Sunday, January 18, 2015

Deuteronomy: Chapter 2

What is given
And what is not given to you
The specificity of belonging
You cannot have what is yours
if they do not what is theirs

The roads you cannot take 
You cannot be the one and only 
Through you wander the haunted land

[For full chapter, click here
Moses continues his retelling of the years in the Wilderness. Once again, it is a personalized, driven narrative, rather than a straightforward recounting. 38 years of wandering are passed over with a single statement--"Enough of you (rav la-chem) circling this mountain. Turn you northward!"
This is a direct echo of God's earlier command to leave Mount Sinai in the previous chapter: "God spoke to us in Horeb, saying: 'Enough of you (rav la-chem) sitting around this mountain. Turn you and journey to the mountain of the Emorites." Thus, with one command, the truncated journey resumes, and the years of wandering are elided. 
Elided also are Edom and Moab's attempted or failed attacks on Israel. For Moses, what is essential is that Israel was not permitted to attack--not these nation's actual response to Israel's presence. We have entered the mysterious "land of the Rephaim"--those terrible giants that  had so terrified Israel  ("Our brethren have melted our hearts, saying: The people is greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; we have seen the sons of the giants there!"), and are now approaching the Promised Land. And Israel get ever closer, it becomes more and more essential to define what land is "given" (natan) to them, and what is not. God's gifts are not exclusive. The Land will only be given to Israel  to "inherit" if they respect the inheritance of others. This "land of the giants" is given to broader Israelite family--"your broth Esau", Lot, Abraham's nephew. All members of a family must have their place if any are to have their place. This is repeated again and again:
"do contend not with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on; because I have given mount Seir unto Esau for an inheritance" 
" 'Be not at enmity with Moab, neither contend with them in battle; for I will not give thee of his land for a possession; because I have given Ar unto the children of Lot for an inheritance" 
" when thou comest nigh over against the children of Ammon, harass them not, nor contend with them; for I will not give thee of the land of the children of Ammon for an inheritance; because I have given it unto the children of Lot for an inheritence."
.The journey through the Land of the Giants is a journey of limits: "it is enough for you" (rav la-hem). Before you can "arise and inherit" you must learn what you cannot inherit. The road is defined by the road not taken, and what is truly yours is defined by knowing what is not yours. ]   

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