Monday, June 30, 2014

Leviticus : Chapter 2

A greater intimacy

Raise the memory

The leftovers connect...

[For full chapter, click here
The move from animal to meal offering creates a change of ambiance. From primordial "adam,"  we now speak of a nefesh, a soul, a life force, and then shift into direct address: "if you bring." This greater intimacy is not only between the one who brings the offering, and God, but also with the priests. Suddenly they too become integral parts of this relationship, with the leftovers, the notar, going to them, as part of "the most holy offering" to God]

Friday, June 27, 2014

Leviticus: Chapter 1

When Man comes close,  

come with animal

Calling from the door

Come close to the door

Emanating outward,  

approaching inward 

Choose the path and come in desire

[For full chapter, click here
Exodus closes with God's Presence descending on the Tent of Meeting. Now the Tend of Meeting is active, and God "calls" to Moses from within. This first communication shares some of the elements of the creation of the Dwelling: a focus on the liminal space of the "doorway"; an interaction of human choice and desire (ratzon) and God's definitive command. The key word is korban/karov "to come close". The repeated phrases are the anaphora "if from x is his offering"--highlighting the space for choice--and the closing refrain "for a pleasing fragrance to God"--highlighting the relationship.
But there is also a change of ambiance and tone. From speaking of "men" and "women" (ish, isha, nashim), we have moved to the primordial name of the species--Adam, human, earth creature: "if an adam should bring an offering." If in Exodus, the offerings were of creativity,  human-as-artist, here the offerings are of blood and guts, human as animal, The Dwelling, once activated, seems to call to the most primal elements of humanity. Echoing in the background is Abel's first offering of "firstborn sheep," which were accepted]

Hello Leviticus

I think a part of me didn't believe I would finish Exodus. This was the first time I didn't have a notebook waiting in the margins...
I completed Exodus, and headed to the art supply store with a vision of the perfect Leviticus notebook in my head: A small square black notebook  had once found in Paris. My drawing tool would be the white conte pencil I had left over, along with a wax white watercolor pencil I had picked up in Paris at the same time as the mythic notebook

The idea is as follows:
I want to continue with the primal feel of Genesis/Exodus by continuing the monochrome theme
In Exodus, I  had been using black and white conte crayon on brown paper. I found that in the course of the drawings, white had become my symbol for the presence of God--the Pillar of Fire and the Cloud were always the brightest spots in the drawing. So I thought: Leviticus, which deals with the Tabernacle, should be drawn completely in white, using a black paper for the darks. It would also add a drawing challenge of reversing my thinking, to mark the lights instead of the shadows. The square format would offer a compositional challenge.

Alas, it is not a good idea to have too clear an image of what you want. There was no such notebook to be found. After going through four art supply shops--3 in Jerusalem, one in Tel Aviv, I finally compromised. Here is my notebook--nice, thick black paper, as desired, but rectangular rather than square:

I even got a white pen for taking notes...
But by the time I finally got the notebook it was time to pack for my trip to the States. So here I am, days later, uploading my first Leviticus chapter from NYC. It's a good start to my trip.... :)
Thinking in white has been a challenge. Hope I will get more adept as I continue....

