Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The gates of loving-kindness

What about feeling clean, pure, free, released as we just entered 5769. We may zigzag along our sins and progressively sleek them down on Yom Hakippurim\יום הכפורים, the Day of Atonement? Ten days of conversion, teshuvah\תשבובה to God. "Kayn tshive iz oykh a tshive\קיין תשובה איז אויך א תשובה" (no answer is thus an answer) as we say in Yiddish. From Elul 25, 5768 last to forthcoming Tishrei 9, 5769, Yom Kippur eve, we will pay some visits to family, divorcees, friends, acquaintances and some real or temporary enemies. Thus, we shall have some tea or more, talk with them in circles of friends; in the vicinity or miles away? because "life's a beach" and sure, let's chuck it (our personal mess).

Everybody supposedly knows the spirit and the rules governing the celebration of Yom HaKippurim\יום הכפורים: full fasting (tzom\צום, ta'anit\תענית), no food, no beverage, no sexual intercourse. 25 hours "on standby", stirring to prayers and positive response to God's expected forgiveness. Kippur is not only Jewish. It is Jewish because it is humane and relates all the universe, eventually some E.T.'s till the end of all galaxies, if any. We just found out there is snowfalls on March...We are rarely aware of that inter-Nation-al and Univers-al challenge. "Tzom qal\צום קל" = "have a nice and cool fast". Well, fasting is normal for the Jews and there is no need to complain about hunger. "tzom\צום" relates to "tzimtzem\צמצם = to contract, force into close confinement - to observe closely with the eyes". Indeed, "ittzamem\התצמצם" = to veil one's self" makes sense to the traditional opinion that God "slips away" as an eclipse. The move is peculiar, like the pangs of birth, the tenseness of women contractions. God cannot disappear, what a pretence! Who dares pretend taking a leave from Him or think we can allow us giving a break or enjoying to think we exist by ourselves. Yom Kippur aims at collecting us as some two-faced scams.

The sanctity of the day is so tough that it is may be difficult to keep it with much tenacity and insights. On Kippur, we always meet fainting women begging "a gloz chay\א גלאז טשאי-טע / stakan chaiu/стакaн чаю" (a glass of tea) every four hours or so. Still, they used to lying on some sofa. Others are craving for food, while a poor chicken iss still preserved in the refrigerator. Men would hardly consent with sexual abstinence... this is an up-to-the-minute issue at the present. Eclipse implies some showing-up again, just as the moon which is the best example of God's confidence whether the star is visible or slips away.

On Yom Kippur, is "tzom kal\צום קל" strictly Jewish? Did God launch all the galaxies for us - only us and Jews alone? wow! wrong! On Yom Kippur, as on every major Feast, we read a scroll/megillah or a Book that shows how the non-Jews speedily believed in God and repented. Yonah\יונה is the book we read because - though he firstly wanted to go to Tarshish (something like having some rest on the beach, in Eilat), he was stuck by God to rush to Nineveh where all the pagans converted "with ashes". We are serving God and thus, any living being.

The kernel point of Yom Kippur is that we are able to proclaim that "God reigns over the entire universe" and this is why we are dressed in white. There are so many and insightful aspects to such a day. We are proposed to attain "teshuvah illa'ah\תשובה עלאה" - the higher possible level of returning to God since "teshuvah\תששובה = response, conversion; cf. "shuv\שוב - anew; to revolve". Of course, the day is full of the living memory of the Temple sacrifices (cf. Ben Sirach 51; and Nehemiah).

Rabbi Anan said that "the Gates of Prayers - Shaarey Tefillah\שערי תפילה” are never closed" (Exodus/Shmot Rabba 2: 12). At the end of the day, before the sorrowful and festive blowing of the shofar attunes the harmony of all hopes for a blessed year , the chazzan/cantor will implore the King of the Kings "to open speedily the gates of light, joy, blessings, loving-kindness, repentance, consolation, forgiveness, teaching, redemption, healing, tradition, peace, Torah, prayer". "Tiftach\תפתח", (please) do open, lift up the gates. Curiously enough, all societies and religions love to exert pressure, control, rule over souls and limit free actions. We still claim to release them.

