Thursday, November 6, 2008

Lech lecha: go, march in!

The reading portion of the week is "Lech lecha\לך לך - Go, march out, reach yourself". God said these words to Abram in Bereishit 12:1-17:20. God insisted to make him leave his native land; go out from his father's house and homeland. The words clearly mean that Abram is called by God to "become a great nation, be blessed... and all the families of the earth (mishpechot haadamah\משפחות האדמה) shall bless themselves by you [in/through your name]”. This also implies that these humans, organized in families, were fashioned out of the earth - adamah\אדמה like the Adam haqadmon\אדם הקדמון, address themselves a blessing and not a cursing. They cannot restrict their benedictions to themselves but extend them to each other, nation to nation, family of the earth to any other nation of the earth.

"Lech lecha\לך לך" sounds beautiful and like a challenge in Hebrew. "Halach\הלך - to go, march in/out, go forth" has this short imperative form and the shortened "l-ל" from "el\אל, al\על, if not halach\הלך" shows something irrepressible. This is a major Shabbat and week in the Jewish cycle of the readings. In this portion, Abram accepts God's call to a move that, in his cultural and social environment could only appear to be as a frightful, dangerous, hopeless and meaningless goal.

Fear is worse than any anxious ignorance. Fear that we may discover when life can be set in a series of dangers imperiling our freedom, freewill, change our points of views or, on the contrary, widen them unexpectedly. There is much courage in Abram's response to God. Indeed, he finally left his homeland and marched out. Did he come out as an adult? He did it twice because, when he firstly tried to leave his father's house, he got so scared according to the Tradition that he ran back or maybe did not even look too far.

Abram lived in a male civilization. We know nothing about his mom. Let's even think that the man is a character composed of different personalities that lived at a certain period in the same region of Sumer. By his time, Sumer was the cradle of reflection and self-conscience and culture. He is linked to a civilization that got aware that life is not vain. Life makes sense, comes from God and turns toward God. He had a mother like anyone of us. She might have been quite a character too! Abram does not leave his father's house, his homeland. We are told that he did leave his country and home. We know that he sent Eliezer to his father's home in order to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac. Isaac's son, Jacob did the same. The third and last patriarch of Israel always chose his home tribe and parentage to prolong and develop Abraham's call to be a great nation.

The point is that Abram left his mom when he understood that he had to break the ties that existed in his father's house. When he left Ur-Kasdim and the area of Haran, he combated and overcame idolatry, destroying the mother-like natural nourishing and nurturing idols whose natural flavor he had suckled from his mother’s breasts.

It is difficult to struggle and to go beyond the reach of this very gregarious experience. Abram has always been obedient to God… and to Sarai (Sarah) to some extent; safe when he was about to “give” her to Pharaoh. He was so afraid by Pharah that he introduced his wife as being his sister. This kind of problem of fear copes with some existential anxiety that she could resolve for a while. Sarah made Abram really quit his father’s house. Their family bond anticipated serfdom in Egypt when she proposed him to get a child with her maidservant Hagar, an Egyptian. From Mesopotamia to the Nile, Abraham and Sarah dug down to the heart of the Semitic and universal call:

“Vehifreti otcha bimeod meod\והפרתי אתך במאד מאד - I shall make you exceedingly fertile – unetatecha legoyim\ונתתיך לגוים and make nations of you” (Bereishit 17:6). This fertility is meant as “bimeod meod\במאד מאד – in the very too much = totally human as Adam, using the same consonants as when God saw that His creation was “tov meod\טוב מאד – very good” (Gen. 1:31).

We have to face in our daily life the same problem of faith: is the creation really so nice? Frankly, this is a pending cultural and environmental interrogation. The animal micro- and macro-cosmos consists in a constant fight for survival and not being swallowed, forced to be killed. On the second day of Rosh HaShanah, there is the seder tashlich\סדר תשליח : "Who is a God like You, Who pardon iniquity and forgive transgression for the remnant of His heritage? ... You will cast all their sins into the depths of sea\ותשליח במצולת ים כל חטאתם " (Micah 7:18-20). Still, the sea depths are definitely not a peaceful and magnificent place. Fish eat fish, beasts capture and capture the nicest colorful fish species. There is no harm. Ever since, the "seder Tashlich\סדר תשליח " phrases correspond to the 13 Attributes of the Lord's loving-kindness (Exodus 34:6-7).

Bestiality shows everywhere in a world and human societies often based on hatred and swallowing processing dynamics. The prophetic vision of the bear living with lions, sheep and a small child is not a League of Nations dream after the collapse of the Austrian-Hungarian empire that gathered in so many Central and East European nations under the Habsburg while Kamal Ataturk took the lead of a new Turkish republic after the fall of the Ottoman empire 90 years ago. The Prophets did not envision peace amidst humans as being comparable with raw and wild animal instinct. The United Nations Organization remains a platform for some kind of strategical dialog and encounters.

