Monday, October 27, 2014

Numbers 21: In Writing


After the loss
the dry desire 
of want

After goodbye
And goodbye
the crashing carcass
of fleeing faith

After no
and nakedness
in bleached light

After  strike
and silence
after the  bitter
salt plaint

Can you look
And see it
Wavering above?

Can you stop
And speak
"I have sinned"?

Mine the scalding venom
Mine the sibilant sob
Mine the bitter waters

Dig my own hands
scepter in dust
to bring the surge

That carries me past
the breadth
where I stretch

and sing

Numbers: Chapter 21

Go back to the beginning
and try again

From the desert, a gift
From the depths, the summit

When can you say, 
I have sinned ?

[For full chapter, click here
The chapter continues the last, continuing and intensifying both its central strands:  the perilous approach to the Promised Land on the one hand. and the replay of the desert experience on the other.
In the previous chapter, the generation of the Exodus --as exemplified by Miriam and Aaron--are dying out. Yet the the rise of a new generation does not seem to promise renewal. What we have is rather a replay the aftermath of the Exodus, with the constant complaints about the lack of food and water. Here, though, we seem to go further back. The serpent that played so central a role in Moses' initial interaction with Pharaoh reappears,  In a hermetic, highly poetic section, mysterious "fiery snakes" come and attack the nation (in Hebrew, the language is musically alliterative: "nahash saraf ye-nash-hu""). Echoing Pharaoh's own language, the people beg Moses to "remove" the plague. Here, we return to the aftermath of the first time Moses brought forth water from a stone, in Exodus 27. Echoing the keyword of nes (trial, banner), Moses must make a "nahash nehoshet", a copper serpent, which will play the part of Moses' heavy hands in Exodus. The upraised serpent, like the upraised arms, offers salvation from attack. One change has taken place though: for the first time, Israel admit wrongdoing, seeing a "sin" in the complaints (tluna) that have played so central apart in this book: "We have sinned, in what we spoke about God and about you." (here, we perhaps are going even further back, touching on the primal sin in Eden itself...)

The other strand is the continued approach  to the Promised Land. After being rebuffed by Edom, the Israelites "circle" to avoid Edmoite land, and are attacked, first by the --first by the King of Canaan, then by Sihon and by Og. Here, we do see growth and new beginnings. Initially defeated by the King of Canaan, the Israelites bond together, and for the first time function as a single entity, rather than  a mob that "gathers" (k'h'l). "And Israel vowed to God... and God listened to Israel..." From that point out, Israel is victorious in battle. 
The new independence and cohesion of the nation is perhaps best exemplified by the Song Israel sings. This is the most explicit recreation of the exodus, the language directly echoing the Song of the Sea--except this time, it is the nation rather than Moses that leads the Song: "And then Israel sang this song".  

The preponderance of poetry in this chapter returns us to the previous chapter's focus on speech and narrative. If Moses was unable to "speak to the stone" and could not persuade Edom through narrative, here,  victory  is framed by  growing complexity of speech. The victory over Canaan is dependent on a vow; The battle with Sihon is introduced by the recitative from "the book of God's wars" and the Song, and is followed by the song of the moshlim, which also serves to to introduce the battle with Og.

If the mouth was venomous at the opening of the chapter, it is transformed into the key to salvation.]

Friday, October 24, 2014

Numbers 20: In Writing

Finger the cliff
for cracks and fissures
search, research
the implacable face

speak to stone
and plea for answer
for rushing water
in a world of gray

lick the dust
for bitter moisture
seeping through the
closing lids
cry against
coming nakedness

Numbers: Chapter 20

Speak to stone

And beg for water

Call out
"I mean no harm"

Wait for answer

Can you force it

from the rock?

