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WORKING FOR God is never easy. For one thing, brainstorming with an Omniscient Being can be a little overwhelming, and unless Moses wanted to go around putting out burning bushes right and left, he figured he ought to keep a low profile. So Moses was surprised when he received the angelic summons to go speak to God about managing another project. Yeah, some big, mysterious project: that was usually the spin He put on these things.
“OK, let me see if I’ve got this straight,” Moses said to God. It was the first one-on-One meeting they had scheduled for ages, and Moses needed some answers about the new project. “You want me to round up all these folks and take ’em on a hike through the desert wilderness?”
“Yes,” boomed God.
Moses waited for an elaboration; when none came he referred to his notes. “Will this be with or without support from the company caterer?” he asked.
“Caterer, yes. I’ve let Hanna know,” said God. “She’s working on a new menu item. ‘Hanna’s Manna’ she’ll call it. They’ll distribute it once a day. Air-drop.”
“Air-drop? That sounds, uh, different.” Moses wondered if he should ask if air-drop might require some cross-planning with the Avian Department, but decided against it. If sparrows were needed, surely God would see to it. “Now, how about tents? Those nice caravan tents?”
“What caravan tents?” God rumbled. “Rumours of my omniscience are greatly inflated.”
“Those big white canvas tents,” said Moses.
“Those? I’ve put them aside for Esther’s wedding,” said God.
“Oh. Well, it’s gonna be a hard sell then. People aren’t exactly keen to go to the desert,” said Moses. “Now Jericho — Jericho, we could get them worked up for. Have you considered Jericho?”
“Jericho is over-rated. And on the pricy side. Nothing like a desert to show our people we really care,” God said. “Organizations are having challenge exercises right and left these days. Rock-climbing, paintball, extreme sports. You can’t just put on any old retreat with feel-good sessions and a bottomless coffee urn.”
“Well . . . it depends on how long you send them on this, uh, retreat. A day or two. Three would be stretching it. What were you proposing?” asked Moses.
“As long as it takes,” boomed God.
“As. Long. As. It. Takes.” Moses noted, and felt sweat creep from his hairline.
“I detect a little reluctance on your part,” God said.
“I didn’t pick the wrong mortal for this special project, did I?” God enquired.
“It’s just this stylus. Doesn’t always write so good. I asked at the parchment shop for a whaddya callit, a pen, a ‘point-ball pen’ like you suggested at our last meeting and he looked at me like I was hallucinating.”
“It’s ‘ball-point,’ Mo. A ball-point pen. But I forget, maybe they are not even out on the market yet. It was likely just a prototype that I saw,” God said. “Don’t roll your eyes like that; I was just trying to give you a head’s up, is all.”
“Anyhow, back to the project,” said Moses. “We get the team together, the team of what, 10,000 or so, and hold them out on this dry hot unshaded desert retreat for, what, an indeterminate time . . .”
“That’s correct,” said God.
“And then?” said Moses.
“What do you mean, ‘and then?’” rumbled God. He was unused to so much questioning.
“I mean, what’s next? Like, who’s the big-name motivational speaker you’ve got lined up?”
“That’s where you come in.” God said.
“Well, uh, You? How about You, your Mightiness?”
God laughed. The sound was like rolling thunder. Gentle, friendly, rolling thunder, but awe-inspiring and marrow-liquefying nonetheless.
“No, I never see them directly at all,” said God. “Kind of like the Wizard in the Emerald City. It’s a huge let-down when Dorothy—”
“Wizard? Emerald City?” Moses was ever alert to the expanding project plans that God tended to spring on him.
“Never mind. Got a little ahead of Myself there,” said God.
“Oh, I get it,” said Moses. “Emerald City is the name of the oasis we’ll take them to, after they’ve been rock-climbing out in the baking hot unshaded desert—”
“No. No oasis. Too much temptation. By the way, they won’t be rock climbing.”
“Oh. Okay. No rock-climbing,” said Moses and scratched out a line.
“But you will be.”
“Me? Climbing?” said Moses. “Oh, you forget, I’m not a rock climber. Sir.”
“Well, actually, it’s a mountain, a good-sized mountain — Mount Sinai,” said God. “You must go up there as soon as everyone arrives in the desert. Then the people will pray and wait for you to have a vision and return to them.”
