Thursday, December 27, 2007

Kerem, the vineyard of fine wine

We start to read a new Book as parshat hashavua - 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 normal 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 penetrate the history of a specific small Jewish rooted family. They entered Egypt out of hunger, were saved by Joseph, their sold son and brother that redeemed them and made them honored by Pharaoh. But the title also underscores in Hebrew that, eleven brothers entered a foreign country that, at first glance, welcomed them and provided them with a lot of wealth in the most 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 who did not know Joseph. The problem we have to face is that Jews are either too few, or too many -multiply or disappear. History has also shown how they were plundered, massacred. There is a point that 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, vegetable and animal creatures and finally the humans. The Jewish tradition insists on that aspect. After thousands of years, Jews are trained to the fact that micro-groups of ten-twelve people can suddenly grow to millions after some centuries or eventually collapse 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 and finally there are millions of disciples. On the other hand, they did disappear, as the Jews, from some regions, often for the same reasons of 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. Jews have no other reason to exist than to engrave God's Presence into a without 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 are forced into bondage and seem to be satisfied with their slavery when God decides to save them against their will. We can hardly figure out today what happened by the time of Moshe/Moses. This account is much relevant, consequential and far-reaching: we trace back this week to the roots of a call to permanent freedom, definitive 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, reluctance to move up, to admitting that freedom is worthier than any brick-building non-volunteering 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 to be willing to praise the newborn and 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 boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, 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 are preferred to life. Of course, it was totally bizarre for the enslaved Jews to be protected by the man 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 parsha - reading of this week because we went through thousands of years of pagan hatred and two millennia of estranged bewilderment with other monotheistic communities. Jews settled too often 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 the tragic bluff that deceived generations. This is one or the most intriguing and pending questions today in Israel as in the diaspora.

There might be more. God can be reduced to a set of ordinances, some of which we comply with. There are those that we systematically 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". Because 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 changes any moment into times of eternity and any jealousy into wiping out 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 is what Moshe progressively discovers: being "dressed" as a foreigner to his own people, he does return to them because of the constantly renewed Divine love and faithfulness to a call. From Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, till Joseph and the 12 sons of Israel, the Jews have been alien (they do not enjoy the same rights as the local citizens). Even if Machpelah can only be considered as theirs as "the burial site bought by Abraham from Ephron the Hittite" (Gen. 50:13). There are tons of small or bigger nations that hate each other for racial, cultural, social, economic reasons. This week, we have to face the kernel reason: 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 nonperishable seeds of reality, survival and hopeful continuance.

When Israel states that it comes back to Eretz Yisrael, how do they 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. It corresponds to I am Who I am – frankly, it sounds stiff; correct, but inelastic and aloof. God is merciful... The burning bush 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.

The Haftarah is read from Isaiah 27:6-28:13 (Ashkenazim) - Jeremiah 1:1-2:3 (Sephardim) - Ezekiel 17:1:-14 (Yemenites). The readings focus on the vineyard that is fruitful and gives excellent wine. This vineyard shows the fertility of God’s Word in our souls to reach equilibrium. It is this New Year challenge.

Someway, Jesus summarized 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 and with 2008, a huge trip in the go-getting Name of the Lord!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Herayion: a time of birthing

In the night from 24th to 25th of December 2006, the Western Churches, i.e. the Roman Catholic, Protestant, Anglican (Episcopalian in Israel - more Lutheran in the Palestinian Territories) most Christian congregations will celebrate the "Nativity of Jesus": Christ... who took flesh and became a man (Nicaene Creed). The Eastern Orthodox Church of Jerusalem (the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem historically assures the spiritual assistance to all Christian Orthodox believers living in present-day Israel, Territories under Palestinian Authority, Jordan), the Russian, Serbian, Georgian and Romanian Orthodox Churches together with the ancient Orthodox Syrian-Orthodox, Coptic and Ethiopian Churches will celebrate the Feast of the Nativity on January 6th to 7th, 2007. For various reasons, the ancient Apostolic Armenian Church is the only denomination to honor the feast on January 18-19, celebrating both the Nativity and the Baptism of Jesus (on January 16th in Armenia). The Greek-Catholics who follow the same rites as the Eastern-Orthodox but recognize the Pope of Rome - as also the Maronites (originally from Lebanon), Chaldeans (from Iraq), Syrian and Armenian Catholics will mark Christmas with the Roman Catholic Church.

Except in some specific areas as the Old City of Jerusalem, some parts of Galilee and the Palestinian Territories, the Israeli citizens, Jews and others, but also the tourists, are less and less accustomed to see any Christian clergy. It is a real question: both the Jews and all the Christians refer to the verses: "The Lord, the Lord, a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin... (Exodus/Shmot 34:6-7) which constitute the 13 Divine Middot (Attributes) or AHaVaH as fulfillment of Love and Justice. After 2000 years, from the time of the early Christian Community, the Church developed and spread over the world, along with the dispersion of the Jewish communities. There are 13 official Churches recognized by the State of Israel as the heritage of the Ottoman rule, to begin with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, then the Roman Catholics - the Franciscans ensure the Custody (the guardians) of the Holy Places in a wide region from Cyprus and Turkey through the Near East.

The Armenians have a prestigious patriarchate, a famous library, wonderful voices and chants. With the exception of one verse: "The community of the believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possession was his own but they had everything in common" (Acts of the Apostles 4:32), the Christian faith developed in spite of internal clashes among the apostles (Paul of Tarsus and Barnabas, Peter) and as time passed the numerous sects that existed or showed. Thus, we do face at present the same wise statement made by Gamaliel II (famous rabbi whose Paul was a disciple), member of the Sanhedrin: "Fellow Israelites, be careful what you are about to do to these men (Jesus believers)... Let them go. For if this endeavor or activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God" (Acts of the Apostles 5:34-39).

The substrate of the Jewish newcomers and Israeli society has shown conflicting and troubled relationships with Christianity, which is a real question. Why hatred and estrangement has prevailed over the basic Commandments and Attributes of Love? In a country where all the nations of world have come for some reason, Christianity offers a kaleidoscope of colorful diversity that hides the tragic history of the local Christians, often murdered. They are trapped in the splits that affected, from abroad, the unity of the Church along the centuries.

On the other hand, more and more Israelis - at all levels of the society - want to understand, get closer to what happened with the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth two millennia ago. Whatever attitude, acceptance or rejection, Christianity is present everywhere in this country. It is evident that Christian believers have been living and here and all over the Middle-East over 2000 years, developing churches, monasteries, religious arts, along with the synagogues, later Islam. Scientific and theological books are now published in Hebrew paving the way for some kind of dialogue beyond suspicion. Each Church and their monasteries have huge intellectual instruments stored throughout history (libraries, research institutes and printing houses in most languages used by comparative theology). It should be a wonderful prospect to try to match competences...

"Nativity" implies that a child is born. In the case of Jesus, there is no certainty about his exact date of birth. His place of birth has also being questioned: Nazareth (Natzor = the consecrated / Nazarene one, Nestar = hidden) or Beyt Lechem (Bethlehem = the house of Bread [Hebrew: "lechem"] or Flesh [Arabic: "lacham/lachma"])? This directly connects the taking flesh of Jesus to food and satisfaction, healing and salvation (Yehoshu'a = "God saved, saves and will save" - the name is declined as most Semitic overtime tenses). This lines with "veachalta vesava'ta - you will eat and be satisfied" (Deuteronomy 8:1) and, in general, with the Birkat HaMazon (Blessing after Meals) as defined in Tractate Berachot 33-48 about nourishment as "bessorot tovot - good tidings" (HaRahman). In Hebrew, "bassar" means : "flesh, meat, rejoicing, announcing". Jesus said - and this is still a pending inquiry: - "I am the bread that came from heaven". They said: "Is this not the son of Joseph?" Jesus said: "I am the bread of life. Whoever eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world" - "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" - Then many of his disciples said: "This is too hard. How can we accept it?" (John 6:34-59). Whoever we are, beside any historical tragedies, Jesus constantly requires facing a supernatural, meta-historical, beyond all possibilities challenge of creed, faith or acceptance. This is what Moshe Mendelssohn, translator of the Bible into German, spoke of the “extreme challenge of Christianity” which is a part of every believer's path.

Jesus' conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a young woman (Heb.: "almah" - Gk. "parthenos", virgin (Isaiah 7:14), betrothed to Joseph who did not reject her and is cited in the two Gospels, that speak of his birth (Matthew and Luke). Interestingly, the Nativity was considered as a minor Feast almost until the middle of the 5th century, thus after the Councils that asserted that Jesus was truly God and Man ("k'Aloha wa k'bar Adam", in Assyrian sequences).

With regards to his day of birth, it is possible to cope with the general link of December 25th that corresponds to January 6th in the Julian calendar. Paul of Tarsus recalls that Jesus was born "under the Law" (Galatians 4:4). "Babe Jesus" was firstly exposed in Saint Francis of Assisi's crèche (there is a wonderful Ethiopian icon showing Mary breastfeeding her child). At least, the baby indeed looked like anyone of us. The Prophet said: “How welcome on the mountain are the footsteps of the herald (mevasser) announcing good (tov) announcing salvation/victory (yeshu'ah), telling Zion: Your God is King!”(Isaiah 52:7). Gospel means "Good news, tidings, from O. Norse "Gudsspjall": Good or rather God's good upgrading in time. Gk. "evangelion" (Good messenger/herald; cf. "angel"), Lat. "ad-nuntiatio" (announcing) and allows to consider the conception of the child on March 25 (Annunciation) and his birth nine months later, i.e. on December 25.

