Saturday, January 21, 2012

Building plagues

Building plagues

Building Plagues

This weekly Torah reading portion is called "Va'era'\וארא" (God "appeared" to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) in the Book of Shemot/Exodus 6:2-9:35. Quite a big show and a one time sorcerer program!

There are intermingled affairs and situations: the portion starts as God says to Moses that He is the God Who appeared, revealed, declared His project to a specific three generational tribe whose bones rest in peace at Machpelah cave in the Land of Canaan. According to Talmud Arakhin 15a/b and Mishnah Avot 5:4, this fabulous human history developed over three times ten generations, till the splitting of the Waters at the Red Sea. Ten plagues echo these decades as a phenomenal miracle against the Egyptians.

Thus, it should be noted that if plagues are the syndrome, God is the main decider. The context shows how the enslaved Jews were moaning to be delivered from their bondage. The whole portion is a sort of teaching that will finally peak with the first sacrifice of the lamb and "seder Pesach\סדר פסח - Passover Service".

Again, as for last week parsha-portion, Names are important in this event of apparent virtuoso wizard championship. God says to Moses: "Ani HaShem = I am the living Lord" but I revealed Myself to your forefathers as El Shaddai" (Ex. 6:2). It is more a Bereishit/Genesis Name which incidentally is mainly present in the TaNaKh or the Aramaic translations (Targum Onkelos) to identify God when mankind is confronting wickedness. Job and his friends only refer to Shaddai.

Is He the God Who protects from the "devils/evils - shed/im" (Talmud Yoma 75a: "as the demon changes into many color appearances, so did the manna into various tastes")? The reference to Manna is important because it implies a connection with salvation by providing food as after the exodus from Egypt. Or, for instance, "Shad = female breast" that is essential for the child as the Manna" (Tosefta Sota 4,3). "she-ddai lo" would suggest that "Stop, enough for God!"; or it suffices. Hebrew "Dai (she-dai) = stop, over, finished" indeed means "it suffices, it is enough". Penetrating the process of delivery from bondage, we discover that some things suffice or be considered by God as enough. The Haggadah of Pesach - the Account of the Delivery during the Passover night - has a song linked to each plague and the response is "Dayenu - it would have been sufficient for us" if only one plague had convinced Pharaoh and his assistants.

Yes, God's Name "El Shaddai" predetermines that God has a long-term project that goes far beyond the short-sighted views of all the actors. Moses can hardly speak and his brother Aaron exercises a prophetic role parallel to the Egyptian sorcerers' job; this maybe considered as anticipating Aaron's need for the spiritual Divinely inspired insights revealed to Moses in order to avoid falling into idolatry (Golden Calf). It can be compared to Job's test directly decided by an agreement passed between God (Elohim - El Shaddai) and Satan - the Adversary (the obstructive one). Job is not locked up in slavery. A wealthy, prosperous and contented man, he suddenly becomes the subject-object of a deal between God and Satan.

Indeed, a Gentlemen's transaction concerning his soul and human balance, taken without any preliminary contractual discussion with the people concerned. No way! Job would never have dared organize a marching-in demonstration in a pre-Jerusalem suburb. He did not know that the top of Super-deities had a pact, with a provision required by God, "Satan should not touch the integrity of Job's soul = make him mad"("raq alav al-tishlach yadcha – don't lay your hand upon him" – Job 1:12)

Nor would the enslaved tfuh-tfuh moaning Jews give a hand to Moses and his brother Aaron. Slavery is naturally human and power divine, at least secularly gorgeous. It seemingly provides human beings with a blessing not to think, nor to babble as children do in the presence of superpowers. This churlish simpleton behavior is even more pregnant in the sphere of spirituality: when heads lose faith and swirl in some foggy nonsense that fakes devotion. The faithful will continue to pay respect to such puppets. Indeed, spiritual conflicts are comparable to match or lighter sparks that chuck out, just out! and oust people into more bondage.

Again, this portion obliges us to remember what Talmud Pessahim 10,4 insistently raps on our conscience: "Arami oved avi - my father was a fugitive Aramean… the Lord freed us from the Land of Egypt with a mighty hand, an outstretched arm, awesome power, by signs and portents (uv'otot uvmoftim – Deut. 26:5-9)".

These verses are read each year by the Jews at Rosh HaShanah; each day we are summoned to understand we are on a way. Parshat Va'era' is the only one that so strongly insists on the miracles and signs that God showed. Scientists might be doubtful. A mythological account that does not match with any reviewed historic calendar? And these two pitiful chaps – Moses and Aaron - whose yikhes (pedigree) lineage tries to explain they are normal brothers (Ex. 6:14).

