Thursday Feb 21, 2008
A lot of things are read this Shabbat which includes two parshiyot shavua/reading portions: the first weekly reading refers to Shabbat "Ki Tissa - When you take (a census of the Israelite people)" (Shemot 30:11-34:35) - the second Shabbat is one of the four special Shabbatot before Pesach: Shabbat Parah dealing with the Red Heifer (Parah Adumah) described for the ritual of purification thirty days before the Feast of Passover(Bemidbar/Numbers 19:1-22). The haftarah -Prophets' portion is read from the Book of Ezekiel 36:16-38 and adds some intensity to the requirement to get clean, renewed before the Feast of Pesach.
Forty days ago, the Israelites were on the move to Mount Sinai. We already discussed the problem of faith, confidence, spleen and regret for having abandoned Egypt, slavery and the local onions. Finally, they agreed to "nishma' vena'aseh - to do and to listen" to God's words and commandments and launched big building works, firstly with the construction of the Mishkan (Dwelling of the Shechinah - the Divine Presence). Last week, the Israelites helped Aaron and his sons to be correctly clothed for the sacrifices and ensure their priestly functions. This was more a sort of fashion and accessories design. This week, the pure and neat divine design mitzvot/commandments ordered by God turn to a twofold design process: God in person engraved the Ten Divrot (Ten Paroles) on two tablets and handed them down to Moses. But Aaron, harassed by wild crowds, voraciously hungry for "worshipping", had collected all the gold rings the people had brought from Egypt to melt them into a deity around which they started to have festive meals. They invoked the metallic egel/calf after having offered to him burnt-offerings. This fake-god fashion design ordered by the priest Aaron shows how people can easily go wild or mad when they lose a strong and authentic direction toward God. In Egypt as in the Sumerian civilizations, men and women could be covered with rings, bracelets, necklaces of gold, silver, whatsoever. We have the same and some males and females can be totally pierced with such accessories.
Haircut, fashion, piercing may be a must for some people raving up in light-flashing discotheques, maybe with one idol for the night. Many non-pierced groups with visionary mentors would also rage together around sculptures made of wood, precious stones or metals.This is more an instinctive belly-call as shown in the reading portion: festive meals, gluttony, offerings that can turn to be today rhythmically correct by using wildlife protection incenses, soul music and a soupcon of religiosity.
We are 29 days before the Feast of Purim and indeed the question to know whether we might or not feel the presence of the absence of God. The question is pending: can we play the fool with God actions, be He present (HaMakom = the Omnipresent) or "Hester panim - hiding (His) Face)". This weekly portion includes 22 times the word Panim (Face) as referring to God. The major question is to envision God as the Only Giver. He may be present, absent, speak or keep silent: "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" - I shall be(come) the fulfillment of Who I am (becoming) as He stated to Moses (Ex. 3:14). But "egel - calf" has a lot of rabbinic backgrounds that are presuppose our desires for cults, absence of deity and slowness to seek God's Face. It maybe hard at times to acknowledge we were shaped in His Image.
"The day the Israelites made the golden calf in the desert was ominous to Israel" (Shabbat 1, 17). The Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the priestly clothes were God's commandments. The gold rings boiled into a calf consisted in making a farce of what God had ordered. We face the same problem at the present. "Agal" means "to make round, circle" as the "agulah = a round heap of debris"(Pessahim 8,36a) and "agalta" = "the head-star of the Ox" (Taurus, Steer) (Berachot 58b) that still can be fixed by the "eglah - red heifer" (Kiddushin 8a).
In the meantime, Moses is urged by the living God to go down the mountain! Is there a kind of subtle divine jealousy? God had written His Words on the Tablets (Luchot) and He had given them to Moses. And down the mount, Moses saw from afar this roaring knees-up with the calf of gold. The trustworthy Yehoshua accompanied Moses who shattered the Tablets. Is it possible? Two gods to be destroyed face to face. Because Moshe did break God Himself as he burst into fragments the Divine Luchot (tablets). And he ordered to burn the beast. On the one hand, God's autograph was reduced to nil by the Prophet while the priest grilled up the last jewels brought from Egypt. They were gone with the wind, as the onions of the Nile. On the other hand, God could not accept to be beaten by molten deities. Again, He convokes Moses to the mount and gives him two new Tablets. Bringing them down to the Israelites, Moses could not see that his face was radiant "ki karen or panav alav" because he had spoken with God (Shemot 34:29.30). "Karen" has the same root as "keren - horn" or the trumpets that sound, echo and explode into rays, also with much light. He brought the two new Tablets, i.e. that God sparkles and mirrors His glory as Moses had approached Him. The fragments of the two Tablets were taken to the Land of Canaan in the Tabernacle. The word "luach" has multifold meanings. In Modern Hebrew, "luach haz'manim = time-table, schedule". There is an interesting saying: "The second Luchot/Tablets and the broken Luchot were both preserved in the ark, so don't despise an old scholar when his memory forsakes him" (Berachot 9b, Bava Bathra 14a).