Still it would be relevant to consider Jesus’ birth according to a Jewish time-schedule. True, he never stepped down, during his life, from the Jewish Law and its Commandments (Matthew 5:18) as they were in force at his time. On January 1st (01/14, Julian calendar), the Greek Church of Jerusalem, as all the Christian Orthodox - celebrate the "brit" - circumcision (hagia peritomia) of Jesus, showing a regular breach with paganism that wanted to abolish this basic commandment.

It should be noted that one feast, Sukkot (Feast of the Booths), disappeared when the specific Church cycles were created. The Eastern Church celebrates X-Mas (Mass of X - Christ, i.e. Nativity) at the end of the 30-31st week after Pentecost, thus focusing on the giving of the Holy Spirit. The Western Churches proclaim a time of "Ad-ventus" or "advent - coming". The joy of the hallowed night (Germ. Weihnachten) often veils that the point is to expect the second coming of Messiah Jesus in glory. The move toward future beyond recurring feast is an essential feature of Christian and Jewish Feasts.

We might have some encrypted date of birth in various sequences of the Gospel. "In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah" (Luke 1:5). We know that this means he served in August as provided for his priestly division. Considering the time of birth of John the Baptist - six months earlier than Jesus (Luke 1:21.26.56), we must add ca. 15 months from that service in August to eventually determine Jesus' birth by the eschatological or end of time feast of Sukkot.

The fascinating aspect is the consider that "rooted in and grounded in love, we may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth... and be filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:18-19).

Friday, December 21, 2007

Chayim: is blessing a real living?

The Jewish world consists of being under a continuous 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, spouses or possible partners. We supposedly say blessings upon our cups of tea, peanut cream, wine, water or mitz (fruit juice), when we see a rainbow, a scholar, go on a trip. The problem is to avoid becoming like automatons. Or to bless anything that only relates to ourselves and spend our day in scorning the others, just to take a sort of selfish breath.

There is a very close link in Judaism between blessings and curses. And we are quicker to judge and curse others than to curse ourselves, G-d forbid! The problem with this systematic recognition that holiness is everywhere in the world may be tiresome. It may be boring to handle perpetual blessings that ring up like bells (some would only try on a trip to Israel). It is definitely not evident to bless, true! And to accept that these words are indeed efficient. Look: this neighbor, co-worker, politician, actor, doctor, we ought to bless them!? And simply this cracked-up auntie who could give a loan on a free basis; she is just a mess as we - her family - and some of her friends agreed at some anti-defamation meeting last week.

Well, we all turned to lashon hara'ah (vicious gossiping, venomous speech), but it was so refreshing! This is maybe 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 example when people die. It becomes an energizing flash of peaceful meditation and possible care. Last wills can be intriguing.

In the "Vayechi - (and Jacob) lived" parshat hashavua (reading portion of the week) Israel was about to die and called his son Joseph, got acquainted with Menashe and Ephraim and, seemingly dim, blessed Ephraim (junior) instead of Menashe (senior) with his right hand. He foresaw 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, each Shabbat, a family father blesses his children in recalling their names. Israel asked Joseph to bury him in the Land of Canaan. Then 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); 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' = 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 then competitors bogged down in lentil soup, birthright and blessing capture with a mother's push; this does not show the same grandeur as leaving the world without any woman's care, honored by Pharaoh (70 days of wailing decreed in Egypt after Yisrael's death). Still he departs in exile, envisioning his gathering with Abraham at Machpelah cave. Yaakov has a remarkable demand to Joseph in such circumstances: "Place your hand under my thigh as a pledge of your steadfast loyalty (chesed ve'emet)" (Gen. 47:29). It is a paternal symbolism recalling forever his injury forever as Israel. Joseph will receive Simon and Levi's portions but he must witness for the fragility of unexpected divine assistance.

The problem of Jewishness - being a people called to bless all the other peoples and to teach them how to bless and not to kill in anyway - is indeed that the Jews are naked, without any possession or at least aware they are nil and temporary.

"Blessadhu" 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), the blood of lambs at Pesach (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). This is important these days when the Muslims celebrate the Hajj to Mecca and the sacrifices (of Ishmael left by Abraham).

In Hebrew, the usual word is brachah (blessing) and barech (to bless). It is basically connected with "beri - bara" (to create) that initially consists "to perforate" -- "think out a plan". "When the Lord wanted to create man (adam), 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" (son) of the same root as "to create". Thus, a blessing consists in sorts of perforations, holes, apertures allowing to instill 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 since we (and our diversified environment) exist, were shaped, receiving a special mark. A sort of spiritual, legal piercing! The "Laying of the hands" is thus important in the Jewish tradition in a kind of "sacrificial offering" that changes the life of the blessed: the hands were exerting a pressure upon the head (semichah; samech = stamp, perforate). "Samech", the name of fifteenth letter /s/ means "punch" as the thin knife used by the shochet (kosher slaughterer) to speedily kill the animal that must die immediately and be kosher. Blessings imply a change from death to life. Interestingly, the weekly reading is called "Vayechi" (And Jacob lived) because his death and repose at Machpelah introduce a new move of fertility and growth linking generations by means of blessings.

Then "barekh" means "to cave out, select, choose, point out": "HaQadosh Baruch Hu" (The Holy One, Blessed He be) as in Talmud Pessahim 118a, Who, in turn, praises and blesses His creation, not the contrary. "hivrikh" 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 "birkai" (shoots, branches) who will be satisfied with waters. As it is regular in the Semitic tongues, positive and negative aspects can alternate in paradoxal ways according to the context: 'barekh' 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 the core meaning of Israel's destiny because 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 (come), nishtachaweh (bow down til earth), venikhra'ah (kneel down) venivrachah (bend the kneels to be blessed) lifney HaShem ossenu (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 (falling, getting to nil) and then olah (raising) with the blessing. In the Scroll of Esther, Mordechai refused to kneel and bow down before Haman (Esther 3:2-5). This movement 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 portion, the Western Churches will celebrate the Nativity of Jesus on December 24/25 in Bethlehem, the city of David whose death is also read as haftarah (Prophetic reading) in the Jewish tradition (1 Kings 2:1-12).

"Yechi!" the weekly reading recounts the death of Yaakov-Israel in exile. "Yechi" = may he live" is similar to Batshevah's cry: "yechi adoni David le'olam va'ed - may my Master David live forever" (Kings 1:1-31). He had abandoned Bethlehem, 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 - may live or he lived" incites to bless our society with the mark of goodness and hope in these days of hardship.

Kaddish: General Kaddish 5768

This early week blog intends to reflect upon common sources, roots or mixers between Kahal Israel (the Community of Israel) and Christianity at a special level on the eve of the Yom Kaddish klali - General Kaddish Day on the 10th of Tevet 5768 / December 19, 2007.

With regard to our personal lives, politics, economics, emotions, psychology, the media, time passes and disappears with "no return". Let's take the example of death: we live with deadlines. They could be goal points. But deadlines imply a final ineluctable end, period. In Hebrew, we love to say at the present: besofo shel davar = finally; nobody would speak of a betechilato shel davar (to begin with). We can't wait for things to start, and still know that there is an end and no comeback. In 1975, at the end of the wars in Cambodia, Lao and mainly Vietnam, I met a lot of Asian refugees. Thirty years have passed and some even became Israeli citizens. A lot settled in North America and Europe. Along with the Tibetans, they allowed the world to become more Tao (the Way), Kungfu, Shiatzu or Tantric (Tibetan Buddhism). Some women and children refugees had been raped by pirates who attacked their little overcrowded boats. Women would even avoid being interviewed by men officers and were lighting candles in churches, certainly not in a pagoda (temple).

The tranquility of the Awaken (Buddha) relies upon the fact that life consists of suffering and to get control of our ego till it dies. Similarly, "fighters" in former Yugoslavia would have assembled their enemies (whether Catholics or orthodox or Muslims) and set them on fire till they would all perish in terrible suffering. I saw parallel atrocities with Lebanese refugees of all origins in 1976 and later. My wife's sister-in-law has lost all her family in the savage killing organized by the Nazis in Oradour-sur-Glane (France) in 1942: they had gathered all the inhabitants in the village church and the barns and slaughtered them all. I have no family left: more than 400 members of my family (both sides) were slaughtered by the Nazis, mostly in concentration camps. But it is so usual here that it is at least worth trying to be a real mentch, fond of humanity.

The problem with "emunah" (faith, confidence) is that we cannot easily get to such a conviction. This requires trust: we often were deceived, then Understanding: who understands us and are we in-depth committed to understand someone, others, close or foreign, ourselves? Creeds and beliefs would often turn to repeat stiff-necked or obstinate secure dogmas. Job's peacefully stated after his horrible test: "Indeed, I spoke without understanding of things beyond me, which I did not know. Hear now and I will speak; I will ask and You will inform me. I had heard you with my ears, but I see You with my eyes..." (Job 42:3-4).

This year, Thursday 19th of December 2007, corresponds to the 10th of Tevet 5767. It is the day when "in the ninth year of his reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar moved against Jerusalem with his whole army. He besieged it, and they built towers against it all round" (II King. 25:1). Prophet Ezekiel carefully recorded the "exact day - et-etzem hayom hazeh“ (Ezekiel 24:2) which marks the beginning of the Churban/destruction of the First Temple. Asarah beTevet (Tevet 10th) is thus a fast day. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel has also decided that it is the Yom HaKaddish HaKlali - General Kaddish memorial day for all those who perished on unknown dates during the Shoah. This underscores a strong link between the Temple and us as living divine dwellings, made of sinews, muscles, bones, limbs, brains (cf. Prophet Ezekiel 37). It means that we shall leave 2007 after a mourning day for those who perished, because, whatever personal moral attitudes, they had the mark of God's blessing to witness that love (life) is fierce(r) as (than) death - ki 'azah khamavet ahavah (Song 8:6).

