Thursday, April 23, 2009

Shoah and Shemini

A special Shabbat Shemini\שמיני (Eighth), that, in the first Shabbat after the end of the feast of Passover, enters a eighth day and the description of Aaron and his sons' ordination as Kohanim\כהנים (priests), the death of the two sons, Nadab and Abihu, kosher animals, i.e. sanctity, sanctification, holiness, cleanness or impurity. All Israel also relates to this Shabbat the inauguration of three contemporary events that constitute the major memorials for this State of the Jews and its citizens: on Nissan 27 (04/21), the Shoah and its Heroism Day, then, next Sunday Iyar 4 (04/28), the Remembrance Day for those who were killed for Israel, followed, on Iyar 5 04/28-29), by the Yom HaAtzma'ut - Independence Day of the State of Israel.

I previously tried to propose some seasonal reflections, in these times of hardships and temptation of narrow nationalism. Then, I tried to make a choice in the Jewish tradition showing how it expanded from Abraham till the first destruction the Temple, from Sumer to Egypt, causing God's desire to give the Israelites the Land of Canaan as a "permanent rental/lease". All that remains coherent and spiritually “clean/kosher”, as far as we can measure and intellectually accept this sort of determinism or God's freewill. He could of course have chosen other nations, other races, other tongues. Not the Northern hemisphere and a tiny piece of land without rich resources, but some gorgeous country with multiplied produces and mixed economical richness.

The country has changed many times over the past 4,000 years, but it was wealthier by the time of King Solomon than when some people came back from the exile to Babylon. In the past 2,000 years, the region was mainly devastated by various conquerors of all sorts of Christian and Muslim beliefs. It hardly developed the way it does at the moment. In the coming days and weeks, the Israeli media and the people will feel profoundly moved by the major catastrophe of the Shoah\שואה that substantiated the launching of a project to exterminate the European Jewry and subsequently all the Jews as well as other categories of people: Gypsies, Slavs, gays and lesbians, handicapped and mentally disabled, the communists. But this day, just after Pesach\פסח/Passover deeply connects and ingathers the Jews together. "Shoah\שואה" comes from a root that is also used in grammar: "shva = to reduce to silence (suppression of any sound/existence", especially a vowel that allows to detect a consonant. I prefer to speak of “churban\חורבן – destruction (cf. destruction of the Temples, Batei HaMikdash\בתי מקדש; Yid. “khirb’n\חורבן”) ,firstly used by Elie(zer) Wiesel and Manes Sperbes. The word refers both to the Temple and to the vineyard (Talmud Kilayim 4, 29c). “Holocaust” can allow a proper link with the Torah reading portion and the first offerings presented by Aaron. “Katastropha”, both in Greek and Russian, is very strong etymologically but too vague about the event, its nature and goals.

The reading portion of the week is Vayikra/Leviticus 9:1-11-46. It begins with the new account of the consecration/ ordination (semichah סמיכה) of Aaron and his two sons; Moses ordered Aaron to offer a calf and a ram, lamb without blemish, in front of the Tent of the Meeting. Aaron did offer the calf and his sons brought him the blood that he put at the corners of the altar (cf. daily memorial prayer of “Shacharit\שחרית – morning prayer”). He dipped his fingers into the blood. Now, the whole thing – I mean what is the purpose and target of the weekly reading, cleanness, sacrifices, Shoah and Memorial days after Pesachפסח\ – all that is strictly and absolutely a bloody blood stuff, either in English or Australian style. It is totally unthinkable to kid with such counterpoints that cost so many atrocities.

“Dom\דום” as “silence, silent flow of life, soul, energizing forces” and, inhuman offerings, slaughtered beings and grill-dried and fried in a minute to the skin of our teeth or a hair’s breadth if slang could cope with some Auschwitz-Birkenau parallels. And here, we must be very careful, in this country and inside of any Jewish society. We ought to show a spirit of prudence, but also a sense of insightful wisdom. We are overly, excessively far much too much Shoah-overdone. There seems to be no other way at the present. As a survivor, I was brought up with these piles of teeth and hair, shoes in memory. I got more: I was taught the Yiddishkayt in accordance with the normal Yiddish and Eastern Oriental and Jewish Orthodox way of being a sign of hope and life. This makes a huge difference, that nonetheless does abides some parts of Israeli society.

