Monday, March 30, 2009

VAYIKRa: Humbling is divine

It is strange how we rather seem to flounder this year in the mud than in real snow as we approach Pesach 5769 (April 8th at night) and Easter (Western Churches on April 12th and for the Eastern Churches on April 19). In Russian "griaz/гряз" = the healthy mud" produced with love at the Dead Sea.

Mud is natural. “Griaz” means "dirt" in Russian. So we can get painted into mud, covered with brown, green, dark black and get better. We are very Hindu this year. Not Tibetan, Strange, the Dalai Lama did not show for quite a while... The Chabad Pesach Seder will be overbooked this year in Kathmandu, but also for sure in Mumbai in the living memory of the victims who were killed recently, in particular the young an very peaceful Rabbi, his wife; they truly gave the example of "non-violence" and authentic service to the others.

Nothing to do with Turkey much appreciated by Israelis diving along the coast of Izmir and exploring the ancient caves of Cappadocia. This year , the hagadot shel Pesach\הגדות של פסח - Passover Seder prayers and texts are either artzi\ארצי (a bit folk's country earthy pollen-gathering style, earthbound) and each guru-rabbi or pundit-rabbi has published or reprinted the culturally correct and adapted haggadah. Curiously, the Israelis has discovered some years ago that the Indians would never have shown any sort of anti-Semitism.... At the moment, suspicion is rampant everywhere. The problem is to know how far people can be suspicious, why and who suspects whom? It is irrelevant for the Jews to claim that Non-Jews and especially the Christians should not read the Haggadah shel Pesach. It is quite understandable that Jews can feel against such a reading by "foreigners, aliens, strangers" who have persecuted and harassed Judaism for ages. It is a really problem when some so-called Christian sects or groups "seize or spoil, plunder" the Jewish heritage without the blessings of the first concerned communities. This has happened throughout centuries of superseding process. Does it mean that we copy each other without any respect? How would it be possible for the Christians today to refuse to understand that most of the Christian liturgical prayers are not only rooted but were founded on the basis of the Jewish prayer. If there is no way for Christianity to get to that, the non-Jewish world will be restricted to remain different and in the stand of an enemy's estrangement toward Judaism. It is not true historically, even it theology is constantly biased by human and political fights.

India is a continent with as much nations and languages as “hundreds” of Israel - though not the same size, pathetically poor and the dead (= daily corpses) are collected in the streets at dawn in overcrowded quarters.

We are also getting very poor, too drug-addicted. In India, you can be anything, do anything, as long as you are still alive, be happy and non-violent like their Gandhi: “Peace / Prad”. It sounds greater than "shalom" for some people here at present. At least, this year, in India, Jews would enjoy a real peace-peaceful “HaLailah hazeh\הלילה הזה – this Pesach night”, not brain-nuking the neighboring area. Because we have one major simple and unique problem: the world hates us. We rarely mirror who we are as individuals and Israeli society, except that we think the others are like us, full of contradictions.

From Pesach 5766 to Passover 5769, our Israeli society has been profoundly hurt and deceived by the moral, economical, ethical, political, military, religious hypocrisy, imposture combined with corruption and pretense of the establishment. It faced a war in Lebanon that is denounced in many aspects. It is facing a rampant war in Gaza and the South, violence in the Territories and threats in the North. Still, we focus everyday on nuking coming from Iran and check all the time who is for or against us.

We have super-sophisticated instrument of progress in the sectors of medicine, health, agriculture, productivity; we are on a top-level baby-booming activity that competes "the others". There is no competition in the Face of God and this is the real and terrible challenge. It often happens that people are so much in need of love that they could hate those they cannot seize and just do not accept the opacity of the simple fact: "being alive". On the other hand, those who would constantly act and preach in the name of some "unconditional and divinely-given love" could harass souls and flesh in view to conquer the faithful. It is definitely impossible to conquer any soul. We just miss the in-depth meaning of true freedom. This freedom has constraints: we discover that everywhere that huge sections and portions of our civilization are dying off. Israeli society has to face a tremendous contradiction: how to keep the good line and still respect and comply with the realm of the Mitzvot? The Christian counter-point maybe unexpected: getting aware of the full tragedy of the past, "do not judge your brother" as said in the Oral and Written Law and in the daily Great Lenten prayer of Saint Ephrem.

