Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Moses’ death and birth: the universality of Jewishness

Today, Judaism celebrates the "petirat Moshe Rabbenu\פטירת משה רבנו = the death of Moses". By the way, it also corresponds to the supposed date of his birth. It happens quite often that people would die, whatever age, but with a sort of chic to reach their birthday and pass away as if they were achieving a cycle. Moses is the matching personality between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In the Jewish tradition it is also a day dedicated to the study of the Scriptures. The Chevrah Qaddisha or Burial Society have their "festive day" on Moses birth and passing away date.

Moses was born in an unknown place on Adar 7, 2368 (1393 BCE) and died on his 120th birthday, i.e. Adar 7, 2488 (1273 BCE) somewhere on Mount Nebo facing the Land of Canaan. He died on a leap year - and we are in such a year right now - and in a month that includes of lot of events for the spiritual life of the Jews.

On the 1st of Adar, God had sent the 9th plague to Pharaoh and over Egypt in the shape of a thick darkness. Adar is the month of the Feast of Purim and the providential rescue of the Jews by Queen Esther in Persia. The first gate was built in the walls of Jerusalem and the construction of the Second Temple was also achieved in this month (Adar 3, 3412 = 349 BCE).

In a few days, we shall joyfully commemorate Purim. The account appears like a fairy tale and, still, it is more real than any virtual scenario. It might thus be useful to stop some seconds on the meaning of the Vidui of confession of sins in the Jewish tradition and much in use as a specific sacrament of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches (and some other denominations).

Indeed, (saint) Krikor of Narek (Naregatsi), is one of the most famous Armenian writers and theologians who wrote in a very Biblical style. Apart his wonderful "Song of the Songs" that echoes the Jewish text and midrashim, his "best" is without contest "The Book of Lamentations", interestingly published in Marseille (France) in 1673. It is a long and very insightful, profound reflection about spiritual development from penance to quietness. It is worth saying that the great Western Roman Church theologian saint Thomas of Aquinas paraphrased many parts of his long poem.

In Hebrew, the "Vidui\וידוי – confession" is at least pronounced three times a day. It aims to cure, heal through the way of speech and soul remittance in God's hands as said "HaShem beyadech afkid ruchi - ה' בידך אפקיד רוחי / Lord into Your hands, I entrust my spirit/soul/life – padita oti HaShem El Emet - פדיתה אותי ה' אל אמת / You redeem me, Lord of Truth"(Psalm 31:6-7). The following verse is intriguing: "I detest those who rely on empty folly ("Havley-shav\חבלי שוא" = empty minds driven to destruction) and trust in the Lord. In the Oriental Church, the night prayers include a demand of pardon.

It often happens that our ways cross with people and individuals driven to self-destruction, fascination of emptiness or wasting time, money, skills, talents, blessings and thus life time. The living would hope that some future may disclose times of betterment; as time passes, many would consider that they "made their lives" and can leave. I often hear this among the Slavs who visit the country. Israel is a very dynamic country. It attracts jobless workers from all over the world. We have a know-how: to build and build again, not only buildings and houses but torn souls, sorrowful minds, injured brains and destroyed bodies.

Judaism has developed special activities into very proficient professions of excellence as a full part of the impact exerted by the Written and Oral Laws on the Hebrew way to secure social welfare, well-being and wellness. Jews love when people feel healthy and comfy.

Thus, the rabbinic tradition strongly defends and knows how to find ways to correct or reach some sort of balance, soul and body equilibrium and equanimity. Quite a challenge! Yes, Jews love to be physicians (to heal), assist and defend all kinds of victims (lawyers, advocates, judges) for the sake of Justice and Rights and, finally they have "birthed" writers, journalists, reporters to inform the world about true events.

They combat ignorance by means of written or oral words. This would prove, even in any secular society or choice of lifestyle, how Jewish traditions have engraved the spirit of the children of Israel throughout the ages for the benefit of theirs and the possible enemies. True, there can be a lot of defects, mishaps, misunderstanding. There are real "oysvorfs", hooligans in the realm of reflection, science, creativity. We have to fight for justice at the moment, a righteousness that affects or attacks the "others", but basically hurt the Jewish society in its chromatic aspects.

Indeed, suffering, diseases, social defects show that faith, teaching and learning of God's projects have proven to be gigantic, mammoth and prodigious instruments for screwing the mysteries of life defects and unease that can be remedied by permanent research. At this point, Judaism has no price of excellence. Moses' example is the model of the displaced person and loser.

He was awkward to speak, totally given to God's most unbelievable projects, ready to sacrifice his life and death for the sake of his people and all the humans.

When somebody is sick, we wish in Hebrew: "refuah shlemah\רפואה שלמה – full, complete recovering, healing". "What needs to be remedied? It is a divine decree that may be averted by man's repentance"(Talmud Rosh HaShanah 17b, cf. Isaiah 4:10). It may be irreverent and sacrilegious, somehow calumnious to refer to sin or to a divine defect that people have to face waves of terrible diseases that take decades or centuries to be cured at the price of extreme sufferings.

