Thursday, November 20, 2008

HOLODOMOR 75th memorial day

In Israel, our national emblematic animal is the cow, the nourishing milky Israeli cow. One of the most conflicting issues we face today is "food" and how to eat properly, decently, with measure in order to avoid growing fat or “phat” and distort the image of human forms.

The "few extra pounds" can dramatically change into full overweight that endangers life and flexibility, even at a mental level. For example, the Samoan people in the Pacific Ocean islands are on a drastic diet because they eat too much. They got so wealthy with nickel production that they just don't work and import hungry labor manpower and drown in fat. North Americans have also their reputation connecting hours of television with junk food. Hebrew slang "jank\ז'אנק" corresponds to fat, unhealthy food basically due to laziness and lack of motion.

I look at the children at 2 pm. in the Old City; small Arabs boys and girls. They are teens and swallow over-sugared junk, always the same candies. The kids grow fat very quickly. Same hour, another day in a city bus, Jewish pupils and elder people nosh huge munchies, full of oil, French fries or choco-something with strudels and various cakes. In restaurants, dishes are still full. Plates have to be thrown to the trash because the Law is very strict and at least, health-centered! But what a waste of food and sometimes very expensive dishes! Just a shame. It is forbidden to distribute the remaining dishes for reasons of protection and health security. At the same time, all kinds of wonderful volunteering associations distribute more and more food to impoverished families. I know families whose kids go every night to bed with only two yogurts or so.

Food and providing food to everybody has always been a major concern in the Jewish tradition. Middle-Easterners have suffered from hunger and famine throughout history. This is why the "Birkat HaMazon\ברכת המזון - Blessing (after) of Meal(s)" is a positive commandment that cannot be swallowed up speedily. "Eretz chemdah\ארץ חמדה - a nice (because nurturing) earth" whose fruit and plants are excellent.

As mentioned in the prayer's psalm: "yachlu anavim | veyisba'u\יאכלו ענוים וישבעו - let the lowly eat | and be satisfied" (Psalm 22:7), food does not only aim to nurture or feed. The main goal is to satisfy and rejoice the belly, i.e. individuals and collectivities. Food is a challenging question for survival. In the TaNaCH\תנ"ך - Hebrew Bible, hunger is a significant plague that attacks a region on a regular basis.

The Middle-East is constantly carrying out a huge combat against desertification. The area has often faced such destruction of crops. Hebrew makes no distinction between "hunger" and "famine" which is a rather high-level wide-spread epidemic catastrophe. "Ra'av\רעב" means people are hungry or affected by a famine. Talmud Bava Bathra 8b states that "famine is a severer affliction than war". Chapter 5:8 of the "Pirkey Avot\פרקי אבות - Sayings of the Fathers" insists on the fact that the "sacrificial meat never became putrid” and that God always provided with space and abundance.

There is an insightful but so obvious statement in Sukka 52b: "a small organ is in man (stomach), when you starve it is is satisfied; when you satisfy it, it is hungry". “Re’avon\רעבון” also means “hunger, famine” as in Kohelet Rabba V:10: “Did the Lord give the manna as food of famine in scantiness?” whereas “ra’avtan\רעבתן” is a voracious eater, a glutton and a greedy person that eats on his own, i.e. that he does not restrict his appetite or drinking (Talmud Bava Betsia 25b).

In the Bible, famine and hunger then nourishing and abundance appear from Genesis and the warning to Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s bovine dreams to the miracle of manna in the wilderness; famines are indeed worse than wars and gave a push to conquerors when Jerusalem was besieged during the two destructions of the Temples. The Book of Lamentation/Eycha-איכה cries out a profound distress as mothers were eating theirs kids (Lamentation 3:20). A horrible question that makes “swallow” or frenetically eat up, a sort of disease made of anxiety and lust for short-term satisfaction that sways up between overweight or anorexia for young girls and women. Eating is also the banquet like the “se’udah shlishit\סעודה שלישית – third Shabbat meal” when the tzaddik shares the meat and delivers his teaching: word becomes a banquet or a festive “farbrengen\פארברענגען” (ingathering).

The same is shown when Jesus asked his disciples to feed the crowd on the mount and they were reluctant considering the people could go and buy the food (Matthew 14:13, Luke 9:13). In the Eastern Orthodox Church, one similarly loves to bless five loaves, grains, oil and wine as sharing “lechem\לחם – bread” that remains “lachma\לחמא – meat, flesh” in Arabic-Aramaic and consists in distributing food to the full (cf. the plentiful measure of barley gathered by Ruth 3:15).