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Goodbye to Exodus

“And these are the names of the children of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family… Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, and the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, and increased in numbers” Those opening verses set into place the themes of the Book of Names (the Hebrew name of Exodus) as a whole. We have moved from the primordial, archetypal Genesis, that deals with the creation of the individual identity, of the self. Now we must find a name for the nameless masses, the meaning of the self within the context of the many.
The book of Genesis deals with the “chronicles of Man as he was being created.” It revolves around the interrelationship of the individual with the world. Its central metaphor is hands: how do we  handle and manipulate our environment. The key repeating phrase is “ve-yishlach yado—to send forth the hand”: “And now, lest he send forth his hand and eat from the tree of life” introduced the exile from Eden; “Do not send forth your hand against the boy” closes the demand for the sacrifice of Isaac; “I told you not to send forth your hand against the youth” Reuben cries after the sale of Joseph. Letting go versus holding on; learning how to relate to Other. The book revolves around ever-intensifying painful relations between sibling and sibling, and man and woman: the two main patterns of Otherness. It closes with Joseph’s acceptance of the wrong his brothers have done him; balanced by Judah’s acceptance of the fact that Rachel—and only Rachel—holds Jacob's heart. The self has learned to accept the independence of other.  
Exodus is the next stage. Having moved beyond the placement of  self within family (Genesis), we now begin to deal with the birth of a nation. And it is a unique story of nationhood that begins in being stripped of all elements of identity. This is the faceless generation that has no land and has no name, birthing “like animals.” It is a story of nationhood that begins in powerlessness.
 Yet the painful acceptance of otherness that introduces this story opens the possibility of a different mode of identity. Not the certainty of power and choice, but relationship to absolute Other—God.  The key images of this book are “eyes” and “ears”; to “see” “hear” “smell”: from a focus on the hands, we move to a focus on the face. This is the book of learning to communicate “face to face.” Moses, the liminal figure who is “drawn from the waters” remaining always “on the banks” between heaven and earth ,God and man, is central for this connection.
For it is not a simple process. Rather, it requires transformations on both sides. “What shall I say Your name is?” Moses asks, and God changes names within communication—from the impersonal “powers” (Elohim) to the “Almighty power” (el shaddai) to the God of history who will “be what He will be”, and who bears a  personal Name. Israel also is transformed, in a protracted year-long process. The Exodus is dominated by birth-imagery: from the preternatural fecundity of the opening chapter, to the bloody doorways that birth the nation, to the passage through the waters that spits the despairing slaves out on the other side as a free people. “My firstborn child, Israel” “opens the womb,” and all that “open the womb”, whether human or animal, are consecrated.  Birthing a child begins a process. The opening of the womb of the Sea of Reeds is followed by the “testing” of the  terrible twos: tantrums about food  and attention, doubts about love.
The parent-child imagery becomes entwined with metaphors of infatuation and young love (maybe they are not so far apart as we think…) Not for nothing did the prophets describe the Exodus as “the grace of your youth, the love of your bridal days. You followed Me through the wilderness, in an untamed land.” The passage through the wilderness is a dance of approach and retreat, closeness and distance. The lead-up to Sinai is accompanied by a demand for greater and greater closeness, coupled with existential uncertainty: “Is God amongst us or nothingness?” Again and again, God imposes boundaries, which Israel “test”: “and they gazed upon God and ate and drank.”  Yet consummation (both meanings) breeds not certainty, but the need for distance and escape. The relationship is too overbearing, a complete crushing of the self. “Speak you to us, but let not God speak to us lest we die.” In the aftermath of Sinai, we begin the translation of God to humanity, bringing God down to earth.
The creation of the Dwelling is a myse-en-abyme for the book as a whole, a point-counterpoint of self and other, closeness and distance,   the accommodation (in both senses!) of God an humanity. We begin with God’s “pattern,” his “command” to Moses. This is vision dominated by the unified keruvim, locked together, but forever apart, each on a separate side. This must pass through the prism of Bezalel, who will translate it into physicality. Yet the translation of revelation into material brings a counter movement from Israel, who rush in to create the Golden Calf—an attempt at complete closeness, without the burden and threat of Other.
Moses once again steps into the breach.He brings God to acknowlege that “no man can see My face and live.” The relationship to humanity must be slant, to the back, rather than direct revelation. Thus, He accedes to Moses' request for forgiveness “You must walk within us.” God will indeed “be what He will be,” revealed in the walking, in the process, rather than directly.
This opens a space for human action, and in the next chapter, the people begin to build the Dwelling, transforming God’s vision with their own desires and “hearts.” Moses stands at the center, uniting their disparate parts back to the initial ideal that “he had seen on the mountain.”

The book closes when the pieces come together, and the Dwelling suddenly ignites, “a pillar of fire by night.” There is a synergy in the growth of a nation. In the end, the whole is greater than the sum of separate parts, greater than the individuals who dominated the Book of Genesis. Moses cannot even enter the Dwelling that he created. This allows a new unity of God and humanity. Not the painful separated unity of the keruvim, who are of “a single mass,” gazing at each other, but divided by the breath of their wings. Rather, it is a unity that comes of  “walking together”: “when the cloud rose, the people would rise and travel.” In the year that followed the birthing of the nation in the womb of Egypt, a new relationship has been built. "For the cloud of God  dwelt above the Dwelling by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys." God and humanity journey together, within "sight" of each other, essentially unknown and Other, but fully present.

