|公 法 评 论||惟愿公平如大水滚滚，使公义如江河滔滔
et revelabitur quasi aqua iudicium et iustitia quasi torrens fortis
Moses and Israel:
Community and the Name(1)
James E. Faulconer
One hallmark of modernism is its separation of the religious and political spheres. In effect, modernism denies the divine ground of community and replaces it with a rational principle.(2)Modernism's new ground issues in autonomy, rights, reciprocity: the establishment of modern democracy and the promise of justice for all. But modernism has not delivered on its promise. As the late twentieth century shows, carried to its extreme--and nothing prevents that movement to the extreme--the quest for individual autonomy, rights, and reciprocity turns into the very thing that was modernism's danger from the beginning: Hobbes's war of all against all; my rights against yours. The continuing expansion of legal rights and reciprocity may be only a sign of our continuing alienation from one another rather than a token of the promised amelioration of injustice. Alienation rather than community and justice marks Western society, and it seems daily to increase both in degree and in scope. Many in contemporary Islam doubt that community and justice are possible in Euro-American secular society. We in the West can join them in their doubt, if not in their responses.
Postmodernism is critical of modernism's ideas and ideals. Nevertheless, though it questions the foundations of modernism, at one level much postmodernism agrees with modernism about the origin of community and justice. This disjunctive argument would be acceptable to both modernists and the postmodernists I have in mind:
The origin of community must be determinate: ultimately, specifiable; nameable.
If there is an origin, then community and justice are possible as the instantiation of that origin.
If there is no origin, then community and justice are impossible because there is no ground for judgment or relation.
So either the just community is an instantiation of a determinate origin or it is impossible.
Modernism accepts that there is a determinate origin; postmodernism does not. Modernism strives unsuccessfully to instantiate that origin. In spite of itself, postmodernism argues either that every instantiation of justice is arbitrary (relativism) or that no origin is possible (nihilism). In comparison to failed modernism, postmodernism is hypersecular.(3)
The question is whether the just community is possible at all. If so, it must begin from something other than the assumptions of secularism, whether modern or postmodern. Given that modernism and postmodernism both rely on the assumption that community requires a determinate origin, one way to reconsider community is to reconsider its origin, particularly the origin rejected by modernism, the divine origin. There have been and continue to be communities, specifically within religious traditions, such as the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. The toll of secularism on religious community within the West has been heavy, but there are still religious communities within it. These may have something to say to us about what it means to have community. In addition, since, as Jean-Luc Marion points out,(4) secularism is itself a thoroughly Judeo-Christian concept, it is appropriate to examine the origin of that against which secularism and hypersecularism define themselves. In an attempt to consider the origination of community by looking at that we find in religious communities, I will offer a reading of the biblical story of Moses and Israel, a story common to many religious communities.
The story begins in Genesis 37, with jealousy between Joseph and his brothers, the sons of Jacob (who is now called Israel). Joseph's brothers sell him into slavery and he winds up in Egypt. There he prospers and becomes a minister of the pharaoh. Because of a famine in Israel, his brothers must come to Egypt for grain. Joseph and his brothers are reconciled, and the family moves to Egypt, under Joseph's protection (Genesis 41-47).
Years later, after Joseph and his brothers are dead, a new pharaoh enslaves the Hebrew people, collectively called "the children of Israel," because he is afraid that the Israelites will outnumber the Egyptians and take control of Egypt. When enslavement does not reduce the number of Hebrews, the pharaoh orders the Hebrew midwives to kill all male children at birth, though the midwives disobey him by subterfuge. He then orders his people to kill the Hebrew male babies (Exodus 1:8-22).
When Moses is born, his mother hides him for three months, but when she can no longer hide him, she makes a basket of bulrushes and she puts Moses in the basket at a place on the river where he will be found. She leaves Moses's sister, Miriam, to see what happens (Exodus 2:1-10). The pharaoh's daughter discovers the baby and takes pity on him. Seeing Miriam, she asks her to fetch a Hebrew nurse for the child and, of course, Miriam gets her mother. The Egyptian princess adopts Moses (Exodus 2:11-15).
As an adult, Moses sees an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave. He kills the taskmaster and hides the body. The next day, however, another Hebrew mentions the killing to him. He has been discovered. The pharaoh finds out about the killing, so Moses flees Egypt, going into the desert to Midian (Exodus 1:15-17).
At a well in Midian, Moses meets the daughters of Jethro, and he helps them water their flocks. Jethro invites Moses to live with him, and Moses marries one of his daughters, Zipporah (Exodus 2:18-22).
While tending Jethro's flocks, Moses comes on a burning bush, from which God speaks to him, commanding him to return and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1-4:23). Moses returns, but at an inn on the way, God tries to kill him because Moses has not circumcised his son. Zipporah performs the ritual, saving Moses (Exodus 4:24-26).
In Egypt, the pharaoh is unwilling to let the children of Israel go free. In fact, in response to Moses's demand, he increases their work load (Exodus 5). God sends plagues on the Egyptians, plagues that culminate in the death of all the firstborn in houses that have not put ritual blood on their doors (Exodus 7:15-12:30). With that final plague, the pharaoh relents and allows the Israelites to leave, but he changes his mind after they have gone, and he pursues them with his army. At the Red Sea, the waters part miraculously, allowing the Israelites to cross over, but drowning the pharaonic army when it follows (Exodus 12:30-14:31).
