Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Lord has loved him

Prophet Isaiah has a short verse: "The Lord has loved him - אהבו ה - HaShem ahevo" (Isaiah 48:14) which has different meanings with regards to liturgical cycles and God's love granted in prayers. This was an essential quotation for the Khazars (see below). I do hope that this verse will now be the share that the Lord will share with His servant Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn who passed away on Aug. 3/July 21, 2008. He reposed at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow before being buried in the Donskoi Monastery on August 6th.

Two major aspects of the life of the great Soviet and Russian writer: he was firstly a scientist, a mathematician and a teacher of physics. When he was sent to jail after the war, all his fellow inmates were scientists of high rank, a specificity which is typical for the Soviet culture based on rational sciences and "computerization, calculation, supputation". He was born into a pious family and his mother taught him the articles of the Eastern Orthodox faith. Nonetheless, he followed the normal route of the Soviet atheistic youth and joined the pionners and the Komsomol when he was a teen.

He returned to faith and "repented", converting to the Orthodox faith that is so deeply rooted in the Russian soul and culture. "Repented"? Penance is at the heart of the Russian spiritual ways of reflecting the relationship beteen God and the believers. During all the Eastern Orthodox services, a litany quests: "Grant us to spend the rest of our life in peace and penance, we ask to the Lord - Прочее время живота нашего в мире и покаяний скончати у Господа просим". "Pokaianie/покаяние" refers to some mystic and inscrutable movement of penance from sin to pardon. In Russian, "Kaius'/каюсь" firstly refers to sinful, weird and emotional matters. It does mean "I regret, I confess and repent". It does not sound like Greek "metanoia" which means "conversion" but essentially "a revolving move of conscience (nous)", which is postiive and does not focus on irremediable sin and judgment of awe. Hebrew "teshuvah\תשובה " is the original root and means "response, conversion as an answer to God by renewing one's mind and soul ("shuv\שוב - anew, to rotate). Thus, Solzhenitsyn fundamentally turned to the creed of the Russian Orthodox Church in the context of a full apostasy shown during the atheistic period of the communist system. He repented and this sealed his soul in this tormented and though joyous faith of the Russian Church, marked by violent passions, cruel fates, love and hatred, distress and despair.

He repented and tried to break through this civilization of doomed inmates infected by some unescapable destiny. The Christian Orthodox faith is far more joyful and full of hope. But in his repenting, he became a man of conscience. He took up the horrible burden of apostasy that affected Russian society.It should be noted that Western Churches can hardly reach this point of getting aware of a parallel apostasy during the time of the Nazis. This apostasy happened in christened countries during the Nazi regime.

Indeed, it makes sense that Aleksandr Isayevich slept into death during the celebrations of the 1020th anniversary of the baptism of the Kievan Rus', as the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrated the vigils of Saint Maria Magdalene's feast.

True, Solzhenitsyn was as strong as these immense Russian forests, strong as an ox, which recalls the biblical "oaks and terebinths" and the sacrifices offered in the Temple (cf. Psalm 51:21). No human political, ideological system has ever been able to dissect or cut down the writer. We can say that Aleksandr Isayevich is brought into the Russian earth as he was in the likeness of the Soviet Man by his education, culture, language and speech. He reposes in this Russian soil and his burial prolongs the long-term process of disappearance of the communist system that connects with much subtlety his era with the 21st century.

Solzhenitsyn asked to be buried at the Donskoy Monastery/Донской монастырь. This is a significant sign of the continuum that exists in the development of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian culture as a specific walk of civilization. The holy icon of the Lady of the Don had been found in that place. Saint Sergius of Radonezh had his church there. The icon of the Lady of the Don was brought in procession during the famous Kulikovo battle in 1380 and, as a consequence the Tatars left without combating.

Interestingly, the monastery is located on the way to Crimea on a borderline that always faced the challenge to stopping the invaders that often arrived from Asia. The Lithuanian and Polish or Ukrainian cosacks, in particular in the years 1612 and 1628 tried to seize the monastery.