Harvest is a feast everywhere and whatever religious beliefs. Thus, in fall 1621, the Mayflower pilgrims shared the bread with the native Indians who were having their "Keepunumuk = harvest feast". Nice partaking of fowl, fish, wheat and corn as in so many parts of the world. President Abraham Lincoln’s intuition of a national day for all the Americans to thank God for the homeland’s wealth was a bit prophetic but not realistic at that time. It became possible in 1863. Interestingly, Thanksgiving Day – which as in Canada is a harvest feast – was determined as the fourth Thursday of November by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939, by the time of the Great Depression. The law came into force in 1943, during World War II. The day is a secular, national and international turkey festive harvest meal (earlier in October Canada because of the time for harvesting).

Curiously, the final date was defined during the hardships of the Great Depression in which lots of Americans lost their money, suddenly fell in need and meals were distributed all over an impoverished country. At this point, the Goldene Medine-גאלדענע מדינה (“Golden State” in Yiddish) still reckons a huge number of needy and people who do not have enough to eat. In Israel, huge portions of fat oily pizzas or greasy big hamburgers (that originally were the usual meals for the poor Jews on board to America! Cf. P. Kriwaczek: Yiddish Civilisation, p.311). Today, the waste of food is often unbelievable in times that are very similar to the crash in 1929.

Turning back to the East and looking to the Ukraine, the fourth Saturday of November has been chose for the commemoration of the hideous "Holodomor - голодомор" OnNovember 17th, this, year, President Viktor Yushchenko called all the country to remember all the victims who died of “Holodomor – famine killings, using famine for mass murders”. The famine was projected as a political way to hunger the Ukrainian nation and the numerous other ethnicities living on the territory. The killing aimed at physically erasing the inhabitants of the then-Soviet Ukrainian Republic. The word, in Ukrainian comes from “moryty holodom\морити голодом – to let impose death through famine, hunger”. The project was implemented in 1932-1933. Before the first World War, my family was exporting grains from the Ukraine to Europe and the Ukraine was known for “feeding Europe”. After 1920, the Soviets favored the Ukrainians for a short while.

Then, they obliged by law to implement a weird process of collectivization. In these wide regions of rich fields and harvesting, there were traditionally a lot of small family farms were normal and often rather big compared to Europe. Out of the sudden, collectivization introduced by force a system that prohibited any possibility of private properties. This allowed the emergence of less and less productivity. The Moscow government decided that a certain amount of grain supply should be delivered in 1932, but by the end of the year, it was clear that the target would not be reached. On January 15, 1933, more than 100.000 people were sentenced either to death or deportation.

The government required to be "given" all the “harvest” and available grains, which drastically caused the famine. It appears that, contrary to the other famines that afflicted the former Soviet Union from 1921 recurrently till 1947 etc., there has been a political decision to hunger the Ukrainian nation, in particular the peasants who had backed the independence movements in 1917 by the time of the Revolution.

The Soviet government never accepted to recognize this form of extermination of the Ukrainian people, mainly in the agricultural regions. It seems that some grains were provided but in low quantity. On the other hand, the famine caused the death of ca. 3,2 million people, mostly Ukrainians, but also Russians and 1,4 Jews, then Poles, Volga German, Tatars. Statistics are not clear. Updating surveys are carried out at the present. They show evidence that these people were intentionally submitted to hunger in order to kill them. Nowadays, the Ukraine has defined this period as a “genocide”; other specialists speak of a “mass murder”. It is not possible here to explain all the elements that were interwoven in the backgrounds of the Ukrainian society at that time. Since the early days of this “holodomor/голодомор – famine mass murder”. In Israel, we have a lot of eyewitnesses. They are multi-survivors as so many Jews lived in the Ukraine. How peculiar that a lot of Jews firstly fled from the Ukraine to North America and met with the local “(Harvesting)Thanksgiving days”. Others arrived recently to Israel. Faith often obliges to refrain from eating at certain periods of the year; but never to die of hunger. Just the opposite: between feeling hungry and “malle\מלא – full, satisfied”, there is the need for wellness. Bread and soup do save.

