Coming Home: Ki Tavo

Ram Nissan hesitated to turn around and confront the man whose hand was on his shoulder. After what seemed like an eternity in the role of High Priest of the Holy Temple, since just before the first days of the Redemption, he still could never quite prepare himself to be face to face with any of the august personages that from time to time peopled his new life. It strained credulity every time, though he as much as anyone should know the undeniable fact of the Redemption: the dead have returned. Not necessarily all the time every minute. And the narrative of their deaths did not evaporate by any means. It was all there in the holoFlame, altar of memory, altar of reality. The eternal saddle point of the intersection of all possible realities. Rav Ram Nissan ben Krishna HaKohen Tzedek Gadol turned to stare directly into the face of wisdom itself, the time carved visage of Moshe Rabeinu, Moses Our Teacher. And in that moment both he and the great visionary could see each other standing with the crowd east of the Jordan River simultaneously seeing their future selves together in the Redemption. Seeing themselves seeing themselves seeing themselves, they smiled, they smiled, they smiled. Moses placed his calloused hands softly on Ram Nissan’s head and incanted the words of the priestly blessing. Suddenly the Rav did not know whether he was asleep or awake. Somehow from the Temple Mount he was able to see clearly the crowd assembled on the two mountain tops on the other side of the Jordan. What device of human assemblage was Moses trying to concoct in marching the Israelites around just before they would enter the land, just before his own death. The Rav was riveted.

There it was, the cusp of the fulfillment of Jacob, the denouement of the Jacobiad, the story of the people Israel. And at this of all moments, a reflection on the near snuffing of the fledgling people in its cradle by the Aramean, Lavan, the White One, the classic father-in-law test from which Jacob emerged doubled in strength and abundance. Lavan, the driving force behind Jacob’s flight into his true identity as Israel, the God-wrestler. And the cells of Israel migrated to and multiplied in the womb of Egypt, self-organizing into the embryo nation that would emerge at the Sea of Reeds. And this second water-crossing, at the Jordan, presaged a second birth, but of what? What does it mean to transform from peoplehood to nationhood, and what did all these complex crowd gyrations have to do with it? From the water were drawn stones, two pairs for the inscribing of the Covenant and twelve to be arranged in a circle on the other side of the Jordan by Jericho. The structures emerged before the Rav’s eyes. One copy of the Covenant was consigned to Mount Ebal and one to be carried into the new land, though the Samaritans dispute this claiming Gerizim as home to the Covenant. Yet another narrative. The tribes of Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin climbed Mount Gerizim to hear the blessings shouted at them by the Levitical priests standing by the Ark of the Covenant in the saddle between the two mountains. Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naftali climbed Mount Ebal to hear the curses. Wild stuff. So incomprehensible. The Rav had to take a step back.

Ram Nissan turned to Moses and said, “There’s something I’d like to show you as well, my teacher.” Moses beamed at his centenarian pupil, the both of them exactly 120 years of age, and simply nodded. They turned their back on the eastern facing vista momentarily as Ram Nissan invited Moses to stand with him under the holoShawl so that they could together discern the illuminated figure of Adam CADMan, hidden in the holoFlame. Moses, also a member of the tribe of Levi, was not a temple priest, not a kohen. That privilege was reserved for the descendants of his brother Aaron, of which Ram Nissan was clearly one. The great teacher was moved to tears to see his brother’s lineage preserved in the rituals performed by this man who was born over 3000 years after Moses and Aaron had ascended to the bosom of their ancestors. The Rav smiled through moist eyes as well as he probed for the bundle of sinews in Adam CADMan’s body that encoded this week’s stories in all the years of human history. “I call this ‘rolodexing’, kind of a corny reference to an outmoded 20th century device for storing and retrieving addresses,” he told his teacher. Moses simply nodded and smiled. Ram Nissan poked the CADMan who gyred and groaned, and winked at them both. The calendrical data began pouring in. Not a good week for indigenous people: 1879, King Cetshwayo, the last great ruler of Zululand, is captured by the British following his defeat in the British-Zulu War; 1676, Indian chief King Philip, also known as Metacom, is killed by English soldiers, ending the war between Indians and colonists; 1533, in Peru, the last Inca emperor, Atahualpa, is executed by orders of Francisco Pizarro, although the chief had already paid his ransom; 1880, Apache Chief Diablo is killed by a rival band after his efforts at cooperating with the US government went bad; and in the year 70 CE the Temple in Jerusalem burns after a nine-month Roman siege. It was a good week for war: 1346, during the Hundred Years War, King Edward III’s English army annihilates a French force under King Philip VI at the Battle of Crecy; 1071, the Turks defeat the Byzantine army under Emperor Romanus IV at Manzikert; 1626, the Danes are crushed by the Catholic League in Germany, marking the end of Danish intervention in European wars; 1526, Ottoman Suleiman the Magnificent destroys a Hungarian army under Lewis II at the Battle of Mohacs; 1870, the Prussian army humiliates the French at Sedan, the last battle of the Franco-Prussian War, and captures Napoleon III; 1876, the Ottomans devastate the Serbs at Aleksinac; and in 1864 Atlanta burns at the hands of General William Tecumseh Sherman. And as the stars would have it, this same week in 2003 Mars makes its closest approach to Earth in nearly 60,000 years.

