Sunday, January 18, 2009

Whose firstborn?

We could update the "photograph" of our congregations: true, they start before the birth of the coming babies or at their conception and include those whose might show in the future. And the Jewish specific feature is that Jewish women transmit Judaism as a mark of blessing in utero. In the Talmud, "Guf\גוף - body" is a fictitious sort of storehouse of soul in heaven, as in Tractate Yevamot 62a : "The son of David shall not come before all souls in the Guf\גוף are exhausted (sent to live on earth)" . This is interesting as regards the process of embodying each soul into a shape of flesh and blood - maybe some indication also found in relation with the "gilgul\גלגול - say: rolling soul" that may imply some migration of souls or reincarnation, though Judaism is very strict about personal carnal and mental destiny.

Each person is unique. At least, there is an undetermined number of potential souls that lead to the fulfillment of the Guf, thus not only a storehouse but the Divine Body in our world. Without being too E.T.-plugged and concerned about the existence of the galaxies, we, humans loitering on earth, do suffer of some "spiritual depressive symptom". In our 21st (58th) century, we know for sure that all possible tribes and nations were discovered on earth. Jews have the tremendous possibility to survey where the Lost Tribes settled and to find them eventually. But humankind may not reckon with the prospect that spiritual life and knowledge of God might exist as extensions of the Guf / Body still scattered in undefined galaxies or planets outside of the solar system.

This should be noted that Melekh HaOlam\מלך העולם – King of the Universe" is not our property, He reigns over the entire creation and entrusted the humans here, on earth, with special abilities to exist, develop or survive. But we might be willing in between to forget that the worlds are wide and on perpetual expansion.

Parshat Shemot\פרשת שמות (Exodus) reported the birth of Moshe and Eastern Christian Churches of the Holy Land celebrated the birth of Jesus. Firstborns are those, who have shown God's blessing of mother wombs, paralleled in the Jewish tradition with Pesach-פסח/Passover, i.e. the passing from slavery to freedom. Mothers might consider that they are indeed the true "slaves" as they domicile their children over nine months. And babies appear to be horribly "selfish" in their unconscious development or movements. On the other hand, "slavery" also implies lack of free space, absence of awareness. Slaves, as employees or executives, make their masters pretty much under their control. As regards babies, their passing through their mom's womb into the world creates a Pesach situation and somehow inaugurates the womb of a woman when she gives birth to her first son (Blog "call in utero" refers to male and female specifications beyond any sex competition).

The Semitic tradition relies upon an in-depth conscience that various sorts of sacrifices (zevachim) ensure a connection between God and the humans. Abraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov offered sacrifices. Progressively this was instituted in a structure that started with the firstborn sons, then the sons of Levi, and defined as "Kohen\כהן - priest". This means that a spiritual community cannot live without special functions. Thirty years ago, in Jerusalem and the Jewish society, there was still a low understanding that the " Beyt HaMikdash\בית המקדש - Third Temple" might one day be rebuilt and the Avodah restored in its midst.

Say that the Temple - without ordinal reference - is alive (qayam\קים - existing) right now on the Mount. Any really well-trained, Talmud-Scripture well-read and praying bar-mitzvah would immediately know how to function inside the Holy of the Holies because the "Avodah\עבודה - Service" has "only" been suspended - and certainly not destroyed or removed from the living Jewish memory and traditional teachings. The respect of the Commandments (Mitzvot) displays and bounces back such an in-life daily reality that governs social and family relationships.

In that respect, it is clear that every Jewish woman throughout history has impressively confronted the suspended Temple Service by birthing firstborns and well-educated men 'til the time of a restoration, if any. Their menstrual lunar cycle as their care of the "taharat mishpachah – family purity" endure until men might serve to the full. For instance, the whole ritual of Yom Kippur clearly describes how the priest Zorobabel reinitialized the Service, incl. the sacrifices in the Temple (Nehemiah, Ezra). The prayer of the 18 Benedictions (Amidah\עמידה) repeatedly insists on the performing of the sacrifices.

Some peopleget mad at the sight of some blood and can't stand the slaughtering of animals. But there is something anchored in the Jewish spiritual experience that calls each of us to pray (to make a "zevach todah\זבח תודה – thanksgiving sacrifice)". Why?

To begin with, the " call in utero" to serve God was reserved to the "bechor\בכור - firstborn son", i.e. a "reshit 'on\ראשית און – first fruit of (a man's) vigor, birthright is his due (lo mishpat habechora "(Devarim / Deut. 21:17)."Kohen\כהן" comes from the root "KaHaN\כהן" whose reflexive form is "nitkahen\נתכהן: be appointed, chosen as a priest for sacrifices"(Talmud Zevachim 101b). The root exists in all Semitic language and refers to "slaughter, make a sacrifice". The problem is that things seem to be systematic or that they developed by allowing certain priestly divisions. No. when the sons of Levi sinned, the priestly function was distributed in a new way. Rules are more flexible and a lot of Jews don't know how flexible they are. The provocative element is not the existence of priestly or "clerical" functions. The word "kohen\כהן" is originally connected with the root "KUN" which indicates a move, a continuous, coherent and dynamic move, thus as in "kavanah\כוונה = spiritual intention, intention to pray with fervor". The different roots or meanings of the root show that the real purpose is to develop a true way of living through the richness of the Jewish traditions, from the smallest to the highest step. But this cannot be a routine, procedure or a function. Jesus has an interesting statement: "let your 'Yes' (ken\כן) means 'Yes' and your 'No' (lo\לא) mean 'No'" (Matthew 5:37; cf James 5;12). Both Jesus and the apostle James declare that with regard to "oaths – nedarim" that are so essential in Jewish spiritual attitude.

The Eastern Orthodox Church of Jerusalem celebrates on January 13-14 the Circumcision of Jesus that also includes his been brought to the Temple and his "pedyon haben\פדיון הבן – redeeming of the (firstborn) son" (Luke 2:22-38). The account of the only evangelist who was a proselyte, shortly recapitulates with some lack of precision the different steps following the birth of a firstborn. Nonetheless, bikkurim\בכורים (firstborns) firstly belong to God as said: "Kadesh Li khol bechor\קדש לי כל בכור: consecrate to Me every first-born, the first issue of every womb among the Israelites is Mine (Exodus 13:2). Then: "You must redeem (tifdah\תפדה) every first-born among your sons" (Exodus 34:20) at a defined price: "Take as their redemption price, from the age of one month up, the money equivalent to five shekels" (Numbers 18:16).

We have a good example of such a situation with Hannah's son, Samuel the prophet, whom she had fervently asked to God and still she accepted that he should not be redeemed (1 Samuel 1:20). Thus he served in the Temple as a "regular first-born bechor\בכור".

At the present, there are different attitudes toward such mitzvot / commandment as the redeeming of a first born. There is certainly more: when the father accepts to redeem cash his firstborn, he takes upon himself the responsibility to retain in his own family circle a son of man who, by birth-call belongs to God and should be trained adequately. The family debits God from one server who is then able to live with the others.

There is something similar in the Gospel of Luke (2:22-38) that accounts the redeeming of Jesus as a firstborn. In that way, he is allowed to share his life with his family and does not only remain God's share. Interestingly, his baptism at the Jordan River by John the Forerunner will allow to follow up the meaning of the rites that fully exist in both Judaism and, at least, in the Christian Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

av aleksander [Winogradsky Frenkel]

January 16/3, 2009 – 20 deTevet 5769 - כ' דטבת תשס"ט

No comments: