Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tochechot / Reproofs

There is a rather strange verse in the Gospel. After his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples to get some fish to eat. They were on the beach. "Simon-Peter (Kaipha\כיפא) went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three (153\קנ"ג) of them" (John 21:11). The intriguing point is that before the decision of the Sages at Yavneh and when the Temple was still extant, the Torah was not read over one sole year as we do at the present, but over a period of three years. There were153 parashiyot\פרשיות / Torah reading portions. Each reading portion is like a "shanah\שנה", if not a "rosh hashanah\ראש השנה - cappo d'anno (It.) = (the) cape of a year" that instructs us according to the demands "tiftach\תפתח = open the gates" during Neylah of Kippur / the closure of the Day of Atonement\נעילת יום הכפורים. Thus we turn the cape of a certain period of time, or a page, we round along new openness or closets.

Interestingly, although Jews and Christians are rarely aware of that, the Early Church adopted the same weekly pattern of readings. The Syrian-Orthodox and the Assyrian Churches did keep in Aramaic four basic readings. They are meant to allow people to get a deeper understanding of time. Why history continues though cannot circle back and forth, mainly over one year as most Churches do at the present.

In 1965, at the end of the Second Council of Vatican, the Roman Catholic Church decided - only as regards the Latin rite, , to break down the readings in three different cycles suggested over three years. They also reintroduced large portions from the Bible. The Byzantine Churches retained a systematic envisioning of time "spreading-expansion" that is definitely structured upon the basis of the Jewish series of weekly readings. Thus, the Anglican and Episcopalian Churches read "lessons", which correspond to the order of age and time deployment. The very first verse of the Hebrew Torah does not describe a big bang or a set of fragmentation that led to the creation of heaven and (rotating) earth.

Let's have a Zen or frightful crashing party. It is important to feel this move, immense energizing impulse that may seem to be partially or totally irrelevant and so short-timed. At any age, a verse, a word can reach out to our understanding of events, without any prior premonition. Then, each instant teaches individuals and congregations about the relevancy of what others would consider as indistinctive and lacking exact goals or prospects.

As the (Jewish) year floats till its untouchable and invisible borders preceded by the “yamei slichot\ימי סליחות – days of penance”, the engrossing nature of the present ending-up life & Torah portion looks like some sort of chaotic breaking cut. A bit difficult to understand? The parashyot/פרשיות - weekly reading portions inspirate our cultures and societies in order to cure all trends towards imbalance. We are supposed to read these reading portions and their related haftarot\הפטרות / readings from the Books of the Prophets. They progressively instillate new insights into daily life.

Thus, Hebrew is quite peculiar because of the great variety of interpretations that are proposed by changing the vowels and phrases. Tradition imperatively to read aloud and physically feel (bowing) the Oral Law that brings forth the special style of Mishnah and comprehensiveness.

Good, we supposedly went out of the Land of Egypt, the House of serfdom. We are free. And we ARE. And God… He does exist / He is life-giving. He does direct our lives. He is One. His goal: humans are One, only one singled out humankind. At the present, Israel has no guaranteed and secured borders. Cities turn to be towns distanced by villages. We emerge with difficulty from years of complex societal shame that corrupts us in different ways. The problem is how to make it a cohesive relevant challenge inside the Jewish spiritual life and move ahead into the future. Things are new by definition for the Jewish tradition: past and present are "gone" seconds after seconds, centuries, thousands of years that are egal to one day, "yom etmol\יום אתמול = yesterday's day". This is why Judaism is definitely optimistic, futurist: past and present are movements of forthcoming eternity, when time will not kill or hurt anymore. "Omnia vulnerant, ultima occit - all (hours) hurt, the last one kills" is unknown to hope beyond hope and suffering in Jewishness.