Faithful and clerics of all denominations maybe tempted to cite some Scriptures. They might also be so terrified that they "stay put", speechless, most often they would not utter a word. There is still a link between the Vidui (Confession) and diseases. Some heavily sick persons may have insights about the real value of our days. "Whatever Jeremiah spoke and prophesied evil, Isaiah came and healed, i.e. restored" (Pessikta Rabbati 29/30). This "repair" belongs to the heart of Jewishness, with a touch of joy beyond any oy's.

In Hebrew "asham\אשם = guilt", and was a special offering of atonement" and is linked with the root "satam\שטם = to lie in wait for, to bear a grudge against, persecute". Thus "sina'h s'tunah\שנאה שטונה = a hidden hatred".

The Vidui\וידוי (confession) starts with the word "ashmanu\אשמנו – we have sinned" that means that we might have twisted against ourselves or others a sort of hidden and broken hatred that requires the repair of "restoration". R. Nachman of Breslov suggested a wonderful "Tikun klali\תיקון הכללי – total repair" set of prayers that combines some Tehillim-תהילים/Psalms. Because we are imaging God Himself as "icons" who have been shaped in His Image and Likeness. It is a miracle to see how people can still be alive, beyond any explanation or rationalization.

Rabbi Suziyah was a famous rabbi. He felt he was called to a great achievement for God's love in this world. So he went to his mashgiach\משגיח (say, counseling rabbi) and told him how he had the wonderful project to help any soul to get rid of their sins. He asked his rabbi to get him (with God's permission, of course) to see everybody's sins in order to heal them and save the souls. Good enough. He got it! And then, R. Suziyah could not sleep anymore. He could see all the sins everywhere, all the way, night and days.

He arrived worn out, totally dead beat at his rabbi and told him to stop such a crazy hell of a vision. The rabbi answered he got what he had asked… No way to cancel such spiritual gifts. R. Suziyah suddenly humbled himself and said he would ask God to get him to go down to hell with the sinners and take up their sins in order to raise again and help them be released, delivered of such pains. This is far more difficult and thus the job of any good spiritual counselor. This is the living accomplishment of the Mitzvot.

Yiddish is a digging-in scrutinizing tongue that reveals and may suggest some speech or psycho-analytic ways of healing. Is it the "Mume-lush'n\מאמע-לשון – mom-tongue" or the "language of women"? It conveys with insightful acumen a lot of words borrowed to more than 25 languages; it is puzzling like Esperanto, but deeply humane and heart-melting. Yiddish faces and grasps the haunting demons of sins and sickness, folly, madness. "Leytzim\לצים – the clowns, crazy demons yakking up for all the evil they do", "sheydim\שדים, dibbukim\דיבוקים – devils, demons", "chitzoynim\חיצונים – outlaws or spirits of impurity", "tzedreyte ruches\צעדרעטע רוחות – foolishly twisted poltergeists". These words and their related phrases seemingly show more senselessness and delirium than wisdom and equanimity.

Still, they bring us close to more reason. We should be very cautious in our way to use and not to misuse or abuse any soul with faith and the way God runs our lives. A century ago, it was usual to find in the Eastern European prayer-books these few words: "al-tehi shoteh\אל-תהי שותה – do not (use this prayer-book) to mislead anyone to craziness or make the fool of these prayers". A lot of words are necessary to explain something that can reduce us to automatons. Frightful.

True, a lot of people are attracted by irrationality. All sorts of soothsayers, sorcerers, witches practice in the country as in most parts of the world. Jews have experienced how to fight and overcome any sort of fears or hindrances. It is definitely present in a kind of unuttered capacity to pardon and to heal.

Jesus of Nazareth walked throughout the country "healing all torments and diseases", expelling demons and releasing possessed souls and bodies. This is the language of "signs – simeia in Greek (Heb. "simanim"/nissim" that indeed maybe considered as miracles.

There may be a reason for this steadfast combat against fear, fright, anguish: making everything new is God's night and day action. Numerous people – who would even say – are just haunted by what seems sealed. But "making things new" means that the world only starts, today and tomorrow, the day after tomorrow. This should be challenged positively without mocking the heritage given by our traditions.

"A thousand may fall at your left side, ten thousand at your right, it shall not reach you. Because you took the Lord – my refuge, the Most High – as your haven, no harm will befall you, no disease touch your tent" (Tehillim/Psalm 91:7-10). We ask for "refuah shlemah\רפואה שלמה – total recovering"; can we all, as a society, ask for "emunah shlemah\אמונה שלמה – total faith/confidence" and accept whatever response.

Moses did not enter the Land. Our generation sees a huge change and the realization of centuries of supplication. It creates a special sense of responsibility. Not only for Jewishness as such. Moses had been guided by the pagan priest Jethro whose daughter reminded him to circumcize their son Gershom. It is a covenant for life, life-giving a covenant and contract in a given Word.

Nobody can own "resurrection, reinvigorating actions and miracles" wrought out by the Most High. The birth of Moses and his journey via Egypt to freedom overshadow and cover millenia of history that only open up.

av Aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

En route to a new time of fasting 2012

En route to a new time of fasting 2012

Usually, on the eve of New Month Day (Rosh Chodesh), the Jews celebrate a service called "Yom Kippur katan\יום כיפור קטן - minor day of Atonement".

