Thursday, March 13, 2008

VAYIKRa: 5768 God's cry to Moses

It is strange how we rather seem to flounder again and deeper in the mud. There is no real way for any of us living in Eretz Israel to feel at ease with morals. Mud is natural. "Griaz" means "dirt" in Russian. So we can get painted into mud, covered with brown, green, dark black and get better. From Pesach 5766 to Passover 5767, our Israeli society has been profoundly hurt and deceived by the moral, economical, ethical, political, military, religious hypocrisy, imposture combined with corruption and presence of the establishment. It faced a war in Lebanon that is denounced in many aspects. Fraud and stratagems constitute our daily two/multi-faceted dish of speciousness.

The heads of the different sectors of responsibility are of the same generation as Moses, Aaron, the leaders of the Israelites who were brought from jail to freedom. They lost a generation of idolaters in the wilderness. Morally speaking, there is seemingly little difference between that generation of the golden calf and the Tent of the Ark and our Israeli and/or leaders and gurus at the moment. We are all confused and lost and attracted by some legal lawlessness.

Maybe worse in one aspect: Israel appears to be at pain with the spiritual combat for accepting the Mitzvot/Commandments led by the generation of the desert. Teachings and education are the real challenge of a true Jewish and Israeli way of living. Thus, we are responsible for each other in good as in evil.

The parshat hashavua or weekly portion read is VAYIKRa = "And (God) called (Moses)" (Vayikra/Leviticus 1:1-5:26). The verb states God's call to Moses and is the Hebrew name of the third Book of the Chumash (Five Books of Moses). In Greek, the Book is called "Ton Levitikon - Biblion ton Leviton, Lat.: Leviticus = the Book of the Levites". The Book explains to the Israelites how to be a nation of priests and reach the realm of holiness. This week, the portion mainly refers to the sacrifices offered for the sins of the people and of the nasi (head, leader).

The Book begins as follows: "Vayikra el Moshe - and calling to Moses / vayidaber HaShem alav - and spoke the Lord to him / me'ohel mo'ed le'mor = from the Tent of Meeting saying." The verbs "daber (speak) and l'emor (say) are used in a way rather close to the giving of the Ten Paroles. It starts in a special way: "Vayikra" = "And (God) called". The translation is not exact. "Kara / keri" means to call, name, invite. "From the day that the Lord created the world, there was no man that called the Holy One Blessed be He Lord, until Abraham called Him Lord" (Gen. 15:19) (Berachot 7b). Then: "A child does not know to call his parents 'abba-imma/dad-mom' before it has tasted grain food" (Sanhedrin 70b - which makes sense in connection with Passover and Pentecost). It also means "to read, recite": "He called to read from the Book of the Torah must read no less than three verses" (Megillah 4, 74b). The root also means "to join, meet, to call with a loud voice". "Mikra = reading, visible congregation". It can be a very basic cry: "Uvshem HaShem ekra / I shall call (cry, scream, invoke) to the Lord" (Tehillim 117:4). There is another word which resembles to this "cry-call": "HaShem yeshu'ati - Lord, my deliverance / yom-tza'akti = I cry out during the day" (Psalm 88:2).

We have seen since the time the Israelites were packing up and fleeing from Egypt, how God called them, convoked them. The birth cry of an infant that hardly can utter any sound. At birth, an essential moment is the first voice cry that opens and develops the lungs, allows breathing, life. God called the people several times in order to prepare them to be opened out to their new freedom. Here, only Moses heard this "vayikra - call (from God)", again covering all guilt and sin (the golden calf, lack of patience of the priest Aaron, the people). God entrusts Moses with the most sacred Book about the Jewish call to be a "kingdom of priests" and "to be holy". All the sacrifices (except that of thanksgiving/ zevach todah) are on suspended, but, they are at the soul and heart of the Jewish Service of God. It might be possible to say that God called Moses as to serve Him as a newborn child. The "V = vav = "and" = a new connection", the "y/yod" is the smallest letter but designates the 10 of the normal quorum of people for the prayer. The final "alef" is usually printed as a small letter because this service of priesthood and holiness requires a lot of humility.

