The Golem at the Threshold: Nitzavim

Rav Ram Nissan ben Krishna HaKohen Tzedek Gadol, the last of the line of high priests of the Temple, now in perpetuity since the Redemption, teetered on wobbly legs as he stood facing east on the Temple Mount with Moses the great teacher at his side. Moses turned to the Rav with a wink and said, “Watch this, boychik. I’m really gonna give ‘em hell.” Suddenly the two of them were standing on the other side of the Jordan as Moses unleashed the full fury of his oratory upon the amassed Israelite horde, every man Jacob down to the woodcutters and water drawers. It was time to renew the covenant at Sinai with this new generation that had never known slavery in Egypt. Moses was leaving no seed of doubt unexposed, “Perhaps there is among you a root that produces hemlock and wormwood.” Poison and gall beget the same, a fire sale, everything must go. Ram Nissan listened to the fire and brimstone screed at a bit of a remove. The great prophet conjured the cataclysm that befell the fabled ancient cities—figures for all the phases of nature: the minerality of Sodom’s salt; the vegetal symbolized by Gomorrah’s bundle of grain, the omer; Admah, the word for earth itself which contains all; and the animal world as personified by Zevoiim, the fleet-footed deer. What was this elemental formula, most basic of all categories? Something cryptic this way comes. But Moses was on a roll, and wasn’t about to show his hand. In fact, he as much as said so, “The hidden things belong to the Lord, our God, but the revealed things apply to us.” But the Rav couldn’t leave well enough alone. What was Moshe Rabeinu trying to make of all this earthy imagery? Then it stunned the Rav all over again—of course, the golem! The creature made of earth contained inchoate all the elemental phases of earthly being, animal–vegetal–mineral. But what was the golem Israel supposed to do with this stream of imprecations fired at it from the mouth of Moses their teacher who led them for forty years through the wilderness, from slavery in Egypt to the verge of freedom in the land of their forefathers?

Ram Nissan slipped from Moses’ side and turned back to the altar of the holoFlame. He thought a little rolodexing might help clarify the issues at hand, a trip through the pages of time that opened during this same week throughout all the years of ancient history. He drew the holoShawl over his head, all four cobalt blue tzitzit dongles blinking and sparking at the corners. Once again, under the holoShawl, the vast incoherence of the holoFlame revealed the incandescent body of Adam CADMan rocking and rolling in an aureole of fire. Ram Nissan swore that the CADMan looked like he was struggling to suppress a burst of uproarious laughter. The Rav still marveled at the notion of the CADMan as both the architect and the software for the post-Redemption world. The mad ride his Moshiach module had taken them on, the Rav and the whole Hack Pack crew, seemed like forever ago. He turned from his reverie to find the precise group of sinews in the CADMan’s body that corresponded to the week in question. It seemed that in recent weeks the bones of the CADMan were being pulled every which way simultaneously, hard to coordinate at all. Suddenly there was a blast of natural disasters: Great Fire of London 1666, the Great Tokyo Fire in 1923 and a tsunami in 1596 that engulfed the Japanese archipelago. On the other hand, international peace and justice were making some progress. It was the week in 1919 when President Wilson started his League of Nations promotional tour, admitting Germany six years later that same week. In 1975 Israel and Egypt signed the Sinai II agreement. In 1994 Russia and China settled an old border dispute and agreed never to attack each other with nuclear weapons. In 1996 the Philippine government and Muslim rebels officially ended a 26 year insurgency. In 1998 the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal renders its first conviction for genocide, in Rwanda.

