Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Deuteronomy: Chapter 32

       Two           sides
and the hollow          between
  What is           not
                     seen,          not touched
can longing        hold
it all together
solidify to inescapable?

[For full chapter, click here

This chapter consists of the "song" of witness that Moses introduced in the previous chapter. Dense, enigmatic and imagistic, it brings together in condensed form many of the themes of the previous chapters of exhortation: the motifs of seeing and of listening; of hiding and being "found"; and most importantly, of remembering and forgetting: "Remember the days of the world / understand the years of every generation / ask your father and he will tell you."

The binary structure that underlay the previous chapters here becomes explicit, embodied in the very topographical structure of the Torah scroll: the text is set up in two facing columns, with a space in between. The poem becomes a visual manifestation of the tension that animates the covenant--the mixture of fury and love; of opposition and commitment. The visual hollows becomes thematic, as the poem revolves around negatives, the shadow of non-being. If Israel angers God with a "not-god," he will punish them with a "not nation." They will be swallowed by the space between the columns. 

Despite the duality of the poem, there is also a drive to unity, an undermining of the binary split. The vegetable becomes animal, dripping blood, full of fat; stones seep honey and water, as the world is poetically tied into a single entity. God, in the poem, represents the "straight" unchanging line that runs through history, while Israel is   "a twisted generation," changing and turning as the years pass. Yet this torturous "vine" circles around the solidity of God's rock.

The poem ends by declaring that God holds within Himself both opposing forces "I kill and I make alive, I wounded and I heal." There are no two sides, only a single reality: "I am He...there is none that can deliver from My hands."

The chapter closes by emphasizing the impossibility of "deliverance" from "God's hands," as God commands Moses to climb Mount Nebo, "and die on the mount... you shall see the land before you, but you shall not come unto it." There is no arguing with the implacable will of God, that has all the finality of death.] 

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