How peculiar! This year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor mass-murder. The Ukraine joyfully commemorates the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of the Kievan Rus'. Indeed, God works marvels and is faithful. Again, this creates a strong link between the Jewish calendar and Shabbat reading portion, this week "Chayei Sarah\חיי שרה - Living Sarah". The readings account in Genesis 25 the passing away of Sarah and Abraham, both buried in the cave at Machpelah. In fact, it calls to remember that death is not a deadline, but a life point with numerous seeds of life and generation. We ought to remember the departed but we are born to live with the powerful feeling of resurrection.

Indeed, we come to new month Kislev and the miracle of oil that allowed the light of the dedication of the Temple, Hanukkah on the 25th of Kislev. There are times when dispair and estrangement separate us from the others. The miracle is similar to the one we shall share over December 6 to 19: Saint Nicholas of Myra saved the three little girls. He did save small kids from the danger of prostitution. The danger is much real in our Ukrainan and Israel and international environments. It has been denounced with much insights by late Metropolitan Sheptyts'ky, in particular in his letter "Thou shalt not kill - не убий" dated November 21st, 1942. It was exactly 66 years ago!

Saint Nicholas of Myra also miraculously got meat in a time of dire famine. It is our duty, a positive good action to point out with insistence that Israel and the Ukraine share the miracle of life, in prticular this year: 1020 years of the Baptism of the Kievan Rus and 75 years after the horrible "ban to die through famine", there is hunger and thirst to live and to encounter positively for the best of life.

Av Alexander [Winogradsky Frenkel]

November 21/8, 2008 – 23 Cheshvan 5769 - כ"ג דחשון תשס"ט

Bread and salt for welcoming HAH. Bartholomaios during the 1020 anniversary of Kievan Rusף
"satisfaction - not famine"
St. Nicholas' miracles [Mykolai-Миколай]

Yom kippur katan - Minor Day of Atonement

On the eve of New Month Day (Rosh Chodesh\ראש חודש), the Jews celebrate a service called "Yom Kippur katan\יום כיפור קטן - minor day of Atonement". With regards to Kislev 5769, this day will happen on Thursday 27th of November 2008. The Moon will reach 11 chelakim-חלקים/parts at 11 am. Rabbinic calendar considers the month was about to start and the 30th of Shvat is readily "rosh chodesh\ראש חודש - new month/moon birth".

Different things could be discussed with regards to this minor Day of Atonement. It is basically a fasting day. It starts before the birthing of the New Moon. This "re-appearance" of the moon inaugurates a new month in the Jewish tradition. In the present, the Jewish calendar is only based on a lunar cycle system. The sun shines over the whole earth during a period of 12-13 or less hours. The sun illuminates all the planet. It remains visible and never "disappears", contrary to the moon. Indeed, the moon revolves around the earth in more than 29 days. Intriguingly, the moon only reflects the light of the sun on earth, which creates this impression of birth, growth and disappearance of the small planet. The constant reappearance of the moon became a sign, for the Jews, of God's fidelity and eternal faithfulness towards humankind and the Jews in their difficult journey through history.

Yom Kippur\יום כ(י)פור – Day of Atonement is a unique day on which God can pardon each person, provided that humans are able to ask for forgiveness. it also presupposes that human beings are able to pardon in truth and accept the words of the penitents.There is more: Yom Kippur is a day of full brightness. It is white as a very clear and wonderfully shining in the sky of Jerusalem and in particular in the Middle-East. It is indeed a joyous feast, full of hope and reconciliation between people that may disagree, come to argue and fight, make war. They may not reach any agreement for a while – sometimes quite a long period. It means that "atonement beyn ish lechavro\ - from a soul to a fellow person - is on hold, on stand by. It is not a time for faking good relationships. It is a time for all the parties involved to make up their minds. A time of real spiritual effort. There is no way to continue hurting, injuring each other for all kinds of so-called evident or irrational reasons.

The white clothes worn on Yom Kippur mark that, after sorrow and sins, transgressions and misconducts, God's brightness enlightens and elucidates the darkest and often very pitiful aspects of our lives. White clothes also exemplify that the survivors come back from the great temptation of being cut from God's project and perilous wanderings. Drug-addicted, drunkards are truly submitted to some trips that space out their lives and conscience (Apocalypse 7:14). There is more: narcotics, drugs, lies, theft, corruption, insults, slander, gossip are not limited to the big bad wolves's hooligans and misfits. People may show very bright in our society and be totally corrupt and living trash. This is not really a judgmental statement. Human nature is broken and always needs a repair. The point is to show loving-kindness and trust that God redeems or has the capacity to help humankind in their search for full cleansing.

