Some Assembly Required: Vayelech

A symphony of curses! Ram Nissan still found it hard, in spite of having seen the sweetness shining from Moshe’s face, to hear the endless litany of imprecations levied at the Jewish people as they stood willingly at the threshold of their once and future home. A complicated week, starting with the crowning event, Rosh HaShanah, the New Year of creation, the backstory to the birth of the world. All the work that had to be done by the advance men before the actual big show could be rolled out deus ex machina and all. And to top it off, Moshe was announcing his own death. Maybe it was sour grapes. After all, he pretty much had told them it was their fault for being so disobedient that he was being barred from the land. But that wouldn’t be true to character for the great teacher. No, he had some other trick up his sleeve, Ram Nissan was sure. There were extra narratives to be reenacted this week, both the improbable birth of Isaac and his near-death experience at the hands of his father Abraham. And then the big death announcement by Moshe on the Sabbath of Return. One helluva a ‘return’ for him! Not. Ram Nissan sighed just as he felt Moshe’s hand come to rest on his shoulder. “Chaver, my comrade Ram Nissan, why all the tsuris?” Once again, the Rav found Moshe’s penetrating stare latching onto his own consciousness. The great prophet arched an eyebrow and proposed, “Why don’t we go look at your whosis, you know, that thing you call rolodexing.” Ram Nissan was both amused and touched by his teacher’s reference to his failsafe practice of turning to the altar that stood before the Temple whenever he felt the need to pull up historical glosses on the spiritual business brought to hand by the weekly narrative. Only this time they were there in a flash.

Rav Ram Nissan ben Krishna HaKohen Tzedek Gadol, final and perpetual high priest of the Holy Temple, was catching on. Moshe Rabeinu, the great teacher, had a few metaphysical tricks of his own up his sleeve. Teleportation, pretty cool. Ram Nissan slung the holoShawl over the two of them so that when they stared into the fifty foot column of holoFlame the two of them could see the luminous form of Adam CADMan, the cyber-architect of the Redemption, gyrating and moonwalking in his fiery globe. The burning man smiled directly at them both and beckoned them to probe him for answers. Ram Nissan deferred to his teacher. Moshe smiled and rubbed his hands together as if readying to poke the bundle of sinews in the CADMan’s glowing body that corresponded to the week’s narratives in all the vast expanse of history. Instead, the prophet merely pointed his palms at the CADMan and breathed. A bundle of sinews began writhing like a bag of worms. The CADMan nearly giggled. Suddenly there was a blinding explosion, bodies falling through the air. Two planes hijacked by Saudi terrorists were flown directly into the World Trade Center Twin Towers. A blast heard round the world. That same week 95 years earlier, in stark contrast, Gandhi coined the term ‘satyagraha’ for the non-violent resistance to colonialism. The week is notable for a number of coups—the assassination of Constantine the Bearded in his bath, Pinochet deposes Allende in Chile, the Gaelic aristocracy goes into exile with the Flight of the Earls, the US embassy in Benghazi is overrun, Mobutu’s coup in the Congo, the PLA forms and the PFLP hijacks four jet airlines. However, a non-violent ethos also prevails that week in history—Groundbreaking begins for the UN world headquarters, the construction of Hadrian’s Wall begins, Sinn Fein disarms, the Oslo Accords are unveiled, Louis XVI accepts a constitution, Konrad Adenauer signs a reparation pact for Holocaust survivors, Haile Selassie steps down, Desmond Tutu leads the largest anti-apartheid protest march in South African history, Alexander Kerensky proclaims Russia a republic, The Council of Agda takes the church from Roman to Visigothic social order, Israel completes its withdrawal from Gaza and exactly 25 years before the week of his death, Pierre de Brazza signs a treaty with King Makoko, opening a path for France along the Congo River that eventually ensures French imperial expansion without waging war. It is also the week that Hitler demands self-determination for Sudeten Germans and Ken Starr sends a report to Congress accusing Bill Clinton of 11 impeachable offenses. A very mixed bag.

The Rav and the prophet found themselves both impressed and troubled by the cornucopia of human strife and its resolutions. But before they settled their thoughts, war exploded in every century—the Battle of Marathon, the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, the Battle of Svolder, the Battle of Stirling Bridge, Flodden Field, the Battle of Gravelines, the Battle of Zenta, the Battle of Sekigahara, the Battle at Marignano, the Japanese surrender to the Allies, and the US leads the UN in the largest amphibious assault in history against occupied Korea. And the US Marines take the Halls of Montezuma under General Scott only to march back out again 67 years later that same week at Vera Cruz after Douglas MacArthur had secured it for the United Fruit Company, prompting Smedley Butler, one of the medal of honor recipients, to declare it “an unutterable foul perversion of Our Country’s greatest gift.” That same week Benjamin Franklin writes, “There never was a good war or bad peace.” Both men sighed. Each battle was a major turning point in its way, but where was the good of mankind? Money, front and center, drives the action on and off the stage of war—the Hope Diamond is stolen during France’s Reign of Terror; Gould and Fisk attempt to manipulate the gold market using connections to Ulysses Grant; huge workers strikes occur among Parisian construction workers, South African miners and Chicago teachers; Australia’s first airline collapses, the Dow suffers its largest one day decline ever and Lehman Brothers files the most massive Chapter 11 in history. That same week in history the fledgling US government receives its first bank loan, the new mega merger MCI WorldCom opens its doors, OPEC begins to investigate supply and demand, and John Paul II publishes the encyclical “Laborem exercens” inveying against both capitalism and Marxism. Apropos of the exigencies of power, Rome dedicates its Temple of Jupiter on Capitoline Hill the same week that 1733 years later Francis of Assisi is first afflicted with stigmata. All very confusing to the Rav.