Geography does not justify some plagues though the desert quails do fall at a certain time, in a certain area each year… but what Red Sea: a sort of narrow channel?

On the other hand, plagues are "makkot" in Hebrew. The battlefield shows how feeble humans, but true faithful in the living God can face wizards who may fool them down till the pagan Pharaoh and his staff are reduced to less than any lest – lesser than nil, nothing, which is the meaning of "makkah" ("makke" in Yiddish, when nil can quietly drive to grinning). "Makkot" only affect idolaters that mock and challenge God.

Strange how whatever news, situations, conflicts concerned, everyone is "strong" at the moment. Some people, somehow, somewhere might admit they have problems. Still, everybody is strong. When we read this portion of the week, we are on the verge to feel we are done with a series of factors: darkness and light, blood, locusts, hail. Wonders and plagues surpass any social strength. Thus, it is a question: why do faithful target power and strength? "The Lord has prepared the healing of the wound ("refuah lemakkah"; Tractate Megillah 13b).

Thus, the last "makkah – plague" is the death of all the firstborns in the Land of Egypt, including Pharaoh's son. This prolongs the first portion of Shemot-Exodus read last week and the murder of all Jewish boys in Egypt: Moshe is saved by miracle. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and Herod proceeded to the killing of all the children. In this apparently mythological account, there is one thing we have experienced as human beings: recurrent slaughtering of the firstborns and babies in order to cancel life. It should be noted that in the murder of Jewish boys (Moshe and Jesus), the memory tracks back as to a specific character,"a fugitive Aramean" who destroyed the idols and cut off from his pagan parentage… not until his great-grandson Benyamin, the first child to be born in the Land of Canaan.

We assist, at the present, to the alarming and abominable consequence of systematic mass murders of female babies, manifold killings in China and India, that leave millions of males without normal partnership and opportunity to found a family. Female babies mass slaughtering at birth has been a continuous rule in some cultures, as the Inuits (Eskimo's in Nunavut, Canada or Greenland, Yukon, Siberia). Some other trendy or rather experimental groups would prefer male and/or female "sterilization" that affected some wealthy or Third World nations. Either hedonistically and self-centered as in Germany and Scandinavia, or unable to feed and educate in restricted room (Japan).

Curiously, a Jewish midrash states that by the time of Exodus, Jewish women began to beget children "like hens" at an overrated unheard-of level (Exodus Rabba 6,3; though the daily birthing was maybe overestimated).

The death of Pharaoh's son and of all Egyptian firstborns suddenly twitched the ruler, gave him an uncontrollable jerk and real fear of the Living One God. This is also a question: are rulers so perverse and mulish that only death may convince them that life is a treasure of incredible value? We are, at the present, after the time of Passover liberation. Our main contemporary concern seems to be a sort of idolization of any clerics. Moshe did not enter the Land of Canaan because he was responsible for his people that dared deifying the Golden Calf. Quiz of the week parsha: who are they our modernistic Aaron and interfaith metal idol cooks?

One thing is awe-inspiring: when the children of Israel will sing the song of liberation, they will sing it in a low voice, which we continue to do. Jews were freed from bondage at the cost of a nation-wide death of firstborns. This should always prevent us from despising any foreigner, especially at the present as we live in Eretz Israel.

On January 18-19, the Eastern Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, the other Oriental Churches of the Holy Land and in particular the Armenian Church celebrate at the Jordan River (Israeli and Jordanian sides) the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. The splitting and passing of the Red Sea are considered as a sign of this cleansing and delivery process. The Jews only became free when they definitely left Egypt. Jesus was not baptized by any Church or denomination at the Jordan River. He came to undergo some sort of "mikveh – bath of persons or instruments" proposed by John in the desert. "Our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of they were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" says Paul of Tarsus (1 Corinthians 10:1-2). The Christian Orthodox tradition proposes another reflection: when Jesus went down the waters and rose immediately, he sanctified the entire creation (Mark 1:10).

Again, this week portion is the account of the gigantic crash between mythical deities? Or, on the contrary, it shows how El Shaddai calls the living to bring forth holiness and freedom.

av aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Names and going to the Only One

Names and going to the Only One

We start to read a new Book for the weekly reading, i.e. "Shemot - (the) Names" in Hebrew, called "Exodus or the flight from Egypt, the house of slavery" in usual translations and traditions. In Hebrew, it is usual to refer to the first words of Biblical Book: "Ve'eleh shemot Bney Yisrael = these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each coming from his household" (Shemot/Exodus 1:1).

We enter the history and destiny of a peculiar and small Jewish rooted family. They entered Egypt out of hunger, were saved by Joseph, their son and brother "on sale" who saved and redeemed them. He made them honored, respected and protected by Pharaoh.

