Friday, July 21, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Matot-Masei 5777–Thirty-Two-Thousand Virgins?

SCENE I

[Scene opens with a high orbital view of the earth, gradually zooming in on the middle east, then to a helicopter view of a valley with a large encampment giving way to a high Chapman crane view of the assembled multitudes of the Israelites encamped on the borders of Midian. The view pans around the camp, slowly descending to focus in on Moshe, who is pacing and talking to himself.]

MOSHE
Hmmm. I need someone to lead the men, whip them up in a frenzy, and go and wreak havoc upon the Midianites. I wonder who I should choose. Why, Pinchas, of course! That man put a spear through Zimri and that Midianite whore Cozbi while they were in flagrante delicto in full view of the whole community.
[Moshe walks over to Pinchas]

MOSHE
Hey! Pinchas! How ‘ya doin’? Life treating you well?

PINCHAS
Well, to be honest, Moshe…

MOSHE
Great! Great! Glad to hear it. Now, I have a little favor to ask you.

PINCHAS
[Recovering from Moshe’s cutting him off]
Sure thing, Moshe, what is it?

MOSHE
As you may have heard, Pinchas, I’m assembling an army of 12,000 - 1000 men from each tribe, to go take vengeance on the Midianites and…

PINCHAS
And you want me to lead the Army?

MOSHE
Um, No, not quite. After all, you are a priest of G”d. It’s your passion I want, Pinchas, your passion I need.

PINCHAS
My passion?

MOSHE
I need you to take the same spirit that drove you to put that spear into Zimri and Cozbi and fill the men with it. Stir them up with your passion! Here, take your sacred implements with you.You can perform the sacred rituals before going into battle (and maybe remind G”d to look after the men, too.)  And why not grab some trumpets, too! That’s sure to rile them up.

PINCHAS
Cool. I love the trumpets. Their sound will rally th
e troops, and also drive fear into the hearts of the Midianites.

MOSHE
True-it is fearful. I’ve heard you play the trumpet – if you call that playing

PINCHAS
Always the kidder, eh Moshe?

MOSHE
Gotta keep things light – especially when you’re about to order the merciless slaughter of thousands. [Looking up and muttering under his breath] and you’re really pissed at G”d who just told you this is your swan song, and all because I hit that stupid rock…

PINCHAS
What what that?

MOSHE
Oh, nothing. Go practice your trumpeting (and do it far away from me.)

[Fade to black]

SCENE II

[Sounds of really bad trumpeting]

PINCHAS
Hey Moshe! We’re Back!

MOSHE
I can see. I can hear  Wait. Who are all those women and children with you?

PINCHAS
It was glorious, Moshe. We prayed to G”d. We ran into battle, with me blowing the trumpets. Oh, such a magnificent sound. I must have played really loud, because people were covering their ears, Yes sir. Just call me Pinchas, master of the chatzotzrot.

MOSHE
Pinchas, who are all these people?

PINCHAS
[Ignoring Moshe] The men were great. Killing machines, I tell you. Slew every last enemy soldier.

MOSHE
Pinchas - who are all these people?

PINCHAS
[ignoring Moshe] We killed all five Midianite Kings! We even got the shyster prophet Bilaam.

MOSHE
Pinchas…

PINCHAS
[still ignoring Moshe] And look at all the booty we brought back. Gold, silver, copper, lead, beasts.

MOSHE
Pinchas…

PINCHAS
[still ignoring Moshe] We burned all their cities and towns to the ground.

MOSHE
[shouting] Pinchas!!!

[Pinchas stops talking and turns to Moshe]

MOSHE
[Loud breath] Now, who are all these people?

PINCHAS
Why, the women and children of the Midianites, of course.

MOSHE
I guessed that. Why are they here?

PINCHAS
They are our captives. The spoils of war. Our booty.

MOSHE
[sputtering] You spared the women?

PINCHAS
Yes, we did..

MOSHE
You? You let them spare the women?

PINCHAS
Well, yes, it seemed the gentlemanly and heroic thing to do

MOSHE
YOU? The man who thrust a spear into Zimri and that Midianite whore? While they were humping? You let them spare the women?

