Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lo tsiwwah: the paradox of the living

Thursday Mar 27, 2008

This week of Shabbat 'Shemini-Parah', the Torah portion to be read is Vayikra/Leviticus 9:1-11-46. It begins with the new account of the consecration/ ordination (semichah) of Aaron and his two sons; Moses ordered Aaron to offer a calf and a ram, lamb without blemish, in front of the Tent of the Meeting. Aaron did offer the calf and his sons brought him the blood that he put at the corners of the altar (cf. daily memorial prayer of "Shacharit - morning prayer"). He dipped his fingers into the blood. Now, the whole thing is strictly and absolutely a bloody blood stuff. Thus, we must be very careful, in this country, in any Jewish society. We are required to showing a spirit of prudence accompanied by wise insights.

Once anointed as priests, Nadab and Abihu, put each a pan, put fire in it and incense and the "fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them (vatochal otam); vayamutu lifnei HaShem - and they died in the Face of the Lord" (=at the instance) (Lev. 10:2). And then, Moses said to Aaron: "This is what the Lord meant when He said: Through those near to Me I show myself Holy / bikrovai ekadesh - and gain glory before all the people." And Aaron was silent/ Vayadom Aharon (Vay.10:3). Aaron remained silent, in a silence that is "dom" and not "sheket - quiet silence". Why did his sons suddenly perish, speedily, swallowed by the fire they came to offer? Was it for the sake of the merits? Were they in a situation of some "Kiddush HaShem - Sanctification of the Name" in which instant death and rush to God is a sign of holiness for the assembled elders and the Israelites? No or maybe yes, because "the Lord had not commanded them to offer this fire", so they offered a "esh zarah - alien fire" (10:1). R. Y. Leibowitz underlined an ancient tradition that is more than important in our present situation, especially this year of anniversary. They were "lo tziwwah - not commanded"; a special cantillation mark (merchah kefulah) is under the /L - lamed/ of lo, suggesting a real command not to perform the offering, but still they could not refrain from doing that. And this is true. We may have in front of us the most impure object but our inner desire to tend to God is so powerful but mistaken that we are overcome and seized by off-beam feelings. Instead of worshipping God the right way, we behave like the pagans and practice idolatry (Avodah Zarah 5b). This is why freedom from slavery also applies in worshipping, sacrifice of the offerings and of our prayers. This is why it is so difficult to act without any spiritual pressure exercised by the society or formal reasons of civilities.

As God took them "in His Face - by instance", these verses maybe suggest other subtleties of our souls and life choices. There are people who are not mature enough to achieve a task or a certain way of living and still they will be given the abilities to get across the intricacy of the challenge. And then they bifurcate. Say, God might have called Aaron's sons to change their route abruptly and with love. At the instance, Aaron's silence shows that he got to his priesthood. He reached the place where a man is in the position of total obedient and silent presence in the Face of God. He went to accomplish the duty that he had accepted, i.e. to be nothing, nil, nigh in order to open the ways of God. This is the Jewish priesthood and way to holiness, wherever the Temple exists or not, for all time, any place (maybe compared to Jesus harsh words: "Follow me and let the dead bury their dead" (Matthew 8:22)).

In the Song of the Song, we are called to become like tender flesh of the sweetest beasts. Animals can be terribly anxious, on guard, as the "gazelles and deer of the fields". Jews have often experienced this feeling. David Ben Gurion accounted that on Friday 5th of Iyar 5748/May 14, 1948 when he proclaimed the independence of the State of Israel. Yes, sixty years ago. "I feel no gaiety in me, only deep anxiety as when I was a mourner at the feast" (D.Ben Gurion, The Peel Report and the Jewish State, p. 86). This "Yiddishe angst - feeling of anxiety mixed with fear and rejoicing" runs throughout the Bible. Joy always prevails.

The Jewish Communities are proposed this week to read how they are called to be holy or to sanctify their lives in order to witness that true holiness is indeed their part. In one month, on the 27th of Nissan, the State of Israel that commemorates the victims of the Holocaust. Some citizens should be educated to get deeper involved into what and how things happened in a Christened Western and Eastern Europe that hardly can define the Christian fundamentals of the European Community. On Nissan 27, any citizen of this State has the duty to keep silent... remain in silence for the blessed memory of those who perished only sixty years ago. The Christians can join this prayer of memory. The Shoah happened, for a part that is too difficult to measure at the present, because of "the teaching of despise", irrational blood libel accusations, forced conversions and theological contests between Judaism and Christianity. Still this day cannot belong to any Church nor can it be "seized" by any denomination. On the other hand, it will take centuries for the Jews and the Christians to get closer to a real and reciprocal dialogue. But dialogue cannot be imposed like touring travels with bed and breakfast, and some flashing ideas, if any.

