Thursday, June 21, 2007

Chukkat : is it rational?

Shall they go marchin' in? Or not? Maybe? Early evening event of a night of summer equinox, equity deals this week in Jerusalem, with the gay and lesbian pride or parade or demonstration, for others, provocation.

Our one-sex society makes males a bit too feminine and females a bit too masculine or "butch". It removes or adds hair of any color, waxing up skins, making-up faces, or reduces any difference in clothing, mostly pants here, in particular jeans and daily comfortable dress.

Unisex is also forbidden by the Jewish tradition and a woman should clearly be dressed or look different from a man, and vice versa. This is far from being obvious when you walk through the streets of Jerusalem. We can compare with any city in this country or even abroad, but there seems to be a problem with Jerusalem. The problem dealt with “Sanctity”.

True, the city is pious and has a lot of very religious (all faiths) inhabitants or passers-by, tourists, pilgrims. Some long hair male can be terribly effeminate, considering the fact that they might spend hours in combing their hair. Some yeshive bechurim or students would automatically curl their peyses/pe'ot (hair locks) with their index in a way that is "between" maleness and femininity: some ambiguous and equivocal swing of the hips. But the walk/gang has a spiritual meaning.

The same shows in traditional Churches where celibacy has been a rule for centuries. Curiously, Oriental nuns would retain a strong sense of womanhood while men often tend to some sort of effeminate behavior, just as shown at the present in all western societies.

The combat for equality and supposed equal rights has developed and continues to evolve in some sort of "androgynous" character that is rather pregnant in our generation. It is difficult to frankly distinguish some attitudes that swing between male and female acquired tendencies and the trends of daily new objects or products of consumption. As regards the gay and lesbian pride, it is banned by definition from our awareness. One can regret the absence of real and serious theological arguments that might not be even understood or accepted by those whoever they can be who protest against their pride. Is it a parade or a provocation?

We could also think in terms of a “farce”, a way to play the jester that curves up and down sexes and confuse them. Many a true word is spoken in jest as the clown could call to the king and mock him without being punished. Religions have too often played with the sex of the angels among the humans, or they have denaturized human beings and imposed illegal postures and situations. I always keep in mind that gays and lesbians were deported as such to the extermination camps and used as playmates by masochist gangsters.

This week, the parshat shavua or reading portion from the TaNaKh is “Chukkat = this is the ritual, non-rational commandment” in Bemidbar/Numbers 19:1- 22:1. To begin with, the reading portion deals with the red cow or “parah adumah – red heifer” that was bred and then slaughtered mixed with cedar tree branches, hyssop and crimson stuff (scarlet); its ashes were mixed in a huge cistern whose waters were precisely handled by young children who had never been in contact with death.

We do have our own way to separate young males from any danger of corruption. Judaism can be obsessed by any kind of sin, i.e. corruptibility through the contact with death. Now, this commandment regarding the red heifer has no rational basis or explanation. Contrary to all usual commandments that are explained by the rabbis in the Gemara, it is absent from any commentary.

The Mishna does include a very small tractate Parah (Cow, heifer) as a part of the larger tractate Taharot (purifications). It is evident that there is no rational basis to the fact that if some black hair would be found on this very sacrificial and penitential cow, she would become non-kosher. This tracks back to no explainable law. One, two black hairs and the cow could not be slaughtered to produce the ashes that could save the people from their sins.

This week, we face in the reading portion the problem of how waters spring out to be drunk by the congregation and their beasts. Then we read how anomalies can turn to save the sinful. In terms of biology, it is not normal and natural to get a “parah adumah – a red heifer”. The animal is a rarity and in some way a reverse of natural cow colors. Cows are cows: we love them in this country. Black and white, they are sweet milking beasts. Brown cows in some areas and other countries. Many restaurants show ensigns in shape of a red heifer. But the red cow was not edible. It was meant to purify, was slaughtered at the top of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and its blood sprinkled out in the direction of the West, i.e. to the world and the Temple. It is said in tractate Parah 2,1 that only eight red heifers might have be slain from the time of Moses till the destruction of the Temple. Other Jewish traditions would consider there were nine of them.