This week, the reading portion is “Ki tavo\כי תבא = When you have to come (into the land)” in Devarim\דברים / Deuteronomy 26:1- 29:8. Curiously, the portion scrolls up and down again the wonders that happened with the very first Mitzvot / Commandments given by God since the way out of Egypt. Again, the words try to clarify what seemingly remains obscure to human hearts. We love to blind ourselves. The last verse of the portion sums up God’s indication: “Therefore diligently observe the words of this covenant so that you may deal wisely (“taskilu et kol asher ta’asun\תשכילו את כל אשר תעשון”)” (Deut. 29: 8). Yes, Moses reminds “that his/our ancestor was a wandering Aramean… who lived as an alien and a poor number (vayagar sham b’mitei me’at\ויגר שם במתי מעט = poor as dead and low”)in Egypt” (Deut. 26:5). He recalls that the land of Israel “is flowing with milk and honey - eretz zavat chalav ud’vash\ארץ זבת חלב ודבש” (Deut. 26:9.27:3). He mentions the offering of the first fruit and the tithe to be given to the Levites, the foreigners, the orphans and the widow. This deals with the “orlayim\עורליים / first fruits” and the “reshit ‘on\ראשית עון” as regards the firstborns.

In entering New Year 5769, we quit or, let's say, that God memorizes 5768. How did we behave with regards to to remitting all debts and offering the first fruits of a soil that was given a rest?

It does not mean that we can unify. Does it show that we are involved in dialogs, good deeds? How do we accept to gather together? The Lord clearly and repeatedly asks us to build up unity through the Mitzvot. We are in ages when "breaking the stones sounds more real than assemble them".

The “divrei haberit\דברי הברית = the words of the Covenant” announced by the Holy One are also linked to “devorim\דבורים = bees” that collect the nectar in a sort of oneness task. Numerous believers – in particular in the One God (various style and moods) – may humble themselvesf, preferably suggesting the others to bow, kneel down and acknowledge they are right. Faith is not a race and impose respect.

Two weeks before 5769, the reading portion recalls that we have no power over God. This also implies that nobody has any right to self-glorification, pride. This week, God seriously warns us, again and again, as in the first commencements (rishonim\ראשונים) that He can bless and He can curse. This does not apply to our enemies – No! He can curse us as Jews or Christians. He can curse those who fake to accept the Mitzvot and dishonor them. There is no place for playing the fool with that. We often do play the fool anyway. How God would decide to “remove his chosen” and erase them? The problem is that He can do that. We did experience that. We are indeed the survivors of the many floods. We should pay some attention: hurricanes, storms, earthquakes, monsoons, tycoons and tsunamis may be signals to get rid of our nonsense and look into wisdom.

True, “I (God) wonder whether in this generation there is one that accepts “admonition / tokhechah\ תוכחה” (Tractate Arakhin 16b) and “Man loves reproofs (“tokhechot\תוכחות”). For as long as reproofs are in the world, ease of the mind comes upon the world as also good and blessing” (Tamid 28a). But Judaism has a one time word, full of ambiguity and realism to describe the position of the true believer: “He’emirechah hayom\האמירך היום – a hiphil verbal form = (The Lord) has obtained your agreement / promise / reached that you said – admitted – recognized as His treasured people as He promised you, and to keep His commandments” (Deut. 26:18). Here is the point, the real one, based on the paradox of faith. “Yoqer yaamir\יוקר יאמיר… Prices increase and go high” (Sota 49, 72) because “recognition, promise, agreement” may at times be confused with “arrogance, pride, pretence”.

In the positive sense, “he’emir\האמיר = to admit, recognize” creates a sort of constant link or bond between God and human beings as the bride is engaged with her bridegroom. This relates to the offerings of the first fruits that can be traced back to the way out of Egypt. The mitzvah to don the tefillin / phylacteries is performed as a bridal attachment (Hosea 2:21-22; compared to the Song of Songs and Menachot 60b about “the Throne of Glory / Kisse HaKavod\כיסא הכבוד”).

John the Evangelist states something similar in the Book of Revelation: “The Spirit and the bride say “Come – Marana tha\מרנא תא -ܡܖܥܐ ܬܐ” and let everyone who hears say: “Come\תא - ܬܐ” (cf. Piyyut “Akdamut milin\אקדמות מילין – Before saying any word”) (Apocalypse 22:16).

This bridal commitment has to be reinforced and this is also a matter of concern in our society. Indeed, we utter words as God spoke His words and they are trustworthy, because we experience as numerous generations before us that they are seeds of what we look for: truth, hope and life.

av Alexander Winogradsky Frenkel

September 15, 2008 – טו דאלול תשס"ח

Photograph: The whole TaNaKh on a rice grain, university of Haifa (technion)

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