Interestingly, we live in a system of "self-reflection", as if every human being could not look at himself by his own capacities and, e.g. needs a mirror. We are in a process of mirroring. In Hebrew, a "face" is a plural: "panim\פנים" because we have two "faces", one is frontal and the other back-sided. It is thus impossible to see them as a full entity. It always appears like a twofold whole. Strangely enough, Yiddish has a Hebrew/German plural form: "punimer - פנימער ".

The sun is much bigger than the moon and was created at the same time according to the Scripture to bring light towards or against the "choshech\חושך – darkness". Paul of Tarsus has a very traditional saying: "At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror… at present, I know partially; then in the end I shall know fully, as I am fully known (by God). So faith, hope, love remain, but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

On Yom Kippur, the scapegoat was sent in the Gey hinnom\גי הינום – valley of the Gehenna (which slopes down from Jerusalem toward Bethlehem as a sacrifice for the sins). The sacrifice that used to be in the Temple for Rosh Chodesh / New Month was also a he-goat (Hullin 60b). The explanation is curious: the moon is a smaller planet and indeed, on that day, a goat was offered as prescribed for the pardon of the sins. The Kabbalah school of Safed developed a fast, in the 16th century, with confession of sins. Strangely, this sacrifice was accompanied by a "flagellation". It is not permitted to fast on New Month Day, thus, the fast was observed on the day before.

In the present, the ritual mainly consists in the recitation of various penitential psalms. It starts, on the ve of New Moon with a blessing "chodesh mevarchin - חודש מברכין = bless the month" followed by the redundantly recitation of the 13 Middot-מידות/Attributes of Love ("The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing His kindness for a thousand generations and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin" (Shemot/Ex. 34:6-7). A request is also pronounced asking for healing and renewal: "Hashivenu HaShem aleinu venashuvah\השיבינו ה' עלינו ונשובה – come back to us, Lord, and we shall be renewed, pardoned" / "chadesh yameinu kekedem\חדש ימינו כקדם = renew our days as in the days of old". This maybe the most challenging part of our slow-to-move and slow-to-believe spiritual life. We are slow, uncertain, unwilling to think that God does renew all things and human beings everyday. Then the proclamation: "HaShem hu Elokeinu\ה' הוא אלהינו – The Lord is our God" which is said 7 times as on Yom Kippur (8 times) and by the time of our passing away.

Indeed, the appealing part of the minor Day of Atonement is that Israel dug out a new slant for the Jewish people and all the nations of the world. It bears witness to Divine fidelity and constant care. The month is a special, limited period of a cyclic birthing up to fullness, then slow daily sliding down to "see you soon again" disappearance.

Each month, the moon mirrors, the sun, thus renewing our earth then seemingly goes on a leave. It is a very natural method that is very likely to self-analyzing or introspection. There is much of "psycho-analytic inquiry" in such a physical and astronomic process launched by God at the very beginning of creation.

Usually Jews know about confession in some Christian Churches (e.g.: Eastern Orthodox and Catholics). We often don't know or feign to ignore that in the Temple people used to confess their wrongdoings or give thanks orally for God's wonders in their lives.and that rabbis hear oral confessions without any sacramental consequence or capacity to pardon. But Maimonides gives a good example of some formula that is still found somehow in the pattern of the "Ma'avor Yabok\מעבור יבוק – Passing the Yabok (when passing away)": "Anna HaShem chatati\אנא ה' חטאתי, I have intentionally sinned, I have sinned out of lust and emotion, and I have sinned unintentionally. I have done and I regret it, and I am ashamed of my deeds, and I shall never return to such a deed." The Christian Orthodox texts are very similar to the lists of sins printed in italics and, as the Roman Latin rite starts by "sin by speech – dibbur\בדיבור". Speech, words often carry a lot of rational/irrational, conscious or uncontrolled faults, mistakes, defects, trespasses, guilts and sins summed up in the "לשון הרעה - evil tongue-lashon haraah" mental process.It always requires care and healing. Internet shows to be as real life: people tend to wipe out and remove the others by ignoring them with much arrogance. This has nothing to do with the power of a positive silence that the Chofetz Chayim loved in the "שמירת לשון - keep your tongue (speechless = silent)".

Now, Judaism proposes to read a confession of sins at least three times a day. It is a very insightful series of verbs in the past tense, in alphabetical order. "Vidui\וידוי – confession" as a prayer for pardon (Yoma 87b) refers "to point out, make known, acknowledge" (Pessahim 87b) as a duty, on Yom Kippur, to be accomplished by the High Priest and any Jew. The text of the Vidui is very difficult to translate into any tongue.

