Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Deuteronomy: Chapter 4

What you see
And what you don't see.

Can you still the fire
Within bonds of form?

See the voice in the heart of the sky
in the depth of the fire

The silence on the other side of Being

[For full chapter, click hereFollowing directly from the description of Moses' view over the Promised Land, this chapter focuses on the power--and danger--of the visual. "Your eyes have seen," Moses says, ""Look!"he commands. "Guard yourself! Carefully guard your soul, lest thou forget the things that your eyes saw, lest they depart from your heart all the days of thy life."Side by side with the need to carefully remember and preserve the "witness" is the equally urgent need to guard against what was not seen.  The presentness of the visual makes it dangerous, leads to drive to "create forms" to hold what cannot be held. 
"You came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven,...And God spoke to you from the fire: you heard the voice of the words, but saw no image; only a voice....Therefor guard yourself, for you saw no image on the day...lest you become corrupted and make a graven image, the picture of any figure, the likeness of male or female,  the likeness of any beast on the earth, the likeness of any winged birds that fly through the air, the likeness of any thing that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that swims the waters beneath the earth lest thou lift up your eyes to the heavens, and when you see the sun, and the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you should be driven to worship them..."
What is seen is a voice, not a form, a fire that defies any direct gaze. This dangerous tension between seeing and not seeing, having and not having, runs throughout the key words of the chapter: "see" vs. "listen"; "guard/ take care" (sh'm'r) vs. "come close" (k'r'v).Even as Israel prepares to enter the Promised Land, to have and possess, Moses' dispossession echoes beneath, in a triple negative: "God was angry with me for your sakes, and swore that I should not cross the Jodan, that I should not go in that good land...that I  die in this land, and not be (eyneni, lit., nothingness) crossing the Jordan.You shall go over, and possess that good land"
 The delicate balance between seeing more than you see, or forgetting what was seen teeters: "Guard yourself, lest ye forget the covenant of God, your Lord, ...make you a graven image...For God your Lord is a consuming fire, a jealous power." Not having and dispossession looms at the horizon, a loss of both sight and sound: 
"I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you shall perish from off the Land...God will scatter you among the nations, and you shall be left few in number...And there you shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear..."
What is left is only Moses' promise that there is a way out of the "furnace," that what cannot be truly seen can nonetheless be found: "You will seek God your Lord, and you will find Him, if you search for him with all your heart and all your soul."The chapter ends with a chaisatic closing that returns us to the opening of the book: this is the initial message that Moses gave the people. A message laced with pain and resentment--Moses blames the people three times for his death!--yet also with the hope that Moses himself is denied. Unlike Moses, who was told to be silent, Israel will be heard.)

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