Different things could be discussed as regards this Yom Kippur katan/minor Day of Atonement. It is basically a day of fast at the beginning of the New Moon that inaugurates a new month in the Jewish tradition. It will introduce the Month of Adar 5772. At the present, the Jewish calendar is only based on the lunar cycle, as already discussed in others blogs (Bessorot tovot\בשורות טובות). The sun shines over the whole earth during a period of 12-13 or less hours and illuminates all the planet. It remains visible and never "disappears", contrary to the moon. Indeed, the moon revolves around the earth in more than 29 days and only reflects the light of the sun on earth which creates this impression of birth, growth and disappearance of the small planet. The constant reappearance of the moon became a sign, for the Jews, of God's fidelity and eternal faithfulness towards humankind and the Jews in their difficult journey through history.

Yom Kippur\יום כיפור – Day of Atonement is a unique day on which God can pardon each person, provided that humans are able to ask for forgiveness, whether their repenting act will or not be accepted by the offended people. But there is more: Yom Kippur is a day of full brightness. It is white as a very clear and wonderfully shining in the sky of Jerusalem and in particular in the Middle-East.

It is indeed a joyous feast, full of hope and reconciliation between people that may disagree, come to argue and fight, make war or are not able for a while – sometimes quite a long period – to understand each other or to hurt, injure each other for a lot of obvious or irrational reasons. The white clothes worn on Yom Kippur denote that, after sorrow and sins, transgressions and misconducts, God's brightness enlightens and elucidates the dark aspects of our lives. White clothes also exemplify that the survivors come back from the great temptation of being cut from God's project and perilous wanderings. Drug-addicted, drunkards are truly submitted to some trips that space out their lives and conscience (Apocalypse 7:14).

It is interesting that we live in a system of "self-reflection", as if every human being could not look at himself by his own capacities and, e.g. needs a mirror. We are in a process of mirroring. In Hebrew, a "face" is a plural: "panim\פנים" because we have two "faces", one is frontal and the other back-sided. It is thus impossible to see them totally and as a twofold whole. The sun is much bigger than the moon and was created at the same time according to the Scripture to bring light toward or against the "choshech\חושך – darkness".

Paul of Tarsus has a very traditional saying: "At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror… at present, I know partially; then in the end I shall know fully, as I am fully known (by God). So faith, hope, love remain, but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

On Yom Kippur, the scapegoat was sent in the Gehinnom\גהינום – valley of the Gehenna (which slopes down from Jerusalem toward Bethlehem as a sacrifice for the sins). The sacrifice that used to be in the Temple for Rosh Chodesh / New Month was also a he-goat (Hullin 60b). The explanation is curious: the moon is a smaller planet and indeed, on that day, a goat was offered as prescribed for the pardon of the sins. The Kabbalistic school of Safed developed a fast, in the 16th century, with confession of sins and strangely accompanied by "flagellation". It is not permitted to fast on New Month Day, thus, the fast was observed on the day before.

Today the ritual mainly consists in the recitation of various penitential psalms and, redundantly the 13 Middot/Attributes of Love ("The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing His kindness for a thousand generations and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin" (Shemot/Ex. 34:6-7). A request is also pronounced asking for healing and renewal: "Hashivenu HaShem aleinu venashuvah\השיבנו ה' עלינו ונשובה – come back to us, Lord, and we shall be renewed, pardoned" / "chadesh yameinu kekedem\חדש ימינו כקדם = renew our days as in the days of old". This maybe the most challenging part of our slow-to-move and slow-to-believe spiritual life. We are slow, uncertain, unwilling to think that God does renew all things and human beings everyday.

Then the proclamation: "HaShem hu Eloheinu\ה' הוא אלהינו – The Lord is our God" which is said 7 times as in Yom Kippur (8 times) and by the time of our passing away.

Indeed, the appealing part of the minor Day of Atonement is that Israel dug out a new slant of Judaism: fidelity of God through the cyclic birth, fullness and disappearance of the moon that shows how anything can be explained, understood because God can hear any penance word. He knows and shaped each of us. Each month, because the moon mirrors the sun and still renews our earth then seemingly goes on a leave. Usually Jews know about confession in some Christian Churches (e.g.: Eastern Orthodox and Catholics).

We don't know or feign to ignore that in the Temple people did confess and that rabbis hear oral confessions without any sacramental consequence or capacity to pardon. But Maimonides gives a good example of some formula that is still found somehow in the pattern of the "Ma'avor Yabok – Passing the Yabok (when passing away)": "Anna HaShem chatati\אנא ה' חטאתי, I have intentionally sinned, I have sinned out of lust and emotion, and I have sinned unintentionally. I have done and I regret it, and I am ashamed of my deeds, and I shall never return to such a deed." The Christian Orthodox texts are very similar to the lists of sins printed in italics and, as the Roman Latin rite starts by "sin by speech – dibbur\דינור".

Now, Judaism proposes to read a confession of sins at least three times a day. It is a very insightful series of verbs in the past tense, in alphabetical order. "Vidui\וידוי – confession" as a prayer for pardon (Yoma 87b) refers "to point out, make known, acknowledge" (Pessahim 87b) as a duty, on Yom Kippur, to be accomplished by the High Priest and any Jew. The text of the Vidui\וידוי is very difficult to translate into any tongue. It starts by a statement that is also widely unknown, i.e. that Jews do recognize to be sinners: "Our God and God of our forefathers… we are not so brazen and stubborn as to say… that we are righteous and have not sinned (chatanu\חטאנו) – indeed we and our forefathers have sinned. How?