The Learning Curve: On the Importance of Goodbye

This Bibliodraw project has been a sink-or-swim, learn as you go.
One of my learning curves has been my growing awareness of the need for closure. Not for nothing has there been a tradition of holding a siyum, a completion ceremony, for every finished unit of learning. Completing a part is not the same as completing a whole. Each stage needs to be acknowledged, reviewed, and incorporated into the next.
On completing Genesis, I felt the sense of wholeness-that the book had a unity from beginning to end, that my understanding at the closing was far more complex and deep than the sum of the different chapters. Thoughts were spinning in my head:
  • Make a drawing/painting/artwork about the book as a whole.
  •  Write up a siyum, bringing together the various patterns and insights

Each idea seemed right; each seemed enticing. Seemed time-consuming.
On the other side was the imperative: Don’t stop. Keep up with the momentum. If you’ve completed Genesis, start Exodus—today!
So I did, pushing the big ideas to the side, for later, and jumping into the next book.
There were advantages to this: I started right away, without the three day break I've had with the closing of Exodus. But there were also disadvantages. My head was still in Genesis. I resented the change of ambiance and tone. I kept looking for the archetypal primordial personalities of Genesis in the teeming masses of Exodus.
And on the other side: when I finally got into Exodus, the need to create a closing for Genesis faded. “Later” never came. I have yet to type up my thoughts on Genesis;  the closing collage I planned is still sitting on my desk.
So this time I would like to try something else.
If there is something I have learned in the course of this project is “perfect is the enemy of done.” I do want to create a closing piece, but I also want to keep up the Bibliodraw momentum. So I’m going to try a  compromise. A quick Siyum, summarizing my sense of the book as a whole. A concentrate of my main insights, to be expanded upon when time and space provide. And a closure,  which will hopefully release me to move on to Levitucus without feeling torn.
So here it comes… an unedited, freewrite Goodbye to Exodus

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Exodus: Chapter 40

When the sum becomes 
 greater  than the parts 

A cloud of completion
A canon of connection

To move together 
rising in response

[For full chapter, click here
We have reached the grand finale of Exodus. 
On the first day of the first month you shall put together the Dwelling.” Exactly one year has passed since that fateful day when God first spoke to the “entire congregation of Israel,”  “This month shall be to you the head of all months, the first of the months of the year.” What a distance has been traversed! From the initial commandment to set aside a private space, marking of the doorways of the home, we have come to create a sacred space, that can allow the Presence of God. The initial glimmerings of a sense of community--“and if the household be too little for a lamb, then shall he and his neighbour (lit. near-dweller shakhen) shall take one according to the number of the souls”—is here transformed into a Dwelling-Mishkan for God, a community with the divine.
These final chapter of building the Dwelling are like a repetitive canon, growing in  intensity. Command, execution, command, and now, finally, activation, the bringing together. After  the completion of the “work” (asiya) of Bezalel and the people begins the work (asiya) of Moses, the integrator who connects the disparate chaotic pieces “as God commanded, so Moses did.” And with the coming together, the whole becomes far greater than the sum of its parts: “And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of God filled (mila—a return of that pivotal word!) the Dwelling, and Moses was unable to enter the tent, because [the cloud] dwelt (shakhen) on it, and the Glory of God filled the Dwelling (Mishkan).”
With the activation of the Dwelling, the communion with God becomes complete; God and Israel become a single system. “If You will not walk with us, do not take us up (ta-alenu) from here” Moses said. Now God indeed "walks among." The problematic up-down motion of Sinai and the Golden Calf here finally becomes synchronized: God “takes us up”: “And whenever the cloud rose (be-ha-a lot) from the Dwelling, the children of Israel journeyed, throughout all their journeys.” And God is there,  "a pillar of fire... to the sight of all Israel, throughout their journeys"]

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Exodus 39: In Writing

A fugue of us
Of I, Thou, Him

Thou he I
He I Thou
Thou  I he
I he Thou

Doing saying                                                
Command and consummation
interwoven in threads of gold
a rising wave