It was not a great week for the Rav’s own people, the Jews: the Munich Olympics in 1972 and the forced wearing of the yellow star for Jews in Germany in 1941. American rough justice that same week is a very mixed bag: 1974 Ford pardons Nixon; 1901 President McKinley is shot by an anarchist; 1935 the demagogue Huey Long is shot by an irate physician; in 1885 white miners massacre their Chinese coworkers in Rock Springs, Wyoming; in 1876 Minnesotans nearly wipe out the James-Younger Gang; and in 2008 the US Government assumes conservatorship over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac during the subprime mortgage crisis, 319 years to the week after the founding of the US Treasury. A few high and low points in the world of the arts: Michelangelo unveils his David in 1504; Victor Hugo returns to Paris in 1870 from exile on the Isle of Guernsey; Guillaume Apollinaire gets arrested for stealing the Mona Lisa in 1911; and Jack Kerouac publishes “On the Road” in 1957. In the theater of war and conquest it’s the week for swing your partners dos-y-dos regime change: 31 B.C.E. the Battle of Actium; 394 CE Theodosius becomes the sole ruler of Italy; 476 the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire deposed by a German barbarian; 1189 Richard the Lionheart crowned King of England; 1260 the Ghibellines defeat the Guelfs, and Mamluks defeat Mongols and Crusaders; 1529 Ottoman Sultan Suleiman establishes a puppet king of Hungary; 1565 Spain settles St. Augustine, Florida; 1628 British colonists arrive at Salem, Massachusetts; 1650 Cromwell defeats the Scottish army; 1664 the Dutch surrender New Amsterdam to the British; 1774 the first session of the Continental Congress convenes; 1777 The American stars and stripes is carried into battle for the first time; 1781 Los Angeles founded by the Spanish; 1783 the Treaty of Paris signed by Great Britain and the United States; 1813, the United States gets its nickname, Uncle Sam from a meat packer in Troy, New York; 1820 Czar Alexander closes Alaskan waters to foreigners; 1877 Crazy Horse is fatally bayoneted by an army guard; 1886 Geronimo surrenders; 1905 The Russian-Japanese War ends; 1939 Great Britain and France declare war on Germany; 1940 the start of the London Blitzkreig; 1941 the Siege of Leningrad begins; 1945 VJ Day, the same day as Vietnam declares its independence; 1977 Jimmy Carter transfers the Panama Canal to Panama; and 1991 the USSR officially recognizes independence for the Baltic States. The whole world is a-movin’ and a-shakin’ and a-tryin’ to figure out who’s who.

Ram Nissan’s breathing is coming in rapid bursts and he has to step back from the flame to compose himself. Then, with a deep cleansing breath, he dives in for the final round. The descendants of American slaves take two steps forward and one step back that week: 1838 Frederick Douglass escapes slavery; 1859 Harriet E. Wilson publishes “Our Nig”; 1954 Washington D.C. and Maryland begin integration of public schools; 1956 Tennessee National Guardsmen halt rioters protesting the admission of 12 African-Americans to their schools; 1958 Martin Luther King Jr. is arrested in an Alabama protest for loitering; 1963 George Wallace calls state troopers to Tuskegee High School to prevent integration; and in 1988 Lee Roy Young becomes the first African-American Texas Ranger in the force’s 165-year history. But the truly stellar sign by the Rav’s reckoning was the explosion of human discovery and adventure marked by that week in history: 1522 Magellan circumnavigates the globe; 1776, during the Revolutionary War, the first use of a submersible by the Americans; 1881 Edison Electric lights up; 1888, the first use of an incubator for a premature infant; 1896 an electric car wins the first auto race in the United States; 1906 the invention of the automatic typewriter return carriage; 1907 the maiden voyage of the Lusitania, the world’s largest passenger ship; 1912 a French aviator sets an altitude record of 13,200 feet; 1915, the first prototype tank nicknamed Little Willie rolls off the assembly line in England; 1910 Marie Curie demonstrates the transformation of radium ore to metal; 1935 on the Bonneville Salt Flats the 2,500-hp motor car Bluebird exceeds 300 mph; 1936 the first east-to-west solo flight by a woman across the Atlantic Ocean; 1944 Germany launches its first V-2 missile at Paris; 1951 the first transcontinental television broadcast, by President Truman; 1960 Eisenhower dedicates NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center; 1970 NASA cancels two planned missions to the moon; 1976 Viking 2 lands on Mars; 1984 the Space Shuttle Discovery comes home safely; 1992 the US and Russia agree to build a space station together; 1998 Google is incorporated; and in 2013 Diana Nyad, at 64, makes a record swim from Cuba to Florida. The call of the frontier, a potent contrapuntal melody of blessings and curses.

