Sunday, July 6, 2008

CHUQ: The mitzvah of purifying love

The Hebrew Mitzvot are numerous and diversified. This Shabbat is called "Chukkat - חוקת " and present the account, in Bemidbar/מדבר \Numbers chapter 19, of the commandment to slaughter the red heifer or parah adumah\ פרה אדומה whose blood and ashes should be sprinkled over the altar and purify the people. This is the kind of actions that are not very en vogue at the present. But cultural attitudes are often totally unexpected.

Last week, I celebrated at the cemetery of Mount Zion, the godovchina\годовчина or first anniversary of the pasing away of a person whom I had buried. Exact day, one year later. Same place for what the Jews call a יארצייט\yohrtzayt - a yiddish word that really corresponds to the spirit of the Slavic word. The family came from Baku, Azerbaidjan, but were totally intermingled and included both Christian Orthodox, Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Armenians, Azeris, other Caucasian nationalities. They used both Russian and Hebrew as their tribal Esperanto. As usual, we had a meal after the memorial service at a family restaurant. Tons of food, all sorts of lambs, meat, chickens, fish with rice and vegetables. Far too excessive and a bit like a banquet linking both memory for the living and the dead to meet on that annual day. This is also new Israel or Israel as it shows today. But, to begin with, these very nice and for the bigger part educated people, had asked to bring the lamb and mutton alive and to slaughter them on the spot. They could not get the permission which is basically evident, but still proves how cultural behaviors and rituals may cope with blood actions or ashes. The Buddhists do use ashes with water in a manner that is not so far from the red heifer ritual prescribed for the purification of the people. Ash Wednesday that marks the beginning of the Latin Rite Great Lent also consists in imposing ashes on the forehead and/or the hand of the faithful though it is a very simple act without specific reference to the red heifer and the slaying of a cow. Chukim\חוקים are "not rationnally understandable or explainable commandments". God has spoken and declared, ordered; man must accept the Word. We hate orders and why should we obey without understanding or at least without discernment?

The "parah adumah\פרה אדומה " is special in the Jewish tradition: "par\פר " means "steer, bull". It allegorically refers to the Jews in their offering of their lives for the redemption of mankind. This is the way Jonah was retained three day in the belly of the big fish as making a sacrifice for the fishmen who had thrown him into the water.Strength and weakness, inteligence and some sort of blindness characterize bulls. "Adumah\אדומה " is "red (Fr. "rousse")" as Adam was taken from the earth\adamah - אדמה ."Adom" is red like blood\dam - דם and silently runs in the veins of the living. In Avodah Zara 24b, Adom/red means the sacrifice of the red heifer as the general offering of human sacrifice to God that is either linked to life/birth or death and prolongement of life (shoshana aduma\שושנה אדומה = menstrual women bleeding). Edom\אדום turned by vowels from the red color to the Edumites and thus the Egyptians, and later the Romans, the Roman empire. It was finally associated with a negative attitude toward Christianity.

Pouring a unique cow's blood and ashes in lustral waters over the altar is not a magic act. It is not idolatry. This is the most difficult part of our teachings. It apparently makes no sense. No human mind or spirit can get to a partly or full comprehension of what such a mitzvah may imply. It is like love or pardon: we cannot comply anyone to love anybody. We may spend our lives just like single portions of some nice or less appetizing products in sale in supermarkets. The Jewish teaching is different. It focuses on "more than more". It is not evident or given to love. Daily speech just shows that: "we could kill by love die out of love". This makes no sense. This is not love. There is a huge part of irrationality in atonement and true love.

In that sense, Israel does need the presence of any ministering people, parroting the Name of God and making the living on the souls of the local inhabitants. True faith must lead to unity or coherence with regards to history and human destinies.