It is true that both the Jews and the non-Jews were caught into the system of Nazism. The Jews often thought they could either flee or overcome or worse than that consider that the Nazi system will disappear by itself. We still behave as in the time of these horrible lack of common sense and we are also today be able to hide our faces. The Israeli programs have finally the nerve this year to openly declare that Israel has been abandoned by all the Nations, among which the United States, Canada and other Commonwealth countries that closed their borders to the refugees. On the other hand, they continuously underlined how many Christians did save the Jews... often at the cost of baptizing them and making them unwillingly leave their native communities. I met and still meet "broken souls" that would never reach their real "self" because of these socio-cultural turbulences. It goes very far: this year, because of the incredible level of denial that Israel has to face in her daily existence, the Rav Israel M. Lau, a death camp survivor, was bot weeping and shrieking at those who do not respect the Jewish identity. He had been exaggeratedly rude toward late Cardinal J.M. Lustiger who always maintained that he was a full Jew. Rav Lau had told him: that a Jew who converts to Christianity is committing a sin as big if not bigger than the Shoah". It was terribly offensive toward a man who had the courage to convey so many positive things for the sake of the Church and Judaism alike.

I still consider that Rav I. Lau was and is right in such a "ruthless" statement. Judaism may be destroyed by unconscious assimilation (as by the time of Hanukkah). Curiously, late Fr. Hruby had warned the cardinal not to go too far in assuring he was a Jew. It only depends on the Jewish community to declare who is or is not a Jew after ages of estrangement and alienation. Jews are indeed the "natives" of the Church, but becoming a "Christian" implies to leave a community that today revives in a very unexpected way the return to the Land, in a climate of international distance and hatred. True, the Iranian President's words echo those of Hitler. But this is not the real problem. The real matter is how to implement the heart of the Mitzvot. The period of the Shoah has cut down the daily experience of the Mitzvot in a specific human and spiritual context. I told once the Rav Lau that I agree with his words. I had said that years because in the course of discussions to Fr. Lustiger; there is a right not to agree and I don't say I know who is right. But it is clear that the day-to-day and month-to- month, year after year practice of the Mitzvot obliges us to dig much deeper into the mystery of faith. I do consider that the Rav Lau is right. I told him that once we met in Yad VaShem and, in Yiddish (the only language I speak with him when I rarely see him) that his words also apply to myself. His "extreme" point of view makes sense and echo to Paul of Tarsus words: "For my brothers (Jews), I would prefer to be anathema" (Romans 9:3).

The Shoah is at the core of the existence and survival of the European community and its eventual development as a united body. The Shoah is not a directly Jewish concern. It is of course and Jews cannot break themselves from the national Nazi or Fascist choice made by their "guest countries. Wherever they live, the faithful Jews know by experience that they are rooted in Eretz Israel. But the Shoah i a question for the former Roman empire early Church development around the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey, Europe. The question is not the same from the Persian plateau up to Caucasus and India, Mongolia and Asia. This is why The Catholic and Orthodox Churches and the Protestants face a specific interrogation about what the true meaning of the Cross and the Resurrection is.

The weekly reading, describing Aaron’s offerings of the calf and the ram and his dipping into blood should not lead us to a constant confusion with our victimization through heathen and monotheistic centuries of harsh and steady anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. The extermination camps projected the annihilation of the Jews, but also of others. The Communists immediately murdered the comrades that had rescued and had dared come home.

Once anointed as priests, Nadab and Abihu,, put each a pan, put fire in it and incense and the “fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them (vatochal otamותאכך אותם); vayamutu lifnei HaShem\וימתו לפני ה'- and they died in the Face of the Lord (=at the instance) (Lev. 10:2). And then, Moses said to Aaron: “This is what the Lord meant when He said: Through those near to Me I show myself Holy / bikrovai ekadesh\בקרבי אקדש – and gain glory before all the people.” And Aaron was silent/ Vayadom Aharon (Vay.10:3). Aaron remained silent, in a silence that is “dom\דום” and not “sheket\שקט – quiet silence”. Why did his sons suddenly perish, speedily, swallowed by the fire they came to offer? Is it for the sake of the merits? Were they in a situation of some “Kiddush HaShem\קידוש השם –Sanctification of the Name” in which instant death and rush to God is a sign of holiness for the assembled elders and the Israelites? No or maybe yes, because “the Lord had not commanded them to offer this fire, so they offered a “esh zarah\אש זרה – alien fire” (10:1). R. Y. Leibowitz underscored an ancient tradition that is more than important in our present situation, especially this year, that is a bit “mebulbal\מבולבל – confused”. They were “lo tziwwah\ךא צווה – not commanded”, a special cantillation mark (merchah kefulah\מרכל כפולה) is under the /L/ of lo, suggesting a real command not to perform the offering, but still they could not refrain from doing that. And this is true. We may have in front of us the most impure object but our inner desire to tend to God is so powerful but mistaken that we are overcome and seized by off-beam feelings. Instead of worshipping God the right way, we behave like the pagans and practice idolatry (Avodah Zarah 5b).

