The Body in Question: Parshat Shoftim

It wasn’t supposed to happen. A dead body. That phase of existence had long since passed with the advent of The Redemption. Or at least that’s what Ram Nissan thought. But there it was, splayed out on the ground just outside the Shushan Gate. A corpse. And it hadn’t been there an hour earlier, just after sunrise, when he’d decided to jog across The Women’s Court and out the Eastward facing gate. Eternally spry at 120, Ram Nissan didn’t feel a day over 60. He could jog the circuit around the Temple Mount in 45 minutes, an hour if he stopped to contemplate life, the universe and everything. He almost tripped over it. As a priest he was forbidden from contact with a cadaver. Corpse contamination, one of the oldest taboos in spiritual communities throughout the world. Among the ancient Navajo, if a corpse was found in a hogan they would poke a hole through the roof to let the spirit out and abandon the place entirely. You can’t be too careful when it comes to the spirits of the dead. Which is why Ram Nissan stood perplexed and frozen as he stared down at the body in question. It looked to be a male, elderly, dressed in the attire of an ancient Near Eastern nomad, by Ram Nissan’s well-trained reckoning. His years tending the holoFlame and ‘rolodexing’ through the annals of recorded time gave him an intimate familiarity with the many faces of humanity. It was literally a dream—viewed from the perspective of a watcher or of a participant—to flip through the catalogue that was the ‘body’ of Adam CADMan. Then he realized, this was the story of the week, the mysterious ending of the passage on the appointment of judges. Had he inadequately terminated his session of Quantum Universal Integrated Experiential Temporality from the week before, somehow permitting a ‘time leak’? There he was outside the double portal of the Shushan Gate, when it suddenly occurred to him that this man who lay on the ground before him was both living and dead. As, in fact, were all humans since the Redemption. The reality of the ‘rolodexed’ scenes was equipotential with respect to any point in time, and any alternate path. All shared the same claim on reality, all existed in eternal superposition, the translucent palimpsest of all the narratives for a given identified individual. Decide which narrative you choose to go with and you collapse all the probabilities down to one. Somebody had decided this guy was going to be dead. At least for now.

Ram Nissan dashed up the steps to the Shushan Gate, crossed the Women’s Court, up the fifteen Steps of Ascent, pushed back the massive Nicanor Gate and bounded up the four huge steps to the upper courtyard. He smiled to himself as he briefly noted he wasn’t even out of breath. He swooped his holoShawl over his head, pronounced the initializing sequence for integrating with the holoFlame and voila, there was the CADMan rocking and rolling in his eternal ball of flame awaiting consultation. Adam CADMan, the designer of the cyber architecture of this post-Redemption world, imbued his own consciousness in the return of everything. Ram Nissan reached out with his mind’s finger and lightly touched the next point on the CADMan’s heart, reopening the narrative of the liturgical week. Dude! Moses was really on a roll in prepping the Israelites for entry into their new homeland. He is literally laying down the law for the six hundred thousand odd nomads who had followed his long and winding road from the shores of the Sea of Reeds to the banks of the Jordan River. There they stood, the dust of the wilderness still caked in the crevices of their skin, in rapt attention to the mouth of The Name. Moses was the greatest of all the Hebrew prophets yet to come, but he would not cross this river with his people. All the more reason to make sure they get it right. He had already laid out the schematics of the 42 Levitical cities, the body politic of the new nation. Now Moses the Teacher knew it was necessary to imbue that body with judgment. All of the executive powers, in fact, are invoked in this speech: judges, a king, priests and prophets. Judgment, sovereignty, ritual, and what? To prophesy is to sing the spirit, to hallow the air with visions of the divine. And boy was this prophet singing. Ram Nissan felt the sweat bead up on his brow. Mistranslated as “Justice, justice you shall pursue,” the Rav knew more precisely that the buzzword of the narrative, tzedek, meant something more akin to righteousness. But that was actually tzedakah. What was Rav Moses telegraphing in this double encryption? Tzedek, the power of the tzadik, the holy man, the eighteenth letter, the hunter for divine truth, a human embodiment of the life force itself. The power to hook that truth and bring it wriggling and gasping to the surface of the communal consciousness. The power hidden and the power revealed. Sometimes that power resided in a priest, sometimes in a judge, and sometimes even in a king, an iffy proposition by all accounts, the pitfalls of the ego. Maybe that’s why Moses instructed the future king to keep two books. No matter what you have to say, keep a record of the truth. But the early days of the Jewish people required the constant intercession of these shamanic figures, a window into the heavens. So Moses defines and delimits the power of each of the classes of executive agents for the communal good. But it’s murder, and war, where these principles are first applied.