The ancient ascetic [often monastic] way of living tries to match natural, ecological realm and respect environment and wildlife. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I of Constantinople repeatedly insists on the obligation for the faithful to respect the Earth and all plants, animals, the environment. It is and has always been a dynamic move in the Eastern Church. Vegetarian food, avoid eating animal flesh and blood do correspond to the the Noahide Laws and St. James' decision at the Jerusalem synod (49-52?). The Eastern Orthodox tradition does focus on healthy food, recurrent fasting periods over the year. This is why the Christian Orthodox check the ingredients that are foun in oil, vegetables, products, beverages, meat and fish. These rules should positively be compared with the Laws governing Kosher food and cleansing methods because they are historically connected and reply upon the very similar fundamentals.

On the other hand, this does not mean at all that the creation is at peace. Ants eat termites and tigers eat eliphants! Animals are cruel: any veto makes this crude experience when trying to cure an injured or sick pet! Praying mantis are beautiful and swift: bees and praying mantis turn to man-eaters... the list is long but real. Now, human beings never really cared about how to protect their environment, except in the field of a respectful attitude taught by the Mitzvot. The Noahide law that prohibits to remove or break a limb from a living animal or the mitzvah/commandment not to kill the mother of fledglings introduce moral conscience and true ethics.

We have certainly reached a bottom line in the 20th century. Mass murders, genocides using gas that got more and more sophisticated systematized the fascination exercised upon human brains and masochist tendencies that always existed. Abram left Ur-Kasdim and the house of his father and humbled himself with Sarai to go through the ten "nissayonot\ = tests'. The last one is the Akeidat Itzchak\ - binding of Isaac" whose account is read every day during Shaharit\Morning prayer.

Abraham reached his "self-conscience point". This is very rare. It is a mental quest. It is even more difficult in our generation because we are hedonistic, very self-mirroring, individually self-centered. This often affects religious life: again, the faithful never compete. They are called to be one without judging the others. One of the big problems is that time passes, societies change but never repeat the same pattern. Development shows new situations and positioning. But we are slow to cope or accept that.

Nonetheless, on forthcoming Tuesday 11th of November 2008, the world will commemorate the end of the first world war. 1918 was a real deadline, an unbelievable turn in our civilization. It stopped a period of some sort of European connections, empire and conflicts, caused the fall of other grandiose leaderships. The Balfour Declaration confirmed His Majesty's positive views that backed the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine... Russia, China, Japan, East Africa, Spain and Germany along with the raise of the American states or Canadian provinces, Argentina and Brazil, the French recovery of Alsace-Lorraine and cultural impact... Europe and the world will start its strong addiction to oil - petrol and gas. Ur-Kasdim, the Near and Middle-East became with the Indian peninsula, Pakistan and the birthplaces for profitable actions. The area got the feedback or boomerang slap of spirituality that erased the first fundamentals born in the region. This paradox continues in the shape of a burning metamorphose.

The Eastern Orthodox Church proposes the reading of the "Jesus' priestly prayer" in St. John ch. 17: "Father, I have manifested Your Name unto the men that You gave me out of the world: Yours they were and You gave them me; and they have kept Your word... I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil... Sanctify them through Your truth: Your word is truth".

Go, march in, forward consists in reaching this Divine Truth, i.e. not only the heart of who we are but Who "Ehyeh Asher Eyeh\אהיה אשר אהיה - I am the One I am [become the One I am in the process of becoming constantly], the Living Lord.

אהבה או לשון הרעה?או קשר טוב מאוד מאוד
Love or slander, idle gossip? [the worse sin, a real murder]

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mar Ya'akov's Day and renewal

We entered the month of (mar)Cheshvan\מר.חשון which is typically after-autumnal, sweeping old things and trash away from our environment and daily embarrassments of all sorts. The Gospel has it in the words of John the Baptist: "The ax lies now at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (Luke 3:9; Matthew 3:10).

It is intriguing to ask if the world is dancing, packing, swirling, hoping, switching on and off North American. It sounds suspicious. On the one hand, the planet is hanging up with the tantamount impact of the results of the United States presidential elections. A turn in the historical move. We enter the third millennium's big epoch of changes. Industrial era: from coal to railways and airplanes; then shuttles, the Moon, Mars. We came from tuberculosis to flu, cholera, typhus and still cancer, AIDS and lose our brains and memories in Alzheimer and other genetic diseases.

The 20th century began with gas weapons, oil conquest and contests. Still, from 1815 (Vienna's Conference) till 1918, Europe has shown to seemingly be stable. Money value stability over one full century. Well, it developed through colonization, spiritual and mental, cultural and religious takeover activities. The 20th century has started with the ancestors of the concentration and extermination camps during the Boer war in South Africa. The 21st century is stumbling around in the so-called collapse of the American empire, the apparent death of communist ideologies and the revival of the whole creation through a long-term quench for authentic spiritual revival.