PINCHAS
Well, we kinda thought we’d have uses for all the women. Wink! Wink! Nudge! Nudge! Knowhatamean? Say no more. Say no more)

MOSHE
Pinchas! These are the very same Midianite women who led so many of our men astray. You saw for yourself! You actually did something to stop it. An awful, gory something. But something. Yet you didn’t exhort the men to slay all these evil, vile women, as I commanded?

PINCHAS
Moshe, you’ve been around, You’re a man of the world, eh?

MOSHE
Enough Pinchas. Maybe in three thousand years that’ll be funny, Right now, not so much. So tell, me, Pinchas, why didn’t you follow my orders?

PINCHAS
Well, to be honest, Moshe, you weren’t that specific.

MOSHE
What do you mean? I told you to go seek vengeance.

PINCHAS
Well…to get specific, Moshe, you said to fall upon Midian, to seek the L”rd’s vengeance on Midian. Nothing about killing every man, women and child.

MOSHE
[Fuming] Get the generals over here, now!

[Fade to black]

SCENE III

[Same setting as previous scene. MOSHE is facing PINCHAS and 4 GENERALS in a group]

MOSHE
Gentleman. What we have here is a failure to communicate.

[Generals look around, not understanding.]

You didn’t follow my orders! You spared the women – the very same women who enticed all our men to turn away from G”d!

GENERAL 1
Well, c’mon Moshe, what did you expect?

GENERAL 2
Yeah. You’re a man of the world, Moshe.

GENERAL 3
You’ve been around the block.

GENERAL 4
Know what we mean? Wink, wink! Nudge, nudge!

PINCHAS
Say no more. Say no more.

MOSHE
ENOUGH! (Note to self: speak to G”d about that Palin chap.)

Allllllllllright, gentlemen, you blew it. All of you. But we’re gonna make this right.

(To self) Think fast Moshe. You’re good at punting. You can come up with a way out of this and keep the Old Man happy. Think. Think. Ah, got it.)

OK, gentlemen, here’s the drill: All of you, stay outside the camp. Don’t come home quite yet. Take your captives, kill all the male children, and then kill every one of the women,,,,no, wait, hold on just a sec. Lemme think.

[Moshe paces, thinking.]

[Pinchas and the generals try to get Moshe’s attention, and  start making winking and nudge gestures to Moshe. Soon, all the men are joining in. Some of the Midianite women start flaunting their wares. Cut to shot of Moshe looking at the Midianite women – he smiles, briefly – then starts to shake his head as if he were Tevye refusing to accept Chava’s choice of a non-Jewish husband – and then puts on a look of stern resolve and rebuke.We see him mouthing the word “No” in slow motion. Camera then pans to reveal some young pre-pubescent Midianite girls who look at each other, shrug, and start revealing their legs and making other suggestive gestures. They catch Moshe’s eye. He quickly turns away, embarrassed. The camera pans to groups of young Midianite boys. Some of them start vamping, too. Some are even dressed in drag. Moshe watches them for a while, starts to shake his head and then abruptly stops - a thought clearly come into his head. Moshe mutters]

MOSHE
[to himself]
Don’t be judgmental, Moshe, old boy. They’re not all cultic male prostitutes. Some of them really prefer other men. Heck, I probably have lots of friends who do, without my even realizing it. What is so wrong with that? Should I like them any less? Of course not! I’ve gotta have a conversation with G"d. I’m not so sure the wording used in Leviticus is gonna be understood in context in the future. Cultic sex with male prostitutes for fertility and other rites might not be for us, but people can’t help who they love and desire. After all, G”D must have made them that way in the first place!

[Having resolved that inner conflict, Moshe continues to look over the assembled Midianite captives, and the Israelite soldiers. His head once again turns back to the young girls, A smile breaks out on his face. He stops and turns again to the assembled crowd.]

MOSHE
Got it, Got it. I got it.
[to crowd] OK, once more, gentlemen, Here’s the drill.

One. Kill all the male children.

CROWD
Ooh.

[shot of shocked faces and sassy young boys giving Moshe the finger]

MOSHE
Two. Kill all the women who have known a man.