It starts by a statement that is also widely unknown, i.e. that Jews do recognize to be sinners: "Our God and God of our forefathers… we are not so brazen and stubborn as to say… that we are righteous and have not sinned (chatanu\חטאנו) – indeed we and our forefathers have sinned. How? In the alphabetic order are mentioned the following transgressions and faults: "ashamnu\אשמנו"… striking the left side of the chest with the right hand/fist (introduced for long centuries into the main Christian rites) - guilt, betrayal, robbery, slander, (mental and physical) perversion, wickedness, ill-mindedness, will, (mental and physical) violence, false accusation, evil, scorn, persecution, stubbornness, deceit, forgery, corruption, abomination, leading others astray. Confession also deals with awareness or absence of consciousness, if not of conscience. Human speech, ideas, thoughts, acts are shaken or twisted with much "parasitic ideas = Yiddish: tsiges\ציגעס" that are beyond reasonable or balanced control.

The Christian Orthodox tradition underscores that the Great Fast (Lenten Fast - Velikii post/Великий пост) of 40 days starts joyously fasting and praying during this period that leads to the "Kalo Passkha\καλο πασχα – Good Easter". The service is intense and profound. After the readings, the clergy and the faithful face each other, kneel down and ask for forgiveness as Jesus said "Therefore, if you bring your offer to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar and go first be reconciled with your brother" (Matthew 5:23-24), which is reminded all through the Liturgy: "Pardon and release of our sins (we ask to the Lord)".

In a previous blog, we saw that the essential Christian prayer "Our Father Who are in Heaven" follows the Kippur pattern: firstly, to pardon the others in order to receive God's forgiveness (Matthew 6:9-14).

This service of specific Pardon Sunday is certainly rooted in Yom Kippur. It often coincides with new month Adar that is dedicated to study of the Scriptures, the life and death of Moses. The Eastern Orthodox believers will focus on this atonement as paving the way to the Resurrection confessed by the Church. Peter-Kaipha had asked Jesus how many times one should pardon? Seven times? Jesus said: "Not seven, but seventy-seven times" (Matthew 18:21). This corresponds to the measure/middah-מידה (= measure, attributes of loving-kindness, full offering measure in the Temple). Baasically, it tracks back to the sign of Cain (Gen. 4:24) granted by God after Cain had murdered his brother Abel. This sign protected him and his descent, i.e. all of us, as on a monthly basis clearance.

We often go through very special days. Incredibly irrational nights and days, made of faults, defects, misunderstandings. It may seem at times that faith is reduced to neigh because we swim in huge difficulties. Pardon consists in wiping out hell and also in trusting that God changes our lives and makes it new and meaningful.It sounds sometimes as coming out of the blue moon... ( some people prefer green cheeses???).

av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

November 20/7, 2008 - 22 Cheshvan 5769 - כ"ב דחשון תשס"ט

Addendum from a previous note with regards to the Orthodox Nativity Lent and the "ad-ventus period":

Paul of Tarsus recalls that Jesus was born “under the Law” (Galatians 4:4). “Babe Jesus” was firstly exposed in Saint Francis of Assisi’s crèche (there is a wonderful Ethiopian icon showing Mary breastfeeding her child). At least, the baby indeed looked like anyone of us. The Prophet said: “How welcome on the mountain are the footsteps of the herald (mevasser\מבשר) announcing good (tov) announcing salvation/victory (yeshu’ah\ישועה), telling Zion: Your God is King!”(Isaiah 52:7). Gospel means “Good news, tidings, from O. Norse “Gudsspjall”: Good or rather God’s good upgrading in time. Gk. “evangelion-ευαγγελιον” (Good messenger/herald; cf. “angel”), Lat. “ad-nuntiatio” (announcing) and allows to consider the conception of the child on March 25 (Annunciation) and his birth nine months later, i.e. on December 25.

Still it would be relevant to consider Jesus’ birth according to a Jewish time-schedule. True, he never stepped down, during his life, from the Jewish Law and its Commandments (Matthew 5:18) as they were in force at his time. On January 1st (01/14, Julian calendar), the Church of Jerusalem, as all the Christian Orthodox – celebrate the “brit\ברית” – circumcision (hagia peritomia-αγια περιτομια) of Jesus, showing a regular breach with paganism that wanted to abolish this basic commandment.

