Monday, February 2, 2009

Sent beyond the end of time sea

On the 9th of February 2009, Tu bishvat/ט"ו בשבט תשס"ט - Shvat 15, 5769, will mark the celebration the New Year of the Trees/Eylanot - אילנות. It is an agronomic annual rendezvous with nature and fruits, plants and flowers, trees. It can be very healthy to give charities in order to promote the planting of trees before the feast, after the Shabbat and, in general throughout the year. It is also a time for buying fresh fruit and remembering to pay some unpaid tithes, if any, or to pay some for the development of agricultural products.

The reading portion of the week is Shemot/Exodus 13:17-17-16 for Shabbat "Beshallach/בשלח": "And Pharaoh let the people go ".116 verses : 58 to go and get free, 58 conflicting ones, but the general atmosphere was corny, grouchy, definitely not comparable to some mind blower. The main issue is expressed toward the end of the portion: "Hayesh HaShem bekirbenu im eyn/היש ה' בקרבנו עם אין - Is the Lord present among us or not?" (Shemot/Ex. 17:7). The haftarah (prophetic readings) is from the Book of Shoftim-שופטים/Judges 4:4-5:31, with some slight variants between the Ashkenazim and the Yemenites.

Miracles are natural. They are daily stuff. We may not care or be aware that small or big events positively change and even save our state of mind, life, physical and material, financial position. The problem is very correctly exposed in Exodus. Did they really want to be delivered from bondage? Or enjoy some refreshing time in the wilderness? Something has pushed the Israelites to follow Moses' injunction to leave "Mitzra'im-מצרים (Egypt) = place of imprisonment". Not only a jail, but Egypt was very famous for being a place of graves and tombs.

Versatility should be noted in the events of the week. Stubborn Pharaoh finally stepped down an accepted that Moses leave the country with a population of more than 600.000 people. Then, all of a sudden, the ruler felt wrongful, mistaken and ran after the Hebrews (Ex. 14:3). By the way, when the Israelites were fleeing from Egypt, God said: "The people may have a change of heart ("pen-yinachem ha'am - פן ינחם העם") when they see the war and return to Egypt (Ex. 13:17). They had not been free or centuries. Slavery is hard but somehow "secure", much more than any social and medical system; it may sound bizarre, but look around. This is a normal human reaction. It does not involve in personal armed conflicts. God stiffened both the hearts of Pharaoh and of the Hebrews.

Pharaoh clumsily pursuited his slaves; his army perished in the waters. God knew that the Israelites might be "waking up" from some involuntary dream. Return ticket are so pleasant when they allow to get back home after a refreshing off-shore cruise. It is good to feel that dreams can fail to get true. True, many people have thought of going back to slavery jail. Therefore, it is impossible to cheat God; He made their way longer. The scene is grandiose, not that Hollywood style if we consider the local places and events. The waters split at the Yam Suf-ים סוף - The Sea of the Reeds?

Nu? There are doubts about the grandeur of the event. Say that liberty implies a certain splendor. But the site is small and not proven to be splitting so much. Yam Suf is the "Sea of the Reeds", not really the Red Sea. This refers to a place of humility as suggested by the name of the location: the "reeds - suf-סוף": a deadline.

Botanically speaking, this is not bombastic nor flamboyant, but humbling. This aspect is rarely taken into account. Ordinary men and women, people who fled from Egypt someway under condition of anonymity. Without much intimate conviction, they reached at least the deadline of human bondage. And this is at times unbearable. This sea marks an end (sof-סוף), the humbling moment that swirls a life into a totally new and unexpected direction. The right and left side walls of the waters allowed them to pass the sea in dry ground! With a cloud of darkness and a pillar of fire that panicked the Egyptians in the morning. A destruction conducted with mastery "between good and evil/בין טוב ורע" (Talmud Tanchumah Bereishit 12).

But please, God, Moses, more miracles! We are not awfully afraid. We are only scared because we don't feel secure. This makes the "chom/חום" - "protective wall-warming" barely real. And still, they got saved. This may explain why we cannot "see" God; we would die. But we "see" Him in miracles. When the miracle has humbled and reinvigorated us, it clutches definitely to our beings. At the Yam Suf - Sea of the Reeds, a world was overcome and destroyed: slavery. Wow, this can take lives to be understood as a true human experience.