The Israelites go to Mount Sinai where, through Moses, they covenant to be God's people and they receive the Mosaic Law (Exodus 19 ff.). They wander in the desert for forty years, vacillating between fealty to the covenant and the desire to return to the plenty of Egypt (see, e.g., Numbers 11:4-5). At God's command and in response to one of Israel's complaints, Moses brings water from a rock (Numbers 20:7-11). However, when he does so, he takes credit for the water, making himself equal to God (Numbers 20:10). Moses's punishment is that he will be allowed to see, but not to enter, the Promised Land (Numbers 20:12).
Under Joshua's leadership, the Israelites cross the Jordan river miraculously, repeating the miracle of the Red Sea, and they enter the Promised Land. They begin to kill those already living there, the Canaanites, and they establish the nation of Israel (Joshua 1 ff.; see especially chapter 7 and 13:13).
The first several verses of the book of Exodus characterize the relation between individuality and community by recapitulating how the individual, Jacob, became the nation, Israel (Exodus 1:1-5): Jacob had twelve sons, and when Jacob and his sons came to Egypt, they brought with them their households so that the total number of those who came was seventy. Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob's name was changed to Israel. This new nation, the children of Israel, enters Egypt. According to traditional rabbinic argumentation, an argumentation that will figure more fully later, the lesser is the figure of the greater. Thus, Israel is a microcosm of the world: in chapter ten of Genesis, the nations of the world number seventy; here the children of Israel number seventy. And, as a number of perfection, the number seventy suggests the perfection of each. Our story begins with a "perfect" world.
In Egypt, however, the new pharaoh brings Israel into bondage. His command forms what looks like a community; his word gathers and collects--binds--the children of Israel together, but they are bound to one another only as slaves. Rather than remaining part of the Egyptian community, the Israelites are marginalized, defined by their subjection to the Egyptians. The microcosm of the perfect world is now an enslaved people at the margin of the presumed community. Slavery has undone creation.
A slave is the relationship that she holds to her master as well as the relationship that she holds to other slaves, by and for whom she is replaceable. The relationship constitutes the master too.(5)The enslaved community, a mere collection rather than a real community, denies the individuality, the particularity, of both masters and slaves. In slavery one can recognize the humanity of the other. As a slave, one slave can recognize that another slave is like himself. Reciprocity is possible, but only reciprocity. However, the recognition of reciprocity is not a recognition of the other's alterity. It is only a recognition that the other is like me. Reciprocity, an economy of the same, is therefore insufficient for justice, for it founds the quest for justice on the individual and the individual's ability to recognize his wants, needs, and desires and to impute them correctly to others. Even if my will is good, without complete self-transparency (which is impossible), nothing checks the projection of skewed or perverse desires onto the other. Reciprocity cannot make justice possible.
Slaves recognize each other as such in mere identity rather than also in difference. Slavery is a matter of universality: she is a slave because she is like me, of the same genus; we are both only placeholders in a genus and, therefore, our relation is, at best, merely reciprocal. To use Paul Ricoeur's terms, the slave can recognize the other slave as idem, but not ipse, as identical in characteristics, but not "the same" in having a personal identity and, therefore, in being different, in being other. However, even recognizing the alterity of the other person would not be enough for community. The recognition of alterity is necessary, but not sufficient, for in itself it cannot take us beyond mere reciprocity. In fact, because the recognition of alterity disrupts reciprocity, the collective requires that the slave not recognize the alterity of the other. To do so would mean the destruction of collectivity and, from within the collective, the choice appears to be collectivity or no relation between persons.
As Hegel points out, the master is at a disadvantage in comparison to slaves, for not even reciprocity is possible for masters: the master cannot recognize the slave as idem, let alone as other. Modernism's rejection of mastery as the basis for community was right(6); but its substitution of reciprocity is not enough. Meaningful community is impossible for both slaves and masters.
The biblical text suggests, however, that though the Israelites are slaves bound together in a mere collective rather than in a just community, in that they are unified--as slaves--the children of Israel have also the possibility (the hope) of community. Verses eight through fourteen of the first chapter of Exodus describe the change of status from guest to slave by command of the new pharaoh. In those verses, the use of the singular verb in reference to Israel marks Israel's existence in collectivity (cf. Rashi's commentary on Exodus 1:11).(7) As a collective, the Israelites are merely one, and that threatens to keep them within the injustice of their unity and to inflict that injustice on others. At the same time, however, the fact of their unity also makes it possible that they might be transformed into a just community.
The question is how such a transformation can occur. Two possibilities present themselves: the community can be the result of an act of will, or it can come from the unity given by Israel's history. Both are insufficient. The Israelites cannot will the change from collectivity to community, either communally or individually. At most, such an act of will--willed recognition, in other words, consent and consensus--can give the Israelites only reciprocity: the equality of a good will. But a good will is not enough. It does not, from its own resources, have the means to realize its intentions.(8) At worst, as mastery, will destroys the possibility of community altogether, making the will of an individual or group of individuals the center: anarchy or oppression.
On the other hand, Israel's memory of their historical origin, of Jacob and his family and their entry into Egypt, is also insufficient for genuine community. A merely historical origin, for example, ethnicity, is too determinate for justice, for it excludes, a priori, those who do not share that historical origin or whom it cannot accommodate. No matter how far back Israel's memory extends, if they are to have a just community, they must remember an origin that always remains prior to whatever origin they can specify.
If Israel is to go beyond slavery, neither self-recognition nor history will take them there. Community requires that the reciprocity of those who are the same, whether by consensus or history, be interrupted. Community requires violence, the violation of reciprocity by what cannot be made part of reciprocity, by what is not identical. But violation is not necessarily enough. The violation of reciprocity is inescapably dangerous; for it can be either the beginning of community or the end of even reciprocity. The origin of that violation makes the difference.
