Sunday, November 23, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 30

What are the ties that bind?

Don't hollow what flees

the hollows of your mouth

Build your bindings
unless bound elsewhere

(For full chapter, click here

"These you shall offer unto God in your appointed Meetings, beside your vows, and your freewill-offerings," closes the last chapter. After detailing all the time-bound, obligatory offerings, we now move to "vows": the voluntary obligations we impose on ourselves. 
In this, we return back to the theme of speech which has dominated this book since the moment Miriam was punished for "speaking" of Moses, which reached its apex in Balaam's curses-turned-blessing. "God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: when He has said, will He not do it? When He has spoken, will He not make it stand?"
Here, in imitato dei, Israel is to act as God acts, making their words "stand": "When a man vows a vow to God, or...binds his soul with a bond, he shall not hollow his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds from his mouth." 

Yet even as words are given weight, a woman's words are literally undone, creating a strange bookend of women-and-speech: we open with Miriam being punished for speaking, and end with a father or husband being given a right to "unravel" a woman's speech, literally undoing her own relationship to "her soul": she cannot "bind" without her husband/father allowing her word to stand.  This limitation on a woman's autonomy is seen as definitive of the relationship between man and woman (and the use of ish isha lends this passage primordial Edenic undertones): 'These are the statutes, which God commanded Moses, between a man and his wife, between a father and his daughter..."
Yet even as a husband can limit a woman's binding on herself, it does not undo her relationship to God. The vow still exists--it is simply "forgiven." And if giving words definitive weight creates "bonds" , so that your mouth defines your reality, the possibility of "undoing" and making a bond "void" also introduces an element of freedom. A man may make himself like God by making his word immutable; a woman's word is made untrustworthy, but  paradoxically more free.] 

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