Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Shavuot/Pentecost: whirling in God's big hugs

As days pass. rain and storms drift away. Summer heat increases. At this point, rain, heat and desert sharav/hamsin wind are replaced by very hot temperatures, moody and instable temper combined with the influence of the moon and a sort of common "machzor - period" state of mind. These are the most significant parameters that specify summer in a region that always quakes and shakes imperceptibly. We are a few months before the shmittah / the 7th year of rest for the earth and again, as last year, the different people living in Eretz Israel are embattled in shooting Kassams, then sending back snipers, pulling slowly in then slowly out, like a bloody wedding dance performed by confused children and whose compasses would show any direction, provided there is any weird or irrational action to undertake, whatever action. It is so frightening to wait for months under the sun, bogged down the split streets and houses of Sderot or in some other West Bank or Samaria region. South Lebanon clashes again. The land and its people may not know any coming shmittah in terms of peace and rest and spiritual refreshing of the earth and the fields.

But indeed we are the am segulah, the chosen ones, the only chosen people, expect you. We are chosen, elected and don't even have to think what of what and how come, because we know God so much from inside that we will listen to Him, good enough, but next year, next time. Who can even envision how God knows us? He may convene us for a new "farbrengen – spiritual convention": from Chassidim to all sorts of congregations, no problem, we do, accomplish our task. We do it the way a T-shirt explains it: "My work is so secret that I don't even know what my job is". Still, God is a Name here, God may also be the game (very playful to turn His Name into any kind of entertainment, business or a kindergarten play) and we shall listen to Him... I was told that on the eve of Shavuot by a group of Orthodox teens. Wai wai! They knew everything, absolutely everything with some parrot-fashion “click-me again phrases”: "We will never serve in Tzahal, because we pray for Israel and this is the best thing to do because we are the best" (sic; well, why even state "sic", it is just evident). As I tried to quietly say the Tehillim (they were not that Ashkenazi "zugn tehillim - say the psalms" but rather North-African and Yemenites), they asked the normal stuff: why, from where, what for, what am I? And the conversation climaxed very quickly about the fact whether I knew or not that the Jews are indeed the chosen people. “No prob’, guys”, I answered, “I guess I heard that before.” - "Really?" replied a childlike arrogant youth... and so what? Okay, two teens added: "You are old, you know, we are 13 and a half, "Yishmorekha HaShem - May G-d bless you!", said one of the leaders whom I warmly thanked saying that blessing beings and creatures is the true mitzvah given to Abraham Avinu. Some responded by spitting intensively on the ground. We agreed after a few minutes that it is better not to spit in order to keep Jerusalem "naki - clean" and that the tif-tuf (drizzling drops) were over for this year. "Yeah, but G-d chose us, you see..." they continued with much pensive rumination. “So we pray and God listen to us” ("and you also spit at times, say in between", I smiled nicely" - "Yes, but this is because of the goyim; there are goyim everywhere". - "You bet!???, I asked astounded, adding: “But, okay do you know that tons of “goyim- non-Jews” also serve in the Israeli Army, and seemingly more and more Arabs, Druses, Bedouins, Russians and others... And you cannot call them all the time "goyim" because the Jews are also some special sort of "goy"...", I kindly suggested. They yelled they were the Sons of Abraham Avinu and not some random goy/nation..." - "Indeed, Jews are a "goy kadosh - holy people" - They stared that "holy or not" still the word is "goy"(Ex. 19:6). The extraordinary and rather humdrum aspect of the conversation is that they don't know at all that the same discussion is accounted in almost a word-to-word transliteration in the Gospel (Matthew 3:9 - Luke 3:8).

We are on Shabbat Naso in which is read the longest reading portion in the Book of Bemidbar/Numbers 4:21-7:89. It deals with the laws governing the service inside the Tent of the Meeting, also the status of “nazir – nazarite” (who goes away or aside from the society, abstains from drinking wine. He gets God’s crown on his head and a total spirit of freedom. This has always been a major life choice in Judaism, but too often confronted with Christian monastics views as lifeless. R. Shimon bar Yochai was a nazirite – so? Longhair down to thighs – eyes of burning interiority or hippy-yuppie tripping to some isolated mount (Bhutan is en vogue). Eastern Orthodox monks have the same look while, in the West, shaven skulls are humbly “clean-cut”. Jewish ancient nazarites as Christian monks are called to control their desires and thus be free – also from counting and polishing their hair constantly.
The teens were right: whom G-d chose and to whom He gave the Torah? At the present, the competition is just wild, nuts, berserk, frantic, infuriated. True. Shavuot – together with Christian new wave Western style Pentecost – are bonkers (cf. British naval slang: slightly drunken” with some touch of lightly crazy sexual fire). We have the same in Jerusalem for Sukkot, the Feast of the Tabernacles. But it is far more under control. Charismatic Shavuot and Western Christian New wave believers dance, scream, rock ‘n roll Hebrew psalms, speak in tongues. Long robes, white to orange through all sorts of rainbow truly beautiful clothes, makeup of essential products, shofar, harps, lyres, cymbals, and there it goes “Hallelujah, Blessed be the Lord, Baruch HaShem, yom-yom – everyday”.