The Donskoi monastery is also linked to the roots of the revival of the Russian Orthodox Church by the time of the Bolshevik Revolution and the re-establishment of the Patriarcate of Moscow. Saint Tikhon was the first patriarch elected just before the revolution. He could not carry out the huge project of spiritual "perestroika" that he highly wanted to implement by launching the council of the Russian Orthodox Church. This project is on hols at the present, but we should note that the Church officially came out only less than 25 years ago. Patriarch Tikhon was imprisoned in the monastery and he remained there. He was killed in 1927 and his relics were found in the monastery in 1989, only one year after the millenium of the baptism of the Rus. This creates a long-term continuum with the destiny of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian way to adhere to the creed.

It has often been said that Solzhenitsyn was a Russian nationalist bording some sort of Slavic fanatism or stubborn framing toward other cultures. Indeed, we have the problem in Israel. The Soviet newcomers to Israel usually left their faraway Russian style and walks of living and arrived in Israel, keeping them in mind and a bit afraid of the local Israeli and intercultural situation. Soviets were framed and facing lies in place of truth in the former Soviet Union. In Israel, lies and truth mix but mainly frighten people who jumped from the plane and do not know the world. Say, they know it but reluctantly look at it. They would take the best and the worse. Aleksandr Isayevich, in a repenting move, condemned both the Soviet and Western styles alike with much insights. But this led to a lot of misunderstandings.

His language is composed of sophisticated highly esoteric words and phrases. Russian is very flexible and as many other Indo-European languages (German, Icelandic) allows creating new words by using ancient roots. German went through this system slightly during the Nazi period, by the way. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn scarcely wrote with the same views. Still, he loved and corrected the Russian dictionary. He enhanced the vocabulary. He acted in accordance with the Slavophile movement that is very ancient, both nationalistic and showing the profound love and connection of the Russian people with their tongue and its dialects. His long life of solitude and "intelligentsia outcast" has influenced his literary insights and increased his abilities to widen the Russian Slavic weltanschauung. Curiously, the most famous and undoubtedly best Russian writer was Aleksandr Pushkin, poet and novelist. His tongue was clear and he could write short as well as long paragraphs. He was of Ethiopian origin...

Solzhenitsyn was a nationalist in the sense that Russians are "lost" when they are cast out and obliged to live "abroad". He was somehow connected in his Slavophile style with Ivan A. Bunin (1870-1953) who was awarded the Nobel Prize of Literature in 1933 and was also a Russian purist and word-creator.

Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia in 1994 as a writer and reporter. He started to analyze the development of the Russian society. He came as an Eastern Orthodox believer, definitely participating in the spiritual reinvigoration of the Russian Orthodox Church. His faith is inscribed in the same line as Hans Urs von Barthasar's views detailed in his broad-minded book "Der Glaube Christi/the Faith OF Christ". The writer could be repenting in the footsteps of the Russian tradition. The link with Hans Urs v. Balthasar is not so subtle in fact. The German theologian highlighted our age and our continuum in history as a positive consequence of the glory of the Cross and the Resurrection that grants us a "surplus of grace" by keeping the human in life.

Aleksandr Isayevich had been touched by the grace of God. God's finger had given him the grace of being cured and saved from cancer and hatred in the society obsessed by destruction and death. We think that everything has been written about the labor camps (GUlag), cancer wards or psychiatric units. Thus, only faith - real and not ritual faith - could help survive beyond personal egos and overcome the indescribable slaughtering of humans.

Is Israeli society concerned by the passing away of the biggest Russian writer of the past 50 years? Israeli media are rather "neutral" and do not thrillingly comment the event. Good enough... Solzhenitsyn was a nationalist and showed at times "anti-Semitic". In his books, the author avoid to describe the sufferings of the Jews as in "A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich" and the only Jewish character is too close to the tormentors. There are some anti-Semitic elements in the "GUlag archipelago" and no statement about the sufferings of the Jews in "August 14".

