Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Yichus: nepotism or prophetic pedigree

In the past few decades, specific professions have appeared due to the development of new techniques and applications: films, movies, cartoons, the realm of music, electrical tunes, long-term soap operas on TV for the most visible part of the high tech development. This also concerns the world of the media in all its variety: news, newspaper magazines, audio - video, virtual, web, internet. Some grandfather appeared to be a pioneer in some actions, and his children followed by their grandchildren until now continue to work in the same field of activity. In some cases, it is easy to explain because they had their entries in the framework of a professional milieu and we love to select those we know and are similar to us. The rule is not always true and it may even not function at the best, but this is a human tendency.

The last parashat hashavua Chayei Sarah (the lives of Sarah) shows how from a situation of aperture and wide opening to the outside world, we tend to restrain ourselves and others, till it even evolves into a series of human breaches: Abraham had three women (at least) and chose to disfavor Ishmael and Katurah's children in order to privilege Yitzchak beyond any reasonable measure.

In the haftarah, the prophet Nathan is the old court handyman and behind-the-scenes operator that tried to assist, save and correct King David. He is a personal and professional prophet. This sounds a bit strange today. It can be terribly perilous for a prophet to change into a carpet-like servile yesman. It is easy, too easy and comfortable; and still it looks uncomfortable to crawl to a potentate, a top-manager, executive or a simple egg-headed watchdog. Is it a life to caress the man or the woman like a kissy-kissy brown-nose, in the political or civilian sectors of activities? At the present, Nathan would have been a mixture of prime minister, private assistant and secretary, man of confidence. I met a lot of characters of excellence who had acute insights into the development of specific situations, keep known and refrain to required any front visible privilege. They are the true rulers in a difficult context in which their behind-the-scenes presence allows for the growth of what often could be cut off very quickly.

Indeed, the prophet Nathan could have been less flexible, not too much: just a bit more strict on different issues. In his quality of God’s prophet, he certainly did not depend upon any decision taken by his boss, Melech David. Don’t get me wrong: he had to accomplish his task fully for the benefit of the king of Israel. Nathan has always acted with much honesty. In the same situation, all things being equal and whatever professional level concerned, workers cheat their companies on the widest and most unbelievable scales: telephone, browing the internet for hours, files, papers, pens, items of any sorts just abused by any personnel. And money! It has nothing to do with the Saying of the Fathers: “Mine is yours and yours is mine proposed by Hillel as the highest level of sharing and conscience (Avot 5:10). It has nothing to do with the first proposition of “mine is mine, so speaks the ignorant (am haaretz). It shows how a working group and society are subject to moral deleting, misusing its tools, instruments of work, narcissistic “selves” embattled in tiny short-used, short-timed mean portions for “myself, not you”. In this respect, we are archaic, like the first men of the caves. In Yiddish, Yid – Jew used to implicitly mean “a (real) human being”, just as Mentsh – from Germ. Mensch which only a Jew can use to speak of another Jew.

Thus, the prophet Nathan was responsible in the face of God for King David's adultery and project of assassination of his rival, Uriah, the official husband of Bathsheba. He should have vehemently protested and could even have called the priests to ban the King. Instead, he was submitted (not obediently) and wept at his king’s mourning for his adultery lover and did not have the nerve to yell at the former shepherd was found unexpectedly in the fields to be crowned as king of Israel. Nathan was crawling to Melech David because it is easier in a familiar company to bow and scrape and play some sycophant game waiting for the one who will be kicked out next.

In the forthcoming Shabbat Tol’dot (history, generation), Yitzchak is his dad’s righteous good old boy married to a sly cunning foxy woman, Rivkah, chosen because she knew how to be good with pets (she gave water to the camels). Today, it makes her incredibly human. Generations that should continue from our homeland, Chaldea. At this point, we are frankly on the verge of committing hideous crimes as thousands years later, we, as descendants, let our birthplace (Ur-Kasdim in Chaldea) be reduced to nil in the present.

