Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Saturday, April 09, 2005


Daily Readings
Psalm 59 + Numbers 6:1-21 + Leviticus 26 +Matthew 15

Verse for the Day
For my part, I will sing of your strength;
I will celebrate your love in the morning; Psalm 59:18

Daily Text Numbers 6:1-8

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2Speak to the Israelites and say to them: When either men or women make a special vow, the vow of a nazirite, to separate themselves to the LORD, 3they shall separate themselves from wine and strong drink; they shall drink no wine vinegar or other vinegar, and shall not drink any grape juice or eat grapes, fresh or dried. 4All their days as nazirites they shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins. 5All the days of their nazirite vow no razor shall come upon the head; until the time is completed for which they separate themselves to the LORD, they shall be holy; they shall let the locks of the head grow long. 6All the days that they separate themselves to the LORD they shall not go near a corpse. 7Even if their father or mother, brother or sister, should die, they may not defile themselves; because their consecration to God is upon the head. 8All their days as nazirites they are holy to the LORD.

Vows are common in Scripture, and the Nazarite vow is well known, so well-known that even today most Christians could probably tell you about Samson and John the Baptist, maybe even Samuel. John Milton wrote a wonderful poem, Samson Agonistes and regales wonderful images of the man in his disgrace after telling Delilah about the secret of his strength. The Nazarite vow prohibited the cutting of one’s hair, imbibing alcohol and contact with the dead. The vow’s aim was a special dedication to the LORD. Everywhere it testified to holiness and such dedication is widely admired. In the twentieth century much of it was seen in the holiness sects in this country. Abjuring alcohol was widespread, and among women, many were those who spent a lifetime without cutting their hair. They didn’t it call a Nazarite vow, but the intent was the same.

Such dedication was also often scoffed at as taking oneself too seriously. The Jews, for example, came to feel that one who spent so much time denying himself, would probably also have no care for his neighbor and they regarded such rigorousness as sinful. In the Christian Church the most extreme forms of self-denial were seen in the monastery and in the priesthood where the devotee embraced vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

In Islam abstinence from alcohol has become the rule for the faithful. Among the Jewish Hasidim, the men wear full beards and earlocks and stand out clearly as biblically observant. “By their appearance the observant aim to testify to membership in a people who, all of them, are consecrated to God [185:1061].” Perhaps it is not so strange in our society that our elders get a little strange when their children let their hair grow or perhaps cut it off entirely. It makes us nervous. Extreme dedication or rebellion often create that response.

from Samson Agonistes
by John Milton

Shall I abuse this consecrated gift
Of strength, again returning with my hair
After my great transgression, so requite
Favor renew’d, and add a greater sin
By prostituting holy things to idols;
A Nazarite in place abominable
Vaunting my strength in honor to their Dagon?
Besides, how vile, contemptible, ridiculous,
What act more execrably unclean, profane?

Friday, April 08, 2005

Trial by Ordeal

Daily Readings
Psalm 58 + Numbers 5 + Leviticus 25 + Matthew 14

Verse for the Day
Jesus said to them, “They need not go away, you give them something to eat.” Matthew 14:16

Daily Text Numbers 5:5-7,11-31
5The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 6Speak to the Israelites: When a man or a woman wrongs another, breaking faith with the LORD, that person incurs guilt 7and shall confess the sin that has been committed. The person shall make full restitution for the wrong, adding one fifth to it, and giving it to the one who was wronged.
11 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 12Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If any man's wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, 13if a man has had intercourse with her but it is hidden from her husband, so that she is undetected though she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her since she was not caught in the act; 14if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself; or if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself; 15then the man shall bring his wife to the priest. And he shall bring the offering required for her, one-tenth of an ephah of barley flour. He shall pour no oil on it and put no frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of remembrance, bringing iniquity to remembrance. 16Then the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the LORD; 17the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. 18The priest shall set the woman before the LORD, dishevel the woman's hair, and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. 19Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, "If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while under your husband's authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse. 20But if you have gone astray while under your husband's authority, if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had intercourse with you," 21--let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman--"the LORD make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the LORD makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge; 22now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!" And the woman shall say, "Amen. Amen." 23Then the priest shall put these curses in writing, and wash them off into the water of bitterness. 24He shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter her and cause bitter pain. 25The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy out of the woman's hand, and shall elevate the grain offering before the LORD and bring it to the altar; 26and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering, as its memorial portion, and turn it into smoke on the altar, and afterward shall make the woman drink the water. 27When he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop, and the woman shall become an execration among her people. 28But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children. 29This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, while under her husband's authority, goes astray and defiles herself, 30or when a spirit of jealousy comes on a man and he is jealous of his wife; then he shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall apply this entire law to her. 31The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.

