Sunday, February 22, 2015

Deuteronomy 11: In Writing

See the path between
shattered crevice and sheer cliff,
winding, bright and blinding
as the watching sun
in its burnished sky.

Hold anger, heavy as an anchor
iced and jagged in your cradling palm
abrading your arid fingers
mouth parched to silence,

till you learn to listen for  whispers
the distant rumble that drums the sky,
flowing, flooding, milky and golden
down the sprouting mountainside

Filling upraised palms
in watery weight, that escapes
between crevice and crack

a sinking mirror
the silvers back

I am here

Deuteronomy: Chapter 11

To live always in response and choice
peaks and the chasms
Consequence arrayed before you.

[For full chapter, click here
From Sinai and the wilderness, Moses moves to the upcoming entrance to the Land, subtly redefining the interaction between them. The path through the wilderness is not simply a literal progression towards the Promised Land. Rather, the exodus and its aftermath are here see as a trial by fire (literally) in the price and rewards of closeness to God: “your eyes have seen all the great works”—be they the devastation of Pharaoh, or the  destruction of the rebellious Datan and Abiram. The uniqueness of the Promised Land is now seen to lie not in its fecundity as a land of “milk and honey” but rather in its borderline sterility. The Land of Israel is a land on the edge, continuously dependent on its relation to the heavens. It is “not like the land of Egypt…where you plant your seeds, and water by foot, like a garden of greens. The  Land that you are crossing over to inherit is a land of mountains and chasms, it drinks water to their fall from the heavens. It is a land that God studies; His eyes are always upon it, from the beginning of the year until the aftermath of the year.” Entrance to the land is to give the wilderness experience of encampment permanence. Just as Israel was continuously “tested” in the wilderness by scarce food and water, dependent on God’s bread that would fall from the sky, so too in the land will Israel be continuously judged, dependent on  God’s rain fall from the sky. No placidity here, but the continued “mountains and chasms” of a roller coaster relationship. “And it will be if you harken to my commandments… I will give rain of your land in its season… Take heed of yourselves, lest your heart be seduced, and you worship other gods… And the anger of God will be kindled against you, and he will shut the heavens, and there will be no rain.”
The land and its rain will become a physical barometer of relationship. “Curse” and “Blessing” will be given concrete form and actually placed on the mountains of the land: “ And it shall come to pass, when God your Lord will bring you the Land that you go to possess, that you shall set the blessing upon Mount Gerizim, and the curse upon Mount Ebal.” The land will unfurl before before Israel, consequence incarnate.]

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Deuteronomy 10: In Writing

Shift through the embers
hewing stone to step,
clawing up
to ask the question:

is the stranger-lover
that pears in another’s face?
what makes me
breaks me, what
I see, copious as the sea
and more hungry,

do you ask of me?
but the moon and the skies,
but the earth and what
incubates in its warmth?
One desire, tarnished
with longing, webbing between
the prongs of your heart
to merge like honey
a sticky wake
of me in you

Answer me with
your word
and the paths spiraled
beneath your feet
and the blood in your veins
the light in your eyes
your watchful sight
your parted heart
to  not tighten at my call

and turn around

Deuteronomy: Chapter 10

Can you go back 
to the first
Recreate what is gone
Remove the scar tissue
hardening your heart
Soften the stiffness of your neck
and turn around...

[For full chapter, click here
After the digression of listing Israel's various rebellions, Moses continues the story of Sinai and its aftermath, coming to the last of the series of "forty days and forty nights" that he spent with God on the mountain. Again, the passage of year--and the presence of the narrator--are highlighted. Forty years in the future, time wraps, and events separated in time merge into a single continuum. The sin of the spies becomes a side even in the central drama of the Golden Calf. Aaron's death, which was decreed at the same time as Moses' own, is here redefined  as a result of the  Calf, as an after effect of God being "very angry at Aaron, to destroy him." The appointment of Levi is also recontextualized. They become part of the broader ripples of he Calf, an added level of protection for the second Tablets, placed within the Ark.
Once again, Moses role is highlighted, emphasizing his place as speaker. The second set of Tablets is to replace the "first which you [Moses] broke." The chapter emphasizes again and again that these Tablets are to replace "the first"--in a kind of play back reverse in which Moses will "go up" as he once "went down", once again "holding the two tablets in my arms." Yet time truly be reveres, and what was done cannot be undone. These Tablets are not like the first. Rather than being "God's writ," these Tablets are a joint creation. After being the destroyer, Moses must become a creator. His involvement is highlighted by the staccato series of verbs: "and I made...and I sculpted... , and I went up..." Here, the involvement is so intense, that all middlemen are cut out, and it seems that Moses himself created the ark, without the involvement of Bezalel .
The chapter closes with Moses' paean to God,a rising poetic exhalation that moves from the absolute to the specific. From the omnipotence " Lord of lords and God of gods, mighty and awesome," God becomes the God of small things, who "gives justice to the orphan and the widow and loves the stranger..." And through God's care for the stranger, Israel can learn  to love an accept themselves: "therefor love the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt."
Moses closes by returning to his denunciation which opened his retelling of the Exodus and Sinai. Israel was not righteous--Israel was "stiffnecked." Not for nothing has Moses retold the story "of that time" (ba-et ha-hi). It has implication for "now" (ata). On "this day" (, ka-yom ha-ze) Moses hopes for a change. Like the Tablets remade, he hopes that Israel will be remade, learning  to "circumcise the seal from your heart, and be no more stiff necked". ]