Our memory may be affected by some troubles. Alzheimer sounds a modern disease. Memory was imperiled when humans got aware of the fact they can think. Our daily life and various commitments exert a real pressure. It often causes dramatic damages on our memories. Judaism acknowledges that the Torah is the only genuine and reliable sign of the God's Presence and Existence. Humans have destroyed documents. Moses shattered the Tablets.
"Luach = agenda" and means that God was dating (it is indeed a love affair) in a very special way with the Israelites. It is difficult to line along with an agenda. Both sides cannot look at each other immediately. Then, Moses had disappeared for a very long time. So let's go dating with the one we molt. It is much easier, "do-it-yourself". And the calf might have the profile we want him to have. This is a major issue in our spiritual tendencies to bleat like sheep and goats flocking up with our pundits. This Tablet dating rendez-vous that God progressively proposed to the Israelites is unique in history. This love affair has been tragic at times. It still develops, beyond all ages, an unparalleled love and life affair. The "Luchot/Tablets" were legible from both sides. It means that the Torah is open to all the universe as God truly is the "Melech Ha'olam - King of the universe".
Except one letter in the Book of Jeremiah, the Torah has preciously been safeguarded over thousands of years. It is our privilege and mostly the responsibility of our generation that the children of Israel return en masse to Eretz Israel. This is only a part of what the Jewish Traditions. From the date at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people were taught to abandoned everything and thus never to despair. This is a teaching shared for the sake of all human beings, without distinction. We lost the Land, our independence, the Temples. We have the Torah and how to be faithful to God's Commandments. It is amazing that we still could not breed a "red heifer - parah adumah" also compared as a counter-poison to the golden calf.
We live in a country where bank accounts are lodged in the weirdest tax havens of the world. Official services would only accept payments in cash to avoiding real bookkeeping. Nonetheless, the chetzi-shekel (half-shekel) would allow the census of the adults and measure a collectivity, making each Jew a full partner to another one. We have the Torah and we are born to recall and understand how and why God was destroyed in His writing and in the shape of a fake worthless golden calf. On the other hand, the Luchot/Tablets can hang around our necks, be engraved on rings: they are the legitimate mark of Gods Presence that can reach out to every Jew throughout the world and the betterment of ethics and maybe correct us in the many turbulences that affect our complex societal situation.
The Christian Orthodox Church will commemorate "The Sunday of the Prodigal Son" (Luke 15: 11-32).This is the third week of the Great Lent for the Roman Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church starts it later. But it is a time of reflection on turning back to God. Jesus gives a "mashal - enigmatic account" that is well-known: a man had two sons. One of them decides to ask his heritage and to live on his own. He goes on a trip, a sort of Indian journey or Himalayan trekking on dad's money. Because the problem is that he doe not understand what it means to be an heir and manage a heritage. Finally, he got penniless, without the assistance of our new style two New Shekel coin, the cute shnekel... Spent everything in gluttonies, with women and he was about to eat the karub grains left for swines. He did not want to work. So he got a brilliant, great idea: turn back home (lachzor = to return; chazarah: return, chazir: pork, recurrent sign of uncleanness) and ask for forgiveness to his father. And the father, told that his son is back after having wasted everything, gives him his ring (the power over his house and properties), ordered to kill the fatted calf and to make a banquet because his son "was dead and he is back, he was away and he is living". The brother is so jealous. But the father tells him that they never separated and he never asked anything. But this other one was dead.
The departed do not return home to be welcomed that way. It is because we have a poor conscience of how wonders can turn weirdest hells into blessings. Struggle for survival may erase from our minds that God does pardon the wildest sins...The problem is find how this has nothing to do with a lotto-bingo, and still...