Tuesday, October 7, 2008

the first and the last... and vice versa

Are you my friends? and am I a good pal, buddy, boo, friend in return? Should I consider that I have to apologize and ask for forgiveness online? It is possible to say that Kippur - Yom Hakippurim - the Day of expiation and At-One-ment is a unique moment, year after year in the Jewish calendar. Strangely enough this does concern the Christian Churches and faith, but this aspect is mostly unknown or ignored. Some people would point out how important the day is and think that it is possible for non-Jews to pardon Jews and for Jews to connect the act of pardon to the Gentile world. Such a view is "mean", narrow-minded and meaningless even when people think they are allowed to act like the Jewish communities with good will. It would pre-suppose - to begin with, that we have a clear vision of the Lord's fulfillment and reign over the univers, without competiing.

Indeed, on Yom Kippur, being a priest serving for the spiritual benefit of Israeli faithful, I think it is important to stress the link that exists between Kippur and Pesach. On Facebook, I have to pardon all my friends, those who have access to my page and notes and those who left, removed my name, erased or added me with much sympathy and openness. I never erase anybody. Internet shows a new realm for the believers: the worldwide set of social networks. People I will never meet, people whose real and virtual lives may be conflicting double-faceted mirrors. But extant people who type and connect. Souls and bodies, flesh and blood for whom I have to pray and that correspond to the universality of redemption. "Those who are near and those who are far away": on such days, faith drifts us to honestly and truly offer our lives for the invisible part of human beings.

I always succeed in forgiving, even actions, words or misconducts that I have to face daily. I someway experience what Paul of Tarsus meant or could feel when he wrote: "I was a Jew with the Jews and without law [Gentile] with those who are without law in order to gain just some of them" (1 Corinthians 9:20).

We live in an era which requires us to know with much exactitude who we are and why we belong or not, connect or not with each other, groups, communities, tribes, nations, linguistic speakers. Jewishness unconsciously relies upon a group that may resemble the Lamed-Vavivnikim\ל"וניקים (36, invisible righteous) who secretly save the world according to the tradition. Unity procedes from a good knowledge of who we truthfully are. Modern life may allow us swinging and surfing online, offline and get trapped in many unforeseeable webs.

Last Sunday, the Eastern Orthodox Church of Jerusalem (Old Calendar) commemorated Jonah who was thrown over board to the see and sheltered for three day in the "womb" in the big fish. His book is read on the day of atonement in the Jewish communities. Jews and Christians alike "are an evil generation seeking a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet" (Luke 11:29).

Wandering times: our lives are a common human, animal and vegetal pilgrimage; a development with constant changes. Jews, as humans, have drifted throughout history to reach their home and their fate has often caused the communities to implode or to be removed from the neighboring regions till the ends of the earth. The “sukkah\סוכה” or “booth” is a special place overshadowed with branches and twigs that "enlighten - sakhakh\סכך" all the believers. Light is shining during the day in order to spread enough shadow in daytime; normally, as the building of the booths is related to time commandments, it mainly concerns men. Say that women are not tied to comply with the commandment, though it is evident that everybody does meet in these simple shelters. Places where people firstly read the Scripture, the Talmud words, discuss spiritual issues, eat, drink, sleep in a sort of good-natured and jovial atmosphere.

It is said that seven ushpizin\אושפיזין - special guests may show during this wandering period that recalls the first crops of Nissan which end and are simultaneously renewed by the time of the harvest autumnal crops in the Land of Israel. Sukkot is the perfect feast for a full ingathering at different levels: Jews come together to rejoice. God sheltered His children under the sukkot and thus protected them. He gave them His assistance and food, nurturing them and making them thirsty for more understanding of His projects in the new year.

The special ushpizin (guests) are usually considered to be Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. According to various traditions, other guests might be present as Prophet Elijah and some other famous rabbis. It is indeed significant that the visible and invisible world encounter in a temporary shelter overshadowed by God's Shechinah\שכינה, Divine Presence for a time of joy, to learn and have some keyf-fun in flimsy housings. During these very special days, we are joyfully invited to share all our human capacities: knowledge, food, friendliness, hospitality, good mood, pardon, patience, politeness and humor. We are asked to welcome anybody, in particular the needy. This aspect is very striking as a lot of people are impoverished and funds are collected to nourish individuals and families in need.

This is why the mitzvah/commandment to take the “arbaa minim\ארבעה מינים – Four Species” is so meaningful in the way we are able to enhance our relationships, our socializing abilities. Groups often fragment or split into small cells that can be very connected but may appear to be reluctant to agree upon this kind of ingathering for the sake of a project viewed as a year that mainly depends upon God’s will. The Four Species are vegetal and thus belong to the basic realm of plants and seeds, crops and harvesting.
The lulav\לולב/palm is rigid and flexible, hadassim\הדסים/myrtle can be appealing as seductive eyes and the etrog\אתרוג/citrus is as big as a good heart full of love and knowledge while the aravot/willow branches require a lot of water to survive. Fragrances are very significant: the etrog/citrus is tasty, smells good and had a nice appearance. Each man holds in his hands the entire Community of Israel.

Talmud tractate Sanhedrin insists in the Talmud on the oneness of Jewish people and that each individual is responsible for the soul (life) of all the others. Then, the weaving of the Four Species to the east, south, west, north, up and down (one tradition) shows how everybody praises the Only-One God Who is present everywhere. Over the past decades, some new habits showed up in Israel: Christian groups – mainly of Western and Protestant backgrounds – go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Sukkot that does not exist in the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic or standard Christian traditions. Sukkot is indeed the Feast – Hechag\החג, par excellence also in the Gospel: “On the last day, the great day of the festival, Jesus stood and cried out: “… as Scripture says, “From His heart shall flow streams of living water.” (John 7:38). The Feast of the booths is also clearly mentioned as Jesus’ transfiguration at Mount Tabor. He shone with a very white and unusual light and the disciple Shimon-Peter, seeing him discussing with Moses and Elijah in their tents, suggested to build him also a shelter (sukkah\סוכה) (Matthew 17:2).

There is an interesting point that passes from a certain comparison between the Jewish sukkah hospitality and the Christian Eastern orthodox conception of “icon”. An icon is a flat painting without depth showing the saints in different situations. Some of them can “host” many saints who lived in different centuries. This is somehow connected with the full ingathering celebrated during the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Sukkot is a time-related feast: Talmud Sukka 52a-b describes how, during the Feast, the Massiah ben David should appear in glory after the unveiling of the Mashiach ben Yosef\משיח בן יוסף, the suffering Messiah. We may feel that our days are counted and though "expand" at the same time. Our hours, weeks, months and years expand and distend, dilate toward personal, civil, national and international developments. We are often too stressed. We also try to compact time as if the future and good things were out of hand. Ingathering for a time to share intimacy with God plus our fellow humans is a real challenge. Pardon does not erase anything. Atonement assembles all the colors and sounds of life. Pardon allows us jumping forward with revised and renewed joys. Many people need to feel that.

These days of awe are awesome because they allow us to grow, to get enhanced and enhance the others. "וירבו שמחות - may joys multiply in our lives - amen - Jesus, with a full spirit of joy called to oneness". Every soul is more than any seemingly empty grave or destroyed temple. We are like the Jerusalem sparrows and doves: born to fly and not to flee, born to be sustain by God's finger.

av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

Photographs: Praise Him with the sound of the ram's horn\הללו בתקע שופר
[Psalm 150:3]
כנסייה של אב אלכסנדר מן
храм усопш.рб. Б. о. Александра Меня/ Novaya Derevnia: church of late Fr. Aleksandr Men

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