In Hebrew, the title also underlines how eleven brothers entered a foreign country that, at first glance, welcomed them and provided them with a lot of wealth in the fertile region of Goshen.

To begin with, the sons of Israel were accepted. There might have been other troubles or famines, as time passed. Then, a new Pharaoh showed up and he did not come to know Joseph.

The problem we have to face is that Jews are either too few, or too many -multiply or disappear. They usually come and go by leaving a region. History has also shown how they very often were victimized, plundered and massacred. One point should be highlighted.

The Book of Shemot (Names) prolongs the history initiated in the Book of Bereishit (Commencement) -Genesis of all the universe, beginning with the creation of the world, planets, sun, moon, stars, vegetables and animal creatures and finally the humans. The Jewish tradition insists on that aspect. After thousands and thousands of years and long series of ages unto ages, the Jews continue to be trained and taught that micro-groups of ten-twelve peoples can suddenly grow to millions after some centuries or eventually collapse or be eclipsed in some circumstances.

Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem into the humble family of a carpenter with a prestigious priestly and Davidic backgrounds. He started with three Galilean disciples, then 12 that extended to 70 or 72. In the end or at least in our generation, there are seemingly millions of disciples . They appear to be incredibly split.

On the other hand, they did disappear, as Jewish inspirited, from some regions, often for the identic reasons for rejection or collapse. This is why it is important to take into account this Book of Shemot because it obliges to humble ourselves: Shemot means "Names" and the Jewish people were conceived as in the image and likeness of God-Elohim (Gen. 1:27) (HaShem - the Only Name) and they only belong to This Name or aim to testify to this Holy Name. The Jews have no other reason to exist than to engrave God's Presence into society and individuals that can appear to have "no soul". This allows another connection to "Shem", Noah's son who is the ancestor of the Semites, dwelling in a place "there (sham)" where The Name is present.

Then, Exodus, from Greek "going - way out", explains the development of a nation in a hostile context. They came to be blessed with food and wealth. They got forced into bondage and seem to be satisfied with their slavery when God decides to save them against their will. We hardly can figure out today what happened by the time of Moshe/Moses. This account is more than relevant, consequential and far-reaching: this week, we track back to the roots of a call to permanent freedom, defined release from bondage and the extravagance of being born to be constantly free over and over again.

This implies other invariants: relations with the pagans and the Gentiles, to feel obliged to some sort of reluctance to move up, to be compelled to admit that freedom is worthier than any brick-building or any involuntary tasks ordered by hating rulers.

There are some similarities - definitely normal if we quietly consider historic developments - between the birth of the Jewish boy Moshe, saved from killing all Israelite newborns and being adopted by the sister of Pharaoh (Shemot 2:5-11) and the birth of Jesus, the murder of all the Jewish babies ordered by Herod. He fakes being willing to praise the newborn. He basically wants to know where he was born in order to slay him (Matthew 2:1-12).

Then, another Joseph (son of Jacob, (Matthew 1:16)) is told in a dream: "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt." Thus, Herod became furious and ordered the slaughter of the two year old and younger male babies in Bethlehem and its vicinity, citing Prophet Jeremiah (31:15): "a voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children and she could not be consoled since they were no more." The Church recalls the "Children massacred by Herod" soon after the Nativity of Jesus. When Herod died as a tyrant, Joseph "took the child and his mother and went to the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael), but fearing Herod's son, they settled in Nazareth (Matthew 2:21-23).

There is a fathomable similarity between the two accounts: to fathom consists to measure "with outstretched arms" as God always did and does. Exodus 6:6 (or Deuteronomy 4:34) is cited in almost every single Jewish prayer: "bizro'a nituyah = with outstretched arm (I will redeem you)". In both cases – commemorated at the same time, with parallel and dissimilar views – Jews and Christians firstly recall the birth and saving of Moshe and, on the other hand, the birth and saving of Jesus. In both cases the will to power is so resolute, violent and mighty that murders appear to be more adequate than life.

Of course, it was totally bizarre to the then-enslaved Jews to be granted the protection of the one man whom they considered as the son of Pharaoh. Again, we face "appearance" vs "being" as when Joseph appeared to his brothers as an Egyptian manager. Yes, our generation never experienced the singularity of the reading of this week because we went through thousands of years of pagan hatred and two millennia of estranged bewilderment with the other monotheistic communities.

Too often, the Jews settled in various parts of the world with the impression that – remaining somehow or totally faithful to the Jewish traditions – they would be protected by some sort of rulers. This is a tragic bluff that deceived generations.