The Kaddish is one of the most ancient prayers said by the Jews. It tracks back to the exile in Babylon. This Aramaic word means "holy" and the whole text is in this language, except the famous "osseh shalom bimromav - He Who makes peace in the High, may also make peace upon us and upon All Israel and say Amen" (with variants), which is in Hebrew and sung upon landing in Israel or other conventions. The point is that there are five different texts of the Kaddish to be said on various occasions. The Prayer is in Aramaic, the then colloquial tongue and understood by everybody, both Jews and non-Jews, which was important for the proclamation of God's Reign that embraces every creature. Although the "Kaddish yatom - orphan's (mourner's) Kaddish" is the most famous text, none of the Kaddish variations focus on death. They exclusively refer to life, God as life-Giver, His Name, Kingdom, Reign over the creation. Many Jews who lived in remote places have often kept with much respect the transliteration in Russian, Latin, Arabic, Greek, Chinese script of the text that they would recite without understanding the meaning of the words. They would even be very surprised to discover it is an utmost strength-empowering prayer for more blessings. In Yiddish, Kaddishele is the one who is chosen to say the prayer for some people without descent.

True, nobody confessing the God of the Living is alone or left without "blessed memory - zichrono/a livrachah" ("vechnaia pamiat - eternal memory" in the Byzantine Churches, with lists of names read at some Services). It is evident that, at the Yad VaShem Memorial Center, the constant recall of the 1.500.000 children whose names are pronounced in Hebrew, Yiddish and English insists on humans killed in their early age.

To begin with, the prayer was uttered after learning a portion of the Torah or the Talmud or a sermon delivered by rabbis. Rabbinical Kaddish (deRabbanan) continues to be a major blessing after learning. The rabbis teach God's Scriptures to disciples who embody the community. Upon Israel and her rabbis and their disciples (students), and upon all those busy in the Torah, here and in every other site, that they and you have peace, grace and kindness, mercy and long life, and abundant nourishment, salvation from their Father (Avuhon) Who is in heaven and say: Amen.

Faith proceeds from a community that accepts to be taught and thus turns to God and His teachers from generation to generation. This is fundamentally a dynamic action.

The Orphan's (or mourners') Kaddish Yatom was seemingly adopted rather lately 13th c.). It shows how it firmly imprints us with life and does not refer at all to death. It is recited everyday during the thirty days of mourning, and the yohrzeit - anniversary of death. It must be pronounced slowly and with much respect. Burial Kaddish (de'itchadata) focuses on the world-to-come, the rebuild of Jerusalem and the Temple, opening an era of ulma'qar pulchana nuchra - the erasure of foreign (pagan) worship from the earth and the renewal of the Service to the Holy One.

The very kernel of the Kaddish always starts with the wonderful words based on Prophet Ezekiel 38:23: "Itgaddal veyitqaddash... Exalted and sanctified be the Great Name (of God) in the world that He created according to His Will and may His Kingdom reign (be established), may His salvation blossom and His anointed come near (not Ashkenazi text), in your lifetime and in the days of All the House of Israel, speedily and soon and say: Amen."

Full Kaddish (Shalem) inserts: "Titqabel na tzlot'hon... May the supplications and prayers of All Israel be received by her Father Who art in heaven (Avuhun divshamaya, also in Aramaic)". This lines word for word with Jesus’ prayer as he taught his disciples how to call upon the heavenly Father: "Our Father Who art in heaven (Avun divshmaya) - hallowed be Your Name (yitqadash Shmekha) –-may Your Kingdom come - Your Will be done (khirute)" (cf. Matthew 6:9-14).

As the civilian calendar shifts, it is maybe good that it corresponds to the General Kaddish memorial day and the fast of Tevet 10th. We are imperiled with wars, immoral breaches, cultural and spiritual downfalls. The world is submitted to violence, misery. On this shemittah year, the earth is sick with warming-up threats. Here, some visitors would wander along all possible fences and walls except offer a prayer at the Western Wall where Jesus stood daily (Luke 19:47). Unexpectedly, the Kaddish comprehends those who, as so many of our citizens, were Jews for a very small part of their identity and though sentenced to death, a lot of Christians, Gypsies, people entrapped by error or miserable informers, gays and lesbians, Slavs and communists, disabled and mentally sick. Kaddish does look back into the past... On the contrary, it envisions how the living may produce life and enjoy it without harming it.

Indeed the Kaddish includes the words that let us climb up from earthly humans to their heaven Father and backwards as a ladder or even an escalator... in our days, speedily and soon.

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Original: Av_a blog 39: Emunah: death or faith.

Friday, December 29th, 2006 - 8 deTevet 5767

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Chochmah:The acumen of wisdom

"One day is like thousand years, - k'yom etmol = like yesterday" (Tehillim 90:4). We live in country that is fascinated, obsessed and dramatically anxious about the burden of history to open up the gates of future. This is the challenge that Israel has decided to face eagerly, with passion. At the moment, it fades among some youths with mixed feelings of "can't help", "what to do?", a sort of easy-going life that is not so sweet, but happens in a wonderful homely family (more mishpuche - imma-like than mishpachah - dad and tradition). We need cuddling and act as if our faces turned to some chalamish - shuttled sniper-like rocky looks (Jeremiah 5:3). Just look at people, in particular in Jerusalem: people’s faces are usually mild, tender like the flesh of the gazelles and the hinds which are a futurist spiritual must or mitzvah (Song 2:7). They would often seem blind, blocked and opaque or, when the nation demonstrates, cruelty, fanatic, zealot spirit or wrath may overcome our speech and thus affect our relationships to others.

We are in the days of Hanukka 5768 and the twinkling lights lit every night should remind us, beyond any folklore or opposition to other religions, that the Temple of the Jewish spirit survives and miraculously reinvigorates al hanissim veal hateshu'ot - because of the wonders and saving actions taken by God till nowadays. This 1000 years = 1 yesterday's day thing is fantastic. It only proceeds from a revelation. Just test it: Jews will describe a landscape and say, today (or yesterday) there is nothing here? Wait, a normal Jew will say, don't worry, we have time, no emergency, if not today or tomorrow, then in 100, 200, 500 years there will be something that will improve and be useful for the inhabitants. It does not mean there won't be any problems, you bet! We can't live without problems! Israel without problems is like a dried out or more correctly a dreamy source in the wilderness.

This is Shabbat Miqetz – “It was at the end of two years (and Pharaoh was dreaming)” (Bereishit 41:1-44:17). Pharaoh is dreaming. Not a day-dream but rather the sort of nightmare. There are the good and the bad cows. Only a son of Israel-Yaakov, the imprisoned Joseph could tell him to cool down because things are very simple. Firstly, Pharaoh will have to face two series of seven years. The first part is terrifically milky and prosperous, the second one, he will stay with nil (= not a bean in Latin).

This week, the haftarah (prophetic reading) is taken from the First Book of the Kings /Melachim Alef 3:15-4:1. It is at the heart of age-long tests that God proposes to the human beings: what do we expect from God?

Solomon asked something special of God: he did not ask for some material instruments of power or wealth. He asked for more insight, for chochmah = wisdom. If young people could know (have experience) and elderly people could only have the strength! True, but the youths sometimes would need to be capable to do things and later on to get ready to know and understand. This week, King Solomon is totally new in his reign over Israel. The haftarah underlines how he instinctively could discern who the true mother of a baby. Two nashim zonot – women prostitutes are disputing a child and the young king gave it to the real mom. He acted with wisdom and common sense. He had awoken from a dream to exercise right and justice for the sake of his own being chosen by God. The women were who they were but responded to sincere or insincere maternal feelings.

In Hebrew, chacham = wise, to grow wise, be a scholar, stimulate a person’s mind by ingenious suggestions. Thus, “By the time they will resurrect, they will be finally able to meet to discuss their pending cases with more insights” (Niddah 70). The insights consist in going far beyond past and present, but rather to envision a situation as a whole and fulfillment. This includes a birthing capacity and chakhamah = midwife, a knowhow that is the model of true wisdom (patience till right time, insights, self-control and authority). The Talmud may at times make strange statements: “Avira de’ar’a Israel machkim = the climate (atmosphere) of Eretz Israel makes wise” (Bava Bathra 158b). At least, “chachmot bantah beytah = (all forms of) wisdom(s) built her house and carved its seven pillars” (Mishley/Prov. 9:1). This refers to the Shechinah or the Divine Presence, but the house is stable as the Temple was. Bereishit/Genesis is a book of dreamers whose brain world comes to be fashionable and real. Lawrence of Arabia’s “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” is certainly a masterpiece with regards to his experience of unifying the Arab tribes while Israel was trying to conceive the baby State of Israel.

Now, the problem with this parashah and the related prophetic reading is how we understand worshipping today and whom we would worship. We can be very superstitious. I go down the bus and there I see, buying my usual diet coke, that there are numerous lotteries in the same shop. The waiter told me to stay for an hour and have a look. Well, I then decided it is worth going to different places to compare. No place for any dream. Coins or bank notes and bingo every thirty minutes…

Some Russians – I prefer “former Soviets” because it more exact - love to speak of their dreams. Their dreams are more accurate than when you recall the last episode of your favorite series. This may create some discomfort here because their attitude is psychological and historically the same as that described throughout all the dreams of Genesis. It is both healthy and curing and paves the way to betterment when nothing seems extant.

We need dreams that make sense though they firstly look like fancies. At this point, the community of Israel has something totally unique: one single individual may substantiate a dream because it helps gather a big number, a large amount of persons and souls. It works as a process of unity. On January 7th, 2008, we shall celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Eliezer Ben Yehudah. He had the dream to revive Hebrew, which, for him, was rooted in profound traditional training. As many single linguists of the 19th century (Norway, Croatia), he realized alone a work that others successfully implemented.