This is why freedom from slavery also applies in worshiping, sacrifice of the offerings and of our prayers. This is why it is so difficult to act without any spiritual pressure exercised by the society or for formal reasons of civilities.

As God took them “in His Face – by instance”, these verses maybe suggest other subtleties of our souls and life choices. There are people who are not mature enough to achieve a task or a certain way of living and still they will be given the abilities to get across the intricacy of the challenge. And then bifurcate. Say, God might have called Aaron’s sons to bifurcate abruptly and with love. At the instance, Aaron’s silence shows that he got to his priesthood. He reached the place where a man is in the position of total obedient and silent presence in the Face of God. He went to accomplish the duty that he had accepted, i.e. to be nothing, nil, nigh in order to open the ways of God.

This is the Jewish priesthood and way to holiness, wherever the Temple exists or not, for all time, any place (maybe compared to Jesus harsh words: “Follow me and let the dead bury their dead” (Matthew 8:22)).

It is interesting that for years many groups came to visit the camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is a must. It has a pedagogical power, it is a place that is unique and denial of the witness was brought to endless crime. Many Jews consider today the possibility to rebuild the local communities that disappeared in the flood of extermination executed amid full apostasy that is applicable to all the concerned parties. Rav Shlomo Aviner (Ateret Kohanim\עתרת כהנים ) recently suggested something else: not to return to visit such places of death. This can be considered as a provocation as all the State of Israel constantly reminds the significant meaning of the Shoah. Rav Lau did track back to the project of assassinating Moses and the children of Egypt. But there is something very insightful and profoundly Jewish: there are times of dispersion and times of ingathering for the exiled. Thus, why should the Jews look backward? The question was real for the Lubavitcher Rebbe: is a Jew allowed or not to quit Eretz Israel once he put a foot on the Land? And Leon Askenazi _ the French reviver of Judaism - was very correct when he looked at Eurpe as having lost in the murder during the Shoah a major part of its spiritual capacities.

* * * * * * * * * *

Animals can be terribly anxious, on guard, as the “gazelles and deer of the fields” in the Song of the Song. Jews have often experienced this feeling that accounted David Ben Gurion on Friday 5th of Iyar 5748/May 14, 1948 when he proclaimed the independence of the State of Israel. “I feel no gaiety in me, only deep anxiety as when I was a mourner at the feast” (B.Gurion, The Peel Report and the Jewish State, p. 86). This “Yiddishe angst – feeling of anxiety mixed with fear and rejoicing” runs through the Bible. Joy always prevails.

The Jewish Communities are proposed this week to read how they are called to be holy or to sanctify their lives in order to witness that true holiness is indeed their part. For different reasons, the Nissan 27 (i.e. after-Passover) Shoah Memorial Day was established in1951 and gathers people of different opinions and backgrounds, as the Israeli State, being Jewish in the diasporas or in Eretz Israel. In the past years, as hatred against the Jews, but not only them – say racism and xenophobia - go far beyond rationality, also in our country, Israel. On the 27th of Nisan, this is the State of Israel that commemorates the victims of the Holocaust. Some citizens should be educated to get deeper involved into what and how things happened in a Christened Western and Eastern Europe that hardly can define the Christian fundamentals of the European Community.

On Nissan 27, any citizen of this State has the duty to keep silent… remain in silence for the blessed memory of those who perished only sixty years ago. The Christians can join this prayer of memory. The Shoah happened, for a part that is too difficult to measure at the present, because of “the teaching of despise”, irrational blood libel accusations, forced conversions and theological contests between Judaism and Christianity. Still this day cannot belong to any Church nor be “seized” by any denomination. On the other hand, it will take centuries for the Jews and the Christians to get closer to a real and reciprocal dialogue. This cannot be imposed by decrees or rules to the Christians. Eyes must get opened and mouths need to utter things slowly and with compassion. As Jews pathetically need to slowly discover the positive existence of the Christian Creed as well as the living heritage of the Church in this country.

Many Jewish Orthodox movements visit more and more the different Shoah memorial centers and, thus, they may pave the way, with other local groups, to research what means a period of darkness. They also reconnect with Aaron’s silence and divine call.

Av aleksander [Winogradsky Frenkel]

April 21 , 2007 – 12 b'Omer 5769 - י"ב דעומר תשס"ט

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