Thus it starts with the guidelines detailing the sacrifices to perform "im/if" (Lev. 4:2) the people will commit certain sins. The problem is then a sort of evaluation of the guilt and, subsequently, what sacrifice should be offered by the priest adequately. It should be noted that sin is "conditional". Guilt is never evident and this is a real intriguing spiritual question. Would it suggest, as Isaac B. Singer, who wrote as a sort of rather blasé apikoros, that Jews may go through sin and be rescued "untouched by guilt"? This is rather a long-term overtime statement that the priestly call of the Jews has often preserved them from being affected by sin? Still, a pagan who believes in God is higher than a high priest (Avodah Zarah 4b).

Instead of the Sacrifices, we stumble along interpretations. This week, we read the Great Code of the Jewish priesthood. We should bear in mind that Aaron died because as a priest, he committed the sin of idolatry in order to satisfy the desperate Hebrews. But Moses did not enter the Land because, though killing a stranger, he had committed a murder. Killing is strongly definitely prohibited by Jewish faith. In our situation, with so much hatred and will to destroy the Israeli reality, it is evident that the Israeli army has the right to consider all sorts of possibilities to counter irrational hatred. Thus, it may sound bizarre to see some Rabbis bless some acts of revenge. "Nekamah = judgment, punishment but it comes from and goes back to God: gdolah nekamah... divine judgment is great for it is placed between two divine names (Berachot 33a). Or: what revenge is meant? The judgment for the evil they did to Israel velo nikmat adam = and it cannot be a revenge executed by man (Midrash Tehillim 146:7).

Clerics of all religions may often be drifted by their weakness and it might be understandable that extreme positions has often overcome patience, insightful analysis and simply true faith in God's Paroles. It is the difficult time to grow lower as the small "alef" at the end of "VAYIKRa".

On the other hand, there is a second aspect in the reading portion: it is obvious that the people have to ask the high priest to offer the chatat, offering for the expiation of their sins, if (im) they are aware of having committed some. Punishment may affect them, according to God's will. But intriguingly, the nasi (head, governor, ruler) is treated otherwise. "Asher – as, as a consequence of his sin, the nasi/ruler" is totally responsible for his sins (Lev. 4:22). Many contemporary thinkers consider that this weekly portion is essential in the situation of our Israeli society. "im - if, in the event" the people or even the priests come to commit sins, there is an apparent provision that softens the burden of any punishment. This is not the case for the leaders, rulers, managerial staff that get corrupt. They stubbornly try to walk ahead in their muddy sins. The statement is realistic and so divinely human: a leader is called to get corrupt. Thus, he is under the direct responsibility - not only checking - of the nation because Israel is called to holiness.

On this First Sunday of the Great Lent, the Christian Orthodox Church commemorates.

The "Feast of the Orthodoxy, i.e. the true upright Faith". It was finally accepted to restore the Icons in 843. Icons that should normally be painted according to the biblical rule. In this respect, the faithful face the same temptations as all believers: to make idols of what shows holiness. To impose faith when free love/ahavat chinam is stronger than any crooked projects.

During Great Lent, the believers read the prayer written by Ephrem the Syrian: "O Lord and Master of my life, give me not the spirit of sloth, idle curiosity, lust for power and idle talk./ But grant unto me, Your servant, a spirit of integrity, humility, patience and love./ Indeed, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brothers and sisters. For blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen". (Greek version). This supplication addressed to the Father Who is in heaven is really up-to-the-minute/second in the present.

I thank God that I could develop almost two years and a full annual text comment cycle showing the profound link that exists between Judaism and Christianity. In our context of Israeli society going through swirling disturbances, it is great that I could do it, though often in difficult conditions shared with many bloggers. Still, The Jerusalem Post launched it and I hope we shall continue through a link on the blogroll.

This blog cannot be a source of profit. Scanning the tragic but irrational path of Jewish-Christian connection, in particular in Israel, is like a weird challenge that faces rejection, deaf-mute reactions or political cant. It does not match with ratings and numberings combined with technical defects. Therefore, I am grateful I could write it here. I shall continue and soon be published as a book.

