Friday, December 5, 2008

Yaakov's coming out

This week reading reports Jacob's "coming out" in Bereishit\Genesis 29:10-32:3. The haftarah/prophetic portion is read in the Book of Prophet Hoshea 12:13-14:10 (Ashkenazi; 11:7-12:12 for the Sephardim). It accounts how Yaakov left Beer-Sheva and went to Charan, the original place of Abraham. Jacob’s problem is very real for our generation and historical development. We need to know about our roots. Memory and family backgrounds can be very short-timed: 10 years seem to some like more than a century or two. We are quick at packing up matters or actions, too quick at thinking. But this is not real thinking. Then, we miss reflection, long-term patient observation of facts and situations. We need short sentences and get tired by long phrases. Interestingly, legal texts (laws) who were always and everywhere written in a very concise tongue, using very few words develop at the present into long paragraphs of confused definitions.

Jacob’s problem is that his journey to Charan turned to be a way into exile and not in-depth discover of his roots. The major issue that we have to face and to resolve in our own lives and moral conducts is how to stop being twisted and crooked. As a consequence of his mother's decision to back him as her beloved son, Yaakov endorsed the responsibility of having cheated, betrayed, mocked and robbed his father and his brother by a process that is called “substitution”, “chalifah\חליפה” in Talmudic Hebrew.

It led to falsehood, made his life a hell. And it is indeed fascinating: his father-in-law Laban knew that Jacob was crazy in love with Rachel; still he cheated him during the wedding night and Yaakov got the sister, Leah… without even recognizing her till new dawn! (Gen. 29:25). Nu, he protested!

Tricky maneuvers, connected with women and sex, are usually showing process as also money. Exchange as a possible double-dealing and crooked target is wonderfully defined in Kiddushin I,6: “As soon as one of the parties to the exchange has taken possession, the other takes the risk for its exchange”. The statement that deals in fact with the acquisition of a woman as a spouse exposes the real nature of the contract: it is a risk. In the case of Jacob, the whole story is crooked: he had no right to the birthright of his brother Esau and did not acquire it personally. He fought to get his identity. He could not think there would be a risk in working to get Rachel. In the end, he received four women that he knew intimately with much obedience to Laban or his wives.

We hate risks. We need to be secured. We collect credit cards and insurance policies. We are not only afraid of some accidents, wounds, injuries. It is important. But it is not the main issue. The problem is that, at the present, all insurance systems are collapsing: we wasted the money before we died and do not think of our last will in favor of our children?

Jacob’s marital problems give the exact picture of our lives’ risks. He often positioned himself as in a situation of being substituted and cheated. Curiously, it is comparable to Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman who actually told him: “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22). Jesus asked her to come with her husband. She simply answered she had no husband. “You are right in saying that,replied Jesus, because you had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband” (John 4:17). It is traditionally considered that he was speaking of the various covenants that God passed with the House of Israel.

Does a covenant cancel a previous one? Or does it replace it? Is a new covenant a risk taken like when choosing a bride? We face life-long challenges that seem unreal because, at the moment, we prefer wooing like one-day butterflies, and then throw the others away after short instants of apparent satisfaction?

Judaism has often experienced through history this paradox of a profound desire from the non-Jews to replace them, take their birthright as God’s chosen ones. Thus, Israel usurped it for a dish and got the blessing with false hair. The paradox is that it worked and Yaakov really got God’s blessing. The price certainly implies to accept to walk on earth by taking risks. Paul of Tarsus wrote that “to the Israelites are the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship (avodah\עבודה) and the promises” (Romans 9:4). Jealousy and fanatic zeal can lead to think that covenant-bearers can be replaced.

This is the present challenge of the Churches to recognize the full coherence and positive call of the House of Israel. It will take time. In return, the Jewish communities should approach the Churches that have been abiding the Holy Land with more interrogations and insights.