[For full chapter, click here
A time of closings. In the aftermath of the spies, the entire generation was condemned to die in the desert in the course of 40 years. Now, at this first month of an unspecified year,  the full implications become clear. Miriam and Aaron die, and Moses' death is announced. He too shall die in the desert. Indeed only Joshua and Caleb will enter the Land from the previous generation. 
Again, we seem caught in a re-run of Exodus, but with more deadly implications. As happened before, there is no water; as before, God commands Moses to "take his staff" and bring water from the stone. This time, the command is to "Speak  to the stone." Moses instead "smites" it twice, in language that hearkens back to his role as redeemer in Egypt, when he "smote" the Nile to bring the plagues.
But the use of the staff is a fatal mistake. "Because you didn't believe in Me, to sanctify Me before the eyes of Israel, you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I am giving them" God declares. The water was to have come through asking, not through force. The role of the staff has changed--a indicated by the sudden flowering of Aaron's staff after the battle with Korach. Moses' return to his old role indicates that he can no longer lead the nation.
The limitation on force is highlighted in the next section, where Moses send to the King of Edom to ask for permission to pass through his lands of Edom. There are two attempts at persuasion, reiterating the narratives of Genesis ("Your brother") and Exodus. Yet  speech does not work here, Edom threatens violence, and the Israelites must "turn". What does it mean to ask for something from implacable stone?
We seem to have come to the non-negotiable. Solid stone, death and endings.]

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Numbers 19: In Writing

Scrub me
cleanse me
turn me
outside in
inside out

expose my guts
to the waiting wind 
in spells of entails
dot the night
that encroaches on
blinding brightness

behind flames
dwells darkness
the living waters
swim in ash
you I keep
in the losing

Numbers: Chapter 19

What is left 
from the conflagration



Gather and guard

To bring life to death
the outside in

theinterweaved opposites

[For full chapter, click here
After 4 chapters revolving around the position of the priests, we seem to come back to Leviticus, with a detailed description of the ritual for purification after contact with death.
This seems to continue the recreation of the death of Nadab and Avihu during the consecration of the Dwelling. Just as Aaron's two sons were "consumed" for "coming close" and "bringing alien fire" into the sanctuary, Korah's 250 men were "consumed" for "coming close" and "bringing alien fire." What followed in Leviticus was a series of rituals designed to define how one "come close" without being consumed. One cannot "come in" to the inner sanctum casually. There must always be a careful  definition of what is outside, what is in, and how one traverses that dangerous doorway. 
The ritual of the Red Heifer also revolves around "going outside" the camp; and around how one can be "in the presence (nohah)  of the Tent of Meeting" even when one is outside. As in the case of Leviticus, there must be a passage before coming back in: "he must wash his clothes and await the evening."
Here though, it is not only closeness that is being addressed, but also the dangerous mix between death and life that has dominated these chapters: Korah "descends living to the underworld, while Aaron must use the incense to "stand between the living and the dead." ""Behold, we are dying! We are lost, we are all lost," cry the children of Israel. 
Here,the ritual promises purification from contact with death. Yet it also hints that death and life are always touching. The ashes of the Red Heifer, "consumed by fire" as were Korah's men and Nadab and Avihu, is mixed with "living waters"--fiery death intermixing  with watery life. Word games highlight this paradoxical intertwining. "Hatat"--which until now has indicated "sin", or "sin offering" here refers to "cleansing" "purification"; Nidda,  which until now has referred to ritual impurity, now becomes the name of the water that grants purity.
In a final closing for these terriblechapters, the ashes of the Red Heifer, what is left of the fire, are here given to the children of Israel for keeping (mishmeret). If the priests were given the guardianship (mishmeret) of the altar; and the Levites guard (mishmeret) the Tent of Meeting, the children of Israel are here given to guard the ashes of what has been lost. Yet it is these ashes that allow entrance into the Tent from "outside."]

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Numbers 18: In Writing

Where you go,  I follow
Where you are,  I am 

When you drift,  I support
Your supine body 
through wandering waves
and bear your dreams in the dark

Mine the rising smoke
mine the  bitter-tang
of first bite
Mine the milk squirt
the tannened wine
the waxy gold
of plucked honey
with its sting

