Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Deuteronomy: Chapter 15

open your heart
open your hands
Do not leave others empty handed

[For full chapter, click here
Having closed the previous chapter with a discussion of the need to tithe produce of the Land, and the social responsibility for the poor, this chapter moves into a presentation of the Shemita Ilit. 'release') sabbatical year—the time where there is no tithing, and where the land becomes open to the dispossessed. On Shmita, all humanity is equally disposed, for “the Land is Mine” (Leviticus 25:23).
This is the third presentation of the Sabbatical year, and—as is usual in Deuteronomy, the “second-saying”—the reprise also changes the focus. If in Exodus, the focus is on transforming the relationship with God; and in Leviticus, the focus is on the relationship to the Land, in Deuteronomy, the focus of the Sabbatical year is the human other: “your friend, your brother”. The subtle difference in focus becomes clear when we look at the context: All three presentations come within a biblical pattern of sevens. Yet Exodus is presented within the context of the six days of labor, and the Sabbath: “For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest your crops,  but during the seventh year let the land lie unused. Then the poor among your people may eat, and the wild animals may eat what is left. …Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work...”
Leviticus is presented within the discussion of the seven years of seven of the Jubilee: “When you enter the land that I’m about to give you, you are to let the land observe a Sabbath to the Lord. For six years you may plant your fields...But the seventh year is to be a Sabbath of rest for the land—a Sabbath for the Lord.…Count for yourselves seven years of Sabbaths—seven times seven years. …Set aside and consecrate the fiftieth year to declare liberty throughout the land for all of its inhabitants. …Every person is to return to his own land that he has inherited.”
Here, the focus is on a human six and seven: the seven years that an indentured servant works, and the seventh when he is let free.”If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto you, he shall serve you six years; and in the seventh year you shalt set him free.”
Appropriately, then, the focus on this Sabbatical is not the land, or work, but rather the human elements of money and debt: it is a year of “releasing” one’s control over one’s money. All debt is to be erased. Again, and again, the chapter addresses the human connection to possession, acknowledging the difficulty of letting go: “do not harden your heart, or shut your hand from your needy brother…You shall open your hand to him… Beware that you not think the base thought: ‘Behold the seventh year of release is at hand…and you give your brother naught. You shall give him and your heart will not be grieved when you give him.”
The reprise of the laws of slavery likewise focuses on the need to let go of possession. Now one must not simply release the slave, but must also grant gifts: “When you let him free, he shall not go empty. You shall  give him a gift, from your flock, grom your threshing field, from your press.” And again the warning against the instinctive desire to hold on and possess: “it shall not seem hard to you, when you let him go free, for to the double of the hire of a hireling he served you six years; and God your Lord will bless you.”
This third presentation of the six and seven highlights the human aspect of the Sabbath that has reverberated in the background, translating fully within human relations.]

Deuteronomy 14: In Writing

What do I call
when you’ve lost your name
 mix of sounds and sights
how will I know you?

Ayaa, Dayaa, Bat yaana
Cry-of-pain, enough!
O, it's the daughter-of-all-calls
Hasida, anafa,shahaf
Soar-winged kindness
budding branches
Netz, kos, kaat
Breathing, breaking bowl of morning
You sent away
I am gone
Shalakh, shahaf,
Don’t rip yourself

In blood red weeping

Friday, April 17, 2015

Deuteronomy: Chapter 14

What's torn in two
Take in

Spit out
Bear responsibility
[For full chapter, click here
“Tear your heart so you will not have to tear your clothes” (Joel 2:13) the prophet enjoins the people, highlighting the deep-seated correlation between the ritualized forms of morning, and the experience of devastation.
What does it mean, then, to limit the expressions of mourning? “You are children to God, your Lord. You shall not gauge your skin, or make a baldness between your eyes for the dead.”  Does the connection to God make the devastation less acute? Is there a level of despair that should not be touched?
I studied these words after returning from a funeral that made these questions terribly real. A young girl died. But the Jewish custom in Jerusalem is to downplay mourning during the month Nissan, in which Passover takes place, as it is the time of redemption. Each person who got up to speak acknowledged this. They all opened by saying “we do not eulogize during Nissan.” And each of them held back. There were no histrionics. No details of the loss, suffering and devastation that was palpable in the room. Barely any discussion of the months of illness. Yet nonetheless it was one of the most harrowing and heartbreaking funerals I’ve seen. The prohibition on eulogizing made people focus on appreciating the person herself: what she had taught them, what they gained from being around her. Rather than focusing on her loss, they said thanks for her presence. And that brought home the loss in the most devastating way possible.   Perhaps this is what is meant by “you are children to God”: don’t focus on eh personal devastation, but rather on the unique “child of God” who is gone. Let your mourning be focused outward, to the dead, rather than on externally expressing one’s inner pain.

The chapter goes on to deal with boundaries. If the previous chapter spoke about the seduction of the exotic “gods you do not know” and the intimate evil that must be exorcized “from within you”, this chapter deals with preserving the proper boundaries of the body: no gauging holes or uprooting hair, a limitation of what can be ingested… There is a constant dialectic and tension between what is prohibited and what is permitted, what may be eaten and what may not. A doubling and duality, like the cloven hoof that must be split in two—mafris parsa; shosaat shesa. In preserving the inviolability of the self, one comes to responsibility for others. The chapter ends with the command to take out the tithes and donate them  to the poor and vulnerable members of society: “At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites… and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows …may come and eat and be satisfied…”]

Deuteronomy 13: In Writing

What do you dream
In the deep of night?
See outside the domed window?

What distance haunts your eyes?
Whispers in your ear?
wraps long fingers round?

Pull tight
Then unravel

Burning from inside out