Yom HaKippurim, the solemn Day of Atonement, is just over and the Jewish communities - get ready to the Feast of the Booths, Chag Sukkot. A lot of people would approach the Day of Atonement with awe. It is a moment of annual truth and personal encounter with our conscience, free will, good will or evil spirit. But it is not a systematic day of love or pardon, forgiveness and surviving the 25-hour fast. And this is the point.
God - and humans created in His Image and likeness - cannot be reduced to automatons, sorts of robotic "chik chakking click here and there" and look: "You paid your seat, you attended a service, you gave charities, you went to your psychoanalyst, pet curer, boss, special one or thirtieth special one of any sex (for past year 5767), paid attention to your children or other people, friends and non-friends; no, don't worry, God can only be good. So shake hands and there you got, won a one more year ticket".
Anyway, people can do whatever they want: a lot of Israelis have been biking throughout the country on Yom Kippur because bikes are simple, natural, sportive and definitely not noisy like cars. Vehicles can be dangerous on a full-resting day like the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is a day for brainstorming and introspection. It is also a day of intense, profound, in-depth scrutinizing of our reflections and thoughts.
Let's make a comparison with diving that is terribly trendy. It is possible to have some scuba diving, i.e. with a whole set of diving and breathing apparatus and explore the abyss of the sea. Or scuba allows touring around ancient sites and visit shipwrecks, take films of splendid multi-color rocky or sea-coral areas and a great variety of fish, sea animals dolphins and... sharks in between. A world of water and darkness, at times unveiled in some sun-reflecting surfacing places. Oceans are much bigger than any terrestrial country. Humankind could settle in the seas and live in submarine houses. It requires air, oxygen from outside. The Asian pearl-catchers and fishermen can dive for long minutes without any breathing assistance, but the work imperils their health and they can die accidentally.
There is a kind of fascination of a sea underworld of purity, full of challenges, silence and human absence, i.e. Paradise of wellness. The French filmmaker, Jean-Luc Besson, substantiated this socio-cultural trend in his famous movie “The Big Blue” (“le Grand Bleu”, 1988). Two men, both friends and opponents engaged in a mutual competition, are diving without breathing and try to reach the deeper point in this so-called “Big Blue”. Encounters with dolphins would make the tendency more ethical than any human society. The sea wipes and makes clean. Dolphins are intelligent, understand the humans and can communicate with them. Moreover, they can help in curing different diseases and like horses or llamas they can comfort the handicapped. Indeed, the movie reached out to some New Age generation seeking naturalism and purity.
At this point, we know that a real trained sportsman diving without breathing apparatus will enhance certain abilities: very low heart beat and enlarged blood circulation from heart to brain. On the other hand, the “Big Blue” movie was en vogue as a struggle for life that would, in return, lead to die in an ethically and ecologically clean environment.
Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim, has a special climax with the reading of Jonah’s three days spent inside of the big fish. It includes this mentally and spiritually athletic movement of return and renewal. Jonah will have to dive in order to save the fishermen that are going through a frightful terror and swim up again to the surface to be vomited in order to accomplish the tasks that are incumbent upon each of us in the opening year, months, weeks or only some unforeseeable hours.
Then, there is no competition: the Creator knows. But we can’t stand it and are we ready to accept any task? Jonah was more likely to take a break at Tarshish, something like our Eilat spa’s rather that drowning because “being an “Ivri / Hebrew (= both “transgressor and passer, overcomer”) whose God is the Lord / HaShem” (Jonah 1:13-2:2) he could be cast overboard and still survive in entrails full of hospitality. This echoes the Rosh HaShanah second day “Tashlich - cast, send away, remove” service on a river side at the present: “God desires to do kindness; He will conquer and suppress our iniquities and cast all their sins into the depths of sea” (Micah 7:18-20).
Similarly, the daily and Yom Kippur prayer “Aleynu leshabeach – It is incumbent upon us” digs deep down into the profundity of our souls’ neurons. “It is upon us” to praise the Master of all things. He did not make us like the Nations of the world (“goyei haaratsot”) or the families of the earth (“mishpechot haadamah”)… for they bow to vanity and nothingness. But we bend the knee, bow down, prostrate and venerate the Holy One, Blessed be He… Who plants the heavens and founds the earth (Note the present tense)… There is nothing besides Him as it is written in His Torah: “Know (“veyad’ata hayom”) and take unto your heart (“vehashevota” = you will become aware, conscious in your brain and heart, cf. the healthy diver without breathing apparatus”) that the Lord is God in the heavens above and upon the earth below - nothing else” (Deut. 4:39). The word “vehashevota” was a part of our reflection in the sidra Netsavim, as Moses insisted on the importance of acting with conscience and consciousness. It describes a complete return that always remains possible.