In the alphabetic order are mentioned the following transgressions and faults: "ashamnu\אשמנו"… striking the left side of the chest with the right hand/fist (introduced for long centuries into the main Christian rites) - guilt, betrayal, robbery, slander, (mental and physical) perversion, wickedness, ill-mindedness, will, (mental and physical) violence, false accusation, evil, scorn, persecution, stubbornness, deceit, forgery, corruption, abomination, leading others astray. Confession also deals with awareness or absence of consciousness, if not of conscience. Human speech, ideas, thoughts, acts are shaken or twisted with much "parasitic ideas = Yiddish: tsiges\ציגעס" that are beyond reasonable or balanced control.

This Sunday, after the "Evening prayer", in every Eastern Orthodox Church, the clergy and the faithful will beg for mutual pardon. The Greek tradition underscores that the Great Fast (Lent) of 40 days starts joyously fasting and praying during this period that leads to the "Kalo Passkha\Καλο Πασχα – Good Easter". The service is intense and profound. In Jerusalem, the Service is rather short and focuses on the 40 Days of Great Lent. After the readings, the clergy and the faithful face each other, kneel down and ask for forgiveness as Jesus said "Therefore, if you bring your offer to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar and go first be reconciled with your brother" (Matthew 5:23-24), which is reminded all through the Liturgy: "Pardon and release of our sins (we ask to the Lord)".

In a previous blog (Emunah), we saw that the essential Christian prayer "Our Father Who are in Heaven" follows the Kippur pattern: firstly, to pardon the others in order to receive God's forgiveness (Matthew 6:9-14).

This service of specific Pardon Sunday is certainly rooted in Yom Kippur. It coincides this year with new month Adar that is dedicated to study of the Scriptures, the life and death of Moses. The Eastern Orthodox believers will focus on this atonement as paving the way to the Resurrection confessed by the Church.

Peter-Caiaphas had asked Jesus how many times one should pardon? Seven times? Jesus said: Not seven, but seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:21) which corresponds to the measure/middah\מידה (full measure in the Temple), but basically to the sign of Cain (Gen. 4:24) protecting his descent, i.e. all of us.

Most countries of the world will have elections this year. It is quite exceptional, not usual. On the other hand, many countries go through long times of war (Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon. Israel and the Palestinian Territories are on a long-term process of self-definition and drawing the maps of geographic and cultural limits or borders if not of a possible co-working project in the future.

Economic collapses in many countries, to begin with the United States where things are far too difficult to admit because of a constant "revamping mirroring look and anxiety" weaken individuals, families, youths, teens and children. Greece is facing hell at all levels and feel a bit isolated in a peculiar Euro-zone and European Community. This does not question the great mibility that exists inside of the European areas. But there are threats.

It is not possible to wipe out history. One things is striking: everywhere in Europe, there are churches and even if secularization, Islam or other creeds did settle in Modern Europe, the moral and ethical rules that could save people from their own "devils" and correct a society are low. Morals, simple basic rules are on the fall.

On the other hand, renewal of faith can lead groups to some sort of stiffness or exclusion. I know many European or American Orthodox believers whose "zapiski\записки/list of names to be recalled during the Liturgy" are not accepted by very "narrow-minded" communities. The names do not sound "Slavic or Greek" and thus are not accepted!

On the one hand, social networking allows the opening to the world; the virtual aspect of the action cannot help overcome dears and people often communicate through "screens", if not through lies and pluri-identities. Modernity brough high tech that strongly developed faking abilities that are difficult to be corrected.

Violence shows with more and more will to useless, meaningless and absurd combats. The price of life is huge when some individuals or groups are saved in hopsitals; on the other hand, lives show and disappear. Peoples as objects can be erased, thrown away without any kind of respect. Lack of education, disrespect, absence of basic étiquette develop in many countries and cultures. In Asia, especially in Korea, the price of excellence is a must for a good penetration of international business, tading and communication.

Israeli society is intriguingly a place of "happiness". Many would not accept to agree or say that openly. But most of the citizens and inhabitants, Israeli Jews and Arabs are "happy" and glad of their way of living, general speaking. The country is terribly young. The process of intermingling is far more stronger than is described by the media that focus on exceptional events. Slowly a new society srpout out from all sorts of human and cultural backgrounds.

As in many parts of the world, there is an overall tendency to "useless outspoken violence" and as I often mentioned in the past few years, a definite state of "unforgiveable fencing". This aspect is not the only trend to be noticed among some Jewish Israeli or "para-Israeli" groups. Violence and exclusion grow and witness to a general tendency of secularization.

Many people like the idea of being "secular". It seems to induce the notion of "equality" at a plain level among all the layers of a society. This cannot be the case in our region. Faith is at the heart and kernel of our lives in Eretz Israel. The challenge is so great that we ought to refer to something that would let us understand how God works and worked throughout history, in particular in our region. Man cannot govern God; but man and woman are at pains in recognizing that everything comes from God and will return to Him. Daily experience may a source of distrust and deceiption if not full despair.

