Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hitorerut/waking up and metamorphosis

Klal and Qahal Israel\כלל וקהל ישראל come to New Year 5769. We are still in the wonderful period of Elul and it is possible to pivot ahead with God's assistance and pardon our fellow people, friends, family members, enemies. It is a strong period for praying the Slichot\סליחות and go through the ten days of slichot\סליחות. Pardon leads to unity with others, expiation and tenderness, compassion and at-one-ment. The Kol Nidrei\כל נדרי prayer commences with these words: "By the community of Above and the community of Beneath\בקהל של מעלה ובקהל של מטה - in the knowing conscience of the Omnipresent (Lord)\על דעת המקום - we dare pray with those who trespass(ed)\אנחנו מתירין להתפלל עם העברינים.

Strangely enough the final phrase is close to the Roman Latin sentence that introduces to the prayer of the Lord during the Mass: "preceptis salutaribus moniti... audemus dicere (we dare say)". The Byzantine rite has it in other words: "and allow us, Master, to dare call to You with confidence without being submitted to any judgment, to You God, Heavenly Father". In Hebrew, the word "attir-עתיר" tracks back to "release, free. deliver". This is the very core of the Jewish spiritual life and intuition: pardon is possible. Pardon allows clutching and supporting each other and collecting all humankind into one partnership: God's creatures. It is an act of unloosing emancipation. Year after year, we are called to grow up and get mature, wise, insightful and quiet. Of course, there can be some defects. We see how economics got a bit rotten, people are either overspoiled or terribly impoverished. The Divine Presence continuously revives those who fall and propose to clean up our brains and houses (bodies and properties).

It is helpful, in these days, to feel that we are not fenced. God does not frame anyone - on the contrary He sustains life and birthing. We cannot focus on our "tibbur - תיבור - navel, the famous Yiddish "pupik/פופיק ". We are God's children shaped as humans in order to grow and encompass the world singing the glory of the Reign of the Lord.

We may not accept forgiving the others. Then why God should pardon us? The Amidah\עמידה - Prayer of the 18 Benedictions at least recited thrice a day invokes this "mysterious act of the life-giving Master of the universe". It is said: "selach lanu - mechal lanu - kaper lanu\forgive, pardon, atone and release by our ransoming offering - סלח לנו. מחל לנו.כפר לנו". This resembles a supreme effort as mentioned in this forthcoming Shabbat reading portion Netzavim. We love parroting about love, friendship and pardon. It is much more difficult to implement in real life. But faith can sustain such a pivotting move of our souls and bodies.

Moreover, the second part of the prayer states: "(pardon) kol bney Israel vehager hagar betocham ki kol ha'am bishgagah - release all the Children of Israel as also the foreigner that lives in their midst - because all the people (=nation, human race) has erred beyond rationality and without conscience\לכל בני ישראל ולגר הגר בתוכם כי כל העם בשגגה .

Pardon goes beyond any fault, defect, guilt, transgression. It surpasses and overshadows by maintaining in life all humane reflection. It is at the heart of the "chusaya\חוסיא - imploring mercy and intercession (Aramean confession in the Assyrian and Chaldean rite)".

It is a time of repair. Newness and repair come together to meet New Year, i.e. a new portion, new teaching period of our lives. It suggests that we reach out to a time of "transfiguration, metamorphosis" and this is the biggest challenge we have to face all the days of our being on earth. It means that we have to carry out the good news of Bereishit/Genesis: "everything was very good - טוב מאד "(Gen. 1:31). This can be real. This is at hand.

* * * * *

On August 6th for the Western and August 19th for the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches celebrated a feast that seemingly does not exist in Judaism: the Transfiguration of Jesus of Nazareth on a high mountain. Was it at Mount Tabor, in Jerusalem or on some other Northern mountain? The Greek word is “metamorphosis/μεταμόρφωσις” because the “shape/form” of the Jesus changed and “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzlingly white as light’ (Luke 9: 29) while talking with Moses and Elijah.