Yom Kippur definitely appears to be a major "ransoming feature (“kofer\כופר”)" of the Christian faith. The well-known (and very Jewish) prayer of the Lord (Matthew 6:9-13) begins as the essential supplications said on the day of Atonement: “Avinu shebashamayim\אבינו שבשמים – Our Father Who is in heaven” and the ancient Greek still used in the Eastern Orthodox Church includes: “and forgive us our debts (“aphès imin ta opheilimata imôn/αφες ημιν τα οφειληματα ημων = let go off to us the debts of us”) as we also have forgiven our debtors (“ôs kai imeis aphikamen tois opheiletais imôn/ως και ημεις αφηκαμεν τοιςοφειλεταιςημων = as also we have let go off to the debtors of us”). Jesus teaches his disciples to pray according the Kippur way: firstly, we have to pardon the humans. Then we turn to Avinu\אבינו, our Father. This aspect of pardoning our neighbors, fellow people as well as our enemies is rooted in the Kippur tradition. It is sad that most translations of this prayer pronounced all the time throughout the world by the Christians wrongly state “as we forgive those who trespassed against us” – present tense. The Aramaic version “Abun divshmaya\אבון דבשמיא - ܐܒܘܢ ܕܒܫܝܐ” (same words as in the Qaddish) has even retained a very significant Semitic phrase: “washboq lan lekhatayn wakhaubayn ܘܫܒܩ ܠܢ ܠܚܛܐܝܢ ܘܚܘܒܝܢ = and forgive (and remit) our sins and debts”. Moral, ethical, emotional and behavior sins are distinct from financial debts.It is sad that, in the recent Syriac versions used in the Semitic Churches, have dropped the second part and distinctive feature of financial debt specificities.

It is also sad that the Semitic Christians don't pray this way anymore. It is really sad this year: the Jews just crossed the time of a "year of remittance/release from debt". This "shemittah/remittance year" ended with hurricanes over the planet and the blowing-up of stock exchange collapse. Israeli breaking news appeared on the eve of New Year 5769: "The Dollar just passed away". In the course of this new year, praying and trying to obtain pardon and salvation from God, Jews will this year have to beg the Almighty to teach the inhabitants to behave with decency. We often got lost or wander in our social connections, sex, love, hate, work, dignity. Money is a major spiritual issue and concern. It may be very appetizing to sing over 30 years "Money, money - I want to live in a rich man's world" like the enduring Abba group jerks over decades. The song is sweet. Its words lack morality. Humor indeed, but a "nasty" kind of kidding spoiled teens that are at pains to getting adults. And this financial collapse only commences. Humans can be like wild animals or fat pets.

Indeed, the world and wildlife change over centuries and ages. Sometimes it takes thousand years, at times, it is a question of a few decades. At the present, we know that financial blowups and collapses occur at least once a century. We are "oil and spoil-ed". It may cause the total fall of the capitalistic way of living as late Pope John Paul II declared after the fall of communism. Today, the communist leaders came back to power, often as new Christians and they do remember how the atheistic political system functions for the best of new societies.

The architecture of the Oriental Churches is commonly based on the compound of the Temple described in the Bible. It took a certain time before the Christian traditions adopted the structure. Just as the Semits started to pray by predetermining a limited space in the wilderness, then had the HaAron HaQodesh\הארון הקודש (Ark of Covenant), later a tent and, in the end, the Beyt HaMiqdash\בית המקדש (Temple housing the Divine Presence or Shechinah\שכינה), the early Christians used to go to pray in the Temple, were meeting in houses that became “ecclesiae” (churches). When the barbarians destroyed and plundered the holy places, they built separation walls inside the churches in order to get a protection. This appeared around the 10th century C.E. The Oriental Churches conformed their spaces for prayers to the exact structure of the Temple. In the Old City of Jerusalem, e.g. at the Holy Sepulcher, it is possible to visualize this plan: the altar is oriented toward the East (“mizrach\מזרח”), a wall separates the Holy of Holies from the faithful. In the middle, “the royal gates” lead to Zion and Jerusalem and a red curtain is hanging, recalling the “kapporet\כפורת” that in the Temple’s Holy of Holies\דביר and used to change from red to white on Yom HaKippurim.