The relation between the individual and the community begins with the birth of a person, Moses (Exodus 2). He is born and lives. In spite of the efforts of the masters to continue the bondage of collectivity, the possibility of the just community is born with the individual who, because of the violence of the masters, is cut off from the slaves' collective and integrated into the collective of the masters. In the court of the pharaoh, Moses is no longer merely an Israelite; he is an Egyptian as well. He is no longer merely a slave, but also a master. This tension inherent in being master and slave erupts in conflict (Exodus 2:11-12). Just as God will later smite the Egyptians, killing their firstborn to save the children of Israel, Moses kills an Egyptian to save a Hebrew. Having killed the Egyptian, however, Moses must flee when the pharaoh learns what he has done (Exodus 2:13-15). Moses's violence has moved him beyond the pale: he is not a member of a mere collection--he is not related to others reciprocally--but neither is he a master. The biblical text is doubly dialectical here: Moses must flee to the wilderness because he has been cut off from both the Egyptians and the children of Israel.(9)
Having left the collectives of masters and slaves, Moses appears to have become a nomadic hermit. It seems that Moses has achieved autonomy, and perhaps also anomie and acosmism. Yet, though anomie and acosmism seem to be the results of this violent interruption of reciprocity, the story shows us that Moses is not an isolated monad. Moses is cast out of Egypt and Israel, but he lives in remembering, by imitating, those before. Like Adam and Eve, he is separated from his origins and thrust into the world to labor for bread (Genesis 3:19).(10) Like a doubled Abraham, Moses is forced to leave his two countries, his two kindred, and his two fathers' houses to wander in the desert (cf. Genesis 12:1). Like the twelve sons of Israel, he has left his home to live and labor in the house of another (Genesis 46:1-47:31, Exodus 1:1-7). Moses also imitates his predecessors when he meets the daughters of Jethro (Exodus 2:15-21). Like the servant seeking a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24: 10 ff.) and like Jacob when he met Rachel (Genesis 29:1-10), Moses meets Zipporah at a well and helps water her father's flocks. Though Moses is separated from the collective, his life enacts the memory of his predecessors and their journey to and sojourn in Egypt. Moses remembers his origin in repeating the labor of that origin.
Moses is in history. His life ties him to those who came before. Historical memory, itself marginal to modern consciousness, preserves and enacts the beginning of community. Historical memory is not a simple repetition of acts given in the determinate past. Repetition also enacts the future. Individuals laboring in history do not merely repeat the identical acts given by their beginning. As S?ren Kierkegaard argues in Repetition, to repeat what came before would exactly not be to do, in an identical way, what those before did, for what they did was no such identical repetition. Rather, to bring about what is promised in the future, historical individuals respond to the possibilities presented in their beginning. They take up various possibilities that come in memory, and they enact those possibilities as actualities. Through labor, they bring the future to the present from the possibilities given by the past.(11) Thus, although separated from both Israel and Egypt, because he is historical, Moses is neither acosmic nor anomic. As yet, however, the origin of possible community is only a historical beginning and, thus, insufficient as an origin.
History makes it impossible for the individual to be merely individual. But mere individuality is inconceivable in itself. In the first place, it is impossible because it is embodied. The embodied ego is already other than itself, heteronomous, ruled by another. We cannot live in the Cartesian solipsist's anomic world. In the second place, embodiment cannot be acosmic. For, it requires at least work--what one does for survival--and, for humans, also labor--what one does for what transcends survival.(12) Work and labor each already make acosmism, solitary individuality, impossible. For those who work, there is that upon which one works. For those who labor, there is that for which and those for whom one labors.
Being-embodied is always being-in-a-world as worker and laborer. Among other things, Moses is in that world by remembering those who have gone before and are no longer. But that chain of predecessors--so-and-so begat so-and-so, who begat so-and-so, who begat so-and-so, . . . --points beyond itself, to the memory of an origin before the chain. The chain begins at the edge of history, in Adam and Eve cut off from the face of God to labor together. The chain of those who have gone before begins from a divine origin, with one who has always come before and who stands outside the context of human community and labor. Moses's world is finite. It is determined by its limit (its beginning and end) and the beyond that determines that limit. However, that beyond, that origin, is unavailable as a resource for thought or action; it is immemorial within the limit of community, except as a trace in the limit, in the beginning (and, as we will see, in the end). Moses's life in the world is a memory of not only the beginning of his world. It is not only a memory of his ancestry. It is also a memory of the immemorial origin that is traced in the beginning.
Similarly, community is not merely an actual relationship with some particular persons, however long the chain of those persons, though it is always also essentially that. Obviously, the particular relations of community are what they are from the memory of beginning that makes them possible. But they are also what they are from the possibility that orients them toward the idea of the just community, a community that goes beyond these particular relations with these particular persons. The memory of the beginning makes possible that orientation to those one does not yet know, those who always remain to be known. The indeterminacy in the origin makes continuing communal relation, communal action, possible. Like Moses's life, communal action is determined by the trace of the immemorial that disrupts the simple memory of the beginning. Communal existence is necessarily both determinate and indeterminate.