The Ukraine is, for a big part, a major country of reference and origin for the Jews who built Israel. There is a tough link between the State of Israel and its founders and this area of the Southern fundamental region of the Rus of the Slavs. In the Antiquity, the Jews already lived in Odesa, Cherson, Sebastopol that the Scythian people had conquered. It is possible to speak of a sort of tragedy in the relationships between the Jewish and Ukrainian/Subcarpathian nation. The mitzvat parah adumah/ commandment of the red heifer would suggest that we had to pardon. That God may marry couples in love since He ended the creation of the world. The first things that God did: He repented with Noah of His will to destroy the universe and the earth. This is a unique example that God Himself did repent. And then, He put a sign on the forehead of Cain who had killed his brother. This means there is no measure to how much we are born to pardon. We cannot oblige anybody to pardon and forgive. There are souls and there are times, places where this becomes the sign of true hope and resurrection.

On Friday night, in the harbor of Haifa, the Ukrainian Ambassador of Ukraine in the State of Israel welcomed different personalities on board the short visiting Ukrainian ship "Hetman Sahaydachniy". It is the kind of event that is both discreet and significant. There is a large Ukrainian community in Israel. It is composed of different levels of Israeli citizens, legal and illegal workers, people who would spend some years in Israel (sometimes switching to the Palestinian Territories). The community has some difficulties in setting up real organizations and associations. There was something very moving at seeing Israeli soldiers of Ukrainian descent with their family or girl/boy friends, speaking Hebrew, Ukrainian and Russian.

Yes, there have been murders committed by the Ukrainians since the Jews lived in the country. Again, Yad VaShem shows that, in the present, the number of "Righteous among the Nations" that saved the Jews during World War II is higher than for any other nation. And it is thus important, on such a shabbat of the red heif and "beyond rationality pardon" to insist on this "gentle, maybe gentlemen's agreement link" that is authentic and rich of cultural, spiritual insights for the future.

It was indeed moving to look at the people: from Mr. Moshe Maniovich, lawyer but mainly veteran of the Ukrainian and Israeli armies. We are coming in July and August to the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of the Rus' of Kiev/Kiyv. It cannot get reduced to some internal and political conflict in the Ukraine and among the multi-faceted Christian, Jewish, Muslim denominations. There is a spirit that is indeed present in Israel. This spirit helped the Jews, maybe unwillingly or without much awareness, to build up a modern state that faces a lot of common contradictions with the Ukrainian society.

In 1902, in Nikolaiev/Mykolaiyv, was born Menachem Mendel Schneersohn who became the last Rebbe of Lubavitch, and died on the 3rd of tammuz 5754, i.e. fourteen years ago. I hope to write more notes about the interesting ties that could be found between the Rebbe and Paul of Tarsus. Undoubtedly, i is not possible to ignore the way the Rebbe could contact all Jewish communities, whether Ashkenazi, Sephardi or Oriental - his "universal" call and also to the Gentiles in Christianity. In modern times, it suggests a special ability to all mankind, first to the Jews, then the Gentiles. This is strangely very Paulinian. It is evident that some tendencies developed by the Chabad (Lubavich movement) may be questioned. It is a very creative path to what is at the heart of Jewishness: the indissoluble clutch to the Mitzvot and their giving of life.

Israel is totally entitled to know who, how the Jews have been murdered by a widely baptized Europe. On the other hand, she has also the task to pave the way when a red heifer may show; at this point, the Rebbe of Lubavich will help as curiously Paul of Tarsus and the saints that God is acting far beyond our will and understanding. Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytskiy of L'viv remains a powerful and Light of God for the darkest days of all Ukrainians.

Some years ago, I baptized a child in a town of the South of Israel. When I entered the flat, grandad spoke Ukrainian with his wife, the only tongue she had - he welcomed me in Yiddish; the other generations spoke Ukrainian, Russian, some Russyn dialect and Polish (from Subcarpathia to Poland), Yiddish and Hebrew. This is the same as for the above Caucasian family: Israel is boiling up with a spirit of newness. It mixes up and shapes new situations. Indeed, Messiah comes and Christians witness that He will come in glory.

No comments: