Thursday, October 25, 2007

Nissayon: Chik-chak or long-term saddling?

When I started my present spiritual activities in Israel, I decided to systematically visit all sorts of people and situations that I had known in my "secular" professional activity of international consultancy and psycho-analysis specializing in interfaith and socio-cultural issues. The point is that mind-searching, linguistic surveys and approaches are nil compared to the dynamics of a soul in spiritual seeking. Israel has also faced too many problems and slowly takes her time in order to resolve the societal problems that break out. On the other hand, it makes it a unique mental and cultural laboratory of the seeds of life, provided that it is developed in order to get to the heart of human nature.

Thus, I visited, inter alia, a lot of places where people could stay for some time or on holiday. For example, hotels constitute a good social activity with a regular, standardized clientèle coming for holidays from all over the world. Other hotels and guest-houses are regularly "commandeered" by the Sochnut - Jewish Agency or another administration to lodge some newcomers / olim chadashim for a certain period of time. I also visited some caravans that, strangely enough, have not totally disappeared. The main purpose was to see how people were living, making their living or staying put without any activity and their will or reluctant to get involved into Israeli society.

In the top-ranking hotels, I found some former-Soviet young men and women who were very eager to assimilate into Israeli society. We have a wonderful youth, both ready to help, make their way and spare their time. Their respect for the legal aspect of society is sometimes very striking. Before the second Intifada started, I wanted once to give a small glass on which was written in Hebrew Lechayim (Cheers) to a Russian young girl who had only spoken Hebrew with me, but had heard me speak Russian all the time on the phone. Her Hebrew was perfect; she would continue to speak Russian with the personnel and was a bit astounded we never exchanged anything in this language. She was nice and ready to help: I am a survivor with a minimal amount of intestine and meals are a major daily concern. On the other hand, it allowed and continues to oblige me - also with the help of the Providence with regards to the related costs and expenses - to be very careful with food and mainly eat in restaurants. These places are essential in the development, changes, restructuring of food tastes and trends in the country.

Okay. So I had never said a word to this young Russian woman, except that it was evident she was trying to find the right dish at the right time. She refused the gift saying that it was not legal! I told her it was a bit ridiculous and that her reaction was nice professionally, but a bit too much. She did not reply and ciao - poka - lehit! I told her later in Russian that frankly a Lechayim mini-glass was not that pathetic and that she could accept such a miniature "present".

She grinned and said she would speak with the top manager. She came back rather quickly with a smile and told me the director had told her she could take the present and had burst into laughter. He wanted to know why I wanted to give her such a Lechayim tiny glass. I told her that, 70 years ago, she and I would have eventually met in a closed wagon en route to some extermination camp. She would never have shown any kindness to me – we might not have tried to save our lives if not our souls and she would not have fed me nicely and with wit because we simply would only have been mincemeat to be reduced into dust. Then, I added that we could at least both make our lives in Israel, for the best of our fellow people and others by participating in building up a world to set up, just the opposite of a world that passed away, olam she-avar. She suddenly looked at me and said she was grateful. She took the present.

At Lod Ben Gurion airport Terminal 3 – Arrivals, there is a huge picture that welcomes the travelers. A photograph showing the ner tamid (light for the children that perished in the concentration camps) reflected 1 million and a half time at the Yad VaShem Memorial. Those who pass by are of all origins and backgrounds. These days, there are a lot of Russian clergy, wearing cassocks, breast crosses. On Sunday, this will be the 150th anniversary of the presence of the Russian Eastern Orthodox Church in the Holy Land.