Yichus = pedigree in Hebrew. Yiches (Yid.) is a source of pride or pretence. How strange and funny that a lot of Semitic roots mean “to connect, link” as for yachas: to connect, be connected, trace the connection of events and descents. This is a typical DNA thing that ties up historical events, blood parentage and memory. “In Israel, families should be of traceable descent”, states Kiddushin 70b adding: “See this one is of nobler birth because he stopped quarrelling” (Kiddushin 71b).

The radical of the word is moving: chus (to bend over, have affection for) as in “You took pity on the gourd…” (Jonah 4:10). “The Law has much affection for man’s small property because they are valuable” (Nega’im 12, 5); in Aramaic, “chassiya” means “pardon” and is the name of the sacrament of confession in the Assyrian-Chaldean Church. “Pedigree = pe de gru in Old French = footprints of birds, especially herons”. It is really too cute to consider our genealogy as prints of birds connected with some divine imprint transmitted from generation to generation.

What can really be transmitted? When I arrived in Israel forty years ago, things were more or less clear. I cannot track back the details but it is a matter of fact that my family, as many Jews who lived in the Ukraine, and were a mixture of rabbis and wheat merchants to begin with; incidentally, one parent had been in charge of the Romanian fleet at Istanbul during World War II. He had bought land and properties for the Jewish Agency. Israel meant a lot, far more than a shelter. It was not a dream. It was a daily breathing uttered through the air of the prayers that led back to Abraham and envisioned the ingathering of the exiled.

Yichus/Yiches? After 80 years of manifold disasters (Ukrainian civil war, Russian revolution, World War I and II, deportation and extermination of the whole family, both sides – 400 killed), the “footprints of the Jews” in my native region of South Ukraine had turned to a full loss of physical survivors. But I experienced something unique. My mother, a survivor of all the series of events, taught me the profundity of the blessing Yatzar HaAdam – Who fashioned human being with wisdom and the importance to give full priority to forgiveness as a sign of future and creativity. In that sense, she taught me the value and meaning of a true yichus. I might have already written this: she was considered as losing her mind by her friends and fellow survivors, when she decided that her son would perfectly speak German and know the German culture because I belong to the generation of reconciliation with the Germans. Thus, I spent some time as a young child in Bischofshofen, not far from Salzburg (Austria) among former Nazi peasants and then started to learn how twisted minds are mainly the produce of knitting up and down confused and tormented history, avoiding facing the book that may mirror their guilt and erase hope. But they were human beings and that was the most difficult thing to explain, even at the present. German women raise Israeli Oriental children at the present.

This why it is particularly beautiful and significant – as a spiritual sign of respect towards Jerusalem, the Jewish people and all the inhabitants of the Holy Land that the Conference of the Austrian bishops, headed by Christoph Schoenborn, Cardinal and Archbishop of Vienna, have decided to meet in Jerusalem. The cardinal had launched, some years ago, a “Versoehnung – pardon” process in the split city of Vienna. He is very concerned by the existence of Israel and the Jewish tradition. At present, they will spend some days here as a sort of spiritual renewal and retreat, which is new and courageous. The prelate has close contacts with Pope Benedictus XVI. When he was a student, he wrote his dissertation about “Saint Sophronios of Jerusalem”, who headed the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem (560 – 638), ordered the services of prayers, and a few months before his death, could with insightful wit, conclude an agreement with the caliph Umar I (Al Kittab, the Umariya Covenant).It is still in force and recognizes the full religious and civil rights of the Christians of Jerusalem. He did act with a spirit of prophetic yichus.

Indeed, Judaism lost so many communities throughout history. There is no DNA in memory, even if Jews can be terrific memorizing racers. It is not a pride, a privilege. Yichus makes sense for those who see whereto our footprints can follow a path designed for more tolerance and creativity.

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