Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sechel tov: acumen

"One day is like thousand years, - k'yom etmol\כיום אתמול = like yesterday" (Tehillim 90:4). We live in a country that is fascinated, obsessed and dramatically anxious about the burden of history to open up the gates of future.

This is the challenge that Israel has decided to face eagerly, with passion. At the moment, it fades among some youths with mixed feelings of "can't help", "what to do?", a sort of easy-going life that is not so sweet, but happens in a wonderful homely family atmosphere. We need cuddling and act as if our faces turned to some chalamish\חלמיש - shuttled sniper-like rocky looks (Jeremiah 5:3). Just look at people, in particular in Jerusalem.

Our people usually have usually mild, tender faces and looks, like the flesh of the gazelles and the hinds which are a futurist spiritual must or mitzvah (Song 2:7). They would often seem blind, blocked and opaque or, when the nation demonstrates, cruelty, fanatic, zealot spirit or wrath may overcome our speech and thus affect our relationships to others.

We are in the days of Hanukka 5769 and the twinkling lights lit every night should remind us, beyond any folklore or opposition to other religions, that the Temple of the Jewish spirit survives and miraculously reinvigorates "al hanissim veal hateshu'ot\על הניסים ועל התשועות - because of the wonders and saving actions" taken by God till nowadays. This 1000 years = 1 yesterday's day thing is fantastic. It only proceeds from a revelation. Just test it: Jews will describe a landscape and say, today (or yesterday) there is nothing here? Wait, a normal Jew will say, don't worry, we have time, no emergency, if not today or tomorrow, then in 100, 200, 500 years there will be something that will grow and improve the life of the inhabitants. It does not mean there won't be any problems, you bet! We can't live without problems! Israel without problems is like a dried out or more correctly a dreamy source in the wilderness.

We come to Shabbat Miqetz\מקץ . It was at the end of two years (and Pharaoh was dreaming)? (Bereishit 41:1-44:17). Pharaoh has dreams. These are not day-dreams; they are envisioning nightmares. There are the good/fat and the bad/lean cows. Only a son of Israel-Yaakov\יעקב-ישראל, the imprisoned Joseph could tell him to cool down because things are very simple. Firstly, Pharaoh will have to face two series of seven years. The first part is terrifically milky and prosperous, the second one, he will stay with nil (= "not a bean" in Latin).

This week, the haftarah\הפטרה (prophetic reading) is taken from the First Book of the Kings /Melachim Alef\מלכים א' 3:15-4:1. It is at the heart of age-long tests that God proposes to the human beings: what do we expect from God?

Solomon asked something special of God: he did not ask for some material instruments of power or wealth. He asked for more insight, for chochmah\חכמה = wisdom. If young people could know (have experience) and elderly people could only have the strength! True, but the youths sometimes would need to be capable to do things and later on to get ready to know and understand. This week, King Solomon is totally new in his reign over Israel. The haftarah underlines how he instinctively could discern who the true mother of a baby. Two nashim zonot\נשים זונות ? women prostitutes are disputing a child and the young king gave it to the real mom. He acted with wisdom and common sense. He had awoken from a dream to exercise right and justice for the sake of his own being chosen by God. The women were who they were but responded to sincere or insincere maternal feelings.

In Hebrew, chacham\חכם = wise, to grow wise, be a scholar, stimulate a person's mind by ingenious suggestions. By the time they will resurrect, they will be finally able to meet to discuss their pending cases with more insights? (Niddah 70). The insights consist in going far beyond past and present, but rather to envision a situation as a whole and fulfillment. This includes a birthing capacity and chakhamah\חכמה = midwife, a knowhow that is the model of true wisdom (patience till right time, insights, self-control and authority). The Talmud may at times make strange statements: Avira de'ar'a Israel machkim\ אוירה דארע ישראל מחכים= the climate (atmosphere) of Eretz Israel makes wise? (Bava Bathra 158b). At least, chachmot bantah beytah\חכמות בנתה ביתה = (all forms of) wisdom(s) built her house and carved its seven pillars? (Mishley/Prov. 9:1).

This refers to the Shechinah or the Divine Presence, but the house is stable as the Temple was. Bereishit/Genesis is a book of dreamers whose brain world comes to be fashionable and real. Lawrence of Arabia's "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" is certainly a masterpiece with regards to his experience of unifying the Arab tribes while Israel was trying to conceive the baby State of Israel.

Now, the problem with this weekly portion and related prophetic reading is how we understand worshiping today and whom we would worship. We can be very superstitious. Dreams are like a certificate of authenticity given by God to every Jewish soul that every single soul can have full access to knowledge and understanding, thus including the chinuch haMitzvot\חינוך המצות ? the teaching of the Commandments as living and burning lights.

King Solomon had returned a child to his rightful mother: she did not want him to be cut by the sword! Eh, the king was really wise to get to that wisdom! Hagios Nikolaos is the saint that cared for children and supposedly still distributes gold or presents. Wisdom consists in helping the children. Here they are the true kings, far too much most of the time. Indeed, they need supported and not abandoned to their own search or solitude. Wisdom is parallel to the joys of the feasts of the Lights.

On the one hand, we pathetically look for miracles that can save us from pitiful situations. God is indeed merciful and full of loving-kindness. Still, rain falls on the righteous and the unjust. Millions of babes, men, women, children die out of hunger, poverty. Wisdom also means that we are able to build up and not systematically to destroy. We seem to be much too spoiled at this point. We got fat or phat. We need the fat cows because they allow us passing across bad times of need. Still, our lives develop or scroll down as if it is absolutely impossible to control human fate and personal destinies.

In the upcoming years we may, in the Western societies, to get to more in-depth understanding of the gentleman's agreement passed by God with Satan in the prologue to the Book of Job. Rich or poor, wealthy or needy, humans have the right not to be deceived by the spiritual leaders. On the contrary, "spiritual guides or heads" have to bow and kneel down to earth and take upon themselves the sins or misdeeds of their fellow people and carry them to the Divine Presence. This is the normal way an Eastern Orthodox priest hears a confession.

In Israeli society we rarely think in terms of solidarity with any single soul. We select our people and friends, acquaintance among our "chosen ones". It can be hurtful. It may be totally wrong. Joseph tested his brothers. He required the presence of his younger brother Benjamin. He tested them by accusing them of theft; his brothers could have stolen the cup.

In times of famine, deprivation and indigence, souls sink down and often turn to be ruthless. The days after Nativity usually remind in all denominations that some individuals were killed for the sake of the Messiah; the children murdered by Herod and St. Stephen, i.a.

King David was a young shepherd. God chose him unexpectedly. He sent his lover's husband to war in order to kill him; the son he had with Batsheva did not live. Still, he remains the Messiah in the Jewish tradition. He wrote - with the assistance of his inspired secretaries and other men the best of the Jewish prayers of the heart - the Tehillim\תהילים - the Book of the Psalms. He was banned on building the Temple. And the same happened with his son, Solomon. A man who had the insights to ask for more wisdom in order to lead his people. He got the wisdom. In the end, he had so many women that they drove him away from the Way and the kingship of Israel split.

Joseph's brothers did not understand they were meeting with their brother. It would be good for us to feel that we are pardoned. Evil deeds and crimes, transgressions often change us into ruthless icy stones. Joseph slowly brought his brothers to feel they were delivered: freed and birthed to new times. This is a good omen for us today.

av Aleksandr [winogradsky frenkel]

December 26/13, 2008 - 29 Kislev 5769 - כ"ט דכסלו תשס"ט
Marc Chagall's flight to Egypt

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