Fraud and stratagems constitute our daily two/multi-faceted dish of speciousness. The heads of the different sectors of responsibility are of the same generation as Moses, Aaron, the leaders of the Israelites who were brought from jail to freedom. They lost a generation of idolaters in the wilderness. Morally speaking, there is seemingly little difference between that generation of the golden calf and the Tent of the Ark and our Israeli and/or leaders and gurus at the moment. Maybe worse in one aspect: Israel appears to be at pain with the spiritual combat for accepting the Mitzvot/Commandments led by the generation of the desert.

Teachings and education are the real challenge of a true Jewish and Israeli way of living. Thus, we are responsible for each other in good as in evil. Indeed, we are in Eretz Israel but still act, in many ways, as if the Law could switch to lawlessness and be considered as definitely acquired. We still say “Hainu avadim be’ara’ deMitzraim\היינו עבדים בארעא דמצריים = we are slaves in the Land of Egypt” and “Ha lachma de’aniya\לחמא דעניא = this is the bread of poverty”.

God has confidence in the Israelites, He trusts beyond rationality. The “first return to the Land of Canaan (Israel=Jacob)” is never marked or celebrated as such by a feast of any kind in the Jewish tradition or calendar. “Leshanah habaah be-ara’ deIsrael\לשנה הבאאה בארעא דישראל (in Aramaic after “Ha lachma\הא לחמא” = leshanah habaah bney chorin\לשנה הבאאה בני חורין – next year we shall be in Israel and free). Pesach\פסח is the bridge from prison to delivery, Shavuot\שבועות (Pentecost) is the last day of Passover, i.e. the 49th-50th day of the Weeks (Shavuot) showing a maturing process with the Giving of the Law. No essential, fundamental spiritual feast comparable to Rosh Hashanah\ראש השנה (autumnal New Year), Yom Kippurim\יום הכיפורים (Day of Atonement), Sukkot\סוכות (Feast of the Booths). Pesach\פסח is the call to substantiate the very nature of freedom, from galut\גלות (dispersion) to ge’ulah\גאולה (redemption). It is the feast of redemption that releases from elementary bondage and that targets all the nations. This is why, before Pesach, Moses alone is called from under the Tent. God gives him the Book of priesthood and holiness. This is done before any “return” to the Land of Canaan, left 400 years before by a handful of people and mostly Jacob’s family.

The reading portion of the week is “VAYIKRa\ויקרא = “And (God) called (Moses)” (Vayikra/Leviticus 1:1-5:26). The verb states God’s call to Moses and is the Hebrew name of the third Book of the Chumash\חומש (Five Books of Moses). In Greek, the Book is called “Ton Levitikon – Biblion ton Leviton, Lat.: Leviticus = the Book of the Levites”. The Book explains to the Israelites how to be a nation of priests and reach the realm of holiness. This week, the portion mainly refers to the sacrifices offered for the sins of the people and of the nasi\נשיא (head, leader).

The Book begins as follows: “Vayikra el Moshe\ויקרא אל משה – and calling to Moses / vayidaber HaShem alavוידבר ה' אליו – and spoke the Lord to him / me’ohel mo’ed le’mor\מאוהל מועד לאמור = from the Tent of Meeting saying.” The verbs “daber\דבר (speak) and l’emor\לאמור (say) are used in a way rather close to the giving of the Ten Paroles. It starts in a special way: “Vayikra\ויקרא” = “And (God) called”. The translation is not exact. “Kara / keri-קרי” means “to call, name, invite. “From the day that the Lord created the world, there was no man that called the Holy One Blessed be He Lord, until Abraham called Him Lord” (Gen. 15:19) (Berachot 7b). Then: “A child does not know to call his parents “abba-imma- אבא\אמא/dad-mom” before it has tasted grain food” (Sanhedrin 70b – which makes sense in connection with Passover and Pentecost). It also means “to read, recite”: “He called to read from the Book of the Torah must read no less than three verses” (Megillah 4, 74b). The root also means “to join, meet, to call with a loud voice”. “Mikra = reading, visible congregation”. It can be a very basic cry: “Uvshem HaShem ekra-ובשם ה' אקרא / I shall call (cry, scream, invoke) to the Lord” (Tehillim 117:4). There is another word which resembles to this “cry-call”: “HaShem yeshu’ati\ה' ישועתי – Lord, my deliverance / yom-tza’akti\יום צעקתי = I cry out during the day” (Psalm 88:2).