It is said in the Gospel of Matthew that this occurred six days after Shimon-Peter (Shimon bar Yona\שמעון בר יונה; cf. Ben Sirach chapter 51 and new Kippur service in the rebuilt Temple) confessed Jesus as “the Messiah, the son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). Six days later supposedly imply that it was by the time of the feast of the Booths/Sukkot. But the point is that Jesus appeared in a discussion with Moses and Elijah. Shimon-Peter suggested to build three tents/dwellings. And then a bright cloud overshadowed them. For the very first time in the Gospel, a voice (cf. Bat Qol\בת קול = Spirit of God) told the apostles that Jesus was “the beloved son” (Matthew 17: 1-8). This tracks back to Abraham and Moses as God’s acting messengers.

There is a key similarity and parallelism that should be taken into account: Moses died in the wilderness and nobody knows where his grave is located. He someway physically disappeared as nil. Prophet Elijah ascended in a whirl-wind to heaven in the Merkavah\מרכבה / chariot and horses of fire while his disciple Elisha was staring at the scene. He wanted to get a double measure of spiritual strength from his master (2 Kings 2:9-12). Jesus was subject to a process of “transfiguration – metamorphosis – Hebrew “hishtanut\השתנות – change”. The correct word should be taken from the root “tselem\צלם – face / “hitstallem\הצטלם” means “to be taken in picture” in Modern Hebrew. But “tselem\צלם”, in the Jewish traditions, refer to “Image (dark)”, “painted matter” (Avot 3, 14), “even image, take, painting”; or, “pay honor to the image of the Lord! (= respect humans)” (Tanhumah Mishpatim 19). Yiddish and Hebrew use the word to mock “the Christian” considered as an object of idolatry (געצלמטער קאפ). On the other hand, “Hit’orerut\התעוררות – waking up” and “hit’arut\התערות – deep rooting-in” would be convenient because they express a change of “’or\עור – skin, thus face and like waking up from another realm”.

The Christian Churches are often at pains with this move of Kippur-Expiation. It is a day of white and clear light, full brightness. Saint james wrote a very "Kippur-like" epistle that focuses on morals and ethics, goodness and healing. Saint Paul wrote the shortest letter of the New testament: His epistle to Philemon is definitely intriguing and includes the whole of the Christian faith. Paul of Tarsus is in jail. There is meets with a man, Onesimus, who has been condemned because he had stolen, cheated his boss, Philemon, a wealthy man who headed a Christian community at Colossae (cf. Colossians 4:17).

Paul asks (begs in the name of the Lord that Philemon take back home his former slave, Onesimus who had robbed him. No. Well, Paul suggests that Philemon take him back and welcome Onesimus as a free man because he will leave the jail where he got baptized by the apostle. But there is more: Philemon is asked to welcome Onesimus as "his (true) brother". Onesimus is pardoned from all his sins and wrongdoings; he is released and thus equal to his former master, Philemon. This is fascinating and at teh heart of a Kippur-like action. Paul adds something that "he writes with his own blood". If Philemon considers that Onesimus still has any pending debt toward him, Paul takes the oath that he will refund the required money, if any! (v.16-19). This is the very meaning of our wishes: "Good inscription and sealing\כתיבה וחתימה טובה".

Av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

Photographs: a) Menora - Heichal Shlomo
היכל שלמה - מנורה\חנוכיה;
b) Edicule of the Resurrection - Anastasis.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Shuv: the highest effort

What profits will we remember of year 5768? How are we getting ready to meet 5769? Is it possible to understand anything and to detect God's projects that so many would eventually deny? Firstly with regards to Israel, since the 4th of Tevet 5766 (January 4, 2006), Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been sleeping. Tzipi Livni just showed up to the first rank. A great woman, a true Israeli, a woman of insights and intuitions. This is not a political statement! Suddenly fresh people come out when things are full of despair. She might pave the way for changes, cleansing. Maybe a secular move that would close a rather shady shemittah year\שמיטה/year of resting for Eretz Israel.

In the course of 5767, we roved here and there and rambled in the search of some long-term solution. Our ancestors were wandering from Ur-Kasdim down to Egypt and back to the Land of Canaan. Abraham erred - because he was seeking God. Israel celebrated the Sixtieth anniversary\ששים שנים of the State of the jews/the State of israel that is multi-ethnic.