CROWD
Ooh.

[Panning shot of shocked women’s faces. Among several groups of young girls,  clumps of girls begin to put some distance between themselves and a few particular girls. Camera stops on one group, where, among the girls who have separated from one or two others, they all start to look sternly at one girl who among them, staring intently. That girl slinks away to join the other outcasts with the older women. A girl standing next to one of the boys surreptitiously takes his hand and whispers to him]

GIRL
“I won’t tell your friends if you don’t tell mine.”
[They wink at each other. Cut back to Moshe]

MOSHE
[dramatic pause] Three. [dramatic pause.] Spare the virgins.

CROWD
Ahh.

[Camera focuses in and we see Moshe wink at Pinchas, who in turn winks at the generals.]

MOSHE
Simmer down, simmer down. I’m not finished.

After you’ve finished killing all but the virgins,  all of you will stay outside the camp for a week.

[General murmurs]

Any one of you, and I mean any one – soldier or living captive, who has slain another person, or who has com into contact with a dead body shall cleanse yourself, and cleanse all your clothes and any objects you have with you, on the third day and on the seventh day. All cloth. Everything made of animal skin, of wood, animal hair, you shall cleanse.

[Eleazar the High Priest steps up and put his hand on Moshe’s shoulder, pushes him out of the way ala Trump at a photo op. The crowd murmurs. Eleazar totally ignores Moshe,  stops, looks over the crowd, holds up his hand. The crowd silences, expectantly]

ELEAZAR
[He draws a deep breath and lifts his chest proudly. When he finally speaks, it comes out in a voice with a speech impediment like that of Peter Cook as the clergyman in “The Princess Bride.” ]
Objects of gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, and lead, and any other item that can withstand heat shall be cleansed in fire and then cleansed in the waters of lustration.

[Moshe, stunned and annoyed at Eleazar’s interruption stares for a bit, the walks off, muttering to himself.]

ELEAZAR
Everything else – your clothes, or anything made from animal skins, and all that cannot be cleansed in fire you shall cleanse in water.

[The crowd stands in silence. Prolonged silence. They look to Eleazar, but he says nothing more. The crowd starts to disperse. Camera pans to Pinchas and the generals.

GENERAL 1
Well, now what?

GENERAL 2
I guess we do some more killing.

GENERAL 3
Man, this sucks. We’re all gonna get tried for war crimes.

PINCHAS
Well, we can honestly say G”d told us to do it.

GENERAL 4
I still don’t like it, even though we get to keep the virgins and the booty. It just isn’t right.

GENERAL 1
Shh! Moshe or Eleazar might hear you.

GENERAL 2
This is all your fault, Pinchas. If you hadn’t been so vicious and passionate, killing Zimri and Cozbi like that.

GENERAL 3
Yeah, Zimri was a putz, But that Cozbi, she was a looker.

[All nod heads in agreement.]

PINCHAS
Yeah, I’ve had regrets about that, Zimri, not so much, but Cozbi…I guess I acted a little too rashly fellas.

GENERAL 1
Maybe we can just pretend to kill the women and boys.

GENERAL 2
Yeah, maybe make a few really public killings, so it looks like we’re doing it.

GENERAL 3
Booty is booty, fellas. If we still don’t kill all the women and boys, how much you wanna bet they’ll just inventory then with all the other booty, and conveniently overlook who they are.

GENERAL 4
I think you may be on to something there.

GENERAL 3
Alright then. We’re agreed. We make a show of killing, but spare most of the women along with the virgins.

[Cutaway to Herbert, the old pedophile from “Family Guy”]

HERBERT
Don’t forget the boys!

[Cut to Black]

SCENE IV

[A week has passed. By command of G”d, an inventory and census is being taken of all the booty from the Midian campaign. By G”d’s command, half the spoils will be divided among the soldiers, and the other half will be divided by the entire community. From the soldier’s share, 0.2% (1 in 500) was set aside for G”d ((or, to put it another way, for the priests, so what need of G”D of these things?) From the community’s share, 2% (1 in 50) was to be given to the priests in return for their service  (at least this was a more honest accounting.)]