Exodus: Chapter 39

Bring together
Interwoven in gold 

The blessing that 
comes at completion

[For full chapter, click here
The creation of the Dwelling continues. From the outer structure, we moved to the sanctuary gold, then outwards to the courtyard of bronze. This chapter incorporates the human component, with the creation of the priestly  garments. Once again, translation is also transformation. Here, the gold of the sanctuary is actually incorporated into the clothing: "they did beat the gold into thin plates, and cut it into threads, to work it in the blue, and in the purple, and in the scarlet, and in the fine linen". The priests become the nerve system of the Dwelling, connecting the internal and external space. The chaotic human involvement is emphasized: The ephod  "carries"--as commanded--"the name of the children of Israel." However, no longer is it specified that they are listed by a hierarchical order of birth. Rather it is simply the individualized "each according to his name."
The chapter closes with the Children of Israel “bringing together” all the components to Moses. He acts as the unifying force, the vision. The disparate is interwoven in a catalog, that climaxes with an emphasized verbal fugue connecting the initial vision and the earthly doing, with Moses at the center as intermediary: “According to all that God commanded Moses, so the children of Israel did the work…And Moses saw all the work, and, behold, they had done it as God had commanded…” With the coming together comes blessing: “and Moses blessed them.”]

Monday, June 16, 2014

Exodus 38: In Writing

All is counted and accounted
Every pulse, exhale,
 Every dream, in  long-drawn waiting
when you count the starts, the grains, the sand
the building bricks,
the crumbled straw

I croon your memory.
In the billow-bellied bronze
I see a face
rush forward to meet me
arms greet me

wash me in your waters
into you I dissolve
inseparable, inextricable
a void of absence
I am that I am

Call me by name
Splash to my shape
Find yourself in a shadowed mirror

A longing echo, calling your name

Exodus: Chapter 38

To count 

Meet yourself at the entrance 
Coming towards you 

[For full chapter, click here
We continue the actual construction of the Dwelling, moving out from the furnishings of the inner Sanctum to the outer courtyard, marked by the use of bronze and silver, rather than gold. Again, the execution ("and Bezalel did") transforms the initial vision ("as God commanded Moses"), as the people bring theere own drives and desires. The laver is made of "the mirrors of the serving women that did service at the door of the tent of meeting." The gifts that create the Dwelling come also from the discounted classes: women--and serving women at that. What is more, the gifts are not homogenized: we know which specific objects create the laver. The people brings "mirrors," reflecting their own desires and involvement, and these gifts retain their presence within the completed Dwelling, as a kind of incorporated found object. The material changes the piece.
The chapter closes with an "accounting" (pikudei) of all the materials that went into the dwelling. No gift is lost, everything is given its place. 
This laden leitwort also creates an arch connecting the beginning of this book towards its end. "I have surely remembered you--pakod pakadeti"  is God's initial message to the children of Israel: you have been taken into account and will be redeemed. But this retained memory is a double edged sword, that also implies consequence and accountability. In the aftermath of the Golden Calf, God is "poked--accounts the inquiry of the fathers on the sons," and the nation's sin will continued to be held in account: "beyom pokdi u-pakadeti--on the day that there is an accounting, I will account their sin on them." Now, we make an accounting of the Dwelling. "Pakod"--"memory, accounting" implies continuity, care. It is the source of relationship, both for redemption and anger] 

Exodus 37: In Writng

Blood of my blood
Bone of my bone
At the pulsing womb of being
We are one
A golden circle  
Eye to eye
Face to face

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Exodus: Chapter 37

From within
Created of self
A single circle
Pure and shining
Within and without 

[For full chapter, click here 
From the structure, the creation of the Dwelling moves inwards, to the Sanctuary. At the center of holiness, there is no separation. Instead of "linkages" or interweaving, the key word in memeno, "from itself." The parts are elements of the whole, created from the same substance. The keruvim are made "of the kaporet", the elements of the Menorah are made of itself. Everything is formed of "pure" (tahor) untranishing gold. A leitword is "souround" "circle" (saviv)--a whole with no begining and end] 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Exodus 36: In Writing

Entangled in desire
on the first light of morning
ladle out  
the stirring of your heart

What is enough?
The line, limit
breath, boundary
that embraces love?