Trial by Ordeal
The matters in this chapter do not seem very connected; if they are, they are by reason of the continued purity of the people. That is, even in the unusual circumstances of leprosy, female infidelity and sin against another, there were ways for the community to respond. In 21st century terms some of these these ‘behaviors ’ are inhumane, humiliating, and unacceptable.

The principle underlying the ordeal is that society and individuals have a right to expect fidelity. In this case, the husband is afforded that right, though the wife is not, and if he suspects infidelity he can take his wife to the priest. Even his jealousy gives him standing! The ordeal was to force divine judgement on innocence or guilt and either way the victim of the ordeal was humiliated. Such ordeals have been common in many societies. The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi has a parallel ordeal for the wife. In Mari, there was water ordeal where water was mixed with earth and a person thought to have shortchanged the gods could be forced to drink it. The Greeks and Romans had many sorts of ordeals and some of them continued in Europe even into modern times. The accused having to walk over hot coals to determine an offense was a common one. If unharmed he or she was innocent…. Another was to weight a suspected witch, bound and throw her into the river. If she floated she was guilty. If she sank and drowned she was innocent!

The unusual part of this in Israel is that a miracle was required on the spot to declare guilt. The rabbis very quickly modified this to include the husband and after the destruction of the second temple it was abolished altogether. [Cf. 185:1054] There is a Christian midrash from the Protevangelium of James that addresses this ordeal to a trial of Joseph and Mary when she was found to be pregnant.
“And the High Priest said: ‘Give back the virgin whom you have received from the temple of the Lord.’ And Joseph wept bitterly. And the High Priest said: ‘I will give you to drink the water of the conviction of the Lord, and it will make manifest your sins before your eyes.’ And the High Priest took it and gave it to Joseph to drink and sent him into the wilderness; and he came back whole. And he made Mary also drink and sent her into the wilderness; and she also returned whole. And all the people marveled, because the water had not revealed any sin in them. And the High Priest said: ‘If the Lord God has not made manifest your sins, neither do I condemn you.’ And he released them. And Joseph took Mary and departed to his house, rejoicing and glorifying the God of Israel. [185:1056]”

In the matter of sinning against another, whether you are a man or a woman, the law was clear that it was actually breaking faith with the LORD, probably because the commandments are so clear about not mistreating ones fellows. This principle continues to hold in the New Testament, i.e., that sin against another is sin against the LORD (e.g., I Corinthians 8:12). The remedy is confession and restitution, eminently reasonable and psychologically sound. While both the confession and the ordeal are related to ritual purity and social accountability, it is hard to treat them as parallel responses, though that was probably intended. This matter of differing world views is often very difficult.

Robert Freeman

White Captain of my soul, lead on;
I follow Thee, come dark or dawn.
Only vouchsafe three things I crave:
Where terror stalks, help me be brave!
Where righteous ones can scarce endure
The siren call, help me be pure!
Where vows grow dim, and men dare do
What once they scorned, help me be true!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Handling Holy Things

Daily Readings
Psalm 57 + Numbers 4 + Leviticus 24 + Matthew 13

Verse for the Day
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Matthew 13:44

Daily Text Numbers 4:5-17,28,33
5When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the screening curtain, and cover the ark of the covenant with it; 6then they shall put on it a covering of fine leather, and spread over that a cloth all of blue, and shall put its poles in place. 7Over the table of the bread of the Presence they shall spread a blue cloth, and put on it the plates, the dishes for incense, the bowls, and the flagons for the drink offering; the regular bread also shall be on it; 8then they shall spread over them a crimson cloth, and cover it with a covering of fine leather, and shall put its poles in place. 9They shall take a blue cloth, and cover the lampstand for the light, with its lamps, its snuffers, its trays, and all the vessels for oil with which it is supplied; 10and they shall put it with all its utensils in a covering of fine leather, and put it on the carrying frame. 11Over the golden altar they shall spread a blue cloth, and cover it with a covering of fine leather, and shall put its poles in place; 12and they shall take all the utensils of the service that are used in the sanctuary, and put them in a blue cloth, and cover them with a covering of fine leather, and put them on the carrying frame. 13They shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth over it; 14and they shall put on it all the utensils of the altar, which are used for the service there, the firepans, the forks, the shovels, and the basins, all the utensils of the altar; and they shall spread on it a covering of fine leather, and shall put its poles in place. 15When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the Kohathites shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, or they will die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the Kohathites are to carry. 16Eleazar son of Aaron the priest shall have charge of the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering, and the anointing oil, the oversight of all the tabernacle and all that is in it, in the sanctuary and in its utensils. 17Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 28This is the service of the clans of the Gershonites relating to the tent of meeting, and their responsibilities are to be under the oversight of Ithamar son of Aaron the priest. 33This is the service of the clans of the Merarites, the whole of their service relating to the tent of meeting, under the hand of Ithamar son of Aaron the priest.

