Saturday, September 6, 2008
One body and soul
It is en vogue to speak of changes. The weather does not seem to change or let's say it turns to customizing processes. In August 2007, just one year ago, I wrote in the Jerusalem Post blog: "Are we going through a normal and standardized summer time? This year, Hurricane Dean swayed the Martinique and the Guadalupe islands, Haiti, and licked with heavy storms the Dominican Republic, then turned to Yucatan and Veracruz in Mexico. It wipes from our memories or more accurately the images of our media the tremendously whirling hurricane Katrina that destroyed New Orleans and Louisiana, with billions and billions of damages and homeless".
This year, the process developed in the same areas, storms, floods and monsoon devastate wide regions of the planet. The conflicts move ahead to Caucasus, Georgia, Ossetia and Afghanistan. Pakistan is shaken, panics and terrorizes. Tonight, for the first time since 1915, the Turkish president visited Armenia because of a football match! We are in soccer, basketball and hockey moms. There are invariants: are we in "panem et circences - bread and circus" as in the good old time of Roman paganism?
Faith calls us to hope beyond any possible hope that the world moves ahead to pardon and redemption. Still, we should take care of our globe: the Earth and her creation is God's work that we had to respect and conquer. It means that we do not have the right to annihilate it. We are used to carnal and spiritual slaughtering of humans, animals and we damage the environment God entrusted us. This is why September 1st, being the first day of the new ecclesiastical and liturgical year in the Eastern Orthodox Church has been chosen by Patriarch Bartholomaios to celebrate and protect wildlife, nature and the world. This was also the target of the ending shmittah/release and resting year 5768 in Eretz Israel.
Indeed, the reading portion of the forthcoming week is taken from Devarim\דברים / Deuteronomy 21:10-25:9 in this Shabbat “Ki tetsei\כי תצא – (when) you go out (to war against your enemies)”. It deals with morals… Of course! All Mitzvot and the whole of the Written and Oral Laws have proposed deep reflection on ethics throughout the ages. They aim at teaching each generation how to behave with dignity and respect for others. It does not mean than we understand or even cope with the God’s Commandments. But they are our substantial green that allows us ruminating slowly like our dear milking cows (Tehillim 1:2, “uv’torato yehggeh yomam valeylah\ובתורתו יהגה יומם ולילה – and considers/ruminates His Torah day and night”).
Thus, what do people ruminate about? Sex. Well, there is a little problem. “Sex” does not exist in Hebrew. It may sound bizarre to some citizens. We are seemingly sinking into sex genital prolegomena to a correct know-how of our sexual relationships. In the reading portion, God prohibits rapes, women abduction in war times, transvestitism, prostitution, adultery, slander against women, mutilation of male genitalia. Nu, This really sounds “sexual”. Actually it might be! But we don’t use the exact word in Hebrew to discuss a matter that is at the heart of any existence.
Pedophilia is coming up in Israel. It was current in Ancient Greece for different reasons. Some years ago it created a national cultural and mental shock in Belgium, as also in France and within the Catholic Church in the United States, Ireland and other countries. Pope Benedict XVI asked the victims raped by some clergy people for forgiveness during the World Youth Convention in Australia. At least, he did it. This concerns in fact a spiritual attitude of pardon that concerns all denominations and our faith. This is not limited to gays.
“Sexus” comes from “secare – to divide, cut". Humans are divided in order to determine their qualities of males and females collectively. The parasha/reading portion is dealing with the problem of accepting or rejecting the “genital” identity of humans. The question has been the same since the Flood and Noah's survival. How the humans can enjoy intercourses with decency and control their impulses or taboos. Sex(us) is declined in the present in: heterosexual, homosexual, transsexual, same-sex, over-sexed and unisex. This has nothing to do with mechanics. And it is indeed a pity that modern religious teachers do not dare clearly and loudly instruct about the mental, physical and spiritual values of our limbs. Human beings cannot function as separate robots or golems. Our physical connection to ourselves and to others does mirror our personal purity or soul life. There is one specific aspect that should be taken into consideration. Faith allows us to act with decency without being obsessed by sin or guilt.
