Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 31

What goes out

What comes in

Through fire and flood

Inside and out

[For full chapter, click here
"God, the Lord of the spirit of all flesh,set a man over the congregation, who may go out (ts'e't) before them and who may come in (b'o) before them and who may lead them out (ts'e't) and who may bring them in (b'o)" Moses begged, as he asked to appoint a successor. Now, in Moses' final battle--and the first battle to follow the census of those who will follow Joshua to the Promised Land--it becomes clear that "going out" and "coming in" are indeed the key points. This mixed and brutal chapter is united by one theme: the balance and relationship between those who "go outside" and those who "come in."
The soldiers "sent out" to war bring "the booty and the captives and the spoil" back inside: "they brought (b'o)it to Moses, to the encampment." Moses "goes out" (ts'e't) to meet them "outside the encampment", and they must remain "outside" until they can be purified from contact with the dead. The spoil must also be purified before it can be "brought in," in a ritual by fire that echoes the archetypal purification of the Red Heifer--a ritual that also revolves around demarcating "inside" and "outside" after contact with death. The booty itself must be divided equally between those who "went out" to war, and those who remained inside the encampment. From the two halves, each must give a part that goes further in: a tithe to the priests, and a part for the Levites, "the guardians of the Dwelling" that is the core of the encampment. At the closing, the purified booty, "offered to God" is brought all the way, into the heart of intimacy itself: "and Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold of the captains ...and brought it into the Tent of Meeting, for a memorial for the children of Israel before God."]

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