Monday, September 21, 2015

Deuteronomy: Chapter 19

Beat the bounds
and know the paths
redeem the space
where blood run
where blood pools
within, without
the boundaries that broader
the boundaries unmoved

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter continues expanding up the key words that appeared in the previous one: k'r'v--within, amongs; d'r'sh, investigate, analyze. Now, two  new leitworts enters: g'v'l--boundary, border; and d'r'kh--path, road. We at last speak of the definitive boundaries that create the sacred space "within" and the roads that form the interconnections. These preservation of these boundaries requires taking responsibility on the most primal level: a care for spilled "blood," for perjury, and a constant maintenance of the sacred space within: "you must burn out the the clean blood within" in a continuous re-calibration.  There must be a "redeemer of the blood" (go'el ha-dam). Even if inadvertent, any act of killing is "murder" and demands a complex play of redemption and refuge.

The return to Sinai in the previous chapter also returns us to the laws given in the aftermath of Sinai: "He that hits a man and dies shall be put to death; but if he did not lie in wait, but God brought it to his hand, I shall appoint a place where he shall flee" (Exodus 21: 12-13). These laws are  reiterated in this chapter, but now grounded in the earth "which you are about to enter." Characteristically for Deuteronomy, the laws are now focused on humanity rather than on God: "designate for  yourself three cities within your land."

And it is only in taking this responsibility that the land will truly become "yours." The chapter open by emphasizing that the land does not yet truly belong to Israel: "when God shall cut off the nations whose land God your Lord is giving to you...and you dwell in their cities and in their houses." Only after taking responsibility for inadvertent murder does that land become Israel's: "You shall separate three cities in the midst of your land, which God gave you to posses."

In taking this responsibility, one can even change and move the seemingly immutable outer boundary. Boundaries are  perhaps absolute on a personal level-- "do not encroach on the boundary of your brother, which  the early ones have bound"--but on a national level, the are flexible, expanding to fit the nation's commitments: ": "If God your Lord expand your border...designate another three cities of refuge." ]

Friday, September 18, 2015

Deuteronomy 18: In Writing

Close the conches of my ear
so I don't hear 
so I don’t see
seal my eyes

Leave me the space of not-know
of not now,
of tomorrow

Give me the silence between words 
the echoes of emptiness 

Blanket me dark
make me present in absence

Give me the hollowed grave
So that I don’t die

Deuteronomy: Chapter 18

the desire for absence
to be not
to circle the gaps of the unknown "no"

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter is dominated by the same key words as the previous one: k'r'v-- close, within; and d'r'sh, to investigate, analyze; d'v'r--thing, saying. It too focuses on to'eva--usually loosely translated as "abomination"; it too places it in opposition to tamim --pure, without blemish.

Thematically, the two chapters are  related as well, as here we further define the relationship of center to periphery and the space "within". The "chosen" (18:5) tribe of Levi is intimately linked  to the place that "God will choose," and so cannot have "an inheritance amongst / within [k'r'v] his brother" (18:2)--he cannot truly be part of the space between the periphery and the center. Coming into the land will bring a to a new leadership that will come from among (k'r'v) the people: "I will raise them a prophet from amongs (k'r'v) their brothers, like you [Moses]". This leadership will draw directly from Sinai,  the place where all the nation "heard the Lord."

Yet rhetorically, this chapter is dominated by the negative: it opens with a sonorous "no": "lo yihiye--there shall not be."  This negative is balanced by the positive "ze yihiye--this shall be" in the next subsection, but the negative floods once again at the closing, with the return to Sinai. The prophet who will come to replace Moses will come to preserve "not": "let me not hear again the voice of God" "let me not see this great fire." Too much Presence leads to complete absence: "so I not die." 

The coming prophet will straddle the line between the known and unknown, between yes and no: "the prophet who will speak in My name that which I have not commanded, that prophet shall die.... that which the prophet spoke in the name of God and was not (lo yihiye) and will not come (lo yavo), that is the thing which God has not spoken..." Hu ha-davar asher lo davro--that is the thing that God has not--the negative here gains a positive presence, becomes an actual davar, thing, object, speech act.]

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Deuteronomy 17: In Writing

How to find the space
between breath and breath
between blood and blood
between touch and touch

between the air 
billowing the lungs
and the caverns between

between the blood
pulsing through your arms,
down to your fingers,
out to the tips
that touch the world
and the blood that circles
 back to the heart again

hold the thread of words
between your fingers
cats cradle weaving and unweaving

your body

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Deuteronomy: Chapter 17

move out
and come in
the perfect circle
that creates its own continuation

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter continues the vortex inward movement that defined the previous chapter. If the previous chapter ended with the establishment of local courts--a move outward from center to periphery--this chapter moves back in, as the local courts stream into "the place that God will choose" for consultation. 

The creation of a central core and outer liminal "gates" allows the internal space to begin to function a a single entity. One of the key words of this chapter is k'r'v (close, within): once we have drawn the radii connecting the center and the outer limits, we become aware for what is enclosed "within." The nation begins to function as a single entity:"Burn out the evil from within you" is transformed into  "a burn out the evil from Israel." 

With the establishment of a national entity, the movement to the center in physical space is echoed in the human realm: the centralization of authority through the appointment of a king:"Appoint a king over yourselves, whom God will choose" (17:15). The social center, like the physical center, is not yet defined. It awaits the appointment of God's choice.
The appointment of the king introduces the vortex-like circularity into the very structure of the book itself. Deuteronomy here provides for its own self-replication: "and when he sits on his throne, he shall write this mishne torah [review of the Law--another name for Deuteronomy] in a book before the priests and Levites, and it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, so that he will learn to fear God, and keep all  the words of this Torah, to do all these laws" (17:18-19). The king appointed through this book will assure the continuation of the book. ]