Thursday, December 18, 2008

Out of the pit

We are soon coming to the chag Hanukah\חג חנוכה - the feast of dedication, service of God and education (chinuch\חינוך), lights, endurance, material miracle with the oil on December 222nd at night = 25 Kislev 5769\כ"ה בכסלו תשס"טl.

This Shabbat Vayeshev\וישב - (Jacob) lived (in the land of his father's sojourns, Eretz Canaan\ארץ כנען), the weekly Torah reading is from Bereishit\בראשית 37:1-40:23. It is said: "Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons because he was his son born in the old age and he made him a striped tunic (k’tonet pasim\כתונת פסים). Joseph was talented and passed on the evil gossip his brothers had to their father.

The weekly reading portion is dedicated to Joseph special biography: a seventeen years old shepherd pasturing the sheep; a dreamer: vayyachalam chalom\ויחלם חלום - Joseph had a (leading ahead) dream. Joseph develops dreams that would come to maturity along an long-term extended period of time and somehow still unaccomplished at the present. He was sold by his brothers who were so jealous that they could not get to killing him. Division may at times save the lives of some people endangered by enemies that would not agree on such a simple issue as a murder and thus choose a distorted solution. This is why ransoming the prisoners has been a major mitzvah in all Jewish communities until now. In Israel, this obliges making every possible efforts to redeem and obtain the liberation of Israeli soldiers captured by other armies.

It is the kind of basic mitzvah and remains an indisputable sign of "love towards our fellow people". Indeed, Jews observing the Mitzvot and developing a loving and caring spirit of love toward God and any human being cannot betray any single Jew the way Joseph was sold by his embezzled brothers. Ransoming is a must as it has always been in force throughout the history of Christianity. It steadfastly supports and immensely helped the Jews in the process of ascending to Israel.

The prophetic reading is from the Book of the Prophet Amos (2:6-3:8). The main problem consists of considering how we accept or reject the realm of the Mitzvot as a true way to freedom. "For four (transgressions of Israel), I will not pardon them (lo ashivenu\לא אשיבנו: we shall not give any positive response or change of penance) for their selling of a righteous man for money (michram bekesef tzadik\מכרם בכסף צדיק) and a destitute/poor man for shoes (veevyon baavur na'alayim\ואביון בעבור נעליים) ... And a man and his father go to a betrothed young girl (naarah\נערה) to profane My Holy Name (cf. Tamar) (Amos 2:7).

These are the issues that we have to face this week with regards to history. They envision Joseph's fate and destiny, Judah's affair with Tamar, Potifar's wife harassing Joseph show the development of what is wrong and can be corrected and lead to freedom after false possession or desires and treason.

The Talmud has it about the roots machar\מכר – to sell, mecher\מכר – sale, makkar – be acquainted, friends, mecherut\מכרות – sales/neighboring friends. Thus, “the seller is presumed to sell liberally, i.e. all except what is excluded (and ought to be defined)” (Bava Bathra 64b). Or, “a man can be sold for his theft, not a woman” (Sota 1c). But Joseph had not usurped, captured or, worse, bought his father’s love. Jealousy remains a spiritual disease or discomfort that was ravaging Joseph’s brothers. Then, Joseph and his brothers could not anticipate the far-reaching spiritual significance of their mutual attitudes and decisions. When the Prophet Amos recounts the events, he envisions something of what history has brought from the limping of Israel and its survival that still stuns or even stupefies the Nations and the Jews alike.

The real question we face on this day is that God made something, a dealing – ‘alila\עלילה (“He is terrible in his dealings with man, Tehillim 66:5”). Whatever faith, philosophical, doubtful attitude, humans seem to miss the chance of really getting to know if God accepts goodwill or exerts a strict determination. Suddenly, Nov.29th/19th events show; they are beyond any human control. We forget this or think we are strong when we are simply looking for some way-out. Freedom is not a way-out. It is life to the full.

History and psychology show that human beings thirst for power, might, desires, revenge, selfishness. We assist to some beyond the fancy scenario of ethical and economic collapse. Is it a sinking series of multi-layered depraved segments of modern society? A simple comparison is possible: the "panem et circences - bread and circus" way of living developed in Rome caused its fall and destruction. Giving daily amount of money for free food and gambling or attending the circus slaughtering parties encouraged a whole society to drift down to laziness and low commitment to true social and industrial developments.

Joseph was not only talented: his father loved him. We rarely do understand what love means in truth. Is it dedication? sacrifice for the others? It certainly does not mean that people dare sell their souls by selling humans to other humans as economic slaves or physical playmates. True, we act like that. Worse of all, spiritual leaders are deposed in all denominations for such misconducts: money, sex also deeply affect the lives of our communities. Should we be judgmental? Or, on the other hand, there are ways of pardon. Thrown into the pit, Joseph survived and was sold. A pit is not meant to trade human souls. Either they dry out and are visited by snakes and scorpios or they collect resourceful waters from above.

Joseph survived in the pit and he resisted to Potiphar's wife and her desires. This combat openly led to the calling to manage Egypt with insightful prophetic visions.We need the same at this point. We need flickering lights that shine and break through the walls of despair. There might be upheavals in many countries as a consequence of the present moral and economic crash. It had been envisioned by some bank leaders some 30 years ago. I worked with them and we could think that societal clashes would have shown up earlier. Actually, the catastrophe is at hand, not in terms of a picturesque Hollywood script. Life and humans can turn to wolves, lions, eager opacity full of insensitive feelings.

Where is Joseph today? Just a parallel question uttered by the Jews who survived the Shoah: "Where was our modern Esther?". Joseph had told Pharaoh about the seven rich and seven poor years. God requires realistic envisioning of the future. The same happened with Jesus of Nazareth: it does not mean anybody possess him. It requires more insights into the value of the Commandments and of our days.

When John the Baptist spoke of Jesus of Nazareth, he said: "He who comes after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose"(John 1:27). Similarly, Jesus declared: "When I sent you without purse and scrip and sandals (shoes), did you lack anything? And they answered: Nothing!" (Luke 22:35).

Av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

December 18/5, 2008 - 21 Kislev 5769 - כ"א דכסלו תשס"ט

The Magen David Adom intervenes to save all the inhabitants of Israel. They need support and prayers. They need volunteers. They need respect and recognition. They need gratitude. They are often in Joseph's and John's situation...

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