Cold Comfort in Hot Times: Torah portion Matot/Masei

End of the week, the dark moon of a father’s comfort, midway through the three weeks of admonition, nine days before the spiritual nadir of the year, the Temple is about to be destroyed. No music, no marriages, no merriment of any sort. It is the anniversary of the death of Aaron, the first great priest, taken into the bosom of his ancestors atop Mount Hor, never to see the promised land. But also Bastille Day. The storming of the infamous prison, the declaration of the rights of men, the beginning of the slaughter called the French Revolution. This week the President of the United States of America, the leader of the free world, declared that his allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization were not worthy of his hand in friendship. The alliance, once formed to oppose one of the most powerful totalitarian regimes the world has ever seen, now teeters on the edge of obsolescence. We read of tribes and their journeys. Forty-two journeys to be precise. Forty-two stoppings by the way in the wilderness, forty-two leave takings. The path from enslavement in Egypt to the threshold of the promised land. A forty year saga of transformation. With the exception of Caleb and Joshua, not a soul who left Egypt lived to set foot in the holy land.

Staring at Jericho. The twelve tribes, some six hundred thousand odd souls, stood on the verge of their final battle for a homeland. Aaron’s brother Moses would not be joining them either. The land was to be be divided among the tribes, and cities set aside for the landless Levites, the priestly clan. Forty-two ordinary Levitical cities and six additional cities, refuge for the inadvertent manslaughterer, three on each side of the Jordan River. Two and a half tribes declared their intention to stay behind, not to enter the land. Rich in cattle, Reuben, Gad and Manasseh prefered the ample grazing afforded east of the Jordan. They swore to uphold the military alliance, but the parting of the ways with their brethren in wilderness wandering was a done deal. Cracks in the familial bond. All of this is told in the tale we read on the forty-second week of the cycle of readings that begins with the creation story at the liturgical year’s midnight. Now is the late afternoon of the year. The forty-two letter name rumbles just beneath the surface. The name that links the nadir to the spiritual climax of the year. The name with which creation is actualized. The name uttered in the holy of holies by the great priest on the most joyous day of the year, the Day of Atonement.

So where does that leave us? As our sabbatical approaches, we chant a cryptic poem, the seven measures of the soul applied to the body, each proffered to the six directions, forty-two elements of the invisible. We beg for the unbinding of souls, come to us in the comfort of a strong right arm. It is late in the day and our beloved is close at hand. But before we invite her to join us at dusk, we invoke the encrypted name that kindles creation. We dare not say it straight out. Even the great priest would purse his lips as if to draw the name back inward immediately upon uttering it. Too much love drives a man insane. Our president has turned his lonely eyes to the kleptocratic tyrant who rules the ragged remnant of the former empire we once spent into the ground. Dollar for dolor. Our enemies are now declared friends and our friends enemies. The world shakes its head, feeling another bout of fascism coming on. The wheel turns, the sickness recurs, the name remains to be uttered by one who has the power to draw down the surge required to light the darkened vessel. A new kind of freedom awaits. The answer to life, the universe and everything? Maybe.

About the Author
Michael Diamond’s day job is as a psychiatrist and doctor of medical qigong in the Washington, DC area. He has published occasional verse, fiction and translation in Andrei Codrescu’s journal, The Exquisite Corpse; in the journal Shirim courtesy of Dryad Press; in the online journal for Akashic Press; and in The Journal of the American Medical Association. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, an artist and illuminator of Hebrew manuscripts, their dog, two cats, a cockatiel named Peaches and a tank of hyperactive fish. He has had a strong interest in Torah since first exposed to traditional stories as a child. Over the course of his life he has run the gamut of spiritual exploration of many world traditions of meditation and mythology. For the last several decades he has landed squarely in the traditional Jewish world. His writing is informed by all of this experience, by his curiosity about today's world and by his desire to mine the Jewish experience for its hidden and revealed wisdom. /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////Torah Obscura, as in camera obscura, from Latin, meaning "dark room", also referred to as pinhole image, the optical phenomenon that occurs when an image of a scene at the other side of a screen is projected through a small hole in that screen into the chamber provided. A glimpse of an otherwise invisible world afforded by a small aperture for light.
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