Given and taken
Tangled on your hair
I open your womb
and root myself
in you

Numbers: Chapter 18

All that rises

All that is first

A gift and gifted

Given and giving

Placed only in You

[For full chapter, click here
After all the battles and controversy, this chapter comes to both consolidate and redefine the position of Aaron , while subtly answering some of Korah's contentions. The change is encapsulated in the chapter's two  key words roots: sh'm'r, to guard, protect, keep; and n't'n, to give, given, a gift. 
The priesthood is now defined primarily as protection. In contrast to Korah's assertion that Moses and Aaron are "carrying themselves" (n's'a) over the rest of Israel, God defines the priesthood as "carrying (n's'a) the sin of the sanctuary". The kohanim guard Israel from the dangers of too much closeness and are the guardians of the holy. 
Levi  is also redefined. Their role as connector here becomes "accompaniment" (l'v'i--the literal meaning of the tribe's name).  "Your brothers, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, bring them close with you, let them accompany you, and minister to you..." Levi here becomes the extension of Aaron,the brother who walk along with him. They too are guardians, offering a wider circle of protection. Yet simultaneously, they remain "from within the Children of Israel", keeping the priests connected to the people.
In answer to Karah's questioning of Aaron's deserving, the priesthood is defined as a "gift": "a gift service". Freely given, it cannot be questioned, and asks no deserving. Yet even as they are given gifts, the priests and Levites are also "given"--netunim. It is a mutual giving and taking. 
What is more, every gifts excludes others. In being gifted the service, the kohanim are not given the "land that God gave" to the Israel. They're only placement is God Himself. "I am their part and inheritance within the children of Israel".
Apart, but not truly separate, Levi and the priests are the part of Israel that has been given a different, more dangerous, inheritance. They, like the gifts given to them, are what "rises" (teruma, commonly translated as "heave offering")--a part of the while, yet set aside. ]

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Numbers 17: In Writing

Gather the remnants
the costly coming close
all difference ingested

hallow the hollows

the gaping graveswithin the dust 

In the still silence flowers bloom

Numbers: Chapter 17

What remains
in the ashes

What flowers 
in the night

Standing between 
life and death

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, 

and  tomorrow

[For full chapter, click here
We continue the leitmotif of "complaints" (tlunah, melenim), and explosive anger. The key words of this chapter continue seamlessly from  the last.
In a recreation of death of Nadav and Avihu, "consumed" for bringing "alien fire", Kora'sh250 men are consumed. They have come too "close" (k'r'v) and pay the price; only the remains of their "fire pans" achieve the consecration (k'd'sh) they sought, as they are made an eternal "sign" (ot) on the altar.
If until this point, Moses has been the calming voice, with God "flaring" in anger, Korach's personal attach led Moses to "flare" in anger himself. The people seem to sense the personal nature of Moses' anger, and blame him for "bringing death" to "God's nation". Once again, God's anger flares, are the entire nation is in danger of being "consumed / finished" (akhale, which plays on akhl, eaten) as teh 250 men were. Moses returns to playing the calming role. If before, he mixed death and life by having Korah descend "living into the underworld"; he now commands Aaron to "stand between the living and the dead."
The chapter closes with God commanding the princes (nesiim) of the tribes (mateh) --who until now have been  the source of discord-- to bring their staffs(mateh)  to the Tent of Meeting. In a play on words, the "congregation" (edah) bring the staffs to the Tend of Meeting (mo'ed) to stand before the testimony (edut). At last there is an attempt--if only lexical--to bridge the gap between the problematic mob/congregation and the Dwelling. The final "sign" (ot) of God's choice of Aaron is far more hopeful than the first: a flowering budding staff, hinting at life and rebirth.] 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Numbers 16: In Writing

Swallowed in your shadow
smothered on your breast

The almost-chosen
pressed and passed
less and more
the space between
the connecting waters
that breaks on your shoals

Stuck between here and there
the all and the me
Are we one
or am I one
can I be the one
alone in your sight?

Gauge out my eyes 
and cast them in
to fill the void gaping 
of is it not enough
It is not enough
It is too much
It is not

Separate from the wind
that moves through all flesh
and let me be
my flesh
cradling to the weight of my carcass
crashing  down
the screaming mouth 

Only me
in the warm moist 

where death eats all away

Friday, October 17, 2014

Numbers: Chapters 16

Swallowed in the whole
Or set

Are we all
Or one?