In this account, we see how Moses is fully aware of the fact that he is a foreigner (his first son is Gershom = (I) was a stranger there). Is it the chronicle of a liberation process? We might be tempted to make comparisons, all through history. Exodus is and remains unique as it climaxes with Pessach / Passover and the going-out from bondage to delivery.

There might be more. God can be reduced to a set of ordinances, some of which we comply with and systematically select those we accept or reject. This is the dialogue between God and Moses at the bush that does not burn up "has'neh bo'er ba'esh vehas'neh eynenu ukal" (there was a bush all aflame, yet the bush was not consumed – Ex. 3:26). God said to Moshe: "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob". The root of the word "S'neh – thorn bush" is connected to Aramaic/Hebrew (different spelling): "sina – hatred, removal".

Indeed, God is different, totally alien to whom we think we are when we disguise, hide ourselves or try to be high-profile in this world. Such a bush allows the changing of any moment or instant into a time or measure of eternity. Similarly, it gives the opportunity to mutate any jealousy into the process of wiping out of wickedness.

This is what Rabbi Yehiel Michal of Zlotshov explained when he said that Abraham had accomplished all the 613 Mitzvot / Commandments. He declared that Abraham loved God more than any other human, idea or concept. This corresponds exactly to what Moshe progressively discovered: he had been "dressed" as a foreigner to his own people; still, he did return to them because God constantly renews His Divine Love and trust that is presented to the human beings as a call.

From Abraham, Isaac, Jacob down to Joseph and the 12 sons of Israel, Jews have been alien (they do not enjoy the same rights as the local citizens) even if Machpelah is theirs as the "the burial site bought by Abraham from Ephron the Hittite" (Gen. 50:13). There are tons of small or big nations that hate each other for racial, cultural, social, economic reasons.

This week, we have to face a real and kernel reason: the Jews only exist to attest that, from nil, God calls to being, enhancement, unexpected growth and freedom. Eretz Yisrael is given to the twelve sons of Israel as a permanent lease for life. Thus, Judaism is bringing forth non-perishable seeds of reality, survival and a hopeful process of continuity.

Two texts from the Talmud are very similar: Treaties Nedarim 39b and Pessahim 54a.They explain that before God created heaven and earth, seven counselors were discussing with Him to know whether it made sense or not to launch the process! These pre-existing advisors were: The Torah (Law, both Written and Oral), Teshuvah (penance), Kisse HaKavod (Throne of Glory), Devir (Holy of Holies), Gan Eden, Gey Hinnom (Gehenna) and Shem HaMashiach (Name of the Messiah).

They appeared step by step, through the process of historical development. But one thing is constant, endures and questions us at the present. Even back in Eretz Yisrael, how do we prove to be "seeds of freedom"? Moses was thus given a password to speak to the enslaved Jews: God has a Name: "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" (Shemot 3;14).

This Name continues to convulse and reshuffle our daily lives and paths. Say it may correspond to "I am Who I am" – frankly, it sounds stiff; correct, but inelastic and "aloof". God is merciful... The bush that burns without consuming reveals that God's Name means: "I will (not 'shall') be/come the Who to the fullest of Who I will be/come". This sounds jet-set stylish, but read again, please: it is a motion without automatics; or "I will become/develop to exist to the fullest the One (Who)I will live to the full".

With Exodus, we face a new creation project as read each Shabbat: "Vaychulu hashamayim vehaaretz – heaven and earth were achieved" (Gen. 1:31). Not finished: "yachulu" echoes an action on the move to the full, as the kallah (bride) who begins her life-long path with her special one.

Someway, Jesus embodied what God proposes to any Jew and believer: "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head" (Matthew 8:20).Indeed, we start, this week, a huge trip with the go-getting Name of the Lord!

Av Aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Blessing the whole world

Blessing the whole world

The Jewish world consists of a continuous and steady process and natural move to blessing the creation, creatures and the human beings. It starts when waking up early in the morning. It continues with the washing of the hands, the putting on the great prayer shawl and the donning the tefillin. Thus Jewish life consists in a series of repeated daily actions such as eating and learning.

We are compelled to accept our being controlled by the guidance of uttered words that emphasize how sacred, beautiful and new it is to be alive and see the marvels of our environment, nature, humans, animals...

We bless our homes, cats, friends, wives or husbands or betrothed; we say (or at least should say) blessings upon our cups of tea, peanut cream, wine, water or mitz (fruit juice), when seeing a rainbow, a scholar or going on a trip.

The problem is to avoid getting like automata. Or also avoid the blessing anything that only relates to ourselves. Life does not allow us - no way - to spend our days in scorning the others, and only to take a sort of selfish breath. There is a very close link in Judaism between blessings and curses.