The Churches have developed various traditions, from the ancient Coptic chapel next Saint Helena’s cistern to the Ethiopian cathedral (Rechov HaNevi’im\רח" הנביאים/Prophets Street in Jerusalem). The Greek Orthodox church of Saint John the Forerunner was the first church in the Old City with the original chapel located below the modern place of worship. Russian, Romanian churches have the same structure. Eastern rite Churches are profoundly though often unconsciously linked to Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

When the Eastern Orthodox priest or deacon comes before the “royal gates”, he acts as Jesus of Nazareth said :”Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and and the door will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7). The rabbi asks in the synagogue, during the Neylah\נעילה (= closure, final) Service, that God open the gates. His prayers knock with total trusting in God: no soul should be blocked or rejected in the course of the new year. The prayers of Yom Kippur end with the words that embody the first commandment to be fruitful: “May it be Your Will, Lord our God and God of our fathers that we grow more than thousand times and far beyond what you are at the present, if such is the Lord's Will, amen!”

Av Aleksander [Winogradsky Frenkel]

October 2, 2006 – ג דתשרי תשס"ט

Photograph: Drops of time - each hour revives the work of creation of the first commencement and redeems the human beings.
טיפות הזמן-כל שעה מחשדת את מעשי בראשית

Monday, September 29, 2008

New breathing into our nostrils

We are now in the process of Rosh HaShanah, heading into a new portion of universal time through Jewish binoculars that will sweep across the months to come. A delightful and delicatessen-sugar-tasty (matukah\מתוקה) anniversary of the creation. Firstly, Rosh HaShanah eve 5769 started on Elul 25, 5768 (09/25/2008) according to the Tradition. Rosh HaShanah\ראש השנה commemorates the final action as stated every Shabbat eve for the lighting of the candles: “Sixth day: thus the heavens and the earth were completed and all their multitude" (Genesis/Bereshit 1:31-2:1-3). The Lord blessed the seventh day and hallowed it because on it "God rested from all the work that He had been in the process to do (pursue) in creation.” (Bereshit 2:3).

We might have not paid attention that 5769 started up runs throughout a period of one month, leaping from Elul 5768 and will develop till the last day of the Feast of the Booths (Sukkot\סוכות), Shemini Atzeret\שמיני עצרת. In the end, New Year reboots on Simchat Torah\שמחת תורה (The Joy of the Torah). The year restarts by reading the Book of Genesis/Bereshit\בראשית, in his quality of “bridegroom of the Living Law\chatan Torah\חתן תורה”. In between we swing along our own journey, meditate, pray, rejoice a lot, have a lot of keyf\כייף = fun, spoil ourselves and others with gifts, though it is also a time for charities and volunteering, in particular if we are aware of what is going these years in Israel and within the Jewish communities.

True, Rosh HaShanah often looks like some x-mas or Sylvester days that would have reduced if not erased the spiritual essence of such a peculiar time of revival. We may behave with much carefreeness and show total or partial lack of reflection on the future. Our days scroll down and we look forward to acting with decency. Eating too much and growing fat, launching balloons, buying nice pants or skirts, clothes. Others get some rest in Eilat or abroad. It is indeed a time of joy, enjoying the festivals and often some vacation, family and community humane warmth.

Sephardic and Oriental/(Mizrachim) Jews read the “Slichot\סליחות” – the beautiful prayers of “pardon and forgiveness” over Elul. Ashkenazic Jews begin to read them at midnight, on the Shabbat before Rosh HaShanah until Yom HaKippurim\יום הכפורים, the Day of Atonement.

Interestingly, the feast begins before we are aware it starts (Elul 25) and Yom Kippur is still not the “end of time” barrier for a good “judgement”. An extended series of days for a special journey in order to seal our names for a good mazal or chance in the Book of Life. As if God was slow to anger that He would snuffle or cry to get us back to Him: “erech apayim\ארך האפיים” = lit. “long nostrils/anger’s)…!

If we have a real look at the Kahal Israel – Community od Israel, we notice it lacks clear unity, though unity is obvious and authentic. Elul 25, 5768 recalled the launching process of universal creation that highlighted intensively on the first day. Wrong! There is no “first” day, but a “yom echad\יום אחד”, Day One. A day of fulfillment, of special oneness between God and His creation. Then, seven days later we shall reach Tishri 1st, 5769 (honey and apple dipping on that joyful atmosphere day) with grandpa+mom Adam & Eve enjoying the uniqueness of the Gan Eden. They were totally connected and in communion with El Bore HaKol Yakhol\אל בורא הכל יכול (the Creator of all the universe).