Religion is everywhere. At the present, atomic bombs have burnt the Japanese. Radiology and X-rays allow to cure and Nero does not only remind us that a savage Roman emperor flamed out Rome in songs. Today, it burns DVD's. In a few hours, the United States might wake up with a totally new look: a president that would mirror the enormous intermingling process of mixing cultures and races from black to white and white to colored and Asian yellow. The same process is at pains in South Africa with blankies/white are obliged to deal with nie-blankies/Black (non-whites) and kleurlings/coloureds... and apartheid is condemned. We are born to intermingle, against our will, combating for identity and feeling that we are the world "gathering a great multitude of all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues" (Apocalypse 7:9). Intermingling, cultural melting-pot and mixing-up process has been and remains an ongoing socio-cultural tendency over two decades. It is a clear move in every hedonistic and self-wellness searching society. At this point, Hawaii is a typical and very producing laboratory - just as Silicon Valley. Israel has it but with more fearful pangs of birth and back and forth hesitating quakes.

* * * * * * * * * *

Today, the Eastern Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, Zion the mother of all the Churches celebrates the Feast of Mar Ya'akov/Ya'akub\מר יעקב according to the Julian calendar; November 5th corresponds to Gregorian October 23rd (13 days ago). St. James is called Ya'kov hatzaddik\יעקב הצדיק - Jacob the Just. He was the first bishop of Jerusalem, i.e. the Early Church. He died in 62 or 63 AD, betrayed by a cousin of the high priest Kaiaphas who had condemned Jesus of Nazareth. He was himself known to be a high priest and was daily in the Temple, a strictly observant Jew. In Greek, he is called "adelphotheos - the brother of the Lord - αδελφοθεος " a title mentioned at the end of each Service or Liturgy in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Of course, it became the source of a lot of fancies and elaborations throughout the ages. Still, we have no CD, DVD, digital picture or video of the Holy Family of Jesus and Mary the Theotokos and Joseph. Archeology allowed to "crush" into their small house in Nazareth and Saint Peter's house in Capernaum.

The Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic disagree about who Mar Ya'akov truly was because three individuals are mentioned under this name in the Gospel. Who is James the Major and James the Lesser? Who wrote James' epistle? The Church of Jerusalem considers Jacob the Just as the first bishop of the Holy City of Jerusalem. He was a man of great piety and a true Jew, really respected by the Talmud and the Jewish tradition. He is the one who spoke as the head of the first synod of Jerusalem, sadly not included among the ecumenical councils of the Church. He declared the opening to the Gentiles and their adoption into the Covenant for those who believed in Jesus being the Messiah resurrected from the dead; thus not imposing the circumcision and the Mitzvot, safe four of the fundamental Noahide Laws. This is important to remind that such a decision was taken by the Jewish head of the early local Church (ch 15 of the Acts of the Apostles). He was known as being a man of justice, which is very pregnant in the epistle of James, the letter read for the Holy Sacrament of the Oil for the recovering of the sick in the Christian Orthodox tradition. Talmud Tractate Gittin reports favorably about the head of the first Church of Zion as also about John the Baptist and Forerunner. In his letter to the Galatians 2:9, Paul of Tarsus mentions him as the first among the disciples. St. Paul spent two weeks in Jerusalem, three years after his baptism and proclaiming of the Kingdom in Arabia, came to visit him.

The decision of the first synod to open the gates of adoption of the Gentiles into the Faith definitely copes with the whole of the authentic Jewish tradition (the spirit of Sukkot in the present). The decision cancels the circumcision and the observance of the Mitzvot for the Non-Jews. It was still decided in a strong Jewish context and when the Temple was extant. This should be taken into account.Judaism is not ethnic or national. There were 12 tribes and the call to the 70 nations is constant throughout the Scripture. This also relates to the Mishnah. It means that Judaism cannot be crippling or fencing down. Just have a real look at the Israeli society. It includes people of all kindreds, nations and tongues. "I will call heaven and earth to witness that whether it be Gentile or Israelite, man or woman, slave or handmaid, according to the deeds which he does, so will the Holy Spirit rest on him" (Tanna de-Be Elyahu, 48).

Indeed, Jews are those who were divinely bone&flesh-woven in the womb of a Jewish mother. I call that in my teaching and book an "in utero call". It is not connected to race or DNA. It is linked to incarnation and passing from non-time to time till death call a Jew to the world-to-come. In between, the Spirit does overshadow every soul and living being. This is the "shlichut\שליחות - task, mission [apostolic work] of Judaism.

