Saturday, April 25, 2009
Untouchables or saints
Do we have the right to doubt? Good, it can be very appreciated to have so mainly issues in mind that the brains start boiling up like "frishe muches\פרישע מוטשעס - fresh new (devilish) anxieties". Then, the (Jewish) process of interrogations and responses clicks down, appeased by the certitude that our egos survive, are able to explain and justify anything. Israel? No problem - we are the best, the strongest in the world. We might think there might be some slightly deficient mini-segments in the society. At this point, we are not the best, we ARE. The thing is that we usually declare that in such a way that others would say we might be special. What special? We are too humble, but in a way that others cannot understand because they tell the world to humble and rule over them with violence. Jews and Israel desperately need love and suddenly God works miracles instead. Miracles are divine actions, they are not love, cuddling, hugging. A miracle appears when there is nothing in a no man's land full of sand and God provides food. Quails were a miracle, Teddy bears are hugging and cuddling.
The weekly reading portion is "Acharei mot\אחרי מות - Kedoshim\קדושים", two Torah readings from the Book of VaYikra - ויקרא/Leviticus, i.e.: Acharei mot\אחרי מות (after the death of the two sons of Aaron) 16:1-18-30 followed by Kedoshim\קדושים (You shall be holy)19:1-27. The first portion deals with Yom HaKippurim - יום כיפורים /The Day of Atonement – the day of expiation of sins and, secondly, our relation to blood. The second portion details legal and illegal, kosher and non-kosher. It is the know-how book about sanctifying or condemning relationships.
But wait a minute, please!, we are pure sheep! Yes! We are holy and still "holy flock of sheep". Who would even dare say we have to get sanctified or sanctify our lives. We are the saints (this was even from the old way of naming the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and Paul of Tarsus still wrote them naming them that way). Things might not be that perfect, but even when we could imagine we might be not be perfect, we still will manage to find a small thread showing we are definitely "chosen". And this is how when a poor Jew eats a chicken one of them is sick. Chicken soup (marak pitriyot\מרק פיטריות - mushroom soup, in Israel) maybe a symptom of great need to cry in the dark. As, for instance, when we explain how and who we ARE.
Years ago, late Rabbi Yeshayahu Leibowitz said in a parashah/portion comment: “The harsh words of Ezekiel (“You will be holy for I, the Lord, will be holy”) are spoken to us. I opened my morning newspaper and found it full of accounts of the murders that have taken place in our midst, incest and prostitution and lust and rape and theft and armed robbery, and – superfluous to say, idolatry. And yet, there are people that say “We are by nature a holy people” (The Yoke of Heaven, p. 116). He had declared that at Galei Tzahal - גלי צה"ל Army Radio on Friday afternoons from 1985 to 1986 (5746-5747). Apparently, the situation is the same today, after 20 years! What he then said sounds so “adkani\עדכני – up-to-the-minute!” Is it?
The Israeli society just celebrated the Shoah Memorial Day, the Fallen soldiers and terror victims Remembrance Day and the Independence Day. And R. Leibowitz’s words echo as a speech which could have been pronounced these days.
The former Soviet immigrants were very few at that time. They were only a handful of real fighters and heroes. People had not to redeem their souls with new money. They were not that pious but heartfully participated in Yom HaKippurim, and could get conscious that God works miracles. The Shoah people would not have shown, kept humble – definitely not low profiled. They would not be abused nor cheated. And still the late rabbi cites the same plagues that ruin our collectivity at the present. Maybe something was heard this year. We have women of wit and wisdom that, as a prerequisite, maybe “the men of Israel’s leadership” as Golda Meier was till 1978. I maybe wrong, but beyond any political view, only the acting woman president of Israel could say words like: “We have no words of comfort. But we embrace you, the families, with endless love." (Dalia Itzik, 04/22/07, at the Western Wall).
At this point, there are no hot machos, but right paroles of tenderness. And there are times when Israel needs a “leading mom” who hardly could have thought she would once be such a multi-acting representative of the State under such circumstances.