“Let me get this down: Phase two, waiting and praying and doing their team-building exercises and all,” said Moses. He grimaced; this was a tall order. “Do You want to talk about the vision thing now?”
“Yes, that’s actually why I called our meeting today,” God said. “Here’s the vision.”
A small whirlwind churned the dust between them. When it cleared, Moses saw three large slabs, covered with cuneiform, lying on the ground. He whistled softly. “Draft copy?”
“No,” God said. “You can regard these as pretty much set in stone.”
“Quite the carving job.”
“Yes. These are what you will bring to the waiting masses,” said God.
“I will bring these?” Moses said, stunned. “They look a little, ah, heavy.”
“Heavy?” God asked. “Perhaps I need a younger mortal?”
“No, no! I didn’t mean I wasn’t up to it,” Moses hastened to reassure his Boss. “Besides, it’s not so bad. I’ll be coming down the mountain, not going up.”
“There’s the spirit.” God smiled.
“What’s this stuff written on them? Is this the new mission statement you were cooking up last week?” Moses squinted at the words.
“You could say that. Some people call them ‘commandments’ but for now let’s just call them ‘rules to live by.’”
“Hmmm . . .” Moses’ voice trailed off.
“You look downcast,” God said.
“Downcast? No, I was just thinking these may be, if I may speak frankly, these may be a little . . . how shall I put it?” Moses paused.
“I know what you’re thinking,” said God.
“Oh, right. I forgot,” Moses said. “Of course You know what I’m thinking. I mean, I’m not trying to be sarcastic, but since You know what I’m thinking You will know that I’m thinking these ‘rules for living’ will never fly. Never.”
“Why do you think so?” God was displeased.
Moses took a deep breath. The things a project manager was expected to do! He decided to risk some genuine feedback. “Well, for starters: ‘thou shalt not.’ If You phrase things in a negative way, that’s a harsh message. Instead of saying, ‘thou shalt not steal’ for instance, try phrasing it more positively, like, uh, ‘management encourages the lawful appropriation of material goods.’”
“However, My wording is clearer,” God said.
“True. And I guess there would be less carving to do, too,” said Moses. “But . . . do You get my point about not sounding too negative?”
“Wimpy is unmemorable!” God thundered.
Moses continued with feedback on randomly chosen ‘rules.’ “Here’s a good one. Number 14 — the one about not harbouring cats in the house. That one oughta play well. No one wants a cat running around; it will remind them of Egypt all over again. How could anyone love a cat, anyway? Great to have clarity on the issue. Number 15, the rule never to divide by zero . . . hmm . . . don’t You think that’s a little esoteric?”
“I’m offering it as a bundle. Eighteen commandments or nothing,” said God.
Moses clicked his tongue absentmindedly. “Oh my, here’s another one: ‘thou shalt not worship any graven image’ et cetera. Have You thought about what that will do to the graven image makers out there?” said Moses. “Couldn’t You add a grandfather clause for the existing manufacturers? Otherwise it’s unfairly targeting a certain sector of the crafts.”
“I suppose you are worried about your uncle Seth’s graven image workshop?”
“Not just my uncle Seth,” Moses said. “How about this one: ‘thou shalt not bear false witness.’ Obviously You have never been clothes shopping with my wife Zipporah. ‘Does this robe make my ass look fat?’ she says and I knew she wasn’t referring to the beast of burden we had parked outside. Of course I had to bear false witness, as You call it. What’s so wrong about that, I’d like to know, if it keeps everyone happy?”
“Happy?” God thundered. “That’s not the point.”
“Whoa, don’t sound so heavy. You know, that’s what’s really the problem here. Everything is heavy, and I don’t just mean the weight of these babies.” Moses tentatively hefted one of the tablets.
“Oh, so you will agree to climb up a mountain and bring down a message from me, as long as it’s light and peppy and written in PowerPoint,” God said.
“Power? Point? Not sure if I follow you there. What is Power-Point? Does it have any thing to do with the point-ball pen?”
“Never mind,” God said, with infinite weariness.
“You’re getting away on me again. I thought this meeting was called to plan the team-building exercise. The so-called vision thing.”
“Yes, for the next millennium,” God said.
