Thursday, December 6, 2007

Chochmah:The acumen of wisdom

"One day is like thousand years, - k'yom etmol = like yesterday" (Tehillim 90:4). We live in country that is fascinated, obsessed and dramatically anxious about the burden of history to open up the gates of future. This is the challenge that Israel has decided to face eagerly, with passion. At the moment, it fades among some youths with mixed feelings of "can't help", "what to do?", a sort of easy-going life that is not so sweet, but happens in a wonderful homely family (more mishpuche - imma-like than mishpachah - dad and tradition). We need cuddling and act as if our faces turned to some chalamish - shuttled sniper-like rocky looks (Jeremiah 5:3). Just look at people, in particular in Jerusalem: people’s faces are usually mild, tender like the flesh of the gazelles and the hinds which are a futurist spiritual must or mitzvah (Song 2:7). They would often seem blind, blocked and opaque or, when the nation demonstrates, cruelty, fanatic, zealot spirit or wrath may overcome our speech and thus affect our relationships to others.

We are in the days of Hanukka 5768 and the twinkling lights lit every night should remind us, beyond any folklore or opposition to other religions, that the Temple of the Jewish spirit survives and miraculously reinvigorates al hanissim veal hateshu'ot - because of the wonders and saving actions taken by God till nowadays. This 1000 years = 1 yesterday's day thing is fantastic. It only proceeds from a revelation. Just test it: Jews will describe a landscape and say, today (or yesterday) there is nothing here? Wait, a normal Jew will say, don't worry, we have time, no emergency, if not today or tomorrow, then in 100, 200, 500 years there will be something that will improve and be useful for the inhabitants. It does not mean there won't be any problems, you bet! We can't live without problems! Israel without problems is like a dried out or more correctly a dreamy source in the wilderness.

This is Shabbat Miqetz – “It was at the end of two years (and Pharaoh was dreaming)” (Bereishit 41:1-44:17). Pharaoh is dreaming. Not a day-dream but rather the sort of nightmare. There are the good and the bad cows. Only a son of Israel-Yaakov, the imprisoned Joseph could tell him to cool down because things are very simple. Firstly, Pharaoh will have to face two series of seven years. The first part is terrifically milky and prosperous, the second one, he will stay with nil (= not a bean in Latin).

This week, the haftarah (prophetic reading) is taken from the First Book of the Kings /Melachim Alef 3:15-4:1. It is at the heart of age-long tests that God proposes to the human beings: what do we expect from God?

Solomon asked something special of God: he did not ask for some material instruments of power or wealth. He asked for more insight, for chochmah = wisdom. If young people could know (have experience) and elderly people could only have the strength! True, but the youths sometimes would need to be capable to do things and later on to get ready to know and understand. This week, King Solomon is totally new in his reign over Israel. The haftarah underlines how he instinctively could discern who the true mother of a baby. Two nashim zonot – women prostitutes are disputing a child and the young king gave it to the real mom. He acted with wisdom and common sense. He had awoken from a dream to exercise right and justice for the sake of his own being chosen by God. The women were who they were but responded to sincere or insincere maternal feelings.

In Hebrew, chacham = wise, to grow wise, be a scholar, stimulate a person’s mind by ingenious suggestions. Thus, “By the time they will resurrect, they will be finally able to meet to discuss their pending cases with more insights” (Niddah 70). The insights consist in going far beyond past and present, but rather to envision a situation as a whole and fulfillment. This includes a birthing capacity and chakhamah = midwife, a knowhow that is the model of true wisdom (patience till right time, insights, self-control and authority). The Talmud may at times make strange statements: “Avira de’ar’a Israel machkim = the climate (atmosphere) of Eretz Israel makes wise” (Bava Bathra 158b). At least, “chachmot bantah beytah = (all forms of) wisdom(s) built her house and carved its seven pillars” (Mishley/Prov. 9:1). This refers to the Shechinah or the Divine Presence, but the house is stable as the Temple was. Bereishit/Genesis is a book of dreamers whose brain world comes to be fashionable and real. Lawrence of Arabia’s “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” is certainly a masterpiece with regards to his experience of unifying the Arab tribes while Israel was trying to conceive the baby State of Israel.

Now, the problem with this parashah and the related prophetic reading is how we understand worshipping today and whom we would worship. We can be very superstitious. I go down the bus and there I see, buying my usual diet coke, that there are numerous lotteries in the same shop. The waiter told me to stay for an hour and have a look. Well, I then decided it is worth going to different places to compare. No place for any dream. Coins or bank notes and bingo every thirty minutes…

Some Russians – I prefer “former Soviets” because it more exact - love to speak of their dreams. Their dreams are more accurate than when you recall the last episode of your favorite series. This may create some discomfort here because their attitude is psychological and historically the same as that described throughout all the dreams of Genesis. It is both healthy and curing and paves the way to betterment when nothing seems extant.

We need dreams that make sense though they firstly look like fancies. At this point, the community of Israel has something totally unique: one single individual may substantiate a dream because it helps gather a big number, a large amount of persons and souls. It works as a process of unity. On January 7th, 2008, we shall celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Eliezer Ben Yehudah. He had the dream to revive Hebrew, which, for him, was rooted in profound traditional training. As many single linguists of the 19th century (Norway, Croatia), he realized alone a work that others successfully implemented.

But his move was built upon teaching and learning. That was the motto with which I was educated: lernen, larnen, lernen (learn!), with various Yiddish pronunciations. Ben Yehudah’s revival of Hebrew was built on this real Jewish capacity to educate the future generations. It was a major issue for the upgrading of a lexicon into living sentences. Hanukka brings forth the same challenge of conquering ignorance. It abates hatred and disparity by chinuch – training, transmitting and making God’s Word substantial. If we are not able to educate those who were born to live in a generation to which we do not belong and which develops new patterns, we profoundly affect the Hebrew dream that abode for millenniums in the flesh, from the time of Joseph and Solomon till our revival. Dreams are also a sort of stamp of authenticity given by God to every Jewish soul that every single soul can have full access to knowledge and understanding, thus including the chinuch haMitzvot – the teaching of the Commandments as living and burning lights.

Now, let's take the Christian part of the State of Israel and Palestine. What would sustain the Christian faithful with perseverance, with the incredible capacity allowing them not to failing in hope and fall down in full despair? It is possible to parrot out the Scriptures in all creeds. It may not be the adequate therapy. On December 6th/19th (Old calendar), the Catholic then the Eastern Orthodox Churches will celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas. His name means “victory of the people”, born in the 3rd century in Turkey. He has worked a lot of wonders, miracles, saved children, sailors.

He has spent some time in Beit Jala where most churches are somehow dedicated to him. His name is recorded in all Slavic countries. Santa Claus appeared in different ways, in particular as a consequence of the Protestant Reformation. He is a joyous wonder maker, supposed to generously distribute gifts and divine assistance. The bishop of Myra in Lycia would assist the poor. He strongly combated paganism and, curiously, for his time, he died very old and peacefully in his bed. Saint Nicholas has much in common with some aspects of Eliyahu HaNavi/Prophet Elijah and a protector and acting with wisdom toward the needy.

King Solomon had returned a child to his rightful mother: she did not want him to be cut by the sword! Eh, the king was really wise to get to that wisdom! Hagios Nikolaos is the saint that cared for children and supposedly still distributes gold or presents. Wisdom consists in helping the children. Here they are the true kings, far too much most of the time. Indeed, they need to be supported, backed and not left to their own search or solitude. Wisdom is parallel to the joys of the feasts of the Lights.

Chag Hanukka sameach!

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