11 That day Moses charged the people, saying, 12 “When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13 And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. (Deuteronomy 27:11-13)
In today’s podcast, I got stuck on something Tara-Leigh said, almost in passing: that east was the direction associated with holiness. I would love to learn more about that. I found one article (again from chabad.org, which is becoming my go-to for articles about Jewish customs and practices) and it talked about why Jews after the Diaspora face east when they pray. East is the direction of Jerusalem for European Jews. Many Jewish households have a plaque called a mizrah (Hebrew for east) hanging on an eastern wall of their home, to help them orient themselves in prayer. The image here is of a mizrah, and its definitely on my shopping list for when I go back to Israel next year!
But for Jews crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land, east would have been looking back the way they came. East was Egypt. East was slavery and bondage. East was wilderness wandering. East was forty years in the desert. East was rebellion and disobedience and the death of a generation who turned away from God.
So if they truly oriented themselves with Mt Ebal to the left and Mt Gerazim to the right, then they would be looking back on where they had been.
This doesn’t contradict the idea that east is associated with holiness. In fact, it reinforces it. Every experience we go through is meant for our sanctification, which is another word for the process of making us holy. So maybe facing east was meant to renew the commitment never to return to bondage and rebellion. As the curses echoed down the mountain to their left, I can imagine this new generation looking over the Jordan, thanking God for all He had brought them through on the way to holiness. Then I can imagine them turning away, setting their faces toward the Jerusalem that was to come, further up and further in to the land of promise.