Thursday, July 5, 2007

Kinah: jealousy, zeal, passion or emulation?

Last week, for the parshat Balak, we were rather busy in studying the spiritual commitment and assistance to humans provided by animals in the Scripture, in particular Balaam and his she-donkey. This showed how the animal's influence is still significant today as the Morning Prayer blessing starts with the words of Balaam.

But this journey through the zoo theological assistance system did not allow us stopping at the major event that happened at the end of the reading portion (Bamidbar 25:1-9): the terrible account of the then-unheard "profaning of the Israelites at Shittim; they corrupted themselves by whoring (lezenot) with the daughters of Moab who invited them to the sacrifice for their god" (25:1-2). Thus, the Israelite Zimri publicly scorned at Moses and rejected the God of Israel and had open sexual intercourse with a Moabite.

This creates the link with "Pinchas (son of Eleazar son of Aaron)", the reading portion of this week which mainly deals with passion, zealotry in Bemidbar 25:10-30:1.Of course, it might be astounding that a she-ass corrected Balaam’s words or that a cock crowed in the event of a prophesied treason. But "committing harlotry with Moabite women and worship their god Baal Peor)" seems totally natural in the present. It is almost not shocking. It is not even a real sin.

The Sages had time to explain things and, let’s be cool, there must be some misunderstandings somewhere about the event. The situation is not a real question because - yes, we never heard a police horse refrain his rider to stab demonstrators in a riot, if any. But physical prostitution with pagan women and men… good gracious! This is so ten a penny! And then to have some little worshiping party with gods that line from trees to boats, bananas and incense boxes is just as fit as a fiddle even among the most remote Jewish buddy boo networks. People can be put at the stake with this sexual games and the year has been a rather hot one until just this very hour.

The real problem with Pinchas is that the man seeing this blasphemous circus, got very hot and mad at the scene and put all his passion in getting rid of the profanation. The method is not common at the present. Baal Peor is a small bigotry god compared to the constellation that we developed in the name of all monotheistic beliefs and new paganism. "The Lord said to Moses: "Take all the heads of the people and have them impaled (hoka otam) before the Lord in front of the sun (neged hashemesh = publicly)". Moses did listen to God, but one Israelite suddenly brought a Madianite woman for himself and his companions. Pinchas took a spear, followed them and stabbed her "in the belly - the maw/ el-kevatah". And God was pleased by Pinchas' passion to avenge the glorious Name of the Lord.

God Himself sent a plague that killed twenty-four thousand people among the Israelites to punish their idolatry and harlotry. He thus also praised Pinchas and said: " I grant him My Pact of peace - et briti shalom (wholeness, friendship, loyalty)”. Interestingly, God speaks about Pinchas as being “shalem – loyal” (1 Kings 8:61) or like Jacob who came back “shalem – safe and sound” to Sichem (Gen. 33:18).

He acknowledges Pinchas as an “allied friend”, a “sholem – co-worker” (Tehillim 7:5). The “Berit shalom – Pact of peace” definitely links Pinchas to the Prophet Elijah as regards the frenzy killings of the Baal worshipers perpetrated by the Prophet on Mount Carmel. It also connects to the “Covenant of peace” described by Prophet Isaiah 54:10: “The mountains may move, and the hills be shaken, my loyalty (chasdi) shall never move from you, nor the Pact of My friendship (brit shlomi) be shaken – said the Lord with loving-kindness”.

There is a problem indeed. “Shalom” does not mean “peace”. Pinchas stabbing attitude that slaughtered a woman and her carnal partner through the maw (a bit bestial) corresponds with the order that God gave to Moses to impale all the idolaters and the whoring Israelites. At the present, after 2,000 years of squeamish strictness along the Diasporas, Judaism and Christianity have developed similar kinds of Puritanism and this Divine decree and Pinchas’ murder would be considered as a proof of some Old Testament avenging God of wrath.

Generations of Jews and Christian alike have been educated with awe, which is contrasting with the Oriental Jewish and Christian tradition, basically because of the absence of the “Original sin theology” that is more pregnant in the East. But this weekly portion has raised awe and fear among both the Jews and the Christians.

