A lot of things are read this Shabbat Mishpatim\משפטים; according to the rules defined by the Shulchan Aruch (140, 1), it is also admitted to read another reading portion: "Ki Tissa\כי תשא - When you take (a census of the Israelite people)" (Shemot 30:11-34:35). Forty days ago, the Israelites were on the move to Mount Sinai. We already discussed the problem of faith, confidence, spleen and regret for having abandoned Egypt, slavery and the local onions. Finally, they agreed to “nishma’ vena’aseh\נשמע ונעשה – to do and to listen” to God’s words and commandments. Thus, they launched big building works, firstly with the construction of the Mishkan\משכן (Dwelling of the Shechinah\שכינה – the Divine Presence). The Israelites helped Aaron and his sons to be correctly clothed for the sacrifices and ensure their priestly functions. This was more a sort of fashion and accessories design. In this additional portion, the pure and neat divine design mitzvot/commandments ordered by God turn to a twofold design process: God in person engraved the Ten Divrot (Ten Paroles) on two tablets and handed them down to Moses. But Aaron, harassed by wild crowds, voraciously hungry for “worshiping”, had collected all the gold rings the people had brought from Egypt to melt them into a deity around which they started to have festive meals. They invoked the metallic egel-עגל/calf after having offered to him burnt-offerings. This fake-god fashion design ordered by the priest Aaron shows how people can easily go wild or mad when they lose a strong and authentic direction toward God. In Egypt as in the Sumerian civilization, men and women could be covered with rings, bracelets, necklaces of gold, silver, whatsoever. We have the same and some males and females can be totally pierced with such accessories. Haircut, fashion, piercing may be a must for some people raving up in light-flashing discotheques, maybe with one idol for the night. Many non-pierced groups with visionary mentors would also rage together around sculptures made of wood, precious stones or metals.This is more an instinctive belly-call as shown in the reading portion: festive meals, gluttony, offerings that can turn to be today rhythmically correct by using wildlife protection incenses, soul music and a soupcon of religiosity.We are on the way to Purim (on March 9-10) and indeed the question to know whether we might or not feel the presence of the absence of God. The question is pending: can we play the fool with God’ actions, be He present (HaMakom\המקום = the Omnipresent) or “Hester panim\הסתר פנים – hiding (His) Face)”. This weekly portion includes 22 times the word Panim\פנים (Face) as referring to God. After Purim, the main question is to envision God as the Only Giver. He may be present, absent, speak or keep silent: “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh\אהיה אשר אהיה – I shall be(come) the fulfillment of Who I am (becoming) as He stated to Moses (Ex. 3:14). But “egel\עגל – calf” has a lot of rabbinic backgrounds that are presuppose our desires for cults, absence of deity and slowness to seek God’s Face. It maybe hard at times to acknowledge we were shaped in His Image. “The day the Israelites made the golden calf in the desert was ominous to Israel” (Shabbat 1, 17). The Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the priestly clothes were God’s commandments. The gold rings boiled into a calf consisted in making a farce of what God had ordered. We face the same problem at the present. “Agal” means “to make round, circle” as the “agulah\עגולה = a round heap of debris”(Pessahim 8,36a) and “agalta\עגלתא” = “the head-star of the Ox (Taurus, Steer) (Berachot 58b) that still can be fixed by the “eglah\עגלה-א – red heifer” (Kiddushin 8a). In the meantime, Moses is urged by the living God to go down the mountain! Is there a kind of subtle divine jealousy? God had written His Words on the Tablets (Luchot\לוחות) and He had given them to Moses. And down the mount, Moses saw from afar this roaring knees-up with the calf of gold. The trustworthy Yehoshua accompanied Moses who shattered the Tablets. Is it possible? Two gods to be destroyed face to face. Because Moshe did break God Himself as he burst into fragments the Divine Luchot (tablets). And he ordered to burn the beast. On the one hand, God’s autograph was reduced to nil by the Prophet while the priest grilled up the last jewels brought from Egypt. They were gone with the wind, as the onions of the Nile. On the other hand, God could not accept to be beaten by molten deities. Again, He convokes Moses to the mount and gives him two new Tablets. Bringing them down to the Israelites, Moses could not see that his face was radiant “ki karen or panav alav\כי קרן עור פניו אליו” because he had spoken with God (Shemot 34:29.30). “Karen” has the same root as “keren\קרן – horn” or the trumpets that sound, echo and explode into rays, also with much light. He brought the two new Tablets, i.e. that God sparkles and mirrors His glory as Moses had approached Him. The fragments of the two Tablets were taken to the Land of Canaan in the Tabernacle. The word “luach\לוח” has multifold meanings. In Modern Hebrew, “luach haz’manim\לוח הזמנים = time-table, schedule”. There is an interesting saying: “The second Luchot/Tablets and the broken Luchot were both preserved in the ark, so don’t despise an old scholar when his memory forsakes him” (Berachot 9b, Bava Bathra 14a).Our memory may be affected by some troubles. It is very modern. Our daily life and various commitments exert