But his move was built upon teaching and learning. That was the motto with which I was educated: lernen, larnen, lernen (learn!), with various Yiddish pronunciations. Ben Yehudah’s revival of Hebrew was built on this real Jewish capacity to educate the future generations. It was a major issue for the upgrading of a lexicon into living sentences. Hanukka brings forth the same challenge of conquering ignorance. It abates hatred and disparity by chinuch – training, transmitting and making God’s Word substantial. If we are not able to educate those who were born to live in a generation to which we do not belong and which develops new patterns, we profoundly affect the Hebrew dream that abode for millenniums in the flesh, from the time of Joseph and Solomon till our revival. Dreams are also a sort of stamp of authenticity given by God to every Jewish soul that every single soul can have full access to knowledge and understanding, thus including the chinuch haMitzvot – the teaching of the Commandments as living and burning lights.

Now, let's take the Christian part of the State of Israel and Palestine. What would sustain the Christian faithful with perseverance, with the incredible capacity allowing them not to failing in hope and fall down in full despair? It is possible to parrot out the Scriptures in all creeds. It may not be the adequate therapy. On December 6th/19th (Old calendar), the Catholic then the Eastern Orthodox Churches will celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas. His name means “victory of the people”, born in the 3rd century in Turkey. He has worked a lot of wonders, miracles, saved children, sailors.

He has spent some time in Beit Jala where most churches are somehow dedicated to him. His name is recorded in all Slavic countries. Santa Claus appeared in different ways, in particular as a consequence of the Protestant Reformation. He is a joyous wonder maker, supposed to generously distribute gifts and divine assistance. The bishop of Myra in Lycia would assist the poor. He strongly combated paganism and, curiously, for his time, he died very old and peacefully in his bed. Saint Nicholas has much in common with some aspects of Eliyahu HaNavi/Prophet Elijah and a protector and acting with wisdom toward the needy.

King Solomon had returned a child to his rightful mother: she did not want him to be cut by the sword! Eh, the king was really wise to get to that wisdom! Hagios Nikolaos is the saint that cared for children and supposedly still distributes gold or presents. Wisdom consists in helping the children. Here they are the true kings, far too much most of the time. Indeed, they need to be supported, backed and not left to their own search or solitude. Wisdom is parallel to the joys of the feasts of the Lights.

Chag Hanukka sameach!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Neshamah: additional soul

December 2, 2007 = 22 beKislev 5768. Let's have a smile, because it is roughly intriguing: On December 2, 1947, the day on which terrible riots clashed throughout Jerusalem against the Jews from the Old City to Jaffa Road, Mamilla Quarter, the Jewish calendar showed we were on the 19th of Kislev 5708, the famous day of release of Rabbi Zalman Schneur of Lyadi, the first Rebbe of Lubavitch. On that day, he left his prison of Saint Petersburg and went way to Lubavitch. The terrible riots that started after the UN partition vote were launched on the Chassidut national or renewal day. The amazing coincidence is that sixty years after the partition, the vote is celebrated on this major date for the important spiritual movements of the Chassidism as the riots leading to the independence of the first Jewish State in thousands years burst on that same day of freedom.

We might remember that, just before the vote started in San Francisco, in 1947/5708, a voice cried out hoyshineynu (hoshienu = (Lord) save us) in the audience. This was a cry of humility. Our problem is that the decision resembles a hatzalah (salvation). Either the vote would lead to some tiny hope or life might have been more crooked, more difficult, paved with terrible hardships. Because we might not really be aware today of the cost of so long long-term hardships and inhuman lives through generations.

This blog is strictly spiritual. But, dear Tzipi Livni, Foreign Minister of the State of Israel, you see, when, at Annapolis, the diplomats do not shake your hands, refusing to greet you or they simply ignore you (which frankly is almost unbelievable in an international peace process meeting), I doubt they ever heard that pious Jews do not shake the hand of a woman. True, they might not know or think this is even weird. The problem is not that suddenly in a very comradeship reaction of Condoleezza Rice, the United States Secretary of State, explained how much she personally suffered in Alabama of discriminations against the "colored". This born-cultured hatred against the "Blacks" has poisoned all the history of the United States till recently as the relations between Whites, Blacks and/or Colored/kleurlinge (South Africa). It is a consequence of hatred and repulsion against the other, a matter the Jews perfectly know and have to combat from inside the communities.

Such a level of opacity and ignorance towards our FM Tzipi Livni is not unbelievable. It belongs to the pragmatic and substantial nature of what reality is: rejection and ignorance. But these "fresh healthy crazy (meshigene) attitudes" - in particular in such a context - is the only possible behavior for people stunned that what should be dead of old is still alive and "worse of all" creating sources for living.

Now, I don't wear amulets, protecting wheels and various necklaces or bracelets. My first blog was about my wearing two watches: one to show the Jewish and universal date and time, the second indicating the Julian Eastern-Orthodox date and the "religious hour". Pious Jews, Christian Palestinians always keep one hour before the civil time-schedule. Thus, if I mention this Kislev 19 life-line again and again along with the liberation of the Chassidic Rebbe, it is precisely because most of Non-Jews totally ignore and don’t even want or think it is useful to know the Jewish way of going through time. It is the legal way of the State of Israel. Thus, they consider with total estrangement the way Judaism envisions history, events, historic events and future.

Let’s leave the Jews for a minute because a majority of them would not know anything about that. They would not refer to that firstly though in their utmost feelings they still would comprehend that it makes sense.

Still, we might have the dream that it is indeed possible to discuss and this is the challenge Jews have to face berach'mim (with loving-kindness, sweetness) and mit rachmunes (using sweet and wise measured portions). So, it might be strange, but, as this blog is published in an Israeli daily online (and not in an American newspaper), it might be difficult, but Christianity is then perceived on the basis of the Jewish reality and possible connections and not as a separate entity. In response, Jewish society should be open to in-depth dialogue and real knowledge.

Sixty years ago the riots broke out between Damascus Gate, Jaffa Gate, Mamilla rebuilt by the British, down to the former Hilton (David Citadel Hotel), King David Hotel, Jaffa Street. Today many houses keep the stamps of the Armenians (Saint James) or of the Greek (Taphos = the “T” and “Phi” = (Holy) Sepulcher). These days, crowds of tourists hurry down to Jaffa Gate. In four decades, the whole area has changed. Last Saturday, the handicapped of the French hospice came for a while, assisted by foreign volunteers. They spent some time on the stone bench and in their wheelchairs, at the entrance of the Old City. Immediately some Arabs brought them bottles of juice, cakes and a few cigarettes. There was a very warm and cuddling atmosphere, a lot of humor. Some Jews, on the way to the Wall, stared at everybody. “What’s that?” is very up-to-date when crossing “others” who are not us, or they are and we are not and vice versa. Don’t worry… The two large mezuzot at Jaffa Gate are kissed back and forth and forth and back, right and left hand – way-in and way-out… Some nuns enter the Gate making the sign of the Cross, but abstain on their way out. At the top of the entrance wall, there is a large space, where musicians usually gather to sing or play some instruments on festivals or special occasions. Two small tombs of the engineers supposedly killed by Suleiman link the Ottoman and Arabic Bab-El-Khalil (Gate of the Beloved = Abraham) to the Omar El-Kittab (Omar who gave the writ to patriarch Sophronios of Jerusalem in 638), the Christian Greek and Armenian quarters. The Gate faces the roads that lead to Hebron or to Jaffa.

Is it the City of David and its tower? The tower is a famous museum and a place for concerts and festivities. On the one hand, cabs, screaming and fighting for or after their preys, and the typical Old City multicolored wheel carts swiftly handled by locals who deliver all sorts of produce down into the City. On the other side, all kinds of sellers, flirty-wooing the more or less foxy-shy female visitors. People love buying hot corn/tiras and the Arab oily “beigele”. Jaffa Gate does change inside the walls. Time passes and the atmosphere is special, certainly unique because of the density of holy sites and religious backgrounds.

Then, it is quite amazing to see how, from dust, emerged a large road now connecting Kikar Zahal (square) opposite the Barclay’s Bank attacked during the riots. The square is wide, with benches… and a modern bridge constitutes a huge place that links Jaffa Gate to the new Mamilla quarter. At the present, there are three large cabins with exhibitions. It took decades to build the Mamilla first part. Numbered stones have been transferred and put back in place. To begin with, there was a sort of check-point. Today, the access is free. Now, Mamilla is a mall, like a pedestrian portion of a quarter. Exactly the same modern coffee-shops, restaurants, shops and again shops slope all along the place. It is simply, at the moment, a shopping center located above a bus station and a parking. The view over the modern building complex is nice… There is a Catholic school church that moved a bit upwards numbered stone by numbered stone.

The point is that the Old City shoppers come to buy clothes or have a drink, some food there. The numerous visitors cross with the Ethiopian and Russian guards doubling the police. At first glance, it is interesting as it is easy to duplicate a “ghetto” structure “outside of the walls”. There is no neshamah – soul for the moment. Yeshivah students will come as Arab clients, Israelis but it takes time for stones to remove their numbers and breathe their specific spirit.

There is a kind of password to enter the City of David. It is given in the psalm: “Mi zeh melech hakavod – who is this king of glory? The Lord is might and strong, the Lord is strong in battle. Se’u sh’arim rasheychem – Raise up your heads, gates, and raise up, you everlasting entrances so that the king of glory may enter. Mi Hu zeh – Who is He the king of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the king of glory, selah – forever (Tehillim 24:7-10).

Friday, November 30, 2007

Kaftet or Yodtet: the puzzling date

We are soon coming to the chag Chanukah - the feast of dedication, service of God and education (chinuch), lights, endurance, material miracle with the oil and this will happen for us in a very special year 5768, the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel. This Shabbat Vayeshev - (Jacob) lived (in the land of his father's sojournings, Eretz Canaan), the weekly Torah reading is from Bereishit 37:1-40:23. It is said: "Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons because he was his son born in the old age and he made him a striped tunic (k’tonet pasim). Joseph was talented and passed on the evil gossip his brothers had to their father.