Pardon is really at the core of faith. Pardon and forgiveness know "no first or last or last or first". Pardon is this move that is a gift: forgiveness does not expect any pay, gratitude or respect. It is a sign of Divine Presence. We may say that God and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are everywhere and "among us, in our midst" and never act accordingly. And suddenly, right out of the sudden, pardon becomes true. this is what we need at the present.

It is absurd a a prfound sign of new paganism using the disguisement of "Judeo-Christian" faith and traditions (not to speak of islam) that economics are such a realm of versatility and misuse. Aramaic version of "Our Father" in the original version of the Assyrian Church kept "and release our debt and our transgressions/sins and we already did released those who had debts toward us". Today's world economic system does not show an inch of basic spiritual and Christian education with regards to the tantamount level of debts.

In many ways, we have been living in a long-time of human flows circling aorund the planet for various reasons. Some need to earn money away from the home countries. In terms of faith, it imperils some traditions. In the Holy Land, this has lowered the awarness of the communities. New "Christians" come. They cannot arrive with their priests because these only can behave as "Displaced Persons" and try to prolong a lifestyle a habits they had in their homelands. The "faithful" would not accept their guidance.

It takes a long time before a community really can generate its trustworthy "shepherds". This is why to a large extent many faithful from the former Soviet Union, Philippine, Eastern Europe are failing in sustaining a true spiritual life in Israel. Here, the local Church is Greek, Arab. The Latin and Roman Church came lately and is "foreign" because it tried to supersede the ancient local See of Jerusalem. It only allows some individuals and a few groups to survive with their specificities.

Many of the Slavic communities could not acculturate to bot hthe Greek and arab, Semitic way of thinking. It shows the hardships of "migrations" to New Worlds as Israel and the Palestinian Territories are in many ways. This creates situations of discomfort. It also incite many faithful and priests to look abroad for better life, security, cariering and/or knowing that they will not have to strive for entering new spiritual traditions.

Migrants can hardly acculturate directly. Their children could eventually do. In the case of Israel, things are more subtle because Israeli society will absorb them and they should normally loose the prime of their initial spiritual heritage. Subsequently, as all the migrants that started the move with the development of transportation they usually disconnect fro mthe "spiritual Body". It is not necessarily the case for the jewish and Muslim communities that feel reinvigorating in our region.

This leads to some sort of loss of spirit of forgiveness. When the faithful and the clergy are hurt from inside and hardly can take the risk of a full spiritual review, they may get stiff and focus on themselves. they may also use rituals as the onyl "canons or rules" in force. At this point they do not notice that spiritual has been changing since they became believers and they should need a sound "updating".

These are some elements of reflection for this Great Lent 2012; Things can be pathetic and more than difficult. the local Churches are called to freedom and rejoicing when they really enjoy by themselves the capacity to live the Divine graces where they live and together with the others.

Exclusion is a second fold of "violence". The socio-cultural tendency had been defined and surveyed some thirty years ago. At the moment, fences and framing exists everywhere. There can be linguistic limits (Latvian surpassing Russian), Hungary and xenophobia, new Christian movements that would exclude those that are considered as "alien, heretics".

The point is that eclusion is totally bizarre and "irrational" because since the time of Enlightment, "excommunication" does not work. There are always methods to get around "exclusions/cherem\חרם in Hebrew-charam in Arabic".

The absence of true dialogue and respect of Church unity rules anf regulations do not allow to stop people to wander from one community to another. This implies that people can come and go from one to many religious communities with incurring any "ban" or at least understanding of the importance of getting gethered together.

This does diminish the in-depth meaning of true forgiveness. The English word "Atonement = at-one-ment" that targets "unity, oneness, getting to one beyond "signletonhood"... (!) remains the authentic object and goal of faith and trust in God Who entrusts us to acting in this spirit of unity and uniqueness.

We often go through very special days. Incredibly irrational moments, made of faults, defects, misunderstandings. It may seem at times that faith is reduced to neigh because we drown in huge difficulties.

Pardon consists in wiping out hell and also in trusting that God changes our lives and makes it new and meaningful.

Av Aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Justices in the wilderness

Justices in the wilderness

The weekly reading portion "Yithro\יתרו" is the happy end and restart of Shemot-שמות/Exodus – Part 1. Moses meets reconnects with Yithro, his father-in-law, his wife Zipporah and their two children, Gershom and Eliezer. The people of Israel were dwelling under tents. Thery were meeting with Moses every day from the morning until sunset". "Vayeshev Moshe lishpot ha'am\וישב משה לשפוט העם - and Moses was sitting to magistrate the people, nation". The word has a large lexical scope. Its root is rather funny and diverting at first glance: "shafat\שפט = "to divide, decree, decide, judge, criticize", as "it was a generation that judged its judges" (Bava Bathra15b ) as " shifta\שפטא (Aramaic) = childish" are linked to Aramaic: "patata-פטטא" = gossip, confusing speech, from "patat\פטט" = to break, to talk flippant. The typical "patata" example is when a person repeats things again and again in a parrot-fashion, like the Talmudic example: "God be with you" (Leviticus Rabba 32).

It should be noted that actions involving judging, deciding or ruling were viewed as the consequence, or at least, comparable to childlike and even childish activities. It is quite similar to what happens when children play games with roles: as rulers, physicians in a hospital, lawyers - jobs that Jews love to exercise as professionals and after years of studies. The Oriental way of judging makes it also very vivid, psychedelic at times.

