Michael S. Diamond
Torah Obscura

Galvanized for action: Ki Teitzei

Cobalt blue sparks leapt from the corners of the holoShawl the minute Ram Nissan had gathered the tzitzit together over his left shoulder. He almost dropped it altogether as the shock momentarily convulsed his entire body. Dude! Tzitzit, the onomatopoetic name for the sparking braided corner dongles. It’s risky being a priest of the Most High, even in the times of the Redemption. He’d been tinkering with the wattage of the device, hoping to get even finer resolution of the images of the holoFlame it facilitated. He must’ve amped it up a little too high, though he had to admit he felt somehow oddly refreshed. Then he saw it, as he reached out with his mind to touch the precise point on the heart of Adam CADMan, cyber architect turned blueprint of the post Redemption world, whose consciousness returned with the activation of the Moshiach module triggered at the near extinction of humanity by the AI’s. Ram Nissan felt a brief ecstatic jolt as the memory of that story passed through him in an instant. The glowing corpus of the CADMan precessed and rotated in a flaming hoop, tendrils of his consciousness extending outward to inform the entire post Redemption world. Rav Ram Nissan ben Krishna HaKohen Tzedek Gadol was the last in the lineage that had the ability to commune directly with the CADMan. The point was the story, the weekly narrative of Am Yisroel, the people, the descendants of the fleshly Adam by way of Abraham.

Ram Nissan stood once again among the six hundred thousand souls as the voice of Moses Our Teacher bounced off the mountainsides two and a half millennia earlier. But he found his mind wandering during the recitation of the litany of laws of conduct after war. The great lawgiver was leaving no conflictual stone in the shoe unturned. Anything that might cause friction between a soul and her neighbor—a warbride, an unprotected roof, the location of latrines, exemptions from military service, the incidental feeding of farm animals and field laborers, speedy burial, cross-dressing. Everything concerning the quick and the dead, the married and divorced, the buyer and the seller, the lender and the borrower, the haves and the have nots. Ram Nissan particularly liked the Ritual of the Shoeless Man, in which a widow, whose husband’s brother refuses to marry her to continue the deceased man’s name, takes the shoe of the recalcitrant brother-in-law and spits in his face and declares that his family shall henceforth be known as ‘the family of the shoeless man’. So precise, the cultural designation of acceptable stigma. Such fine-grained detail. There were the two specific remembrances of the road from Egypt, two object lessons in the vulnerabilities of newly freed slaves. Miriam the prophetess and her error of slanderous speech against her brother Moses; the conflict caused by a careless tongue. The Amalekites, desert savages who swoop in to take the elderly, the young and the lame; a figure for destructive doubt, the crowning piece of the narrative. Outer and inner conflict.

But there was still a thread niggling at the back of Ram Nissan’s mind. A literal thread, shatnes, the prohibition of the mixing of flax and wool, along with the prohibition of the sewing of two species of seeds together and the yoking of an ox and a donkey together. Weird. So random. He needed to think about this a bit more. So the Rav did what he usually did when he needed to prime the pump of his intuition—he ‘rolodexed’! He turned his mind’s eye to the precise bundle of sinews in the body of Adam CADMan corresponding to the week of the narrative as it played out in all the other years of recorded time, and he gave those sinews a poke with his mental digit. The CADMan groaned, and in his groans the tales of war and justice spewed forth. A dark cloud swirled before the Rav’s eyes, and as it dissipated he received his first revelation with a shock—August 19, 1934, the day Adolf Hitler is elected by the German public to be president of the Weimar Republic. Exactly fifteen years earlier President Woodrow Wilson breaks with tradition and appears personally before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to argue in favor of its ratification of the Versailles Treaty. Five years and four days after Hitler’s election he signs a nonaggression pact with Stalin.  August 19, 1953 the CIA organizes a coup in Iran which reinstates the Shah who signs over forty percent of Iran’s oil fields to US companies. August 20, 1794, General “Mad Anthony” Wayne puts down Shawnee Chief Blue Jacket’s confederacy at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, the keynote of Wayne’s career stripping Native Americans of their land. Exactly 174 years later Soviet tanks roll into Czechoslovakia to quash popular anti-Soviet protests. The first of the Lincoln-Douglas slavery debates is held on August 21, 1858. Exactly seven years later a pro-slavery guerilla army, including Jesse James and the Younger brothers, massacres the residents of Lawrence, Kansas. The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, August 24, 1572, King Charles IX of France, with a nod from his mother, Catherine de Medici, orders the assassination of Huguenot Protestant leaders in Paris, and triggers the massacre of tens of thousands of Huguenots all across France. Nearly 1500 years earlier, in the year 79, Vesuvius erupts and buries the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum for future generations to discover. Nineteen hundred and seven years after Vesuvius, on August 21, there is an eruption of lethal carbon dioxide gas from Lake Nyos in Cameroon killing nearly 2,000 people and wiping out four villages. August 22, 1776, British troops land at Long Island and hold New York until the end of the war. Fourteen years and two days later the British return to American shores and capture and burn Washington.