It should be noted that one feast, Sukkot (Feast of the Booths), disappeared when the Church cycles were created. The Eastern Church celebrates X-Mas (Mass of X – Christ, i.e. Nativity) at the end of the 30-31st week after Pentecost, thus focusing on the giving of the Holy Spirit. The Western Churches proclaim a time of “Ad-ventus” or “advent - coming”. The joy of the hallowed night (Germ. Weihnachten) often veils that the point is to expect the second coming of Messiah Jesus in glory. The move toward future beyond recurring feast is an essential feature of Christian and Jewish Feasts.

We might have some encrypted date of birth in various sequences of the Gospel. “In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah” (Luke 1:5). We know that this means he served in August as provided for his priestly division. Considering the time of birth of John the Baptist – six months earlier than Jesus (Luke 1:21.26.56), we must add ca. 15 months from that service in August to eventually determine Jesus’ birth by the eschatological or end of time feast of Sukkot.

The fascinating aspect is the consider that “rooted in and grounded in love, we may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth… and be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).


Blue moon or nightmare in day time? or history makes sense...

Chayei Sarah - born to bless

As time passes, we seem to face more and more periods of peaks of violence that cool down and we expect some other troubles that should affront us with renewed mental or physical aggressiveness. We facing rough times of spiritual, societal and identity probation.

The forthcoming weekly portion is "Chayei Sarah\חיי שרה - the span of Sarah's time" which accounts her death. It concludes with the burial of Abraham. Let's say this is the main purpose of the Shabbat. How to bury foreigners who pass away abroad, far from their birthplace and will repose in a new homeland promised by God.

Abraham showed a rare and then unique act of loving-kindness, maybe "charity\חסד-chesed" toward his life companion. He was about to abandon her to Pharaoh. He had the nerve - definitely not the courage! - to introduce her as his sister in Egypt. This caused a sort of "plague" before the real plagues: Pharaoh got seriously ill and kicked the strange couple out of the country. They left much quicker than by Moses' time (Bereishit/Genesis 12:14-17)!

The Jewish tradition considers that Abraham did not love (le'ehuv\לאהוב) Sarah but they did spend their life together and were true life companions. He showed compassion (rachamim-rachmunot\es\רחמים-רחמונות) in buying a cave at Machpelah\מערת שדי מכפלה for 400 silver Shekels (quite a fortune at that time) to bury his long-life and life-long wife Sarah in the land of the Hittites. Abraham was considered as a "stable" resident (sort of ger toshav\גר תושב). Love showed by steps: it was more emotional with Yitzchak and Rebecca and reach out to the fulfillment of love with Yaakov\יעקב who travailed 14 years and was even cheated by his step-father to marry his beloved Rachel\רחל.

But the point is that Abraham was not rejected by Ephron the Hittite. He was not told to bury Sarah in his homeland, Ur-Kasdim\אור-כסדים, in Mesopotamia. Ephron the Hittite took the cash and said : "Go and bury your dead". Thus Machpelah passed from Ephron to Abraham at the local merchants' rate "as a burial place". Indeed, Abraham was also buried there (Genesis 25:10). This act of "traded" compassion turned to a seeds of life good action. Abraham paid cash but the tomb became the grounding place for the life of the Jewish people and descent. This is a the birthing place for all monotheistic spiritual tribes, whatever splits or schisms concerned. The cave at Machpelah at Hebron and in the neighborhood of Efrat-Gush Etzion\אפרת-גוש עציון. This tracks back to Bethlehem\בית-לחם as the kernel place of the birth of a spiritual nation: the city of David. The original village of Ishmael and Jesus of Nazareth. Today, vineyards grow again in all the area. Machpelah, then Hebron and Bethlehem link us to the grafting of a wandering God-seeking couple. They could peacefully and legally plant their bones to blossom with the promise of a numerous lineage. (How cute it is to think that yesterday, the National Insurance Law celebrated its 55th anniversary! is it an anniversary or a memorial day? It is a miracle that normally applies to every resident in the country - Sarah and Abraham could not envision such a system...).

The journey of this exceptional - say a bit "history-symbolic" couple of our ancestors, dedicated their life to combating paganism, amorality and human sacrifice. They truly believed and passed a new covenant, not with some stone or hand-made deities. The new covenant given by the Living God and the God of the living (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) is plugged in in the flesh and the soul. We are reluctant at the present to recognize that this tomb at the cave of Machpelah is the original location and well from which life was sown. Indeed, Sarah and Abraham trusted in the Omnipresent Lord and Abraham argued with Him to save a handful of sinners who lived at Sodom.

