Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hitorerut/waking up and metamorphosis

Klal and Qahal Israel\כלל וקהל ישראל come to New Year 5769. We are still in the wonderful period of Elul and it is possible to pivot ahead with God's assistance and pardon our fellow people, friends, family members, enemies. It is a strong period for praying the Slichot\סליחות and go through the ten days of slichot\סליחות. Pardon leads to unity with others, expiation and tenderness, compassion and at-one-ment. The Kol Nidrei\כל נדרי prayer commences with these words: "By the community of Above and the community of Beneath\בקהל של מעלה ובקהל של מטה - in the knowing conscience of the Omnipresent (Lord)\על דעת המקום - we dare pray with those who trespass(ed)\אנחנו מתירין להתפלל עם העברינים.

Strangely enough the final phrase is close to the Roman Latin sentence that introduces to the prayer of the Lord during the Mass: "preceptis salutaribus moniti... audemus dicere (we dare say)". The Byzantine rite has it in other words: "and allow us, Master, to dare call to You with confidence without being submitted to any judgment, to You God, Heavenly Father". In Hebrew, the word "attir-עתיר" tracks back to "release, free. deliver". This is the very core of the Jewish spiritual life and intuition: pardon is possible. Pardon allows clutching and supporting each other and collecting all humankind into one partnership: God's creatures. It is an act of unloosing emancipation. Year after year, we are called to grow up and get mature, wise, insightful and quiet. Of course, there can be some defects. We see how economics got a bit rotten, people are either overspoiled or terribly impoverished. The Divine Presence continuously revives those who fall and propose to clean up our brains and houses (bodies and properties).

It is helpful, in these days, to feel that we are not fenced. God does not frame anyone - on the contrary He sustains life and birthing. We cannot focus on our "tibbur - תיבור - navel, the famous Yiddish "pupik/פופיק ". We are God's children shaped as humans in order to grow and encompass the world singing the glory of the Reign of the Lord.

We may not accept forgiving the others. Then why God should pardon us? The Amidah\עמידה - Prayer of the 18 Benedictions at least recited thrice a day invokes this "mysterious act of the life-giving Master of the universe". It is said: "selach lanu - mechal lanu - kaper lanu\forgive, pardon, atone and release by our ransoming offering - סלח לנו. מחל לנו.כפר לנו". This resembles a supreme effort as mentioned in this forthcoming Shabbat reading portion Netzavim. We love parroting about love, friendship and pardon. It is much more difficult to implement in real life. But faith can sustain such a pivotting move of our souls and bodies.

Moreover, the second part of the prayer states: "(pardon) kol bney Israel vehager hagar betocham ki kol ha'am bishgagah - release all the Children of Israel as also the foreigner that lives in their midst - because all the people (=nation, human race) has erred beyond rationality and without conscience\לכל בני ישראל ולגר הגר בתוכם כי כל העם בשגגה .

Pardon goes beyond any fault, defect, guilt, transgression. It surpasses and overshadows by maintaining in life all humane reflection. It is at the heart of the "chusaya\חוסיא - imploring mercy and intercession (Aramean confession in the Assyrian and Chaldean rite)".

It is a time of repair. Newness and repair come together to meet New Year, i.e. a new portion, new teaching period of our lives. It suggests that we reach out to a time of "transfiguration, metamorphosis" and this is the biggest challenge we have to face all the days of our being on earth. It means that we have to carry out the good news of Bereishit/Genesis: "everything was very good - טוב מאד "(Gen. 1:31). This can be real. This is at hand.

* * * * *

On August 6th for the Western and August 19th for the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches celebrated a feast that seemingly does not exist in Judaism: the Transfiguration of Jesus of Nazareth on a high mountain. Was it at Mount Tabor, in Jerusalem or on some other Northern mountain? The Greek word is “metamorphosis/μεταμόρφωσις” because the “shape/form” of the Jesus changed and “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzlingly white as light’ (Luke 9: 29) while talking with Moses and Elijah.

It is said in the Gospel of Matthew that this occurred six days after Shimon-Peter (Shimon bar Yona\שמעון בר יונה; cf. Ben Sirach chapter 51 and new Kippur service in the rebuilt Temple) confessed Jesus as “the Messiah, the son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). Six days later supposedly imply that it was by the time of the feast of the Booths/Sukkot. But the point is that Jesus appeared in a discussion with Moses and Elijah. Shimon-Peter suggested to build three tents/dwellings. And then a bright cloud overshadowed them. For the very first time in the Gospel, a voice (cf. Bat Qol\בת קול = Spirit of God) told the apostles that Jesus was “the beloved son” (Matthew 17: 1-8). This tracks back to Abraham and Moses as God’s acting messengers.

There is a key similarity and parallelism that should be taken into account: Moses died in the wilderness and nobody knows where his grave is located. He someway physically disappeared as nil. Prophet Elijah ascended in a whirl-wind to heaven in the Merkavah\מרכבה / chariot and horses of fire while his disciple Elisha was staring at the scene. He wanted to get a double measure of spiritual strength from his master (2 Kings 2:9-12). Jesus was subject to a process of “transfiguration – metamorphosis – Hebrew “hishtanut\השתנות – change”. The correct word should be taken from the root “tselem\צלם – face / “hitstallem\הצטלם” means “to be taken in picture” in Modern Hebrew. But “tselem\צלם”, in the Jewish traditions, refer to “Image (dark)”, “painted matter” (Avot 3, 14), “even image, take, painting”; or, “pay honor to the image of the Lord! (= respect humans)” (Tanhumah Mishpatim 19). Yiddish and Hebrew use the word to mock “the Christian” considered as an object of idolatry (געצלמטער קאפ). On the other hand, “Hit’orerut\התעוררות – waking up” and “hit’arut\התערות – deep rooting-in” would be convenient because they express a change of “’or\עור – skin, thus face and like waking up from another realm”.

The Christian Churches are often at pains with this move of Kippur-Expiation. It is a day of white and clear light, full brightness. Saint james wrote a very "Kippur-like" epistle that focuses on morals and ethics, goodness and healing. Saint Paul wrote the shortest letter of the New testament: His epistle to Philemon is definitely intriguing and includes the whole of the Christian faith. Paul of Tarsus is in jail. There is meets with a man, Onesimus, who has been condemned because he had stolen, cheated his boss, Philemon, a wealthy man who headed a Christian community at Colossae (cf. Colossians 4:17).

Paul asks (begs in the name of the Lord that Philemon take back home his former slave, Onesimus who had robbed him. No. Well, Paul suggests that Philemon take him back and welcome Onesimus as a free man because he will leave the jail where he got baptized by the apostle. But there is more: Philemon is asked to welcome Onesimus as "his (true) brother". Onesimus is pardoned from all his sins and wrongdoings; he is released and thus equal to his former master, Philemon. This is fascinating and at teh heart of a Kippur-like action. Paul adds something that "he writes with his own blood". If Philemon considers that Onesimus still has any pending debt toward him, Paul takes the oath that he will refund the required money, if any! (v.16-19). This is the very meaning of our wishes: "Good inscription and sealing\כתיבה וחתימה טובה".

Av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

Photographs: a) Menora - Heichal Shlomo
היכל שלמה - מנורה\חנוכיה;
b) Edicule of the Resurrection - Anastasis.

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