Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Le'hitpallel: Full moon temper and praying

From Thursday till Friday, we will go through "full moon" that basically corresponds to the middle of the Jewish month, e.g. on 14 Cheshvan 5769\י"ד דחשון תשס"ט [November 13, 2008]. The fourteenth day of the month can be totally weird and super-bizarre. It can absolutely reverse and revolve, shake, quake, bounce up and down the mood of the folk. It is not a female phenomenon although it might, for some individuals, be connected with the machzor\מחזור (menstrual period) that is so important physically and spiritually in the Middle-East. We already shared about this recurrent major event of what is going on in Israel and is linked to full moon.

Now, it happens that the religious world - especially in Jerusalem - encompasses all sorts of Christian monastics but also married men as well as Jewish males - I did not look into the Muslim culture but would presume the same exists. And they are also submitted, to some extent and manner that differs from the women, to this matzav ruach\מצב רוח (mood / temper). This interesting point is also that this "rattling of the nerves" is very time-limited, especially before the 14th day of the Jewish month and decreases immediately afterwards. Some people would simply be honest and say they are or got affected by the date; others would have the nerve to pretend that nothing happened, which can also be said with true unawareness of the facts.

Interestingly, in Hebrew, the true word to say temper/mood is derech\דרך (way). In this sense, it refers to "way" as a "route, path" a set of conducts and attitudes that lead us to some place; it is rather similar to "morals" and even "ethics". But moods and social attitudes can be terribly complex. They can raise a lot of problems, in particular in this country because of a common physiology that can be submitted to calendar schedules or temperature, heat and cold weather changes. "Temper" is connected with "temperature", at least etymologically. It started with a human capacity to temperate, i.e. being equality sensitive to heat and cold and thus very moderate.

Moderation is something like a dreamy lunatic fairy tale among the Jews who are too anxious or too adventurous, too creative or ready to shelter and hide who they are. "Derech" implies to go along as on a lead, a rearing, training path; "Moral is the man who leads his sons on the right path" (Yevamot 62b). The Jewish soul constantly needs to be submitted to exhausting questions with a great variety of responses, if any. The scoop of this Cheshvan 14, 5769 is that we have to get aware of the fact that we are survivors. This obliges us to act with decency. On the one hand the world is tight and stiff. The planet is small, though often fenced in tiny shuttles. This year, we woke with a new American president, Barak Obama that concentrates all sorts of hopes, dreams, frustrations. Out of a sudden, the fundamental mitzvah put put our lives at risk becomes true. provided that we do that for the sake of the living, i.e. expecting God's assistance.

It is incumbent on us, following a shmittah-שמיטה/remittance of debts and rest of the earth-soil year, to plant again, to sow seeds wherever possible. Israel respects and love planting, trees, flowers, vegetables. In the past 9,000 years there are a lot of mushrooms that are terribly trendy at the moment. Jericho's mushrooms weer famous from the most ancient times. Indeed, we love pitriot\פטריות (Yid. shvebelech\שבעבעלעך ). And the inhabitants of the Holy Land love picking up mushrooms in the forests and the caves. There might be some bad tendency to narcotics and drugs (hallucinogenic mushrooms, say). Other people dream of atomic mushrooms. We have to respond to God's rainy blessing by popping up all sorts of plants and cultures.

It means that we are going through a time of obligation: "be fruitful, multiply and give plenitude to the earth\פרו ורבו ומלאו את הארץ" (Gen. 1:28). I is sometimes difficult to see this as a mitzvah that comes after a command to leave the soil have a break. This is a difficult commandment in our context. But wherever possible indeed, we have a refresh and a time of new sowing. A time when we plant. It also means that we actively participate in the development of our environment, pay respect to the earth and God's creation. "To give fulfillment-achievement to the earth" is a special way for translating "mil'u\מלוא " ("replenish the earth and subdue it" is the usual translation). "Subdue\כבשה " is also peculiar. We cannot only think of taking the lead and forcibly conquer and subdue hostile nature. Indeed, the true challenge of Israel is that plants grow everywhere. Popping-up is usual stuff. It should remain a must. It also means to subdue evil among a society, deviances, systematic rejection. Faith and learning bring us to make every effort in order to be fruitful.

In Hebrew, derech aretz\דרך ארץ refers to the “way of the land”, good manners and simple morals, secular occupation (trade) and sexual connection. In arts, it means "profession, work". Indeed the Torah incidentally teaches the proper conduct in life, e.g. to build a house and then create a family ...” (Tosefta Sota 7:20). On the other hand, derech haaretz is used to speak of some travelling on a long journey compared to marital life (Gittin 70a). Talmud Kiddushin 1,1 depicts the three ways to marry for a woman and accept a husband (isolation with the man; sexual intercourse; money). It specifies that “those who deviated from the way of the society (tzibbur) became heretics as they refused to comply with the ways of peace (the Law; cf. Proverbs 3:17). This is why Derech Aretz constitutes a twofold “Good manners” large (rabba) and small (zuta) treatise of the Talmud. Avodah Zarah 48b considers that losing temper is some signal that we fall into dracha achrona (another road).