This is why the "Church" or "churching of the nations of the world" should take into account the first schism [proto-schism] that drifted Jews away from the Gentile Church and the Gentile Church from Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple. In his recent biography and theological work "Surprised by Christ", Fr. James Bernstein (Conciliar Press) noted with much insightful simplicity that the first "Christian" believers did not read the Gospel, but the Covenant of the Bible (TaNaKh), then the epistles of some apostles and the "accounts" of Jesus of Nazareth as truly man and divine, resurrected from the dead. This is history and this is just real. History sowed to be very cruel in Jerusalem: the Judeo-Christian group which existed with James the Just at Mount Zion was separated rom the Gentile Church for a long period after the destruction of the Temple, till the 4th-5th century. The Jewish bishops of Jerusalem were killed or persecuted till 135 AD. This proto-schism was due to quarrels among the disciples and got encouraged by the fencing of pagan rulers.

The real challenge for the Church is to reconnect with the reality of oneness as set up by the Most High on the first and seventh day of the creation. Christianity drifted away from the House of Israel by a repeatedly series of intriguing process of rejections. It was often very difficult to confirm these breaches. Mar Ya'akov did not break anything. He wrote about the decision of the early synod of Jerusalem. It was an inclusive, definitely not an exclusive move.

It is far too early for the Eastern Churches newly freed from communism and underscoring the ethnical aspect of their Christian faith to recognize to the full such martyrs as Christians and Jews or of Jewish descent. Still, there is one more problem. The “Church” corresponds to the “Qahal\קהל רב - מקרא קודש – the Great Assembly” as a one and unique body. Is this so visible and can we feel, taste that as the fulfillment of the commandment of love, in the mutual relationships of Jews and Gentiles? There might be a problem… The epistle of Paul of Tarsus to the Ephesians 2:14-21 firmly states that “from the two = Israel and the Nations, there is one body”. The whole of history has consisted in showing mutual drifting-away, estrangement, replacement attitudes based on so-called theology. It consistently excludes, rejects, denies, erases, wipes out the process of “oneness” and unity of humankind in the face of God and His likeness.

It is thus a spellbinding and mesmerizing challenge to study how Europe is at pains in trying to define in its legal Constitution the Christian roots of its existence. These fundamentals are not based on any power. The roots are like the trees, transplanted into various contexts that have nowhere been ethnically pure, clean, “DNA or blood test born again in the spirit”. The magnetism, exercised by this process of an ancient spiritual European Christian essential core, proceeds from faith, their capacities to say “amen” to God. Somehow, this corresponds to the “emunah shlemah\אמונה שלמה – perfect faith” in Judaism. If we consider the individual and collective spiritual changes, Christianity took different aspects in Europe that is widely broken down into small denominations in the New World, weakening the essential meaning of “oneness”.

With regards to the Jews in the Churches, they mirror this estranging broken-down process of divergences, disunion and often abrupt ruptures. These breaches do exist in Judaism. Many current discussions about how to respect the Mitzvot are rooted in the difficulty for a lot of Jews to resolve their own temptation of idolatry. This occurs in cultural contexts that do not refer to any principle of faith. Indeed, many Jews became members of historically separated Churches. This is an overwhelming cultural phenomenon. It also constitutes a paradox for the authentic unity of the Church.

The emergence of Israel does not allow multiplying the multi-faceted reasons that would allow some Christian denominations to back or reject Jewishness for whatever tactical reasons of convenience. Let's say that political options are wrong and deceitful on both sides. The heart of the problem is to be found in an efficient and trustworthy knowledge of how to combat idolatry. Curiously, idolatry shows both in the progressive decrease of faith. I also appears in the constant tendencies to ritual stiffness. This wrongly allows to avoid too much updating.

This induces that we are on the move, en route to God and that true, respectful love, esteem and recognition will one day become a possible reality between Jews and the Christian Church. At the present, this remains a great and fundamental task to carry on and develop overt the coming decades. This has shown to be close to an “impossible challenge”. Israeli Jews of all tendencies as well as the heads of Israeli cities and regions must understand that every single piece of soil in the country tracks back to Christian history. This cannot be denied. On the other hand, the Jewish organizations cannot bring forth their sole explanations about the presence of all Christian denominations. It will take time, but the local Churches have to share their own points of views. In return, the Churches should respectfully connect with the Jewish traditions. This is more difficult because of their historical denial of the positive existence of the Jews and presence in the State of Israel. The recent Synods at the Phanar and in Rome pave the way for more authentic contacts. Trust remains highly problematic.

Zelun bishlomo\ܨܠܘܢ ܒܫܠܡܐ! זלון בשלמא - tsetchem beshalom - צאתכם בשלום - с миром изидем - ΕΝ ΕΙΡΗΝΗ ΠΡΟΕΛΘΩΜΕΝ! Go out in peace!

av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

November 5th/October 23rd, 2008 - 7 de chshvan 5769 - ז' דחשון תשס"ט

Oh, oy or hey Jerusalem?