Moses stepped out from under the holoShawl, still holding one of the blinking cobalt blue tzitzit dongles in his hand. “Ram Nissan,” his voice began, startling the Rav in its reediness. The great prophet’s eyes burned with a raw mixture of grief and indignation. “Is this what humans have done to each other for thousands of years after we grew an entire nation based from our moral code? Did nothing in human behavior improve over the millenia?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Wait, my teacher,” the Rav replied, ”there is always more, always a balance. The scope of history is vast and encompasses every inflection of the human condition. Come, look again.” They shrouded themselves once more in the electromagnetic field of the holoShawl. Ram Nissan resumed his divination à la CADMan. It was a good week for the descendants of slaves in America: in 1957 the US Congress passes the Civil Rights Act; in 1963 that same week Martin Luther King proclaims “I Have a Dream” at the March on Washington, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, with over 250,000 people spellbound. Moses’ eyes sparkled as he listened smiling. The results trickle down over the years as in 1967 Thurgood Marshall becomes the first African American to be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice; in 1983 Lieutenant Colonel Guion S. Bluford, Jr., becomes the first African-American astronaut to travel in space; and in 1970 Dr. Hugh Scott of Washington, D.C. becomes the first African-American superintendent of schools in a major U.S. city. For women, too, the week is a bit of a watershed: in 1920 the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote, is formally adopted into the U.S. Constitution; in 1970 Betty Friedan leads a march for equal pay on the 50th anniversary of the 19th Amendment; all foreshadowed by Joan of Arc’s triumphant entry into Paris that week in 1429.

For the  laborers of the world the picture was more mixed: in 1882 the first Labor Day is observed in New York City by the Carpenters and Joiners Union; 104 years later Bolivian president Victor Paz Estenssoro declares a state of siege and sends troops and tanks to quash a march by 10,000 striking tin miners; in 1945 President Truman orders the US Navy to seize control of petroleum refineries to end an oil workers strike; but in 1980 the Polish government is forced to sign an accord with Gdansk shipyard workers, forming the Solidarity labor union. Also remarkable that week in history, the worlds of invention, discovery and transportation fairly explode. The Russians detonate their first atomic bomb, ‘First Lightning’ in 1949. Eight years later they test an intercontinental ballistic missile. In 1937 George Eyston breaks his own automobile land speed record; in 1955 William Cobb demonstrates the first solar-powered car; in 1965 Astronauts Cooper and Conrad complete 120 Earth orbits in Gemini 5, the duration record for a manned space mission; 1802 sees Captain Lewis leave Pittsburgh to meet up with Captain Clark and begin their trek to the Pacific Ocean; in 1821 William Becknell leads a group of traders from Independence, Mo., on what would become the Santa Fe Trail; in 1979 The US spacecraft Pioneer 11 makes the first-ever flyby of Saturn; and in 1975 Veronica and Colin Scargill of England complete a record 18,020 mile tandem bicycle ride around the world. All this in the same week as the first televised Major League baseball game in 1939, the first interplanetary human voice recording in 2012 broadcast from the Mars Rover Curiosity, the inauguration in 1963 of the US-Soviet hotline carried over a 10,000 mile cable, and Thomas Edison patenting his movie camera, the Kinetograph, in 1897.

The Rav could tell Moses was getting a little jazzed as he saw him shifting back and forth rapidly from one foot to the other. Ram Nissan quickly flipped through the scenes of the three colossal natural disasters that happened that week in history: the cataclysmic explosion of Krakatoa in 1883, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the 1923 earthquake that leveled the Japanese cities of Tokyo and Yokohama, killing 300,000. With that he ripped back the holoShawl and stood there with Moshe Rabeinu, both breathing fast and at a loss for words. Moshe looked down as he muttered, “How various mankind is. O brave new world, that has such people in it.” The Rav smiled and raised an eyebrow at Moses. Moses, in response, shrugged, “Yes I’ve kept up with a bit of reading over the years. Always had a soft spot for Prospero.” They both laughed as the Rav shook his head in bemusement. He looked up at the waning moon. It was the time of year when evening slips into night, the sixth of the seven Sabbaths of consolation. Time for an after dinner play by the children, some songs, some lessons from the elders. That strange image of the Children of Israel separating into two parties of six tribes each, swarming Mounts Gerizim and Ebal to hear the blessings and the curses shouted at them by the Levites at the base of both mountains. Two stones of the Covenant set atop Mt Ebal and an identical pair of stones for the road.

As Ram Nissan stared out into the night, his teacher came up behind him and placed his hands at the Rav’s temples and bade him look East. There, lit up in the night, he saw them all, the 600,000 Israelites split in two. He swore he could see luminous threads of connection streaming down from both mountains to the Levites in between, each tribe to their respective set of Levites. And the Levites themselves emitted a glow as they carried the Ark of the Covenant in their midst. Suddenly the Rav flashed on an image from one of his father Krishna’s science textbooks. A frickin’ mitotic spindle! The structure of cell division after fertilization of the ovum! Moses stood impassively behind Ram Nissan, keeping his hands in place. Each child of Israel the source of a strand, a microtubule, connecting to the tribal DNA carried by the Levites, and the two pairs of carved stones act as the centrosomes, the organizing poles of the spindle, giving the entire array its definition. How beautiful. And the twelve stones to be placed in a circle by Jericho? Of course! The womb through which the cellular origins of Israel would find its spiritual birth, the second water crossing. Way cool. Twelve channels to carry their unique energies into the spirit-body Israel. Of course Moshe Rabeinu was right to frame the experience in terms of blessings and curses. Look at the mayhem and the wonder of mankind. It’s all there in the potential space of creation. In the climbing of mystical heights, in the rebirth of spirit, in the pioneering of a new land, one must have a firm moral footing in advance, or else madness. The core message must persist. The teacher stepped up beside the student and grasped him by the shoulder, both men looking eastward in awe.

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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