Thus, it is considered as a “chok = non-rational commandment/mitzvah” that still has to be perpetually fulfilled, especially in regard with the Yom Kippur ritual of purity. Nobody can show any evidence as concerns the coherence of the commandment. It is the same chok that only has to be accepted and accomplished by faith and confidence (emunah shlemah) as the Sha’atnez (Lev. 19:19), the prohibition to mix wool and linen, except, for instance, in the girdle the High Priest (Yevamot 4b-5b). It is a very important and pending question at the present because, the people should be purified in case of building-up the Temple…

The principle of a “chok/chukka” corresponds to this: “I will leave to my sons a due share (a fixed living)” (Erubin 54a). These laws without reason are engraved, drawn like circles in order to remind God’s will: “He ordered a mark to be put on his (Abraham’s) flesh” (Shabbat 137b). In these quotations, as in a general stand, “a chok” is full of meaningfulness in God’s eyes and His decrees are totally founded. In our society, it seems that we are at times in a situation of absence of any coherence, as if we were shapeless.

There are also some trends to lead us to social or emotional lack of structural egos, destruction or lessening of consistency. Call it bozo for a while, there are times that lead people to reduce their reactions and spiritual forces. “Timtem” means this kind of tendency as in ‘troubles obstruct the heart, making a man dull (Pessahim 42a). Thus, “sin blunts the understanding of human beings (Yoma 39a), “till man become a shapeless mass” (Hallah 1c). The example of the dough is often used because bread be “kneaded” in various shapes that may make sense or not, without reason. Yiddish and the Jewish folklore tradition have considered that “timtum” are those without clear sexual orientation, not necessarily a condemnation of homosexuals as they can be today; they represent with the lesbians a growing identity group marketing group and target. The problem is rather a sort of grin at shapeless souls, which is indeed a lack of compassion.

God convoked Moses and Aaron and told them to give water from the rock to let the congregation and their beasts drink a lot of water. Moses took his rod and addressed the “morim/rebels” to get copious water. Okay, he stuck the rock twice and not only once as usual. And God said to Moses and Aaron that because they, personally, did not obey to God’s Commandments, they will not lead the congregation into the given land!!! At this point, today, any normal guy in this country would immediately rush to the Supreme Court and make a scandal!! And they would cc/forward a note to the chief rabbinates, the members of the Knesset and eventually contact The Hague and Geneva, if not the numerous “heretics”. This is the usual way we behave at the present towards God but we hardly can notice that because we are framed both as actors and mirrors.

At the mey Merivah/Meribah waters, the congregation did quarrel with the Lord as He affirmed His sanctity in and through them. Such a rebellion is not acceptable. God enough, so the rebels could die in the wilderness. We had seen that the “nassi: leader, ruler, head of the nation” will not be pardoned his sin like the other members of the congregation.. He must atone in a specific way in his quality of leader.

The chok seemingly extends as a law without reason that condemned Moses and Aaron not to enter the Land of Canaan. There is definitely no explanation in the Chumash (Five Books of Moses). In the reading portion of this week we only know about the death of Aaron. This would eventually be more understandable. The High priest shaped the golden calf to provide a deity to the congregation as Moses did not seem to come back from the mountain. He did commit the sin of idolatry. And now he apparently dies because of copious waters? After having served as priest all over the trip throughout the wilderness?

As for Moses who never quarreled with God. This is this interesting point. He also accepted God’s decisions. He would intercede for the others, never on his own behalf. Indeed, chokkim – laws without reason or rational basis- show that God naturally speaks to the heart of His servant and to those who do follow Him. It is an indisputable evidence.

This question has always been a terrible spiritual problem for the rabbinic leadership as for the leaders of all the Churches and Muslim guides. This is a horrible quest indeed for the monotheistic believers. Last Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI was in Assisi for the 800 years of the Franciscan Order. Saint Francis came to Rome with his followers as a consequence of a dream that the Church should be rebuilt, consolidated. The Besht Baal Shem Tov) or Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer certainly unwillingly launched the first Chassidic movement, singing around the marvels of God in his native Polish area.

We need men of conscience. It is not a matter of politics. Not even of morals and ethics. It is beyond that, an attitude that is so evident that is implemented as a commandment that does not appeal to understanding or judgment. Yes, people have the right to err. And they are free to do whatever would not harm or restrict their true own freedom. But as regards societal errors, the leadership – whenever religious or governmental – mostly lacks the close intimacy that existed between God and His obedient servants Moses and Aaron.

“We have reached the stage of being led by people without any self-respect, leaders who attempt to save themselves at the expense of the sins, omissions and errors made by those under them, who acted under their leadership. This is unlike the faithful shepherd that the Jewish people had, who, when the people died as a result of their sins, died with them, even though there was no sin on his part”, wrote, in 1986, Rav Y. Leibowitz (Yoke of heaven, p. 148). It was courageous. Curiously, he then wrote a sort of Jewish and somehow Christian-like statement about Moses.

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