Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Deuteronomy: Chapter 34

Everything and nothing:
what you see and what you cannot have
eye to eye
face to face

At the moment of ending 
who will know me
who will I know?

[For full chapter, click here

We come to the final chapter of Deuteronomy, a chapter of ending, and transitions. There is a harsh finality to this closing: some things are irreplaceable, irreparable. Moses' tears and pleading cannot undo his one mistake at Meriba. "You shall see the Land, and there you shall not pass." And with the death of Moses "in the land of Moab" is the end of an era. An intimacy has passed that will not return: "there arose no more in Israel like Moses, who knew God face to face." We touch absolute limits and absolute loss.

Moses climbs Nebo for a bird's-eye view of the Promised Land. Yet of Michel de Certeau sees the synoptic high view as presenting the position of power, here is serves to demonstrate absolute limits: "and God showed him the land of Gilead as far of Dan, and all of Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim and Menasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the last sea... And God said to him: 'this is the land that I swore unto Abraham, Isaac and Jacob... you have seen it with your eyes, and there you shall not pass." The Torah closes with a harsh lessons that not all you see is there for the taking. Is this perhaps a return to humanities first, failed, lesson in boundaries, with a Tree whose "fruit was a delight for the eyes," yet was not to be eaten?

Yet it is the harshness of absolute limits that itself that reveals the deepest intimacy. In Moses' lonely journey up the mountain, it is God who is with him. He dies "by the mouth of God," and it is God who buries him "in a valley in the land of Moab, and no man knows his burial site, to this very day." No man knows Moses' final resting place, but Moses "knows God face to face." It is this mutual knowledge that defines Moses and provides his space, as the people move onwards. 

For this is also a chapter of transition. There will be no replacement for Moses, but there will be a next step. Joshua is filled with the "spirit of God, for Moses laid his hands on him." The days of mourning "end," and we await the next step.]

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