The sheer violence of the world stunned the Rav, in spite of the humans’ attempts to seek justice and fairness among themselves. During the Rav’s pre-Redemption lifetime the only major violence he experienced was at the hands of the AI overlords. Humanity had already been reduced to small bands of rival factions that squabbled impotently under the watchful eyes of Leviathan, ZyzCorp and Behemoth Inc. A draconian solution to the history of human mayhem. The last recorded armed conflicts were the Water Wars of the late 21st century. Few shots were fired and the entire worldwide water supply was completely divvied up among the oligarchs and their private militias. It was only after the Second Dark Age that the humans threw their lot in with the AI’s. Ram Nissan sighed, both at the darkness of history and with relief that he had lived long enough to usher in the Redemption. He turned back to the bundle of sinews at hand. August 19, 1960, American U-2 pilot, Gary Powers, is sentenced to ten years in prison by a Soviet court. A year and two days later Jomo Kenyatta, leader of the Kenyan independence movement, is released after nearly nine years in a British colonial prison. August 24, 1821, Spain grants Mexico independence. One hundred twenty three years and a day later Paris is liberated by the Allies. August 21, 1831, Nat Turner leads a slave insurrection in Virginia. Fifty two years later the trial of the pro-slavery hero, Frank James, begins before a jury of sympathetic Missourians who refuse to convict him despite his well documented trail of murders. Nineteen sixty two they almost assassinated DeGaulle, if not for the performance of his Citroen. Forty years earlier they did get Irish revolutionary and Sinn Fein politician Michael Collins; 1940 they got Trotsky in Mexico. In 1895 John Wesley Hardin, a former gunman turned lawyer, is murdered by an off-duty policeman in a saloon in El Paso, Texas. A jury finds the killer not guilty by reason of their hatred for the victim. A 33-year-old right-wing extremist with anti-Muslim views is sentenced to 21 years in a Norwegian prison, the maximum sentence, in 2012 after gunning down 77 people. Thirty one years earlier, John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, is sentenced to 20 years to life. This week in 2018 Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign director is found guilty of eight counts of financial crimes; and Michael Cohen, the President’s personal attorney, pleads guilty to eight criminal charges.  David Hume, the voice of reason, dies in 1776.

Ram Nissan was desperate for a little more light. History could be so damned depressing. Peering into the holoFlame he glimpsed the tiniest of sparks emerging from the tortuous sinews. August 20,1911, the New York Times sends the first commercial telegram around the world saying,“This message sent around the world.” Exactly 66 years later, NASA sends an updated message–a phonograph record containing information about Earth for extraterrestrial beings–shooting into space aboard Voyager II, two years to the day after Viking I had been launched to Mars. Thank God for human aspiration. But a bit of bathos manages to squeak through as he turned the page to 1835. The Great Moon Hoax, the first in a series of six sensationalized articles detailing the discovery of life on the moon, appears in the New York Sun. Plus ça change. The Rav wrenched the holoShawl from his head and stared into space. What was this great lumbering oaf of humanity. Moses was right to try to set things up from the get-go. But look what happened when humans did get up and go. The inequality of it all, the massive imbalance. Then he flashed on the shatnes idea again, the mixing of dissimilars together. He realized his own priestly garments were made of exactly that forbidden mixture of threads. And the ancient formula for tzitzit required the same mixture for the fringes of every worshipper’s prayer shawl. So there was a place for this unpredictable sparking energy, some sort of power to be tapped, maybe.

Galvanization, the contact between dissimilar metals causing a voltage difference, the less noble corroding in the presence of the more noble or inert metal.That was it.  He recalled the wisdom of his friend Pink’s reading of the I Ching: there is no action without polarization! But you had to be careful where, what and with whom. It was the evening of the liturgical year, the fifth of the seven Sabbaths of consolation set within the eternal Sabbath of the Redemption. As he paused for a breath Ram Nissan noticed the dramatic beauty of the night sky, a volley of summer heat lightning rumbling in from the West backlit by the full moon of the month of the Beloved. Then he got the big picture. He suddenly saw it, the entire book of Deuteronomy as the awakening of the golem Israel, the fledgling nation about to toddle over the Jordan for the next stage of development. Each week’s portion a stage in the developmental sequence: first words to be placed under the tongue of the golem; then a plea to the maker; then the ‘because’ of everything sussed out; then the eyes blink open; the power of judgment installed; the first tentative steps out; then back to home base; then standing steady as she goes; then at last to take to the road; then the tuning of the ears to the language of reality; and finally the good, the bad and the ugly, the moral puzzle that awaits the toddler Israel out in the world. Ram Nissan stood in awe of the task that lay ahead of Am Yisroel, the people with whom he stood. A chill went down his spine as he felt the hand of Moshe Rabeinu, Moses our Teacher, placed firmly on his shoulder from behind.

About the Author
Michael Diamond is a writer based in the Washington, DC area. He practices psychiatry there and is a doctor of medical qigong. He has published 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; in New Mexico Review, The Deronda Review, The Atherton Review, The Blood Project, Ars Medica 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, a tank of hyperactive fish and ten-thousand honeybees. 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, a glimpse of an otherwise invisible world afforded by a small aperture for light. All materials herein copyright © 2018 Michael S. Diamond. All rights reserved.
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