Thursday, December 27, 2007

Kerem, the vineyard of fine wine

We start to read a new Book as parshat hashavua - weekly reading, i.e. "Shemot - (the) Names" in Hebrew, called "Exodus or the flight from Egypt, the house of slavery" in usual translations and traditions. In Hebrew, it is normal to refer to the first words of Biblical Book: "Ve'eleh shemot Bney Yisrael = these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each coming from his household" (Shemot/Exodus 1:1). We penetrate the history of a specific small Jewish rooted family. They entered Egypt out of hunger, were saved by Joseph, their sold son and brother that redeemed them and made them honored by Pharaoh. But the title also underscores in Hebrew that, eleven brothers entered a foreign country that, at first glance, welcomed them and provided them with a lot of wealth in the most fertile region of Goshen.

To begin with, the sons of Israel were accepted. There might have been other troubles or famines, as time passed. Then, a new Pharaoh showed up who did not know Joseph. The problem we have to face is that Jews are either too few, or too many -multiply or disappear. History has also shown how they were plundered, massacred. There is a point that should be highlighted. The Book of Shemot (Names) prolongs the history initiated in the Book of Bereishit (Commencement) -Genesis of all the universe, beginning with the creation of the world, planets, sun, moon, stars, vegetable and animal creatures and finally the humans. The Jewish tradition insists on that aspect. After thousands of years, Jews are trained to the fact that micro-groups of ten-twelve people can suddenly grow to millions after some centuries or eventually collapse in some circumstances

Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem into the humble family of a carpenter with a prestigious priestly and Davidic backgrounds. He started with three Galilean disciples, then 12 that extended to 70 or 72 and finally there are millions of disciples. On the other hand, they did disappear, as the Jews, from some regions, often for the same reasons of rejection or collapse. This is why it is important to take into account this Book of Shemot because it obliges to humble ourselves: Shemot means "Names" and the Jewish people were conceived as in the image and likeness of God-Elohim (Gen. 1:27) (HaShem - the Only Name) and they only belong to This Name or aim to testify to this Holy Name. Jews have no other reason to exist than to engrave God's Presence into a without soul. This allows another connection to "Shem", Noah's son who is the ancestor of the Semites, dwelling in a place "there (sham)" where The Name is present.

Then, Exodus, from Greek "going - way out", explains the development of a nation in a hostile context. They came to be blessed with food and wealth. They are forced into bondage and seem to be satisfied with their slavery when God decides to save them against their will. We can hardly figure out today what happened by the time of Moshe/Moses. This account is much relevant, consequential and far-reaching: we trace back this week to the roots of a call to permanent freedom, definitive release from bondage and the extravagance of being born to be constantly free over and over again. This implies other invariants: relations with the pagans and the Gentiles, reluctance to move up, to admitting that freedom is worthier than any brick-building non-volunteering tasks ordered by hating rulers.

There are some similarities - definitely normal if we quietly consider historic developments - between the birth of the Jewish boy Moshe, saved from killing all Israelite newborns and being adopted by the sister of Pharaoh (Shemot 2:5-11) and the birth of Jesus, the murder of all the Jewish babies ordered by Herod. He fakes to be willing to praise the newborn and wants to know where he was born in order to slay him (Matthew 2:1-12). Then, another Joseph (son of Jacob, (Matthew 1:16)) is told in a dream: "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt." Thus, Herod became furious and ordered the slaughter of the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, citing Prophet Jeremiah (31:15): "a voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children and she could not be consoled since they were no more." The Church recalls the "Children massacred by Herod" soon after the Nativity of Jesus. When Herod died as a tyrant, Joseph "took the child and his mother and went to the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael), but fearing Herod's son, they settled in Nazareth (Matthew 2:21-23).

There is a fathomable similarity between the two accounts: to fathom consists to measure "with outstretched arms" as God always did and does. Exodus 6:6 (or Deuteronomy 4:34) is cited in almost every single Jewish prayer: bizro'a nituyah = with outstretched arm (I will redeem you). In both cases – commemorated at the same time, with parallel and dissimilar views – Jews and Christians firstly recall the birth and saving of Moshe and, on the other hand, the birth and saving of Jesus. In both cases the will to power is so resolute, violent and mighty that murders are preferred to life. Of course, it was totally bizarre for the enslaved Jews to be protected by the man they considered as the son of Pharaoh. Again, we face "appearance" vs "being" as when Joseph appeared to his brothers as an Egyptian manager. Yes, our generation never experienced the singularity of the parsha - reading of this week because we went through thousands of years of pagan hatred and two millennia of estranged bewilderment with other monotheistic communities. Jews settled too often in various parts of the world with the impression that - remaining somehow or totally faithful to the Jewish traditions - they would be protected by some sort of rulers. This is the tragic bluff that deceived generations. This is one or the most intriguing and pending questions today in Israel as in the diaspora.

There might be more. God can be reduced to a set of ordinances, some of which we comply with. There are those that we systematically reject. This is the dialogue between God and Moses at the bush that does not burn up "has'neh bo'er ba'esh vehas'neh eynenu ukal" (there was a bush all aflame, yet the bush was not consumed – Ex. 3:26). God said to Moshe: "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob". The root of the word "S'neh - thorn bush" is connected to Aramaic/Hebrew (different spelling): "sina - hatred, removal". Because God is different, totally alien to whom we think we are when we disguise, hide ourselves or try to be high-profile in this world. Such a bush changes any moment into times of eternity and any jealousy into wiping out wickedness. This is what Rabbi Yehiel Michal of Zlotshov explained when he said that Abraham had accomplished all the 613 Mitzvot / Commandments. He declared that Abraham loved God more than any other human, idea or concept. This is what Moshe progressively discovers: being "dressed" as a foreigner to his own people, he does return to them because of the constantly renewed Divine love and faithfulness to a call. From Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, till Joseph and the 12 sons of Israel, the Jews have been alien (they do not enjoy the same rights as the local citizens). Even if Machpelah can only be considered as theirs as "the burial site bought by Abraham from Ephron the Hittite" (Gen. 50:13). There are tons of small or bigger nations that hate each other for racial, cultural, social, economic reasons. This week, we have to face the kernel reason: Jews only exist to attest that, from nil, God calls to being, enhancement, unexpected growth and freedom. Eretz Yisrael is given to the twelve sons of Israel as a permanent lease for life. Thus, Judaism is bringing forth nonperishable seeds of reality, survival and hopeful continuance.

When Israel states that it comes back to Eretz Yisrael, how do they prove to be seeds of freedom? Moses was thus given a password to speak to the enslaved Jews: God has a Name: Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh (Shemot 3;14).This Name continues to convulse and reshuffle our daily lives and paths. It corresponds to I am Who I am – frankly, it sounds stiff; correct, but inelastic and aloof. God is merciful... The burning bush without consuming reveals that God's Name means: I will (not 'shall') be/come the Who to the fullest of Who I will be/come. This sounds jet-set stylish, but read again, please: it is a motion without automatics; or I will become/develop to exist to the fullest the One (Who)I will live to the full.

The Haftarah is read from Isaiah 27:6-28:13 (Ashkenazim) - Jeremiah 1:1-2:3 (Sephardim) - Ezekiel 17:1:-14 (Yemenites). The readings focus on the vineyard that is fruitful and gives excellent wine. This vineyard shows the fertility of God’s Word in our souls to reach equilibrium. It is this New Year challenge.

Someway, Jesus summarized what God proposes to any Jew and believer: "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head" (Matthew 8:20). Indeed, we start, this week and with 2008, a huge trip in the go-getting Name of the Lord!

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