“Male and female are called to be one body and soul”, states the Talmud (Menachot 93a). This confirms the value of the first commandment, i.e. to quit father and mother and to “clutch” to a wife (Gen. 2:24). In Hebrew, “Min\מין = sex” and “Person (to the fullest)”. It also interrogates about our origin and destination (Avot 3:1): “Me’a’in\מאין = where from”, “min\מין = who, out of (where)”, “man, mah\מן-מה = what” clarifies the dignity of each human. This shows the fulfillment of how human beings are called to respect their members, bones and souls, brains, intellect, mind, conscience.
It is trendy to publicize sex as a “raw and wild instinct game". Hebrew shows why it cannot be reduced to mechanical or temporary exercises. Physical intercourse always involves creating, reinvigorating and stimulating sexual and emotional feelings. It leads to enhancing our spiritual lives. Bodies are not toys; intercourse means "sharing in the development of a connection". It may be difficult to find the correct way to such a level of relationships. They have nothing to do with robotic actions, fears or obsessing fancies.
“Love = Ahavah\אהבה = Gr. Agape” undoubtedly refers to Divine Light of creation ( = la’assot\לעשות, yatsar\יצר = to make, create, shape”). Again, Mishney Torah\משנה תורה – Deuteronomy hammers down how consciousness should abide our souls and never affect, harm or even damage other inmates, in particular women. One could think that this “wedding warnings and strict commandments” are a consequence of some women weakness. There is no evidence that women are weaker than men. The TaNaKH insists on the fact that woman was shaped in order to assist and even contradict maleness (“ezer kenegdo\עזר כנגדו = a helper against him (Adam) Bereishit 2:20). This maybe nothing new, but the newness is not in the repetition of prohibitive mitzvot. Newness consists in being more aware that any human would like or even prefer to test, taste what is wrong – then get wounded and fall.
In Israel, most women wear pants, men would get more feminized (ornaments, beauty products, unisex clothing). We look again toward own-sex groups that would turn to individual hedonism and loneliness. Sexual perversions or transgressions are universal; transvestitism can be initiatory (shamanism or Japanese "No" theater) as pedophilia is for the African Siwan people or the East Bay Papuans. They show up in ancient Jewish and Christianized cultures as symptoms of degenerative tendencies. These function like primary mental panicking impulses. There are more and more cases of incest which – beside any mitzvot system – is condemned by all human groups; with two amazing exceptions: Egyptian Pharaoh’s and the Mormons. This is definitely not some primitive depravation. It shows how humankind is at pain in eradicating the early commencement of human social life. It was a very fenced and tiny group network that could not reach to a self-controlled conscience. Each individual was driven by sudden and instant rages to have a hell and, eventually catch and kill. At this point, we are only at the dawn of humanity and spread the good tiding that God reigns over the universe.
Thus, it is said that we ought to save a fallen donkey or ox (Deut. 22:4), not to kill the mother of fledglings in a nest; and: “assita ma’aqah legagech\ועשית מעקה לגגך / to build a parapet for the roof of a new house: “otherwise you might have blood-guilt on your house if anyone should fall from it / ki yipol hanofel mimenu\כי יפול הנופל ממנו” (Deut. 22:8). Now, this commandment should be read in most cities of the country as regards the building of solid security parapets / ma’aqot\מעקות everywhere. This sounds a bit peculiar: is there on our roof a being who may fall and make us blood-guilty? The prayer of the Amidah (18 Benedictions) “Mechalkel\מכלכל” has it: “God sustains the living with loving-kindness, resurrects the dead with great mercy, somech noflim\סומך נופלים - supports the falling…”
There is no competition in faith. It is impossible to be jealous, hurtful or damage any single "blood and flesh". This is a terrible for the faithful, the hierarchs and the Communities. Centuries have passed: believers of all denominations and ethnic descent did often trap and wrap people with arrogance and disdain. As the blessing says, “God sustains and reinvigorates” all beings while we would love to trip someone up because casting down is such a pleasant game for whom cannot stand personal wounds.
In times of floods and hurricanes, people are often saved from their roofs. This would also mean that people are not only born to fall in catastrophic situations! This is the kind of hope beyond any hope that Jews have shown in times of great turbulence. We are like bouncing babes overwhelming that what good can prevail against jungle and hatred.
In August 79 CE, Mount Vesuvio lashed its stream of volcanic fire destroying Pompeii and Herculaneum that remained hidden for centuries. How come that the Arctic ice remove at the present the (skull)cap of the Earth?
av Alexander Winogradsky Frenkel
September 8, 2008 - ז דאלול תשס"ח