In fact, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had been fashioned in the century-long tradition of rejection and disregard toward the Jews. It is a very delicate and tricky relationship that combines hospitality and live, rejection and hatred, irrational psychotic will of power and erotic attractiveness. These are simply the usual standards. Jews gave Jesus of Nazareth. They also "infected" Holy Russia with the messianic hope of a proletarian international socialism. Marx and Engels, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg entered tzarist Russia via Lenin-Trotsky(Bronstein) and numerous socialist preachers that participated in the creation of the communist party.

How did Solzhenitsyn consider Judaism? How Aleksandr Isayevich, being a Russian Christian Orthodox believer could sympathize with the destiny of the Jews? He did write a book ("Two centuries together") about his views on the rlationships between the Russians and the Jews. At least, he was really courageous to face a problem that is mostly hidden. The emancipation of the Jews after the Revolution evolved into a system of mixed marriages. The screen neutralization of the two nations slowly drowned into in the fraternal realm of the Soviet "comradeship".

I hear all the time a very special and unbelievable statement in the Russian-speaking Israeli society. "We are simply anti-Semitic by nature", declare some simple faithful. This group is often composed of uncertain, low-gear people sitting put on quicksands. Some are more Slavophile and Orthodox than any Russian citizen. Others adapt their style to Israel and slightly depart from Mother Russia. This will be over in one or two decades. But the connection with the former Soviet Union is significant. This is the point.

Israelis will not show much compassionate toward any society that went through some hell that are seemingly similar or parallel. The pogroms, the revolution, all the wars, deportations and psychiatric asylums are carved in the human and spiritual memory of any Israeli of Jewish descent. Some of our citizens are not Jewish and still went through these events. Slowly, the non-Jewish citizens get closer to the meaning of such an experience and they take it over. Thus, Israel has taken up so many Soviet camp survivors that Solzhenitsyn's essential testimony may not be correctly valuated. Too banal; ordinary experience.

Israel must also build up her own Jewish heritage and look forward, not only backward. I often visit the Diaspora Museum (Beyt HaTfutsot\ית התפוצות ) in Tel Aviv with former Soviet-new Israeli citizens. They often show a mal d'etre that must be taken into account. What with the Jews, would they say when the Soviet Union lost 60 million people during World War II? It sounds a bit weird to hear such statements in Israel. They are free to discuss the matter and this is great.

It seems that Solzhenitsyn was never challenged as a historical witness, writer, thinker and believer by the re-emergence of the State of Israel. He knew about the Jews. Israelis were not "real" as inducing an era of ingathering of the exiled.

Today, Israel is the "second Russian country in the world" (L. Putin). This is not exact. Indeed, the Israeli society has been built upon the pattern of East-European and Russian ways of living. Some people will go through great difficulties, as any other tribe coming back to Zion. The Ethiopians have their problems. Pushkin's pupils jump into the building of another collectivity. And this also concerns the way the Israeli Christian Orthodox may participate in a solid structure. Solzhenitsyn noted - as a lot of specialists of Russia did over centuries - that the Russians are too versatile and lack a substantial sense of structuring organization.

How strange! Aleksandr Isayevich is married to Natalya (Svetlova; a nickname = bright). Natalya's mother was Jewish. This means that, according to the Law of Return in force in the State of Israel, she might virtually be able to emigrate to Israel according to the fundamental law of the State. True, this is entirely imaginary... They married in an Orthodox church just after the writer divorced his first wife (Natalya). But this family pattern is just ordinary in Israel. A lot of newcomers arrived in Israel in the same family context as the Solzhenitsyn's. The scenario is really banal though ignored or unknown. Subsequently, Solzhenitsyn's children could potentially become Israeli because their mother is ("ethnically") Jewish. The family is profoundly Christian Orthodox.

