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).

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