Moshe Rabbenu was a nice man. Very obedient to Yithro, his father-in-law, a pagan priest of Madian. Zeyde (Yid.)-זיידע/grandpa Yithro maybe the first righteous among the nations as he saved Moses, gave him his daughter Zipporah. A thoughtful wife: she has proven to be an adult ever since they met and reminded her husband to circumcise their kids. This weekly portion is significant in many constant aspects that are essential for the spirit of Judaism.

Today we love sessions and run from one yeshivah(gathering party) to other meetings, workshops, video online conferences and discussions. This stress is utterly maddening and insane, what! Yithro had a serious talk with his son-in-law. Of course, people on permanent standing meeting outside the tents were normal at that time; at least, Moses was sitting and used to "regulated".

The result, by the way, can be even more profitable than all these online overseas video-meetings. Wilderness and oral culture people know how to resolve things much quicker than we do. Our ancestors could not eat properly, wash, pray or take care of their wives and children with normal refreshing hugs and kisses.

Yithro said to Moshe: "What is this that you are doing to the people? Why do you sit as a magistrate alone while all the people stand about you from morning from evening?" Moses replied:"It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one person and another, and I make known the laws and teachings of God (chukei HaElohim vetoratav- חוקי האלהים ותורתיו)" (Shemot 18:16).

Yithro said: "You do not do the right thing; you will surely wear you out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone... You represent the people before God: you bring the disputes before God... You shall also seek out from among the people capable men (anshey chayil\אנשי חיל) who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs... let them judge at all times... make it easier for yourself by sharing the burden with you" Moses did so and heeded his father-in-law".

This is the first major event in the process of social management after the exodus. Frankly, Moses did not look like some self-centered, power-thirsty supreme guide. He just delivered the Israelites from the worse kind of despotic slavery and led them to freedom. This is a real question I would have asked Yithro (and Moshe+Tzipporah) because they cause the indictment of State people. Would "courage"(sic) and "adult subject of the Law" qualities suppose to make free under condition of anonymity and the prejudice of others? This is a moral question right now among a lot of other related issues of co-responsibility. Prejudice and responsibility presuppose the existence of at least two people… free from bondage and "subject of the law", i.e. open.

But the point is to know to which laws and teachings Moses was referring at these long sessions. The question is that the Israelites - as Moses - never had experienced power nor any ruling administration. They just had fled from Egypt with Pharaoh's temporary consent. This has been an immutable law for the Jews throughout history to do things in accordance with the Nations' acquiescence. This does not rely upon any consent of Christians or Muslims, just Non-Jews. Cyrus of Persia - a pagan Messiah for the Jewish tradition - allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. In 1947, in totally different conditions and the matter is still a slant, the United Nations agreed for the creation of the State of Israel, thus the return of the Jews to Eretz Israel. Thus, who counseled Moses to set up a "governing body of judges"? His father-in-law did, the pagan priest of Madian, the second non-Jew, with Pharaoh's daughter, who had saved him.

On the other hand, in many ways, those who quit Egypt from slavery to freedfom would have loved to be "imprisoned again", because freeedom is quite unbearable when you flee a terrible jail; people are thus not used to correctly manage their capacities as free individuals. They hardly can gather into a real society. Still, this did happen in the wilderness and the example of Moses being obedient to Yithro and to his wife shows how our own Israeli society would be able to overcome on the long-term the problems raised by strong individuals that, in the end, need to cope with the other members of a diversified group in the process of "self-building".

Moses chose "capable men = anshey chayil\אנשי חיל" as we have "eshet chayil\אשת חיל – women of virtue". Israel is not based on power or might. It is called to function with judgment, brains, wisdom, discernment between what is right or wrong, good or evil. Yithro showed that "governmental" capacities belong to natural Law and had been erased from the slaves' memory.

On the other hand, God's free bond allows the Jews not to rule but exert justice. King (and Messiah) David, his son Solomon lost their minds and broke the seal of the Commandments by their ethical and spiritual misconducts. This shows that we are facing – maybe right now – the same problem: how society, disputes, judges and God can get to an agreement in order to comply with righteousness? It is no accident of history if a free State of the Jews only existed twice and for short periods. Yithro's counsel to Moshe is still pending: to find the required "anshey chayil", those capable to regulate and administrate the people and bring forth true rectitude to the Nations. God's words are the same as in the wilderness: "All the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (mamlechet kohanim ve-goy kadosh\ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש" – Shemot 19:2-6).

Subsequently, Moses and the Israelites leave Yithro and come to Mount Sinai. They will hear and listen to the Ten Paroles/Divrot - עשרת דברות. There is a move that should be noted: Moshe was "judging" without any written law: he only could quote God's teachings. The first Giving of the Ten Commandments are at the core of the Jewish moral and spiritual attitudes between man and humans and humans with God. They ram all the Mitzvot into a compact way of living. God had repeatedly addressed the humans and, in this portion, the Israelites with principles that are parallel to the Seven Noahide Laws. In the Ten Commandments, the two first were directly heard by all the Israelites. But the people were scared and Moses heard the other eight Paroles and transmitted them to the children of Israel. All the Commandments deal with justice and presuppose the existence of a "court – din/mishpat - דין\משפט". This is a major specification of the Noahide laws not to harm an animal and to judge in court.

