Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Leviticus: Chapter 24

Always, continuously

Who is left outside?
Held within the guarding 

What can be restored,

And what cannot

[For full chapter, click here
The chapter opens by continuing the focus on time, this time intertwining it with space. From sanctified moments, we move to the service in the Tent of Meeting that must be "continuous/ eternal" (tamid). The pointillist present tense becomes the unchanging perfect: the eternal flame; the always-present shewbread.
Yet this focus on the serene perfection is abruptly broken by the story of the "son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian man," who "blasphemed the Name and cursed." The specific trigger is left purposely ambiguous. The key word is "go out" (ve-yetze). This book has revolved around places within and without. Until now, we have focused on the high price payed by those within, who cannot "go out." Now we turn to the toll on those who are "outside" (bahutz) and find no place "within the children of Israel." The "guardianship (mishmeret) of God's decrees" becomes here a prison (mishmeret), from which the blasphemer is once again "taken out" (va-yotziu'hu) to death.
The chapter closes by setting up to levels of reality--the redeemable and nonredeemable. "whoever curses his god shall bear his sin; but whoever curses God's name shall surly die" " "he who smites the soul (nefesh) of a person, shall surly die. And whoever smites the soul of an animal shall pay it, a soul for a soul." The eternal space that opens the chapter creates an unbreakable, crushing framework in which forgiveness is not possible. ]

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Leviticus: Chapter 23

From six to seven
from seven till tomorrow

Make the day a thing
dense as bone
immersive as blood

We will be at-one
each day in its day

Tomorrow, and tomorrow,
and tomorrow

[For full chapter, click here

From the creation of a "Tent of Meeting" (ohel mo'ed) in space, this chapter moves to the creation of "meetings" (mo'ed) in time.Time gains physicality and dimensions, becoming a "thing" (etzem, lit. "bone"): "any soul that does work on this very day (etzem ha-yom hazeh) shall be cut off from  its people."  If until now, atonement was to be found only in the blood of the offerings, now time itself becomes an atonement: "for it is a day of atonement, to atone for you before God, your Lord."
The pattern of 7-8 that defined the consecration of the Tent is even more defined. The chapter opens with the Sabbath--the prototype of all sanctified time--which is defined by "Six days shall work be done; and  on the seventh day a sabbath of rest." 
This introduces the lists of the holidays, which all revolve around the sanctified seven: "Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread" "you shall bring an offering for seven days""count for complete sabbaths" "after the seventh sabbath...offer seven sheep." 
Yet from the pattern of seven, we move to the day "after the Sabbath"--the eighth day of consecration: "count for yourself from the morrow of the Sabbath." This turns into "the eighth day shall be called holy... a day of assembly."
Like the consecration of the Dwelling, the consecration of time  is completed on the liminal "eighth day", the transition out of the "seventh".]

Monday, August 11, 2014

Leviticus: Chapter 22

The limits within

What cane be ingested
set forth

The hollows within
the hallowed bread

Give perfection

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter continues seamlessly from the last, expanding on the special laws for the priests, The key words remain teh sme: "Hallowed" (kadosh), "Hollowed / desecrated" (halal); protect / guardianship (mishmeret; shamor); and, of course, teh leiwort of this entire book: closeness/ close/ offering (root k'r'b).
In a reflection of the previous laws defining the relationship to the Dwelling, this chapter moves from defining the limitations on the priest's contact with others, to his relationship with his own body and its excretions. As before, entering the space of Meeting demands a containment from the self. In counterpoint, as in the case of Israel, the relationship to the Dwelling is intimately related to questions of food: what can and should be ingested. 
In a return to the fateful "eighth day" which saw the death of the two sons of Aaron, once again there is an ominous parallel between the priests and the offerings they bring to the altar. If the previous chapter demanded physical perfection of the priests--any disfigurement makes them unfit for service--this chapter demands (in almost identical terms) physical perfection from animals. Any animal that is disfigured is disqualified from the altar. The "daughter of a kohen-man" who "desecrates" her father is "to be burned by fire"--a clear echo of the "fire that God burned," which destroyed the "two sons of Aaron." The priests who "come close" are intertwined with the animals they "bring close:" And closeness is dangerous.  ]  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Leviticus: Chapter 21