Now what happens in the first reading portion? Aaron, overclouded by burning incense enters the Mishkan/Tent of the Meeting in order to offer the sacrifice of expiation for the sin. Let’s take a normal machzor le'Yom-HaKippurim\מחזור ליום הכיפורים (festive prayer-book). All throughout history, one firstly read the short Book of Jonah and the very speedy penance of Nineveh’s inhabitants to the Lord (Jonah 3:5). Then the exact account of the first Yom Kippur offering by the High Priest Zerubbabel as described by Prophets Ezra and Nehemiah and the uttering of the Holy Name of the Shem HaMeforash\שם המפורש (the Separate Name of God). The portion also refers to the offering of the scapegoat sent into the wilderness to expiate the “sins of all Israel”(Lev. 16:6-30). This is a “chok\חוק”, a rule that is beyond any understanding or rational explanation. Indeed, –year after year – “blood sacrifice or a scapegoat can “atone all the transgressions of the Torah”. There is an intriguing statement in Talmud Hullin 109b: “For every thing the Torah has forbidden us, He allowed a parallel thing: “blood is forbidden – He allowed liver”; “intercourse is forbidden during menstruation – relations are allowed after childbirth” . With regard to Yom Kippur and atonement, can a non-slaughtered scapegoat offered to Azazel and not in Temple, sent down into the wilderness, atone the Israelites, and subsequently the Nations of the world?
There are times when we need to fall and cannot accept the down-sliding process. This is not only true for the Jewish society in Israel and abroad. In this country, each societal fragment mirrors the same eroding forces as also the same seeds of living sources. We need to find or get aware of the positive parallel things that develop and are present within the collectivity. Women appear to be very stimulating, not only in politics. As in the first days of the creation of the State, people who overcame horrible or hideous inhuman situations are more likely to build up and understand a society sketched up upon paradoxical people and beliefs. Invariants are thus essential.
In VaYikra 17:14, “dam\דם – blood” is the “nefesh\נפש –life, soul” of the “bassar\בשר – flesh, joy, good news”. “Bassar va-dam\בשר ודם – human mortal being” is masculine and composed of two masculine words. But the life that abides them, “Nefesh\נפש – life, soul, memorial stele” is feminine and, in this long verse, it is has been chosen by the Ker’i reading tradition the propose a sort of ambiguity: to read either “hi\היא” (feminine) or “hu\הוא” (masculine) for “heh-vav-alef\ה-ו-א”. This is important because morals, spirituality never correspond to the framework that we would like to use. We prefer to be ritualistic and to reduce what is free, air and always moves ahead of us. It is clear that R. Leibowitz was a yelling and shrewd expert. He saw the collapse of the Yiddishkayt and the realm of a true unbreakable tradition of faith, a chain of knowledge based on the Mitzvot. But these remain far beyond what any human can understand. They returned home as there is a real danger that we might use them as Sadducees transforming the spirit of the Oral Law into Written obligations. It is sometimes too hard to have overcome death. It is difficult to be flexible, accept to be questioned by those who do not seem to believe in God.
The Rav Abraham Itzchak Kook was often despised and contested among the Orthodox communities because he accepted to work and participate in common works with the chalutzim\חלוצים – the secular Jews that settled in the country. It took a long time before some contestants could admit they were wrong and even accepted to participate in his yohrtzayt\יארצייט (memorial service). But we do need also people like him. They do exist – like our acting women – still germinating out of patient seeds.
The second reading portion, ”Kedoshim\קדושים - you will be holy, sanctify yourself” lists the way to build our relationships to others. There are certain sexual prohibitions that have profoundly imprinted the monotheistic cultures (condemnation of homosexuality, intercourse with animals). The apostle Peter-Caiaphas also mentions the same condemnations (2 Peter 4:1-6). Over the past 150 years, the scientific non-religious research has develop a lot of on-going surveys about human perversions that were described and defined, inter alia, in the Tanach and the Talmud. It might be very meaningful that non-believers – thus often of Jewish extract – could examine human relationships and sexual intercourse in a non-judgmental and plain way. Today, sexual relationships are often systematically condemned or prohibited in a way that is very close to some Sadducean method: we look, avoiding to understand; then we put a ban and prohibit without love. Or we might compromise that anything maybe permitted under condition of pretended understanding or compassion. Faith requires much more. In particular, it requires to trust that everything – incl. the worse things and behaviors - and of course the best of humankind do make sense. Good and evil need to be clarified, which definitely does not justify any ethical or moral attitude. This is the most defying aspect of the realm of the Mitzvot.
