Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lo tsiwwah: the paradox of the living

Thursday Mar 27, 2008

This week of Shabbat 'Shemini-Parah', the Torah portion to be read is Vayikra/Leviticus 9:1-11-46. It begins with the new account of the consecration/ ordination (semichah) of Aaron and his two sons; Moses ordered Aaron to offer a calf and a ram, lamb without blemish, in front of the Tent of the Meeting. Aaron did offer the calf and his sons brought him the blood that he put at the corners of the altar (cf. daily memorial prayer of "Shacharit - morning prayer"). He dipped his fingers into the blood. Now, the whole thing is strictly and absolutely a bloody blood stuff. Thus, we must be very careful, in this country, in any Jewish society. We are required to showing a spirit of prudence accompanied by wise insights.

Once anointed as priests, Nadab and Abihu, put each a pan, put fire in it and incense and the "fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them (vatochal otam); vayamutu lifnei HaShem - and they died in the Face of the Lord" (=at the instance) (Lev. 10:2). And then, Moses said to Aaron: "This is what the Lord meant when He said: Through those near to Me I show myself Holy / bikrovai ekadesh - and gain glory before all the people." And Aaron was silent/ Vayadom Aharon (Vay.10:3). Aaron remained silent, in a silence that is "dom" and not "sheket - quiet silence". Why did his sons suddenly perish, speedily, swallowed by the fire they came to offer? Was it for the sake of the merits? Were they in a situation of some "Kiddush HaShem - Sanctification of the Name" in which instant death and rush to God is a sign of holiness for the assembled elders and the Israelites? No or maybe yes, because "the Lord had not commanded them to offer this fire", so they offered a "esh zarah - alien fire" (10:1). R. Y. Leibowitz underlined an ancient tradition that is more than important in our present situation, especially this year of anniversary. They were "lo tziwwah - not commanded"; a special cantillation mark (merchah kefulah) is under the /L - lamed/ of lo, suggesting a real command not to perform the offering, but still they could not refrain from doing that. And this is true. We may have in front of us the most impure object but our inner desire to tend to God is so powerful but mistaken that we are overcome and seized by off-beam feelings. Instead of worshipping God the right way, we behave like the pagans and practice idolatry (Avodah Zarah 5b). This is why freedom from slavery also applies in worshipping, sacrifice of the offerings and of our prayers. This is why it is so difficult to act without any spiritual pressure exercised by the society or formal reasons of civilities.

As God took them "in His Face - by instance", these verses maybe suggest other subtleties of our souls and life choices. There are people who are not mature enough to achieve a task or a certain way of living and still they will be given the abilities to get across the intricacy of the challenge. And then they bifurcate. Say, God might have called Aaron's sons to change their route abruptly and with love. At the instance, Aaron's silence shows that he got to his priesthood. He reached the place where a man is in the position of total obedient and silent presence in the Face of God. He went to accomplish the duty that he had accepted, i.e. to be nothing, nil, nigh in order to open the ways of God. This is the Jewish priesthood and way to holiness, wherever the Temple exists or not, for all time, any place (maybe compared to Jesus harsh words: "Follow me and let the dead bury their dead" (Matthew 8:22)).

In the Song of the Song, we are called to become like tender flesh of the sweetest beasts. Animals can be terribly anxious, on guard, as the "gazelles and deer of the fields". Jews have often experienced this feeling. David Ben Gurion accounted that on Friday 5th of Iyar 5748/May 14, 1948 when he proclaimed the independence of the State of Israel. Yes, sixty years ago. "I feel no gaiety in me, only deep anxiety as when I was a mourner at the feast" (D.Ben Gurion, The Peel Report and the Jewish State, p. 86). This "Yiddishe angst - feeling of anxiety mixed with fear and rejoicing" runs throughout the Bible. Joy always prevails.

The Jewish Communities are proposed this week to read how they are called to be holy or to sanctify their lives in order to witness that true holiness is indeed their part. In one month, on the 27th of Nissan, the State of Israel that commemorates the victims of the Holocaust. Some citizens should be educated to get deeper involved into what and how things happened in a Christened Western and Eastern Europe that hardly can define the Christian fundamentals of the European Community. On Nissan 27, any citizen of this State has the duty to keep silent... remain in silence for the blessed memory of those who perished only sixty years ago. The Christians can join this prayer of memory. The Shoah happened, for a part that is too difficult to measure at the present, because of "the teaching of despise", irrational blood libel accusations, forced conversions and theological contests between Judaism and Christianity. Still this day cannot belong to any Church nor can it be "seized" by any denomination. On the other hand, it will take centuries for the Jews and the Christians to get closer to a real and reciprocal dialogue. But dialogue cannot be imposed like touring travels with bed and breakfast, and some flashing ideas, if any.

It would be very sad if the 60ieth anniversary of the State of the Jews systematically would focus on the uttering/chewing of the Shoah catastrophe. It is correct that the Jewish community has paid a special price to sufferings. Ever since, each nation might not compete but find some analogies in the way they have been destroyed or victimized. Strange how Jews need to compare their fate with others in terms of "catastrophes". Right now, the problem is to know if the Tibetans may have something of that Jewish angst and pain. There is a kind of desire to adopt the others because we finally got home. But this is quite unusual for the Jews and even weird for the non-Jews. So if it happened, it is only because they suffered beyond any rate. This is a pagan way of thinking. There is no measure, no middah-system that can allow us to valuate both rejoicings and sufferings. We need a rate because it is convenient. Such comparisons are full of vanity.

Then, there is this above rationality commandment: "Lo tsiwwah - (you are) not commanded". Indeed, we feel sometimes like compelled to do things though we perfectly know it makes no sense to perform them and that they will not clarify who we are. Churban? Shoah? Holocaust-Catastrophe? But this is human, all too humane. Nobody can force anyone to get through extermination via some virtual process. We can be tempted to do that. But the priestly call is rather to explain why priests have to lead to holiness and not cursing or idolatry. This combat is an ongoing war, everywhere, anyhow, whatever cultures and faiths.

This Sunday is dedicated to the Cross in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition. Kneeling down and rising up again, the faithful sing 40 times "Kyrie, eleison - Mar, rachem na" - Lord, have mercy!" The Romans used crosses for killing and torturing, gallows. We have quick shots. But the question is still pending: why are we still here? Here, in Eretz Israel, after 4000, 3000, 2000 years? That means much more than any passion. It is the paradox of coherent lives without possessions.

Alexander Winogradsky Frenkel

March 27, 2008 - 20 deAdar II 5768

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