Monday, October 3, 2011

Open the Gates,

What about feeling clean, pure, free, released as we just entered 5772? We may zigzag along our sins and progressively sleek them down on Yom Hakippurim, the Day of Atonement? Ten days of teshuvah\תשובה, conversion to God. "Kayn tshive iz oykh a tshive\קיין תשובה איז אויך א תשובה" (no answer is thus an answer) as we say in Yiddish. From Elul 25, 5771 to Tishrei 9, 5772, Yom Kippur eve, we may visit some family, divorcees, friends, acquaintances. We may shake peaceful hand with real or temporary enemies. Thus, we can have some tea or more, we may talk with them in circles or miles, just for a minute? Because "life's a beach" and sure, let's chuck it (all our personal messy problems).

Everybody supposedly knows the spirit and the rules governing the celebration of Yom HaKippurim\יום הכיפורים: full fasting (tzom\צום, ta'anit\תענית), no food, no beverage, no sexual intercourse. 25 hours "on standby", stirring to prayers and positive expectation of God’s forgiveness. ''Kippur'' is not only Jewish. It is Jewish because it is humane and relates all the universe to God, eventually some E.T.'s till the end of all galaxies, if any. We are rarely aware of that inter-nation-al and universal challenge. "Tzom qal\צום קל" = "have a nice and cool fast". Well, fasting is normal for the Jews and there is no need to complain about hunger. "tzom\צום" relates to "tzimtzem\צימצם = to contract, force into close confinement or to observe closely with the eyes", thus "ittzamem\אתצמם" = to veil one's self" which explains the tradition idea of God "slipping away" as an eclipse. In fact, the move is peculiar, like the pangs of birth, the tenseness of woman contractions. God cannot disappear, what a pretence! we can take a leave from Him or think we might give us a break, enjoy what we think we pretend to be. Yom Kippur\יום כיפור aims at collecting us as two-faced scams into radiant souls.

The sanctity of the day is so tough that it is may be difficult to keep tenacious; I always met fainting women begging "a gloz chay- א גלאז טשאי / stakan chaiu-стакан чаю" (a glass of tea) every four hours or so though they were lying put on some sofa. Or craving for food, while a poor chicken was still preserved in some refrigerator. Men would hardly consent with sexual abstinence... this is an up-to-the-minute affair at the present. Eclipses imply some moves of disappearances and showing-up again, just as the moon which is the best example of God's confidence whether the star is visible or slips away. Oh, this year we shall celebrate Rosh HaShanah's days as the Muslims will start the fasting and festive month of Ramadan, based on the lunar calendar.

I am always surprised how "nationalistically tied" our faith in God may appear in daily life. Say a non-Jew greets a Jew with "Shabbat shalom\שבת שלום", the answer is usually: "Bye! kol tuv (all the best)". Of course, some would greet the same way. On Yom Kippur, is "tzom kal\צום קל" Jewish? Did God launch all the galaxies for us - only us? and only for the sake of the Jews? Wrong! On Yom Kippur, as on every major Feast, we read a scroll/megillah or a Book that shows how the non-Jews are eager to believe in God. Yonah is the book we read because - though he firstly wanted to go to Tarshish (something like having some rest at Eilat on the beach), he was stuck by God to rush to Nineveh where all the pagans repented and converted "with ashes". We are serving God and thus, are related to any living being. Even if it seems irrational or incredible in our own experience.

The soul of Yom HaKippurim is to proclaim that "God reigns over the entire universe" and this is why we are dressed in white. There are so many and insightful aspects to such a day. We are proposed to attain "teshuvah illa'it-illaah\תשובה עלאית " - the higher possible level of returning to God since "teshuvah\תשובה = response, conversion; cf. "shuv\שוב - anew; to revolve". Of course, the day is full of the living memory of the Temple sacrifices (cf. Ben Sirach, ch. 51; and Nehemiah).

Rabbi Anan said that "the Gates of Prayers - Shaarey Tefillah\שערי תשובה” are never closed" (Exodus/Shmot Rabba 2: 12). At the end of the day, before the sorrowful and festive blowing of the shofar attunes the harmony of all hopes for a blessed year , the chazzan-חזן/cantor will implore the King of the Kings "to open speedily the gates of light, joy, blessings, loving-kindness, repentance, consolation, forgiveness, teaching, redemption, healing, tradition, peace, Torah, prayer". "Tiftach\תפתח", (please) do open, lift up the gates. Curiously enough, all societies and religions love to exert pressure, control and power on souls and restrict free actions though claiming to release them.

Yom Kippur is definitely a major ransoming feature (“kofer\כופר-כפר”) of the Christian faith. The well-known (and very Jewish) prayer of the Lord (Matthew 6:9-13) begins as the essential supplications said on the day of Atonement: “Avinu shebashamayim\אבינו שבשמים – Our Father Who art/is in heaven” and the ancient Greek still used in the Eastern Orthodox Church includes: “and forgive us our debts (“aphès imin ta opheilimata imôn = let go off to us the debts of us”) as we also have forgiven our debtors (“ôs kai imeis aphikamen tois opheiletais imôn = as also we have let go off to the debtors of us”). Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in accordance with the Kippur way: firstly to pardon the humans and then turn to God, Avinu, our Father. This aspect of pardoning our neighbors and even enemies (“re’a” = neighbor; cf. “evil”) is rooted in the Kippur traditions. It is sad that most translations of this prayer pronounced all the time throughout the world by the Christians wrongly state “as we forgive those who trespassed against us” – present tense. The Aramaic version “Abun divshmaya\אבון דבשמיא” (same words as in the Qaddish) has even retained a very significant Semitic phrase: “washboq lan lekhatayn wakhaybayn\ושבוק לן לחטאין וחיבין = and forgive (and remit) our sins and debts”. Moral and ethical, emotional and behavior sins are distinct from financial debts.

The architecture of the Oriental Churches is commonly based on the compound of the Mikdash, the Temple as described in the Bible. It took a certain time before the Christian traditions adopted the structure. Just as the Semits started to pray by predetermining a limited space in the wilderness, then had the Aron HaQodesh\ארון הקודש (Ark of Covenant), later a tent and, in the end, the Beyt HaMiqdash\בית המקדש (Temple housing the Divine Presence or Shechinah\שעינה), the early Christian used to go to pray in the Temple, were meeting in houses that became “ecclesiae” (churches). When the barbarians and various heretics attacked and plundered the holy places, they built separation walls inside the churches in order to be protected. This showed around the 10th century C.E. But the Oriental Churches conformed their spaces for prayers to the exact structure of the Temple. In the Old City of Jerusalem, e.g. at the Holy Sepulcher, it is possible to visualize this plan: the altar is oriented toward the East (“mizrach”), a wall separates the Holy of Holies from the faithful. In the middle, “the royal gates” lead to Zion and Jerusalem and a red curtain is hanging, recalling the “kapporet\כפורת” that in the Temple’s Holy of Holies and used to change from red to white on Yom HaKippurim.

Thus, when the Eastern Orthodox priest or deacon comes before the “royal gates”, he acts as Jesus of Nazareth said :”Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and and the door will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7). The rabbi asks in the synagogue, during the Neylah\ניעלה (= closure, final) Service, that God open the gates. His words of prayer knock with total trust in God that no soul should be blocked or rejected in that new year. The prayers of Yom Kippur end with the words that embody the first commandment to be fruitful: “May it be Your Will, Lord our God and God of our fathers that we grow more than thousand times and far beyond what you are at the present, amen!”

(c) Av Aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)