As the Rav stumbled out from under the holoShawl what should confront him but the beaming face of Moshe Rabeinu, Moses our teacher. He was momentarily disoriented as he lurched to gain his bearings. Ram Nissan muttered almost inaudibly, “What the…” as he stared into the moonless night sky of the evening of the year. An odd array of constellations whirled and gyred over his head as Moshe caught him by the temples. A dark Maiden and the Narrow-Faced six-bodied Youth with a short beard assembling and disassembling before the Rav’s eyes. Further off in the sky he saw the primordial Mother and Father, followed by the long-bearded Broad-Faced One and then the Ancient of Days.  The Rav looked to Moshe for help, but the mischievous prophet merely held his chin in his hand and gazed up at the stars. Don’t fail me now, the Rav thought to his inner vision. He realized that they stood at the annual threshold of the great holiday cycle, the coronation and celebration of the divine order imprinted on the face of the planet. It was big. The last of the seven Sabbaths of consolation, the new moon of Tishrei. It was right there, so close, the tip of his mind’s tongue. Yes! The word, or second word, to be precise. The lesson of the week, “ It is in your mouth and in your heart,” not in the sea or sky but right here on planet earth. The Book of Deuteronomy was the blueprint of the golem and we were on the launching pad! This inscription was the scroll to be placed beneath the tongue of the golem to transform it from a standing lump of clay into a living moving instrument of divine will. And suddenly he saw the whole parade unfold before him: the seven Sabbaths, the seven parameters of divine emanation housed within the body—the eternal maiden known as Presence or Sovereignty, the all-receiving one, pleading on behalf of Moshe himself; and the Narrow-Faced or Impatient One, comprised of the six faculties of Foundation, Humility, Endurance, Harmony, Strength and Lovingkindness.

The concordances could not be accidental: the first Sabbath of consolation was the week of Tu B’Av, the maidens all find their mates, Moses pleads to be permitted to enter the land and we are given the Shema, the Oneness credo, the vehicle by which we become a single being, Presence; the second Sabbath encodes the “because”, the memory, of the whole journey, the DNA of the twisted path, the Foundation of all that’s to come; the next Sabbath fashions the jewel-like lens or saddle point of Shechem between the mounts of judgment, Gerizim and Ebal, and shows the people the mechanism to display a vision of the splendor and Humility of the choice that lays before them; and at the midpoint of the march of the Sabbaths, Moses calls in all the powers of judgment, above all the Endurance afforded only by a vision of a lineage of righteousness and truth. At that point the golem Israel is ready for a test run: a spark, and the golem takes its tentative steps out, the fifth Sabbath elucidates the the tensions that must be resolved to produce the Harmony required for movement to occur at all; the sixth Sabbath, one step back to home base, the toddling golem needs refueling, and the tribes gird their loins and swarm Gerizim and Ebal for the enactment of the Strength of their characters. And this, the seventh Sabbath of consolation, is the time to be reaffirmed in our standing in the eyes of the architect of the golem, and the able assistant, Moshe Rabeinu, in whose eyes Ram Nissan now saw the deepest wells of Lovingkindness, behind all the tough love he showed his charge, the people Israel. The two of them stood together at the foot of Gerizim and Ebal looking westward over the Jordan. The next step would be a big one, right at the cusp of the great coronation ceremony of the High Holidays, to bring down the twin crown of intellect and spirit needed for the launching of the fledgling nation from its nest. Moses and Ram Nissan stared into the night sky together and marvelled at the constellation of the Maiden in eternal embrace with her six-bodied Youth, the two as one on the road to bliss.

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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