Belgium is going through a special recurrent temptation of partition. Flemish, Walloon and German slide from the coast of the English Channel down to Brussels and Arlon close to the border of Luxemburg. Walloon is not French and the inhabitants have their tempo. “Het platteland – le plat pays – a flat (and even) land” sung in French by Jacques Brel, a Flemish by birth. In Antwerp, the Pelikaansstraat runs along the railway station. The Belzer hassidim and other groups speak Yiddish and Afrikaans from South Africa as diamonds pass on the way to Tel Aviv.
Brussels is a sort of portion of some European Community capital and the “Drei Grenzengebiet – The three borders area links Germany and the Netherlands to Luxemburg. The French have forgotten that Lille is Dutch Rijsel and was the capital of Flanders that used to bottom down to Arras. At this point, Tournai turned to Kortrijk and Duinkerk to Dunkerque/Dunkirk connecting the continent with Great Britain via Boulogne and its Channel Tunnel-train. Indeed, the Flemish are catholic up to the Dutch Moerdijk, and then the inhabitants are more likely to be protestant. The Walloons are mainly catholic too.
There is a traditional quality of living in Belgium and strong cultural and economic gaps could be resolved went Belgium was united for a football championship abroad. We have Galilee, the Merkaz-Center, the Negev shel atid / Negev of our future and towns, settlements, different nations and tongues. We may prefer to speak English because third parties would not understand Hebrew or Arabic. The Walloons got obliged to learn Flemish while in Flanders French was for the intelligentsia. There were always exceptions of course in a country puzzled up like connected towns, a sort of “inter-city map” with a touch of German provinciality.
It is indeed fascinating how “linguistic breaches and splits” can grow into mental splits. On Yom Kippur, “vehashevota – take into your heart and turn to (God)” proposes exactly the opposite but shows the same irrational and at time spiritual, mental, societal clashes and failures in keeping the good way. As such, Belgium is the multi-connecting essential element for a real functioning European entity, just as Israel – Palestine, Jordan and Syria-Lebanon subsequently suffer from all European blockings. Still, en route to Sukkot, we can hope that the worse crimes can be understood – not accepted – interpreted and find somehow a human clarification: “Tsel tslilah – the shade of shades can overshadow in a sukkah / booth” (Sukka 2c) because God is above.
In 2004, a hideous trial of a pedophile, Marc Dutroux, his wife, a drug-addicted friend and a businessman took place in Arlon, Belgium. The affair had shaken the Belgian who discovered the abominable and alarming murder of nine tortured children near Charleroi in 1996. 350 000 people gathered for a demonstration, which had been unheard in a seemingly peaceful country. The point is that a renowned lawyer, Xavier Magnee, accepted to defend the murderer. He did it with a special purpose. He envisioned this as his task since he was a lawyer and had the obligation to protect and assist whoever had to be judged, whatever crime concerned. This is the first aspect of a reflection we can have about our way to consider Yom Kippur and the shades that overshadow our existence under the tents, en route to a final and positive judgment given by God.
Then, having raped, mutilated, sold the children as in porn ring, the man did not admit he had committed any wrong. Thus, the lawyer explained that since he was clinically considered as “sane and responsible for his acts” by the psychiatrists, the issue could be widely extended to the whole of the society and therefore needed to be clarified by the moral, ethical and spiritual value of a national trial, involving the larger possible number of actors of the concerned society. Xavier Magnee said that what was unforgiveable and unacceptable should be faced openly in order to cure a social disease such as sexual abuse of children and their financial use via interconnected networks. Dutroux was condemned and the affair was closed. Xavier Magnee did not want to abandon because of the “of the supreme value of justice and morals”. He showed something of a deep-rooted Christian ethical attitude.
Yes, when Gilles de Rais, who accompanied Joan of Arc as a soldier and later retired, he was caught as “satanic and perverse” pedophile in 1404 and condemned to death. On the way to be executed, he implored the crowds to “pardon his wrongdoings and that God have pity upon him”.
Rabbi Anan said that “The Gates of Heavens are never sealed or closed”. The “clouds of glory” are these succot / tents that allow diving deeper into goodness.
Chag Succot sameach – Happy Feast of the Booths!