Again, full matching that weds clouds, stars, plants, small beasts and cattle, humans with Eloqim Echad, the One God: “tov me’od\טוב מאד” (very good, nicely) and “me’od - מאד” ’s consonants are the same as in Adam. Unique and gorgeous as in a perfect marriage: “vayikhlu\ויכלו – and were completed, matched, wedded” heaven and earth/the entire universe/galaxies on the sixth day. To begin with, New Year 5769 is a wedding that we celebrate with flavor.

Subsequently, we have ten days to reconnect with God (beyn adam leMakom\בין אדם ךמקום) and our fellow humans (beyn adam lechav’ro\בין אדם לחברו). Some people might think it is very boring. Why should we ask for forgiveness and pardon someone? Israeli society may also be too ritualistic. Some Jews consider they are skillful enough and can repent even before they sin. We are “nora metzuyanim\נורא מצוינים” (a sort of awesome pride of excellence). Still, Judaism relies on the “anavim\ענויים” (the poor, those who expect everything from God’s will). It is rather difficult to scan our souls and brain and fix “chata’im\חטאים – trespasses” that made us step beyond a mark, once or repeatedly. Frankly, Jews are very free-spirited about sins as if they do experience that cursings can turn to blessings and black/shadowy can get white, redeemed (= refunded over a long-term period).

Days or awe and fright without fear. I mean that “nora\נורא” = “awesome, frightful” comes from “yare\ירא” – “to tremble, fear, revere or shun”. “Yere khet\ירא חטא = shunning sin” (Talmud Nedarim 8a). Tractate Sanhedrin 106a presupposes that “Yir’ah\יראה” is “an object of fear = an idol. When Abraham is about to slay and offer Itzchak in the Akedat Itzchak\עקדת יצחק = Isaac’s binding in Genesis 22:14, HaShem/the Lord "Yireh\ירא - provides" with a ram. Yes, fear does exist. It a basic instinct animal and human feeling, mainly uncontrolled or scarcely bearable.

In Greek it is “peira/πειρα” (trial, experience) as from German: “fahren” (to travel) – Gefahr (danger, risk or ambush). In Hebrew, “nissayon\נסיון” show the close connection between “test, temptation” and “to leave for an unknown journey”. The Yamim nora’im\ימים נוראים - "Days of fear and brightness" are not dark: they seemingly rise from ancient darkness of separation from God and to repair the link through the spiritual journey with His light that was shining (“ya’ir\יאיר”) on Day One. It is a way to brightness, full of light (“or\אור”) whiter than snow (Psalms 18:1; 51:9).

We are never strong. We show off with pretence, knowing that we are feeble. God gives us courage. We may unconsciously overcome frightful situations or events. “Awe” comes from Indo-European “aghis” = German “Angst”, French “angoisse, anxiété”, i.e. to be anxious, depressed, frightened.

This has to deal with the famous biblical “dies irae” (day of violent divine anger and punishment) that corresponds to “yom hadin\יום הדין” (Day of judgement). It does not mean at all we have to be judgemental. Just the way around! We can visit our best wrongdoers and those we harmed with much honey, sweet words, cakes or presents. It can be really nice when we are in our situation: enemies and friends alike. We prefer to hide our feelings and say some odd “shalom uslikha\שלום וסליחה – peace/hi and my apologies!” in a very formal way rather than to give a hand, even to our worst enemies. We could call this a series of “days of awe without fear”. In the course of new year 5769, we will have to overcome some horrible feeling of fright. It overshadows our irascibility and pride will be cleaned up by the irony of new unexpected events.

Yom Kippur is the day of at-ONE-ment. English is the only language to express that forgiveness and pardon are bound to unity; and that kind of pardon is so special that it sends us out this year to a wide range of people. Indeed, humankind is one and unique as God’s reign over the creation.
This has something to do with the very short moment of Jesus’ transfiguration at Mount Tabor. His disciples Peter-Shimon (Kaypha), James (Yaakov) and John were asleep. Suddenly, Peter sees Jesus talking beyond time with Moses and the Prophet Elijah. A short instant of eternal brightness and oneness. (Matthew 17:1-13).

av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

September 29, 2008 – כ"ט דאלול תשס