We call peace all the day upon Jerusalem, upon the world. In Hebrew, it firstly means that we believe in “justice” as in this Pact concluded by God with Pinchas (Num. 25:12). Is it so inhuman to explain the situation in such a way? Or are we cheating and fooling each other and God’s Divine Presence as we gossip like in a parrot fashion about peace and have been paying billions of billions of new old currencies over centuries to reach some dubious cease-fire treaties?

Moses officials impaled the wrongdoers and Pinchas got a covenant of friendship with God after his infuriated slaughter. Justice induces passion. This has nothing to do with our justice. Right and righteousness, legacy is an obsession in the Semitic and Greek-Latin world of the Scripture. It certainly brought some insights about the way love slowly showed up throughout the ages.

True, John the Baptist and Jesus have terrible words about God’s wrath, family hatred and wars (Matthew 3:10; 24:6).It is quite another prospect to say that one accepts God’s decisions: “Atah tzaddik al kol haba alay – You are just in all that happens to me” (Ps. 51:7). And we must handle these words very carefully because we do miss a lot a real understanding in terms of “verticality”, of God as acting in our lives like the woman towards Adam: “ezer kenegdo = a helper against our will”.

Peace does not imply the absence of conflicts or a crooked method to avoid quarreling if not more. “Shalom” comes from “shalem” which may be broken down into a) “Hishlim – to complete” as “he freed his slave who completed the quorum of ten persons” (Berachot 47b); b) To end, cease: “They must fast the whole day till it ends”. (Yoma 82a); c) To make friends/ surrender: “He will pay does not mean money but that he will surrender the evil spirit and you will be friends” (Sukkot 52a).

Thus “shalem” refers to payments as “wiping out a pending debt of any sort” or “to give a reward, a recompense”: “beshalom – for the sake of total trust, faith, confidence”. We do not often think of the fact that “peace” includes and involves combats, payments, as “to redeem (padah) = to reimburse a debt or a loan over a long-term period.” “Peace” is fulfillment and achieving or reaching out to specific goals. “Menuchah – quietness” is closer to what we usually would consider as “hesychia – time of rests, silence” and peaceful balance.

The Israeli society can give the impression of a quiet and patient atmosphere. By the time of Pinchas and the episode with Baal-Peor, our ancestors might have been more “grilling on fires and boiling”. There is a lot of aggressiveness under control that bursts out of a sudden.

But the real problem in the reading portion of this week is that Pinchas is a man of passion, a zealot; say, he is right but the way he corrects the situation is full of anger, passion, zeal and frankly beyond reason and irrationality. To begin with, “kinah/Aramaic kina = jealousy, passion”: “My zeal for Your house has been my undoing (ate me up) / ki kinat beytcha achalteni” (Tehillim 69:10; cf. John 2:17). Or, “I am consumed with rage-zeal / Tzimtachni kinati” (Ps. 119:139). Prophet Elijah has the same when killing the worshipers of the Baal.

It starts with a zeal than cannot be stopped in order to implement something considered as vital and true, essential. Passion is not only “pathos” or feelings that are close to cruel sufferings affecting thoughts, desires, impulses, reflections.

This leads or can develop into some pathology indeed. “Jealousy, lust and ambition carry man out of the world (= he quits himself and reality)” (Avot 4:21). On the other hand, “emulation among the scholars increases wisdom” (Bava Bathra 21a/22a). “Kanna’in/m” were the zealots during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans (Numbers Rabba 20). The root means in the Semitic language an in-depth thirst that cannot be reasoned or quenched. It concerns the desire to possess and control truth. Then, people want to act in the name of this veracity or presupposed truth beyond any self-control or capacity of taking some distance.

Judaism is curiously balanced with peaks of irrationality and acts of violence and a profound, unique sense of loving-kindness, compassion and analysis. In comparison, Russian “strasti = (feelings of) passions” that may totally overcome and possess a soul with dangerous abilities to twirling passions and dreams.

This may explain, for example, why Slavic souls extensively refer to dreams interpretation or underscore their importance in their subconscious, virtual and real day and night reality. The Semites are quite the same. Indeed, faith is the way to combat the raw basic instinct of fancies, fantasizing thoughts and attain a serene and untroubled state of spiritual and physical balance.