Monday, February 9, 2015

Deuteronomy 9: In Writing

watch the
of a world exploding

hear the smash
of myriad shards
shattered in your eyes
glistening down the mountainside

In the mist
fist your mistake
and grind it down
to dust, to dirt
to dew
it seeps back
through the cracks

take a step 
and stumble 
off a path that wanders
off, every day 
tumbling up
again and again.
so quick bright things
flit and froth 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Deuteronomy: Chapter 9

Falling down,  down,  down...
What you break, 
what you see shattered.

To know it is not

Fall into the lacuna
and be consumed

[For full chapter. click here

This chapter opens with an anaphora that links it to the previous chapters: "Hear, O Israel." We return, yet again, to Sinai. But this is almost a reverse presentation. If before, Sinai was the proof of a binding, consuming love, here it is a proof of failure, of a foaming, consuming anger, Sinai now comes to warn Israel not to  "think in your heart... ‘Because of my righteousness God has brought me in to possess this land.’ 
This doubling is thematic to the chapter, which highlights again and again the doubling of the Tablets of Law, which are held in Moses' two hands, and the opposition between "ascending" (a'l'a) and "going down" (r'd). The tablets engraved in stone are broken. Everything changes quickly (m'h'r) and easily. All concrete symbols are disintegrated. "The sin"--embodied by the Golden Calf--is ground up by Moses, in an act that echoes the shattering of the Tablets. 
Yet the "going down" is not only a failure, but also a source of strength. The ground up dust of the calf is sprinkled on the water "coming down" the mountain; Moses "falls down" (etnapel) before God, in a reflexive form of the verb that can suggest "attack" or struggle. 
Here, Moses moves center stage. If before, he was the conduit between God and the people, here he becomes the active party: It is he (in God's accusation) who "took" Israel out of Egypt; it is he who stands between the burning mountain and the people; it is he who stands between God and Aaron; it is he who dashes the tablets, written in God's own writing, to the ground, in a series of four decisive verbs ("and I took hold...cast down...broke...fell")
If this chapter comes to teach Israel they have have earned nothing within themselves, that the relationship comes from without, Moses closes with the other side of this argument: "Yet they are Your people and Your inheritance, whom you brought out with Your mighty power..," In rescuing Israel, even if for no inherent virtue, God has created an unbreakable bond. It is destiny because it it is unearned. ]

Deuteronomy 8: In Writing

In a land cracked with thirst
squeeze a stone
and wait for dew,
eyes peeled
for the returning sun,
red rimmed and glistening
as an onion shucked to its core. 

feel longing
claw your belly
turn your throat
to a vortexed scream
where your flesh flees
day by day
skin translucent
against a blinding sky.

hear your blood
pound in your brain
hollow boom
of a runner returning,
hands empty.
Swollen with hunger 
your soul bursts
like a soap bubble.

Even if embraced
by murmuring water,
will you feel again
the seams of your skin?
Or remain forever
a suckling mouth
nuzzling desperately

Monday, February 2, 2015

Deuteronomy: Chapter 8

Dry sere lan
where you cry to the sky for bread,
 Trial by ordeal
 What is your hunger?

[For full chapter. click here
This chapter is built around the poles of "remember" (z'kh'r) and "forget" (sh'k'kh); "coming" into the Land, and the wandering through the desert, and the definitive relationship to food. Do you hunger or are you satiated, and from whence does your food come: 
"Remember the way which God your Lord led you through the way of the wilderness these forty years," says Moses. Yet in defining what must not be forgotten, Moses also presents a new vision of the desert experience: "to afflict and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He afflicted you and starved you, feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."
For the first time, albeit only in implicit backhand, and we get Israel's experience of the desert experience. If in the Books of Numbers and Exodus, the nation seemed like ungrateful "complainers," here we are told that the desert wandering was not the protective cocoon of the "pillar of fire" we might have thought. It was an "affliction" (a'n'a--the same root used for modern Hebrew "torture" and for "poverty"); a scrambling for existence on the edge of hunger, a long and wear way through "the great and dreadful wilderness, wherein were serpents, fiery serpents, and scorpions, and thirsty ground where was no water". The desert journey was a protracted trial by ordeal, stripping the nation down to bedrock, until God is engraved in their bones.
Not for nothing did they complain again and again, begging for death and peace.
It is this experience strung between "hunger" and "thirst" that must define the relationship to the "good land" flowing with water. The edge must always remain below the  plenty, so the nation is always aware that this "power" can disappear as easily as it comes, and they once more can slip into oblivion].