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. ]  

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