Thursday, November 13, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 27

What is past

And named

Coming close

Charging the wind

Linking all flesh

[For full chapter, click hereThis chapter continues directly from the last, expanding its underlying themes while resolving its tensions and open questions.The key words are "name (shem); come close (k'r'v), give (n't'n), and "past / pass" (a'v'r'). We were told that Tzalfhad had no sons, only daughters, a tantalizing opening. Now the daughters of Tzlafhad approach, to demand a place for their father. "Why should his name be forgotten?"Tzlafhad's place is indeed "passed (a'v'r) to his daughters, while answering the other implicit question: What happens to those who have no children at all? How to they fit within this census of families? The interconnected web set up in the previous chapter provides the solution, as inheritance will always pass  to "the one who is close" (sheer ha-kariv), in a complex chain reaching backward. All are linked, no one is lost.  The God of inheritence is the "God of all spirit that moves through flesh".And at last we come to the terrible denouement set into place by the replacement of Aaron with Elazar. "No one was left of that generation, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun," leaving the question reverberating: what of Moses, who is here, taking the census?Now we are told that Moses is living on borrowed time: he is already past (a'v'r) , with his generation. "And God said unto Moses, “Climb this Mount Avarim (cognate of "past" a'v'r) and see the Land which I give to the children of Israel. And when you have seen it, you also will be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was gathered."Yet even as Moses is told he will be "gathered" as Aaron was gathered, he--in contrast to Aaron--is granted no successor. While Aaron's children were mentioned by name in the census, Moses' were passed over, as though they did not exist.When Moses begs for a successor, he instead is commanded to appoint (p'k'd) Joshua--a play on the primal census at the beginning of the book, which also involved "appointing" the Levites. There is a parallel between the opening an dclosing of the chapter, between the demands of the daughters of Tzalfhad, and the appointment of Joshua. Both involve a case in which a man "dies alone"; in both, something is set awry with the continuity of inheritance.   Both happen at the liminal "enterance" (petach); i; both involve a "giving over" (n't'n).   Yet if the daughters of Tzlafchad "come close" to actively demand their father be remembered,  Joshua is passively "brought close." If Moses "brings their justice (mishpat) before God" Joshua is to seek God's mishpat through the medium of Aaron's son. There is a complex pain in Moses "giving over" part of his "glory", a more painful link through "the God of the spirits of all flesh" then the biological web of the previous chapter.]

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