Thus, the prominent "shirat HaYam/שירת הים - Song of the Sea" in Exodus chapter 15 is essential. Its verses account facts that the Israelites did undergo, but the whole text - in Hebrew - is in imperfect tense. It is an ongoing, present, future daily involvement that any Jewish believer continues to live through. And the Prophetess Miriam, chanting it with a choir of women shows the full unity of the people and the coming generations.

The Christians experience a rather similar situation as Paul of Tarsus states: "For we were saved in hope. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But I we hope or what we do not see, we wait with endurance" (Romans 8:24-25). Or: "Our ancestors were all under the cloud and passed through the sea, into Moses. All ate the same spiritual food (manna) and all drank the same spiritual drink...Yet God was not pleased with most of them and they were struck down in the desert... God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial He will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it" (Corinthians 10:1-5.13).

In Israel, we often have some scatterbrained galut/dispersion attitudes. Ingathered? Right; but Jews recognizing Jews as wool-gathering groups of people. We are hardly conscious that we have constantly been saved by God's outstretched arm: He undoubtedly ensnared us from death. Still, we need to complain as Moses' flock. The Christians also need but they don't dare. It is exact that, considering some torturous diseases, lifelong ones, handicaps, mental or physical defects, all the sufferings of social and economic indigence and humiliation, the humans would firstly require substantial assistance. But God has the nerve - if not the chutzpah/חוצפה (arrogance) - to entrust faith and His kingdom to hokey children.

The Israelites got many miracles along the journey. We can't stand bitter waters? There we get some fresh sources. We had better died in Egypt with some bread: cool, guys: the Lord provides flesh (fat fowls) at night and "manhu/מן הוא - what's that (manna)" the bread that falls from heaven for a full month in the morning, i.e. one extra portion for the Shabbat. Because the exodus included a resting day, the institution o the Shabbat before the Torah was given. So they were sitting put in the wilderness, expecting a seventh portion of manna, they had already swallowed the day before. As concerns the "shelav/שלו - quails" or supper, the phenomenon is known in the region at specific times. These fat bird name comes from the root: "resting, overweight, pleasure" as today "shalwah/שלו(ו)ה". At Massa and Meriba (trial and quarrel), the Israelites felt a special thirst that Moses resolved by striking the rock with his rod and a lot of water quenched the complaining nation that still had to comment: "Is the Lord present among us, or not?" God had the endurance to oblige the Israelites to fight Amalek at Rephidim. A victory against Evil and Idolaters that is reminded everyday in the morning prayer and still a combat that continues "The Lord will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages"(Shemot 17:16).

The real problem is "emunah\אמונה - faith". Crossing the Sea of the Reeds, yes, the Israelites saw the death of Egypt in the sea and "vaya'aminu baHaShem uvMoshe avdo\ויאמינו בה' ובמשה עבדו - and they had faith in the Lord and His servant Moses (Ex. 14:30). But they did not get to the point that they were getting totally free, boundless. Faith still appears as a dead-end. True, this generation had a lot of faith, but failed when Moses came down with the Torah and they died in the wilderness. They will rest forever in the sand of the desert: "midbar\מדבר = place where God speaks", not in some polytheist Egyptian grave. The Amalekites will be exterminated by David, but Maimonides underlined that the Jews had the task to bring them to the Noahide rules in a peaceful way.

Miracles are daily, they happen everywhere, anytime, reaching out to anybody. Still, most people require "proofs, evidences". God has nothing to prove: He works and gives miracles. We are more sensitive to calamities, but God strengthens.

When the Churches confess that Jesus was born to a virgin young woman, walked on the waters, healed the sick and resurrected Lazarus/Eleazar, these statements provided by faith experience and not some film script requires to have more faith. This sort of faith surpasses all natural faith as Moses Mendelssohn once declared. It takes a long time before the basic acts of faith truly get integrated in depths. In that sense, holiness consists in overcoming such doubts and life tragedies, especially in the natural and supernatural realm of the Mitzvot. Rabbi Akiva, tortured by the Romans, uttered the "Shm'a Israel,/שמע ישראל - Hear Israel" proclaiming his lifelong faith, far beyond any mistake, lack of understanding.

On the eve of Tu BiShvat and the new year of the Trees, it maybe useful to say that "everything was very good- tov me'od/טוב מאד" and that we can go ahead of the Yam Suf with confidence.

av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

February 1, 2009 - 7 deShvat 5769 - ז' דשבט תשס"ט

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