Thursday, May 22, 2014

Exodus: Chapter 21

Beating the bounds of ownership

exchange, reparation

How can  you stand in place?

eye for eye, face for face

[For full chapter, click here
From the heights, to the nitty-gritty; all-consuming revelation to the stuff of everyday life. “These are the laws you will put for this.” This chapter is a direct continuation of the previous one, despite the change of ambiance and tone. The translation of the overwhelming Voice. We reiterate parts of the ten commandments, in detail, and with consequence. “He that smites his father and mother shall die” “he who steals a man” “and the one who curses his father and mother.” The central motif is the same: the focus on labor (avoda), and limitations of bondage (avdut).  “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage (beit avadim)” God identifies Himself “do not serve (te-avdem)  [other gods]” “Six days you shall work (ta-avod) and do all your labor, the seventh is a Sabbath for God.” This translated into limits on bondage, the leitmotif of the chapter. You may buy rights to labor, but damage the body, and the bondsman “goes free without money.”

The key words are pidyon, redemption, exchange, standing in the place of; and tahat—beneath, under, for: “if a man strikes the eye of his slave/bondsman…he shall set him free, under (tahat) his eye”; “and if there is a tragedy, he shall give a nefesh under (tahat) a nefesh,  an eye under (tahat) an eye”. We enter a strange fluidity, where things may stand in for each other. A return to the redemption (pidyon) of the firstborn in the wake of the final plague, where life can be exchanged, redeemed, but can it be fully possessed?]

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