We see this determination and indetermination in the bodily character of our relation to the other. I love particular others--my wife or my children, for example--in virtue of their embodiment. I do not love my child in loving her qualities. If I did, I could love anyone else with the same qualities in the same way that I love her. In addition, her qualities will change, perhaps radically, but I will continue to love my child. We must understand my relation to my child as my relation to her body, in other words, to her living, historical materiality, her flesh. On the other hand, her flesh always has particular characteristics. I cannot love my child in loving only her characteristics, but it is also always true that I love my child for her characteristics. It will not do to say that I love my daughter whatever her qualities. I would insult her and our relation if she were to ask, "Why do you love me?" and I were to answer, "For no particular reason." If I do not have particular reasons for loving her, if I do not love particular qualities in her, it is not clear what it would mean to say that I love her. Our relation is an embodied matter and, in being that, it is both determinate and indeterminate.(13)
Of course, not all relations are love relations and not all love relations have the character of parental love for a child. Nevertheless, to the degree that our relations are relations with persons rather than only to ideas of persons, like parental love, they are relations to particular persons and, therefore, to bodies. As such, they are relations of indeterminate depth or opacity, relations of otherness. As an embodied being, the other person is not reducible to determinations of genera and species, but as we saw, such universals are nevertheless necessary. Besides being necessary to our relations per se, if there is nothing universal or universalizable about our relations, they are unjust. Justice requires that I go beyond my relation with one person. It requires universals. It must be both determinate and indeterminate.
To return to the story, however, in Midian, Moses is in a dilemma. Except in the mere repetition of his beginning, the trace of the immemorial does not yet determine his future or his relations to other persons. On one hand, his flight separates him from both Egypt and Israel. Consequently, he is an individual. As his connection to the past shows, Moses is not merely an individual, but what transcends that individuality as yet remains only a matter of beginning. As an autonomous individual, Moses cannot return to Egypt and Israel. The ties with the collective that he left have been broken; the disruption that constituted him as a master has been disrupted. On the other hand, if Moses does not return to Israel and Egypt, he must remain a stranger forever. The dilemma is that only an individual can overcome the relations of mastery and slavery, but--because individuality in itself is without relation--mere individuality is antithetic to community. Something must be introduced that both maintains Moses's individuality and binds that individuality to those still in Egypt. Moses's individuality must be set into the nexus of particularity and universality that constitutes community. It must be set there by something that is a matter neither of particularity nor of commonality. Only something that disrupts both particularity and universality can set that play into motion, something that one could call, with Heidegger, an origin rather than a beginning. The origin (Anfang) "precedes and determines all history" (1-2). The beginning (Beginn) is a historical moment in which the origin is manifest. For there to be a community that begins with Moses, there must be an historical beginning and an event of origination.
As he tends the flocks of Jethro, God appears to Moses and calls, "Moses, Moses." As did Abraham and Jacob (Genesis 22:1 and 46:2) and Isaac at the sacrifice (Genesis 22:7) and Esau to his father (Genesis 27:1), Moses answers "Here am I" (3:4) or "Behold me here." Remembering his ancestors in these words, Moses stands before God as an individual; he answers the call of what lies beyond the limit of history, beyond his individuality and his world. That call from beyond reorients Moses, for though he answers remembering the fathers, the call is a call to labor. It is a call directed at the future, at the possibility of community. God's message is that Moses's labor will deliver Israel from the bondage of collectivity to the binding of community.
What is beyond history, not only Moses and Israel's beginning, but their aboriginal past, articulates this moment of the "Here am I." What Plato says is ekeise, "over there," articulates the present.(14) Within history, the origin--which remains ekeise, outside history even while determining it and being understood only in and through it--has two moments. We have seen one moment, the beginning. The other moment is that of the apocalypse. We often hear the word apocalypse with only its negative meaning, as the end of history, the violence that comes with the rupture of the limits of history. However, the apocalypse is also a figure of hope: the revelation of the Just Kingdom that has heretofore been hidden though anticipated. The hoped for relation to all particular others (the relation of the individual to the community in a just community) is a possibility that necessarily stems from beyond the margins of any particular community and is well heard in those at the margins, those through whom the origin passes. Community is not only a relation to origin manifest as beginning. It is permanently a relation to origin manifest as the apocalyptic future. Because the origin stands outside human history, the hope for the apocalypse includes not only all with whom I am presently in community--my ancestors and descendants, literal, ethnic, and cultural--it especially includes those currently at the margins of the community.
This points to one difference between collectives and just communities. Collectivity is not a relationship of possibility. Because its beginning and future are only determinate (mere beginning and mere apocalypse), it has no possibility for difference and, therefore, no possibility at all. For the collective, either everything is already determined or nothing is determinable. In contrast, the just community is an undecidable complex of determination and indetermination. On the one hand, the community is an enactment of open, indeterminate possibility. The origin of memory and hope is outside the limits of the community's history, and the community is explicitly oriented to that beyond, to what is to be revealed: "something else is always possible." At the same time, the community is the enactment of determinate possibilities that are determinately--materially--given in specific memories and specific hopes: not just anything, not even something else: "this set of possibilities rather than another," and "this must be done rather than that." Without that we have nothing but the abstract desire for abstract justice in an abstract community. Simultaneously, however, and necessarily, the possibility for community must remain indeterminate, awaiting the apocalypse: it must remain possible that we do not yet know what is required to bring about justice. For, if we already know, then in principle we have passed beyond history and achieved the justice we sought. We can ignore any who remain excluded.
The point is not that the beginning and the apocalypse are indeterminate. Neither is the point that they are, instead, determinate. The point is that we cannot decide between the determinacy and indeterminacy of their origin. We cannot remove the scission of determinacy and indeterminacy inthe origin; we cannot decide--overcome and erase--that scission. It gives itself as both, as, for example, both history and the interruption of history, both a specific future and the apocalyptic impossiblity of every future. The desire to decide, to settle the origin of community as either determinate or indeterminate, is the desire to go beyond the limit of community to the origin itself, whatever that might mean.