The parashat hashavua is dedicated to Joseph special biography: a seventeen years old shepherd pasturing the sheep; a dreamer: vayyachalam chalom - Joseph had a (leading ahead) dream. Joseph develops dreams that would come to maturity along an long-term extended period of time and somehow still unaccomplished at the present. He was sold by his brothers who were so jealous that they could not get to killing him. Division may at times save the lives of some people endangered by enemies that would not agree on such a simple issue as a murder and thus choose a distorted solution. This is why ransoming the prisoners has been a major mitzvah in all Jewish communities until now. In Israel, this obliges making every possible efforts to redeem and obtain the liberation of Israeli soldiers captured by other armies. It is the kind of mitzvah that is a basic one, and remains an indisputable sign of "love towards our fellow people". Indeed, Jews observing the Mitzvot and developing a loving and caring spirit of love toward God and any human being cannot betray any single Jew the way Joseph was sold by his embezzled brothers. Ransoming is a must as it has always been in force throughout the history of Christianity. It steadfastly supports and immensely helped the Jews in the process of ascending to Israel.

The haftarah is the reading from the Book of the Prophet Amos (2:6-3:8). The main problem consists of considering how we accept or reject the realm of the Mitzvot as a true way to freedom. "For four (transgressions of Israel), I will not pardon them (ashivenu: we shall not give any positive response or change of penance) for their selling of a righteous man for money (michram bekesef tzadik) and a destitute/poor man for shoes (veevyon baavur na'alayim) ... And a man and his father go to a betrothed young girl (naarah) to profane My Holy Name (cf. Tamar) (Amos 2:7).

These are the issues that we have to face this week with regards to history. They envision Joseph's fate and destiny, Judah's affair with Tamar, Potifar's wife harassing Joseph show the development of what is wrong and can be corrected and lead to freedom after false possession or desires and treason.

Once upon a time, we had a woman who was the only man of the Israeli government, Golda Meir aka Golda Mabovitz/Meyerson (1898-1978). Born in Kiev/ Kyiv (Ukraine), she joined her father who had left for Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and worked as a carpenter. She went up to Rome to visit Pope John XXIII who welcomed her: "I am your brother Joseph (you hardly can recognize)". At least her father had a Vatican-valued profession: thus, Jesus' father, Joseph, as hers was carpenter. When she went on mission in Russia (somehow her home country), she had asked an apparent friend to free from jail some of the most valuable Jewish fighters who could help in creating the State of Israel. She was promised they would be released. They were all murdered overnight or so. On the one hand, this shows the treason of false friends; on the other hand, a persistent but honestly confessed substitution declared with much bonhomie - good-nature expressed by the good old Pope who actively did save thousands of Jews during the war.

The mistake that poisons the relationships between Judaism and the Christian Churches is precisely present in this statement. The wonderful and rare pope was a Gentile and not the son of the first Twelve (sons of Jacob). The second Twelve were Jesus’ disciples according to the Christian tradition. But Pope John XVIII asked a meaningful question to Golda Meir, the daughter of the Jewish carpenter. Just as Joseph’s brothers could not recognize their brother they had sold, Golda Meir – in the name of the Jewish people portraying the State of Israel – could hardly imagine or even accept that the Pope could be her brother sold by Jewish brothers who would save her and her new-old State rescued from history and permanent substitution. This anecdote shows that goodness can be too evident and though remain a disfigured usurpation. This is the first spiritual aspect that we must consider from the prophetic haftarah read in Amos: it is clear that the dialogue between Golda Meir and the Pope was very heartfelt and nice. The anecdote shows a substitution. Because the real problem, that could turn to some vitz (joke, a kidding and kind one), is that the Pope might did not recognize Golda Meir as being the real Benjamin and Jacob. This continues in the present in most cases about who is the Verus Israel (true Israel of God) whose substance and nature cannot be changed by vestments or attitudes foreign to the world of the Mitzvot. Similarly, Judah and Tamar came wrongly together by some dramatic mistake and trick. The concern is that blindness does not mean falsification. Blindness means that we do not accept to see what is extant because reality is too much for what we can stand and what the others can accept.

The Talmud has it about the roots machar – to sell, mecher – sale, makkar – be acquainted, friends, mecherut – sales/neighboring friends. Thus, “the seller is presumed to sell liberally, i.e. all except what is excluded (and ought to be defined)” (Bava Bathra 64b). Or, “a man can be sold for his theft, not a woman” (Sota 1c). But Joseph had not usurped, captured or, worse, bought his father’s love. Jealousy remains a spiritual disease or discomfort that was ravaging Joseph’s brothers. Then, Joseph and his brothers could not anticipate the far-reaching spiritual significance of their mutual attitudes and decisions. When the Prophet Amos recounts the events, he envisions something of what history has brought from the limping of Israel and its survival that still stuns or even stupefies the Nations and the Jews alike.

The State of Israel will turn to 60 years old in two major steps. The first one is amazingly occurring just before this Shabbat Vayeshev. November 29 (kaftet), 1947 corresponds to six decades after the UN historic vote accepting the partition of Palestine, on Kislev 16 (tetzayn), 5708. Due to some hazard or sign of the Providence, the civilian 60th anniversary starts in this shemittah year of remittance on Kislev 19 (yodtet) 5768. It is a suggestive and relevant date in the Jewish history. Nobody cares about the Hebrew date of the UN vote that fell on Monday. Anyway, the world is plugged in Annapolis (USA, not in Ancient Greece). Now, the partition vote is still a decision taken by the Nations and this has always been meaningful for the coherence of Israel spiritual history.

The question is whether one can seriously consider that the State of Israel is only a consequence of the World War II with a Western UN vote of false good conscience: the Jews will sink in the hour following their independence. It was both a Gentile and Jewish reflection and our sinking is still en vogue. Is it the consequence of the Holocaust? Joseph’s sale to the merchants is definitely the prelude to a will of extermination. The Shoah is at the present a major European concern and a Western Church interrogation. Jews cannot abstract themselves from community responsibilities in such a devastation that tracks back their experience to the Churban (destructions of the Temple). The State of Israel emerged and develops as the impossible challenge allowing a rescued nation born to bless to be overflowing with unexpected pardon. Things are simple and crude: who is/are my brother/s? Disguised or rescued from flames of passions, ignorance and hatred? We are thus the descendants of Cain who had dared say to God: “…hashomer achi anochi – am I my brother’s keeper?” God said: “What have you done! The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.” (Gen. 4:9-10). The same blood continues to cry out. Then, the miracle means something else.

This 60th anniversary of the UN partition vote falls on the 209th anniversary of the “Alter Rebbe” Zalman Schneur of Lyadi’s release from prison where he had spent 52 days in Saint Petersburg upon the denunciation of some Lithuanian Jews (mitnagdim - opponents to Hassidism). He was freed on Kislev 19, 5559. It became the Rosh Hashanah of the Hassidic movement as a spiritual envisioning movement, in particular the Chabad. The point is that two modern hassidic rabbis have been sent to jail because they were denunciated by “brothers”. They were men of charity and pity. How can we build anything if we are not responsible for others, even those who would eventually attack or harm us? On this November 29th/Kislev 19th many elements track us back to Joseph being sold and still pardoning, as Cain had killed his brother; God put a sign of protection on his forehead. The Hassidut celebrate a day of liberation of men who were dedicated to soul freedom. Somehow, the partition vote opened a tiny way to Israel’s freedom and existence. .

The real question we face on this day is that God made something, a dealing – ‘alila (“He is terrible in his dealings with man, Tehillim 66:5”). Whatever faith, philosophical, doubtful attitude, humans seem to miss the chance of really getting to know if God accepts goodwill or exerts a strict determination. Suddenly, Nov.29th/19th events show; they are beyond any human control. We forget this or think we are strong when we are simply looking for some way-out. Freedom is not a way-out. It is life to the full.

This is why let’s cool down about Annapolis, Iran nuking projects… God’s dealings include the hurricanes in the US, the tsunamis in Indonesia, hunger, AIDS and war in Africa, Gaza human hell. What shall we do when the Chinese and the Yuan will rule the world?

This date is like a Passover Seder Dayenu verse: it would have sufficed. We only got a tiny irrational partition, just as the betrayed Master of Hassidut was released from jail. All the disciples of Jesus, to begin with the first one, had abandoned or betrayed him. Israel and Palestine are not juicy scoops. It shows how faith can be twisted and thus leads to redemption.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ochel: Man-made famine, God-made repair

In an unprecedented call to national and faith unity and solidarity, Ukraine's Chief Rabbi Azriel Khaikin asked the Jewish community of the country to join the celebrations marking the 75th memorial day of the Holodomor, Ukrainian for man-made famine that caused the death of millions inhabitants of the Ukraine in 1932-33. The movement was launched by the the Supreme Communist Soviet of the former USSR in order to ruin the Ukrainian economy and resourceful industries. I already wrote a blog about the problem that hardly can be approached by the media in the West as also in Israel (Between plenty and famine, 11/30/06).

We are in a year that includes a lot of anniversaries and 75 years ago was a terrible period of uncertainty all through Europe. The Soviet Union was on its way to be stabilized. Germany voted for Hitler and, after the Great Depression of 1929, Thanksgiving was definitely instituted in the United States as a national holiday. The Middle-Eastern Christians had been betrayed by most superpowers of the time: the dying out Assyrian Chaldean and Nestorian faithful of Aramaic tongue (Jesus spoke Aramaic and prayed in Hebrew) were promised a free republic by the British, but British Petroleum and Royal Dutch and other oil companies prevented the creation of the new state. The French were involved in Lebanon. Today, the traditional Assyrian prime minister of Iraq is absolutely no more a Christian and the Lebanese president is missing right now, leaving the Maronite and the other Christian Churches in a messy and unprecented situation. The Iranian president strongly suggests that his country should nuke Israel, provided that the well-cultured and educated European countries would give asylum to the future fleeing Jews and ever-wandering Displaced Persons.