We are quicker to judge people and curse them than to curse ourselves, God forbid! The problem of this systematic recognition that holiness is everywhere in the world maybe tiresome. It may be boring to handle with continuous and really perpetual blessings that ring up like bells (some would only try on a trip to Israel).

It is definitely not evident to bless. True! Or to accept that these words of the blessings are indeed efficient. Just have a look: this neighbor, co-worker, politician, actor, doctor; we ought to bless them!? And just have a real look at this cracked-up auntie who could give a loan on a free basis; she is just a mess. Well, we all love to switch to "lashon hara'ah\לשון הרעה - vicious gossiping, venomous speech", but it is so refreshing!

There is also the worse defect of the thing: to say wrong, malicious and killing words against anybody in our thoughts while uttering holy blessings. But we so desperately need enemies. There are special moments though: for instance when people die. An energizing flash of peaceful meditation and possible care. Last wills can be intriguing.

In the reading portion of the week - “Vayechi\ויחי - (and Jacob) lived”, we meditate the time when (Yaakov-) Israel was about to die. He called his son Joseph, got acquainted with Menashe and Ephraim and, seemingly dim, he blessed Ephraim (junior) instead of Menashe (senior) with his right hand.

He saw in anticipation a greater and more fruitful descent for him. It is important that their grandfather confirmed their adoption in the Tribes, because, in spite of some link through Dinah, Joseph's sons are not Jewish by their mother.

Nonetheless, it should be noted that each Shabbat, a family father blesses his children in recalling their names. Israel asked Joseph to bury him in the Land of Canaan. Thus, he called each of his sons and blessed them with very relevant phrases and statements about their characters and specific future for each tribe. It should be noted how he blessed “Simon and Levi (who) are a pair (achim\אחים); their weapons are tools of lawlessness…let not my person be included in their council… cursed be their anger so fierce… I will divide them in Jacob, scatter them in Israel” (Gen./Bereishit 49:5-7).

This sounds a bit rude. Jacob-Israel is quietly ending his life abroad but with his family and a prophetic future that shall be accomplished by his sons. The patriarch (third “av\אב = father) ends his days with decency, after a life of labor and cheat.

He grew old as a man and became mature in the face of God. Isaac would not have blessed Yaakov and Esau the way Israel blessed his sons. The twins were competitors bogged down in lentil soup, birthright and blessing capture with a mom’s push; this does not show the same grandeur as leaving the world without any lady’s care, honored by Pharaoh (70 days of wailing were decreed in Egypt after Yisrael’s death).

Still he departed in exile, envisioning his own gathering with Abraham at Machpelah cave. Yaakov presented a remarkable demand to Joseph in such circumstances: “Place your hand under my thigh as a pledge of your steadfast loyalty (chesed ve’emet\חסד ואמת)” (Gen. 47:29). It is both the sign of a paternal symbolism and a recall of his personal intimate wounds forever as having taken up the identity challenge of being Israel. Joseph will receive Simon and Levi’s portions but he firstly had to witness to the fragility of unexpected divine assistance.

There is a joke: a woman went to her gynecologist who asked her to take off all her clothes. Softly stunned, she answered : “Does your mother know what you make a living?” The Jewish people has been and is being called to bless all the other peoples and to teach them how to bless and not to kill anyone. Subsequently, the problem of Jewishness is that "the Jews as a serving nation" is to feel naked. There are no possessions or at least they have to be taught and get aware of the fact that they are "nil and temporary witnesses". And what with the blessings? Is this a living? Even if they might be disguised in brilliant dressings or know-hows.

“Blessaðu” is still normal in Icelandic to say “Hello” in a polite way. “God bless” is Christian and interfaith Anglo. The word is related to “blood” (Old Germanic: “Blothisojan = to sprinkle blood on the altars”). The Anglo-Saxon word got sweeter by a mistake when specialists thought the root was the same as for “to bliss” which is lovely.

Indeed, “bless” corresponds to the meaning of sacrifices (korbanot\קורבנות), the blood of lambs at Pessah (and Christian Easter), as the “Aid al Adha” (Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice) in which so many sheep and lambs were slaughtered in a way that tracks back to Abraham and Isaac’s binding to the Prophet: “like a sheep being led to slaughter, like an ewe dumb before those who shear her” (Isaiah 53:7;cf. Preparation of the Gifts in the Byzantine Orthodox tradition).

In Hebrew, the usual word is “brachah\ברכה”(blessing) and “barech\ברך” (to bless). It is basically connected with “beri – bara\ברי-ברא” (to create) that initially consists “to perforate” – “think out a plan”.

