Monday, October 29, 2007

Pallal: Full moon temper and praying words

From Thursday till Friday, we went through "full moon" that basically corresponds to the middle of the Jewish month, e.g. Cheshvan 14. The fourteenth day of the month can be totally weird and super-bizarre. It can absolutely reverse and revolve, shake, quake, bounce up and down the mood of the folk. It is not a female phenomenon although it might, for some individuals, be connected with the machzor (menstrual period) that is so important physically and spiritually in the Middle-East. We already shared about this recurrent major event of what is going on in Israel and is linked to full moon.

Now, it happens that the religious world - especially in Jerusalem - encompasses all sorts of Christian monastics but also married men as well as Jewish males - I did not look into the Muslim culture but would presume the same exists. And they are also submitted, to some extent and manner that differs from the women, to this matzav ruach (mood / temper). This interesting point is also that this "rattling of the nerves" is very time-limited, especially before the 14th day of the Jewish month and decreases immediately afterwards. Some people would simply be honest and say they are or got affected by the date; others would have the nerve to pretend that nothing happened, which can also be said with true unawareness of the facts.

Interestingly, in Hebrew, the true word to say temper/mood is derech (way). In this sense, it refers to "way" as a "route, path" a set of conducts and attitudes that lead us to some place; it is rather similar to "morals" and even "ethics". But moods and social attitudes can be terribly complex. They can raise a lot of problems, in particular in this country because of a common physiology that can be submitted to calendar schedules or temperature, heat and cold weather changes. "Temper" is connected with "temperature", at least etymologically. It started with a human capacity to temperate, i.e. being equality sensitive to heat and cold and thus very moderate.

Moderation is something like a dreamy lunatic fairy tale among the Jews who are too anxious or too adventurous, too creative or ready to shelter and hide who they are. "Derech" implies to go along as on a lead, a rearing, training path; "Moral is the man who leads his sons on the right path" (Yevamot 62b). The Jewish soul constantly needs to be submitted to exhausting interrogation with a great variety of responses, if any. The scoop of this Cheshvan 14, 5768 is that the authoress of the universal best-seller "Harry Potter" gave a conference and explained in between that one of the major heroes is actually homosexual, gay – a boy and head of Harry Potter’s spiritual school. It has been recently noted by a serious journalist in Jerusalem that the only concern that can gather all the religious leaders of the Holy Land with the press and TV media is precisely gay pride. So the 'authoress' made her coup, certainly without being aware of the importance of Cheshvan 14, 5768 (a shemittah year!). All the web Harry Potter and characters' fan clubs immediately fell down, lower than the stock exchange after several blasts in Baghdad. The 'authoress' maintained her assertion and left the audience saying that at least the readers got something to gossip about for the coming years. This is a good example of the futility and true vanity of temper ups and downs. Still, they are very useful. They allow us to overcome moments of trouble, unease and boredom.

In Hebrew, derech Aretz refers to the “way of the land”, good manners and simple morals, secular occupation (trade) and sexual connection. Indeed the Torah incidentally teaches the proper conduct in life, e.g. to build a house and then create a family ...” (Tosefta Sota 7:20). On the other hand, derech haaretz is used to speak of some travelling on a long journey compared to marital life (Gittin 70a). Talmud Kiddushin 1,1 depicts the three ways to marry for a woman and accept a husband (isolation with the man; sexual intercourse; money). It specifies that “those who deviated from the way of the society (tzibbur) became heretics as they refused to comply with the ways of peace (the Law; cf. Proverbs 3:17). This is why Derech Aretz constitutes a twofold “Good manners” large (rabba) and small (zuta) treatise of the Talmud. Avodah Zarah 48b considers that losing temper is some signal that we fall into dracha achrona (another road).

This is how it may be difficult sometimes to find relaxing peaceful postures in the Jewish tradition. Yoga, Zen, the Tao (the “way”, by the way! But to Beijing), water lily peace with some taste of Hindu lassi salted milk glass sound far more healthy and refreshing than any other morals considered as obsolete or stringent and strict. Indeed physical postures can be very attitudinizing at the moment, a bit too posing. We may strut out as if constantly on air, filming, video-macerating. As if space, room and spirit, body could hardly match.