At this point, we track back like boomerangs into history and the spiritual development of Russia. From the 7th to the 10th century, the Turkic tribe of the Khazars adopted Judaism. They lived in the South of Russia, the Crimea up to the North of Caucasus. They were known as very pious Jews and had close relationships with the Persian Jews. They strongly influenced the ritual and spiritual tradition of official Judaism as the Spanish theologian Yehudah Halevi wrote in his "Kuzari".

Khazars and Christians had conflicting relationships. Saint Cyril, the Greek apostle of the Slavs, had imposed the Slavic-Slavonic tongue as the liturgical language with the blessing of the patriarch of Constantinople and the bishop of Rome ("Patriarch of the West"; the title was recently suppressed by the Roman Church). He tried but failed to convert the Khazars to Christianity.

When Saint Vladimir/Volodymyr decided to be baptized and obliged his nation to adopt the Christian faith, the Russian Legend accounts that he called the Jews, the Roman Latins, the Muslims. He chose the Greek Byzantine rite or Oriental rite and rejected Judaism and Islam. This rejection developed in the Russian Eastern Orthodox Church into a constant fear of any form of "Judaization" of the Russian creed and rituals.

It may be important to have an Israeli approach to the death of Solzhenitsyn. He is a major writer and witness, a fighter, a man of courageous protest, compelling to reach out to the truth. He combated as a Christian Orthodox believer who raised from the Russian soil. Interestingly, he inherited in the Church the same questions about "the others" that showed from the first commencements of Christendom. How can we teach freedom when people desperately require to be in bondage and afraid of the others.

Interrogated about the personality of A. Solzhenitsyn, Fr. Aleksandr Borisov (Moscow) declared that Aleksandr Isayevich left an important mark in the society. The priest compares the writer to Metropolitan Anthony of Surozh, Fr. Aleksandr Men, Andrei Sakharov, concluding: "He intervened in the moral awakening in Russia. His actions, at this point, have a huge ("colossal") historical dimension" ("Его роль в правственном пробуждении России. В этом его колоссальное историческое значение").

Av Aleksandr

August 8th/July 25th, 2008 - ז באב מנחם תשס"ח

sun eclipse in Siberia (August 2008)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tikvateinu - Our hope beyond hope

We arrive to some sort of "end of time, end of year" period. Every year, in the summer, the four/three-week Tammuz to Av recurrence should bring the attention of the Jews to the meaning of "kaytz\קיץ - summer", connected with "ketz\קץ - end. There are the “K'tzey haolam - the end of the world as a space" and the prospect of finishing the year, a time of harvesting (Bereishit 8:22 or Tehillim 74:17: "You have fixed all the bounds of the earth; you made summer and winter). Shabbat "Devarim\דברים" is directly followed this year by the mourning Tisha Be'Av day.

We should note and with much awareness that the fifth Book of the Written Torah encompasses many actions that all exclusively deal, at first glance, with the achieving part of the exodus and the final entrance of the Israelites into the Land of Canaan after some 39 years of wandering and various tribulations in the wilderness. This is correct but not totally exact.

Indeed, the Book suggests that God reminded Moses of all the historic data that happened since the flight from Egypt. He recalled how the Jewish people erred in the desert before being allowed to cross the Jordan under the leadership of Joshua Bin Nun. Moses concludes his own mission and gets ready to die “somewhere” on Mount Nebo, reckoning all the events that he carried out with a God's predilection.

But the Book is called “Mishney Torah\משנה תורה – repetition of the Law” that wrongly became in all translations “Deuteronomy = the Second Law”. Why is it slightly inexact? “Second Law” might be misinterpreted as a new or different giving of the Torah, as supposedly accomplishing what was not perfect and complete at the Mount Sinai. This has some veracity but is still not the real purpose of the Book. Then, from the Second Book of the Chumash (Five Books of Moses), the actions are trying to develop in view to allow the Israelites to return to the Land of Canaan and penetrate the region that was promised by God to the Avot (Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-Israel). Long series of a journey full of hardships and misunderstandings among the Israelites as regards how God meant to implement this redemption project and what benefits the Israelites can get having “anshey chayil\אנשי חיל – men of power and judgment”. Then they were given the Written and Oral Laws (Matan Toratenu) after they behaved as childlike troubleshooters with the Chet-ha-egel\חטא העגל (the golden calf sin). It was more a kind of accessories and jewelry melting party.