“When the Lord wanted to create man (adam\אדפ), He first created (thought out) all the means of his support and then created Adam (Talmud Sanhedrin 38b – Gen. Rabba 8). It should be noted that, indeed, Adam is a “bar\בר” (son) of the same root as “to create”.

Thus, a blessing consists in “sorts of perforations, holes, apertures allowing the instilling of strength, growth, refreshing, new creation. God proposes to screw us up although we don’t feel hurt nor see any holes! Say that the blessing firstly renews or achieves something we got with regards to our diversified environment. We exist, we have been shaped and entrusted a special mark.

A sort of spiritual, legal piercing! The “Laying of the hands” is important in the Jewish tradition; it is a kind of “sacrificial offering” that aims at changing the life of the blessed. The hands were exerting a pressure upon the head (semichah\סמיכה; samech\סמך = stamp, perforate). “Samech\סמך”, the name of fifteenth letter /s/ means “punch” as the thin knife used by the shochet\שוחט (kosher slaughterer) to speedily kill the animal that must die immediately and be kosher.

Blessings imply a change from death to life. Interestingly, the reading of the week is called “Vayechi\ויחי” (And Jacob lived) because Jacob's death and repose at Machpelah introduces a new move of fertility and growth linking generations by means of blessings.

Then “barekh\ברך” means “to cave out, select, choose, point out”: “HaQadosh Baruch Hu\הקדוש ברוך הוא - הקב''ה” (The Holy One, Blessed He be) as in Talmud Pessahim 118a, Who, in turn, praises and blesses His creation, not the contrary.

“Hivrikh\הבריך” develops the action: “to form a knee, to engraft a plant, wine” as “two good shoots (proselytes) have been engrafted to Ruth” (Talmud Bava Kamma 38b; cf. Epistle to the Romans 11:13 about the Gentiles engrafted to share the roots of the olive tree without boasting). Then, a blessing implies the growth of “birkaiברכ-א-י” (shoots, branches) who will be satisfied with waters.

As it is a rule in the Semitic tongues, positive and negative aspects can alternate in ways of paradoxes according to the context: “barekh\ברך” can also mean “to blaspheme”: “…Until he blasphemes the Lord by His name” (Talmud Sanhedrin 56a). This is a very profound and sensitive experience that blessing and cursing are closely tied, as love and hatred, praising and scorning, mocking.

This is a very specific call to bless people and be a mark of blessings. In the case of Israel, it is a “congregational, community, international” service of God. This is at the heart of Israel’s destiny: the act of blessing intrudes that we take over the sufferings and the joys of the nations. Blessings comply with the order of the words as in the verse: “Bo’u\באו (come), nishtachaweh\נשתחוה (bow down til earth), venikhra’ah\ונכררעה (kneel down) venivrachah\נברכה (bend the kneels to be blessed) lifney HaShem ossenu\לפני ה' עשנו (in the face of God Who makes us)” (Psalm 94:6, said before reading the Psalms in the Jewish and some Christian traditions).

This move is special because it induces yeridah\ירידה (falling, getting to nil) and then olah\עולה (raising) with the blessing. In the Scroll of Esther, Mordechai refused to kneel and bow down before Haman (Esther 3:2-5). This move is reversed compared to the psalm.

The three Wise Men who came to visit Jesus in Bethlehem acted according to the correct order of the verse, i.e. giving thanks to God for the new born child (Matthew 2:11). As we read this reading portion, the Eastern and Oriental Churches celebrate the Nativity of Jesus on January 6-7 in Bethlehem, the city of David whose death is also read as Haftarah (Additional reading) in the Jewish tradition (1 Kings 2:1-12).

“Yechi\יחי!” The weekly reading recounts the death of Yaakov-Israel in exile. “Yechi\יחי” = may he live” is similar to Batshevah’s cry: “yechi adoni David le’olam va’ed\יחי אדני דויד ךעולם ועד – may my Master David live forever” (Kings 1:1-31).

He had left Bethlehem. He built, combated and killed his enemies or competitors. On the other hand, Yaakov-Israel could be murdered several times. The same prophetic call to universal blessing echoes from Bethlehem, as David is “Messiah” in the Jewish tradition and “yechi\יחי – may live or he lived” incites to bless our society with the mark of goodness and hope in these days of hardship.

We are born to bless. Consequently, it is at times more than amazing how we can judge and destroy each other as individuals and nations. It shows a profound disregards and lack of respect to the value and the personal history entrusted to each soul and human body.

