Thursday Feb 28, 2008
Shall we have some snow or not in Jerusalem before Shabbat Vayakhel-Pekudei? People seem chilly these days after some snow, at least in Jerusalem. The real weather forecast states that spring-summer are near and usually they show when the youths will wear cotton T-shirts letting the navel breathe with full visibility. Clothing and fashion are again on the spot in the reading portions of this week: firstly parshat hashavua Vayakhel (Shemot 35:1-38:20 - And then Moses convoked) followed by Pekudei (Shemot 38:21-40:38 - These are the records of the Tabernacle). This long series of verses describing how to construct the Mishkan (Tabernacle - God's dwelling) is not a reprint of what God had instructed to carry out before the "chet HaEgel - the sin of the golden calf". There are similarities and more: we assist to a hammering party. Each letter is screwed, nailed and hooked into the building process so that every human being could understand what implies that God has His Dwelling among the Israelites.
Israelis progressively forget that they did live in huts, cabins, huge tents (ma'abarot) or caravans. I still know several people who - maybe for some personal reasons - continue to live in odd caravans. A lot of people are rather lodged in third-rate conditions, in hotels. There have been a lot of progress since Trumpeldor's time (1916) and Golda Meir's installation near the swamps. In 1975, visiting in Vienna (Austria) a place for the homeless and refugees, we had been astonished that everywhere people were up-to-the-minute as regards cloths and fashion and they had access to all sorts of TV satellites. The situation is rather similar today even if Israel has to face a permanent fight against poverty, hunger, lack of food, health protection, the increasing amount of homeless. We are mutating to down-sliding impoverishment, need and insolvency. Still, the Israeli society is basically rich and wealthy. Our frenzy consumption, credit and monetary corruption show that we line with other spoiled economic systems; this was definitely not at the heart of the ingathering of the Jews in Eretz Israel. True, a lot for people are compelled to live humbly, with much restricted resources and, at the same time, they must acculturate to a country on build. Whether secular, partly religious, the Israeli society was born because of the ethical, spiritual hardships overcome in the course of the Exodus and the construction of the Mishkan. This was certainly not a political prime TV show news with politic-dealers. When we consider today Nahmanides famous words "that the Book of Exodus deals with the first exile... and the redemption of it" we maybe find the phrase true, intriguing, questioning, arousing or rubbish. It sounds like a professional statement for rabbis and Co Ltd. Faith becomes at the present a job or a way to learn the Jewish traditions without being involved professionally or socially. Politics save the universe with Heads of the States summits that replace Antiquitys gods and goddesses banquets. They have nothing to resolve and too many fledging advisors to feed.
At the present, the Israeli society would have to make an enormous spiritual effort to read the Torah portions of this week with total confidence in God alone. The Jewish community has - also scattered throughout the world - simple "anay'im - simple believers", that love the Torah and the Mitzvot with such insights as to feel that nothing will ever shake fundamentals. We pathetically need some spiritual voices to clearly prove and be heard that this week of reading the end of the Exodus should let us reconsider how the Shekhinah/Divine Presence descending on the Tabernacle is calling us to get out of "galut - exile and reach ge'ulah - redemption". We desperately need the kind of guy or girl (quite a possible sketch today) who somehow is like David, the incognito youngest child, the real mentsh (humane human being w/heart), not head over heels self-willed and stiff-necked. Candidate(s) should only have heard of the Torah, the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and be maven (have expertise in good heart).
"A'nan" is a very precious word in the TaNaKh and the Talmud. It means "to make cloudy" as we say "yom me'unan = cloudy day" (Yoma 28b, Negaim 2,2), or "to gather clouds, augur from clouds" (Targum 2 Kings 21:6; Luke 12:54 refers to weather and times and delays forecast). The root is linked to "anah - to answer = begin to speak" as in "and all (the cless) repeated each sentence after him" (Sota 5,20c). "me'uneh = fasting" (Toseft. Taanit 2,7). This explains the connection with "ani = poor, humble": "if one has an enemy, does one wish him to be poor or rich?" (Milah 17a) and : "The Jews became poor again" (Ketubot 33a) or : "Let the poor be members of your household (Avot 1,5). The word 'anan' is very often used in the sens of 'protection, cover' such as in this interesting verse: "as long as Sarah lived, a cloud was tied (anan kashur) over the entrance of her tent and when she died, the cloud ceased" (Bereishit Rabba 60). This verse encompasses all the future developments relating to the Shechinah/Divine Presence and indeed the construction of the Mishkan., then the Temples/Batey Mikdash. The word is also to be found throughout the life, ministry and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and in most epistles as a specific mention of the Spirit and the Divine Presence. In the Song of the Songs (2:6):" "his right arm embraces me' that means the cloud of the Divine Presence in the world-to-come" (Shir Rabba). Moses gathered, convoked the Israelites (vayakhel), i.e. he showed to fulfillment of the Kahal - Holy Congregation (cf. blogs "Kahal/12/18/07 - Kehilah/07/01/07"). God gave ordinances, mitzvot and the people deviated.