It would be very sad if the 60ieth anniversary of the State of the Jews systematically would focus on the uttering/chewing of the Shoah catastrophe. It is correct that the Jewish community has paid a special price to sufferings. Ever since, each nation might not compete but find some analogies in the way they have been destroyed or victimized. Strange how Jews need to compare their fate with others in terms of "catastrophes". Right now, the problem is to know if the Tibetans may have something of that Jewish angst and pain. There is a kind of desire to adopt the others because we finally got home. But this is quite unusual for the Jews and even weird for the non-Jews. So if it happened, it is only because they suffered beyond any rate. This is a pagan way of thinking. There is no measure, no middah-system that can allow us to valuate both rejoicings and sufferings. We need a rate because it is convenient. Such comparisons are full of vanity.

Then, there is this above rationality commandment: "Lo tsiwwah - (you are) not commanded". Indeed, we feel sometimes like compelled to do things though we perfectly know it makes no sense to perform them and that they will not clarify who we are. Churban? Shoah? Holocaust-Catastrophe? But this is human, all too humane. Nobody can force anyone to get through extermination via some virtual process. We can be tempted to do that. But the priestly call is rather to explain why priests have to lead to holiness and not cursing or idolatry. This combat is an ongoing war, everywhere, anyhow, whatever cultures and faiths.

This Sunday is dedicated to the Cross in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition. Kneeling down and rising up again, the faithful sing 40 times "Kyrie, eleison - Mar, rachem na" - Lord, have mercy!" The Romans used crosses for killing and torturing, gallows. We have quick shots. But the question is still pending: why are we still here? Here, in Eretz Israel, after 4000, 3000, 2000 years? That means much more than any passion. It is the paradox of coherent lives without possessions.

Alexander Winogradsky Frenkel

March 27, 2008 - 20 deAdar II 5768

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Next year in Ur-Kasdim or Lhassa?

Tuesday Mar 25, 2008

Times runs, we are done with time. Try to think but short, clean and clear cut and a bit Chinese. It means more images we can interpret in various ways. We need to make profits even if the price is total recession and the Western world will get very soon to that. Normally it would imply a war. A real conflict with this "ideogram pictured system"; the enemy is flexible, nowhere, like on a screen. We bomb something like USDollars 3000 billion; the enemy shows again on the screen out of some isolated cave. He drank camel milk and ate dates with the fighters. No sophisticated arms: the westerners had given all the weapond: knives, guns, simple stuff and it works much better than any Hollywood equipment. So, over more than two centuries, from Caucasus, down to Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and India-China local resistants, apparently obedient to all sorts of colonials (British, Russian, Americans, Dutch Petroleum Shell and other Cos, Germans, some French and Japanese, were given some arms to maintain a very special order. Some people get mad with diamonds, others can't look at oil when it starts flooding.

The news is no good at all: frankly, this is the kind of recession in which any normal nation should just drown for ever. It appears that Taiwan never felt so close to continental Zhong Guo (mainland China, Country of the Middle). I wonder what will happen when the Chinese will definitely refuse to pay their debts to the US. It happens very often in history: a collapse, a fall, bankrupt.

The Western superpowers have systematically organized their sucking profits, avoiding any liberal and free State to be created in the name of their common ancestral values I have participated many years ago in some aspect of the inculturation process of the Aramaic - Assyrian Church believers that had left Chaldea (Iraq) during the first war against Saddam Hussein. They settled for example, in a famous, very top-to-the-minute subsurb near Paris that encompasses around 90 ethnics. Traditionally a highly Jewish Oriental town. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was one of them before he head the International Monetary Fund. And, he made it: allowed the Chaldean Assyrian Church to get visas, settle and have two wonderful churches of ancient Middle-East Style.

The French government recently offered 500 visas to those members of the most ancient Church and faith tradition, speaking and praying the language of Jesus. The deal is simple. The situation is so messy, some come to the European Community and will get assistance... the other will try to settle the recession and the balagan, well the mess. But forget about your home country.

Let's say that they will arrive from Mosul, they will have to develop huge efforts to maintain their heritage. The real scholars of the Church were asked to travel to Iraq during the first war with any Vatican passport, a simple protection! The care of "the ancient and venerable Churches" is that the youths can meet, but hamburger is a hamburger and a shashlik is a shashlik. Then, there is more: Would Jews say every year at Pesach: "Next year in Ur-Kasdim, the paternal place of Abraham Avinu?" Or course not! Abraham maintained a family link with Chaldea till the third generation in order to marry his sons. The living memory of the Mishnah deploying towards the East, entering Tibet and China till the Kyu-Shu island of Japan is one of the most dramatic internal murders perpetrated by Western Christians (mainly the Portuguese) against Oriental Christians. Churches are superpowers and as such definitely not know how to get out of the dramas that split Christian faith thoroughly and without appeal. In 1927, the Anglican Episcopalian archbishop of Shanghai, the Russian Jewish Christian Schereschewsky canonized by the Church who had met with the descents of the Chinese Jews that still spoke some Judean-Persian at Kai-Feng.