It is a gift to be given a “brit shalom = Pact of friendship” sealed by God. Now, all the systems of beliefs and religion and thus Judaism, Christianity and Islam have shown horrible times when zealots acted as true “terrorists of God”. Purity of faith and acts often climaxed in the Kiddush HaShem (sacrifice), as during the siege of Jerusalem or at Masada. But who can pretend to be an envoy of the Lord (the same exists among the Christian and Muslim without the problem of any “missionary activity”)? Who can have the nerve to work in the very Name of the Only One and claim to be zealous at the present, without confusion?

The root for “Kinah = passion” is “to acquire”. This means that such envoys calling for peace were “acquired” by God and they did not capture Him. Talmud Tractate Gittin positively recounts the life and martyrdom of John the Baptist which the Eastern Orthodox Church will celebrate on Saturday, in particular in Ein Karem were his parents lived.

His words of penance were zealous and apparently revengeful. On the other hand, it is certain that he was beheaded as the consequence of an autocrat’s passionate oath to accept any desire expressed by a power-thirsty daughter obeying to her corrupt mother (Matthew 14:10). In this full passion-consumed environment, John appears to be a man of peace and considered as a link with Prophet Elijah. True zealots either disappear in the merkavah/chariot or are humbled till they are beheaded but their souls can’t be killed. They emulate and sustain faith.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Targum: translation or blah-blah?

Jews came from all over the world since the creation of the State of Israel. As regards the local inhabitants, there has always been a huge diversity of cultures, languages and dialects. Since the 6th century, the Arabic tongue developed among the population that was passing by in the area and settled or were the descent of all intermingled tribes and groups. Jews converted to Christianity, then to Islam and this is studied, at the present, at the Hebrew University. This makes sense and can be easily tracked back through naming, names of the villages and family names.

From the time of the Hittites who sold the cave of Machpalah to Abraham and thus created the first strong link between the embryo of a Jewish identity based on faith in God in a small tribe generated by a wandering Aramean from Haran and Ur-Kasdim in Sumer, a lot of people and nations entered the Eretz Canaan - Eretz Israel, passing through the original Philistine land or Palestina.

Today, the international lingua franca or vernacular tongue is undoubtedly English. Thus, there is a specific way here to speak English and to pronounce or write it and make special mistakes locally considered as correct. It is quite different from the London Cockney that became national Australian speech. It is our melting-pot, village mixer.

We are blending English with all kinds of other languages or dialects. It does not mean that we merge a society that way. Look! Until recently and they still have that attitude, the Japanese will stop speaking if they understand that you know or only understand some Japanese. And they would not help in learning the tongue that is only for the Japanese. Or, they will require some evidence why you are not “acting with enmity”.

Israelis have developed the same tendency over many years. Of course, we have the Anglos and they arrived from all over the planet. But how come that you speak Hebrew and can even write and read it? You must be Jewish somehow. Before this blessed friendly plug-in happens, people will stubbornly speak with anybody in our Pidgin English - and even with patented Israelis that did not have the local look at first glance.

No problem, it is en vogue. For instance, Yiddish redeploys in religious circles but steps down from other groups in Mea Shearim to be replaced by Hebrew. On the other hand, we focus on some sort of English Jewish Israeli Palestinian Center/Jerusalemite Isringlish; it cannot be Ladino of course, even if the numerous North American and U.S.A. speakers are more and more influenced by Spanish.

Our Argentinean newcomers are Pampa-Spanish with some taste of Ashkenazi Yiddish added to Uruguayan Cervantes Ladino del tiempo de la Conquesta. Buenos-Aires is still more Yiddishkayt and Vida Ladina with a good knowledge of Hebrew Hebrew than Israel. Here, we use a kind of Balagenglish that spontaneously showed up from the Balkan messy situation and certainly some protest against the British.

Maybe the pioneers liked the idea of having their Haganah Crown speech. At the present, we do it with love and consistency. You asked something in Hebrew, the answer comes in this Balagenglish, asking in return if you are from the Netherlands, San Salvador. As in the good old day of Shalom Aleichem, Russians only know Russian. It depends how things can evolve. But most former Soviet Israelis want to learn English.

How strange thus that, after two 400 year periods of strong Ottoman presence that ended in the years 1920es, Turkish is totally absent from the Israeli and Arab memory. It is a language of prestige, but the Turks never promoted the installation of their citizens in the large Ottoman Empire. They only sent officers and executives, governors, sultans, whatever, who left with the wind when the Empire collapsed.

