Thursday Feb 14, 2008
This Wednesday 13th of February 2008 corresponds to the 7th of Adar 5768. It may be useful from time to time to recall what precise date we are or will be according to our socializing agendas. The Christian Orthodox are on February 1st and the Muslims on Safar 6, 1429 since they started the month "safar" as we entered in Adar. Just in case you want to wish someone a happy day or remind that Judaism celebrates the "petirat Moshe Rabbenu = the death of Moses". By the way, it also the supposed date of his birth. It happens quite often that people would die, whatever age, but with a sort of chic to reach their birthday and pass away as if achieving a cycle. Moses is the matching personality between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In the Jewish tradition it is also a day dedicated to the study of the Scriptures.
Moses was born in an unknown place on Adar 7, 2368 (1393 BCE) and died on his 120th birthday, i.e. Adar 7, 2488 (1273 BCE) somewhere on Mount Nebo facing the Land of Canaan. He died on a leap year and in a month that includes of lot of events for the spiritual life of the Jews. On the 1st of Adar, God had sent the 9th plague to Pharaoh and over Egypt in the shape of a thick darkness. Adar is the month of the Feast of Purim and the providential rescue of the Jews by Queen Esther in Persia. The first gate was built in the walls of Jerusalem and the construction of the Second Temple was also achieved in this month (3 Adar 3412 = 349 BCE).
In a few days, we shall joyfully commemorate Purim. The account appears like a fairy tale and still it is more real than any virtual scenario. It might thus be useful to stop some seconds on the meaning of the Vidui of confession of sins in the Jewish tradition and much in use as a specific sacrament of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches (and some other denominations). Indeed, (saint) Krikor of Narek (Naregatsi), is one of the most famous Armenian writers and theologians who wrote in a very Biblical style. Apart his wonderful "Song of the Songs" that echoes the Jewish text and midrashim, his "best" is without contest "The Book of Lamentations", interestingly published in Marseille (France) in 1673. It is a long and very insightful, profound reflection about spiritual development from penance to quietness. It is worth saying that the great Western Roman Church theologian saint Thomas of Aquinas paraphrased many parts of his long poem.
In Hebrew, the "Vidui confession" is at least pronounced three times a day. It aims to cure, heal through the way of speech and soul remittance in God's hands as said "HaShem beyadech afkid ruchi / Lord into Your hands, I entrust my spirit/soul/life - padita oti HaShem El Emet / You redeem me, Lord of Truth"(Psalm 31:6-7). The following verse is intriguing: "I detest those who rely on empty folly ("Havley-shav" = empty minds driven to destruction) and trust in the Lord. In the Oriental Church, the night prayers include a demand of pardon.
Judaism has developed special activities into very proficient professions of excellence as a full part of the impact exerted by the Written and Oral Laws on the Hebrew way to secure social welfare, well-being and wellness. Jews love when people feel healthy and comfy. Thus, the rabbinic tradition strongly defended and found ways to correct or reach some sort of balance, soul and body equilibrium and equanimity. Quite a challenge! Yes, Jews love to be physicians (to heal), assist and defend all kinds of victims (lawyers, advocates, judges) for the sake of Justice and Rights and, finally writers, journalists, reporters to inform the world about true events. They combat ignorance by means of written or oral words. This would prove, even in any secular society or choice of lifestyle, how Jewish traditions have engraved the spirit of the children of Israel throughout the ages for the benefit of theirs and the possible enemies.
True, suffering, diseases, social defects show that faith, teaching and learning of God's projects have proven to be gigantic, mammoth and prodigious instruments of screwing the mysteries of life defects and unease that can be remedied by permanent research. At this point, Judaism has no price of excellence, but the example of Moses, the model of the displaced person and loser but he was awkward to speak, totally given to God's most unbelievable projects, ready to sacrifice his life and death for the sake of his people and all the humans.