Twined beneath the surface
hands clasped in completion

to be one, 
reaching from edge to edge

Exodus: Chapter 36

To weave a house 
to bring love in 

come close

From conception to fruition
overflowing giving
morning by morning
to be enough

connected to one
twinned,  entwined

[For full chapter, click here
“As God commanded, so they did”. The Mishkan/Dwelling-project is built around this interaction of heaven and earth, the divine “structure” (tavnit) and human action (asiya). It is a chiastic framework, with the story of the Golden Calf in the middle. We open with God’s commands to Moses, a grand vision that begins from the highest—the Ark of Covenant and Keruvim, and gradually moves to include the human component of the kohanim/priest. It is a vision that contains hints of menace, but focuses on the possibility of relationship between God and man. Yet the translation of revelation into material is dangerous. Giving over the two tablets of stone "written with the writing of God" is followed immediately by the creation of the Golden Calf, making a god of gold.
God’s acceptance of this failure, His agreement to “walk amongst us” allows for the actual creation of the Dwelling. The translation from vision into doing causes subtle transformations. First, the overwhelming involvement of the people—here, the overflow of passion is so great, that the people have to be told to stop giving: “The people bring too much, more than the service of the work that God commanded to make… so the people were restrained from giving.” There is a chaotic "coming close of "all who "heart's stirred them to create" rather than an orderly hierarchy. In the actual creation, we begin from the building itself, only then moving gradually into the sanctuary. The keruvim are woven into walls, before they are actually craved of gold. We come from earth to heaven]

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Exodus 35: In Writing

Breath deep
In the cessation of doing
The pulse of being
clasps your heart
clench and release
a river of crimson
blue entwined

Bring the found
the stumbled
gold-shot dreams
in tangled limbs
Let me offer my heart

Do not free the fire
to rip down the ways
let it flicker in the spaces between
Carried on your heart
exhaled on your breath
A swirl of cobalt sky

Exodus: Chapter 35

To cease from creating
And to create

A generative power 
men and women
those who are called
those who are taught

[For full chapter, click here
We continue the process of restitution and recreation. From reiterating the covenant, we come back to the calling of Bezalel that introduced the story of the Golden Calf. Once again, the return is also a transformation. Structurally, there is a chiastic inversion. Whereas the initial presentation began with the calling of the divinely inspired Bezelel, and closed with the Sabbath that calls upon everybody, here, we begin with the Sabbath, and  move on to the calling of Bezalel. This change is indicative.
Here, the creation of the Dwelling begins from the bottom up. It is charged with the same populist, frenetic energy that drove the creation of the Calf. “And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whose spirit was generous… And they came, the men on the women, as many as were willing-hearted, and brought nose-rings, and ear-rings, and signet-rings, and girdles, all jewels of gold every man that brought an offering of gold.” The “golden earrings that Aaron demanded for the creation of the Calf, becomes a stream of jewelry (now,willingly brought by everybody, rather than forcefully “taken from your wives and children”]. The strange, sexually charged phrase “and the men came on the women” (va-yavou ha-anashim al ha-nashim—which can also mean “and the men slept with the women”) hints that we are dealing with the same ecstatic, erotic drives of zenut (idolatry/ fornication) and letzahek (laughter/ sex) that drove the dancing around the Calf. This is a creativity related to earthy reproduction. 
The Dwelling is now the creation of the people, with the leadership coming last. This change is encapsulated in the sudden focus on the involvement of previously-unmentioned women—“all the women who were wise-hearted, spun with their hands… all the women whose heart moved them in wisdom, spun.” The usually dismissed "women's arts" of spinning and weaving are highlighted and acknowledged. Creativity is no longer the realm of the lone divine artist. Now, Bezalel and Ohaliav have been inspired to “teach”: creativity moves outwards, a collaborative folk-art.]

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Exodus 34: In Writing

Can we return  to the beginning
the place Before?
Gather the shattered shards?

Call by name
and ingest the past
a conflation rising within

Incandescent with your face
a pillar of fire
bright things fall to confusion

Through the veil, dimly

The contours of longing

Exodus: Chapter 34

To gather the broken
and make again

Can we find your face
shining within?