Human herd instinct is trivial and prefers molten materials. they think they can manipulate such stuff. Even quixotic personae would not imagine to put a portion of cloud into a fridge... We do sell fresh Jerusalem air box. We want to own God. we could put Him into some box. No way! Moses does check that the Mishkan /Tabernacle is perfect according to God's requirements. Still, God covers the Holy Place with His Shechinah in the shape of a cloud that no man can hook or capture.
The parshat Vayakhel (reading) starts with the heart of what the Kahal/Whole Congregation means for the Jewish tradition: "On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Shabbat of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death" (Ex. 35:2). The Ten Paroles do not require to murder a person who trespassed this commandment. But the Shabbat is not something that vaguely starts from Thursday afternoon to some indefinite Friday or Friday afternoon and stumbles between a "sof shavua = week end" that would sound like a "British tea time break" The Shabbat does not belong to any human being (Mark 2:27), cannot be postponed whatever tricky games we may do with our clocks. Anyway, Gods Presence "thickens His Presence" with specific solar, lunar and time schedules that will overshadow the world with a "neshamah yetara - additional soul surplus, or Divine Presence surplus" (Shemot 40:35). It took one year from the Rosh chodashim (beginning of all months) and the first day of month Nissan. Just as money, economics, socializing with God is on constant fluctuation. God obliged, requested His people to build His Dwelling with perfection: this means they had to go far beyond any idols. They had to be moltenin in order to become good-hearted and "tender". They built the Tabernacle. There were seemingly no more gold rings and accessories roasted with the calf. The half-shekel participation served to make the hooks for the pillars of the Mishkan (Ex. 38:28). Good. Then, God will for ever cover them with clouds and the Shabbat. Rashi thought - true in the Galut (diaspora) - that the TaNaKh should commence with the "rosh chodashim - the beginning of all months" and the Feast of Pesach. He mainly lived and studied the Scriptures in France and Germany, i.e. in a Christianized area.
We are not in the same situation in the State of Israel. To begin with, we are not in the diaspora, but we often behave as if we never knew that Eretz Israel was in our bones and minds throughout the dispersion. The prayers for rains or good harvesting in Jewish tradition are calling to God for Eretz Israel, then for any other place in the world. But this is not a DNA nationalistic ethnical, "my culture-my tongue-not yours" claim to God or a notice of strike action. God continues to show His clouds. The Shabbat is not Jewish, Israeli. It introduces the Community to the perfect achievement of the creation and comes to abide the whole world from week to week.
This is the challenge we have to face in Israel. This is why the Sages acted with much insights and wisdom. They decided that the TaNaKh does start with the Book of Genesis/Bereishit and the shaping of the first "universal" human beings. Not only that: The genesis of Passover is not in the Book of Exodus. The Book is that of the Name/Shemot of those who were the descent of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Israel did not originate with the Mishkan, nor the Exodus, but the faith of God in all His creation and Jacob's wrestling and dream of a ladder. The commandment of the Shabbat states: "You shall not do any work - you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your cattle, the stranger who is within your settlements" (Ex. 20:10). Oh, we are very good at twisting this commandment. Whatever sort of human we are, the Shabbat invisibly engraves God's Presence in time. Some Chassidic rabbis said they would, in the absence of any reference point, be able to recognize the time of the Shabbat. We feel its presence.
This presupposes that we can be open, not scared by others or the liberty provided by God. Some people would then think the situation is unbearable. Puzzling, what! With all the nations and spiritual denominations present in Israel, it would mean something like a 28 hours total break? Rashi said that the "Gentiles of our generation are not ovdey zara" - idolaters (he meant the "Christians"). Now, it might be a plus to have some Christians who seem to work on Shabbat. Then Muslims stop on Fridays. Mutual authentic recognition and consideration do not rely on economic or emergency situations. They have more to do with how we can get aware that we live under the same clouds.
Each year, the Christian Orthodox have a special memorial celebration on the Sunday before Great Lent. On this Sunday, there is a special call to remember all the souls who lived and returned to God. We forget that we don't live in a culture of death. This was maybe possible before the One God has been announced throughout the world. We live in a culture of testing, temptation: some have killed God and would like to revive Him. Then they think they own God, which is a nonsense. On the fourth Sunday of Great Lent, the Byzantine Church commemorates a Syrian monk, saint John Climax (7th c.) who spent his life in the Sinai and wrote "The Ladder of Divine Ascent" that combats laziness (akadia), apathy (apatheia) and proposes to contemplate Easter as an elevating process. He was abbot at Raitho, not far from the place where Moses proposed this spiritual ascent to the Israelites. Yes, this week we are challenged to show that we are true humans.