Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Onshin: about punishment

Over and over again we seem to get bogged down into revenge calling revenge, wounds crying for deeper wounds, blood shedding the shadow of paying with blood. This is our spiritual stand at the present in the whole of the Near and Middle-East. This is the pathetic situation of the Iraqi society, the cradle of Sumer and of the Abrahamic monotheism. The same spirit has yelled throughout the 20th century from Turkey to Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaidjan, Persia, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and Ethiopia, Sudan.

This wide area includes all the nations and countries that participated or were somehow involved over the past 7,000 years in the development of civilization, law systems, faith and belief patterns that led from polytheism to monotheism. It took ages, centuries, a lot of think abilities, questions, revolving positionings, a lot of brain and understanding to get to Zaratushtra Mani and gnosticism, Mazdean attitude of good and evil that is at the heart of the Jewish codex and appeal to the Jews and to the nations.It took centuries for the Buddha (the Awaken) - /budh/ un Indo-European tongues both means "to exist, to wake up" and strangely influenced the Jewish and Christian Ways.

During the confession, the believer of Byzantine rite says "I sinned in word, action and all my feelings (чувства = feelings but the word reminds "страсти - passion/s). In Hebrew, the same words are included in the the confession of sins/viduy\וידוי considering that when passing away, a human being should repent upon his irrational or violent feelings, uncontrolled yetzer\יצר - as "yetzer hatov (good) - yetzer hara (evil) - יצר הטוב\יצר הרע" that should be overcome by the time of becoming adults. This vast region is shaped by wrestling passions that border irrationality and the God of lovingkindness would prevail over the God of punishment. The Jewish soul is fashioned by love, pardon and hope beyond any possible, realistic or rational hope.

In 2001, just a few months before Intifida 2 started, a very good and credible Israeli daily published a rather long article about the "unforgivable aspect of Israeli society". It described the parallel situation of a society that cannot forgive. In the seven years, this attitude turned into an unflinchingly self-conviction. But the country as the citizens slowly adopt various ways of behavior and living that sways from fear/panic, identity crisis, total ignorance of moral and Jewish traditional values to some sort of national baby kindergarten and infantilization. KZ WWII veterans financially save the State for a part, and live like in an underworld. On the other hand, spoiled adult teens waste money, time and corrupt the "virginal look" of the State of the Jews at its first beginnings.

We are going through the weeks/shabbatot of abomination\תועבה (cf. my previous note) that recall our need for penance and conversion. This does not concern the "others". This concerns the Jews and the community of Israel. The terrible, truly frightening spiritual condition of the faithful - thus also the Children of Israel - is that most congregations would deter sins in the others and victimize them rather than humbling themselves in order to feel God's atonement. This has always been the privilege of Israel's "poor in spirit - anavim\ענויים also called (invisible) tzadikim\צדיקים . Indeed, we live in the same confusion governed by panic masked by the pretence to be strong and keeping everything under control.

Do we remember as 5768 fades away as a year of remittance and repose for the earth and the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel that there is precisely no measure to patince and pardon or remittance of debts, release of sins? If we are the State of the Jews, this means we are the State of the Mitzvot and all related explanations, if any. Rabbi Nahman of Breslov made a very peculiar statement: any Jew that would visit his grave and recite the 10 Tikkun haklali\תיקון הכללי (General repair/remedy) psalms will be redeemed from the Gehenna/Gehinnom or Inferno.

The Tanya that is read everyday in the Chabad community and should also be studied in connection with the tradition of Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Churches focuses on the tradition of teaching how to practice the Mitzvot with righteousness\בצדק . During the time of the Abomination days, donning the tefillin (firstly given by the time of Pessah and Exodus) aims at waking up the conscience and moral forces of the Jews in fighting and overcoming evil.

How come that in such historical circumstances, we are so shy at facing reality. Nonetheless, Israel is laboratory State for probing the Mitzvot... What to do\מה לעשות?

We might be tempted by some renewed tendencies practiced by the Sadducees. They held the control of the Temple and developed the famous "baseless hatred\שנאת חינם - sinat chinam". They perfectly knew the rules, the rituals, the sacrifices, the laws. They did not accept the Oral Law or Talmud and rejected the creed in the resurrection of the dead. This means that they did not believe in afterlife, eschaton, world-to-come and eternity.

This corresponds to our contemporary geenral feeling that afterlife may exist, but basically we are limited to be born, grow and die. Thereafter, we disappear or are reduced to nil. The Pharisaic and Christian creeds, on the contrary, insist on life before incarnation (Yevamot 52b: God will embody all the souls into gufim (bodies) until He will reach the full number), during human conscious life time and death in view to be resurrected (Birkat Mechayeh metim\ברכת מחיה מתים - Amidah blessing "revives the dead"). This makes every single life sacred, holy, sanctified and sanctifying.

In this respect, the Mitzvah "You shall not slay, kill, murder\לא תרצח - lo tirtzeah" corresponds in the Tablets to worshiping the Only One God, Source of Life.The realm of the Mitzvot can only be understood and correctly accepted by the Jews who mainly rely upon the Oral Tradition that severely condemns any attempt to murder anybody.