There is some sort of a spiritual confusion, mental "mish-mash" that can be felt in the transitional region of the the Land of Canaan that became the Land of Israel according to the Scriptures. Just as the people migrate from here to the ends of the world and may come back or settle in the neighboring countries, the quality of confessing the Messiah is not inscribed in our genes or DNA. It comes from the Spirit.

The Hebrew blessing also relies upon the Spirit. it has nothing to do with human capture or seizing capacities or abilities. This is why the little new Jesus was "tied in a manger" as on the throne. When the Orthodox priest proceeds to the preparation of the Gifts (proskomedia), he covers the Gifts with veils. This has been a long liturgical process. It does not only protect from the flies and little insects. It shows that the Child is born, hidden, tied up. He took his way to Jerusalem and the whole of his ministry consisted in blessing (i.e. also healing, visiting, comforting) the human nature and identity.

It did not only come from himself, but from his Father Who is in Heaven and from the Spirit that sustains, maintains and call to life.

av aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Jesus of Bethlehem 2012

Jesus of Bethlehem 2012

Jerusalem is i.a. the Christian Jerusalem, the local Church that is called to be one beyond all sorts of schisms, separations, splits, mutual exclusion, often crossing roads and spiritual paths between or above denominations and beliefs.

We shall celebrate the Nativity of Jesus of Bethlehem. In the weeks that followed the coming of the Israeli Army into Jerusalem in 1967, the mayors of Bethlehem, Beit Sahur and Beit Jala came to visit late Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek. They wanted to discuss the "incorporation or inclusion" of their towns into the new and then quite unknown administrative and "City of Jerusalem". Forty-four years ago things were not clear for anybody. Things are not clearer today, but there is one aspect: the real development and growth of Jerusalem as the "center of all Jewish and Israeli life".

We usually speak of the conception and birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The city is located in the "Galilee of the Nations". Bethlehem is the city of King David who is also given the quality of "messiah" in the Jewish tradition. For the moment, the Jews do not track back that much to the origin of the young shepherd, David, who was forgotten by his kin people and the prophet got to him by some accident. The city is the "house for feeding, nurturing, calling to meals and banquets, sharing bread or meat".

2012 and still December 25th, 2011 for the local Eastern or ancient Orthodox Churches, with separate calendars and agendas. I shall be back in Jerusalem on upcoming January 17, at dawn.

Is there anything to expect that may come out of Jerusalem at the present? The Judean desert towns did not match with the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem expands in all directions, beside and beyond ally rules and regulations that are considered in force. Bethlehem had still a real Christian population when I first came to the city.

At the present, the guest-houses and hotels that were built for the 2000 and the Millennium of the birth of Jesus host a lot of Russian pilgrims and other visitors who come from all over the world. It is much cheaper than in Jerusalem and the area. It also reinvigorates the departure of the many local Christians. Many of them did not leave the region but settled in the center of Israel. Numerous Arab Christians live in Israeli areas but the matter does not show up in the current discussions. It maybe better. The future will allow historians and scholars to depict the evolution in the upcoming decades.

On the other hand, the traditional Church borders seem to change. They had been stable for centuries, well more or less so. It is at times very difficult to consider history as a real dynamizing process that obliges all human structures and bodies to be on a move.

The Churches in the Middle-East were seemingly "on hold" for eternity. It is a reality of the Oriental spirituality. The Western tradition is more on the move, always changing, always on a conquest and running through the world. The East did survive in embattled circumstances that continue to affect the "dancing and twisting connections".

Twenty years ago, the collapse of the communist regimes led to a full renewal of the perspectives. As such, no Church was then able to face the new structure that undoubtedly would raise from freedom and revolving movements. We are still at the dawn of the process. It only starts. It is rather not sure whereto it can change.

At the moment, the Chinese and Asian faithful start to come. There are also a lot of African and Indian peoples. All rites and traditions come up to Jerusalem - short encounters, brief moments for some pilgrims. Others try to settle for some time, work legally or illegally.

We are a land of transition, passing, crossing around and along, going through and walk further. It is often a question of "egotic" search for some sort of awareness, wellness, hedonistic self-scanning.

There are those who in-depth discover that the "ego", the only One is God. Others will also track the ruins or the living stones of the places where Jesus of Bethlehem journeyed with God, himself and his disciples till he came to Jerusalem. Hidden and speechless conception and early life, then a trip to the outspoken revelation and resurrection.

In the end, he was left alone and asked the disciples if they also wanted to quit him. The answer "To whom would we go?" does not cancel the full abandonment as when he was tried. All betrayed him.

In Nativity, there is some sign of "dreams given by God" that come true and protected his Mother and Joseph. No security for a child born in a "no-land", saved in Egypt and for whom the infants of Bethlehem and the vicinity were to die because of human jealousy.