In many places in the world, justice can be exercised either by professionals or by ordinary citizens or mixed courts/justices. They can refer to habits and customs or special laws, legal articles. The Sumerian civilization had developed the first known legal code of justice that deeply influenced the TaNaKh and the Talmud. Which system had been in use in Egypt, then in the wilderness? Oral Law that presupposed the compliance with a written law did not exist at that time for the Israelites. Or then, a wilderness oral (natural) law accompanied by the oral Giving of the Ten Commandments? "One thing God had spoken (achat dibber Elohim); two things have I heard (shtayim-zu shama'ti\שתיים זו שמעתי) (Psalm 62:12). This is what the Pirkey Avot\פרקי אבות (Sayings of the Fathers) confirms: Oral Law was given to Moses at the Sinai along with the Written One. For the moment, this week, we are in full oral speech which signals a birth point. Oral law is tracing back to "early ages if not primitive times" of basic wisdom and allow to methodize, organize, regulate and govern with insights and not through the prism of blurring smokes.

The Oral Law has accompanied Judaism throughout its dispersion. The selection of the canonical books of the Bible have varied from the Jewish decisions at Yavneh till the early Church that spread and split into different jurisdictions and Creeds. The Oral Torah has poorly been comprehended by most Churches as a part of the Giving of the Law at the Sinai. The Eastern Orthodox Churches replaced it by the "Tradition of the (Christian) Fathers". But both the "Ten Paroles" and the Gospel have been preceded by a long time of oral teaching that it would be convenient to revitalize.

Moses, as Jesus of Nazareth, called their people not to be afraid: "al-tira'u\אל-תראו – have not fear". Different sorts of fears (pachadim) constitute a set of psychological symptoms that may alert us about our reactions to all the events we are have to face or cope with. Dialogue is a way to cure this. There is a small hummus (chicken-peas puree) shop in the Old City where any time since long before 2000, young Jews and Arabs sit together and eat. Quite known all over the country: "Lina", next to Saint Haralambos church of the 9th Station (Rehov Hanqa). Cool. It is always good to sit and get to some discernment.

av aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Drizzling drops

Drizzling drops

Chodesh Shvat - Month of Shvat" is indeed a lovely season in Israel. Rains and after-rains (Arabic: shita = rain), drizzling drops, still chilly at night in Jerusalem and we feel that nature flourishes, buds, burgeons into plants, fruits, junior and senior teen skins. And, on Shvat 15 (February 8th), the nation will plant trees all through the country. It is the Rosh HaShanah le'eylanot - New year of the trees. Planting trees is a must and an Israeli bang-on rendezvous.

"Eleh" is not a cute baby tree-trunk; it is a sort of terebinth in Tractate Shiviit 7:5, i.e. a prominent plant, not a frail lanky branch. Eylanot would impress by some refreshing spring renewal. But trees refer to something else: again, a new opportunity to celebrate a feast: as if each month was a "Rosh HaShanah - New Year's elation" along the year.

Waters, mayyim! A tree requires some water, maybe not that much because it copes with the environment. Purifying waters as the Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate the Baptism-Epiphany of Jesus at the Jordan River on January 18-19th. Jews should go to the mikveh (purification pool) and bathe.

Indeed, "Al palgey mayim = in the middle of the waters" is peculiar in the psalm: it relates to the rising waters in the Temple: "(the big tree) was beautiful in its height, the length of its branches, because its stock stood by abundant waters" (sharshu al mayim rabbim; Ezekiel 31:7 and the abundant waters in chapter 47).

A true disciple does not fear to jump and eventually drown in high waters. This is why mikveh (as Oriental Christian baptism) is full "diving" - the sort of scuba that does not require any air assistance. It is similar to some "shatul/shatil - transplant" as said in the first verses of the initial psalm. It plays on "shadal" (to persuade, entice) as "where there is no man, strive to be a real man" (Tractate Avot 2:5). This implies to be transplanted (shatul) in a life context that would normally cause our death: who can live in the middle of the water. Even a tree would be on the edge. The Jewish tradition - as thus the Christian teaching - have seen, in "mayim khayyim - a source of living, flowing waters", the flourishing source of spiritual forces and renewal in the shape of a permanent transplantation of our existence. Noah's account relates that to the real roots that irrigate every human being’s life path.

In the reading portion "Bo" in Shemot/Exodus 10:1-13:16) read by the jewish communities two weeks ago: "Bo el-Pharaoh - go to Pharaoh". The haftarah reading or addidtional reading from the Prophets was: Jeremiah 46:13-26 (Ashkenazim) and Isaiah 17:1-25 (Sephardim).

