Thursday, February 28, 2008

Trumah: how many new shnekels for a soul

Thursday Feb 07, 2008

We enter a special time with the beginning of new month Adar 5768: the weekly parshiyot hashavua (reading portions) will lead us to the feast of Pessah/Passover. Four special shabbatot are dedicated to paving the spiritual way of the Jewish communities to leaving the Land of bondage, being present at the Sinai; then to receiving the Written and Oral Law, at Shavuot or Jewish Pentecost. This allows us to prophetically envision the development of God's actions and projects in our society, in particular in the State of Israel and the numerous issues we have to face and resolve here.

Along with the Jewish community, the Churches present in the Holy Land - and basically the Eastern Orthodox one - together with the Catholics, Armenians, Copts, Syrian-Orthodox, Ethiopians who have been present here since the beginning of Christianity will go through a time of intense fast or Great Lent, marked by different calendars but a general penitential attitude that will lead them to the feast of Easter on March 23 for the Western and April 27 for the Oriental Churches, i.e. unusually before the Feast of Pesach on Nisan 14 (April 19) for the Catholics and the Protestants. This is contradiction with a decision of the Nicene Council in 325. By that time (4th century), and definitely disconnecting Jesus' resurrection from Passover, we can really that the Christian sects had grown up into independent entities or patriarchates: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch. Jerusalem became an independent patriarchate (a local Church headed by a bishop/metropolitan and a local synod, i.e. managed by local clergy and lay people) only in 451. To begin with, the five patriarchates were in full communion of faith even if some very harsh theological disputes caused violent debates and temporary reciprocal excommunications everywhere. The point is that Jerusalem and Eretz Israel (the Holy Land) is the unique place where Jesus of Nazareth spent all his life. He rarely went outside of this area. The Patriarchates developed as an extension of the message proclaimed by the Christians all over the world. Today, there are more patriarchates, like Moscow (Russia), Bucharest (Romania), Beograd (Serbia), Sofia (Bulgaria) and many independent (autocephalous = "self-headed") Churches like Greece, Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Poland... In 1054, the Church of Rome separated from the other patriarchates. In general, it is interesting to note how the Church of Rome split many times in the West, giving birth to the Protestant (Lutheran and Calvinist) movements, then the Church of England (Anglican) that spread through the world as the Episcopalian Church. Other denominations were created from these Christian ruptures (Mennonites who developed in North America, Baptists, Presbyterians, and others).

In some way, the Christian Churches in the Holy Land and in the State of Israel, substantiate in various colorful rites, vestments, languages, cultures something of what the civilization of the Yiddishkayt has met in her dispersions/galut. Today's situation in the Ukraine is very inquisitive: the country has three or four separate Christian-Orthodox patriarchs, a Greek-Catholic major archbishop, Roman Latin, Apostolic and catholic Armenians, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, and ancient Calvinists and all kinds of Ashkenazi and Sephardic groups incl. Breslov (Rabbi Nachman) or the Chabad (Lubavitch) and other Chassidic movements. I mention the Ukrainians because a great amount of Israelis are of Ukrainian origin, even if they had been deported during WWII to Uzbekistan or other Central Asian or Far-Eastern areas of the former Soviet Union.

This week, parshat Trumah (Shemot/Ex. 25:1-27:19) depicts at length how the Israelites should build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) or first housing for God's Presence and various utensils, vessels, the pieces of manna and the luchot or Tablets of the Law. Numerous verses and words explain the species of wood that should be used, the measures, gold, two Cherubim of gold, bowls, ladles, jars and jugs and on the "shulchan = table (not yet an altar)" the "lechem panim = showbread". The same continues with the shaping of the candelabrum or "menorat zahav = the menorah made of pure gold". Shemot 26 details the cloths that should decorate and protect the Mishkan/Tabernacle. Say, as Rabbi Y. Leibowitz used to point out: God did not use so many words and verses to outline the creation of the world!