In the past months, the savage terror attack against the yeshivah Rav Kook seemd to induce some rabbis in "blessing" Jewish bar-Mitzvah men who would agenge the students by killing certain Arabs in retaliation. It should be underlined that some politically-oriented if not obsessed members of the Christian Arab clergy have similarly called to bless and support the actions of the Hamas against the Jews and the State of Israel. Such preaches are not rlated to any serious or trustworthy Jewish or Christian tradition. "Thou shalt not kill (any member of thy tribe)" has constantly been a sort of allowance to murder the "others". But such advices do not respect the sacredness of the Mitzvot.

The Commandments overshadow the community of the faithful. By no means, the community can seize and dispose of the Mitzvot and use them to justify political choices. The Mitzvot are factors and agents of Unity while politics sustains parties and divisions. There is more: Israel - because she has to be the State of the Mitzvot relies on a very strong multi-faceted legal system that intends to protects communities and individuals' rights to exist and develop. Thus, we are not in the United States or in the Former Soviet Union. The American law - totally split all through the US States is one of the systems to which some Israelis are submitted by double citizenship or for cultural motivations.

Russian, Belarussian and Ukrainian, Uzbek and other former USSR people who are residing or got the Israeli citizenship cannot claim any reference to the former Soviet legal system, just as the Ethiopians or Argentinians or other inhabitants of Israel. With regards to death penalty, this creates an wide scope of possible decisions with as much colors as in a kaleidoscope. This has nothing to do with God's righteousness shown through the Mitzvot that concerns every single soul or living being (animals as well).

Interestingly, the State of Israel has no death penalty, except in the case of those who evidently participated in the process of the extermination of the Jews. This deals with the holocaust criminals and the only executed one was Adolf Eichmann in 1962. It should be noted that this death penalty rule was only applied for one individual out of thousands.

It is stated "that the Lord did not punish undiscovered transgressions (committed in Israel's camps) (Sanhedrin 54a-43b). But the major aspect is to refer to Moses passing away because he had killed a human being. This is at the core of the Shabbat Nachamu\נחמו (comfort, after Tisha BeAv) and the "Etchanan\ אתחנן emand for the grace of entering Eretz Canaan (Devarim 3:26). God refuses this privilege to Moses.

This has a very special insightful and profond meaning: murders were committed by the Hebrews throughout their exodus, especially by the dath of the Egyptians. But the supreme decision was in the hands of God, not depending on human will and emotions. During the Seder of Pesach, Jews sing sotto voce that the Egyptians firstborns were killed. There is no place for any sort of murder for a Jewish soul and, subsequently, an authentic State of the Jews. This can sound a bit bizarre and quixotically dreamy. The faith of Israel underscores how precious and essential purity is for their tradition that consists to live, give life and sustain life in the likeness of God's action.

We should not reduce, even if it shows as a great temptation, the realm of the Mitzvot to the way the pagans, nations of the world are seduced to exert their power upon each other. Then killings generate bloodsheds, revenge calls to avenging on others, enemies, foreigners, aliens.

Strangely enough we miss at the moment two opposite samples of characters: Rabbi Yehoshua Leibowicz z"l who would scream and yell all the way at the sight of the present society. He was right when he said that the Yiddishkayt\Jewishness died out in the ashes of the Nazi and Soviet extermination systems. Nonetheless, observing Jews should remember that spiritual credit does not rely on the number of sold best-sellers or ability to run Judaica as a juicy business. This is also true for any Christian or clergy individual or community. R. Leibowicz was screaming because he knew what the world of the Mitzvot is and shall always be: definitely not an American hamburger for Schnell Imbiss (quick-eating). It will take time, a long time before the former Soviets will understand that Israel is not only a shelter for the Jews, with possible baskets and open doors to the planet. Joseph Trumpeldor died at Tel Hai and he made his life a sacrifice. He was secular. But this is the real price of the earth.

Then we also miss something of the Szatmarer tradition. We need people who, whatever extreme in their positions, oblige the Jews and all other communities to understand today what it really means to become who we are still in our mothers' wombs. It cannot be an easy task. Israel only starts to discover the heritage of schools who fully lived via the observance of the Mitzvot.

R. Shmueley Boteach wrote a very nice and perspicacious article for the 14th yohrtzayt/anniversary of the passing away of Rebbe Menachem Mendel z"l. I am not sure that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was so American or Goldene Medine\גאלדענע מדינה - like. He had a real universal vision of Judaism and of how the Mitzvot should be taught and taught again in order to reach out to all the Jews and the Gentiles as well. I am quite sure that he was aware that Moses was banned to enter the Eretz. This was his question: can a Jew leave Eretz once he came back? The Rebbe lived in the dispersion.

אתהלך לפני ה. בארצות החיים \ I shall walk in the presence of the Lord on the earths of the living (Tehillim).

Av Aleksandr

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