The reading portion of the week includes the verse: “Ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha\ואהבת לרעך כמוך – and you shall love your fellow as yourself” (Lev. 19:17). It means that loving our fellow people (or neighbors, or any stranger who lives in our midst or among whom we dwell) constitutes a full part of trying to get sanctified. In a society that feels so insecure and where fear increases, the words: “We have no words of comfort. But we embrace you, the families, with endless love." This statement absolutely lines with the whole of the Jewish spirituality. The verse of Leviticus 19:17 is mentioned three times in the Gospel. In Luke 10:29-36, the question is extended to knowing “who is the fellow?” and the goodness of being human. This remains, at the present, the biggest daily quiz we all have to face with good heart and a lot of hope. We should be at pains in determining who is our "fellowman, neighbor".
Potentially, a good man can be an enemy and a bad man can be a "neighbor, if not a friend". There is no fixed or pre-determined principle. The Jewish experience shows how we can get mistaken by our own presuppositions. To begin with, "re'a'\רע = neighbor, fellowman" is written in Hebrew in reference with the root "ra'\רע = bad". In the Jewish tradition, it is very challenging that most roots can either be positive or negative. "K-d-sh = ק-ד-ש" is both "sanctity, bless and desecrate, violate".
Israeli society experiences the difficulty to get together. Significant facts have recently profoundly affected the vision of Jewish conducts. The Gush Katif example shows how much legacy and word given to reach a better agreement for peace can turn to push Jews, mainly pious settlers, in a poor economic and moral situation. They felt abandoned which is absolutely not in accordance with normal relationships inside of Jewish society. There is indeed a sensitive interrogation about the military actions conducted in Gaza. On the other hand, the Israeli soldiers, especially those who serve in daily simple environment, are not prepared to meet with the reality of "others" (speak to the Arabs or check their ID cards). Even if they seem to be calm, they are basically "scared". Groups may start to suspect other groups. This kind of segmentation can hardly lead to peaceful societal control.
Moreover, what means "to love our neighbor?" It has been pointed out by many rabbis that "love" does not consist to give a hand and constantly repeat that we have to be good towards neighbors, acquaintances, friends, relationships or even unknown people if not enemies. This is more a kind of moral dreamy ticket to get free and not get involved in a real responsibility for love. There is more. If we say we love, we may get the answer that it is nice, cute. Or we may be told not to say the phrase too often. Love also implies to be patient. Patience and time are major elements in the commandment. Then love, care, compassion, real interest are shown if we are personally aware of what people really need.
At this point, we often prefer to keep aside. It maybe frightful for people of goodwill to discover the real needs of those they think to love.
We may also not believe in love the way God loves us. This is the case of Mar Thomas, Saint Thomas (Didymos in Greek). Hebrew "Teom = תאום " means "twin [brother]". It is not known if he had a brother. On the other hand, he behaves in a very special way towards Jesus. He is the one who always quetions, tends to adopt the "too much" line, an extremist of faith. He is also realistic. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates him this week. In the Gospel of Evangelist John, he was absent when Jesus came, resurrected from the dead. And he does not trust the disciples. He wants "signs = otiyot - simanim = proofs, miraculous marks". Jesus arrives the following week and asks him to put his hand and figners into his wounds. Thomas refuses. He knows then that Jesus is there. He quotes Psalm 5: "My King/Lord and my God". This is an essential moment, not only for the Christian faith that as such did not exist by the time of Jesus. The Early Church was a Jewish group, not even a sect, because the word puts some limits that were not active in that time.
Thomas believes in a specific way that allows him witnessing beyond his own creed and sight. This is also true love given by God that he would have previously preferred to seize Jesus. Now he could understand that there is a distance and this distance brings more than any "fellowship or neighborhood". Thus, he can mirror another connection to faith and divine realities: he becomes Jesus' twin shaped by the stamp of resurrection. It should be noted that Jesus - at least the texts do echo that very clearly - also cares about what people need. He then shows the same care as given for charities, alms and real care about the real requirements of our fellowmen.
Av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]
April 26/13, 2009 – 17 le’Omer - 2 deIyar 5769 - י"ז לעומר וב' דאייר תשס"ט