Since 1976 and even before, Lebanon has progressively lost its prestige as a free multicultural, interfaith, Middle-Eastern Switzerland or Monaco-like paradise for business, contracts and cultural developments. In the present, the only country where the Christians can feel safe in the Middle-Eastern Arab world seems to be Jordan, with a large Eastern Orthodox community, some Catholics, among which there are some of the Assyrian-Chaldean faith that fled from Iran when Khomeini came to power in 1978, with the assistance of the French president V. Giscard d'Estaing. Qatar and some Arab Emirates do encourage the spiritual assistance to their foreign Christian workers.

A recent colloquium at the Sorbonne (Paris), organized by the cream of the crops of the French intelligentsia brainstorming thinkers, was held with a typical alerting capacity to ring the bells of ends of times for the Christian communities in the Near and Middle-East. The French FM Bernard Kouchner introduced the various lectures delivered by highly competent specialists in the development of the Christian communities in the region.

The colloquium was firstly intelligent and full of insights. Over the past two centuries, the French have developed a specific capacity to analyzing the process of changes with precision and perceptiveness in the region. The reflections are exact, witty but, at this point, they do not pave the way to any betterment or adjustment. As a colonial superpower, France has played a huge historic and cultural role. As most European countries that are still involved in the area, the attitude strictly remains colonial though the colonies have been lost or are on the verge to get overtaken. Many European countries are indeed of Christian background (Ireland, Poland, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal). They are basically and historically catholic and face the powerful pressure of foreign newcomers that are widely orthodox (Ukrainians, Romanians and Serbs in Spain/Catalonia, Italy, Germany, France, Scandinavia). This development is new, has been appealing as a cultural feature but remains alien to the spiritual understanding of the local authorities and Church staff. The Ukrainian emigration to the Middle-East via Turkey, constitutes a line that slopes from Armenia down to Israel-Palestine, Cyprus and Egypt-Ethiopia or vice versa. It covers the Mediterranean area on the way to the West. This concerns thousands of thousands of workers and new faithful which explains, that Rome, Paris and London are today Ethiopian, Assyrian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Romanian major cities. A Russian church has been opened in Iceland, Syrian-Orthodox are sheltered in Scandinavia. There is a real take-over of the Oriental Christians in the Western world, from the Former Soviet Union to the United States, Canada and South America. Buenos Aires was a Yiddish and Ladino pan-Jewish capital as also an old Russian Orthodox and a West Bank Palestinian Arab Christian city.

This situation progressively erases the major presence and substantial importance of the Christian faithful in the Middle-East that defies and drives away from the traditional European patterns and usual solutions. Throughout history, Judaism and Islam have often discussed with much productivity. The Christian Churches have often forgotten that Jewish scholars saved the Greek and Latin heritage by the time of the Barbarians. In the present, the problem resides in the apparent lack of goodwill from the Jewish and Israeli part to accept any solution proposed by the “Christian” nations. This position is problematic but realistic and relies upon the terrible experience of the Jewish people, as stated by D. Ben-Gurion himself: “They all betrayed us”. This statement is simply real. It has to be taken into consideration in order to eventually repair a state of mutual relationships and pave the way to authentic confidence.

It is certainly not healthy for the region that the ancient Christian Churches that have been present in the area over 2,000 years keep too much on a line of silence and back-laid attitude inside Israeli society. Interestingly, it isolates the Jews, widening the rift of mutual ignorance and lack of stability. We go through times of suspicion, too much suspicion without using our brains. And thus societies are driven by moves aiming at combating hunger and impoverishment.

If we look at a map, the Christians are at ease in Jordan (mainly Eastern-Orthodox) and widely present and active in Egypt (the Copts; ca. 7 million faithful). Israeli Christians do not feel likely to show as believers in their daily activities, in particular at work, social involvements, world of the media, industry. Indeed, there are a few renowned exceptions that always had to struggle with most of the concerned parties.

Who will take the responsibility of the eradication of the most ancient Christian communities of Aramaic tradition in Iraq? Wiped out by new Christian believers unaware of any historic background! They spread with Jewish merchants from Persia till the Himalayan heights up to the 14th century to Tibet, China, Manchuria (Syriac alphabet) and Japan. Lhassa was an Assyrian Christian city and the Jews lived in Kaifeng (China). This way to the East seems definitely on hold for the Churches. Israel emerges with too many identity problems and it will take a lot of time before “structured Israeli society and individuals” may be capable to freely encounter and understand the Christian reality.

There is more and this seems to be rather ignored abroad and unconsciously active in the country. As time passes, the Yiddishkayt - Jewishness has its own way to describe, explain and analyze the Christian heritage that is discovered via archaeology, monuments, scriptural documents (Qumran – Dead Sea Scrolls). The younger generation can get confused more easily because of the lack of real roots. As a worldwide wave or web crash, the Da Vinci Code as well as Professor Tolkien’s renewed linguistic and mythological systems or Harry Potter convey parallel spiritual topics that delete the credibility of what was and often remains the profound search for more spirituality.

The experience of the Ukraine (and somehow also Belarus) turned to be a hideous tragedy interwoven with hatred and passion, common spiritual insights invisibly shared in the secret of some souls. Man is at times capable to cause a famine because alienation and difference are unbearable to his mind. The Holodomor (causing death through hunger) that happened 75 years ago is unique and has to be added to the multi-faceted dramas that affected a lot of ethnicities. Many Israelis have shared this tragedy that preceded the Shoah. At this point, tragedies are not ethnically limited. As Israel will celebrate the first steps of its existence on November 29th (UN partition vote), it should be retained that the law guarantees the full liberty of speech and conscience/creed as stated in the Independence Declaration.

Curiously, the problem might be that, in this Eretz, creeds function like a set of Russian dolls: instead of spreading and splitting again and again, they have the callous and shrewd task to re-entering each other backwards till they will feel free to meeting with the others and go ahead in a way that was seemingly unforeseeable.
1. I went through the blogs. Some are brilliant as this one in some way.The author would rather be with the columnists. Mixer? these blogs make sense. Thanks.
Leah (and a group of Israelis), Israel, Nov 26 5:11PM

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hagidah na: pray, tell me

Geshem! Rain or tif-tuf... drizzling drops! some water falls, temperatures seem to fall down toward winter. Fresh air and warm clothes, hats, head covers of all sorts; well, hoods are fashion. Quakes come slightly up from the depths of the earth. Queues of Russian Orthodox pilgrims join the many foreign tourists. We might discover in the coming years how important the traditional pilgrimages are that lead the rich and the poor to travel to the Holy Land and Jerusalem from Russia, the Ukraine, Belorussia, Romania, Bessarabia, the Ural mounts. It covers a huge territory that starts at the bottom of Siberia to swindle along Caucasus, Georgia (where the Talmud was "achieved"), Armenia.

The weather might dissuade some Westerners, though still... they are used to rain. The Slavs don't mind for various reasons: if they are “new wealthy” and made a fortune out of the blue, they do have the required money and adequate currencies. The Dollar's dropping down affects the poor who would barely eat and drink but run along all religious places to following the "Jesus’ footsteps". Of course, we have 24 000 Jewish pilgrims alle yuhr / per annum to pray at the Breslover Rebbe’ grave at Uman, in the Ukraine, but who counts?

On the other hand, these numerous God-seekers and new converts to renewing Eastern-Orthodox faith show a curious impact: I am always astounded by the power of clothes on our minds and understanding of reality. The local Israeli Christian Orthodox faithful do have their tours. They are dressed like anybody in Israel, with blowing up chewing gums / mastik (from French "clue"), tight jeans, tanned skin, holding their mobiles and 5768 version of light dirt pink sweaters with hoods. Piety mixes with ignorance and some thirst to visiting the Holy Places. Then, it is so cool to drink a Maccabi beer and swallow a falafel in between. The Israeli guide speaks Israeli.

The new style “foreign-on-pilgrimage” Christian Orthodox, is modestly dressed, accompanied by priests with big pectoral crosses, heavy Russian skufias (skufiot say the Israeli children) or clerical hoods, long black cassocks. The groups seem in shock, discovering Jerusalem, lodging mostly in hotels and guest-houses and marching out all the day. The Christian Orthodox guide speaks what he has got from some Gospel and formal catechization. People would not meet: no way for locals to meet with other locals and certainly not foreigners with locals. They say Todah to the Arabs and Shukran to the Jews, one more normal sign of confusion.

We feel as if we were in 1917 in any place of some Eastern Orthodox region from Poland to the Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and the tsarist empire. Fascinating how 90 years have passed. Still, we might have the (erroneous?) impression that we participate in an old film, thanks modern technique (Schindler's List has it). Upgrading is difficult with such mutual ignorance of Israelis toward these visitors who focus on the first century and some essential periods that are over. Paving the way to modernity is still very uncommon and full of hardships. Indeed, how can these numerous pilgrims accept modernity as they desperately dive into the past to wipe out the rejected apostasy that, inter alia, revolutionized their society?