How peculiar for a great nation that claims so many links with Europe, Judaism and Christianity, remained fenced culturally. It evidently reconnected, after the fall of Soviet Union, with all the Central Asian Turkish-speaking States (Turkmenia, Uzkekistan... Mongolia). It means a vast and powerful oil and raw material network.

But it is fascinating how a tongue ceased to be used in one day... and to my knowledge there is only one Turkish family in Jerusalem that still speaks Turkish and settled here. This is quite an unusual phenomenon in the history of “self-protected linguistic imperialism" developed by some “ruling Empires”. On the other hand, it is possible to say that, in many places where Israelis or Hebrew-speakers meet with foreigners. They would keep distant, as if the others were strangers to our “tribe and clan”.

Then, we continue somehow to mock the prodigious and immense work of Eliezer Ben Yehudah who revived the Hebrew language. I daily have to frequent people who would simply say: “Hebrew? It enters by my left ear and goes straight out through the right one”. Or they would ask, with some innocence: “When will they disappear? / leave the country these Hebrew-speakers?”

There are terrible defects in teaching the language to the newcomers or to the workers. One of the cheapest Jerusalem Ulpanim is mostly frequented by Arabs who have enough common sense to be taught the language adequately. Russian newcomers have their tricky ways but the rising generation is typically Hebrew. Balagenglish allows something: to hide who we are before being sure it is worth to show something exact about who we really are. This harms the development of the national tongue in a country where there are ca. 500 mother languages and numerous tiny dialects

“Yesh li chalom – Ich habe einen Traum… I have a dream”. T. Herzl’s words are taken, maybe by some hazard, from the Talmud (Berachot 55b). In terms of tongue-dreamers, Ludwig L. Zamenhof (1850-1917) is a model of the flourishing Polish-Yiddishland blossoming thinking abilities. Born in Byalostok, Russian tzarist Empire, he was so impressed by the multitude of tongues that separated the inhabitants of his native town (Polish, Russian, Yiddish, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Russyn-Subcarpathian, Romanian, German, Hebrew, Gipsy-Tsygany), that he created the famous international language called Esperanto: ”Se mi ne estus hebreo en la ghetto, la ideo pri la unuigo de la homaro…. Neniam tenus min tiel obstine en la dauro de mia tuta vivo/ If I were not a Hebrew from the ghetto, the idea of unity of mankind would never have kept me busy with such obstination during my life”, he stated.

This physician wanted to heal a deep defect of connectedness. Interestingly, Esperanto is like a construction set; it is even more precise than human reflection by its capacity to set up numerous words with prepositions and suffixes. Then, it is a typical Jewish and European Inter-Christian idea.

The words are mainly taken from European languages and would never be adopted by Asia, Africa. We assist to the wide spreading of Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog, Arabic, Malaysian (Indonesian) and Spanish. Swahili and the Bantu dialects conquer Africa. But L. Zamenhof had a special dream that still abides our souls. It sounds like in Bereishit: “(everyone on) all the earth had one language and the same (one) words (“devarim achadim”)” (Gen. 11:1). This is related to the survival after the flood. The Christians would speak of a “Pentecostal” unity phenomenon.

The Jewish tradition insists on the fact that “safah achat = a coherent, exact, incorrupt words and means of real understanding”. “lax lips and low indistinct speech show wounds that also affect the mouth” (Makkot 32a). Thus, “devarim achadim = not the same, but rather each word had one precise, clear and specific meaning for all humans, a common substantiality”. Words were not misleading, dubious, full of nuances that could ambiguous contradictions. We do need this sort of flexibility in any human speech, but it is also the mark of some uneasiness.

One of the most difficult tasks for the humans is then to “translate”. This is indeed a twofold activity and two different professions. A person who translates texts is not like an interpreter who would translate orally. Hebrew “metarguman” apparently applies to both because “davar” is can be an oral or material (written) object. We rarely think of the splitting into many tongues after the attempt to build Babel.

Was it an act of arrogance towards God (confusion/bilbul)? Or, a way to reach the Gates of the Almighty (Bav-El)? “Translation” implies the requirement to make use of a loud and strong voice “ragem” (Assyrian). This means that human beings are deaf and mute to each other by nature. This is the point. “Targem = to explain, interpret, red orally and translate at the same time into another tongue”.