Christianity calls the limit, the eschaton--and, though it twists the Greek to do so, I will take the eschaton to be the outline or shape of the community. Without a limit, the community has no particular shape and, so, can have no concrete and particular justice. Without what lies beyond that shape, giving that shape, there is no limit, and so no community and no justice. We should not confuse the necessary determinacies of our individual existence and our institutions with the determinacy of origin. That is a lesson of postmodernism. Neither should we confuse the indeterminacy of our unavoidable decision about our beginning and future with their/itsindeterminacy. That is a lesson of postsecularism.
But the community is not the only place where we cannot decide between determinacy and indeterminacy. In the indecision of this moment before the burning bush, Moses's determinacy is called into question. Moses's first question is, "Who am I?" (Exodus 3:11). He seeks self-determination in the Origin. But the Divine does not answer this question directly. Rather he promises, "I will be with thee" (Exodus 3:12). Moses asks for a determination of self. Instead, God recognizes him. In receiving that recognition, Moses recognizes God and God's alterity. In a relation where reciprocity is impossible, Moses is moved beyond recognition to being with (and not just before) what is Other. Moses will discover who he is in that the nonhistorical origin is with him. Because the Origin is not just one more being within the world and the limits of history, it is not with Moses as one being is beside another. Such a side-by-side relation is either no relation at all, like the "relation" between the table and the chair, or it is a matter of mere reciprocity. Instead, the Origin is with Moses as Patroclus is with Achilles, as his therapon, as one who fights alongside. Moses is determined as Moses by being called to a labor, by being one "drawn out" (Exodus 2:10), by being one whom God is with. The disruption of history by this alterity is also a disruption in Moses's being; the trace of what is beyond history is within Moses, making him who he is. What he is, however, remains to be determined in the labor to which the Origin has called him, and the Origin remains with Moses in that labor.
Similarly, when Moses asks about the name of God, he gets no answer. The King James translation of the text translates God's reply as "I am that I am" (Exodus 3:14). According to the medieval commentator, Nachmanides, it means, "As you are with me, so I am with you" (36).(15)Unlike the pharaoh's word of command, God's word, the word of covenant, gathers Moses to himself and to what is beyond himself. When Moses asked, "Who am I," he learned that his relation to what is beyond history defines him, the fact that the beyond history accompanies him, that the beyond is traced in his being. Now that is amplified: what is beyond history is determined by the way that it is traced out in the particularities of Moses's life. Moses is theraponfor what lies outside of history.
The name of the Other points to several things. First: God is unique. Since each human being is made in his image (Genesis 1:26-27), each is also unique, uniquely other. This duplication of alterity is not reciprocity--anything but. As the disruption of reciprocity, it is not only the possibility of community, it is the possibility of terrible, cosmic solitude.
Second: God is not determined by his attributes, though he has them; as a person, he is and is not a this or a that. There is no merely determinate answer to the question, "Who are you?", but there is an answer and it is also not merely indeterminate. The Origin is always something, but never only something. To suppress either the determinate or the indeterminate, to decide the origin of community, is to do justice neither to the Origin nor to persons. Moses finds discontinuity in himself and otherness in God. God is other than his determinations, but determined--predicated and prior to predication. As one who is in God's image, so is Moses.
Third: Moses's life is now grounded in the undecidable, divine Other and responsible to that Ground. God, who is with Moses, has called Moses to be with God. Moses is in community. At this moment, the community has only one member and the Origin, but it is a relation made possible by an Other on the other side of the margins. It, therefore, already makes possible Moses's relation to those at the margins, in other words, Israel. Moses is not only therapon for the Other, he is a therapon for a particular group of others, Israel.
Moses's community is defined by the vertical interruption of its horizontal, historical movement, a nonintentional interruption of individual and communal intention or history. This interruption by the vertical gives the horizontal a particular shape. It gives the community the margins that define it. From within the history of the community, we can see its shape, but we can see the origin of that shape only as beginning or apocalypse. That is why the collective cannot will itself from slavery to community: by referring to mere beginning or mere apocalypse, the collective lacks access to anything beyond itself. No just community can go farther than the limits of its history, farther than its beginning and apocalypse. That situation within the limit generates the dilemma with which we began: alienation or arbitrariness. Nevertheless, the historically determinate intention of the just community--from beginning to apocalypse--carries with it the trace of the nonintentional, of what is beyond history and, therefore, neither determinate nor indeterminate. A nonintentional trace of excess within the community's intention interrupts the totalizing of that intention. That trace passes through the margins of the community, always calling for the gathering in of those at the margins whom the intention otherwise excludes. Not only the object of the community's historical intention determines that intention. The excess of intentio, intentum, and the belonging-together of the two also determines it.
Before the burning bush, Moses is not only in community with God, but already in community with Israel. Moses, the individual, exists in community with the Other, with him who has a determinate name, but whose name cannot be spoken and, therefore, remains indeterminate. That community prefigures and makes possible the human community that will be enacted through Moses (cf. Exodus 4:16).
The uniqueness of his therapeutic responsibility defines Moses's uniqueness, by the way in which he is with the Origin and the Origin is with him. Thus, Moses's community is found in the apocalyptic promise of just community. It is found in the memory of that promise's beginning. It is founded on the memory of origin that covenant enacts, as in the covenant that God makes with Moses: "I will be with thee." The community is enacted in the labor for apocalyptic justice, a labor defined from beyond any chain of human enactment--in the name of the Other: "As you are with me, so I am with you." As a repetition of its origin, such a labor speaks of both beginning and apocalypse without deciding them or deciding between them.
