Monday, November 14, 2011

Blessings Only!

"Blessings only”

As time passes, we seem to face more and more periods of peaks of violence that cool down and start again and again. We expect some other troubles that we have to affront with renewed mental or physical aggressiveness. We are facing rough times of spiritual, societal and identity probation. It is not new, it is only simple and ordinary day-to-day human "on the go". It does not include development or growth necessarily.

The reading portion of the week is "Chayei Sarah/חי שרה - the span of Sarah's time" which, to begin with, accounts her death and ends with Abraham's burial. This is the main purpose of the reading portion: not life, but because life is meaningful, why and how should the humans be brought to everlasting repose, rest, eath.

How to bury somebody in a place where the considered person is "foreign"? What to do when a foreigner loses abroad somebody of his close parentage? Abraham’s attitude toward his wife witnesses to a rare act of loving-kindness.. In Egypt, he was about to abandon Sarah to Pharaoh as his sister. She turned to be a natural plague (Pharaoh got seriously ill) that kicked them out of the country much quicker than by Moses' time (Bereishit/Genesis 12:14-17)!

The Jewish tradition considers that Abraham did not love (le'ehuv/לאהוב) Sarah but they did spend their life together and were true life companions. He showed compassion (rachamim\רחמים) bwhen he bought a cave at Machpelah for 400 silver Shekels (quite a fortune at that time) to bury his long-life wife Sarah in the land of the Hittites. Abraham was considered as a "stable" resident (sort of ger toshav/גר תושב). Love showed by steps: it was more emotional with Yitzchak and Rebecca and reach out to the fulfillment of love with Yaakov who travailed 14 years and was even cheated by his step-father to marry his beloved Rachel.

But the point is that Abraham was not rejected nor told to bury Sarah in his homeland, Ur-Kasdim, in Mesopotamia. Ephron the Hittite took the cash and said : "Go and bury your dead". Thus, Machpelah\מכפלה passed from Ephron to Abraham at the going merchants' rate "as a burial place". Abraham was also to be buried there (Genesis 25:10). This act of compassion turned to seeds of life and grafting for a wandering God-seeking couple that could peacefully and legally "plant their bones" to blossom with the promise of a numerous lineage.

Looking into the journey of this exceptional - say a bit "history-symbolic" couple of our ancestors, they felt obliged to steafastly fight paganism, amorality, human sacrifices. They acknowledged a covenant in the flesh and this act that only concerns males has a strong imprint on their souls.

They trusted in the Omnipresent Lord. Abraham argued with Him to save a handful of sinners, if any, those who were fenced in Sodom. It has nothing to do with our usual claims and requirements: that God should be human and have the same ethic patterns as ours.

Sarah and Abraham - in this order because of the privilege she gave to her husband to bear Yitzchak unexpectedly - never imposed any way of divine regulations. Nonetheless, Judaism considers and teaches that Abraham complied with all the Mitzvot/Commandments of the Torah and of the Talmud, i.e. all the Commandments of the Written and Oral Laws. They faced a spiritual combat, choosing to clutch to the words of the One God of the living as opposed to the world of idols, ruthless violence and hatefully hostile evictions/deportations.

Jesus said something very similar to his disciples about this path: "As you go, do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic or sandals or walking stick. The laborer deserves his keep” (Matthew 10:10).

At the present, we face doubts that confront faith or a society of believers with non-believers, atheists, secular or free-spirited people. In a context where people can mark a territory, a quarter but can hardly close planetary connectedness.

This is the first proposition. In fact, there are strong trends to show off faith and creeds. Faith come and go like waves. They are not constant. They show and disappear. One, two three generations have shown that "faith" is an essential value, but "faith" is not moral. Faith shows Divine Will and goals. Subsequently "Faith" is a gift that we may apprehend, understand and cope with the moral "barriers" that exist in order to comply with "extant, essential and life-giving ethics".