Israel has a long historical background and profound experience of worshiping God by means of words, silent words (not uttered but thought) or total silence (Hannah’s prayer is ambiguous because her lips were moving but no sound was to be heard). This became the model for Jewish prayer. Thus, it does not totally means that she formulated any structured prayer but addressed to the Lord. Anyway, this should prove that human sacrifices had been abandoned for quite a long time when the first avot (patriarchs) left idolatry. In the weekly Vayeira reading portion, it is said: “Vayitpallel Avraham leHaElohim – Abraham prayed to God” (Gen. 20:17).

The Semitic root Pallal should firstly be compared with Arabic falla (notch, edge of a sword) to get to the real spiritual meaning of the word. It is evident that, to begin with, “praying” was considered as a form of sacrifice, replacing self-mutilation in moments of ecstasy. Shamanism as initiating rituals would speak of spacing out the brains to reach some godly presence. Just as blood-gushing out (1 Kings 18:28) was normal in the account of Prophet Elijah and the priests of Baal. On the other hand, “cutting oneself, emasculate” is strictly forbidden (Deut. 14:1; 23:2). We are prompt at considering all this stuff as very barbarous.

Pallal also means to judge or arbitrate and hitpallel developed into another deeper meaning showing a human can cut oneself in worship and still be very connected with those who pray. The act of interceding implies that a praying person is making the sacrifice of his/her time in order to obtain specific favors and blessings from God that will change the lives of others, known or unknown people. In this view, mitpallel really constitutes a act of prophecy that introduces into the realm of unforeseeable though expected divine loving-kindness. As it is said: “You did plead, did pray and your prayer rose and blossomed for the benefit” (Shabbat 55b). Treatise Berachot 5,1 confirms that “It is important to delay and be tardy, slow in putting the words together in meditation before uttering the prayer”.

Hebrew does not use many words. We can say things very quickly, promptly, short. Sometimes, it makes the demands too short. Look into the first prayers (Shma’ Israel/Hear Israel, the basic benedictions of the Amidah). The blessings are clear-cut. Curiously, the Festive prayer-books are far most extensive, including endless sequences of superlatives and long phrases. The tendency is rather the same in all religions, even if the Quakers would pray in silence and say “Amen”. There is a sort of pil-pul (cf. palpal and pallal) argumentative, disputing brainstorming attitude in praying. It is always on the move. Intercession means that a soul reaches out to accurate and real healing or repair of a situation. Thus, it cannot be reduced to some stylized repeatedly read or pronounced demands. The richness and uniqueness of the Hebrew prayers consist in that they are always new and renew the demands. The same happens in any tongue as said in Sota 1,7. The Rebbe of Breslov who composed the set of psalms into a Tikun klali (total/general repair) was aware that it is important to pray in one’s mother tongue and he used to ask the believers to say them in Yiddish, without excluding other languages.

Prayer as an act of pallal (cf. tefillah / prayer, supplication, demands) is often very trying and requires a pouring of the soul and with a physical flexibility. In theory, all the Christian faithful can or could pray with any Jewish prayer-book and the matter has been studied theologically because it is an interesting feature. This of course pre-supposes the total absence of any spirit of replacement theology directed against the Jews. On the other hand, Christian prayers refer to other modus operandi and access to God. On the one hand, Jesus entrusted his first disciples with a totally Jewish prayer that, also in theory, could be pronounced by any Jew, i.e. “Our Father – Avinu shebashayim – Avun divshmaya” (Matthew 6:9-13). The perception of intercession and of time in Christianity creates a point of separation. We are rarely aware of the connections that exist or miss in prayers with regards to space, location, time and generation.

Finally, Israeli society certainly owes, in a way that is difficult to be perceived, to women prayers often written down in simple words in a manner that is full of veracity and close to the Broslover Rebbe’s mood and suggestions.