I prefer to stop this form of publication with the parashat VaYIKRa which is a life point in the Jewish yearly cycle.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pekudey hamishkan: the records of the Dwelling

The word "adam" has different meanings and is involved in various circumstances of human life, activities and specificities . This is what we had developed last week about the "Shema Israel" and its commandment relating to loving God "with all your might - meodecha". It makes sense and it is also significant that the letters that are used to write the word meod "very - might, power, strength" are the same as "adam", the emblem of human personality and name of the first divine clay and earth fashioning. It makes sense because God's creation and activities have reached its highest technical level with human nature, brains, abilities, physical strengths, creativity. A poodle weekending for four days with "dad and mom" from the sof shavua to the motzaei Shabbat (end of Saturday) in Eilat would not be excitedly creative. On the other hand, the people rushing to the city and its beach have developed all kinds of sophisticated tools, roads, housings, off-shore entertainments, visits to the fish of the Red Sea and then, wow, the same fish are available on sale at the supermarket, cut and cleanly frozen. I it is thus understandable that there is a connection between "all your might - meodecha" and the identity of humans as tank-thinkers, builders using their body and brain resources.

The parshat hashavua or weekly reading portion Vayakhel-Pekudei closes the Book of Shemot or Exodus. As Nahmanide pointed out it is intrinsically the Book of the exile and the redemption. But then Rashi had said that it would have been convenient to begin the TaNaKh with this specific Book that shows the destiny of the Jewish people as a sort of model of the human history and discovery of God's will and path. As we go forth on the way to Pesach, it is important that our basic DNA is always tracking us back to specific reflections. So many nations, races, ethnicities, tongues are intermingling like a melting-pot (indeed not the same way as the golden calf) described by the Jewish tradition. This is connected with the creation of the world and of Adam as the first and unique ancestor of all the human beings that have lived and are to be born at the present and in the future on earth. Talmud Sanhedrin 98b suggests an intriguing way of collecting parts of earth in order to shape Adam: God would have taken from the Land of Israel to fashion Adam's head and from all the soils of all the parts of the world to make his other members, i.e. neck, chest, arms, fingers, legs etc. This shows how the rabbinic tradition focuses on the importance of the Land of Israel "Eretz Israel" as being at the heart and initial of the very nature and call of humankind, perceived as a unique entity.

It may thus be very important in the way our Israeli society evolves amidst a series of hardships and cultural confusion about identity of who we are and why we are a part of the State of Israel in its present development. Say that everything that is given to the Jews is a model for all the humans. Yes, true, but only if the "ol shamayim - the yoke of heaven" or the existential part of the mitzvot are not disconnected from our uniqueness and singularity common to any person that receives a spiritual breath from God into their nostrils. Pesach models the humans according the revelation that the Jews were in exile from the Land of Canaan. Not only from that Land, but the very fundamental events that constituted the Jewish identity found there achievement in the fact that God gave them a land. Even in that promise, the Land, i.e. "Eretz Israel" does not suffice. There is more. A nation born to a wandering, fugitive Aramean (Deuteronomy/ Devarim 27:5) found its soul, goal, identity in a special Land. Until now, it bears the marks of a wrestling fight that made him Israel. Then, the land is indeed a part of some external historical imprint that memorizes the ground, the landscape, the air and atmosphere in the bones of the Jewish people.

This is why Adam's shaping is reputedly accounted as having taken place in Jerusalem is also a sort of "exile and redemption" views. The Gan Eden is located a bit up to the North-East, and not precisely in the Land of Canaan or Israel. It is evident that "adam" is linked to different roots that are also pretty much relevant. Adam has been shaped out of "adamah - earth". Both words relate to "dam, damdam" that means: "To be red, viscous, thick, dark”, thus "to grow, get red, shiny, like blushing faces". Bereishit Rabba 17 is considered in the Targum as the sefer deadam harishon = the account or allegorical book of Adam containing all generations and their leaders from the beginning to resurrection, i.e. destinies of humanity (cf. Ex. Rabba 40; Bava Metzia 85b). "Adamah" is made of thick and moist, earth and clay as the potter takes "efer - sand and dust" which is male and "adamah - clay" which is female (Gen. Rabba 14). "Adamah" is also think like clay and is similar to a 'seal' (Shabbat 8,5). Then, "dam = liquid" and means "blood, life". God created all human beings in His Image and Likeness and then "He diminished the divine image (demut) by neglecting the propagation of man" (Yevamot 63b). This induces that every human does mirror God in a small likeness that is not extended and remains measured, humble. "Dom / damam" means "in silent, dumb, at rest". Human beings are not only like clay and dust, sand in hands of the potter (cf. Prophet Isaiah).