In May, on the Day of Ascension, the two major branches of the Russian Church, i.e. the Russian Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad, got unified after 80 years of division. Interestingly, the Church Abroad has been vehemently struggling against communism and the Patriarchate of Moscow and claimed, everywhere in the world, to be strictly faithful to the true Russian Christian Orthodox faith. During these decades of separation, the Church Abroad was recognized by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Serbian Church. The showing of the clergy in full and normal clerical dress at the airport, facing this photograph of the “children murdered by Hitler” (cf. Matthew 2:16-18, the murder of the Children killed by Herod) raises questions about our society and how we meet with each other. It shows the real trip, or flight-landing process as proposed in the parshat hashavua – weekly reading portion of Vayeira (the Lord appeared to Abraham at Mamre) (Bereishit 18:1-22:23). The prophetic portion is read in the Second Book of the Kings 4:1-4:37 (Ashk. Yemenites) -23 (Sephardim).

I tried to sketch out some points about this major Shabbat reading in the previous blog. It includes the text that requires much insightful reading capacities to get to its profundity: the Akedat Yitzchak – (the Binding of Isaac on the wood). The nissayon (trip, temptation, test) par excellence. This text is read daily in Judaism and constantly meditated with regards to Jesus’ putting at the stake. It can gather. It may rebuke. The haftarah (prophetic portion) shows how Prophet Elisha saves a widow from poverty. Then he told the Shunamite woman that she would bear a son, a situation comparable to the Angels words said to Sarah. She did bear a son who became sick and died. So “she had her donkey saddled – vetichavosh ha’aton” and urged the servant to bring the beast to the prophet. Elisha “mounted (the bed) and placed himself over the child. He put “his mouth on his mouth – piv al-piv – his eyes on his eyes. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes” (2 Kings 4:24-37).

The Shunamite saddled her donkey (aton - same word used for Balaam’s ass who compelled the man not to curse but to bless Israel). It is somehow connected with Jesus entering in Jerusalem on an ass (Luke 19:30). At least, the “saddling” of the donkey corresponds to the reading portion. Chavashah (saddling) referred to a specific state firstly experienced by Abraham: “Let Abraham’s act of harnessing (anxiety to obey to the full and solely to God’s behest) come and stand as a sign of protection against Balaam’s harnessing (anxiety to curse)” states Bereishit Rabba 55. The spiritual anxiety of what is unknown but definitely fundamental in our lives can turn into a torment that will not pass or be too difficult to overcome. Both Abraham and Balaam confided in God – Abraham is the one who never failed. But in the end, the point is to walk unharmed through the perilous journey of human tests and temptation. The haftarah brings forth the messianic-prophetic aspect of the resurrection of the boy. Zarar (to smash, sneeze) relates to scattering away the power of death and the piv al piv (mouth to mouth) act performed by the man of God reverses the anxiety of harnessing by re-opening the gates of this world for the boy who had departed. In the prophetic portion the boy sneezes seven times; in the Gospel, the resurrected young girl is told to go and get some food (Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:41).

This was the other conversation of the week. A restaurant manager explained to me how employees are hardly reliable. Indeed, an instant generation: “I want now, what I want, not what the others want”, money, wages, bye! He called that the katzar (short-term) look. This is exactly the opposite of Abraham’s experience or meaning of the test of mouth-to-mouth that may resurrect. Theology without history does not mean anything. Thus, Judaism is the historical experience of multi-faceted developments through generations that lead to more hope, morals, prayer and faith. “The supreme effort” required for every Jew does not consist in reducing our forces to what pleases us. It often implies to accept to cross the road with some opacity and “meet others without encountering them” as at Ben Gurion airport terminal 3.

Who could ever think that so many lively elements would raise and show in our generation? As years pass, the joy of liberation (former communist countries) or the burden of war may fade in daily hope that can mutate and concentrate on shortsightedness. With regards to Christian presence or anniversaries and Judaism, times may be near for mutual crossing and respectful recognition. We are often confused by ignorance and lack of in-depth contacts. On October 27-28, the Armenians celebrate the Holy translators of the Scripture, the Russian Orthodox Church their long tradition of pilgrimages and presence in the Holy Land and the Greeks the Okhi (No Day) of protest against the Nazis.

This gives a certain density to our survival beyond all kinds of trials and attempts to give up.

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