The limits of closeness

Where can you connect

When you can't go outside

The limits of perfection

[For full chapter, click here
The laws limiting the kohanim (priests). Having defined the space "inside," the connection to the "outside
 of the Tend of Meeting becomes more circumscribed."Bringing close" the "offerings" (korban) means that the priests cannot be close (k'r'b) to as many people. They can only come into contact with the dead for blood relations who are "close" (karev, karov. These relationships are male-centric. Bonds to sisters exist only so long as no man has entered the equation, breaking the bonds of blood ). 
 The "filling" (milui) of the high-priest leaves no room for other connections. He cannot "go outside" (lo yetze) the Dwelling, not even to mourn his own family. The woman he marries must also have never come into contact with the outside: "A woman in her virginity must he take."
The priests themselves must  be perfect--any physical flaws limits their ability to go "inside"]

Friday, August 8, 2014

Leviticus: Chapter 20


What is set apart
To be mine

[For full chapter, click here

This chapter reiterates and reinforces the themes of the previous chapters--the prohibition on child sacrifice to the Molekh; the prohibition against divination and augury; the need for sexual morality, which here becomes one and the same as idolatry--both are defined through a single root: z'n't (lewdness, lust), The leitwords remain "holy" "keep" "do."
Yet the reiteration is done within the context of a key concept that connects all the laws taught since that pivotal "eighth day." The chapter closes with a four-time repetition of the root b'd'l (havdala, hivdil, hivdaltem): "division," "separation," "differentiation."  These laws are long term manifestations of that liminal space of the "gate of the Tent of Meeting." They define the inside, the outside and the crevice between.
In becoming separated, you enter the "meeting", becoming "Mine." It is a fraught space. God's "face" can turn against you. And in defining the shared space "inside," the chapter also introduces the idea of collective responsibility. If in the previous chapter, we are commanded to "love your friend as yourself" here, we become responsible for another's sin: if someone does not stop a sacrifice to the Molekh, he too is punished. The separation creates links.
 The space of belonging also spreads outward, to the liminal doorway, embracing the "alien who sojourns in Israel."]

Leviticus: Chapter 19

Hollowing the hallowed

Keep the edges

The singularity

Learn to wait the long hours

And not tear in despair

[For full chapter, click here
A medley of laws, that reiterate and expand on the ten commandments and their aftermath (honoring  parents; the Sabbath; do not steal; do not bear God's name in vain). The framing, however, is different. These laws now revolve around the concept of "holiness" (kadosh, lit. "dedicated") and a newly introduced concept, h'l'l, commonly translated as "desecrate," yet from the same root as "empty", "hollow"--an interesting etymology considering that consecration is referred to as "filling" (miluim). 
The sacred is the domain of the full; to desecrate is to hollow out.   
The commandments are now interspersed with the refrain : "I am your God." They are filled with presence; and demand patience, a waiting to be full. Produce and fields must never be completly emptied--the edges must always be kept for the other. The edges of self and other must also never be fully broken. the aws of sexuality here expand to protecting the genetic integrity of animals and plants; linen and wool (the plant and animal) cannot be woven together to a single whole]

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Leviticus: Chapter 18

Where you come from
Where you go to

To do
To walk
To guard
To protect

The gagging earth

Whom do you approach?

[For full chapter, click hereFrom an address aimed at the priests, we move to an address aimed at "the children of Israel." The concepts of tahara (loosely, "purity") and "coming close" (k'r'v) move from the locus of the Dwelling into family life. The focus here is on prohibited sexual relations. The care regarding sexuality is presented as simultaneously differentiating the "children of Israel" from the "land they came from" and "the land they are approaching"; as well as ensuring a connection to the earth itself: do no "cause the earth to gag."The chapter is set up in a perfect chiastic structure. It opens with the injunction " do not act like the acts of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, neither shall you do  doings like the land of Canaan, where I bring you, shall ye not do;do not walk in their statutes." It continues with a list of incest taboos ("where you come from"), then moves to a list of prohibited act that cilminate with child-sacrifice ("where you go to"). It closes: "For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled; That the land not vomit you also, when you defile it, as it vomited the nations that were before you."Sexuality becomes a complex, enfolded identity, beginning with "acts" ("do not act"); then becoming "a path" ("so not walk in their statues" "you shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein"), then transforming into a "safeguard" (mishmeret), something to be actively guarded. ]