This is found in the Book of Ezra 4:7. It shows that from the very beginning the Word of God were not heard, not listened to or distorted and needed permanent upgrading of comprehensiveness. Until now, the Yemenite communities will always read the reading portions in Hebrew, then in Aramaic in the targum of the proselyte Onkelos and finally in Arabic. This method of translating/interpreting can bring to a complete estrangement to the basic meaning of the sacred texts. Ergo, it is wise to check all the various levels of explanations and meanings of words specific contexts and periods.

This is why the Jewish tradition is only at a stage of a new birthing after 3,000 years of Jewishness expressed in opposed environments. Not conflictingly opposed, but showing partial aspects. At the present, Israel is incredibly bound to reconnect with the Hebrew heritage which is immense and firstly belongs to the Hebrew identity. On the other hand, Judaism will have to positively approach the Septuagint (LXX) or Greek version, presumably translated by 72 Hellenistic Jewish scholars of Alexandria upon the request of the Ptolemaic Kings (III c. B.C.).

The legend specifies that they started and ended the “targum/ metagraphi – interpretation” on the same day and showed the same translation! This was the Bible mainly used by Jews and the first Christians. The Jews stopped using it in the II c. But, there is a move in many parts of the world: the LXX version is studied in the Jewish communities as showing important features of the Scripture and liturgical background. It is useless to quarrel about differences collected over ages. It is wiser to point out and check at length how Jews came to make this “interpretation” of the TaNaKH and how it relates to our contemporary and future envisioning of who we are and how we go ahead.

This Sunday, the Armenian Church commemorated Saints Mesrob(p) and Sahag who translated the Scripture into Armenian. Mesrop created the Armenian alphabet in 404 and other Caucasian alphabets, bringing the Greek version of the Septuagint adopted by the Eastern Orthodox Churches to Armenia and from there to Persia. The Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopian, Georgian, Slavonic translations of the Scripture follow the Greek version of the “Seventy”. On June 28th, the Eastern Orthodox Church commemorated Saint Hieronymos (Jerome) of Stridonium who translated the Bible from the Hebrew and the Greek texts into Latin, which became the age-long read Vulgata. He lived and died in Bethlehem.

Italians say: “Traduttore, tradittore = translator – traitor”. We are often submitted to waves that are drifting away. The one and coherent words are often today reduced to a minimum of consistency. Or they are accepted by individuals and selected groups “free satellites”.

Targum, “metagraphi”, interpretation presuppose to hear and listen carefully. There might be one sign that this is possible when Tradition makes us aware of the number of generations, worlds of knowledge and experience that teach patience and wisdom to be open-minded anyway, anyhow and still in the shadow of the Most High.
1. Is Israel truly bound to reconnect to Hebrew heritage as the author claims? If so, how does he explain that it is considered classier to add "milim loaziot" (English words with an "atzia" at the end to sound Hebrew - or the famed Academia lelashon haivrit - since when is Academia a Hebrew word). A vast majority of these words have Hebrew equivalents which are not used because it is not "cool", or rather "intellectual". How does he explain the total lack of care about spelling - since when is "isha" a woman spelled with a "yud" - "aleph, yud, shin, hei, means "her husband". If you want to reconnect to your roots do it right. The Israeli public (including the academics) could care less about their Hebrew roots and would probably feel much better if overnight everything was converted to English. Sad but I believe the truth.
nkd, Jerusalem, Jul 4 2:07PM

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Aton: The nincompoop jackass prophesies

In these days of terrible heat... well not that pathetic for the area to tell the truth, but anyway we may feel a sort of natural compassion for animals. Jerusalem is full of pregnant cats, some are so lucky to have a permanent residence near one, two or more restaurants and coffee-shops, while others sniff around as good street NFA pets where they might get some nice bones or grains. During summertime, it is a real mitzvah to feed homeless animals. It is nice to see along the ways - inside the Old City - but also in many other places, pieces of bread. Spontaneous groups or individuals do gather for informal catering system allowing the pigeons, other birds or dogs to get even fresh meat.