But Moses intervened and repeated the major elements of the Divrot\דברות – Ten Commandments, the building of the Mishkan\משכן -Tabernacle. VaYikra\וקרא is the Book of the Levites or how to get closer to holiness by sanctifying God as a priestly nation. Finally, BeMidbar-Numbers shows how the Israelites did finish the construction of the Mishkan/Tabernacle but were not able yet to penetrate the Land. Some tongues have specific ways in expressing the idea of what appears “secondly”. Russian has “vtoroi\второй = second as following first and introducing a third thing, if any”. But “drugoi\другой = second in the sense of “other, different” as “inyi\иный”. “Mishney Torah does not really refer to some second, third or more Torot/Laws’. Indeed, Moses undertook to expound how God spoke to the Israelites at Horeb. But his account is not showing some yearning for the past. On the contrary, although this might sound like a paradox: this account opens the way to the future. “Mishney = elements to be repeated” because the Book of Devarim – Deuteronomy includes a sort of “eleventh” Mitzvah/commandment: “Shma’ Israel\שמע ישראל” (Deut. 6:4-9). “Leshanen\לשנן = to repeat” is a pedagogical method. God insists that specific Commandments have to be repeated constantly by the Israelites, maybe thus with more insights and prophetic capacities. This is why, “kaytz\קיץ – harvest, end” allows envisioning as true factors the capacity for the Jews to get enhanced harvesting seasons in the future. Moses apparently recounts what has happened during the exodus and the wandering in desert.

In fact, he anticipates how the Israelites will have to comply with the Mitzvot. He recalls the tests they overcame in searching their way to reaching out to the Land of Canaan. Again, the Land of Canaan or Eretz Kanaan/Israel, is not a “new” conquest. It will turn to series of fighting confrontations with the local inhabitants. But, it is indeed, in an unusual manner, the return of the Avot/ancestors’ descent to their native homeaccording to a Divine promise. This defies time, space and human understanding.

The spiritual experience of Israel is that “destructions” as those of the Temples (Ninth of Av) are timeless and lead to time and motion comprehensiveness of repairing actions. God accepts and tolerates us but “ad matai – until when?” (Tehillim 4:3). The Jews are normally trained to exert their living memory as looking through the tragedies of the past in order to repair and create anew what have been destroyed of damaged. Many contemporary rabbis have underscored the strong connection that ties up the weekly portion with the haftarah (prophetic portion) read on Shabbat Chazon (Shabbat of the “Vision”) in Isaiah 1:1-27. Tisha beAv (9th of Av) marks a peak since the year 70 (C.E.) in the symbolic and emotional, spiritual life of the Jewish experience. History and calamities rushed at Judaism and 9th of Av corresponds at the present to events definitely linked to a special period of history, i.e. the emergence and spreading of Christianity, the pretence of false messiahs (Bar Kochba) and the penance of famous Jewish Sages (R. Akiva). Thus, the following events are supposed to have happened on the 9th of Av: Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70; plowing of the Temple Mount by Turnus Rufus and Jerusalem became the pagan city of Aelia Capitolina in 71; the defeat of Bar Kochba in 135; the first crusade launched by Pope Urban II in 1095; the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1295 and the final expulsion of all Jews from Spain and Portugal in 1492. This expulsion was later followed by the slaughters that led to the Shoah and the project to erasing the Jewish presence in Europe, North Africa, Soviet Union and the related states.

We should never forget that Jews read the Prophet Isaiah’s Chazon/vision on the Shabbat before Tisha BeAv for a reason that has nothing to do with the Nations’ attitude and abominations against the Jews.