Now, the world is earth-quaking and brain-shaking. A few days ago twe experience our century rendez-vous with financial krash crisis like in 1929-33 that had to be resolved in on day. It only opens up to more critical times and a long slowdown till the full collapse of the American empire. Curiously, late pope John Paul II had spoken of it in terms of spirituality when the communist regimes fell down from 1989-95.

Each century has shown such similar situations. Spiritually speaking, harsh battles oppose various Churches everywhere in the world. The main issues are linked with properties, geographical influence, development of new Church structures. This combat was common in the early Church of Jerusalem and Paul of Tarsus describes these competing struggle with much insights. The believers should not forget that their hair are counted. Nobody can change the fact that God reigns and no human powers.

The atmospherical signals are numerous: hurricanes, storms, monsoons, floods and tsunamis continued to ravage most of the continents. Floods in Europe and tycoons in the Mexican gulf. Haiti got poorer, the US real estate crashed down. Afghanistan rules, Pakistan burst, India splits into archaic quarrels that seemingly were on hold. China wakes up for the Olympic games: no respect for the disabled, but a scenic baffling show that impressed the media till they discover that Chinese industry produce killing food, toys. We do enter into the 21st century and it is a time of hardship and hideous world-wide battlefield. What shall happen if the West will no more be able to buy "developing countries products".

The problem is that we measure time in different ways. It is a real concern: Christianity will have to accept humbling down. The Jews may be guided by some unexpected Providence/Protection to continue their way in Eretz. Again and again: there is too much ignorance, cold, chilly refrigerating relationships. In Moscow, it is easier to hate and to despise the others rather than prolong the traditional "druzhba - friendship" natural trend of the Slavic soul. We need time. Time is elastic and does not depend on any of our time-tables.

Saint Silouan the Athonite, declared: “Keep your soul in hell and do not despair”, which definitely links the Oriental tradition with the powerful rise and revival of Judaism.

Nonetheless, there is a profound gap between the Jewish and Christian approaches with regards to this darkness or “night”. The reading portion of this week is a twofold one; the second portion is usually read after Rosh HaShanah. These Shabbat readings “Netzavim-Vayelech\נצבים-וילך” are thus to be found in Devarim / Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20 and 31:1-30. We should bear in mind the following Shabbat Teshuvah\שבת תשובה that will include the reading of the song Ha’azinu\האזינו which concludes Moses’ life and introduces to the forthcoming Day of Atonement.

We experience that our memory can be terribly narrow, short-sighted. This is true in our own lives and records. We may be swirling in a world of pictures, takes, shots, videos and films. Images are stored en masse and fade. Days pass, disappear and change. There is a special way for Jewishness to apprehend tenses. Still, Judaism cannot focus on any positive “night or darkness, absence of eclipse / tzimtzum\ציםצום of God”. With much reluctance or acceptance, Jewishness know in their insides that God alone - and truly only God provides and secures, helps and corrects human distress and wrongdoings.

Christianity has it as a part of natural Gentile and “heathen-rooted” tendency. It turns to be a positive experience because it shows that God chooses and man may feel as left aside, abandoned. The most difficult part for Jews is to admit that God's posture is not linked to idolatry. Indeed, faith in God may show as in Gen. 3:19; “Al efer tashuv\אל עפר תשוב – you shall return to dust”. The so-called “culture of death” has reigned over too many events that affected Christianity in the past century.

On the other hand, Jews may forget that they are proposed two ways, once again, for the last time before Autumnal New Year: blessing or curse. Indeed we ask that the year end with its curses and that New Year start with God’s blessings. Does it mean that we enjoy any real free will and any free choice? Pre-destination and absence of free will or conscience have prevailed throughout the Christian history. They put a lot of souls to some spiritual "death" and at stake. The Catholic Church revised this essential point during the last Council that ended in 1965. The Oriental and Orthodox Churches are less flexible until now, though they mainly focus on conversion, return to God and resurrection. The Orthodox Church and all Oriental Churches are curiously vectors of joy, profoundly relying upon resurrection and goodness, beauty of redemption the whole of the creation.