Hats are a major factor allowing to differentiating the various denominations or sects that exist in Israel. November 20th, 2007 = 10 deKislev 5768. 180 years ago, the "Mitteler Rebbe", DovBer, the second Rabbi of Lubavitch movement was released from prison where he had been sent because, after the death of his father, R. Schneur Zalman fun Lyadi in Kremenchug, he made his way to this Belorussian-Ukrainian town. He had a lot of money that he thought more useful to distribute to the needy and was denounced as carrying illegal actions against the Ottoman Empire in Palestine. Interestingly, this accusation showed repeatedly in the history of the Chabad. Thus, Kislev 19, 5559 is a very special date for the Hassidic movement. On that date (November 27, 1798), the founder of the Chabad, R. Schneur Zalman of Lyadi was released after 52 days spent in jail in Saint Petersburg for conspiracy against the Czar and already suspected of specific actions in Palestine. It became the Rosh HaShanah of the Hassidic movements era, in particular of the Chabad. This year, it will correspond to November 29, 2007 marking the 60th anniversary of the partition of the country (Eretz) into two possible countries by the United Nations.

We go through a very rich, historically memorizing period: on November 20th, Queen Elisabeth celebrated the 60th anniversary of her marriage with Prince Philip. Dramatic events were then affecting our region; the State of Israel also came to a turn and then into existence sixty years ago. The Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain loves hats as we do, though for different reasons. Her marriage has seemingly been full of love and patience. The event trails back to the major events linked to the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the upgrading of our local changes. The Anglo’s are still pretty much involved in Iraq and the Middle-East, for the same reasons as they were by the time of the World War I and 60 years ago. The Queen’s marriage has overcome and challenged all the disturbances of the royal family. Israel rose again as an independent State that it had not been long before the Christian calendar. Still, we hardly can match or tie the knot with the neighboring states. Israel continues a striving internal search and external grafting process in view to reach our full identity. Actually, November 20 is also the Children’s Day and we often may look like fiddling in a kindergarten.

This Shabbat Vayishlach [And (Jacob) sent (messengers)] is read in Bereishit 32:1-36:43. The haftarah – prophetic version is to be found in Prophet Hosea 11:7-12:12 (Ashkenazim) and Ovadyah 1:1-21 (Sefardim). On the one hand, Ya’akov wrestled a whole night till dawn with a man (ish immo) (Gen. 32:25-33). He fought alone, wrestling with himself and subsequently with God because this struggle was a combat for maturity. In such a situation, souls are compelled to fight against what is invisible, a sort of hidden punching-ball that injures till we reach our identity. We remain alone, as Jacob was that night when he became Israel. Thus, he is the fruit of Abraham’s blessing. Isaac remained alone and obediently accepted his life in full loneliness. Jacob faced a war, wounded his hip and the sinew for ever. In being alone they got the call to have lots of children, more numerous than the sand!

Still, Isaac met Rebecca through the shadchen-servant as he was coming from the outskirts, ba mibo (Gen. 24:63), from outside of what could be considered as the spiritual battlefield for prolonging the blessing, from the outskirts of his self. This loose attitude is en vogue at the moment. It is also a sort of lack of self-determination that shows a lot of sufferings, some hardships in clear and conscious acceptance of who we are. This is one aspect of Isaac’s personality because he mainly acted alone because he trusted God and Abraham. As shown by many rabbis, Abraham similarly treated Ishmael (sending him into exile) and Isaac (substituting him by the ram) in a kind of double Akeidah or bond/binding that isolated them for the time of their lives and history. God’s reward to spiritual solitude is get large communities.

This is why Jacob’s petition: “Hagidah-na shemcha – please tell me your name” (Gen. 32:30) is so intriguing and significant. This phrase is astonishingly close to gid hanasheh – the sinew of the hip/thigh that the Jews are not allowed to eat (Gen.32:33) as it caused injury to Jacob for ever, keeping him limping in the face of God. Why should you know my Name? the question corresponds to the very sinew that allows human beings to walk in discovering life and announce how difficult it may be to assume God’s election. We are rather reluctant to see the close connection that links our interrogating God about His Name with our physical shape that shows the Image and Likeness of God with much precision.

Interestingly, Jacob returns to Isaac’house and can bury him with Abraham at the cave of Machpelah.

The haftarah accounts: “In the womb, Jacob seized his brother’s heel, and with his strength he overcame (Sarah) (an angel of) God. He struggled with an angel and prevailed (Hosea 12:4-5). “sharah/sari”, playing on alternative “shin and sin” consonants, refers to loosening, overcoming of a place, to dwell, take lodging.

Jacob’s wrestling to reaching his “self” is a real face-to-face with God. “The exiled community of the children of Israel who are in Eretz Canaan, Tzarfat, and the exile of Jerusalem in Sefarad will take possession of the cities. And saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge Mount Esau and then the Lord will have total dominion” (Ovadyah 20).

A disciple of Paul of Tarsus wrote an appealing verse about the strange path we often have to go through, seemingly as tortuous like Jacob’s fight: “In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding blood. You have also forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons: “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by Him; for whom the Lord loves, He disciplines; He scourges every son He acknowledges” (Proverbs 3:11-12; Deut. 8:5)” (To the Hebrews 12:5-6).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sha'on: Updates and special hours

As recently noted by a Western journalist specializing in religious affairs, most maps and confessional patterns that were extant till some decades ago are obsolete at the present in the Near and Middle-East, in particular in the State of Israel and the neighboring countries, to begin with the Territories under Palestinian Authority. Indeed, Christendom does not mirror today the manifold changes that the Churches underwent since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The British occupied Jerusalem and Baghdad in 1917. In one night, the Turkish heads and authorities had left the Holy Land. The Ottoman Empire definitely collapsed in 1922 with the foundation of the Turkish republic - considered as a catastrophe by the nation. The British exerted their mandate over Palestine from 1920 till they left at the eve of Israel's independence on May 14, 1948.

This means that, for centuries, the Holy Land has been twice under the rule of the Ottomans and taken over, conquered or defended by some colonial superpowers, mainly the Christian kingdoms, empires and states that tried to protect - according to their own interests and privileges - the "kingship of Jesus Christ in the Holy Land". Let's say that, lately, the region that comprises Eretz Kanaan/Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, Arabia has been protected by shifts by Rome and the Popes that launched the crusades (Great-Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy), then Mediterranean countries like Christian Orthodox Greece and the Russian Empire insofar it is possible to speak of separate national entities until the 19th centuries.

On the other hand, the crusades were launched for various reasons that did not necessarily aimed to protect and save the Holy sites of Christianity. Hungers, epidemic diseases, unemployment and terrible misery combined with the different splits that affected the unity of the Church do explain these moves towards Jerusalem. The local Church of Jerusalem has always been broken down into trends, which somehow is typically oriental. The crusaders were racing with appetite toward plundering and sacking holy cities and regions that had progressively become estranged to the unity of the One Church. They raped, murdered on their way to saving Jerusalem from the hands of the infidels. As a consequence, each nation and the papacy, Constantinople (first see for the Orthodox Christians), progressively sent their missionaries: this is why there are thirteen main Churches recognized by the State of Israel as the heritage of the Ottoman firmans (legal decisions/authorizations). The Franciscans have been present since the 13th century; the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem was cut down step by step. The Crimean war (1853-6) led in the Russian Empire mainly aimed at securing the Orthodox rights over the Holy Sepulcher... In the meanwhile, in the South of Eretz, the faithful were Lutheran and Anglican in the North - a pedigree German Kaiser-King of England agreement concluded by loving cousins.

The en masse arrival of Armenian and Syrian-Orthodox believers in the Holy Land after the Ottoman genocide in Turkey (1915), a lot of Maronites from Lebanon (in the 70 and 80ies) paved the way to other Western denominations like the Baptists, Mennonites and now Evangelicals... Some Christian Orthodox left the mother Church and joined Rome like the Greek Catholics (Melkites), the Syrian Catholics. Most Chaldeans live in Jordan. In Palestine, their Orthodox brethren, the Nestorians or Assyrians had been murdered in a few days by the Ottomans at the beginning of the 20th century. This means that the Churches (Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, Ancient Churches and the sects that mainly appeared throughout history in Western Europe continue to live on a colonial pattern in the Holy Land and regard themselves in accordance with this hardened old-hat structure. The French Catholic “Freres – Brethren” educated generations of Arabs and expatriates of all denominations. The German Catholic and Lutheran presence is significant. The Russian ecclesiastical missions that had separated after the Bolshevik Revolution just reunified in May 2007, on Ascension Day. The Georgians wrote in Jerusalem their first texts and dwelt for a while with the Greeks at the Great Monastery above the Holy Sepulcher. The Serbs, the Romanians and other Orthodox used to reside in the country. A lot of educated Arabs perfectly speak Armenian who are well-read and whose convent shelters one of the most renowned libraries of the Christian world. This merely corresponds to a British-Ottoman map. The same is true with regards to the restoration of the Latin Patriarchate in 1876 that had been suppressed after the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Jews have always lived in Eretz Israel. They recurrently came up to the country in times of great distress or mystical movements (Rabbi Luria Caro and the Kabbalah), convinced by the false messiah Shabtai Zvi and the terrible pogroms in Eastern Europe in 1648. This provides a lot of keys to understanding how Israeli society develops in the present on the basis of messianic and prophetic internal drives that, in the end, may be spiritually stronger than the Shoah (Gerschom Scholem, Abraham Heschel).

People are used to the clashes that affect, on a regular basis, the relationships between the Churches inside of the Holy Sepulcher and its compound (Copts and Ethiopians). Photographs dating of the end of the 19th century show Franciscans and Greek-Orthodox clergy and lay people fighting with much conviction. It happened until recently. People should also know and experience that it is a unique place in the world where any human may come and pray and this is more significant than any division. Still, the traditional Churches have changed. The Franciscan Custody covers a huge territory composed of different countries where the faithful have evolved and live in the present on new patterns. In Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Cyprus, i.a., the faithful of different Churches don’t share the same problems and life realities. Before 1967, Jordan exerted a full control over the Holy sites of Jerusalem. Today, the Christians in Jordan are much educated and totally Arab. The very few Christians that remain in Bethlehem and the West Bank feel isolated. Gaza is totally isolated and a shame for any human conscience. Galilean Arabs can freely feel Arab, Christian and Palestinian and still be Israeli citizens. On the other hand, everywhere different North American or Protestant sects, born along the Rhine by the time of the Reformation (16th c.), have shown up in the country and are active: the Quakers, Baptists, Methodists, Evangelicals along with Messianic believers paralleled by some new wave Italian or Polish groups. Nonetheless, it is quite amazing how the Arab Christians of Jerusalem would not really pay attention to these historic splits and indistinctly frequent all these churches for personal or family convenience, thus maintaining a native form of unity.