The mitzvah may apparently not be founded on the same mitzvot reference. In the Old City, the Christian spirit might firstly consider it is just normal to feed animals. Then, it somehow tracks back to Jesus' remark: "Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your Heavenly Father feeds them… not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them." (Matthew 6:25-34).
As regards the Jewish part, it is normal to be kind with animals and the commandment that prohibits to torn a limb from a living animal shows a great respect. There can be a lot of personal fondness or emotional frustration, loneliness involved in such behaviors. I often heard when listening to some of these small groups how the Shoah background was present in terms of absence of care, humanity and just be given simple basic food. At the top of the showing, at the present, is the wide development of these high and longhair puddles or greyhounds if not some huskies. That's quite a real acculturating process that lines with the general aliyah movement! I know a Chinese dog from Russia that only eats rice and really developed a ghetto spirit: totally scared by any cat or mouse.

Local animals are more donkeys and camels. Camels show for a terribly short tours for children and reckless grownups. The tour is frankly you get up and down the camel, smile at the beast and walk a few meters and bye…
But camels are sweet and cute: they can store liters of water to quench their thirst. We don't have vultures... maybe safer! They swallow corpses like the Mazdean/Zoroastrian towers of death at Bombay. The Jewish tradition has always praised the people who took care of creatures: Jews should remember that they are a nation of shepherds and flock care-takers.

David was the last and forgotten son gone somewhere to graze the lambs and ewes... He was the right one to reign as a king. Rebekkah is the model of the nice girl who gave waters to Eliezer's camels. This was the good sign to become Itzchak's wife. Jews should be, by nature, "rachamim bney HaRachamim - compassionate as they are the children of the Merciful God" (Beitzah 32b).
Thus, the Jewish ethics towards animals is summed up in this verse: "The righteous respects the life (nefesh) of his beasts" (Proverbs 12:10). Still, the Talmud accounts how some famous Sages could be rude with their beasts, e.g. Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi who is blamed for not having shown compassion towards a calf. Curiously, it is more humane to respect a calf that will be slaughtered than to put down insightful verses of the Mishnah.

This totally relates to the parshat hashavua or reading portion of this week: “Balak” in the Book of Bemidbar/Numbers 22:2-25:9. This Gan Eden atmosphere of wonderful deer and gazelles combining charming swiftness and tenderness, love and perfect beauty plus wisdom is at the heart of the weekly reflection. To begin with, a nasty deal that should commit an idolatrous God-fearing magician called Balaam with Balak, son of Zippor.
The Moabites were alarmed that the people who had left Egypt had completely defeated the Amorites and were heading towards Moab. Thus, the best way was to consult an expert in divine affairs and to curse the Israelites so that they would either perish or be done before even trying to fight Balak.

Let’s say that there was a sort of wide range of gods and goddesses, deities who could either put a spell, a curse or a blessing on our brothers/sisters, parentage, tribe but imperatively on our enemies. This is our major life activity: how can we curse others without harming ourselves (too much)? Balak just behaved accordingly: he sent the elders of Moab to contact a good professional “magush – magician”. Because these elders were themselves versed in “ksamim beyadam – diviners, charmers having divination at hand”. “
He began to make divinations by throwing arrows and sundry objects” (Eycha Rabba 1) states that a charmer makes use of carved or chipped objects (qessem). We use the word in Modern Hebrew to say that a person is “cute”, which does imply that s/he is chipped up or cut down. There is also linked to the present use of the word “icon” as we love to have “cult characters” at the present.

As a usual paradox in the Jewish tradition, it is also said: “He who makes himself a carver, i.e. a skilful worker in the words of the Law shall finally become a leader through them” (Sanhedrin 9, 6). Old Norse “Spjall” – English: “to spell out = explain step by step” had initially this aspect of “carving” that is strictly forbidden by God’s Commandments. There is no possibility to bewitch or to attract people by enchantment in the monotheistic tradition. Not kidding, because it is evident that persuasion plays that game of “carving fascination” in our daily life.
This consists indeed in hexing, exercising witchcraft and at this stage there is a strong connection between Balak’s attitude and our ways of living and acting in the present. Let’s go on and consider the way we parade all the time with our egos; when millions of teens and “immature” adults change and enhance their trade mark look on the net. Specific sites allow them selling their images and features, contact abilities.