"Pulsa d'nura/פולסא דנורא" is a typical Talmudic expression in Aramaic used in Talmud Baba Metzia 47b, Hagiga 15b or in Leviticus Rabba 37 ("pulsin\פולסין")."Pulsa = a disk, circular, round plate or even a ring" used as measure of weight or money ("pilas\פילס”). As any payment coin is of great importance in the Middle-East and our cultural backgrounds in Judaism and Christianity. Yet, in the Gospel, a woman turned half mad in sweeping her house in order to find a "lost coin" but called her friends for a party when she found it (Luke 15:8).

By extension, "pulsa d'nura" were fiery disks put on whipping lashes (Talmud Baba Metzia 85b) envisioned as a punishment against sinners in heaven (i.e. after death...) in the absence of a any presupposed Divine pardon (Yoma 77a). Rashi would have considered this "harsh condemnation" as an equivalent to the "cherem/חרם = ban or eviction from the community".

Since the Second Temple is not "alive - qayam\קיים" the sacrifices are suspended without the existence of a coherent and legal Sanhedrin, death sentences are not applicable. Then, any attempt to evict somebody from a Jewish community is very problematic. Since the Era of Enlightment, a secular movement that appeared in Christianized Europe as a questioning system about beliefs and creeds (17th century). This has still been a problem for some groups at the dawn of the 20th century, e.g. Marc Chagall (his Christian-oriented paintings), Shalom Asch (his books in Yiddish about "Jesus" and "Mary") have been about to be excluded from the Jewish community, i.e. under a "cherem\חרם - ban of expelling from the community".

The "pulsa d'nura\פולסא דנורא" seems to be a sort of alternative "death curse" pronounced against one or some individuals who profoundly offended or trespassed the Jewish laws in force. It has been noticed that "death penalties" are not in force in Judaism since Jews are called to bless and not to curse (Genesis 22:18). The "cherem\חרם" or eviction from the community is no more in force or can more easily be circumvented, though not everywhere.

The Churches could initially pronounce anathemas (ban) or excommunications, i.e. the faithful could were either excluded from the Sacraments and the catholic community; the Eastern Orthodox tradition referred to the prohibition of receiving the Communion.

Death curses or "pulsa d'nura" have been at the heart of the very in-depth debate and essential fight led by the secular Jews and the various practicing Jewish ultra-orthodox groups who did allow a constant death-facing survival of Jewishness in hostile environments.

Eliezer Ben Yehudah, the reviver of the living Modern Hebrew tongue was seemingly the first "Israeli" to be picked on such a death curse as it was unthinkable for pious Jews to speak the language of G-d. But the need for a common language convinced that Hebrew was the most avaconvenient and resourceful heritage. Still until recently, Yiddish should have remained the only "national" colloquial in very orthodox quarters or specific groups.

Death curses were also cited about late PM Yitzchak Rabin, eventually against Shimon Peres vs. Moshe Katzav as both were candidates to the presidency of the State. Late Rav I. Kaduri and Menachem Mendel (Lubavich) intervened as spiritual leaders. Though some authorities protested against the existence of such curses - pulsa d'nura, if any. Last... the curse was cited with regard to the pullout from the Gaza Strip and Ariel Sharon.

Cursing appears to recurrently be a violent and very passionate, emotional reaction in the Semitic and religious way of thinking faithfulness to God's Commandments and the pagan aspect or secular attitude of social bodies that do not commit their lives with the requirements of faith.

"Charam" (ban, expel somebody) is often heard in Arabic.Physical violence as spitting at the Christian clergy or ignoring them by closing the eyes are frequent in Jerusalem. In return, mutual ignorance stigmatizes the wounds of aggressive positions that often influenced each group in the name of ritual purity. Thus, the long-life loving-kindness shown by Abraham and Sarah wandering towards their identity is a good example of hospitality and love of the unknowns as at terebinths of Mamre.

Each day, the Jewish communities start to pray with the words of Bilaam, the prophet who had been paid to curse Israel and was pulsed to understand he was wrong because his she-donkey refused to move, laid down and told him how to behave. He converted and said: "How goodly are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel" (Numbers/VaYikra 24:5).

av aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)