Sarah and Abraham! True, Sarah showed to activate the process. It is too easy to point out that Abraham, isaac and Jacob were the three first "patriarchs - avot\אבות. it is intriguing that women played a major role in the acceptance of the monotheistic creed. Everybody knows that Hebrew "father/av-אב" has a feminine gender plural form. It combines male and female all-human creativity in encountering God and submitting unto His Will.

The new covenant in Abraham opened up the gates and paved the way for the giving of the two Laws (Torah and Mishnah/Oral and Written Law) at the Sinai. Sarah took up the privilege to bear Yitzchak unexpectedly. It made her burst into laughters. She laughed because future is always a matter of laughing. So unexpected, unforeseeable, impossible for the human conscience and understanding. The Jewish tradition considers that Abraham knew and observed in advance all the Commandments/Mitzvot of the Written and Oral Laws (the Bible and the Talmud). Sarah and Abraham faced a spiritual combat. They chose the One God of the living in opposition to the pantheon of idols, ruthless violence and hatefully hostile evictions/deportations mirrored by idolatry deities in their "sky and cloud high".

Jesus said something very similar to his disciples about this path: "As you go, do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic or sandals or walking stick. The laborer deserves his keep” (Matthew 10:10).

At the present, we face doubts and uncertainty. We need objects that seemingly intervene or help our connection with the Most High. Traditions have for long been swinging between pious rope of bones, stones, wool, beads and amulets of all sorts. Look at the Tibetan skulls, elbows, leg bones used as trumpets or praying tools. The Zoroastrians have kutsi/ropes with small knots, very likely to the Jewish fringes/tzitzit\ציצית . They are worn as necklaces, the same way Ethiopian Christians do. The first Christians had special signals to identify themselves in hostile environments. They would not wear crosses or even fish. Faith was obvious, though clashes could be very harsh among the believers in the early Church.

We love tombs and graves, coffins, caskets. We have tons of soap operas, TV serials and sitcoms. OMG! Good gracious! killings, murders are showed in these serials with more and more reality show basic instinct: the first stories were soft, some killer and guns, shots. Today, there are chip-chopped limbs, corpses, live on air postmortem examinations. Criminologists can have a love affair among freezing storage boxes. Reposing individuals are cut down during long autopsy investigations. It is trendy. Death and funerals/burials became a cultural trendy trading activity. "Life is too short and too expensive: make your repose low cost!" is a real ad in some European countries.

The "new covenant" passed by God with Abraham is not a low-cost cheap deal or gentlemen agreement passed for acquiring a long-term blood-redeemed cave at Machpelah. We feel often too dirty and death-imprinted. We wandered in awe through a death culture that topped in the 20th century. Gas - a lot of gas - from world war I till the extermination camps. Let's say that the war in Iraq will stop in 2011. Just a supposition. It will stop one way anyway. But are we aware that the cradle of monotheism and of the early Semitic Churches has been slowly destroyed over all these years of fighting for oil? With much arrogance and ignorance toward the existing believers. This is the cursing part of our fate.Iraq is former Mesopotamia and Sumer, the cradle of civilization. There was the birthplace of the soothsayers who paid a visit to king Herod and to the child in Bethlehem. They may have studied the Oral law transmitted by the local Jews who did not return to Jerusalem by the time of Cyrus.

Are we born to curse or to be cursed? Just the opposite! but it requires a lot of pardon and alertness, awareness. Exactly the same spirit that Sarah and Abraham had to breathe in along their journey through tests and visions of seeds. They knew that sowing change deadlines into life starting marks.
Jesus stated that: "Except a corn/grain of wheat fall into the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it die, it brings forth much fruit. He that is fond [ho philon-φιλων \ is fond] his life shall lose [apolluei\απολλυει = destroy] it; and he that hates [ho mison-μισων \ hates] his life in this world shall keep it unto eternal life" (John 12:24-25). In Talmudic Hebrew and Aramaic "chit\chita\חיט-חיטא " means "wheat" and also "nipples, protuberances": "The Lord revives the chita-חיטא/grain, protuberance of life" as stated in Sanhedrin VI, 23c.

