Monday, January 25, 2016

Deuteronomy: Chapter 33

from word
to blessing

draw it together

Waters above
waters below

pain of not-love
of knowledge

let us live and not die
let us be one in You

[For full chapter, click here
We come to Moses' final address to the Children of Israel. After a whole book of "the words that Moses spoke"--a book of exhortation, rebuke, warning, promise--Moses "made an end of speaking all the words" (32: 45), and begins is another kind of address: blessing. "And this is the blessing that Moses the man of God blessed the Children of Israel before his death."
In closing with a blessing, the final book of the Torah takes us back to the closing of the first book. Genesis also closes with a blessing before death--Jacob's final blessings to his sons.

These two closings are indeed linked by multiple intertextual allusions. At the opening of the blessing, Moses declares that we are dealing with the "inheritance of Jacob," and closes by declaring Israel "the spring of Jacob." As in Genesis, these blessing combine a focus on the future with a look back on the past. As in Genesis, the blessings are performative, and interweave a whole from the disparate parts. As in Genesis, the leitword is asaf, to gather, to bring together: "And there was in Yeshurun a king, when the heads of the nation were gathered, all together, the tribes of Israel,"

Like Jacob, Moses brings "together, all the tribes of Israel"  by interweaving the children of the various mothers, erasing the painful divisiveness of Jacob's family by creating new connections. Jacob created his new whole by cross-hatching the liminal surrogate children of the maidservants not quite Rachel's, not quite Leah's, making them the binder for the two sides of the family, interlinking Rachel and Leah's children through their proxies. Moses follows in Jacob's path, interlinking Bilhal's Dan with Zilpa's Gad through the imagery of the lion; and Zilpah's Asher with Bilha's Naphtali, through the key-word "ratzon" (desire, will). Yet Moses is more ambitious, and actually creates a matrix that unites Rachel and Leah's children directly: Levi, who has renounced all particular loyalties serves as the glue, allowing Benjamin and Joseph to be couched between Judah and Zebulun. 

Once again, Joseph seems to act as a primal binding force, as he merges the waters above and the  "deeps lurking below," reconnecting the split "waters above, and the waters below" that have not merged since the Deluge. Gad also returns to the primal "beginning" (Reishit) that opened the Bible. Throughout, the blessings bind through returning to "the eternal hills," "the ancient earth." Bringing "together, all the tribes of Israel" is tied to going all the way back to the primal divisions of creation, bringing together air, water, seas, sand and hills--all the natural phenomena that define these blessings. 

The centrality of Joseph in the blessing serves as a reminder that the question of redemption in Genesis is linked to bringing Joseph back, to undoing his sale and exile. 

Return to central. In the end, it is the Land itself that will  will act as a binder. In living within the "everlasting hills" Israel will actually, metaphysically, be living living within God: "The eternal God is a dwelling place, and beneath are the everlasting arms... and Israel dwelleth in safety, the spring of Jacob alone, in a land of grain and wine, and his heavens drop down dew."]

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