Rav Ram Nissan ben Krishna HaKohen Tzedek Gadol paused the action for a moment. He felt the need for some historical perspective. There was no one else to talk to, being that he was the last and final High Priest. He had an urge for a little rolodexing. He located the bundle of sinews in the corpus of Adam CADMan that encrypted this week in all of history and poked it with his telepathic digit. Visions of war and its resolution started pouring in. In 1961 the East Germans begin and complete the construction of the Berlin Wall. In 1898 an armistice is declared ending the Spanish American War. In 1914 the British Parliament passes Defense of the Realm Act enabling the seizure of any and all resources. In 1521 the Aztec capital falls to Cortés. In 1980 workers in Gdansk, Poland, seize the Lenin Shipyard. In 1784 the Russians settle Alaska. In 1900 an international force takes the Chinese capital of Peking, ending the Boxer Rebellion. In 1057 King Macbeth of Scotland is slain by Malcolm Canmore. In 1914, the government of Japan demands the removal of all German ships from Japanese and Chinese waters and the surrender of control of Tsingtao. Three years later China declares war on Germany. In 1795, President George Washington signs the Jay Treaty with Great Britain, the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation. The year 30 CE sees Cleopatra commit suicide, the denouement of Egypt’s war with Rome. In 1227 Genghis Khan dies.

Justice winds its twisted way through the world. In 1994 the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal is captured. In 1831 John X. Beidler, Vigilante X, is born, the principal hangman for five victims of the notoriously secretive Montana vigilantes. In 1955 Paul Robeson loses his appeal over the denial of the renewal of his US passport. In 1984 John DeLorean is cleared in a drug-trafficking case that resulted from brazen federal entrapment. In 1967 Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas, the lone voice in the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee, attacks President Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin Resolution as lacking the proper mandate. In 1862 a band of starving Dakota Indians attacks white settlements along the Minnesota River. Their defeat, capture and trial under the orders of President Lincoln climaxed in the largest mass execution in American history. In 1991 the Soviet old guard launches a coup against President Gorbachev. In 1988 a Seattle judge involved in a sex scandal, the Honorable Gary M. Little, shoots himself. In 1941 Adolf Hitler ends the euthanizing of the mentally ill and handicapped because of protests by German physicians and clergy. And what vision would portend the future of Western Civilization? In 1939 ‘The Wizard of Oz’ premieres in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. It was arguably the central trope for the generation that exactly 30 years later staged the Woodstock festival in Bethel, New York, a mixed tableau of peace, love and disruption.

Ram Nissan sighed deeply and let the holoShawl slide off his occiput and onto his drooping shoulders. As he glanced at the darkening skies he spotted two shooting stars in a row. The Perseids, the remnants of the comet Swift-Tuttle, the most dangerous object in Earth’s skies due to the precarious proximity of its highly eccentric orbit. They appear to ‘hail’ from the constellation Perseus, from the Greek meaning to waste, savage, sack and destroy. Not a pretty picture. The Kohen Gadol felt a griping deep within his belly. Something was terribly wrong here. It was the late evening of the year, midpoint of the seven Sabbaths of consolation, and he was feeling anything but consoled. He needed a digestif, something to wash down the difficult stuff he had just swallowed. A discussion of war and justice ending with an unsolved murder. Then he had a flash. He could see Moses standing at the threshold of the Promised Land and his people, the Israelites, were about to go howling through a series of cities, holy terrors arisen from the wilderness, and leave a trail of corpses in their wake. And no matter what he said, Moses knew in his heart that these were not all evil people. They had families and love relationships just like the Israelites. Remember, even the Sodomites were considered for leniency from the harsh decree. But it was not to be in this new land, precisely because it was decreed that the Israelites establish their fledgling nation here in perpetuity. No room for competition. It was more than a sensitive soul could bear. So Moses imagined an expiatory ritual, forgiving the supplanters of the aborigines for the corpses with which they would litter the land. And one more thing, one more dead body. The Rav could barely suppress a sob when he thought of it. One body which would remain in the consciousness of the Israelites for as long as they would recite their history. Tears were pouring down Ram Nissan’s cheeks. The body of Moses himself. Moses, the tzadik, the minister of the mysterious ashes of the Red Heifer to his corpse contaminated people, the one who would have to remain behind that his people might enter the land and live.

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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