Come up, 
or descend all the way down
Gather and separate  

Alive and dead

[For full chapter, click here
The dissolution continues.  The first section of Numbers deals with setting up the encampment:the tribes are numbered; leaders are appointed; Levi is placed at the center, the transitional glue connecting the people to the inner heart of the Dwelling. As the book unfolds, each of these elements leads to breakdown. 
The organic whole of the encampment leads to mob psychology, as "the whole congregation" shifts hysterically from rejecting the Land, to attempting to force their way into the Land. The mob psychology continues in our chapter, which is dominated by the word "congregation" (edah) and "assembly" (khal). 
The "princes" (nessim) of the tribes do not  ease the burdens on Moses. Rather, they are some of the sources of disquiet, fermenting despair as spies; and here joining in Korach's rebellion (which is lead by the elite, despite its claims to speak for "the entire congregation")
And here, for the first time, we come to the breakdown of the "sons of Levi" who instigate and lead the rebellion against Moses and Aaron. "Hear now, sons of Levi... is it small to you, that God separated you from the tribes of Israel, and brought you close, to do service in the Dwelling?" Moses demands.
It seems to be the inherent tension of the encampment that leads inexorably to rebellion. The tension of always being part of a whole leads Korach to demand "the entire congregation is holy...why do you set yourself up over the congregation?" even as he himself seeks to be "the leader." The chapter ends as Moses prays "Shall one man sin, and the entire congregation be punished?" attempting a separation between individual and group. This separation is symbolically enacted when the people move away from Korach's tents. 
Levi's impossible position as neither part of Israel, nor part of the Dwelling, given to both, belonging to neither, can be seen as leading directly to the demands to serve as priests, to break down the rigid structure of inside and outside. "To be sperated but no chosen, consecrated, but no the "holy" is a terrible  tension. 
"We will not come up" say Datan and Aviram, revealing the simmering resentment over the decree that their generation will not see the Lan. Instead they descend to a living hell. Yet that is almost easier than the place of the eternal between.]

Numbers 15: In Writing

Can you soar
Rooted in earth
Rising in gold
And sea-dark wine?

Can you wander
The skies
with wings
bound in blue?

Wrap in error
Take and mistake
the fractures
of enigma

light streams
through the cracks
I and the stranger within

Strangers to ourselves 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 15

When you come
To where you
 cannot come

Will you be forgiven
and the stranger within?

Spread your wings

trail the sky
and remember

[For full chapter, click here
A miscellany of a chapter, that somehow connects back to the sin of the spies "those who explored (taru) the Land" with the key word t'r, to wander, explore.
After the decree that none of the adults would enter the land, the chapter opens with hopes of forgiveness: two commandments that will take place "when you enter the land that I will give you." Both center around the consecration of produce. Until now, the focus has been on worship through animals, as appropriate for a nomad society. Now the focus shifts to wheat--a promise of a "settled" agricultural society --and to wine--hearkening back to the "cluster of grapes" that the spies brought back with them.
The hints of forgiveness climax with the law of the atonement offering for the congregation: "and you will forgive the entire congregation of Israel"--the key word of the breakdown of the "entire congregation" after the spies report-- "for the entire nation is in error".
Yet that forgiveness is not absolute is highlighted by the story of the man who is put to death for gathering wood on the Sabbath--a story with clear lexical links to the story of the blasphemer that closes the Book of Leviticus. Forming an "entire congregation" requires the "taking outside" of those who break from the "congregation." Even as the chapter repeatedly highlights the inclusion of the stranger, it demands that "he who sins with upraised arm" be "cut off."
The chapter closes with a symbolic embodiment of this problematic liminal area in teh commandment of tzizit, fringes: "make fringes on the edges (kanaf, lit. wing) of your garments..., and put on each fringe an string of blue." The "edges" are the areas with that must be consecrated by the string of blue; they are the wings lifting to the sky. Yet they are also the areas that one must guard against, so as not  to "wander" (tur) after one's eyes and hearts. ]  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Numbers 14: In Writing

erase me
and dissolve to dew
words unweaving, fraying, fleeing

the bonds not unbound
the crashing carcass
that falls down down down

to night’s  gaping want
where days mean years
mean life
and countless cries
cannot claw
their way up

Can you bear
the despair?
carry me
in a void heavy
with promise
bear my weight
of being

Numbers: Chapter 14

What is within

seen and heard

What carries


And we fall 

down, down, 


[For full chapter, click here
The saga of disintegration continues, with the same key words: "complaint" "crying" "carry" (s'a'a') "within" ; the motif of food.
The people once again dissolve in weeping, "crying all that night." Echoing Moses' despairing "kill me now, please kill me" they lament: "Would that we had died in Egypt, or in this wilderness, we had died!" In the face of the national despair, Moses and Aaron dissolve as well, "falling on their face."
God once again loses patience "with the complaints that that are complaining about Me." In a recreation  of the aftermath of the Golden Calf, He resolves to abandon Israel, and turn Moses to a new nation. Moses once again steps into the breach. Being "within" (k'r'v) is not something that can be reversed. Israel has become intertwined with God. There can be no true severing. God must "bear" (lit. carry "s'a'a') with His nation. As in the case of the Golden Calf, God "forgives, as you spoke."
Yet this time, God takes Israel at their word. "As you have spoken in My ears, so I will do to you." The people will indeed die in the desert: "your carcasses will fall here", in a reversal of the spies "going up" to the land.
In response, the people resolve to "go up" by force, and fall in battle. The dissolution is complete.]