Israel has a long experience of worshiping God by means of words, silent words (not uttered but thought) or total silence (Hannah’s prayer is ambiguous because her lips were moving but no sound was to be heard). This became the model for Jewish prayer. Thus, it does not totally means that she formulated any structured prayer but addressed to the Lord. Anyway, this should prove that human sacrifices had been abandoned for quite a long time when the first avot (patriarchs) left idolatry. In the weekly Vayeira reading portion, it is said: “Vayitpallel Avraham leHaElohim\ויתפלל אברהם לאלהים – Abraham prayed to God” (Gen. 20:17).

The Semitic root Pallal\פלל should firstly be compared with Arabic falla (notch, edge of a sword) to get to the real spiritual meaning of the word. It is evident that, to begin with, “praying” was considered as a form of sacrifice, replacing self-mutilation in moments of ecstasy. Shamanism as initiating rituals would speak of spacing out the brains to reach some godly presence. Just as blood-gushing out (1 Kings 18:28) was normal in the account of Prophet Elijah and the priests of Baal. On the other hand, “cutting oneself, emasculate” is strictly forbidden (Deut. 14:1; 23:2). We are prompt at considering all this stuff as very barbarous.

Pallal also means to "judge or arbitrate" and hitpallel\התפלל developed into another deeper meaning showing a human can cut oneself in worship and still be very connected with those who pray. The act of interceding implies that a praying person is making the sacrifice of his/her time in order to obtain specific favors and blessings from God that will change the lives of others, known or unknown people. In this view, mitpallel\מתפלל really constitutes a act of prophecy that introduces into the realm of unforeseeable though expected divine loving-kindness. As it is said: “You did plead, did pray and your prayer rose and blossomed for the benefit” (Shabbat 55b). Tractate Berachot 5,1 confirms that “It is important to delay and be tardy, slow in putting the words together in meditation before uttering the prayer”.

Hebrew does not use many words. We can say things very quickly, promptly, short. Sometimes, it makes the demands too short. Look into the first prayers (Shma’ Israel-שמע ישראל/Hear Israel and the basic benedictions of the Amidah\עמידה). The blessings are clear-cut. Curiously, the Festive prayer-books are far most extensive, including endless sequences of superlatives and long phrases. The tendency is rather the same in all religions, even if the Quakers would pray in silence and say “Amen”. There is a sort of pil-pul\פילפול (cf. palpal and pallal) argumentative, disputing brainstorming attitude in praying. It is always on the move. Intercession means that a soul reaches out to accurate and real healing or repair of a situation. Thus, it cannot be reduced to some stylized repeatedly read or pronounced demands. The richness and uniqueness of the Hebrew prayers consist in that they are always new and renew the demands. The same happens in any tongue as said in Sota 1,7. The Rebbe of Breslov who composed the set of psalms into a Tikun klali (total/general repair) was aware that it is important to pray in one’s mother tongue and he used to ask the believers to say them in Yiddish, without excluding other languages.

Prayer as an act of pallal\פלל (cf. tefillah-תפילה / prayer, supplication, demands) is often very trying and requires a pouring of the soul and with a physical flexibility. In theory, all the Christian faithful can or could pray with any Jewish prayer-book and the matter has been studied theologically because it is an interesting feature. This presupposes the total absence of any spirit of replacement theology directed against the Jews. On the other hand, Christian prayers refer to other modus operandi and access to God. On the one hand, Jesus entrusted his first disciples with a totally Jewish prayer that, also in theory, could be pronounced by any Jew, i.e. “Our Father – Avinu shebashayim\אבינו שבשמים – Avun divshmaya\ܐܒܘܢ ܕܒܫܡܝܐ” (Matthew 6:9-13). The perception of intercession with regards to time and space in Christianity creates a real point of separation.

Christians and Jews separate in the way they pray. This is not a judgmental statement. This is why nobody can replace or supersede anybody. This is also why we have to get to the fulfillment that God entrusts us in this world and be fruitful. We cannot avoid and go leaping over the barriers born of the way God entrusts us to bear witness to Him. It obliges us to understand why times are perceived in different ways. And first of all, there are patience, listening and praying.

Mar Sabbas monastery in the desert
Praying inthe Heichal Shlomo, the great synagogue of Jerusalem

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