Monday, September 22, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 7

A canon of connection


Yet one

[For full chapter, click here"And it was on the day"--we find ourselves suddenly back on that fateful day that closes the Book of Exodus "when Moses established the Dwelling." The chapter draws attention to the intertextual link by using the same key words: the dramatic "vayehi"--"and it was"; "vayakem", --establish; and "vayikal / khalot" completed, finished.
Yet even as it draws attention to the previous presentation of this day in Exodus, it places it firmly within the context of this book that revolves around the Israelite encampment, according to tribe and "father's house". The focus this time is on "the princes of Israel / the heads of their father's house / these are the princes of the tribes / these are they in charge of the count." The anaphora of hem / hem ("they" "they) draws attention to the fact that this version of the story has different heroes: The tribal leaders who do not even appear in Exodus 40, which is the story of how Moses, the liminal figure linking heaven and earth, brings together the disparate parts of the Dwelling.
Now we here of a side drama. Rather than the relationship of Moses and the priests, the focus is on the tribes and Levi: the tribal leaders offer a gift to Levi, which is accepted, and then begin a twelve day dedication of the altar.
The dedication of the altar is a complex literary game, exemplifying the power of repetition and change.The chapter opens by revisiting the fateful day of consecration,, while offering a new perspective;  it closes with a description of the 12 day dedication of the altar, repeating the description, word for word, 12 times, while only changing the name of the prince and  tribe. Sometimes the same event cam seem completely different; sometimes different events can seem the same. On a deeper level, the chapter is exemplifying the cumulative power of repetition. The same words do not have the same impact. The 12-time repetition creates an effect of a canon, the voices overlapping and gaining force. The chapter emphasizes that the whole is different than the parts alone, by summing up all the gifts together, as though they had no just been enumerated separately.
More importantly, the closing of the dedication leads to the appearance of  God's voice: "And when Moses came to the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, then he heard the voice of one speaking unto him from off the mercy seat that was upon the Ark of Testimony, from between the two keruvim: and He spoke unto him." Exodus's scene of a lone Moses erecting the Dwelling creates a space of utter aloness, with no sharing possible--"And Moses was not able to enter into the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud dwelled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Dwelling". Here, the communal gifts create a space of communication. Reptition and change create room--and the root speak (d'b'r) is repeated 3 times]

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