This is thus the real challenge of Hebrew in the Church. Shoots and offsprings seem to turn us back to dreams and sleep. There are covenants. In the Semitic realm, "covenants" are "brit-iyot = ברית.יות ". The word is linked to "inception, creation". "To begin with (bereishit = בראשית - at the head of ... unknown), "cut - created, sectioned = bara = ברא - Elohim\God". Principles and founding elements remain pending throughout the whole Scriptures. This is very introguing. Just have a look and it is amazing how the two first chapters of the creation show again and again with various spiritual and theological topics and commentaries. "Brit-ברית\covenant" is also linked to "bar\בר " = clean, pure, sound, safe, 'son' in Aramaic. Thus, "bar'a = ברא ": it does mean "to create in the sense of "cutting" (wood or plants, agricultural action). Then, it includes, in a Talmudic view: "son of the First, the one that link the realm of above and the realm of beneath, alef = master, teacher, ruler,...).

This is why Jacob's dream at Bethel is so pregnant. The Jewish tradition considers that he was "bemaqom = in the place, in the place that moves up and raises ("qum = קום ")". It seems he had the dream at mount Moriah and the dream dealt with a vision of the Temple. Then, how can we understand the vision of the ladder at the present? Souls going up and ascending to heaven? or angels in the process of coming down from heaven and bringing the souls up, educating them and then taking them down to rest or sleep.

The gematria reminds us that Hebrew "sullam = סולם = ladder" has the numerical value of 110, which is similar to "sinai" as stated in midrash Bereishit Rabba 28:12. This means that the Jewish tradition connects the Yaakov's vision of a ladder, the laying of a stone on "that very place" as a sign of "life beyond the living and the dead". It also considers some "balance" between the up and down ascending and descending perpetual move and the burning bush [Sinai] at mount Sinai that stops any sort of "adversity, hatred, estrangement = sinah - שנאה ".

"Struggle for life" is a current saying. The struggle consists in a harsh and oftn very cruel intimate fight against evil. It usually leads to victory over our ego's. What or who is the ladder? The souls? the angels that surf back and forth from the throne of glory till the end of a universe that we still cannot measure? Is it Yaakov in person, facing his own fate made of stealth, goodwill, cheating situations? And human nature in general that is always ready to acquire, capture and plunder the others and supersede privileges. The ladder resembles the wrestling combat that Yaakov had as a quivering fight with himself, his identity and some Divine Presence. This week, he travails in order to get married and be given some sheep.

The problem is pending today as it was in the most ancient days of Eretz Canaan. Same frightening and awesome situations, gregarious anguish and anxieties. Anguish is comparable to our throat: like when we cannot eat, drink or breathe in. We are facing the same. It does not mean that centuries scroll ahead without changing the meaning of time and history. There were money crash in the Antiquity, in the Middle Age and up till 1929. Techniques and remedies remain rather simple and similar. The keys are the same.

True, the world is going through tremendous troubles and tests. We are curiously safer in Israel than in most countries of the world. There is a simple explanation to such a statement: Yaakov as Israel is still in the pangs of birth, in some childhood. It often behaves like spoiled children do. Nonetheless, that faced death is just unbeatable. I just wrote it in the previous note. It makes sense this week: mass murders in Mumbai, permanent killings in so many parts of the world. Corruption, poverty, hunger, growing fields of narcotic poisoning flowers, raping of bodies and souls.

Patriarch Aleksey II of Moscow and All Russia passed away on Friday morning, just after the Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos/Bogorodica in the Temple and right before St. Nicholas Day in the Western tradition. He had witnessed the horrible times of spiritual bondage and the time of release that should continue. Eternal memory! The struggle for faith is the one met by Yaakov and the late patriarch. "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." (John 1:51).

av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

December 5/November 22, 2008 - 8 Kislev 5769 - ח' דכסלו תשס"ט

Temple mount - הר הבית
relics of St. Nikolaos im Jerusalem church
שרידים מקודשים של ניקולאוס הצדיק בכנסיתי - העיה"ק

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