Monday, November 30, 2015

Deuteronomy 26: In Writing

Gather the given.
Let it swell
full globed and weighty,
let it fall in your palm
like a heart
like a fist.
Can you carry it
without spaces
cracking between your fingers?
Can you carry it,
Can you leave it
have I spoken?

Listen to the sound of my voice,
the fall of my call,
I say you today
and you are here
and you say me
and I am here,
full to bursting
like a pod 
heavy with seed

Swallow the seeds
like the earth
like the water
feel roots shoot
and take hold
round your heart
that spurts and bursts

 Like that first day
when I first felt flesh break
the juice spurt
It was good on the tongue
and burned going down
and I felt my skin  turn translucent
till I wrapped it with words
with leaves
stripped the trees
to cover me, cover me, cover me quick.

And now I ask,
If both our voices wander
on the heat of the day
can we bloom in the space between?

Deuteronomy: Chapter 26

I say you
You say me.
To take what is given 
and give it on

[For full chapter. click here
This chapter continues with the focus on memory. If the previous chapter demands "do not forget" this chapter calls on each and every Israelite to declare before God "I have not forgotten" (26:13). If previous chapters spoke of leftover produce forgotten in the field, this chapter focuses on the first fruit, consecrated from the moment they bud, and gathered together.

The focus is on narrative as the vehicle of collective memory, the creator of history. As soon as Israel "comes to the land which God has given to you, and you possess," one must go up to the "place that God will choose" and bear witness to this fact: "I profess this day unto God the Lord that I have come to the land that God swore to our fathers to give to us."

After attesting to the human priest regarding the faithfulness of God's ways, one must attest to God regarding the history of human ways: "And thou shall speak before God your Lord: "An Aramean lost was my forefather, and he went down to Egypt." Narrative becomes reciprocal: one must speak to the divine regrading the human, and to the human regarding the divine. The two become completely intertwined: "You have avouched God today (he-emarta, lit. "spoken")... and God has avouched for you (he-emircha)" (26: 17:18).

In additional to attesting to national history, one must also attest to faithfulness in one's personal history. And in making a place for the personal, one also makes place for those who were previously forgotten. "You shall say before God: I have taken out the hallowed from my house, and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, the widow...I did not forget." Rather than being fed from the forgotten leftovers, the more vulnerable elements of society are now fed from the "hallowed" tithes that were "not forgotten."

The key word of this chapter is "give" (n't'n--yet another key word of the Genesis story... we are returning to primal roots here).  Again and again it is emphasized that the land and the fruit are "given" by God. The human must "take" these gifts to the priest, who will "take" them and lay them back before God. Yet the mutuality of the human and the divine is not one of taking and giving back, but rather of overwhelming giving, which is then passed onwards. What was "given" by God is then "given" to the "Levite, the stranger, the orphan, the widow," so that ultimately Israel itself becomes "given high on the nations."]  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Deuteronomy 25: In Writing

Falling,  flaying
How do I carry you
How do I call your name?

To hold,
to cradle,
to clasp,
to grasp
the things you cannot
or give.
Call a name to darkness

look for the distant flaming 
sword flipping around itself
a tree that hangs with words
will you reach out to take
or pull back
the clasp
to a gasp of breathe?

Deuteronomy: Chapter 25


Who do you hold
What do you carry
And what cannot be grasped?

[For full chapter, click here
If the previous chapter closed with a focus of forgetting, on learning to leave things behind, this chapter focuses on remembering. “Remember what did to you on the way, when you came forth from the Land of Egypt” (25:7).  It is not only the memory of the path of national history that must be preserved, but also the individual names of those die “that his name be not blotted out from Israel.”

The forgotten are given to the forgotten: the left produce of the previous chapter are  left for those on the margins, for “the window, the fatherless, the stranger.” Memory is connected to belonging, to brotherhood—the leitwort of this chapter. Again, and again, the chapter speaks of ahim (brothers)—brothers, even if one is “wicked” (25:3); brothers, even if they fight. Brotherhood creates a space of “togetherness” (yahdav, another key word of the chapter).
Until now, Deuteronomy has focused on the socially vulnerable, insisting that the weaker parts of society—the widow, orphan the stranger—must be protected.  The lesson of slavery is providing a safe space for the weak. Yet now the focus on togetherness and brotherhood create a sensitivity to another type of vulnerability: the vulnerability of those who are “together” and alike to you. One must recognize the vulnerability of the guilty man punished in court, “so that your brother will not destroyed before you”; Amalek is condemned for attacking “all those who faltered behind” when the nation was  “enfeebled and weary.” A woman who “reaches forth her hand” (that terrible key phrase of Genesis) to grab a man's "vulnerable parts  (mevushav)" is to be punished by the loss of her own hand.

Which leads us to the fact that the place of women in this "together" space is questionable. The wife of a man who dies without children remains within the family space “she shall not go outside,” unless her husband’s brother does not wish to perform a levirate marriage that will “preserve the name of his brother.” Here, the wife becomes the glue in the continued “togetherness” of the brothers. Yet in the case of the a fight (“if men strive together, a man against his brother”), the woman cannot get involved: if she jumps in to protect her husband, she is punished. She is not to put her hand in the intimate space of their grappling together. Her own vulnerability is not taken into account.]