Handling Holy Things
Blue is the color of the coverings for the holy things. It is thought to refer to the color of the heavenly throne of God (Cf. Exodus 24:10) Since these items were all in the Most Holy Place or the Holy Place they were associated with the presence of God, the mercy seat actually being the place where God stood or sat. The covering itself may well have been made of dolphin skin used widely in those times and the color for the blue cloth coming from certain kinds of shellfish collected by Phoenicians or two snails, Murex trunculis and Murex brandaris. Baruch Levine writes, “These snails are found along the Mediterranean coast. …The Palestinian Talmud (Berakot 15) describes this color as that of the sea, and at Ugarit it was called uqnu, the word for lapis lazuli.” Evidently, there was extensive manufacture in the Late Bronze Age, although, as one might guess, it took a great many snails for a little color, was therefore very expensive and was reserved for royalty and important cultic purposes. [410:400]

The crimson color for the cloth, that went over the blue and under the dolphin skin, was obtained from the bodies of certain worms and insects, dried and ground into powder. All of this detail most likely holds little interest for most readers of Numbers. However, here is placed the detail that the priests and Levites would need for carrying out their functions. Such detail is available in any field be it religious, corporate, scientific or simply writing. It is just not usually published for the general public, that is those without particular need for the information. We can ridicule the bible for this or we can recognize it for what it is. There is much of this specialized material in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. But in it all there are lessons to be read and beauty to be experienced. Simply thinking of the care and the expense in providing such beautiful protective materials for the sanctuary gives one a sense of the love and thoughtfulness that went into it.

The matter of the Kohathites who bore this material on the trek, yet could not even look on the objects before they were covered by the priests, as if seeing the objects was like seeing the face of God, must have added much to the sense of mystery and holiness around these objects. The Church used to take such care. Only priests, deacons and the altar guild were allowed in the sanctuary, and then preparation was required and ministers of the services entered and departed in a prescribed order. Holy things were handled by acolytes in particular ways that I am discovering only older priests, altar guild members and acolytes even remember. These practices are not taught in most seminaries anymore. In the process we demystify our most holy places and while we grow more relaxed, one cannot help but wonder if we lose in terms of devotion? Still the Lord requires mercy and not sacrifice and if we can hold on to the heart of our love and devotion we may be better off without the scrupulousnous of former times.

To A Young Priest
Anne Blackwell Payne

Such old, illustrious tidings you proclaim,
With quiet incandescence in your face;
Until the altar candles do not flame
With any surer radiance and grace.
It is the fire that burned in Augustine;
The passion that is selfless and most white;
That made of Francis, gentle and serene,
A torch uplifted on a somber night.
Such still adventure, and such steep a stair!
And, yet, to travel with you I would toss
The trifling cargo of myself and share
Your braver burdens and more excellent cross;
And give my little dream to be imbued
With your grave joy and flaming certitude.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Loved by God

Daily Readings
Psalm 56 + Numbers 3 + Leviticus 23 + Matthew 12

Verse for the Day
You have noted my lamentation; put my tears into your bottle; are they not recorded in your book? Psalm 56:8

Daily Text Numbers 3:5-13
5Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 6Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, so that they may assist him. 7They shall perform duties for him and for the whole congregation in front of the tent of meeting, doing service at the tabernacle; 8they shall be in charge of all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and attend to the duties for the Israelites as they do service at the tabernacle. 9You shall give the Levites to Aaron and his descendants; they are unreservedly given to him from among the Israelites. 10But you shall make a register of Aaron and his descendants; it is they who shall attend to the priesthood, and any outsider who comes near shall be put to death. 11Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 12I hereby accept the Levites from among the Israelites as substitutes for all the firstborn that open the womb among the Israelites. The Levites shall be mine, 13for all the firstborn are mine; when I killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both human and animal; they shall be mine. I am the LORD.

Loved by God
Aaron is mentioned before Moses in the beginning of this chapter, for the Aaronide priesthood is being discussed and while both Aaron and Moses are members of the tribe of Levi, the family of Kohath, in fact, it is Aaron who is High Priest. The Levites are organized into three families to be bearers and caretakers of the tabernacle. Aaron’s family continues to be the priestly family, but the whole tribe participates. In the census the firstborn are counted if they are a month old, for they are devoted to the Lord’s service from one month onward, even though they do not begin their service until they are 25 or 30 years of age.