We have to pray for each other. We cannot reach out to overcome the mental and historic borders of the Ottoman Empire that cannot die out...

Thus there are more and more Christians in the whole of the Middle-East: Israel and the Palestinian Territories under Palestinian Authority are born to work together for the immense in-gathering of the faithful coming from all parts of the world. We have so many workers. They are a part of the "living body". It means that time will change the human landscape and reality: there are and will be babies, intermingling traditional believers. This does not only affect the Christians, but also the Beduins and the Jews in different ways. and matching, mixing-up new tribes whilst others would focus on the departure of traditional groups.

In the course of thirty years I saw the weakening of the Arab Judean Christian areas, the decline of the Romanian and Moldavian, Ukrainian Greek Orthodox and Catholic presence. In the meanwhile, crowds of Africans, Ethiopians, Indians and now Chinese and Philippinos have arrived and settled with their families. They question the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. They also drastically interrogate the local Churches while the traditional ones are on the fall.

We just have to substantially go through the reality of Mary's prayer called "Magnificat". Intriguingly, the Churches could not fathom in advance - nor do they right now - the growth of the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole. It will take much more time.

Since the turn of the Millenium in 2000, the Churches got "revamped". The venerable Georgian, Romanian, Serbian Churches of the Orthodox traditions seem "on stand-by". The Indian and Semitic Churches of the East have to redefine their presence and identity within the historic "scroll" of Jerusalem. Ten, twenty and even forty years are not much at all.

Traditional links appear anew. The Russian Church had always supported the Arab Christians, in particular the Arabic-speaking Orthodox communities. Things are definitely not simple. Jerusalem is the "Mother of all the Church of the God". It was the last patriarchate to be created. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem is the Rum Orthodox body of Christ in Al Quds/the Holy City of Jerusalem. It witnesses to the Roman Empire one Church that broke after the subsequent splits that broke the political and spiritual culture of Europe and the Mediterranean Sea.

The Patriarchate is Greek and still is proves the Hellenistic roots and current cultural mood used in all the Eastern Churches. There is a right to exist within the Church as "specific nations", but God saved all the Nations, from Jerusalem till the ends of the world.

The traditions do exist in all Churches. In the West they are deeply marked by Latin, even in the way the correct translations have been conducted. In the East, it is not possible to quit the Greek structure that is so pregnant in all tongues among the Orthodox or Eastern Churches. With the exception of the Assyrian Liturgy that retained a very profound Semitic background, the Syrian Christian Liturgies "verbalize" the faith from Aramaic to Arabic and Slavonic in a sort of intriguing and appealing cut-and-paste copy of the Greek original phrases.

Let's take the example of the Antiochian tradition that re-expands throughout the world and in different languages. The main language is Arabic; many clerics would do all efforts to maintain a specific pronunciation of the Arabic language in order not to quit the Arabic tongue of Islam. But in the Church, the Arabic language allows the praying and education in accordance of the Greek and Hellenistic way of thinking that was chosen to mainly proclaim the Gospel of the Messiah born in Bethlehem.

The Hellenistic phrasing of the Scriptures in the Septuagint and the Gospel of the Lord is hardly understood at first glance as a "defective" language with regards to the authentic Greek original language. The Hebrew Bible in Greek was realized by teh Jews who thought like Jews and followed the mental patterns of the Mishnah too! This will take centuries to be accepted adequately.

There was a time when at the Great Monastery of Jerusalem, different Church groups lived and shared together faith and the task to welcome the pilgrims of so many different backgrounds. There were Georgians and Serbs and also others. At the moment, things seem to be a bit "tied up".

There is one point that is rather unknown. The huge spiritual experience that the Greek Church did develop along the centuries. It is more than amazing and makes no or little sense for those who could come and kiss the hand of the patriach and then do what they want. Others would twist. Because we are in a region where it is so difficult to keep the straight line and go upright.

I often say that the Rum Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem could be a wonderful example of an international place for welcoming all men and women, children and elderly, pilgrims and visitors, workers and the major Churches could have their delegates to work together in this place located above the Church of the Resurrection. It may come true some day, in a long future.

Our Communion relies upon the intimate conviction that we share a "living Memorial", that of the Eucharist; it means that we do not live upon past events, but the sharing is make "actual, present and future" and introduces into the true development of the Presence in the world.

In this sense, we are only at the dawn of Christianity. It does not exclude, remove or cancel what has been granted and shared. It means that every single soul is dear, precious, exceptional. These are not words. We know in the Church how to utter sounds like the parrots do.

We also have to be good. As goodness crowned the work of creation.

av aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)