness into their heart in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a driven leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as one flees from the sword; and they shall fall when none pursue. And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.”
Nethaniel saw machines and structures he did not comprehend. He saw long metal buildings. Grey-uniformed men pointed metal poles at naked prisoners, marching them into enormous rooms with strange fixtures on the ceiling. Naked women clutched at each other. Others knelt on the floor. The walls were quickly filled with women huddled against them, looking like infernal human wallpaper. A high-pitched whistling noise started. Colored vapor erupted from holes in the wall. The room quickly filled with a thin, yellowish smoke. A terrible scream erupted. The older women were the first to stop breathing and fall to the ground. The screams became inhuman. Skin turned red and green. More women fell. A young woman clawed at the air, as if her fingertips might somehow reach oxygen her poisoned lungs could not. Corpses piled up. The room became a mass of splotchy legs, arms, torsos and heads. Some bodies wriggled under the mass. Hands and feet convulsed with dying breaths. Little fingers and toes were the last to move. Then they too were still. Forever.
Nethaniel put his head to the floor, sobbing. “No, no, no. How can this be? What is this? Is this our fate?”
Moses continued relentlessly, “And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.”
Nethaniel saw a vision of a flag flapping in the breeze. It was a white flag with two blue stripes running horizontally across the top and bottom. In the middle was a blue star-like shape made of opposing triangles overlapping each other. He had never seen such a symbol before, but he understood it carried great meaning for future Israelites. The flag was carried by a young, sun-tanned girl. She wore a white shirt and a blue skirt. She marched with a big smile and bright hazel eyes. The girl was surrounded by dozens of other girls similarly garbed, all waving a flag. They marched in the warm afternoon sun through throngs of cheering spectators. A white-haired woman with numbers etched above her wrist waved at the hazel-eyed girl, “Rina! Rina! It’s me! Sabta. Look here at the camera!”
“That’s your granddaughter?” a middle-aged woman with purple hair asked the old woman. “She’s beautiful.”
“She is not only beautiful. She is our future, our hope and the fulfillment of our dreams.”
“Amen,” the purple-haired lady answered.
“Amen,” Nethaniel answered as the vision turned to haze, and then to thin air.
Nethaniel climbed up the plateau and approached Moses.
“Our Teacher, Moses,” Nethaniel addressed Moses. “I saw visions, horrible visions. Is that our future? Is that our destiny? Is there no way to avoid the horrors I witnessed?”
“Our descendents will rebel against God,” Moses responded. “They will rebel and continue to rebel against all warnings and reason. The punishments for such dire rebellion can not be avoided. You must have seen a glimpse of those punishments. Our nation as a whole will suffer greatly. The pain will be longer and deeper than that of any people on the face of the earth. But we will survive. We will survive and we will thrive. In the end, we shall be a united people in our promised land. God may push us away and castigate us, but He will never abandon us. He loves us and in the end He will redeem us. Be strong and of good courage, Nethaniel. Every generation must perform the tasks set to it and we are doing ours. Go and comfort the people.”
“Yes, Moses,” Nethaniel bowed, excused himself and stepped backwards.
Nachshon, prince of Judah, grabbed hold of Nethaniel as he was leaving Moses.
“Did you see the visions?” Nachshon asked. “They were horrific.”
“Yes,” Nethaniel answered. “There is a dark future ahead. But also a bright one.”
“What do we do?” Nachshon asked.
“We warn. We comfort. We hope.” Nethaniel said. “What else can we do?”
“We pray,” Nachshon replied.
“Yes. We pray,” Nethaniel agreed. “We pray for the survival and success of our descendents.”
“Did you see the vision of the red-headed youth?”
“Yes, who was he?”
“His name is David and he is a descendent of mine.” Nachshon puffed up his chest.
“I can see the resemblance, and he is obviously as obtuse as you.” Nethaniel said with a slight grin.
“What do you mean?”
“He apparently likes to do things the hard way,” Nethaniel smiled. “Who ever heard of killing a giant with a stone? He must have grown up with stories about how his ancestor couldn’t wait for Moses to split the sea, and then jumped right in.”
Nachshon blushed at the reference to his famous act.
“If the seed of your loins will give rise to men of such courage,” Nethaniel patted Nachshon on the back, “then there will always be hope for our people. Come, let us go and comfort our people.”
“Yes. Let us walk together,” Nachshon agreed.
* * * * * *
The curses of Leviticus Chapter 26 are quoted almost verbatim in the speech of Moses in the narrative above.
In Yeshiva University I had taken a course with the somber title of “Literature of the Holocaust.” Part of the challenge of such literature is how do you describe something that is so difficult to describe? Something that is so painful, yet so different and personal for each individual that experienced it. The conclusion was that there are a spectrum of responses and ways to address the Holocaust and often literature, art or the more creative media are better able to convey some small sense of the reality. Some responses will seem inappropriate to people, and a common response of many survivors was a deep silence. My grandparents were survivors and choose silence. I choose to write.