He wrote, hundreds years after Moses’ last account in Devarim: “Oy, goy chet/ oy - sinful nation / am kaved avon – people laden with iniquity… Your country lies desolate; your cities are burnt with fire…What is to Me the multitude of your sacrifices… I do not delight in the blood of bulls, of lambs or of goats” (Is. 1:4.7.11). “Eycha hayta lezonah/ Oy how the faithful city has become a whore” (Is. 1:21) include the title cry of the Hebrew Book of “Lamentions – Eycha\איכה” – read on the 9th of Av. Is it not strange and spiritually highly significant that the Devarim/Deuteronomy starts with the same cry of lament and interrogation uttered by Moses about the Israelites: “Eycha essa levadai\איכה אשא לבדי – how can I bear the heavy burden of your disputes all by myself?” (Deut. 1:12). “Eycha – how, how come?” also shows in the Song 1:7 (“eykana\איכנה” in Song 5:3; Esther 8:6). This refers to the main quest after the meaning of life in good as in evil.

Indeed, “eycha” is firstly to be found in the Book of Bereishit/Genesis as Adam and Eve have disobeyed to God commandment not to eat from the fruit. It should be noted that Judaism as the Oriental Christian Churches do not accept the concept of “the origin sin”. The sin consisted in disobeying God’s word. Thus, in the Gan Eden, God’s call to Adam at the end of the day was: “Ayecha\איכה (eycha) – how, where are you?” (Gen. 3:10). When God exclaimed this question and summoned Adam rather softly to hear the truth, “eycha” implies a fault, a rupture between God and His creature. Thousands of years still leave Judaism in a sort of incapacity to admit we have to be obedient to God and not to what we think, in our opinion, that God is willing. There is a profound experience of cry from the entrails in this very short and exceptional word.

This is why Devarim/Deuteronomy is indeed “Mishney Torah”: We will see that the Book does not repeat many Mitzvot/Commandments and this is a very intriguing point too. On the contrary, Devarim brings forth new commandments. The Book achieves and implements the destiny of the Jewish nation but there has been a harsh dispute why not to start the TaNaKh with Bereishit, i.e. the creation of the world and every human being created “in God’s Image and Likeness” (Gen. 1:26).

It would be rather short-sighted, narrow-minded to focus, on these days of fast and penance, on the tribulations that Christianity imposed upon Judaism. Judaism did suffer a lot and with much cruelty from the pre-Christian anti-Judaism and the first destruction of the Temple on 9th of Av 587(bce) and that day (1312 bce), the spies/scouts dissuaded the Israelites to penetrate the Land of Canaan (Taanit 9b). We are going through nine days of fast till Tisha BeAv, not because the others did harm, attack, imperil, slaughter, kill and destroy, in many ways, the different traditions and the faithful of the Jewish communities.

But the task of Judaism is not to roll up into some shelter and, in return, only accuse the Christians of the wounds and scars of history against the Jews. Some Christian Churches have taught with much despise and ignorance of the Scripture that the Jews had killed Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel, as the catechism of the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches show that all mankind (both Jews and Gentiles) have put Jesus to death. It would be pitiful and not be responsible not to combat the deep mutual ignorance that separate most religious communities. On these days of fast, the Jews focus on the abominations that led to the destruction (churban) of the Temples. The Jews have been scapegoats from the time of the exile in Egypt, so it is incumbent on the Jewish spiritual leaders and communities to avoid any scapegoat-making in return or by some kind of revenge. Christian catechism as the transmission of the Jewish faith face the immense task to correct their spiritual attitudes. This is only possible in the light of the Divine Presence. How can we today, in Israel, tame each other in a peaceful reflection? We apparently cannot dialog at the present, Catechism comes from Greek “to echo”, similar to “mishney torah – repeat repeatedly" and looking forward, ahead of who we are.

“I have set the land before you: go in and take possession of the land that I swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give to them and to their descendants after them” (Gen 1:8). “Eycha! How, where in the world! How come?” It is such an extravagant and awesome event that turns death into life and we are really born to bless, only expecting any echo of faith (= “amen”) …