From the epiphany before the burning bush, Moses sets out to return to Egypt, to establish community in Israel. The obscure passage, referred to above, recounts a bizarre incident on the way: God tries to kill Moses because he has yet to circumcise his son, and only Zipporah's intervention saves him (Exodus 4:2-26).
The covenant ritual is the embodied remembrance of the Other's name: "As you are with me, so I am with you." The covenant is not merely a sign of the labor for community. It is the first labor of community. The act of the ritual embodies and incarnates the trace of the Origin among the members of the community: ritual inscribes the individuals within the community with what disrupts the horizon of history; it marks them as acting persons. This ritual--the material enactment of the covenant, without which there is no covenant--is done on an individual by an individual. It is enacted time after time, on person after person. In this story, the ritual is particularly significant, performed as it is by a woman who is not an Israelite. Here, the mark of the beyond comes to pass through someone doubly at the margins.
Finally, Moses reenters Egypt where, after lengthy negotiations, the pharaoh allows the children of Israel to go free when the final threat, the death of all the firstborn of Egypt, becomes fact (Exodus 5:1-12:39). In the Passover we find more evidence that the text is not merely concerned with the salvation of the tribes from slavery. The narrative transcends merely telling the story of a particular nation's beginning. Those whose firstborn die and those whose firstborn do not are not distinguished by the fact that the former are Egyptians and the latter Israelites. Instead, the former have not recognized the divine grounding of community in what transcends history, so they have not placed blood on their lintels. The latter, however, have done so. The Hebrew slaves in Egypt initiate the possibility of Israel, the just community, with a covenant: they mark their lintels and flee from Egypt.
Like circumcision, the ritual of putting blood on the lintel is a beginning of the community, for it is an act that recognizes the Origin, and its determinacy/indeterminacy. When they mark the lintels of their doors, the people enter a covenant. In doing so, they not only recognize the Other, but also themselves. Like the circumcision performed by Zipporah, the nonJew, this ritual enacts the fact that membership in the collective community is not sufficient for community and justice, that the community is formed in laboring individuals whose labor is directed from and toward what is beyond the eschaton of the community. In remembering the indeterminate Ground of community and foreseeing the determinate action required by justice, the covenant ritual initiates community. At the same time, it initiates community by remembering the determinate Ground of community and foreseeing the indeterminacy of those involved.
As this diagram shows, Moses's life is structured as a chiasmus:
Moses is born; then, because of strife (the Egyptians killing the sons of the Israelites), he is introduced into the court of Egypt. At this point, he is both Egyptian and Israelite, though, he is perhaps more Egyptian than Israelite: after he kills the Egyptian taskmaster, the Hebrews are the first to reject him. In any case, he is a member of an unjust collective as both master and slave. However, because Moses kills the Egyptian, he is cast out of both Egypt and Israel and must wander in the wilderness.
The center of this chiasmus, the point of disruption and covenant that holds Moses's life together, comes with the epiphany on the mountain, with the disruption of the horizon of history by the vertical. From the mount, Moses again goes into the wilderness, but this time he goes toward Egypt rather than away from it. As he enters Egypt, God tries to kill him, mirroring Moses's killing of the taskmaster. On entering Egypt, Moses is again both Egyptian and Israelite. No ordinary slave could have the access to the Egyptian court that Moses has. This time, rather than being primarily an Egyptian, he is primarily an Israelite, but he continues to live in the tension between the two collectives, between mastery and slavery.
With the death of the firstborn of Egypt, the chiasmus begins to close. Their deaths parallel the deaths of the sons of Israel. The chiasmus ends with the birth of the fledgling possibility of community, mirroring the birth of Moses. To use Hegel's word, autonomous individuality and mere collectivity are aufgehoben in the birth of the community.
Surprisingly, we also see a reflection of this chiasmus in the structure of the history of Israel:
The second diagram shows that the two chiasmi are reflections of each other. Just as Israel is the microcosm of the world, Moses is the microcosm of Israel. The lesser is the figure of the greater. The nation of Israel is born in the person of the twelve sons of Jacob. Because of strife between Joseph and his brothers, Israel moves into Egypt. While in Egypt, Israel is both Egyptian and Israelite, just as Moses was both Egyptian and Israelite, and, just as with Moses, being Egyptian is primary. Then, through the events of the Passover, this dual existence ends when Israel is "cast out" of Egyptian bondage into the wilderness.
As was true for Moses, the turning point of this chiasmus is the disruption by the Divine at the mount, a disruption of covenant, a covenant that, as Emmanuel Levinas points out, has the recognition of (and I would add, therapeutic identification with) those on the margins at its communal center, the stranger, the widow, and the fatherless (Totality and Infinity 215).(16) At Sinai, the community of Israel receives a divine ground,(17) a ground explicitly found in recognizing those on the margins, in being called to justice for and by those who are indeterminate for the determinate community. At Sinai Moses meets with God again, only this time he is no mere individual. This time he is an individual in relation to another (at least God), and he is laboring for the Other and for the members of the nation of Israel. From the mount, Israel returns to the wilderness and, finally, they enter the Promised Land--where they begin to destroy the inhabitants of the land.
