Friday, September 12, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 1

What is carried
And what carries you

How do you make it count?

Set, established, 
Called by name

[For full chapter, click here
From the pointilistic Leviticus-space of "the Tent of Meeting" and "Mount Sinai",  we pan outwards to the "wilderness of Sinai". The broadening space reflects a broadened audience. No longer do we speak only to the priests. Now the words are addressed to the "entire congregation of Israel," and the first act is to appoint "those called by the congregation" to act along with Moses and Aaron. 
The new focus on nationality is reflected in the fact that this is a military census, "all who go out to the army." Yet even in establishing a military, the underlying conception of the congregation is familial. This is an extended family. "The children of Israel" are numbered by "their families," by "their father's house." The tribes are listed not by size or importance, but by their position in the family: Leah's children, then Rachel's (the children of the maidservants are the wild cards, changing order in the listing. As in the closing of Genesis, they are the glue holding the two sides of Israel's family together.) People are called by name; the focus is on "the head", the face, not the militarized body.  
Yet even as we establish this cohesion of distinct families, one tribe is set apart. Levi is not "counted" (p'k'd) or "carried" (in's'a). In a series of word-plays, Levi is instead "appointed" (p'k's) to carry (n's'a) the Dwelling. 
The focus on inside/outside and the liminal space between that so dominated Leviticus here becomes embodied within the very fabric of the nation, that encamps around the inner core of Levi]

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