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)