After entering the Promised Land, the chiasmus for Israel breaks down. It has no closing corresponding to the closing in the chiasmus of Moses's life.(18) As does the first chiasmus, apocalyptic literature anticipates the close of the chiasmus, and it anticipates the violence that marks that close, violence parallel to the strife between Joseph and his brothers. But it only anticipates that close. The apocalypse is as irrecuperable as the beginning. The Just Kingdom remains hidden; its revelation always remains awaited. Pure Israel, without margins or remainder, without not only the priests and the Law, but also the strangers in the Promised Land, is impossible. We cannot understand the Law and the strangers apart from each other.(19) The strangers point beyond what one expects to see at the margins, for the strangers in the Promised Land include not only the widows and the fatherless who, Levinas reminds us, are at the heart of Israel's existence. The strangers also include the enemy. The second chiasmus suggests that, in history, there can be no pure Israel--except in covenant memory and hope. Supposed communities that forget this and insist on completion (on naming their ground and incorporating it within themselves) or on denying all ground and excluding its possibility (on naming their ground as merely indeterminate or as absent) will be unjust. By deciding their origin, they will refuse the ground that makes them possible.
The labor for community is the labor to bring about the just community, hopeful labor. The incompleteness of this chiasmus points to the historical impossibility of finishing this labor. The incomplete chiasmus shows that the hope that drives the labor for justice is unfulfillable. It is a hope for the undecidable; it is faith. Since it is a concomitant of labor, true community is always underway toward justice and in danger of annihilation. If community could be completed, we would no longer need to labor to bring it about. We would no longer need to respond to possibilities, we would no longer need to act in faith--we would no longer be free. One must labor to complete the just community, then, though we cannot complete it in time (in both senses of the phrase, "in time").
The incompleteness or undecidability that structures the history of Israel is not the only incompleteness. Just as the second chiasmus reflects the structure of Moses's life in the first chiasmus, the absence of Moses's death in the first chiasmus reflects the incompleteness of the second chiasmus. The community is not completed; Moses's life is not completed. Because the community cannot be completed, Moses cannot enter the Promised Land. (In a sense, Israel also enters it without entering.) Within Moses, too, are the seeds of collectivity, for in taking credit for providing the Israelites with water, Moses denied the divine ground of his individuality (Numbers 20:7-12).(20) At that point, Moses ceased to labor for the just community, a labor that is the site of both individuality and relation. He decided the origin and lapsed back into mere autonomy. Moses forgot his uniqueness, an undecidable uniqueness that images the undecidability of the Other and the memory of which makes possible his hope for the possible just community. Moses forgot his relationship to the Ground and, so, replaced faithful memory and hope, enacted in covenant, with certainty and control. By deciding, he replaced his uniqueness with his mere individuality and left the community.
Contrary to what the diagram of Moses's life might suggest by itself, therefore, his life is no more completed in history than is the community. For, the end of the chiasmus drawn for Moses is not community, but the birth of community. We see Moses begin the labor of community. That labor of community is the end of Moses's life. As eschaton, that end gives Moses's life its shape, so we have no need to see his life's last moment--especially since the origin of community (whether beginning or end) is outside the limit of any individual's or community's life.
The story of Moses and Israel shows the difference between secular and hypersecular collectivity, on the one hand, and religious community, on the other. Modernism's confidence denies the covenantal character of the labor for justice by taking the origin of community either as a determinate beginning (as in nationalism and racism) or as a determinate apocalypse (as in Stalinism). Like the religious, postmodernism sees the impossibility of the labor for justice. The difference between the impossibility that characterizes postsecular community and the impossibility of postmodern community is what seems almost an in-difference. Though both recognize the impossibility of justice, the postsecular do so with an eye toward the justice that remains yet to come, for those who remain "over there." They labor for the apocalypse and for salvic history and, therefore, in hope. Unlike the modern or the postmodern, the postsecular refuse to decide the determinacy/indeterminacy of origin, though they leave that origin undecided within the absolute particularity of their community's beginning and apocalypse.
Neither the postsecular nor the postmodern can see beyond beginning and end, the eschaton, the shape, of community. Neither can see its origin. Thus, postmoderns see what seems to be the same impossibility that the postsecular see. They see it, however, without hope. For the postmodern thinker, courage in the face of this impossibility must be enough. Having decided the origin as merely indeterminate, nothing outside history and no trace of any such beyond justifies the hope for justice. However, by remembering and anticipating the origin, in other words, by being attentive to the trace of origin in its attention to beginning and apocalypse, the postsecular community goes beyond courage to memory, covenant, and hope. Odd as it may seem, the hopeful, postsecular community rather than the brave, hypersecular one refuses to decide the origin, for to see the origin as beginning or apocalypse without hope or not to see it at all, not even as a trace, is to have decided it as nothing. On the other hand, to see the impossibility of justice hopefully is not to decide it; it is to see its necessity as well as its impossibility.
Because both the hypersecular and the modern assume that the origin of community is determinate, for them final justice must be universal, if there is justice at all. For them, to the degree that justice is particular, it fails as justice. They do not see that merely universal justice would be absolutely unjust, for it would demand that we ignore the particularities of the individuals with whom we deal and, therefore, that we treat them unjustly. To ignore the embodied differences between us by recourse to universals is to spiritualize human being. It is a murderous attack on persons because it severs their spirits from their bodies, as if one could be without the other. Only a refusal to decide the origin can prevent such murder. But a guarantee that murder will not happen is impossible. Apostasy and murder necessarily haunt the shadows of the community; they are the underside of genuine memory, covenant, and hope.