Pharaoh was still embattled at crossing snakes with Moses and Aaron. The locusts invaded the Land of Egypt; no way! Not stubborn, because Aaron also had his mood at times. Moshe is unique in terms of humility. Pharaoh is obstinate but the point is that all this historical and beyond history account is conducted from Above, by the Almighty. This is quite something! For delivery reasons, pigheaded Pharaoh, , will provoke the Israelites to organize, against his will, their first festive and kosher lamb al (tzeli) ha'esh (full-roasted) meal (Ex. 12:8)!! We saw in a previous blog that the death of all Egyptian firstborns – and Pharaoh's son as well-, finally inflected the dogged potentate. We can cite numerous tyrants and despots who were lovable daddies and unshakeable dictators. Ceausescu, Pol Pot, Ivan Groznyi (the Terrible), Stalin – both regretted as paternal leaders…

Think that late Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek had the nerve to convince A. Eichmann to liberate 3000 Jews…True. But Eichmann was a dove and a pigeon compared to Pharaoh. Freedom faces more than any rational quest at that price.

The "seh – lamb" will mark the first seder or meal before anyone is freed; its blood will be sign of "protective offering/Passover – bechipazon Pesach"; and while eating entire lambs with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (matzot al marorim), God will pass and kill all the firstborns of Egypt, both man and beast. The Jews are then eating the flesh of the protective sacrifice, the bread of the needy with the herbs that still recalls them the bitterness of their slavery.

Throughout Pesach/Passover, the Israelites are poor, nought but still God's instruments.

"Haynu avadim – we are slaves" – "Ha lachma de'aniya – this is the bread of poverty" is our living teaching, the true memorizing method of how to learn the value of our days as bney chorin (free people). On the 14th of the month (of Nissan), God allows us to actualize through a year-to-year memorizing meal this covenant of freedom. We read this portion and we shall only celebrate, on the 14th of Shvat, the New Year of the Trees! As if Jews were going merry all through the months to celebrate New Year all the time! Even when we recall early harvest = Pesach or late harvest = Rosh HaShanah in Autumn, God acts with zero'a nituyiah (outstretched arm).

He unchains us according to an agenda that firstly delivered our ancestors from Egypt. This calendar is articulated within history and major significant events that surpass nature to bring us into a more metaphysical realm (physis = nature is active in Greek).

Matzah –pl. matzot" = "unleavened bread (root: "dry, pressed bread; also "untanned hide" as in Talmud Kelim 17:15")" which was the bread of the poor. It is only made of water and flour, is thin and is eaten instead of leavened bread during the seven days of the Feast of Pesach. In our days, some matzot are made with fruit juice or onions, but they could not get to that for the first meal! It is also a sign of humility, obedience to God and compassion for the killed firstborns while the Jews were on their way to freedom.

Interestingly, Hebrew "MaTZoT" can both be read as "matzot = bread" and "mitzvot = Commandments". During this first Passover night, the Jews are given specific Commandments which are included in the 613 Mitzvot. 1) To commemorate this unique historical night of freedom; 2) to eat whole lambs roasted on the fire without any remains (this should be recalled in every Israeli restaurant all through the year), 3) unleavened bread, 4) with bitter herbs during seven days. These are the first Commandments of the Exodus event.

There is one more Commandment which is rarely mentioned in that context: 5) to don the tefillin – phylacteries (Ex./Shemot 13:9). Curiously, most Israeli born people don’t like eating matzot…!

The exodus of the Land of Egypt is the top historical Jewish event. It is also an ethical act that brings moral attitudes and produce moral expectations among the Jewish people. The move from slavery to freedom is not just a sort of a leave for holidays in the desert. Say, it works; good enough. If not, then we shall come back and continue to eat the Egyptian sweet onions…

No way! Nobody can cheat God's schedule. We will be free: this implies we are freely bound to Commandments that show how much we are enabled to be free.These Mitzvot/Commandments are not orders. They pave a humble, exiguous path to achieving God's will and correspond to the bread of the needy mixed with bitter herbs. Oh, we can bake sophisticated unleavened bread and produce bitter-sweet herbs! Again, the event is both historic and metaphysical. It induces accepting with joy the food of the living Commandments.

Paul of Tarsus has the same attitude: "Let's celebrate the Feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). The Oriental Churches focus on leavened bread in opposition with Judaism and the Western Churches, but also positively as leaven makes the bread rise and then is considered as a "sign of resurrection" (challot, the two loaves of Pentecost and Shabbat).

Exodus/Shemot chapter 13 summarizes the commandment of the Feast of the Matzot. Firstborns of Israel will be consecrated to the Lord. Secondly, "Vehayah lecha le'ot al-yad'cha ulezikkaron beyn eyneicha – and this shall be a sign on your hand and as a reminder between your eyes (forehead), in order that the Teaching of the Lord may be in your mouth". The first mitzvah/commandment is to wear the tefillin or phylacteries. Guess: most people know nothing about that. But this is a key commandment. These are two boxes (batim = houses) made of kosher untanned hide (unleaven).

Each of them includes different texts recalling the miracles that God performed in order to release the Hebrews. Made of leather, they should be donned on the left arm (close to the heart) and on the forehead as the new service of bondage that links every bar mitzvah (13 years) to a life-long service of El Shaddai, God Who saves and protects. Thus, the straps bound along the arm show twice the shape of the Hebrew letter "Shin". On the one hand, to wear the hand box (yad) close to the heart because love and compassion come first; then, the head box (rosh) is like a diadem on the forehead because God alone is King. The tefillin do remind that Israel left human slavery to clutch to God's releasing Presence and action, tied up on our bodies for the best of life.

Av Aleksandr Winogradsky Frenkel