“Right, so shouldn’t You get some buy-in from the masses?” Moses said.
“These are pure and simple rules, Mo. The people know Me and trust Me,” God said. “And once you make sure everyone will abide by them, then you can all come back.”
“Let me get this straight. Just these rules, no changes. No discussion. No, uh, rephrasing,” Moses said.
Moses sighed deeply. “OK. I’ll see what I can do. You are the Boss. Sir.”
Zipporah stirred the pot furiously. That arrogant Overseer of the Wig Shop was too much to bear; wait until her husband heard about the rudeness! At the sound of his approach, she called out: “I’m in here, honey!”
Moses was in a state, she could see. His robe was askew and his luxuriant hair and beard were a mess. “Wait’ll you hear how crummy my day was,” he groaned, easing off his sandals at the entry.
“What, more burning bushes?” she asked. As top project manager for God, he was often called on to work miracles.
“No,” he said. “Now the Big Boss is all gung-ho about some team-building project.”
Zipporah bit her lip. A nice hot meal of lentil porridge; you’d think a man could make a little banter about the home front. But that’s what you get for marrying a workaholic, as her mother would say.
Moses detected her silence and changed his tone. “Hey honey, what do you think about visiting the Red Sea this time of year?”
“Red Sea? They have some mud-bath spas there, don’t they?” she said.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure they do. What, is our village mud-bath not working?”
“There’s a constant drip-drip. It’s nowhere near big enough, either.”
Moses stirred his lentils. Food could be so calming. “Well, anyway. About the Red Sea thing.”
“Team building, you said? Teams for what sport would that be?” she asked.
Moses made a face. “It’s ‘team’ as in ‘group of people.’ Our group of people.” He motioned for her to come sit with him. “Better listen because spouses are mandatory. In fact, all the family has to come. We’re going on a little sight-seeing tour, the whole bunch of us. The Big Boss figures we get too bound up in our day-to-day misery so He needs to change it up, add a little different sort of misery by making it a family vacation.”
“You’re joking, right?” Zipporah searched her husband’s face.
“Of course I am,” Moses said. “You know I love our family vacations.”
“Huh. As long as you get to Casino Jericho, right?”
“Now, now, don’t get started on the belly dancers again,” Moses said, catching his wife gently by the wrist.
“She was this far from your face! I saw it! Don’t think I didn’t notice!” A tear sprang to her eye, and she pulled her wrist away.
“Stop it! Thou shalt not bear false witness against me!” Moses said, his voice rising.
They stared at each other, tempers mounting, and then Zipporah broke the impasse with a little smile. “Oooh. Gonna get all preachy on me?” She studied his face. Those piercing eyes in that tanned and rugged face could still make her feel like a little lamb.
“Well, better save it up, then,” said Moses. “I have got the mother of all preachy sermons coming up.” He looked at her fondly.
“Really? You mean there is finally a new tabernacle going up somewhere that you will get to dedicate?” Zipporah imagined proudly accompanying Moses at the head of a procession — right past that troublesome Overseer of the Wig.
“Huh, I wish it were that simple — a one-night speech-and-spank kinda thing,” said Moses. “No, this is going to last . . . a few days.”
“A few days? I should arrange for a babysitter, then.”
“No, I told you — the boys are coming with us. Everyone is coming with us.”
“Who will herd the goats then?”
“They’re coming with us, too. And the oxen and the asses and the fowl.”
“Well, it won’t be much of a vacation if we have to bring the asses. And stop yourself before you comment on my brothers.”
“Don’t worry, I had forgotten about them — I am so bowled over by the rest of this stuff I have to do,” Moses said.
“Aw, honey, can’t you tell Him to take a hike? You have far too much stress these days!” she said. “And you aren’t getting paid enough. It’s barely above the wages of sin.”
“Yeah, really. Sometimes I . . . sometimes I . . . but hey, he’s the Big Boss, right? The Top Banana. If I quit working for him, where would I go next?”
“There’s always the competition.” She gave a sly smile.
A significant pause descended. She got up and called the boys in from the yard and set two more bowls on the table.
“Anyway, let me tell you about the project,” said Moses. He spoke more quickly than usual because the boys would arrive any minute, and with it, any chance for uninterrupted conversation. “You haven’t even heard about the mountain and these three slabs of rock that I gotta haul down.”
