Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tikvateinu - Our hope beyond hope

We arrive to some sort of "end of time, end of year" period. Every year, in the summer, the four/three-week Tammuz to Av recurrence should bring the attention of the Jews to the meaning of "kaytz\קיץ - summer", connected with "ketz\קץ - end. There are the “K'tzey haolam - the end of the world as a space" and the prospect of finishing the year, a time of harvesting (Bereishit 8:22 or Tehillim 74:17: "You have fixed all the bounds of the earth; you made summer and winter). Shabbat "Devarim\דברים" is directly followed this year by the mourning Tisha Be'Av day.

We should note and with much awareness that the fifth Book of the Written Torah encompasses many actions that all exclusively deal, at first glance, with the achieving part of the exodus and the final entrance of the Israelites into the Land of Canaan after some 39 years of wandering and various tribulations in the wilderness. This is correct but not totally exact.

Indeed, the Book suggests that God reminded Moses of all the historic data that happened since the flight from Egypt. He recalled how the Jewish people erred in the desert before being allowed to cross the Jordan under the leadership of Joshua Bin Nun. Moses concludes his own mission and gets ready to die “somewhere” on Mount Nebo, reckoning all the events that he carried out with a God's predilection.

But the Book is called “Mishney Torah\משנה תורה – repetition of the Law” that wrongly became in all translations “Deuteronomy = the Second Law”. Why is it slightly inexact? “Second Law” might be misinterpreted as a new or different giving of the Torah, as supposedly accomplishing what was not perfect and complete at the Mount Sinai. This has some veracity but is still not the real purpose of the Book. Then, from the Second Book of the Chumash (Five Books of Moses), the actions are trying to develop in view to allow the Israelites to return to the Land of Canaan and penetrate the region that was promised by God to the Avot (Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-Israel). Long series of a journey full of hardships and misunderstandings among the Israelites as regards how God meant to implement this redemption project and what benefits the Israelites can get having “anshey chayil\אנשי חיל – men of power and judgment”. Then they were given the Written and Oral Laws (Matan Toratenu) after they behaved as childlike troubleshooters with the Chet-ha-egel\חטא העגל (the golden calf sin). It was more a kind of accessories and jewelry melting party.

But Moses intervened and repeated the major elements of the Divrot\דברות – Ten Commandments, the building of the Mishkan\משכן -Tabernacle. VaYikra\וקרא is the Book of the Levites or how to get closer to holiness by sanctifying God as a priestly nation. Finally, BeMidbar-Numbers shows how the Israelites did finish the construction of the Mishkan/Tabernacle but were not able yet to penetrate the Land. Some tongues have specific ways in expressing the idea of what appears “secondly”. Russian has “vtoroi\второй = second as following first and introducing a third thing, if any”. But “drugoi\другой = second in the sense of “other, different” as “inyi\иный”. “Mishney Torah does not really refer to some second, third or more Torot/Laws’. Indeed, Moses undertook to expound how God spoke to the Israelites at Horeb. But his account is not showing some yearning for the past. On the contrary, although this might sound like a paradox: this account opens the way to the future. “Mishney = elements to be repeated” because the Book of Devarim – Deuteronomy includes a sort of “eleventh” Mitzvah/commandment: “Shma’ Israel\שמע ישראל” (Deut. 6:4-9). “Leshanen\לשנן = to repeat” is a pedagogical method. God insists that specific Commandments have to be repeated constantly by the Israelites, maybe thus with more insights and prophetic capacities. This is why, “kaytz\קיץ – harvest, end” allows envisioning as true factors the capacity for the Jews to get enhanced harvesting seasons in the future. Moses apparently recounts what has happened during the exodus and the wandering in desert.

In fact, he anticipates how the Israelites will have to comply with the Mitzvot. He recalls the tests they overcame in searching their way to reaching out to the Land of Canaan. Again, the Land of Canaan or Eretz Kanaan/Israel, is not a “new” conquest. It will turn to series of fighting confrontations with the local inhabitants. But, it is indeed, in an unusual manner, the return of the Avot/ancestors’ descent to their native homeaccording to a Divine promise. This defies time, space and human understanding.

The spiritual experience of Israel is that “destructions” as those of the Temples (Ninth of Av) are timeless and lead to time and motion comprehensiveness of repairing actions. God accepts and tolerates us but “ad matai – until when?” (Tehillim 4:3). The Jews are normally trained to exert their living memory as looking through the tragedies of the past in order to repair and create anew what have been destroyed of damaged. Many contemporary rabbis have underscored the strong connection that ties up the weekly portion with the haftarah (prophetic portion) read on Shabbat Chazon (Shabbat of the “Vision”) in Isaiah 1:1-27. Tisha beAv (9th of Av) marks a peak since the year 70 (C.E.) in the symbolic and emotional, spiritual life of the Jewish experience. History and calamities rushed at Judaism and 9th of Av corresponds at the present to events definitely linked to a special period of history, i.e. the emergence and spreading of Christianity, the pretence of false messiahs (Bar Kochba) and the penance of famous Jewish Sages (R. Akiva). Thus, the following events are supposed to have happened on the 9th of Av: Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70; plowing of the Temple Mount by Turnus Rufus and Jerusalem became the pagan city of Aelia Capitolina in 71; the defeat of Bar Kochba in 135; the first crusade launched by Pope Urban II in 1095; the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1295 and the final expulsion of all Jews from Spain and Portugal in 1492. This expulsion was later followed by the slaughters that led to the Shoah and the project to erasing the Jewish presence in Europe, North Africa, Soviet Union and the related states.

