Now You See Me: Torah portion Vaetchanan

The Sabbath of our consolation, the first of seven. It is fast upon the sunset of the year, the time for the lighting of candles before the crepuscular creatures come out. The week liquid water was discovered on Mars, signs of life sure to follow. Moses pleads with his Divine Master for the last time to relent, to let him cross the Jordan. According to legend, God tells Moses the great teacher if he registers one more plea he will tip the hand of Providence irreversibly in an unintended direction, nullifying all previous covenants including the one that Moses so painstakingly hammered out on behalf of the Israelites. So it is Moses who relents, accepting his impending sacred kiss. The Godfather has spoken. The Israelites shall swarm the land from which Moses their leader is barred. This week in history the US invaded Puerto Rico, the Mormons settled Salt Lake Valley and Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The Bonus Marchers were evicted from the nation’s capital by the US Army. Ulysses S. Grant died in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Mussolini fell and the first three articles of impeachment were filed against President Richard M. Nixon. Maximilien Robespierre, defender of the poor and of democratic institutions, was tried and executed for his complicity in the execution of over 17,000 “enemies of the French Revolution.” In other years, Nixon dickered with Khrushchev in the Kitchen Debate and Stalin issued Order No. 227 outlawing cowardice. The game, as ever, was on, death take the hindmost.

It is understandable that Moses adopts a somewhat hectoring tone as he preps the people for their future without him. The fear in the air was so palpable he could taste it. He stokes their fear just enough to prevent them from adding to or subtracting from the narrative he has bequeathed them. He hints that they are non-existent in a cryptic utterance asserting that only God actually exists. Forget about childish images. They must enter the land with nothing but their bare awareness. But he knows that down the line they’ll screw up, get distracted and have to somehow make their way back. Then he pulls out all stops, maximal fear and emptiness. He reminds them of the day that the mountain hovered ominously over their heads and the Ten Utterances rained down on their uncomprehending ears to the accompaniment of a synaesthetic light and sound show. And just when he has reduced them to a quivering mass of terror once again, he gives them his message of love. Love? Yes, it is the week when love is most in the air, the week of Tu B’Av, the celebration of the Full Moon of Av. Traditionally, the beginning of the grape harvest which ends at Yom Kippur, and the end of the annual wood-gathering for the three fires of the Temple. The day when young maidens don their white finery and dance in the vineyards to find their beloved. It is also the day, the year after the Beitar massacre, that the Romans allowed the Israelites to bury the corpses of their dead, miraculously uncorrupted after lying above ground for over a year. And according to legend, after the refugees from Egypt had been sleeping in their graves every year at Tisha B’Av for forty years, in the last year in the wilderness they all awoke alive, unlike the previous years. They thought they must have had the date wrong so they repeated the practice for six nights in a row until they saw the full moon. Ecstatic celebration ensued.

So here we are again, on the brink of another war of annihilation against a settled population, and we’re talking about love. Maybe there’s something else cooking here. This is where we’re given our most potent mindfulness practice, in the recitation of the Shema, the oneness prayer which we will adopt for twice daily recitation. In it are encoded the instructions for reminding ourselves with the daily binding of phylacteries for morning prayer and the inscription placed on every gate and doorway we encounter within the lands of our tribe. The twin themes of love and the escape from Egypt forever tattooed on our consciousness. It is at this time of year, as we face our designated enemies, that we lay out the table for our beloved, and light the candles for the year’s Sabbath that we are about to enter, say goodbye to bondage. Perhaps the week of consolation has something else in store for us. It is the week in history that the 14th amendment to the US constitution was ratified, giving full citizenship to African Americans. It is also the week that the US Senate approved the UN charter and the Geneva Convention is signed. Even Richard Nixon declared his Vietnamization policy in the week of consolation. And this year it was the week that 1800 immigrant children that had come across the US Mexico border seeking a better life were reunited with their parents. More than 700 were not. With each turn of time’s wheel we have another opportunity to embrace love, and to understand the ramifications of bondage and release from bondage. Perhaps in the time of a full and final redemption may we sit down in peace with our beloved, before our erstwhile enemies, and partake of that eternal Sabbath’s repast. Until then, we shall endeavor to do better.

 

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, one cat, 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. All materials herein copyright © 2018 Michael S. Diamond. All rights reserved.
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