In 1947-53, when a (Jewish) Righteous among the Nations, Fr. Alexandre Glasberg (Yad VaShem) brought by miracle the Iraqi Children Jews to Israel, he deeply imperiled their and his lives. But it made full sense. The same happened with some Iranian Jews who spoke the same dialect. He saved children and a lot of parents because it was a situation of emergency. No use to waste billions for parading charity actions. When the Chabad climbs up the Hamalayan and invites all the Jews to partake in a Serder Pesach on the roof of the world, it may sound like a parallel of Noah's Ark creatures reaching out of Egypt in Kathmandu. And they know how to dig here and there and look where Jews have passed through history, as in the Ukraine. Lhassa had an Assyrian metropolitan before the Dalai Lama had always to compose with the Chinese.

On March 25th, Greece celebrates its Independence day fixed to the date on which the Great Revolution started on Annunciation Day 1821. It marked the starting point of a long battle to deliver many western countries who were under Ottoman control. That suddenly fainted in 1918. "You father was a wandering Aramean" (Devarim 26:25) recalls ech year to Jews they are pilgrims and foreigners. They are the "Light of the world" and the light never forgets from where it came... Do remember please: Ur-Kasdim, the launching of civilization and consciousness.

Alexander Winogradsky Frenkel

March 25, 2008 - 18 de Adar II 5768

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Let's be mamash, true, substantial

Thursday Mar 20, 2008

What kind of crazy things will we imagine on this Purim? When logics prefer to turn to nonsense, right to left and left to north and reality to dazzling reality? We maybe living in New Zealand, Alaska, Europe, Jews rocks between Sumer and the Mesopotamian civilization and Egypt. On the one hand, the birthplace of Abraham and in, along the Nile, the fight for surviving and getting freed. And, here, in Eretz Israel, we are in between: shifting from there to here and swinging like on seesaw. Getting in and out and back again.

Strange times: The Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah is retiring. In Israel, as by the time of the Ottomans, the first Church is the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, not the Catholic patriarchate restored in the 19th century. Michel Sabbah was born in Nazareth, he speaks Hebrew quite well. He is a "Palestinian". He will be replaced by a Jordanian archbishop who served in North Africa. Michel Sabbah has been the first Arab local clergyman to be a Latin Patriarch since the 14th century. Then, it is evident that we try to measure if it was good or bad for the Jews or bad and good who somebody else, maybe the Arab Christians and their Muslims brothers? It happens that Michel Sabbah considers that the best moments of his ministry, quietest moments were during the festivities of the Millennium of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in 2000. Upon his retirement, he made some very clear statements about the "occupation" and the general attitude of the Israelis. He also said that the Israelis can be afraid by peace. This is very true. The problem is that Jews should be convinced that when he says that, he does not reject them. But indeed, Jews are afraid to live in a peaceful atmosphere, secure. A normal Jew is at least mentally sitting on some suitcases, ready to wander around the world. When the Jews are aware of such a thing, they get panicked. Israelis are not panicked because they got home and they return to their home. Michel Sabbah sounds right, but he cannot really accept that Jews are fully at home here because of Eretz Israel. The same as for Elie Wiesel. He is the model of the Flying Jew.

Both Michel Sabbah and Elie Wiesel have spent their lives with knives in their backs. Or they thought they could be victimized by nature, innate negative fate. It is terrible how overcome with much difficulties the terrible experience that is imprinted or sealed in our memories.

Let's speak of Yaakov. There are plenty of evidences showing that he was worth taking over his brother's birthright and receiving the paternal blessing. He cheated but was cheated in return, in particular by Laban. Then, Yaakov was given another blessing and identity, Israel, during a very special dark and enlightened fight in the night. The new name he got was far more that any lentil stew deal. His very "essence or being" changed to carry over the task of blessing. It would be possible to speak of a "positive transgression" of the Law that had not been given yet to Moses but paved the way to Law-giving. "Averah" is a "transgression" that can be worth and helpful, as in the case of "Pikuach nefesh" (the requirement to save a life, which has numerous implications). "Avar" also means "to be pregnant/"me'uberet", which shows the passing from the womb to outside world; connected with "ivri" as in Bereishit Rabba 42: "The whole world was on one side (idolaters), thus Abraham passed the banks of the rivers". He trespassed the rules of the idolaters in order to receive God's blessings.