We can charm through photoshop and apparently overcome a damned boring loneliness. We might then ot be aware how we progressively frame ourselves into this carving of self-idolatry, maybe pushed by some irresistible compulsion. There is a constant motto and rallying war cry on the web: “This is not true – you/we/people fake, lie or hide who and what they are”. This is exactly at the core of the essential reading portion of the week.
Balaam is a diviner. He is not a believer in the One God. But he listened to God’s voice and refuse to be paid and curse the Israelites. This is meaningful because of the above quotation from Talmud Sanhedrin 9, 6: a carver instructed in the Laws’ word will become a leader, at least a true man of God. At this point, Balak sent more distinguished dignitaries who would richly reward Balaam. Again there is a heart-to-heart talk between God and Balaam who confesses the Lord and refused house, silver and gold. Then God put a sort of test (not to say a charm). “You may go with these men. But whatever I command you, that you shall do, said the Lord” (Num. 22:20). There is a subtle move to which we are pretty much accustmed as individual souls. God told Balaam to do what He will tell him to do.

Is Balaam the wicked diviner described throughout the Tradition? In particular, when scholars or so, insist to describe Balaam as parallel to Jesus, which allows disputing with Christianity. Faith in the One God never relies, by no means, on split or conflicting twisting textual irrelevant interpretations. This concerns all beliefs, but in particular the dramatic history that affected the relationships between Judaism and Christendom.
It is very difficult not to put love – i.e. pure love - on sale as a flat, a car, a cupboard, simple objects when there is no farthing left and no true trust in the Providence. The problem about Balaam is to know whether he was vainglorious (Rashi) or that he “could and shall not disobey God’s will”(Chumash and Onkelos). This should be noted as regards Balaam as a diviner. There is no specific reason to accuse him of being “vainglorious” or “seduced and attracted by wealth” which is in contradiction with the Canticle: “If man offers all his wealth for love he would be laughed to scorn/despised to the maximum” (Shir 8:7).

Balaam had an ass. Say he had a she-donkey in order to avoid misunderstanding words. During the 23rd Egyptian Dynasty (749-21) it was normal to write such legal statements as: “If you don’t agree with that decree, may a donkey copulate (fuck) with you”. We are often totally antiquities-style in our search to be trendy… Interestingly, God grew angry when He saw that Balaam was joining Balak’s emissaries.
He placed two defenders: His angel standing in the way with a sword and the she-donkey/aton. Now, does your favorite pet appears to be your best counsellor? Okay pets can bite some foreigners in between, but would your domesticated animal tell you bemamash/ for true who you really are? On the one hand, Balaam had the angel of God and he was beating the poor she-donkey that stubbornly did not want to move. Then the Lord opened the “aton’s” mouth: She said: “Why have you beaten me three times?” Balaam admitted the donkey had always served him correctly. The Lord unveiled Balaam’s eyes and he saw the angel; thus he bowed down with his nostrils to the ground (“Vayikod vayishtachu le’apav”).

The fascinating part of the episode is the revolving attitude of the faithful diviner. He did know God and listened to Him. He was ordered to go with God’s enemies in order to curse Israel. And thus, God protected him as his best friend the aton/she-donkey did. “Aton” is a special word. In Daniel 3:9 it is stated: “Who ever will not fall down and worship (the statue of gold) shall be thrown into a burning fiery furnace (lego-atun nura)”. In this prophetic verse against idolatry, the word symbolically refers to God’s anger before redemption.
It could be possible to mention the numerous quotations linking Balaam, as a negative personality, to Jesus of Nazareth. It may be far more interesting to open other ways. Balaam is the pagan diviner that recognized the living God and bowed totally down (Ps. 95:6). God and his she-donkey switched his tongue from cursing to blessing to such an extent that till now, when entering a synagogue, we say: “How fair are your tents, Jacob, your dwellings Israel!” (Num. 24:5). Judaism always relies and complies with the words of converted pagans and this is a major aspect of the Jewish faith (cf. Jonah, Ruth). The three Magi that came from the East to see the new born child Jesus in Bethlehem also refused to bow down before Herod and did not tell him where the child was laying, which shows a real connection with the Tradition (Matthew 2:1-12). Finally, God shows animals as instruments of the redemption and true faith or apostasy. Balaam had beaten his donkey three times without being aware of the good she was calling upon him. The first morning blessing praises the “sechvi – rooster, cock – but also conscience!” to have the capacity to distinguish night from day. When Jesus is judged, Peter-Kaipha is sitting around near the fire. Jesus had told him: “This very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times… He went out and began to weep bitterly (Matthew 26:75).

It should be the task of all clerics to kick us like the she-donkey. Or do we have roosters?