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)