True, though the Talmud is extensive on the matter. The creation of the world, the way-out from Egypt and the land of bondage were decided by God Himself. Humans had to accept and develop. Evidently they tried to demolish the creation by means of specific crimes or trespasses. This is a constant temptation for humans to test God or to destroy Him or His creation. It is the same today with the misuse of products that destroy either the eco-system or affect the health of the living. Still, everywhere people are frantic of how to decorate their flats, villas, houses. Interior architecture is en vogue, with sophisticated taste or touch of personal pleasures and flavors. The Mishkan/Tabernacle and all the vessels were not realized as a magnificent wilderness architectural national, ethnical, one-cultural project. God gave a series of mitzvot/commandments to structure His sacred space in the wilderness in order to meet with His people ("Veno'adeti lecha – and I shall meet with you" (Ex. 25:22).

Encounters with God never depend on human will, though He might know we should need and we can send Him some alerts. The Mishkan did not reflect a Unesco architectural heritage of humanity. God often says that in the Scripture, especially in the Tehillim/Psalms: "Tefillah le'Ani = Prayer to the Poor"(Psalm 104:1). He is the "Poor - 'ani" or the "Hoshana prayers" (Sukkot). God is in need of humane care and social entertainment, i.e. He loves when humans pray and act to be good and show humanity. God loves when tight and close, authentic connections do increase between Him and the humans; then, among the humans because He matches them to get to (some sort of) oneness. This is why all the splits that affected Judaism and Christianity as we can see them in Israel are fascinating. They are so thought-provoking, but also so artistic, splendid, magnificent or humble and spiritual. God wants us and not only our creative capacities. This week, the point is that the Israelites accept to build a house to the One Who does not need any dwelling because the world and each creature is His home.

This is a wonderful reading portion at a time when we are as "evil-possessed" by ethnical nationalism and cultural or faith-traditional fences. This often deals with properties, shapes of places of worship, languages, gestures, vestments. Compare with parshat Yitro (Ex. 20:19-23), the altar is not the same, nor the materials (no silver or gold). It is interesting to visit the Beyt Hatfutzot (Museum of the Diasporas) in Tel Aviv to contemplate the great diversity of buildings of worship in the Jewish dispersion. A lot of wealth, ornamental eye-pleasing materials. Gold and silver, wood, as in the Churches compose a world that flirts with paganism. God gave His Torah, repeated it in a "neutral" place called "midbar" (desert, wilderness) in Hebrew. Nothing to do with "emptiness"; or Russian "pustynya, from "pustoi = empty" or Germ. "Wueste - desert/uninhabited". In Hebrew, on the contrary, "midbar" is the unique place where only One Person, i.e. God could speak and be heard - Hu medaber (He speaks/ Hu dibber /He spoke) something clear and audible. Midrash Canticle Rabba 8 says: "Though the Temple is in a desert, you are bound to observe the sacredness of its precincts as it is ruined at the present". It means that we have to consider more. God did not give the Law in Eretz Israel or the Land of Canaan. He did not speak in a house, under a huge pop-event folk tent. We are not even sure of the exact location, because it does not and cannot belong to anybody, any nation. It obliges every person, Jew or non-Jew to consider their existence and human flesh and bones, body as the real dwelling of God as every Jew states when waking up: "Modeh ani l'cha = I give You thanks, o God, that You restored my soul within me (bi)".

On this Shabbat "Trumah", we should remember that the priests had no properties, no possessions. They used to receive the "trumot - offerings", which is the "removal lifted up as the ashes from the altar" (Yoma 22a). Every body , every soul has the capacity to melt till opening their hearts to God's Shekhinah (Pessikta Rabba 21) and also for Paul of Tarsus who wrote: "You are a naos (temple) of God" (1 Corinthians 3:16). But do we look at the present as shining God's face and likeness? There are tremendous resources in Israel and the Jewish society to give alms, to make real sacrifices for others. It is also time to encounter others with a thirst to discover the richness of our incredible multifaceted society.

The ancient Drachma quoted in the Gospel disappeared when the Euro was created. Today the US Dollar, the new Euro are slowly and dangerously dropping down, This year, it is thus funny to hear how the media are delighted about the raise of the "New Shekel"! And there is more: now, we have a Two Shekel coin, spontaneously called "shnekel". It cannot prevent a very monetary-sick system from collapsing. It gives a touch of tenderness in a ruthless trading conquest for power. The two months of Adar remind us that we belong to God. He is not ours.

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