Judaism speaks of mamash, mamashut = reality, substance of our lives and beings. In Yiddish mamoshes appeals to the very substance of what exists. There is no reason to oppress oneself or others if we really know who we are in-depths. The problem is to be and to exist to the full whatever circumstances.

The problem of the very nature of reality and objects, humans is that we got confused. This word, in Yiddish (mamushes) totally covers the realm of what is taught about God's Presence in Judaism and Christianity. But it is a normal copy right for the Jews and became a copy left for the others. Faith never requires any disguising, except to show that the worst tragedies will pass because humans are born to rejoice. But how can we rejoice with you, yes you over there - whoever you are and I don't even understand who you are (normal question of a usual tourist here)? You superseded our birth right, our original copy right and captured also any copy left. No copy belongs to you and not to me or vice versa. Because "mine is yours says the tzaddik" (Pirkey Avot). Jesus declared the same to His and Our Father (John 17:10). In cities with walls, let's this year lift our internal rejections and pardon because "purim calls k'purim", "like lots" cast to rejoice and not to mourn. The megillah will continue to be unscrolled... for the best of life. L'chayim!

Alexander Winogradsky Frenkel

March 20, 2008 - 12 deAdar II 5768

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Di nakht: darkness or toward dawn

Tuesday Mar 18, 2008

The countdown "Israel: + 60 years" has shown some defects from the very beginning of the Jewish year 5768 and even before. Firstly, it is a "shemittah = remittance" year for the land and this is a silent question with numerous answers and resolutions. It is not possible to confirm that the adamah is having some rest in Eretz Israel with all these qassams, tanks, then killings. Maps vary and will continue to change quite many years. There are points of confusion showing that legality and legacy are weakening. Young girls would not respect the civilian rules and accept the Rabbinical decisions instead. This constitutes a hapax - something totally new for the Zionist movement that always recognized the decisional ruling of the secular law applicable to all Jews.

At the long-prepared wake of the Shishim - the Sixtieth anniversary of the State of Israel that was launched with the UN partition into two States, it is totally baffling that Germany is the first official visitor as foreign country to come at the eve of the Feast of Purim. This is stunning, unreal, kitsch and weird. Either we have no soul and conscience, or, on the contrary, some anniversaries allow mediatic events can be covered by some unuttered forgiveness that is beyond any kind of understanding, safe some actions of the Lamed-Vavnikes, the 36 righteous that keeps the world alive. Who would have thought of a German Kaenzlerin, chancellor, in a modern State of Israel? And she originally comes from East Germany, with a cultural background that , via the former Soviet Union and the Russian civilization, roots her closer to the basements of the State of the Jews.

Judaism has a very special blessing: "Blessed are You, Lord of the Universe / shehecheyanu (Who sustains us in Life) vekimanu (and revives us) vehigiyanu lezman hazeh (and gives us to reach to this time).We may not be able to understand the value of what seems ordinary.

It has been a great moment of my life that my mother who had survived the Shoah specifically decided that I should perfectly speak German. At the present, it is special She had been vehemently criticized for having taken such a decision. She would speak German in case of emergency. She answered that I belonged to the generation that will have the task to reconnect and pardon. Thus, I spent months in the Austrian mountains close to Salzburg. The family, the villagers were "normal evident" Hitler supporters. Erasing the Nazis? They were simple guys and I went to school there, later in Germany (Limburg). Today, Israel has welcomed a lot of German boys and girls, students. Many married here, mainly to Orientals (Mizrachim), which is definitely easier.

The above blessing insists on a regular, cyclic, on the move development and renewal of life. This is what "zikkaron - memorial" also means. If Angela Merkel only lands in Israel because it is a good and juicy economic period when the world is in deep turmoil, this would be useless or just some toasts before further sinking.

Then, it may be puzzling that Elie(zer) Wiesel refuses at the last minute and right out of the blue, to hold a torch for the Sixtieth? He went through "Di nakht - the Night". The reaction that condemns him for personal money profits, utilizing the Holocaust as a self promotion... Nu so what? Jews, as Christians, are none without compassion and loving-kindness. In the "Night", E. Wiesel looks, with the inmates of the camp, at the gallows and the hanging body. A man says: "Where is God?" Wiesel whispers: "There, he is hanging at the gallows".

Elie Wiesel has never become the man he should have been as a member of the Yiddishkayt. His Jewishness and normal route sank during the Shoah. Today, he often would say this and that, partly dreaming, partly surviving. The intriguing part is that only Israelis are entitled to yell at him or be judgmental. Any soul - that solely passes by this Land of Canaan today is place beyond any capacity to measure the value of life. It is far beyond mean survival concerns and still it is interwoven with horrible fears.

From growing flowers, trees, roads, pets, computers to human bones, all of them ache or ached or will go through terrible pains. We are simply at the dawn of some new humanity.

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Chag Purim sameach