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Deuteronomy 24: In Writing

Do not return for the forgotten
learn to leave the lost behind
do not pick over the beaten tree
rifle the flagging vine.
Leave a remnant in the shadows
to catch the gleam of the setting sun
a glowing globe in a temple of leaves.

Let the forgotten gather together
let the past take the other path
let the world unfold
as you dive within
feeling your breath flow
through the limits of your lips
feeling the weight of your day
coat you like the clothes on your back

giving your body shape.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Deuteronomy: Chapter 24

What do you remember 
what forget?
Things left behind, 
things contained. 
Sometimes there is no way back.

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter connects to the previous one through the leitmotif of the "coming sun"--a focus on a specific unit of time, a cut off point within infinity. If in the previous chapter, sunset allows those "outside" to re-enter sacred space, here "the day" serves to delimit social responsibilities: workers must be paid before the end of day; "pledges" that were confiscated must be returned before nightfall.
These limitations are thematic. Even the consequence of sin becomes limited here, prescribed to the  individual's boundaries-- "fathers shall not die for children, and children shall not die for fathers: each man shall die y his own sin" (24:16). The chapter closes with a series of limitations on property rights: one cannot return to gather forgotten grain, or pick over trees for leftover grapes and olives. There are no rights of possession for things left behind: they become common property, to be left for the "stranger, the fatherless and the widow."
The inability to return for what was lost creates a chiastic structure with the opening of the chapter, which prohibits a man to remarry his divorced wife after she has married another. One cannot return for an ex-wife, as one cannot return for lost grain (continuing the misogynistic bent of Deuteronomy, where women exist as aspects of men's property, to be "taken" and "sent").

Monday, November 16, 2015

Deuteronomy 23: In Writing

At the margins
at the outskirts
edge of your father’s skirt
where you cannot enter
barred by intangible bands
of light that give 
to the touch

Wait the falling sun's
slow tumble
the coming dark
that covers the crawling
creeping over earth's face;
that covers what comes from you.

Don’s ask, don’t seek
after what seeps
welling up your mouth
geyser of giving.
swallow it till swells
grows heavy within

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Deuteronomy: Chapter 23

What comes in
when you  go out
the redeeming tick of time

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter returns to the theme of inner and outer spaces--this time on a more metaphysical level. We no longer speak of coming in and out of the central space that "God will choose" but rather of entering the sacred space of the kahal, the assembly. Inner and outer spaces here become ingroups and outgroups: who is within the sacred congregations, who at the periphery, who outside.
One can be blocked for a myriad reasons: a damaged sexual organ, a problematic sexual background (mamzer, loosely translated as "bastard"), or a problematic national history. The impact of history becomes measurable, calculated by the shadow it casts over the future:  Moabites cannot enter the kahal "even after ten generations" Egyptians and Edomites can be admitted, but only after three generations of purification...
Once again, physical and metaphorical spaces intertwine.  The sacredness of the community is again expressed and reflected when it "goes out" to meet others: the laws of how to keep the army "encampment sacred" (23:15).  Again, and again, the boundaries of inside and outside are reiterated: a ritually impure soldier must "go out of the encampment, he cannot come within" (23: 11). on the physical level as well, time is the key to crossing the boundary: "and the sun will set, and he may enter."
What comes out, what is out of its place, must be covered: "you shall cover what comes out of you" (23:14).]

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Deuteronomy 22: In Writing

what is found wandering
what winds astray
on what do you stumble
hovering like it can sway
what comes
are you lost
when you lost?
Find, finding, found
in quest to find

taken home
taken in, 

constrained, contained

progress, possess
to whom do you 

be long
in longing
lingering, loitering

what do you count
when taken
to account
numerated, implicated, 
in census, by consensus,

rant in silence
unspoiled by sound
dumb as stone
 do not see
as like a bird sent

I fly free

Deuteronomy: Chapter 22

Who is lost
who is found
what you see 
what you don't see
and what is ignored

[For full chapter, click here
If the previous chapter closed with the elders swearing that their "eyes did not see," this chapter ironically opens with the commend "don't see"(22:1).  
Yet as in the previous case, the command not to see is reversed to actually demand to take notice: "Do not see your brother's ox or sheep wandering, and ignore them--you must bring them back to your brother." Once again, there is a demand to take responsibility for "blood," this time on an individual level: "do not bring blood into your home."
The chapter moves on in a point-counterpoint between taking responsibility for what is "found" (a key root, m'z'a) and repeated injunctions against mixing elements that should remain distinct--whether it is plowing with "an ox and a donkey"; planting a mixed vineyard; weaving together "linen and wool"; or blending gender distinctions.  The responsibility for another's property seems to be part of a wider framework of establishing boundaries, of non-adulteration.
Both themes comes together in the final sequence of of laws, which deal with slander, seduction,  rape and literal adultery. Each law is introduced with the question of what is "found" in the damsel, or if the damsel is "found" by her assaulter. Here, the young girl becomes an extension of the property laws that introduce the chapter. What happens to her is meaningful only in so far as it impacts a man's property rights--slander becomes a manner of monetary exchange between the father and the husband;  a rapist is punished only in so far as he damages "his neighbor's wife." The girl's voice has impact only in its silence--if she is raped within the city, she is held to blame for "not screaming"; only if she is assaulted in a field does "she not have a sin of death" because her voice cannot be heard.  
Some things are not to be noticed. ]