We have seen since the time the Israelites were packing up and fleeing from Egypt, how God called them, convoked them. The birth cry of an infant that hardly can utter any sound. At birth, an essential moment is the first voice cry that opens and develops the lungs, allows breathing, life. God called the people several times in order to prepare them to be opened out to their new freedom. Here, only Moses heard this “vayikra\ויקרא – call (from God)”, again covering all guilt and sin (the golden calf, lack of patience of the priest Aaron, the people). God entrusts Moses with the most sacred Book about the Jewish call to be a “kingdom of priests” and “to be holy”. All the sacrifices (except that of thanksgiving/ zevach todah\זבח תודה) are on suspended, but, they are at the soul and heart of the Jewish Service of God. It might be possible to say that God called Moses as to serve Him as a newborn child. The “V = vav\וו = “and” = a new connection”, the “y/yod-י” is the smallest letter but designates the 10 of the normal quorum of people for the prayer. The final “alef-א” is usually printed as a small letter because this service of priesthood and holiness requires a lot of humility.

Thus it starts with the guidelines detailing the sacrifices to perform “im-אם/if” (Lev. 4:2) the people will commit certain sins. The problem is then a sort of evaluation of the guilt and, subsequently, what sacrifice should be offered by the priest adequately. It should be noted that sin is “conditional”. Guilt is never evident and this is a real intriguing spiritual question. Would it suggest, as Isaac Bashevis Singer, who wrote as a sort of rather blasé apikoros\אפיקורוס, that Jews may go through sin and be rescued “untouched by guilt”? This is rather a long-term overtime statement that the priestly call of the Jews has often preserved them from being affected by sin? Still, a pagan who believes in God is higher than a high priest (Avodah Zarah 4b).

On the other hand, there is a second aspect in the reading portion: it is obvious that the people have to ask the high priest to offer the chatat\חטאת, offering for the expiation of their sins, if (im) they are aware of having committed some. Punishment may affect them, according to God’s will. But intriguingly, the nasi\נשיא (head, governor, ruler) is treated otherwise. “Asher\אשר – as, as a consequence of his sin, the nasi/ruler” is totally responsible for his sins (Lev. 4:22). Many contemporary thinkers consider that this weekly portion is essential in the situation of our Israeli society. “im\אם – if, in the event” the people or even the priests come to commit sins, there is an apparent provision that softens the burden of any punishment. This is not the case for the leaders, rulers, managerial staff who get corrupt and stubbornly try to walk ahead in their muddy sins. The statement is realistic and so divinely human: a leader is called to get corrupt. Thus, he is under the direct responsibility – not only checking – of the nation because Israel is called to holiness.

On this third Sunday of the Great Lent, the Christian Orthodox Church celebrates the Cross and the "Life-giving tree of life". It is the special of the Oriental traditions to express that the cross is not only an instrument of torture as it was used by the Romans when they put Jesus to the stake. Israeli society has evolved in different ways. Decades ago, it would have been totally impossible to show with crosses among the Jewish society. It is still the case and we should understand that. It is not a reminiscence, but a "living contradiction of a sign supposedly bearing witness to life and resurrection". It is still the case in the present. There are special ways to explain what is meant through this sign. To begin with, the ancient Hebrew alphabet had a "tau, tax = + " (the last letter of the alphabet). Intriguingly, it marks the end and also a "new start". It means "screw, nail, clutch". It makes sense in the Talmudic tradition, but the problem is that spiritual and human experience reached such an estrangement that the sign is meaningless. We do forget that Paul of Tarsus stated that "it was a sign of weirdness and scandal for the Greeks - nations - and the Jews".

Today, in particular in the Old City, breast-crosses can be either considered as "accessories" or objects of scandal. In the Church of the Resurrection, down the Holy Sepulcher, it is a very moving moment, as by the time of the feast of the Cross in Autumn (14/27 September), the faithful led by the Patriarch of Jerusalem will bow down to the earth and raise again chanting 40 times "Kyrie eleison - Lord, have mercy". The move is to humble and then to get up again with the grace of God.

It is a school of humility that faces a constant combat against pride and power, just as written in the Book of spiritual service VaYiKRa. The Divine Principle lowers an humbles Himself to call to authentic trust and faith.

av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

March 22/9, 2009 – 26 deAdar 5769 - כ"ו דאדר תשס"ט

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