[For full chapter, click here

A chapter of restitution, gathering the broken shards of Sinai. "Hew for yourself two tablets of stone, and I will write on the upon the tablets the words that had been on the tablets that you broke." It is not only the Tablets, but the covenant as a whole that is reformed. Moses ascends, and is told  a condensed form of the initial explication of Sinai, ending with the same enigmatic: "Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk." Again, he remains for 40 days and 40 nights.
But this recreated covenant is transformed by Moses role as intermediary. If before, Moses was the messenger connecting God and the people, now the covenant is his" "hew for yourself."  If initially, the elders of Israel "beheld God and ate and drank," now it is Moses alone who sees God, and "eats no bread, and drinks no water" utterly consumed in this dyad.
The relationship to Israel now flows through Moses. "I know you by name," God says, and Moses "calls the Name of God."It is only be ecause Moses "finds favor in [God's] eyes" that God  finally agrees to "walk within you." But the one He is truly within is Moses, whose face shines with the force of the relationship. Now it is only God and Moses who can see each other "face to face." "And when Moses when before God, to speak to Him, he would remove the veil until he left. And when he came out, he spoke to the children of Israel..." Moses has becomes so intertwined with God, that like God,  his face cannot be fully seem, but glimpsed only through a veil. ]

Exodus 33: In Writing

stripped at the portal
the receding gaze forlorn
without, distant as winter light
within, banked embers of cold
us, locked in the doorway
to watch the shimmering form of loss

Darling, beating in the crevice,
within the shadow of the stoop
show me yourself
raise me in your face
or let me sink into the socket of nonseeing
the soft embrace of forking paths
expanding endlessly

How do I love thee,
can I count the ways?
Be a place for me
In your heart
In your eye
let me sit in the
flicker of your lashes
the darkness of your lids
the shadow at the edge of being

We walk within each other

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Exodus: Chapter 33

To see
To know
To call by name

Locked together
Face to face

At the limen of being
A gaze of longing
At the back receding

[For full chapter, click here
A chapter full of great distance, and intimate closeness.  It opens with the Children of Israel gazing longingly after Moses’ receding back, and closes with Moses’ glimpse of God’s “back” passing before him. The key words are telling:  “see” “know” and “face.”
Moses’ liminal role is intensified and transformed. Here, he becomes more potently a stand-in for God—his private tent is the “tent of meeting,” called by the same name as God’s Dwelling. “Let Me be and I will destroy them…and make a great nation of you” God said to Moses in the aftermath  of the Golden Calf.  Moses averted the decree, but the relationship between him and God indeed now seems to exclude Israel:  “When Moses went out to the Tent, that all the people rose up, and stood, every man at his door of the tend, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into the Tent…when Moses entered into the Tent, the pillar of cloud descended, and stood at the door of the Tent; and God spoke with Moses.” In parallel structure, the verses highlight that Moses and Israel stand at wholly different portals; the people look longingly at the receding figure of Moses while Moses speaks to God.
Yet in the course of the chapter, this is transformed. Moses' new intimacy with God becomes a way to rebuilt the connection to Israel, rather than exclude them. Love, knowledge, and an inalienable connection become intertwined: “You have said: I know you by name, and you have found favor (hen) in My eyes. And now, if indeed I find favor in your eyes, make Your ways known to me, that I may know You and find favor in your eyes, so you will see that this nation is your people.” The personal hen is extended over the nation as a whole: “How will it be known that I have found favor in your eyes—I and your  people? Only if You walk with us. We will be special, I, and your nation.” The intimacy of speaking “face to face” becomes the demand  for the presence of the Face among the nation as a whole: “if Your face does not walk with us, do not carry us out of here.” 
Moses is indeed the intermediary, but he does not only offer access to God’s word for the people. Now he also makes the people present to God: It is through love of Moses that God will know that “this nation is your people." At the moment that Moses is most alone, living "outside" the camp, he paradoxically becomes the stand in for the people, their embodiment to God. ]

Exodus 32: In Writing

Weight of waiting
heavy hours roll slow
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

Who will cradle me
lift me from the pit
You are not here
hollow absence without a face

I raise my eyes to the mountain
see no arms upraised
See no anchor 
Pivoting the world
You are not within

Break the shackles of the empty Os
Self-sparmagos in gold frenzy
rend my flesh an eat it too
in an engorged whirl 
to end all longing