When God passed over Egypt on that fateful night of their exodus he required the firstborn of every family, human and other animal. The Israelite slaves were spared the death of their firstborn, but not spared their devotion to God. That is, God claimed all firstborn dead or alive. Here this theme is picked up once again, and God accepts substitution for the firstborn of Israel. A Levite male may be substituted for an Israelite firstborn male, one for one, for the Levites were all considered to be in God’s service. The census of the Levites found 273 fewer Levite males than Israelite firstborn! What to do? A payment of a few shekels per head and the accounts were squared. ‘Numbers ‘ indeed. There is a beauty and an economy in the scrupulous accounting given here that suggests that God cares for each one. It is like the tears collected in God’s bottle in Psalm 56:8. Not only is suffering a sort of capital investment in God, every life is accounted for in God. This is reiterated in the New Testament in Matthew’s recording of the Sermon on the Mount, chapter five. Love is here personified in strict accounting. How many ways there are catch a glimpse of the carefulness of God for his creation!

The Loom of Time
Author unknown

Man’s life is laid in the loom of time
To a pattern he does not see,
While the weavers work and the shuttles fly
Till the dawn of eternity.

Some shuttles are filled with silver threads
And some with threads of gold,
While often but the darker hues
Are all they they may hold.

But the weaver watches with skillful eye
Each shuttle fly to and fro,
And sees the pattern so deftly wrought
As the loom moves sure and slow.

God surely planned the pattern:
Each thread, the dark and fair,
Is chosen by His master skill
And placed in the web with care.

He only knows its beauty,
And guides the shuttles which hold
The threads so unattractive,
As well as the threads of gold.

Not till each loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly,
Shall God reveal the pattern
And explain the reason why

The dark threads were as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
For the pattern which He planned.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Camping on the Square

Daily Readings
Psalm 55 + Numbers 2 + Leviticus 22 + Matthew 11

Verse for the Day
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29

Daily Text Numbers 2:1-3,10,17,18,25,33,34

The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 2The Israelites shall camp each in their respective regiments, under ensigns by their ancestral houses; they shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side.
3 Those to camp on the east side toward the sunrise shall be of the regimental encampment of Judah by companies. 10On the south side shall be the regimental encampment of Reuben by companies. 17The tent of meeting, with the camp of the Levites, shall set out in the center of the camps; they shall set out just as they camp, each in position, by their regiments. 18On the west side shall be the regimental encampment of Ephraim by companies. 25On the north side shall be the regimental encampment of Dan by companies. 33Just as the LORD had commanded Moses, the Levites were not enrolled among the other Israelites. 34The Israelites did just as the LORD had commanded Moses: They camped by regiments, and they set out the same way, everyone by clans, according to ancestral houses.

Camping on the Square
Number’s two sets the tone for the march, and march it is to be, for the encampment is organized as a military force. The men with their families are divided into four military units of three tribes each. For example, Judah has the place of honor flanked by Issachar and Zebulun. They are on the East Side of the tabernacle at the entrance. Each of the four units has roughly 150,000 soldiers.

The march and the encampment are in the form of a quadrangle, with the tabernacle, and the Levites carrying and attending in the center. Two ideas are expressed in this formation. 1) That God is in the midst of his people and 2) that the focus for the army is to protect its sacred space. No matter how these people succeed or fail to live up to the gifts, blessings and expectation of Adonai, they must always be fully aware of His presence with them.

The Divine Presence
Aubrey Thomas de vere

All but unutterable Name!
Adorable, yet awful sound!
Thee can the sinful nations frame
Save with their foreheads on the ground?

Soul-searching and all-cleansing Fire;
To see Thy countenance were to die:
Yet how beyond the bound retire
Of Thy serene immensity?

Thou mov’st beside us, if the spot
We change—a noteless, wandering tribe;
The orbits of our life and thought
In Thee their little arcs describe.

In their dead calm, at cool of day,
We hear Thy voice, and turn, and flee:
Thy love outstrips us on our way!
From Thee, O God, we fly—to Thee.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Moses, Moses, Take a Census

Daily Readings
Psalm 54 + Numbers 1 + Leviticus 21 +Matthew 10

Verse for the Day
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Matthew 10:40

Daily Text Numbers 1:1-3

The LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: 2Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites, in their clans, by ancestral houses, according to the number of names, every male individually; 3from twenty years old and upward, everyone in Israel able to go to war. You and Aaron shall enroll them, company by company.

