Thursday, June 5, 2014

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.]

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