No argument or phenomenology will show the possibility of going beyond postmodern courage to postsecular hope. There are at least two reasons for this. First, the chiasmus of Moses's life showed us the birth of the community in tension and death. Murder always threatens to take the place of the search for justice. The chiasmus of Israel's history shows that the dissolution of community is an always immanent possibility. The just community always stands on the verge of dissolution, of apostasy. To labor for something is for that thing to remain as yet unrealized. If one labors, then the end of one's labor is yet to be realized. To labor is to be underway, but not yet "there," and, so, to be necessarily in danger of not arriving. Thus, without the risk of murder and apostasy, no labor for justice would be possible. The violence at each major point in the chiasmus and the contrast between that violence and the disruption of the epiphany suggest the omnipresence of this risk.
Second, these chiasmi are structured around the epiphany, the disruption of history by God's Name. The vertical epiphany disrupts the horizontal plane of both the individual and the community and their history. Strictly speaking, however, such a disruption is unnecessary. It is gratuitous; it appears, if at all, as only a trace. We are within the horizontal plane of history. Unless we have already been enlightened, we cannot see the vertical disruption. The enactment of origin as covenant labor, as memory and hope, is possible only within a community defined by the vertical epiphany, but there is no evidence for the vertical, for the Name, more than the community enacted by it.
For postsecular community, the problem is where to find this vertical disruption; traditionally and still for many, it is found in religious communities. Is postsecular, but nonreligious, community possible? If not, then outside the religious community, the labor for the just community is, at best, an undecidable alternation between hope and terror. Perhaps only terror, for nothing authorizes hope.
Whether community is possible, except in God's name, remains a question, but the story of Moses and Israel suggests at least this much: Without the Name, the vertical disruption of history is impossible or meaningless: tyranny is unavoidable. Without the Name, there is no difference between a founding disruption and the violence at the boundaries of the horizontal: those it ignores or kills define the community. Without the Name, we think the beginning as only ourbeginning: nationalism, racism, and destiny. Without the Name, we can think the apocalypse only negatively, as the end of history, the destruction of everything, the dissolution of the labor for justice: the Red Guard and the Cultural Revolution. Without the Name, those who stand at the margins of history and community are subjects and objects of violence and can have no other relation to us: justice is a matter of only reciprocity, something reserved for our alter egos. Without the Name, the community cannot be a community of hope.
Are there names without the Name of God? Is there a Name other than his? That remains to be seen.
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Heidegger, Martin. Parmenides. Frankfurt a. M.: Klostermann, 1982.
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Kojéve, Alexandre. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. New York: Basic Books. 1969.
Levinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne UP, 1969.
Martin, Bill. Matrix and Line: Derrida and the Possibilities of Postmodern Social Theory. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1992.
Nachmanides. Commentary on the Torah: Exodus. Trans., Charles B. Chavel. New York: Shilo Publishing House, Inc., 1973.
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Ricoeur, Paul. Oneself as Another. Trans. Kathleen Blamey. Chicago, Illinois: U of Chicago, 1992.
1. I am grateful to the Institute of Philosophy, K. U. Leuven, for the time as a visiting professor during which I wrote this. I am especially grateful to Professor Paul Moyaert for his encouragement and Professor Rudi Visker for his criticisms. I also appreciate the support of Brigham Young University for my leave of absence.
2. Though modernism may attribute the rational ground to God, it nevertheless, looks to a rational principle rather than the Divine as the ground of community.
3. I am indebted to Bill Martin's work for this point.
4. Private discussion; Paris, 2 March, 1996.
5. I am inspired here, by Kojéve's interpretation of Hegel as much as by chapter four of Hegel's Phenomenology.
6. The modernist mistake was to identify mastery and the claim to a divine ground.
7. Note also an indication of the difference in kind between the enslaved children of Israel and those unenslaved: Without going into the philological complexities of the term Hebrew, suffice it to say that the Bible seems to use the term when it wants to point to the foreign environment in which the subject finds himself--as in Genesis 14:13 and Jonah 1:9--or especially, when the subject is in the position of a slave--as in Genesis 49:14, 17 and 41:12. Thus, while Israel is still free they are called by the name children of Israel, but when they become slaves they are called Hebrews. Cf. Cassuto 13.
8. Romans 7:15-24 poignantly illustrates the problem of free will and the necessity of something from outside the subject making just action possible: chapter eight of Romans.
9. The text suggests that Moses was betrayed by an Israelite.
10. Though it is for another essay, it is important to note that the command to labor is not only Adam's.
11. Heidegger's discussion of the origin of the community (e.g., Parmenides) is relevant.
12. I borrow this distinction from Kojéve.
13. My thanks to Paul Moyaert and Rudi Visker for helping me see the point of this paragraph.
14. See Plato: Republic 484c, Symposium 211d-212a, Phaedo 117c and also 61d-e & 66b-d.
15. The literature on the meaning of this name is voluminous, but explicating the various ways of interpreting it is not central to this paper, so I pass over them roughshod.
16. See Deuteronomy 10.17-19: "For the LORD your God . . . regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt" (my emphasis).
17. It should be obvious that I am not using the word divine as does Levinas.
18. This is why the second drawing ends with no line on the right joining the lines marked "Israel" and "Canaan."
19. The Christian interpretation of Judaism often recognizes that there can be no law without what transcends the Law. Less often, however, do Christians recognize that the transcendent without the Law is meaningless.
20. It is not clear where Moses's failure was, in taking credit for the water or in striking the rock to bring forth water rather than speaking to it as God had commanded him. In either case, the point remains the same.