Right, Israel pathetically needs supporters. Then we face an ethical issue. Can we play the fool with God Himself? The show can be gorgeously joyous; the same people would not miss their flight to some other continent and this ecstatic blowout will change to desperate rave-in from one airport to another. In the meanwhile, they would cross – but not meet – Orthodox Jews (they often give them a spit or two), Eastern Orthodox Christians from Russia (long-beards and hair covers for women, Slava Tebe, Gospodi (exactly the same as our “Baruch HaShem…). This year a large African Catholic delegation of Monsignori. No. This year, the most moving group, if any, might be “the Big Hug”, apparently run by some Dutch-speakers. Not a Shavuot/Pentecost-linked movement. They met on the net. They could gather and get acquainted in Jerusalem. Indeed, the dilemma’s are basically the same: what to do with your mouth? To do or listen? Or, to speak and repeat the same truisms, with more or less conviction? We love to hug in Israel. Shoulders call upon shoulders and cheeks kiss other tanned fresh cheeks sometimes with a lot of friendship and joyfully. This very American behavior was also largely development by late Diana, the Princess of Wales. We need warmth, people need warmth, Jews need warmth and in this very small street colloquium with religious teens, they did agree that even the goyim (Nations) need warmth. There is really something like shravi (wilderness wind) pep and dash these days. Is it mainly due to the development of conflicts at every level of the ruling leaderships, killings, snipers, bulldozers, tanks? “Dash” is the word in Hebrew for this hugging kissing warmth that makes you feel a “chosen” for a short while. “Hug” comes from Old Norse “hugur – soul, mood, thought” – “hugsa – to think, remember, mind, comfort” – Germ. “Hegen – to cherish, cf> to make a hedge”. “Dash” is Hebrew is just sweet; it was “dashdesh/dashesh – to stamp upon”… “tramp a drunken person”, states Targum Isaiah 19:14. When the Spirit was spread on Jerusalem at Pentecost, it is said that people look a bit “drunk” (Acts of Apostles 2:13). This group gathered with a real question – nothing to do with porn or sex: human beings are supposedly 37,2C in the morning and can show some comforting warmth, which became also a psychological assistance method in this country. Incidentally, during the Eastern Byzantine divine liturgy, the priest pours hot water into the cup of red wine (cf. blood) because Jesus is considered as risen from the dead and thus has a “humane” temperature (besides all other cultural explanations).
Still, the reading portion of the week does not only focus on all that. Firstly, there is the verse of Bemidbar/Numbers 6:22-27 called the “Birkat Kohanim – Priestly Blessing”. The blessing is recited daily and has been throughout the age in most peculiar places of the world. This year, we want to climb up the Temple Mount. Then we must be aware that this blessing is the last priestly and sacrificial act perpetually performed by the Jews and inherited from the Temple Service. It implicitly extends God’s blessing to all the Nations and the kohanim are totally overshadowed by their prayer-shawls, they separate their fingers to let the Shekhinah come through and reach out to the people. Chosen? Yes, but not for ourselves. Someway, spirituality always stumbles between low-profiled humility and high-tech arrogance.

Luther had translated with a rare exactitude the Massoretic verse of Num. 7:89: “Moses…would hear the Voice “spoken him - meddaber elav –redend zu sich” from above the cover (kaporet) of the Tent”. This is a grammatical quiz that is very intriguing. R. Leibowitz traces back to Maimonides as to Rashi. “meddaber” is a reflexive “mitdaber, shortened into meddaber”. It means that God was speaking to Himself when meeting with Moses. This is the quiz, a permanent quiz. Everything comes from Him and returns to Him (cf. John 13:3). Mishley/Proverbs16:4 stated likewise that “God makes everything for Himself”. Thus, it means that from Moses to us and ahead of us God only discusses with Himself and shares what humans are able to understand, cope with, deny at times or rediscover fortuitously.
This Saturday-Sunday, all the Christian Churches will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost and the Spreading of the Holy Spirit. One of the very interesting decisions taken by the Roman Catholic Church during the Second Council of Vatican (1965) was to reintroduce, as a consequence of common studies and dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox Churches, various prayers to the Holy Spirit during the liturgies. Oriental Churches have always been very Spirit-oriented as the “Ruah Elokim merachefet, the Spirit of God was sweeping as the eagle over the water” (Gen. 1:2). Pentecost is Greek for Arabic Hamsin (sounds like sharav!) = 50. It seems to be confusing for some Jews abroad. The Russians call the Feast “Most Holy Troytza” which underscores the very complex definition of the Trinity vs. One God. Monday is more specifically the “Day of the Holy Spirit”.

Somehow, Shavuot and Pentecost, in multifaceted ways in the Jewish and Christian traditions, point out that we are reinvigorated by God’s Gifts Who blows into our nostrils the soul of warmth and comfort. Maybe we get to cuddling hugs that warm us up, eh like good pastries, look around and have a question: “Can we tame each other?”

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