We tend to understand this as negative and contradictory feelings. "Hates his life" is not an act of despise. It is an act of reversing, altering process: just as "enmity" and difference" are linked in Hebrew shoneh\שונה - change - shanah\שנה - evolve vs sinah\שנא-שנאה - feud. It further develops in the burning bush "sinai -" where "The One Who always is and was and will be in the process of being/becoming" renews the covenant passed with Sarah and Abraham, Rebekkah and Isaac, Rachel/Leah and Jacob-Israel.

"Pulsa d'nura\פולסא דנורא" is a typical Talmudic expression in Aramaic used in Tractates Baba Metzia 47b, Hagiga 15b or in Leviticus Rabba 37 ("pulsin\פולסין")."Pulsa\פולסא = a disk, circular, round plate or even a ring" used as measure of weight or money ("pilas\פיל(א)ס”). This is comparable to a payment coin of great importance in the Middle-East and our cultural backgrounds. A woman nearly got mad in sweeping her house until she found the "lost coin". Then she called her friends and they had a joyous party (Luke 15:8).

By extension, "pulsa d'nura" were fiery disks put on whipping lashes (Talmud Baba Metzia 85b) envisioned as a punishment against sinners in heaven (i.e. after death...) in the absence of a any presupposed Divine pardon (Yoma 77a). Rashi would have considered this "harsh condemnation" as an equivalent to the "cherem\חרם= ban or eviction from the community".

Since the Second Temple is not "extant - qayam\קים" and there sacrifices are suspended without the existence of a coherent and legal Sanhedrin, death sentences are not applicable. Then, any attempt to evict somebody from a Jewish community is very problematic since the Era of Enlightenment, a secular movement that appeared in Christened Europe.

The "pulsa d'nura" would be a sort of alternative "death curse" pronounced against one or some individuals who profoundly offended or trespassed the Jewish laws in force. It has been noticed that "death penalties" are not in force in Judaism since Jews are called to bless and not to curse (Genesis 22:18). The "cherem" or eviction from the community is no more in force. It is easier to circumventsuch a decision, though not everywhere. The Churches could initially pronounce anathemas (ban) or excommunications, i.e. the faithful could were either excluded from the Sacraments. It can be exerted with much power in some places, but there are more and more way-out possibilities.

Death curses or "pulsa d'nura" have been at the kernel of the very in-depth debate and essential fight led by the secular Jews and the various practicing Jewish ultra-orthodox groups who did allow a constant death-facing survival of Jewishness in hostiles environments. Eliezer Ben Yehudah, the reviver of the living Modern Hebrew tongue was seemingly the first "Israeli" to be picked on such a death curse as it was unthinkable for pious Jews to speak the language of G-d. But the need for a common language convinced that Hebrew was the most convenient and resourceful solution. Still until recently, Yiddish would have remained the only "national" colloquial in very orthodox quarters or specific groups.

Death curse was also cited about late PM Yitzchak Rabin, eventually against Shimon Peres vs. Moshe Katzav as both were candidates to the presidency of the State. Late Rav I. Kaduri and Menachem Mendel Shneerson intervened as spiritual leaders. Though some authorities protested against the existence of such curses - pulsa d'nura, if any. Last... the curse was cited with regard to the pullout from the Gaza Strip and Ariel Sharon.

Cursing appears to recurrently be a violent and very passionate, emotional reaction in the Semitic and religious way of thinking faithfulness to God's Commandments and the pagan aspect or secular attitude of social bodies that do not commit their lives with the requirements of faith.

"Charam" (ban, expel somebody) is often heard in Arabic.Physical violence and spitting at the Christian clergy or ignoring them by closing the eyes are frequent in Jerusalem. In return, mutual ignorance stigmatizes the wounds of aggressive positions that often influenced each group in the name of ritual purity. Thus, the long-life loving-kindness shown by Abraham and Sarah wandering towards their identity is a good example of hospitality and love of those whom we do not know, and they met the angels at Mamre's oaks.

Each day, the Jewish communities start to pray with the words of Bilaam, the prophet who had been paid to curse Israel. He was pushed to understand that he was wrong; his she-donkey had the correct attitude. She refused to move, laid down and told him how to behave. He converted and said: "How goodly are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel\מה טבו אהליך יעקב משכנתיך ישראל" (Numbers/VaYikra 24:5).

av Aleksandr [ Winogradsky Frenkel]

November 19/6, 2008 - 21 Cheshvan 5769 - כ"א דחשון תשון תשס"ט