When somebody is sick, we wish in Hebrew: "refuah shlemah - full, complete recovering, healing". "What needs to be remedied? It is a divine decree that may be averted by man's repentance"(Talmud Rosh HaShanah 17b, cf. Isaiah 4:10). It may be irreverent and sacrilegious, somehow calumnious to refer to sin or to a divine defect that people have to face waves of terrible diseases that take decades or centuries to be cured at the price of extreme sufferings. Faithful and clerics of all denominations maybe tempted to cite some Scriptures. They might also be so terrified that they stay put, speechless. There is still a link between the Vidui and diseases. Some heavily sick persons may have insights about the real value of our days. "Whatever Jeremiah spoke and prophesied evil, Isaiah came and healed, i.e. restored" (Pessikta Rabbati 29/30). This "repair" belongs to the heart of Jewishness, with a touch of joy beyond any oy's.
In Hebrew "asham = guilt", and was a special offering of atonement" and is linked with the root "satam = to lie in wait for, to bear a grudge against, persecute". Thus "sina'h s'tunah = a hidden hatred". The Vidui (confession) starts with the word "ashmanu - we have sinned" that means that we might have twisted against ourselves or others a sort of hidden and broken hatred that requires the repair of "restoration". R. Nachman of Breslov suggested a wonderful "Tikun klali - total repair" set of prayers that combines some Tehillim/Psalms. Because we are imaging God Himself as "icons" who have been shaped in His Image and Likeness. It is a miracle to see how people can still be alive, beyond any explanation or rationalization.
Rabbi Suziyah was a famous rabbi. He felt he was called to a great achievement for God's love in this world. So he went to his mashgiach (say, counseling rabbi) and told him how he had the wonderful project to help any soul to get rid of their sins. He asked his rabbi to get him (with God's permission, of course) to see everybody's sins in order to heal them and save the souls. Good enough. He got it! And then, R. Suziyah could not sleep anymore. He could see all the sins everywhere, all the way, night and days. He arrived worn out, totally dead beat at his rabbi and told him to stop such a crazy hell of a vision. The rabbi answered he got what he had asked... No way to cancel such spiritual gifts. R. Suziyah suddenly humbled himself and said he would ask God to get him to go down to hell with the sinners and take up their sins in order to raise again and help them be released, delivered of such pains. This is far more difficult and thus the job of any good spiritual counselor. This is the living accomplishment of the Mitzvot.
Yiddish is a digging-in scrutinizing tongue that reveals and may suggest some speech or psycho-analytic ways of healing. Is it the "Mume-lush'n - mom-tongue" or the "language of women"? It conveys with insightful acumen a lot of words borrowed to more than 25 languages; it is puzzling like Esperanto, but deeply humane and heart-melting. Yiddish faces and grasps the haunting demons of sins and sickness, folly, madness. "Leytzim - the clowns, crazy demons yakking up for all the evil they do", "sheydim, dibbukim - devils, demons", "chitzoynim - outlaws or spirits of impurity", "tzedreyte ruches - foolishly twisted poltergeists". These words and their related phrases seemingly show more senselessness and delirium than wisdom and equanimity. And still, they do bring us close to more reason and
We should be very cautious in our way to use and not to misuse or abuse any soul with faith and the way God runs our lives. A century ago, it was usual to find in the Eastern European prayer-books these few words: "al-tehi shoteh - do not (use this prayer-book) to mislead anyone to craziness or make the fool of these prayers". It needs a lot of words to explain something that can reduce us to automatons. And this is frightful.
It is true that a lot of people are attracted by irrationality. All sorts of soothsayers, sorcerers, witches practice in the country as in most parts of the world. Jews have experienced how to fight and overcome any fear or hindrances. It is definitely present in a kind of unuttered capacity to pardon and to heal. Jesus of Nazareth has walked throughout the country "healing all torments and diseases", expelling demons and possessed souls and bodies. This is the language of "signs - simeia in Greek (Heb. "simanim"/nissim" that indeed maybe considered as miracles.
There might be a reason for this steadfast combat against fear, fright, anguish: making everything new is God's night and day action. And numerous people - who would even say - are just haunted by what seems sealed. But "making things new" means that the world only starts, today and tomorrow. This should be positively challenged without mocking the heritage given by our traditions. "A thousand may fall at your left side, ten thousand at your right, it shall not reach you. Because you took the Lord - my refuge, the Most High - as your haven, no harm will befall you, no disease touch your tent" (Tehillim/Psalm 91:7-10). We ask for "refuah shlemah - total recovering"; can we all, as a society, ask for "emunah shlemah - total faith/confidence" and accept whatever response.