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Numbers 13: In Writing

“See the land, what she is
And the people who dwell therein”

Musky moist
 or bone dust,
How does she
Slide against your skin?

Does she clutch you tight
to her broad breast
or unweave you
fraying threads
a veined river
dragging over her spine?
 A blazing cluster
behind your eyes?

What do you see?
Wondering, wandering
in this expanse
where the rocks leap
and your name echoes
hollow and consumed

Look up
look down
Soil to sky
Suspended over the void
a fly in her web

Monday, October 6, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 13

What you see

in a world of opposites

The doubled eyes

Whithin and without


[For full chapter, click here
From the depths of complaints and anger, we seem to have returned to the hopefulness of Moses' declaration to his father-in-law: "We are journeying (n's'a) to the place that God has spoken of."In accordance with the spreading of leadership to the people, the "princes of the tribes" (n's'a) now take an active role. Whereas until now, the Ark has gone forth to "scout out" (le-tur) the road, now the princes are sent to "scout out" (la-tur) the chosen land. But that backdrop of the previous chapters lend ominous undertones. We are back in the realm of the aftermath of the Golden Calf, the 40 days and nights of prayers. We still are dealing with the same leitwords of "eating" (a'kh'l), carrying / burden (n's'a), and the gaze--the focus on eyes and looking, which is intensified here. 
What happens when the "heads" of a small encampment are sent to see a new world? The options are doubled and opposed: "are they strong or weak / many or few / fat or lean"? It is a primordial moment of choice, as indicated by the motif of 40 days--the same fateful number that defined Sinai, and the forgiveness for the Golden Calf.
For a moment on return, the options remain suspended.  The land is "of milk and honey", but...
Caleb tries to turn the tide, doubling his language in an attempt to decide the duality: "let us go up up (alo-na-ale) for we surely can (yakhol nukhal)". What follows is a crash to the other side, a total disintegration of self: It is a land of people of "stature" but we were as "insects in our eyes", shrunken and diminished. The dissolution of leadership continues.]

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Numbers 12: In Writing

Daub the sides
to shut out brine
and place you inside
caul-curled and perfect

to ride 
the weeping waves.
Do they whisper
as they waver
to your cries ?

I afar
Between the reeds
Beneath the sun
Beyond the walls 

of home
bob to your hunger
as the waters spit their anger
at my feet

You see a face
lean in
I see your mouth
arms flail, frail.

She takes you from
your dark womb
your tomb

Encased in shadows
I wait for the river
to gather you
to her broad breast.

Numbers: Chapter 12

Eaten away
the stillborn tumble
of death 
into life 

Orphaned outside
before you can be 
gathered in

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter continues directly from the previous. It shares all its key words: "to gather" asaf, "flesh" basar, "eat" achal "and "prophecy" "n'v'i) and is defined by the same "flaming anger" (hori af)  of God--an anger that was previously held at bay by Moses' prayers. 
The sudden spread of prophecy in the previous chapter removes the crushing burden of leadership from Moses. But it also undermines him. "And they [Miriam and Aaron] said: 'Has God only spoken to Moses? Has He not also spoken to us?'" God descends once more to the Tent of Meeting to protect Moses' uniqueness: Moses is "faithful" (ne'eman, from same root as omen, nursing, nursemaid). . 
For once, all three siblings are called together, only to be separated from three, to two, to one. Aaron and Miriam are called forth; and then Miriam is punished alone, and barred from the camp for 7 days.
The parental imagery of birth and motherhood that so dominated the previous chapter return, but with a distinctly darker hue. In place of a bratty, overwhelming child, we have a stillborn:  "Let her not be as the dead, who comes out of her mother's womb with half her flesh consumed!". God's position as angry father also becomes more explicit and more personally devastating: "and if her father had spit in her face, would she not be shamed for seven days?"
It is Miriam, who acted as mother to Moses, "watching from afar" as he was carried down the Nile, who took care to see that he was nursed, who is punished in the wake of Moses' despairing refusal to act as mother, "bearing the nursling against his chest."]