“Gosh, you better bring your heavy-duty sandals,” she said. “You know you need arch support if you have to go for any distance.” Her brow furrowed with concern. “I wonder what I should pack for the banquet?”
“What banquet?” Moses asked.
“There’ll be a banquet, won’t there?” she said.
“He didn’t mention a banquet to me.”
“Where have you been for the last two decades? There’s always a sacrifice and then a great banquet afterward. Best cuts of meat, if you ask me, and always enough to go around,” she said with grudging pride in the Big Boss.
“So I get to play a starring role in this, did I tell you that?” Moses said.
“A starring role? You?” She laughed. “This doesn’t involve more little baskets floating down the river, does it?” Moses never let others forget about his big claim to fame.
“No, no. Just the mountain,” he said.
“‘The’ mountain. As if I know which one.”
“Oh, Mount Sinai. That’s . . . nice.”
He felt nervous about her tone of voice. “What d’you mean, ‘nice’?” Moses asked.
“Nice. Nice — you know. But . . . well . . . it could have been something ‘special’ I guess.”
“Yes, ‘nice’ but not ‘special.’ What, you think I ever get any say in the matter? The Big Boss decides and I basically have to go along.” Moses pushed his bowl away. He never got any peace.
“Arrgh! I can’t believe I blew it!” For the umpteenth time Moses raked his fingers through his hair.
“Now, now,” Zipporah said, patting her husband’s shoulder. The raking caused his hair to stand up like little horns at his temples, and she willed herself not to laugh at the comical effect.
“I blew it,” he repeated. They’d done the march through the Red Sea, done the massive huddle in the desert . . . and now . . . he had messed up. Unbelievable.
“Stop saying that.”
“I blew it. I’m man enough to admit it!”
“There, there. It could have happened to anyone. It’s not your fault,” she said.
“I’m gonna get the axe any minute now. The lightning will strike,” wailed Moses. “Lord have mercy!” He threw himself on the ground.
Arms crossed, Zipporah quietly waited for him to regain control.
“I’m sorry, honey,” said Moses. He slowly got up. “I only wanted to support our little family so I took on this impossible job and look what I do! Mess up in a really big way!”
“Tell me all about it,” she said. She took his hand in hers and patted it in a wifely fashion.
Moses choked back a sob. “So, I go up the mountain. Last thing I remember I was thinking was how heavy the three slabs were, and how I had to keep juggling them from one elbow to the other. Next thing I see is dust rising from the bottom of a cliff and there I was standing up top, with only two slabs.”
“Like I said that could happen to anyone, especially given how big and slippery those slab-things are,” she insisted.
“But I’m not just ‘anyone’! I’m the one He trusted! How will I ever live this down?” said Moses. He kicked at the dirt and tore at his hair some more. “I wonder if Seth has an opening in his graven images workshop. Have you talked to him lately?”
“Don’t make it worse than it is,” she said. It was one thing to attract the wrath of God, but another matter to become the laughingstock of her family.
Moses hid his face in his hands as another wave of disbelief swept over him. “He wanted me to bring down 18 commandments,” he moaned.
“So you only brought 10 — big deal,” she said, thinking quickly. “Let’s see. Only you and God, and — what — a couple dozen jubilant angels know what the full count should be.”
Moses raised his head and looked at her.
“Why, you can present the other eight at the off-site meeting next year,” she said. She hugged his shoulders. “Oh, honey. Talk to Him. Everyone should get a second chance.”
“Hmmm.” A small hopeful smile came to his lips. “I guess I could suggest that to Him,” Moses said.
“Yeah. And it will give Him a chance to think of another two.”
“To get a round number: 20,” she said.
“No, that would be padding,” said Moses. “God doesn’t pad. Besides, He said something about 18 being greatly holy. Or maybe it was ‘18 holes would be great.’ I forget exactly.”
“Anyway.” Zipporah brushed the dust from her husband’s robe. “You better go talk to Him. Right away.”
“Right away. Yes, dear.”
“Damage control,” she reminded him.
“Damage control. Right. Got it.” Moses stood up to go, his face radiant with hope for a second chance.