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!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Neshamah: additional soul

December 2, 2007 = 22 beKislev 5768. Let's have a smile, because it is roughly intriguing: On December 2, 1947, the day on which terrible riots clashed throughout Jerusalem against the Jews from the Old City to Jaffa Road, Mamilla Quarter, the Jewish calendar showed we were on the 19th of Kislev 5708, the famous day of release of Rabbi Zalman Schneur of Lyadi, the first Rebbe of Lubavitch. On that day, he left his prison of Saint Petersburg and went way to Lubavitch. The terrible riots that started after the UN partition vote were launched on the Chassidut national or renewal day. The amazing coincidence is that sixty years after the partition, the vote is celebrated on this major date for the important spiritual movements of the Chassidism as the riots leading to the independence of the first Jewish State in thousands years burst on that same day of freedom.

We might remember that, just before the vote started in San Francisco, in 1947/5708, a voice cried out hoyshineynu (hoshienu = (Lord) save us) in the audience. This was a cry of humility. Our problem is that the decision resembles a hatzalah (salvation). Either the vote would lead to some tiny hope or life might have been more crooked, more difficult, paved with terrible hardships. Because we might not really be aware today of the cost of so long long-term hardships and inhuman lives through generations.

This blog is strictly spiritual. But, dear Tzipi Livni, Foreign Minister of the State of Israel, you see, when, at Annapolis, the diplomats do not shake your hands, refusing to greet you or they simply ignore you (which frankly is almost unbelievable in an international peace process meeting), I doubt they ever heard that pious Jews do not shake the hand of a woman. True, they might not know or think this is even weird. The problem is not that suddenly in a very comradeship reaction of Condoleezza Rice, the United States Secretary of State, explained how much she personally suffered in Alabama of discriminations against the "colored". This born-cultured hatred against the "Blacks" has poisoned all the history of the United States till recently as the relations between Whites, Blacks and/or Colored/kleurlinge (South Africa). It is a consequence of hatred and repulsion against the other, a matter the Jews perfectly know and have to combat from inside the communities.

Such a level of opacity and ignorance towards our FM Tzipi Livni is not unbelievable. It belongs to the pragmatic and substantial nature of what reality is: rejection and ignorance. But these "fresh healthy crazy (meshigene) attitudes" - in particular in such a context - is the only possible behavior for people stunned that what should be dead of old is still alive and "worse of all" creating sources for living.

Now, I don't wear amulets, protecting wheels and various necklaces or bracelets. My first blog was about my wearing two watches: one to show the Jewish and universal date and time, the second indicating the Julian Eastern-Orthodox date and the "religious hour". Pious Jews, Christian Palestinians always keep one hour before the civil time-schedule. Thus, if I mention this Kislev 19 life-line again and again along with the liberation of the Chassidic Rebbe, it is precisely because most of Non-Jews totally ignore and don’t even want or think it is useful to know the Jewish way of going through time. It is the legal way of the State of Israel. Thus, they consider with total estrangement the way Judaism envisions history, events, historic events and future.

Let’s leave the Jews for a minute because a majority of them would not know anything about that. They would not refer to that firstly though in their utmost feelings they still would comprehend that it makes sense.

Still, we might have the dream that it is indeed possible to discuss and this is the challenge Jews have to face berach'mim (with loving-kindness, sweetness) and mit rachmunes (using sweet and wise measured portions). So, it might be strange, but, as this blog is published in an Israeli daily online (and not in an American newspaper), it might be difficult, but Christianity is then perceived on the basis of the Jewish reality and possible connections and not as a separate entity. In response, Jewish society should be open to in-depth dialogue and real knowledge.

Sixty years ago the riots broke out between Damascus Gate, Jaffa Gate, Mamilla rebuilt by the British, down to the former Hilton (David Citadel Hotel), King David Hotel, Jaffa Street. Today many houses keep the stamps of the Armenians (Saint James) or of the Greek (Taphos = the “T” and “Phi” = (Holy) Sepulcher). These days, crowds of tourists hurry down to Jaffa Gate. In four decades, the whole area has changed. Last Saturday, the handicapped of the French hospice came for a while, assisted by foreign volunteers. They spent some time on the stone bench and in their wheelchairs, at the entrance of the Old City. Immediately some Arabs brought them bottles of juice, cakes and a few cigarettes. There was a very warm and cuddling atmosphere, a lot of humor. Some Jews, on the way to the Wall, stared at everybody. “What’s that?” is very up-to-date when crossing “others” who are not us, or they are and we are not and vice versa. Don’t worry… The two large mezuzot at Jaffa Gate are kissed back and forth and forth and back, right and left hand – way-in and way-out… Some nuns enter the Gate making the sign of the Cross, but abstain on their way out. At the top of the entrance wall, there is a large space, where musicians usually gather to sing or play some instruments on festivals or special occasions. Two small tombs of the engineers supposedly killed by Suleiman link the Ottoman and Arabic Bab-El-Khalil (Gate of the Beloved = Abraham) to the Omar El-Kittab (Omar who gave the writ to patriarch Sophronios of Jerusalem in 638), the Christian Greek and Armenian quarters. The Gate faces the roads that lead to Hebron or to Jaffa.

Is it the City of David and its tower? The tower is a famous museum and a place for concerts and festivities. On the one hand, cabs, screaming and fighting for or after their preys, and the typical Old City multicolored wheel carts swiftly handled by locals who deliver all sorts of produce down into the City. On the other side, all kinds of sellers, flirty-wooing the more or less foxy-shy female visitors. People love buying hot corn/tiras and the Arab oily “beigele”. Jaffa Gate does change inside the walls. Time passes and the atmosphere is special, certainly unique because of the density of holy sites and religious backgrounds.

Then, it is quite amazing to see how, from dust, emerged a large road now connecting Kikar Zahal (square) opposite the Barclay’s Bank attacked during the riots. The square is wide, with benches… and a modern bridge constitutes a huge place that links Jaffa Gate to the new Mamilla quarter. At the present, there are three large cabins with exhibitions. It took decades to build the Mamilla first part. Numbered stones have been transferred and put back in place. To begin with, there was a sort of check-point. Today, the access is free. Now, Mamilla is a mall, like a pedestrian portion of a quarter. Exactly the same modern coffee-shops, restaurants, shops and again shops slope all along the place. It is simply, at the moment, a shopping center located above a bus station and a parking. The view over the modern building complex is nice… There is a Catholic school church that moved a bit upwards numbered stone by numbered stone.

The point is that the Old City shoppers come to buy clothes or have a drink, some food there. The numerous visitors cross with the Ethiopian and Russian guards doubling the police. At first glance, it is interesting as it is easy to duplicate a “ghetto” structure “outside of the walls”. There is no neshamah – soul for the moment. Yeshivah students will come as Arab clients, Israelis but it takes time for stones to remove their numbers and breathe their specific spirit.

There is a kind of password to enter the City of David. It is given in the psalm: “Mi zeh melech hakavod – who is this king of glory? The Lord is might and strong, the Lord is strong in battle. Se’u sh’arim rasheychem – Raise up your heads, gates, and raise up, you everlasting entrances so that the king of glory may enter. Mi Hu zeh – Who is He the king of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the king of glory, selah – forever (Tehillim 24:7-10).