Friday, October 3, 2014

Numbers 11: In Writing

can you eat?
The gaping maw
of Gimme gimme 
the pot, the sea
the flying fish
the glittering bees 
with wings the beat
the breathing night
Give me honey
Give me dew
And dripping milk
carry me
rock me

Who will love me?
Born down by
the weight of your being
I have nursed 
my breast to fallen skin
light as the winds
that flap against my belly, holowed

Your weeping want
how can I fill your emptyness
carry your enamel shell
sickening of surfeit
Till I am flattened 
on this parched earth
drained of dew
And sleep to the sound of beating wings
enlivning the night winds

Numbers: Chapter 11

To bear the weight
of another's Being

Sucked dry
till you are 
light as air


[For full chapter, click hereAfter the heights of the integrated travel-encampment, disintegration. (The key word is asaf , "to gather")
The hint of vulnerability betrayed in Moses' plea for his father-in-law not to leave ("Do not leave us... you have been our eyes") sets the tone for this chapter, reverberating and intensifying. Upon joining Moses, Jethro warned: "This is too heavy for you... you will not be able to bear (s'a'a) it alone." Now, after Jethro's leave-taking, Moses echoes his words: "I cannot bear (s'a'a) this people alone. It is too heavy for me." If the opening of this book focused on the Nissim -Princes--lit. "those who carry"--and on the burdens of the Levites, this chapter turns to the burdens of Moses. Being a leader is imagined as literally bearing the burden of another's being: "Did I conceive this people? Have I birthed it, that you say to me, Carry it (s'a'a') on your breast, as a nursing-mother bears a suckling?"
The imagery of nursing/pregnancy reconfigured the relationship of Moses-God-nation as a family triad, with God as the impatient father, Moses the worn-out, exhausted mother, and Israel as a spoiled, bawling baby that will not stop demanding: "and the nation were as complainers" " "and they fell into wanting"  "and Moses heard the people weep."
  The chapter revisits in small Moses' major interactions with the people, but with a darker hue: the provision of the Manna, which is here rejected by the people; the provision of the quail, which here becomes deadly; the appointment of elders to help spread the leadership, which is triggered here by the exhausted Moses' nearly hysterical begging for death: "kill me now, please kill me."
Reverberating in the background is Moses' great prayer for the people in the aftermath of the Golden Calf : "if I have found favor in Your eyes, show me now Your ways, that I may know You, that I may find favor in your eyes, and You will see that this nation is your people." Here, "finding favor" serves as a demand for distance, not closeness: "Why have I not found favor in Your eyes, that you lay the burden of this people upon me?"The chapter closes with God literally feeding the people of Moses' spirit: 'And God came down...and took of the spirit that was upon him, and put it upon the seventy elders." This is a move towards greater independence for Israel-child, and Moses accepts it:  "would that all God's people were prophets, and that God would put his spirit upon them." Yet the threat is not removed. The chapter closes with the people dying of surfeit, choking on the food they demanded. Is forgiveness possible when one grows up? ]

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Numbers 10: In Writing

Sound the hollow 
in the heart of the whole,
The empty space
of remnant

left behind
in the breaking and building
the heavy carrying
that carves a hole
to the weight
of the clouds

In the long march 
Away and towards
Who will scout 
the winding way?

Numbers: Chapter 10

Sound the trumpets 

Of motion
Of memory
Of meeting

And the moment of leave-taking
When eyes close

In the vortex
Don't leave me now

[For full chapter, click here
After all the planning and counting and appointing, the encampment is finally ready to travel. This new unity is announced by the command to create the trumpets "of a single solid"--an echo of the previous chapter's opening description of the Manorah, hammered of "a single solid." But whereas the Menorah belongs to the "inside", to Aaron and the Sanctuary; these trumpets are "for you" and serve to call the people. They are the harbingers of "memory" for Israel as a whole, whether in war or in festival.
The joyfulness of this first travel is broken by the description of Hovav/Jethro's leave taking. At the moment of triumphant travel, he prepares to leave. "Come with us" Moses begs.
"No" says Hovav, "I will return to my homeland and my birthplace" --a precise inverted parallel of Abraham's original journey "away from you homeland and your birthplace" to the unknown "land that will be shown." This is an ominous inversion, indicating that travel "to the land that God promised to give us" might not be so simple as Moses thinks. Indeed, Moses, in a rare moment of vulnerability, reveals the pain and anxiety of the journey through the unknown: "Do not leave us. You know how we are to encamp in the wilderness. You have been our eyes!"
Hovav does not answer, and we return to the story of travel]