The coming weekly reading portion Vayikra - Leviticus we shall commence to read the Book of the Levites and the commandments referring to the priestly service of the children of Israel. Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel, is an inherent and rudimentary part of the Jewish memory as constantly reinvigorated. At this point, we go out of an exile that was the bondage in Egypt. God's housing and Temple instruments will later be taken into the exile to Babylon. Before they entered again the Land of Canaan where the ancestors had received their call to serve God, the Israelites are marked by the seal of this specific adamah, earth and birthplace. They will have to endure the same torments during the time of exile in Babylon. On the one hand, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-Israel tied them up to a spiritual native land that stamped their identity. The same memorizing process did happen by the time of the exile in Mesopotamia. But they had the Temple instruments with them. The Jewish identity carries that throughout all the exiles, not as a national expectation to get some piece of land. We reach to the core of the faith. This deals with a permanent overtime rental agreement which is only founded on freedom, free access and use and relies on faith and trust in God.

This makes the Jews "very (bney) adam - human" or look like 'damim' = Martians, inhabitants of the Red Planet. This is certainly not comparable to E.T. and other streams that would presuppose that the Israelite and the Jewish heritage came from other worlds. Just the opposite! We are opaquely and intensively the signs that we all were born in Zion (Tehillim 87:5). The movement of return to Zion includes a big part of the major messianic development that has existed in the Jewish traditions throughout the ages. The Israeli German-born philosopher Gerschom Scholem has envisioned this aspect in his books and writings about the famous false messiah Shabtai Zvi. Indeed a false messiah, but the return to Eretz Israel that he provoked en masse shows an uncommon spiritual identity that spread all through the diasporas, irrigating them with the spirit and essence of the Land of Israel. G. Scholem had the nerve to impose to one of his students, a Jew from Prague, David Flusser, who had just turned to be an Orthodox Jew to teach Christianity at the University of Jerusalem, which the involuntary candidate first accepted reluctantly. The whole thing was very insightful and is grounded in the German participation of a spiritual view of the States of the Jews. Martin Buber had collected and saved the Chassidic accounts, Abraham Heschel had shown the all-humane attitude of Jewishness. R. Y. Leibowitz was shrieking his call to true and free Judaism he had gotten from Riga to Germany, where he became a physician specialized in chemistry.

Today, the Jews return to Zion in a way that is very parallel to what happened to the Jacob-Israel descent when they fled from Egypt and erred in the wilderness among a molten calf and pieces of manna, the Luchot/Tablets. It sounds like a national movement comparable to the independence of Montenegro (Chernogora) amidst some Balkans (root for "balagan - mess") turmoil. Or the controversial independence of Kosovo and North Ossetia. Time settles what is wrought in emergency.

And here they met with other people, cultures and beliefs. Are they that human? Will Judaism and a new nation show they are human as inscribed in the Mitzvot. Interestingly, Jesus of Nazareth said: "You will receive a power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth" (Acts of the Apostles 1:8). This dispersion has resembled the Jewish scattering processes. The return of Israel challenges any movie scenario. And what will be next? In the meanwhile, local people conquered, lost, seized again, sold, were forced to leave a Land of transition that spiritually imprinted a small nation of wandering Arameans.

The silent red and dark liquid blood that irrigates our hearts and souls face a difficulty to meet with others. They all grew estranged to each other, leaving aside the liquid of life that energizes all the children of man. Slowly, since the Darfur disaster is online in the country, the Israelites (Izrail'tiany = Israelites and Israelis in Russian) might progressively recognize the Armenian genocide, the various genocides that affected most of the oldest Churches of Jerusalem (Syro-Orthodox, Assyrians, Greeks). Too often, it is easier to visit old stones than to encounter with open-mindedness those who are not buildings, but living of silent blood liquid in shape of clay and earth. And we are not on Mars... Totally, definitely right out of the blue moon, we are on earth, in Jerusalem, rescued and alive. Israel is a true human and spiritual laboratory on the eve of Nissan 5768, en route to the Feasts of Pesach and Easter.