Friday, October 3, 2014

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? ]

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