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Exodus: Chapter 32

Things break apart
The center cannot hold

Taking out
or taking out

Rising and falling

Or standing at the portal

[For full chapter, click here
The subtextual threat that has been humming since Sinai “breaks” (porek) into the open. It is a short step between the translation of Sinai into physical material—“gold and silver and bronze”—the “doing” asiya that played so central a part in the previous chapter, and the demand “make us (ase) a god,” who is hammered of gold. It is no coincidence that it is the same Aaron who is consecrated with clothing of gold who creates the golden calf.
It is a short step between the translation of revelation into local gods (elohim)of courthouses and temporal powers, and the desire for “a god” to lead the way. A short step between demanding that Moses “speak to us, and we will hear, but let not God speak to us, lest we die” and demanding another intermediary.
  And this points us to the deeper problem:
“What has this nation done to you, that you brought this great sin upon them?” Moses demands of Aaron—a clear echo of Jethro’s accusation: “what are you doing to this nation that you sit alone, and all the people stand about you?”
“The nation comes to me to inquire of God,” Moses defends himself.
“It is not good, what your are doing,” Jethro responds.
Moses had become the intermediary to God.  He is the connecting channel, running “up” and “down”  (the leitwords of this chapter) the mountain, passing the massages between them. And at times, the boundary blurs. Moses has disappeared into the mists alone, not to come “back down.” Israel demands a replacement for “Moses the man who took us up from Egypt.” But very quickly, the line between “man” and god blurs: “This is your god Israel, who took you up from Egypt,” the people declare.
The Golden Calf is Sinai recreated, but without the terrifying, overwhelming presence of utter Otherness. This time the Children of  Israel can have their cake and eat it too. They can “come close” (geshu) as they could not “come close” to the mountain; like the “nobles” of Israel, they can “see God and eat and drink.” As in Sinai, “early the next morning” they build an altar. They have the intermediary, without the God.
Forgiveness comes of reminding God that this is the nation He “took out”—not “took up,” a reference to Moses’ intermediary function—of Egypt. The investment and faithfulness stand.
But now the ominous undertones of the need for “atonement” (kippurim) becomes clear. The “carrying” (naso) of the names of Israel becomes the “carrying” of sin (sa na). The counting of names becomes the need for accounting (pokdi u-pakaditi). The dangers of translating God have come into the open.]

Exodus 31: In Writing

Breath deep
make the body beat
golden dreams
silvered longings
gates of bronze
interweave threads
making word flesh

Exhale in sleep
warp and weft open
feel the earth pulse
through your fingers
curve to cradle you,
in the crashing, receding waves
of the everlasting sea

Friday, June 6, 2014

Exodus: Chapter 31

Artist as  minister
The wise of heart 

Breath in divinity
and make
Exhale and rest
the doing of being
filling and  hollowing

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter can’t help but be a favorite. 
“I have called the name of Bezalel… and have filled him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, intuition and knowledge, and every kind of craft (melaha—the leitword of this chapter).”  Here, the Bible introduces its archetypal artisan. Creativity is presented as divinely inspired, an act that is conceptual and mental as much as it is craft and material: “to think thoughts / and to do (la-asot) every craft.” It is the realm of the “wise of heart,” who are “given” divine wisdom.   Bezalel can understand and create the realms of “gold, silver and bronze,” can bring into fruition what “God has commanded.”
Bezalel-as-artisan is presented as an ur- Kohen -priest. It is only he who can create the clothing that will consecrate the priests.  Like Aaron, he is called by name. Like Aaron and his sons, he is “filled” (milui—the key word of the consecration chapter).
Human creativity is presented here as a reflection of divine creativity. The calling of Bezalel is followed by a reiteration of the Sabbath.  “Six days you shall do (ta-ase)  craft (melaha) and the seventh is a rest holy to God…. For six days God created (asa) the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh he rested (va-yinafash).va-Yinafash, lit, was ensouled, breathed, is a play on that initial "spirit" of God that  inspires  (literally, "breathed in") Bezalel. 
The Sabbath introduces another level of creativity, a passive “keeping” that balances that active “doing.” This divine rest is not that “filling” that inspires Bezalel, but rather an avoidance of “emptying” (lehalel—to empty, to desecrate).  Whereas the divinely inspired creativity is open only to the “wise of heart,” the guardianship of the Sabbath is aimed at all the “children of Israel.” It is a level of being, rather than an act.] 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Exodus 30: In Writing

Sweeter than wine
scent of cinnamon and myrrh
haunting my dreams

Between the eves
at first light
by flickering flames
before a curtain of cloud

Step softly round
what cannot be passed
what is set aside
an aching hallow

the bell tolls
there will be
none left behind
none unaccounted
it tolls for thee

Can your fragrance
Cover? Expiate?
make you one with the flowing stream
roaring round the rocks,
another drop of blood, oil and tears?