It is true that the Christian natives suffers and will continue to go through hardships at the peripheries of Israeli Galilee and the Merkaz-Center. They are definitely not likely to speak out and still live with mental attitudes that swing between strong individualism and singularity of each sect and old-fashioned views that hardly can cope with the Israeli way of ruling and obligation of the people to be responsible for who they pretend to be.

Israel has a Christian unconscious part. It is in charge of an immense archaeological and spiritual heritage that tracks back to the first century and covers 2 000 years of monuments and spiritual life. It might be unbearable for some Jews at the moment. Three decades ago, I visited the Mount Tabor church and heard a father explaining in Hebrew to his son all the details of the Transfiguration (Hishtanut). He told me that his parents came from Poland and that being born in Israel, he felt totally free toward Christianity. He considered it was a duty to explain this to his son as a part of the local Israeli history. At the moment, the efforts developed by the State to gather the exiled into an Israeli and Hebrew entity might rebuke Jewishness in accepting any pretense or claim presented by the Christians. There is a huge gap that widens due to more and more ignorance on the Jewish side and lack of in-depth recognition of Israel on the Christian side. There is also a sort of interpretative absorption of Christian present and past that often does not match with the reality and prolongs the extant estrangement.

At different moments through history, time and hours, clocks (sha’onim) seemingly stopped or bent and curved the line of our understanding. This is terrible with regards to emunah - faith because it might obliterate existing connectedness for a while. We have been wrestling for ages, trying to envision the future and still looking backwards. Chizkiyah said to Isaiah: “What sign can you show me that the Lord will heal me?” Isaiah answered: “Shall the shade move ten degrees ahead or shall it go back ten degrees?” – Chizkiyah said: “It is easier for the shade to be extended by ten degrees… but no, let the shade turn backwards.” Isaiah asked the Lord Who turned the shade backwards by ten degrees” (2 Kings 20:1:11). Would we need some sign of that nature to understand that changes are at the heart of true and living traditions?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Chalifah: replacement, exchange and take a risk

It is a sort of habit, in the Old City of Jerusalem, but also in many very Jewish circles, to systematically answer to greetings by saying that everything is fine. Things are fine, or at least more or less fine.

Russian is wonderful for this hide and seek word play because it introduces some nuances that would normally be absent in Hebrew.

So things are not going that well, it seems, in the world at the moment. Others simply answer that there is "nothing new under the sun". True, I am told that every day. It is a kind of clerical interfaith parroting Esperanto. The French have a rather old and popular song about a servant explaining the "Madame la Marquise" that everything is wonderful, classy... still the castle is on fire, but everything is fine.

Veeyn-kol chadash tachat hashemesh does not mean there is nothing new... Instead, it presupposes that all things exist and, as a consequence, we are blind to see them new.

It is astounding how the virtual world has conquered our brains and changed, distorted, twisted our perception of the reality. Again, it determined with new parameters our reality. Young computer whizzes have made fortunes out of bytes and bugs. Empires were thus created and continue to be launched. They actively transform and reshape our frontiers, existing and virtual acting capacities. They swindle between technical progress and human enhancement, causing mental mishmash and wandering on their way.

Strange kings and queens, a bit like Solomon looking at an ant lodged in his hand and wondering how powerful he was because he held her fate in his palm. And she answered to him he was nothing because she can flee quicker than he could run but she underlined that the king's hand was a good throne for her. There is something similar in the words of Jesus of Nazareth: "Even Solomon, in all his splendor, was not clothed as one of these birds" (Matthew 6:29; Luke 12:22-31).

Let’s say that things are constantly new. It is like this contemporary eye operation of the cataract: chik chak and there the sight is more acute, God willing, than when a child is born. Colors were turning to darkening yellow and, out of sudden, they are brighter, “newer”. The problem is not to get used to things growing old or common. On the other hand, changes do make personalities, minds, bodies different, if not alien to some possible integrity.

This is the main issue of parshat hashavua Vayetzei – "And (Jacob) went out of the land”, the reading portion taken in the Bereishit 29:10-32:3. The haftarah/prophetic portion is read in the Book of Prophet Hoshea 12:13-14:10 (Ashkenazi; 11:7-12:12 for the Sephardim). It accounts how Yaakov left Beer-Sheva and went to Charan, the original place of Abraham. Jacob’s problem is very real for our generation and historic development. We need to know about our roots. Memory and family backgrounds can be very short-timed: 10 years seem to some like more than a century or two. We are quick at packed-up matters or actions, too quick at thinking. Then, we miss reflection, long-term patient observation of facts and invariant situations. We need short sentences and get tired by long phrases. Interestingly, legal texts (laws) who were always and everywhere written in a very concise tongue, using very few words develop at the present into long paragraphs of confused definitions.

We have the problem everyday in this country. Either we frame ourselves in Hebrew, which allows excluding the aliens, foreigners or considered as such. We clam up and seal down. In many places, people would address each other according to what they think the others are: Ke fadlak (How are you), kak dela (Soviet Russian to ask how you feel), Are you good? is the local Pidgin that closes up any true conversation from the very beginning because the people who meet do not have any common language. It leaves us as if we were without roots.

Jacob’s problem is that his journey to Charan turned to be a way into exile and not in-depth discover of his roots. The major issue that we have to face and to resolve in our own lives and moral conducts is how to stop being twisted and crooked. As a consequence of his mother's decision to back him as her beloved son, Yaakov endorsed the responsibility of having cheated, betrayed, mocked and robbed his father and his brother by a process that is called “substitution”, “chalifah” in Talmudic Hebrew.

It led to falsehood, made his life a hell. And it is indeed fascinating: his father-in-law Laban knew that Jacob was crazy in love with Rachel; still he cheated him during the wedding night and Yaakov got the sister, Leah… without even recognizing her till new dawn! (Gen. 29:25). Nu, he protested! Is this a model of nice and brilliant mishpuche-family atmosphere or more likely to be some sort of professional enslaving nepotism?

Chalifah – chalifim/chalifin firstly means replacement, substitution: “When a scholar dies, who will get us one to take his place (chalifato)?” (Berachot II,5c). This is the very question about whom may take the succession in the Chassidic communities. It started with R. Nachman of Bratzlav who had no son, but continues today in the Chabad and the Szatmar movements. “Chalifot” mean “shoots that replace and prolong”. This sounds positive.

But “chalifah/im/in” is usually negative and covers some treachery, fraudulent actions. Tricky maneuvers, connected with women and sex, are usually showing process as also money. Exchange as a possible double-dealing and crooked target is wonderfully defined in Kiddushin I,6: “As soon as one of the parties to the exchange has taken possession, the other takes the risk for its exchange”. The statement that deals in fact with the acquisition of a woman as a spouse exposes the real nature of the contract: it is a risk. In the case of Jacob, the whole story is crooked: he had no right to the birthright of his brother Esau and did not acquire it personally. He fought to get his identity. He could not think there would be a risk in working to get Rachel. In the end, he received four women that he knew intimately with much obedience to Laban or his wives.

We hate risks. We need to be secured. We collect credit cards and insurance policies. We are not only afraid of some accidents, wounds, injuries. It is important. But it is not the main issue.

The haftarah also recounts Ephraim’s falsehood and the deceit of the House of Israel. “You are a merchant with deceitful scales in his hand, who loves to cheat. Ephraim said: I have certainly become wealthy! I have found power for myself” (Hos. 12:8). The fraudulent aspect of a risk is that we might consider us superior to others, at a personal or societal level without measuring the limits of human capacities.

Jacob’s marital problems give the exact picture of our lives’ risks. He often positioned himself as in a situation of being substituted and cheated. Curiously, it is comparable to Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman who actually told him: “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22). Jesus asked her to come with her husband. She simply answered she had no husband. “You are right in saying that,replied Jesus, because you had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband” (John 4:17). It is traditionally considered that he was speaking of the various covenants that God passed with the House of Israel.

Does a covenant cancel a previous one? Or does it replace it? Is a new covenant a risk taken like when choosing a bride? We face life-long challenges that seem unreal because, at the moment, we prefer wooing like one-day butterflies, and then throw the others away after short instants of apparent satisfaction?

Judaism has often experienced through history this paradox of a profound desire from the non-Jews to replace them, take their birthright as God’s chosen ones. Thus, Israel usurped it for a dish and got the blessing with false hair. The paradox is that it worked and Yaakov really got God’s blessing. The price certainly implies to accept to walk on earth by taking risks. Paul of Tarsus wrote that “to the Israelites are the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship (avodah) and the promises” (to the Romans 9:4). Jealousy and fanatic zeal can lead to think that covenant-bearers can be replaced.

This is the present challenge of the Churches to recognize the full coherence and positive call of the House of Israel. I will take time. In return, the Jewish communities should approach the Churches that have been abiding the Holy Land with more interrogations and insights. This is a bet and a risk because of the past relationships. It is interesting that, these days, the Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, came with the aim to return 700 Torah Scrolls to the Jews. The Ukraine and Israel are bound by the seal of history and these scrolls are not corpses, killed bones. They are the living covenant showing that the God of Israel is living and sustains life.