Moses, Moses, Take a census
A month after the set up of the tabernacle in Exodus 40, the story picks up in the Book of Numbers. There is repeated a census that was noted in Exodus 38 and it probably is the same census. In the census we come up with a total number of fighting age men of 603, 550 and that number agrees with the one in Exodus 38:26. This number of roughly 600,000 men under arms is consistent, wherever it comes up. There does not seem to be any artifice about it. However, 600,000 men age 20 and up would suggest an aggregation of 2,000,000 people. Could the Sinai desert support so many? How would they communicate? How would they move in a relatively constricted space? No one knows. Who in the world would want to fight with such a gigantic force?

In 1957 Mendenhall suggested the following possibility. The word for thousands in Hebrew is elef and the numbers are written thus: 46 elef 500, 46,500. Is it possible that elef which means thousands, did not mean that exactly in ancient times? Could it have meant, say, ‘contingents’ or a grouping of some kind? If so, the numbers might become understandable. For example, the tribe of Reuben has 46 elef 500 men. If that were read 46 contingents 500 men the numbers would become more manageable. The total number of fighting men would then be 5, 550 giving us a total number of people on this wilderness journey of about 20,000. It is still a very large number of folks to be on trek, but the army’s size is consonant with armies of other peoples at that time. Also, communication would be possible with 20,000—with 2, 000,000 one can only conjecture. Such a scheme for understanding these numbers allows the contemporary person to both grapple with reasonable images and take the tradition of the text seriously, as well [Cf. Plaut, The Torah, p.1034]. It doesn’t resolve the difficulties, but it offers an alternative way of thinking.

He Counts Them
A.K. Blank

The Lord of Hosts He counts them, counts them every hour,
Each single, irreplaceable dear head,
Beloved ones in freedom and in sin;
He numbers them amongst the living and the dead.

And when to each the moment of His giving comes,
The moment of indwelling in each compassed soul,
He counts, that love should not except
The least and most unworthy from life’s goal.

That none be missing then, His love
Each solitary life to number and to count
Remmebers, fearing one be strayed
When the Shechinah rests upon the mount.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

No Longer in Exile

Daily Readings
Psalm 53, Exodus 40, Leviticus 20, Matthew 9

Verse for the Day
You shall be holy to me; for I the LORD am holy, and I have separated you from the other peoples to be mine. Leviticus 20:26

Daily Text Exodus 40:1-2, 16-19, 34-38

The LORD spoke to Moses: 2On the first day of the first month you shall set up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting.
16 Moses did everything just as the LORD had commanded him. 17In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was set up. 18Moses set up the tabernacle; he laid its bases, and set up its frames, and put in its poles, and raised up its pillars; 19and he spread the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent over it; as the LORD had commanded Moses.
34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 36Whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on each stage of their journey; 37but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day that it was taken up. 38For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey.

No Longer in Exile
It is time for the Tabernacle to be put in place. It is the first day of the month, Abib, two weeks short of the anniversary of the exodus from Egypt. Again Moses receives the divine instruction and then he carries it out. Moses carries out the fulfillment of his vision. And when he completed this the glory of the LORD filled the place as had been foretold in 25:8. It occurred again when Solomon dedicated the first temple to the LORD [I Kings 8:10-11, Cf. Numbers 9:15]. God was present with his people. “The erection of the shrine was the symbolic conclusion of the exodus tale. The latter had begun with the ‘absent’ God during the years of enslavement and now ends with the ‘present’ God who will lead His people to the Promised Land [185:688].

The pillar of cloud and the pillar fire are the climactic conclusion to the exodus event. What was formerly true of Sinai and Moses, is now true of the tabernacle and the Aaronic priesthood. That Moses suddenly can not enter the cloud may be a sign that he is no longer both priest and prophet exclusively, but shares the role of priest with Aaron and like any other priest cannot enter the cloud [408:638].

from Exodus
by Charles Reznikoff

But there came a shepherd form the desert,
speaking in the ancient tongue
all but our eldest had forgotten;
and we saw an old man—withered hands and haunches;
and he said to us, stuttering as he spoke:
I bring a message from the God of your fahers
and, in place of these burdens,
I bring you—the yoke of His law.
How pleasant it is, distinguished from the beasts,
to feed upon His law
tasting in each syllable
the radiance of our Lord!
If there is bone enough to make the tooth of a key
and enough to write two letters of the alphabet—
then fear not the rush of tramping shoes nor the sound of the shouting
and hurry out of this land!*

*The three lines near the end of the stanza are from the Mishnah (Hullin 3:3 and other places, Danby’s translation). [Charles Reznikoff’s note.]