Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Yom Kippur Katan and the joyful Forgiveness Sunday

Usually, 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". This is why on this Shabbat Mishpatim, we could proceed to the "mevarchin hachodesh\מברכין החודש = blessing of the month (Adar). Thus noew month will birth on Tuesday/yom 3- יום ג' at 17.39 pm., 0 chelek shkiyah (part of sunset) 24.2/30 Shvat 5769. Yom Kippur katan will then take place on the eve of the day, on 23.2/29 Shvat at the end of the day, Jerusalem time. Different things could be discussed with regards to this "Yom Kippur katan/minor Day of Atonement". It is basically a day of fast at the beginning of the New Moon that inaugurates a new month in the Jewish tradition. At the present, the Jewish calendar is only based on the lunar cycle, as already discussed in others blogs (Bessorot tovot\בשורות טובות). The sun shines over the whole earth during a period of 12-13 or less hours and 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 and only reflects the light of the sun on earth. This generates 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 כיפור – Day of Atonement is a unique day on which God can pardon each person, provided that humans are able to ask for forgiveness, whether their repenting act will or not be accepted by the offended people. But 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 or are not able for a while – sometimes quite a long period – to understand each other or to hurt, injure each other for a lot of obvious or irrational reasons. The white clothes worn on Yom Kippur\יום כיפור denote that, after sorrow and sins, transgressions and misconducts, God's brightness enlightens and elucidates the dark 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). It is interesting that 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\פנים" 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 totally and as a twofold whole. The sun is much bigger than the moon and was created at the same time according to the Scripture to bring light toward or against the "choshech\חושך-חשך – 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 into the Gey hinnom\גיי 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. Interestingly, it should be noted that on the Sunday of the Judgment, the Eastern Orthodox Church presents the reading of Matthew 25:31-46 in which lambs and goats are put to the right and the left of the Lord. And it happens that "the assistance to the others, fellowmen" is tested: who saw the Lord hungry, thirsty, naked, in jail,...?" It appears that no one could ascertain anything. This shows that the parable uses the goats who indeed were sacrificed in the Temple and the other sent into the wilderness, down toward Bethlehem, in order to ransom the sins of Israel and of all the nations. This universal pardoning offering is not very conscious at the present. Thus, the Orthodox Church just read this text and it is a connection to the "Kippur - atonement" process. As concerns new months, the Kabbalistic school of Safed developed a fast, only in the 16th century, that includes a normal confession of sins. To begins with, it was strangely accompanied by "flagellation". It is not permitted to fast on New Month Day because on that day, we do certify that God has renewed the presence of the moon. Thus, the fast was observed on the day before. Today the ritual mainly consists in the recitation of various penitential psalms and, redundantly the 13 Middot/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' אלינו 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 in Yom Kippur (8 times) and by the time of our passing away.It is said: "One who recites the benediction of the moon at the proper time is like the one who is received in audience by the Shechinah\שכינה in person" (Sanhedrin 42a). Indeed, the reappearance of the moon each month is comparable to birthing in the human female cycle and the sign of fertility, of trust, confidence and fidelity; it is the emblem of Israel; the community does understand and praises God for all the benefits that are given to mankind, such as fruits in their respective seasons". It also allows some measure of "time and delays as historic events". Indeed, the appealing part of the minor Day of Atonement is that Israel dug out a new slant of Judaism: fidelity of God through the cyclic birth, fullness and disappearance of the moon that shows how anything can be explained, understood because God can hear any word of penance. The word can be charged with more or less "burden of sins". In Russian "kaius\каюсть = I repent" does not include the loving-kindness or the move that includes Greek metanoia = to revolve one4s conscience some Christian Churches (e.g.: Eastern Orthodox and Catholics). We as in Hebrew "teshuvah\תשובה = to revolve, answer, renew, i.a.). Judaism doesn't know or feign to ignore that in the Temple people did confess 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\דיבור". 