We should never forget that Jews read the Prophet Isaiah’s Chazon/vision on the Shabbat before Tisha BeAv for a reason that has nothing to do with the Nations’ attitude and abominations against the Jews.

He wrote, hundreds years after Moses’ last account in Devarim: “Oy, goy chet/ oy - sinful nation / am kaved avon – people laden with iniquity… Your country lies desolate; your cities are burnt with fire…What is to Me the multitude of your sacrifices… I do not delight in the blood of bulls, of lambs or of goats” (Is. 1:4.7.11). “Eycha hayta lezonah/ Oy how the faithful city has become a whore” (Is. 1:21) include the title cry of the Hebrew Book of “Lamentions – Eycha\איכה” – read on the 9th of Av. Is it not strange and spiritually highly significant that the Devarim/Deuteronomy starts with the same cry of lament and interrogation uttered by Moses about the Israelites: “Eycha essa levadai\איכה אשא לבדי – how can I bear the heavy burden of your disputes all by myself?” (Deut. 1:12). “Eycha – how, how come?” also shows in the Song 1:7 (“eykana\איכנה” in Song 5:3; Esther 8:6). This refers to the main quest after the meaning of life in good as in evil.

Indeed, “eycha” is firstly to be found in the Book of Bereishit/Genesis as Adam and Eve have disobeyed to God commandment not to eat from the fruit. It should be noted that Judaism as the Oriental Christian Churches do not accept the concept of “the origin sin”. The sin consisted in disobeying God’s word. Thus, in the Gan Eden, God’s call to Adam at the end of the day was: “Ayecha\איכה (eycha) – how, where are you?” (Gen. 3:10). When God exclaimed this question and summoned Adam rather softly to hear the truth, “eycha” implies a fault, a rupture between God and His creature. Thousands of years still leave Judaism in a sort of incapacity to admit we have to be obedient to God and not to what we think, in our opinion, that God is willing. There is a profound experience of cry from the entrails in this very short and exceptional word.

This is why Devarim/Deuteronomy is indeed “Mishney Torah”: We will see that the Book does not repeat many Mitzvot/Commandments and this is a very intriguing point too. On the contrary, Devarim brings forth new commandments. The Book achieves and implements the destiny of the Jewish nation but there has been a harsh dispute why not to start the TaNaKh with Bereishit, i.e. the creation of the world and every human being created “in God’s Image and Likeness” (Gen. 1:26).

It would be rather short-sighted, narrow-minded to focus, on these days of fast and penance, on the tribulations that Christianity imposed upon Judaism. Judaism did suffer a lot and with much cruelty from the pre-Christian anti-Judaism and the first destruction of the Temple on 9th of Av 587(bce) and that day (1312 bce), the spies/scouts dissuaded the Israelites to penetrate the Land of Canaan (Taanit 9b). We are going through nine days of fast till Tisha BeAv, not because the others did harm, attack, imperil, slaughter, kill and destroy, in many ways, the different traditions and the faithful of the Jewish communities.

But the task of Judaism is not to roll up into some shelter and, in return, only accuse the Christians of the wounds and scars of history against the Jews. Some Christian Churches have taught with much despise and ignorance of the Scripture that the Jews had killed Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel, as the catechism of the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches show that all mankind (both Jews and Gentiles) have put Jesus to death. It would be pitiful and not be responsible not to combat the deep mutual ignorance that separate most religious communities. On these days of fast, the Jews focus on the abominations that led to the destruction (churban) of the Temples. The Jews have been scapegoats from the time of the exile in Egypt, so it is incumbent on the Jewish spiritual leaders and communities to avoid any scapegoat-making in return or by some kind of revenge. Christian catechism as the transmission of the Jewish faith face the immense task to correct their spiritual attitudes. This is only possible in the light of the Divine Presence. How can we today, in Israel, tame each other in a peaceful reflection? We apparently cannot dialog at the present, Catechism comes from Greek “to echo”, similar to “mishney torah – repeat repeatedly" and looking forward, ahead of who we are.

“I have set the land before you: go in and take possession of the land that I swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give to them and to their descendants after them” (Gen 1:8). “Eycha! How, where in the world! How come?” It is such an extravagant and awesome event that turns death into life and we are really born to bless, only expecting any echo of faith (= “amen”) …

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