a real pressure and often cause dramatic damages on our memories. Judaism is based on the fact that the Torah is the only genuine and reliable sign of the God’s Presence and Existence. Humans have destroyed documents. Moses shattered the Tablets. “Luach\לוח = agenda” and means that God was dating (it is indeed a love affair) in a very special way with the Israelites. It is difficult to line along with an agenda. Both sides cannot look at each other immediately. Then, Moses had disappeared for a very long time. So let’s go dating with the one we molt. It is much easier, “do-it-yourself”. And the calf might have the profile we want him to have. This is a major issue in our spiritual tendencies to bleat like sheep and goats flocking up with our pundits. This Tablet dating rendezvous that God progressively proposed to the Israelites is unique in history. The love affair may have been tragic at times. It still develops, beyond all ages, an unparalleled love and life affair. The “Luchot-לוחות/Tablets” were legible from both sides. It means that the Torah is open to all the universe as God truly is the “Melech Ha’olam\מלך העולם – King of the universe”. Except one letter in the Book of Jeremiah, the Torah has preciously been safeguarded over thousands of years. It is our privilege and mostly the responsibility of our generation that the children of Israel mass return to Eretz Israel. This is only a part of what the Jewish Traditions. From the date at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people were taught to abandoned everything and thus never to despair. This is a teaching shared for the sake of all human beings, without distinction. We lost the Land, our independence, the Temples. We have the Torah and how to be faithful to God’s Commandments. It is amazing that we still could not breed a “red heifer – parah adumah\פרה אדומה” also compared as a counter-poison to the golden calf. We live in a country where bank accounts are lodged in the weirdest tax havens of the world. Official services would only accept payments in cash to avoiding real bookkeeping. Nonetheless, the chetzi-shekel\חצי שקל (half-shekel) would allow the census of the adults and measure a collectivity, making each Jew a full partner to another one. At this point, there is more interrogations, if not confusion as simply shown, among many different examples, by the Gush Katif slogan (“a Jew does not expel a Jew”). I heard this year the tragic destiny of those people who produced fields, plants, work for Jews and Arabs. One mother came and witnessed this year at the Jerusalem Conference and it was really moving. When they had to pull out, my parishioners instinctively and spontaneously toured there to support them. It was not even a political move or reaction. It was a bit astounding to see Orthodox Christians and mixed couples - mostly from Soviet Union join rather religious Jews and claim that they also provided work for the local Arabs, today's Gazan assisted inhabitants. There are many organizations that try to help these settlers who are often in a difficult situation, unemployed and in a sort of Jobkatif\תעסוקטיף (a Facebook group). They do need prayers, food, societal support as any inhabitant of this land.We are called this year to look deep ito our actions and make no difference, try to help for the best of life and human dignity where we feel each of us can do best. It is a way to show more than sympathy and unify all blocks of our population. Some can help the Arabs, others would help the "Gushkatifnikim", others would provide what is missing in many ways and help correcting and healing the many wounds. This links us somehow with this additional reading portion.We have the Torah and we are born to recall and understand how and why God was destroyed in His writing and in the shape of a fake worthless golden calf. On the other hand, the Luchot/Tablets can hang around our necks, be engraved on rings: they are the legitimate mark of God’s Presence that can reach out to every Jew throughout the world and the betterment of ethics and maybe correct us in the many turbulences that affect our complex societal situation.The Christian Catholic Church shall enter into the time of Great Lent on coming Ash Wednesday for the Roman Latin Church; the Oriental Churches, in particular the Greek Melkite in Jerusalem, will start the Fast on Monday. The Eastern Orthodox Church will go on her way to the preparation of Great Lent: this week, we could eat all sorts of meals. From Sunday night, we shall abstain from meat on the first week and next week from dairy. In the end, we shall reach Easter on April 19 with some soups, onions and mushrooms. We love mushrooms in Israel and the production of mushrooms in the area of Jericho has been famous in the Middle-East for about 7,000 years. At the moment, it is "kosher" all throughout the year and "Great-Lenten" on several occasions during the Christian Orthodox year.This Sunday, for the Orthodox Church, is the "Last Judgment Sunday", something that is comparable to "Yom HaDin\יום הדין = the Day of Judgment". The reading is really a wonderful text: Matthew 25: 31-46. Jesus speak in a parable, i.e. a mashal\משל that traditionally includes open the way to many possibilities of various comments, explanations and interpretation. It should be noted, to begin with, that Easter, as Pesach, marks the first New Year period in the Jewish cycle. The second harvesting used to take place in Autumn and Rosh HaShanah followed by Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) continue