Moshe did not seem the least bit flummoxed as he queried the Rav, “Did you really expect everything was going to be packaged up with neat little bows? We’re dealing with human beings, sons of Jacob and sons of Noah all the same.” Ram Nissan was prepared to accept Moshe’s conclusion, but he still wanted a glimpse of humanity’s potential, its creative force. So the two men looked once more into the CADMan’s eternal record to see the explosion of research and discovery that occurred within the window of that week in all of history’s epochs. Right off the bat, a profusion of nuclear weapons testing by the US, UK, China, North Korea and USSR. It’s also the week of the first use of ‘Little Willies’, British tanks, in WWI; in 1947 the first four-engined jet-propelled fighter plane is tested in Columbus, Ohio; and Leó Szilárd, while waiting for a red light on Southampton Row in Bloomsbury, conceives idea of a nuclear chain reaction. More technological marvels include a 17th century British submarine; the 1831 locomotive John Bull makes its first run; the 1st glass plate photograph; a US patent for a lockstitch sewing machine; the first electric telegraph is deployed; the patent for a typesetting machine is filed; the first airplane flight in Europe; Orville Wright makes the first one hour airplane flight; the world’s first patent for synthetic rubber is granted; Charles Darwin arrives at the Galapagos Islands; the first mobile long-distance car-to-car telephone conversation in 1946; and Henry Bliss becomes first US automobile fatality in 1899. The week gave us the first helicopter, the miniature dual triode vacuum tube, the suborbital flight of the first private commercial rocket, and the RAMAC 305, the first commercial computer with a hard drive that uses magnetic disk storage, weighing over a ton. The frontiers of space were littered with Earthling hardware that week—Surveyor 5 analyzes lunar material; the Saturn V has its first successful test; Ulysses passes south pole of Sun; the USSR launches the first spacecraft to crash on the Moon; and the first lunar fly-around returns to Earth. Medical marvels abound as well—Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin; the first successful kidney dialysis; the first prefrontal lobotomy; and America’s first surviving quintuplets. The bounds of reality were given a mighty shove that week in history as The Large Hadron Collider powers up, a new human species named Homo Naledi is discovered and Egyptian archaeologists publish the discovery of a 3,500-year-old tomb of a goldsmith and his family.

Moshe pulls back the holoShawl and looks into Ram Nissan’s eyes, “Seen enough?” The Rav’s mind was buzzing with the tableau of good and evil he had just witnessed. Inseparable. There was no way to tease the polar opposites apart. Mankind appeared doomed to endless cycles of creation and destruction. It was paralyzing. Moshe Rabbeinu gestured to Ram Nissan to look up at the sky. A fleet of clouds rolled in lit up by the waxing moon. Moshe pointed to the darkest part of the sky. There she was, the Celestial Mother—the womb, the lap, the conceiving mind— urging her younglings forward. The apotheosis of the feminine as embodied in Sarah, Rachel and Hannah in the Rosh HaShanah liturgy. The divine emanation Binah in her astral form. And the Rav understood the truth of Moses’ predictions. The golem Israel would surely take a mighty fall. He saw Moses and his successor Joshua together writing the great poem of the destruction of everything, the harsh truth they wished to place in the golem’s mouth. Suddenly he saw it as the touching concern of a mother teaching her schoolchild how to cross the street alone, repeating over and over with great emphasis what to do and what not to do until she felt reasonably sure she had imprinted it into her child’s psyche. The primary instruction issued with the week’s narrative was for the assembly of the people each year at The Feast of Booths, one week hence, to hear the future king read to them from the scroll that their great teacher Moses has just completed and entrusted to the Levites to keep it and guard it in the Holy Ark. There on the hillsides of Gerizim and Ebal, Ram Nissan saw the fires of the Israelites light up like so many neurons in the two cerebral hemispheres of the golem. Though he had seen this story so many times before, he still found himself hoping that Israel would coordinate her many parts into a harmonious whole as she took her first step across the Jordan. He smiled as he heard the words of Hosea echoing in his head, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled.” May it be so.

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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