[The scene is Moshe and Eleazar addressing the crowd, with the various forms of booty – animals, property, people assembled and being divided into groups. There are little signs everywhere saying things like “Soldier’s Share of Cattle” and “Community’s Share of Asses.” In one spot, valuables are being divided in piles. On one of the piles is a sign that has the words “For G”d” with a line through them, below that the words“For the priests “ also lined through, and underneath that a fresh line reading “For G”d.” As the camera sweeps over the scene, we hear the Narrator.]

NARRATOR
(a Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Morgan Freeman type)
OK, let’s do some math. viewers. 1000 men from each tribe went to fight the Midianites. That’s 12,000 soldiers. They came back with:

  • 675,000 sheep
  • 72,000 head of cattle
  • 61,000 asses
  • 32,000  people - which the text then specifically enumerates as the remaining virgin females.

If there were 32,000 girls alone, how many boys and women had they captured and brought along? 60,000? 100,000? It boggles the mind.

[Cutaway to Rod Serling giving a typical Twilight Zone introduction]
[Cut back to Narrator]

NARRATOR
[imitating he Twilight Zone theme] Do do do do...

[cutaway to a stock photo of the Brooklyn Bridge]
[cut back to Narrator]

NARRATOR
Yeah, right. 32,000 virgins.

[Cut to a shot of Pinchas and the generals cavorting around with women who are clearly not young virgins. (think Marlena Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe. Jane Fonda. Sigourney Weaver. Jennifer Garner. Or for my younger readers think Gal Gadot. ]

[Fade to Black]

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I recognize and own up to the fact that this musing is full of stereotypes, misogynist and homophobic references, and a whole host of other politically incorrect things. I hope you’ll accept my explanation that in using these stereotypes, in addition to their admittedly superficial humorous character, I am simultaneously holding them up for the ridicule they deserve.(Do you really think the Monty Python “wink, wink” sketch wasn’t intentionally and internally lampooning the very behavior it portrayed?)

If you found any of this offensive, I apologize. I am troubled with many things in this parasha. The callousness with which G”d and Moshe are willing to have people killed, including women and children. A G”d who is even willing to command this. The willing acceptance of captives as the spoils of war, even in the context of the times. The sparing of only the virgins. Vengeance. As we are fond of saying here in our own current situation : this is not normal. Torah attempt to normalize an otherwise troubling ethical situation. The Talmud and later commentators seek to mitigate things a bit, but it’s more of a shutting the barn door after the cows are gone.

I portray Pinchas and the Generals, and, in the end, even Moshe, much as I might portray the pussy-grabber now living in the White House. It’s not meant to be flattering. (May it be G”d’s will that this reference becomes very quickly dated. Ptui! Ptui!)

There’s one short section of the script that is even a nod to my discomfort with the stereotyping I’m using as humor for effect. I’m sure you can find it (I think it sticks out like a sore thumb, and I went back and forth many times on whether to include it or not. Eventually, my own discomfort at playing stereotypes for effect won out.)

Humor is both my tool for dealing with the discomfort, and for exposing the issues. I hope, in the process of exposure, I haven’t discomfited you or offended you –  no, strike that. In some way, I hope I have discomfited you. It’s the discomfiting that leads us to action, to examine things closely, to stand up for what is right, just, and fair.

Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian
©2017 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha

Matot-Masei 5775 - Mei-eit Harav Tarbu U'mei-eit Hamat Tamitu
Masei 5774 - Would Jeremiah Be Surprised?
Matot 5774 - Over the Top (Revised 5763)
Matot-Masei 5773 - The Torah Is One Of My FaceBook Groups
Matot-Masei 5772 - And the Punting Goes On
Masei 5771 - Cause and Effect
Matot 5771 - Don't Become Like...Them
Matot-Masei 5770 - Treasure Trove of Trouble
Masei 5768 - Accidents Matter
Matot 5768/5765-Even Moshe Rabbeinu Had to Punt
Matot-Masei 5766 - First Fruit
Matot-Masey 5764-Putting the Kids Before the Kids
Matot--Masey 5763-Over the Top
Matot--Masey 5762--The Rebel's Complaint and Promises, Promises