Poured out to purify feet and hands
swallowed in the ground

will you purify me?

Exodus: Chapter 30

Eternal flame
Eternal scent

Set aside
Make holy
Or be set aside

Do not alienate 
Make one

[For full chapter, click here
After the heights of the recreation of Sinai in the previous chapter “and they will know that I am their God who took them out of Egypt”, this chapter starts the decent, offering concentric circles of chiastic closings to the elements raised in the course of the creation of the Dwelling.
 We revisit the lighting the candles—the service that introduced the consecration of Aaron. Now we are to build an altar for incense, as a matching service:  “And Aaron shall burn the incense…every morning, as he prepares the candles, shall he burn it” “and when Aaron lights the candles at dusk, he shall burn it.”  We are back in the world of gold, defined by the curtain and the ark. An “eternal incense” now comes to balance the “eternal flame” of the Menorah.
From the altar, we move further back to the initial terumah, donation, that opened the Mishkan-project: “Every one shall give… a donation (teruma) to God.” But  here it becomes clear that the chiastic closing is also a transformation. If before, the “donation” came of “whatever that heart desired” now it is a rigid, quantifiable amount:  “the rich may not add, the poor may not give less.”  The names that were engraved on Aaron’s breastplate, to be carried “as a memory on his heart” are transformed to impersonal “atonement money” that will be a “memory.” We have moved from the personal, spontaneous, heartfelt, to the impersonal, dictated, and demanded. From a focus on love and longing, we turn to the need for atonement and expiation (kapara and kippur are the leitwords of the chapter). The dangers hinted at in passing, now assume center stage: “let them purify themselves that they not die.”
The overwhelming, contagious holiness here becomes also a matter of holding back, of setting aside: “Do not use [the anointing oil] on the flesh of man… it is holy, let it be holy to you.” Specificity is the key: the scents of holiness must not become common. We counter the “stench” (hivashta rehenu) that characterized the time in Egypt  with the unique fragrance of the hallowed.
Systole, diastole. As with Sinai, we are in a perpetual movement between closeness and distance, boundaries and merging.]

Exodus 29: In Writing

Hallow the cupped sieves
the hollows between door an wall
in satiated silence
hold out my palm

You are Thou
I am them

curled in amniotic fluid
floating in whispered breath
moved with heartbeat
clothe me in your waters

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Exodus: Chapter 29

Fill the hollows 

With the hallowed



A contagious indwelling

Reaching out

[For full chapter, click here
From the creation of the consecrating clothing, to their activation. The clothing is placed on Aaron and his sons, creating a “everlasting ministry (kahuna).” From an action “to minister” (le-kahen) we have moved into an existential state.  
The key word of the chapter is “fulfillment” “filling”—Milui/miluim. The consecration is defined by “filling the hands” (le-maleh et yadam), and happens when the bread is placed “on the palms” of Aaron and his sons. The seven day ceremony (again, a play on the definitive Sabbath) is Miluim, the filling; the sacrifices are the ayil miluim—the “ram of  fulfillment”. The existential emptiness—is God amongst us or nothingness, the hollow at the center of the altar, is at last being filled.
The “fulfillment” is accompanied by a focus on atonement, which also is a seven day process. The creation of holiness is fraught with danger of missteps.
Yet it ends with completion. From the liminal “gate” to the tent of meeting, the sacred space spreads “outside.” Holiness becomes contagious. Anything that touches the altar becomes “hallowed.” The chapter closes with a tripartite hallowedness, of Israel, of the altar, or the kohanim. God will “dwell within the Children of Israel and be their God.” We return to the opening words at Sinai, as Israel for the first time truly “knows that I am their God who took them out of Egypt.” ]