to introduce into the second and real change of year. It is envisioning a sort of "end of time" period that is very trendy or, to be more exact, a time of eschaton, i.e. a time that brings us closer to a progressive revelation. Jesus says that when God will show at the end (of history or something very close to that) he will come with his angels and separate the sheep from the goats and put these to His right and those to His left. In fatc, the judgment sounds "blind or deaf"! To the blessed that are called to His right, he says: I was hungry, thirsty, naked, in jail - you provided me with everything. The blessed sheep can't even believe their ears! It is impossible, because we did nothing and you reward us? But Jesus answers that each time they did it for the smallest among them, they did a good action. And suddenly he turns to those who were on His left and declared the same: you did not see me hungry, thirsty, naked, in jail and you, you never came to help me in any way. So go to the Gey Hinnom\גיי הינום, the Valley that slopes down from the Temple to Bethlehem because you are doomed to everlasting fire. The Eastern Orthodox Church has gotten that from the Early Church in Jerusalem that her praying service is deeply rooted in the Yom HaKippurim-יום הכיפורים/Day of Atonement order of service. This is immediately felt by Jews and Christians when they can share. Interestingly, Great Lent commences in Jerusalem and all Orthodox Churches of Byzantine tradition by the Service of Forgiveness-Pardon on Sunday nigth before the beginning of Great Lent. The Church has no second and real New Year corresponding to the Autumnal Jewish feasts. They live in the eschatological time or "kairos" of "Pentecost - of after the giving of the Holy Spirit". The first judgment does not only target the humans. It is a way God is handling His creation. And the sheep are compared with the "paschal lambs" while the goats are close to the Atonement day goats that wer cast into the valley in order to atone the sins of Israel and all the Nations. In the parable, it is not possible to determine "who is who" and when things happen or may or will happen by shifts or forever. This only belongs to God. The sheep go to eternal life and benediction and the goats to everlasting "dira'on/דראון " as suggested by the Hebrew version of Yitzchak Salkinson, eminent Bible scholar and Talmudist and a Presbyterian pastor born to a Belorussian family in the 19th century. The word is usually translated as "punishment" and lines with the Greek version. The Talmudic word reminds the "cyclical row, range, turn, growth of generation: "Do the present generations grow any better?" Jesus gives a comment in his parable; is it fixed? We often thought and the Church did affirm that judgments are definite and certain. Then, there would be no history, no times to pass and days to be renewed. It is a sort of mental security, but God never ascertains things to be without appeal. Nobody can state that he belongs to the sheep or to the goats; let's say humbly being goats and then sheep? This is often what is shown in the congregations. The problem is that "judgment and punishment" do not mean in the context what we need to fix in order to rely on certainties. "Din\דין " means "to put on this and that side and eventually vice versa". It also means "article of a mitzvah" and "a blessing freely granted by God". This is why it is so dangerous to conclusively ascertain that God saves and saved these and not those; then, why do we await His coming in glory? This is also why during times of hardships it is so important to keep all gates widely open to any possibility. We forget things, but we fix our minds. We want to get out of our realm and still come back to our roots. This is why, this year, in a quaking and stumbling around international context, the true question remains how we can get free and make our societies feel more and more freedom. Freedom and release do not depend on our forces, power, might, intelligence, beauty or spirit. Release comes when we do not expect. This is the terrible misunderstanding that underlines this parable. It is uncomfortable to think that what we consider as a judgment is indeed an opening apocalysis/revelation. Hebrew uses the word "hitgalut\התגלות " that implies a link with "return to revelation, get back from dispersion, envisioning". The Feast of Pesach/Passover and Easter/Resurrection confirm that God realized different actions that led the human beings to full unity - whatever their personal or group relationships to the related events (exodus from Egypt and freedom from bondage - and freedom from this nature to get to eternal life and resurrection of the dead). This unity is not fully perceivable. It has been a constant element of the history of all humankind everywhere and in all times. This time of cycles, that seemingly comes and comes again from generation to generation has a goal: to allow each generation and those who are alive to reach some divine pardon and free release. It may sound bizarre in the present. Suddenly we shall wake up and find the Paroles are at work. This Shabbat is also the Shabbat Mevarchin\שבת מברכין of the upcoming month of Adar. Rosh Chodesh/רה"ח - Adar will take place on next Tuesday and Wednesday: it recall for all generations that Moses was born and died on Adar 7th (March 3, 2009), a day of overtime study and connecting insights.
av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]
February 20/7, 2009 - 26 deShvat 5769 - כ"ו דשבט תשס"ט