Sunday, October 2, 2011

Awe without Fear

We are now in the process of Rosh Hashanah\ראש השנה, heading into a new portion of universal time through Jewish binoculars that will sweep across the months to come. A delightful and delicatessen-sugar-tasty (matukah) anniversary of the creation. Firstly, it did not start on Rosh Hashanah eve 57772, but on Elul 25, 5771 (09/24/2011) according to the Tradition. Rosh Hashanah commemorates the final action as read every Shabbat eve for the lighting of the candles: “Sixth day: thus the heavens and the earth were completed and all their multitude (Genesis/Bereshit 1:31-2:1-3). So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it because on it God rested from all the work that He had been in the process to do (pursue) in creation.” (Bereshit 2:3).

Maybe we did not attention to the fact that 5772 started last year and that this starting-up “action” develops and runs throughout a period of one month, leaping from Elul 5771 to the last day of the Feast of the Booths (Sukkot), Shemini Atzeret. Finally, New Year reboots on Simchat Torah (The Joy of the Torah) when the chatan Torah\חתן תורה restarts to read the Book of Genesis/Bereshit-בראשית, in his quality of “bridegroom of the Living Law”. In between we swing along our own journey, meditate, pray, rejoice a lot, have a lot of keyf\כיף = fun, spoil ourselves and others with gifts, though it is also a time for charities and volunteering, in particular if we are aware of what is going these years in Israel and within the Jewish communities.

True, Rosh Hashanah often looks like some x-mas or Sylvester days that would have reduced if not erased the spiritual essence of such a peculiar time of revival. We may live a carefree life and little thought for the future that scrolls down to act adequately and with decency. Eating too much and growing fat, launching balloons, buying nice pants or skirts, clothes or having some rest in Eilat. It is indeed a time of joy, enjoying the festivals and often some vacation, family and community humane warmth.

Sephardic and Oriental (mizrachim\מזרחים) Jews have read the “Slichot\סליחות” – the beautiful prayers of “pardon and forgiveness” over Elul. Ashkenaz Jews begin to read them at midnight, on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah until Yom Hakippurim\יום הכפורים, the Day of Atonement.

Interestingly, the feast begins before we are aware it starts (Elul 25) and Yom Kippur is still not the “end of time” barrier for a good “judgment”. An extended series of days for a special journey in order to seal our names for a good mazal or chance in the Book of Life. As if God was slow to anger that He would snuffle or cry to get us back to Him: “erech apayim\ארך אפיים” = lit. “long nostrils/anger’s)…!

If we have a real look at the Kahal Israel\קהל ישראל – Community of Israel, we do notice some lack of clear unity, though this oneness can be felt and is indeed invisibly palpable. Elul 25, 5766 recalled the launching process of universal creation that highlighted intensively on the first day. Wrong! There is no “first” day, but a “yom echad”, Day One. A day of fulfillment, oneness between God and His creation. Then, seven days later we reached Tishri 1st, 5767 (honey and apple dipping on that joyful atmosphere day) with grandparents Adam-Eve enjoying the uniqueness of the Gan Eden and their full unit with El Bore HaKol Yakho\אל בורא הכל יכולl (the Creator of all the universe). Again, full matching that weds clouds, stars, plants, small beasts and cattle, humans with Eloqim Echad\אלהים אחד, the One God: “tov me’od\טוב מאוד” (very good, nicely) and “me’od”’s consonants are the same as in Adam\אדם. Unique and gorgeous as in a perfect marriage: “vayikhlu – and were completed, matched, wedded” heaven and earth/the entire universe/galaxies on the sixth day. To begin with, New Year 5767 is a wedding that we celebrate with flavors.

Then we have ten days to reconnect with God (beyn adam leMakom\בין אדם למקום) and our fellow humans (beyn adam lechav’ro\בין אדם לחברו). Some people might think it is very boring. Or why should I ask for forgiveness and pardon someone? Israeli society may also be too ritualistic. Some Jews consider they are so clever that they repent before they sin. We are “nora metzuyanim\נורא מצוימים” (a sort of awesome pride of excellence) but Judaism relies on the “anavim\ענוים” (the poor, those who expect everything from God’s will). It is rather difficult to scan our souls and brain and fix “khata’im\חטאים – trespasses” that made us step beyond a mark, once or repeatedly. Frankly, Jews are very free-spirited about sins as if they do experience that curses can turn to blessings and black/shadowy can get white, redeemed (= refunded over a long-term period).

Days or awe and fright without fear. I mean that “nora\נורא” = “awesome, frightful” comes from “yare” – “to tremble, fear, revere or shun”. “Yere khet\ירא חטא = shunning sin” (Talmud Nedarim 8a). Treaty Sanhedrin 106a presupposes that “Yir’ahיראה” is “an object of fear = an idol. And when Abraham is about to kill offer Itzchak Akedat Itzchak = Isaac’s binding in Genesis 22:14, HaShem/the Lord Yireh\ה' יראה provides with a ram. Yes, fear does exist, a basic instinctive animal and human feeling, mainly uncontrolled or scarcely bearable. In Greek it is “peira” (trial, experience) as from German: “fahren” (to travel) – Gefahr (danger, risk or ambush). In Hebrew, “nissayon\נסיון” show the close connection between “test, temptation” and “to leave for an unknown journey”. The Yamim nora’im\ימים נוראים are not dark: they seem to rise from ancient darkness of separation from God and to repair the link through the spiritual journey with His light that was shining (“ya’ir\יאיר”) on Day One. It is a way to brightness, full of light (“or\אור”) whiter than snow (Psalms 18:1; 51:9).

We are never strong. We show off with pretence, knowing that we are feeble. God gives us courage. We may unconsciously overcome frightful situations or events. “Awe” comes from Indo-European “aghis” = German “Angst”, French “angoisse, anxiété”, i.e. to be anxious, depressed, frightened.

This has to deal with the famous biblical “dies irae” (day of violent divine anger and punishment) that corresponds to “yom hadin\יום הדין” (Day of judgment). It does not mean at all we have to be judgmental. Just the other way around! We can visit our best wrongdoers and those we harmed with much honey, sweet words, cakes or presents. It can be really nice when we are in our situation: enemies and friends alike. We prefer to hide our feelings and say some odd “shalom uslikha\שלום וסליחה – peace/hi and my apologies!” in a very formal way rather to give a hand to our worst enemies. Say we could call that, especially this year, “days of awe without fear” because we will have to overcome our horrible sense of fright and maybe our irascibility and pride will be cleaned up by the irony of new unexpected events.

Yom Kippur is the day of at-ONE-ment. English is the only language to express that forgiveness and pardon are bound to unite; and that kind of pardon is so special that it sends us out this year to a wide range of people. Indeed, humankind is one and unique as God’s reign over the creation.

This has something to do with the very short moment of Jesus’ transfiguration at Mount Tabor. His disciples Peter-Shimon (Kaypha\כיפא), James (Yaakov\יעקב) and John were asleep. Suddenly, Peter sees Jesus talking beyond time with Moses and the Prophet Elijah. A short instant of eternal brightness and unity. (Matthew 17:1-13).

av aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)