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.This Sunday, after the "Evening prayer", in every Eastern Orthodox Church, the clergy and the faithful will beg for mutual pardon. The Greek tradition underscores that the Great Fast (Lent) of 40 days starts joyously fasting and praying during this period that leads to the "Kalo Passkha – Good Easter". TIn fact, the Byzantine tradition insists on a long service that is intense and profound. After the readings, the clergy and the faithful face each other, kneel down and ask for forgiveness to each person, whatever rank, age or situation. This follows the words said by Jesus and that are directly inherited from the Order of Yom HaKippurim. Thus: "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 (Emunah), 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). Greek is the only language in which the tenses do maintain that we ask to "pardon our trespasses/debts as we already have released and pardoned those who trespassed and have debts toward us". This is the authentic sequence as defined by the Order of Kippur, pardoning.This special service of Pardon Sunday is certainly rooted in Yom Kippur. It coincides this year 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) which corresponds to the measure/middah\מידה (full measure in the Temple), but basically to the sign of Cain (Gen. 4:24) protecting his descent, i.e. all of us.We often go through very special days. Incredibly irrational, made of faults, defects, misunderstandings. It may seem at times that faith is reduced to neigh because we swim in huge difficulties. I have a daughter who has a terrible handicap. The point in her disability is that she commits actions that she really does not intend. It is very special and shows in specific diseases. I met that for years visiting the people ho have brain diseases. They may say something and at the same time, before being operated, they are aware they utter words that are in total opposition to whta they intend in reality. In the case of my daughter, several levels show simultaneously. On the one hand a total absence of guilt and awareness that curiously is connected to a genetic defect and thereafter a sort of awareness that does not allow her to repent or regret anything. Even if she would regret, the guilt will never surface. This is the point in our conscience. Are we aware or not? Is there any feeling of guilt and true repent or simply a mere social attitude? Why do people avoid meeting during such a service, when the service is celebrated to the full and does "oblige" to a real move of asking for forgiveness. It is very difficult to fake bowing and kneeling in front of each person - friends, strangers and enemies at times. I mention my daughter because, though deeply affected by such a disease, she has a real spiritual life as also do those who are operated of such severe illness as brain tumors. Pardon, I often write about this matter, is the point of real conscience, awareness of who God is and who we are. Our world pathetically need love and true sympathy, loving-kindness, not just phrases with ordinary hopes. Such diseases also interrogate for another reason: human nature and existence is both "perfect and though requires a remedy, a repair" as the Rabbi Nachman of Uman magnificently wrote and proposed his Tikkun HaKlali. This year, and this is just a simple matter because we have been rescued from generation to generation from the worst plagues and horrors, but this year humankind is in profound crisis. The word is not negative in Grek. It recalls that somehow we are "in the pangs of birth" as Paul of Tarsus stated. They correspond to the "chevley hamashiah = חבלי המשיח ". The messiah shows whipping and "flagellating". This can be somehow similar to Jesus' throwing away the objects sold by the merchants in the Temple. Pardoning is a terrible tremendous challenge. We come to a person and cannot know what the reaction may be. I do not speak of the usual "forgive me" word that is more social than really felt in-depths. If we were to understand what pardon means, the "at-one-ment" of humankind would really show in full grandeur, glory! But pardon is the "soul" of spiritual life. It makes every word of confession something like precious stones, from the "viduy\וידוי " or Jewish daily confession to those words prayed in privacy and full secret to a priest, because, as beautifully shown in the Oriental tradition - both bow down and kneel down in front of the Most to raise again and bring freshness and release to all bonds.There is a terrible and "terrific" challenge in pardon and atonement: it cannot be an obligation. We have no right, nor even spiritual power, to compel any soul or human being to ask for forgiveness or to pardon any of us. Pardon surpasses any human reflection and thoughts. It is immaterial, it is not substantiated and still is it a profound part of who we are. We may spend our lives expecting to be forgiven or we would pardon immediately any trespass committed against us. The point is not our responsibility which is totally engaged. But who could be conscious and even as conscious as God is. This is why forgiveness is a major sign of redemption and God knows how to don it to our limbs and souls.

av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]
February 23/10, 2009 - 29 deShvat 5769 - כ"ט דשבט תשס"ט-

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