Judaism knows that full freedom depends on the way the believers understand or may feel that the Mitzvot are so real/too real and how they can abide bodies and souls. God and Jews are "too much - me'al kol yitron-odef - beyond all surplus or payback. In the worse times, Jews still look forward and go ahead. It may resemble some crawling creeping move or, on the contrary, trust that any trial can be ovecome and lead to daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and even everlasting joys.

The reading portion proposes a set of choices to which we are submitted beyond any personal decision. True, we are called to bless, to build, support, save, cure and help. Daily life may be rather a burden that too much misses simple justice. We have seen that during the year: “shuv\שוב – again, return, renew” is the main spiritual and human tendency. Judaism is shaped to value life and not death. Life supersedes anything and this is the exceptional spiritual plus that Judaism brought and maintains, and somehow sustains among the Nations. It is the real challenge of the hardships faced in the timid development of a dialogue with the Christians. This is the terrible difference between Jews and Christians. Just as the night would seemingly be considered as a positive sign of humbleness, death may be a temptation to see if survival is possible. Judaism focuses on a choice: take the good measure of our nights and days. Why should God prolong them?

“Veshavta ad HaShem your God\ושבת עד יי אלהיך – you will return to (= until) the Lord” (Deut. 30:2). Hebrew says “ad\עד – until” because God expects that the believers or humans in general turn, convert, respond in a swiveling and revolving move toward God until they reach Him in the “ad\עד = eternity, world-to-come, forever” and not only for a while, say even a “year”. And the same verse continues: “You (gather) them again (“shav\שב”) those that were scattered (“shvutecha\שבותיך – deported that you call back and return”).

Jesus also spoke of newness, of making all things new. But this is at the core of what Rosh HaShanah and the reading portions want to teach us this week. This kind of newness that is a perpetual call to all human being that has a breath of life: indeed things are new.

Then, it is true that there are different schools. People are often scared to place their bets. They can also pretend that they don’t care: "what will be, will be". There are tons of clichés, if any: life is too short; I do what I want; this is MY decision. The real challenge in the “teshuvah\תשובה – conversion, penance, response, revolving return forever to God” is that every soul be ready to invest up to the maximum, more than anything they think to possess in order to get to the highest possible point. This is called the "highest effort" that surpasses every effort. That’s the point. It really shows the price of life. A Jewish Chassidic group has this year this kind of wishes, showing a multi-handicapped who calls to turn to Life. At first, such season’s greetings may rebuke. But they are real. They are authentic as when I see my heavily handicapped daughter breathing with difficulty. Still, she enjoys life and breathes faith at home and at her work. Just as so many injured, sick or disabled often may show us. It is not possible to fool them with pious words about God. This means that the highest effort is a personal move that also can reinforce the weak and the strong.

On September 27, the Eastern Orthodox Church of Jerusalem will celebrate the "Life-giving Cross". It may take some time - even centuries - before non-believers and some Christians as well - will understand that nobody venerate an instrument of torture. True, there are deeply rooted "sado-masochist" tendencies that crep and annihilate our feelings of redemption and pardon. This feast corresponds by a meaning hazard or necessity to the automnal Jewish New Year and day of Atonement. The Life-giving tree of life (Cross according to the Eastern Orthodox tradition) was overcome by the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Otherwise, we are none and without hope. We are liars. Both the Jews in the Gospel (Matthew 27:64) and saint Paul make this statement. The faithful is a person that crossed over and reached eternity. In that sense, "there are no Jews nor Gentiles" (Colossians 3:9-11) but the creation that is tov me'od\טוב מאד - very good" ( Genesis 1:31).

“Remember us for Life, King Who desires Life, and inscribe us in the Book of Life, for Your sake, Living God - זכרנו לחיים מלך חפץ בחיים וכתבנו בספר החיים למענך אלהים חיים”. Paul of Tarsus wrote: "Walk in wisdom that are without (bonds), redeeming the time" (Colossians 4:5).

Av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

September 23/10, 2008 - כ"ג דאלול תשס"ח\יום ב בסליחות

Photographs: The "grapevine Georgian saint Nino Cross.
יונת ירושלים בכותל המערבי
Jerusalem dove at the Western Wall.