Monday, November 30, 2015

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."]  

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