Friday, June 27, 2008

In the Heat of the Day

Av_a Jerusalem Forward blog

Israeli society is at pain with a kind of uncertainty. Indeed, Israelis and Jews and related have the duty, mitzvah\מצוה to back the survival of Israel. But it is so confused and confusing to know how to do that with justice, righteousness and making sense. This is not a political statement. The interesting point is that we should ask ourselves whether we assist to a fact and participate right now in a phenomenon that affected the Hebrews after their liberation from Egypt: a sort of foggy dazzing confusion that made them err 40 years in the wilderness.

Thus, it is clear for whoever scans in-depths Israeli-born and assimilated members of the society (they are called "citizens in Hebrew in accordance with the TaNaCh - אזרחים - ezrachim even if they are not legally recognized as such) do show some sort of apathy, or tremendous enthusiasm, or soft cool way of living. Israelis are deeply convinced that Israel will not be destructed. No way, not in our generation, not in theirs. On the other hand, secular/religious, openness/fencing processes constantly attack a society that is economically expanding new and multi-faceted intercultural competences and skills over the world.

Abraham was a wandering Aramean (Deut. 26:5). He used to sit “b’chom hayom\בחום היום – in the very heat of the day”, under an open tent and to welcome those who were passing along the way (Gen. 18:1). This verse is definitely exceptional, great and true. It smells heat, a poor shelter, some water with nana/mint. Speech and silence, welcome and flexibility.

Yes, Abraham was peacefully giving hospitality to those who needed a rest when the heat was reaching its peak. On the other hand, Saul slaughtered the Ammonites till the heat of the day (1 Samuel 11:11; cf. 2 Sam. 4:5). Heat can also be a matter of remuneration as in Jesus’ parable to give one talent pay to all the workers, those who bore the burden of the day and those who came for on hour (Matthew 20:11; cf.Avodah Zarah 10b).

“Cham\חם = hot, hot-tempered, warm, boiling” is a basic Semitic and thus Hebrew word, rooted in “H-H-M\ח-מ-ם – hot, warm, to boil”, mainly referring, in the Talmud, to water and cleansing activities or to special colors (as “red”, the same as today some women would love to have red hair or, in between, some strawberry dye close to red). It may relate to rituals: “The bathers began to heat the water on the Shabbat (Shabbat 40a). Teaching: “Warm yourself by the fire of the scholars and try to associate with them (Avot 2,10). “Hammam = Turkish baths, the sort of sensual Oriental vaporous bath and massaging” that is upgraded in our SPA’s.

In terms of heating as healing processes, “chacham\חכם” turns to “chum\חום = heat and heal, excite” as also “to be hot, covet, carnally excited”. “I had a desire for his embrace” (Niddah 20b) and “He got so hot that he was (healed) by his pollution, though not once but again and again (Niddah 43b). On the other hand, “This is a land which all great men were anxious to possess (Tanhumah Mishpatim 17) connects carnal desires and hotline with a deeper feeling of anxiety and insecurity, which is quite frequent.

The word is very intriguing, indeed. “Chum” swindles from heat to departure. “Arouse the feeling of the people when delivering my funeral address for my soul (I) shall be present” (Shabbat 153a, about a righteous man because people were speaking warmly of his memory). “b’khol chumma’o\בכל חומאו = in his full heat = youth”. Curiously, this heat that is the sign of daytime and life dynamics, including confrontations, implies, in the Semitic realm, some need for limitation of space and accessibility.

The Old City of Jerusalem is partly surrounded by the “chomot\חומות – Walls (of the Old City)” that are much frequented from the different places where one can climb up and down along the Gates. We have a very poor historic and cultural memory; say, we prefer not to know. From the time of Abraham to Jericho, everything in this region was a matter of fortification, walls of protection. And each time, throughout history, the main issue is to know how to cool down the fever (chamah\חמה), quench excitement (chamad /chamda\חמד-ה) and reduce anger (chemah\חמה, cf. Daniel 3:13.19). “It is not possible to live without (moral) protection”, states Talmud Yevamot 62b (cf. Jeremiah 31:21). “Chomah\חומה = fortification” is currently used in Talmud Megillah (1:1- 5b) to designate walls or a “protecting lake” that serves as fortifications. This is something we do not accept easily and that is totally misunderstood abroad for various reasons. The essence of Judaism is to be in need of protection. Firstly, Jewishness requires to be protected by God or the Divine Presence, the Shechinah. Then, there is a permanent lack of comprehension. Pious Jews, the world of “Jews in prayers” cannot mix in any way with the non-Jewish or Gentile world, and somehow some part of secularized Judaism. This is even ridiculous to pretend that a “Non-Jew” can enter that world freely and deliberately. There is an immeasurable gap between pious Jewishness and any connection between this society segment and the Non-Jews. There is an earth-to-heaven line that cuts it as an invisible wall of fortification. Something we often see here in microclimates and rain: rain on your left, no rain on your right! But people often misunderstand that because they think in terms of framing and ghettos created by hatred against pious Jewries. Decades ago, Fr. Marcel Dubois, a Dominican, who was the first Christian to teach Christian Philosophy at the Hebrew University, wittingly answered that “many Catholic congregation were usually fenced in”, i.e. that those who are not members of that specific community are not allowed to enter the bigger part of the monastery, or very rarely. We never think in terms of “positive” separation and thus often consider situation with much framed points of view. He died a year ago.

“In the very heat of day”, Abraham was pretty much exposed to killings, alienation. His tent was open. In this region, we are still living on the pattern of this radical “cham/chum”. Are there some linguistic “reality words”? “Cham\חם = father-in-law” (from the same root) and “chamot\חמות = mother-in-law”. This is amusing because this parentage is supposedly very inquisitive and even nosy in their children’s lives. Some are delicious; and good that they exist because, their grandchildren’s parents often have to rely on them financially and in learning how to reach adulthood. There is a meaningful example of the presence of such a Semitism in the Gospel when Jesus started preaching and met with Shimon-Kaipha whose “mother-in-law was laying sick with a fever” (Aramaic “eshata\אשתא – fire” lines with Greek “puressousa –had a fire = fever”). In Hebrew, the specificity of the “chom/cham” is present twice, i.e. redundantly : chamuto = his mother-in law, “chom = fever”. And the “wall of sickness” is lifted up. (Mark 1:29).

There is a stimulating deutero-canonical (apocryphal) Book – not recognized by the Jewish and Protestant Bible, but accepted and rather widespread in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches: Tobit; a fragment of the book was found at Qumran. It deals with God’s Tovah/tobiyah, goodness. Tobit is a kohen (priest) who strangely spends his time collecting and burying the dead slain by Sennacherib in Nineveh. At the present, it seems bizarre because the kohanim are not allowed to be in contact with the dead. The point is that it had not always been like that in the Jewish tradition even if we must accept the present development. When the Temple was existent, the priests were offering the daily sacrifices. They had no properties and no tribe territory. They were given the charities of the sacrifices. And thus, they were indeed in contact with burnt-offerings, i.e. with dead animals slaughtered for the sanctification of the Name.They were making their living with dead animals.

Our messy situation in the Middle-East is going through fire, anger, fever and irrationality. It is marked by law infringements and lack of true respect for human beings and souls. Abraham’s hospitality in the very heat of the day at Mamre’s Oaks (Marc Chagall’s painting is the icon I chose for this blog) seems to be a real mitzvah as also to assist all the dead that multiply and loosen unclear fences that pull off at the moment.

June 26, 2007 – כג דסיון תשס"ח

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