Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Substantial flames for living bones

Do you feel "sharavi\שרבי - wilderness hot weather and damp"? The season gets hot; heat and short-breathing, then cooling down for some hours or few days. Sharav in Hebrew is orange - I already put that in a blog, and its equivalent in Arabic, Hamsin (= 50) that is yellow. It can be light, it can be dark. The desert wind can inundate and destroy "with much dryness" whatever surface or town. Thus, it is possible to envision Jonah's preaching to the inhabitants of Nineveh that covered themselves with sacks of dust and ashes. It is like a mourning sand that overruns any kind of existing place, like the penance sign in the Book of Job, Jonah, Latin Roman rite Wednesday Ash Service.

These days, the weather was so windy from Arabia, with sand. Some people could hardly breathe and it could also be heard at the radio: the speakers seemed to cough. I often come back to this recurrent experience/ I often have to conduct a burial service in the Negev, in particular, near Beer Sheva because the new big cemeteries are located rather far away from the city. It looks like a doomsday hour with withering splashes of orange/yellow dark sand in some thrilling dusk scenery. And there lie all these bones that should be called to revive in the World-to-Come....

Granpa Avraham Avinu was there, not that far, just some thousands years ago, 5 days - as yesterday according to the compute of the Torah Psalms/Tehillim (90:4). A Jew is a soul who has a divine resource to overlap years, centuries, minutes, seconds, ages into short instants of fire, light, flashes, thunderstormy instants. Then, on the other hand, the same soul can, by a divine gift, show the density of events in three or four dimensioned universal sequences. It usually can only reach its density in a profound humbleness. There are the “anawim\ענוים-עניים – humble, poor” of the civilization of Jewishness, that are exalted in the “poor in spirit, for theirs are the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20).

The reading portion of the week is Emor\אמור (“say to them, tell them” = the sons of Aaron) in Vayikra-ויקרא / Leviticus 21:1-24:23. It deals with the very special part of the Kedushah\קדושה or action of sanctifying themselves and the people carried by the priests, the kohanim\כהנים – offering-slaughterers. We have seen that the whole of the Book of the Levites (Vayikra - Leviticus) is dedicated to sanctity or holiness. There is a profound sense of “Torat Kedushah\תורת קדושה - Law of Sanctifying deeds” among the Jewish people, albeit built up on the reality that common things, situations can be enhanced by worshiping the One God.

Daily tasks and life seem ordinary and anonymous; still our names are written in heaven. We may burden under the yoke of inhuman treatments at work, suffer of family ruptures, social iniquities, failures in educational systems and historic atrocities – it is still possible for some souls and basically most human beings to be shaken and brought to some level of conscience. It might then be brought to God’s altar – mizbeach\מזבח in heaven who receives the tears of the Most High for whoever divorces (Gittin 111a), which means that love does exist – more than separation - and can be sanctifying in our midst.

A bit too pious… The problem with faith is that our words are like schizophrenic moans or folk song la-la-la’s, i.e. too sweet to be true. In the reading portion of this week, we are proposed to reflect upon what it means to be a “kohen\כהן – a priest”. The “Torat kohanim \ תורת כהנים – Law of the Priest/priesthood” is totally unique. Good, there are some moral laws governing their marriage that excludes any woman who not a virgin, is blemish or a harlot (ishah zonah\אשה זונה), a divorcee. On the other hand, Jews are rarely questioned about how somebody is really to be considered as a kohen? Is it obvious? Definitely not for a great part of the Jewish communities comprehended as a whole and diversified body. There is more: the Orthodox Communities do recognize the full empowerment of the kohanim to act as the priestly successors of those from old. But, as often developed in the Jewish tradition from Talmud Avoda Zara (3-5), a priest has to bring forth the evidence that he acts and behaves as a worshipper of the Most High.

The authenticity of the kohen/priestly extract cannot really be proven at the present and only be presumed in certain families. Whatever ADN or blood research, it is meaningful that the Jewish tradition has always obliged to check the piety and faith of their kohanim who are per se “confirmed” as such on the day of their bar-mitzvah. Let’s say that it is not systematic. The Torat Kohanim/Priestly Law implicitly presupposes that the dignity requires being real and not fake. Interestingly, priests had a rather bad reputation; they were told to have neither culture nor education in the fields of Judaism. Prohibitions against their marriage with whores are significant. “Kadesh\קדש” means “separate, cut off, sanctify as “The firstborn in the desert were consecrated” (Berachot 4b).”Kidesh\קדש” = “to sanctify the name of the Lord, to manifest fidelity to religion, faith (Sota 10b); or to “sanctify the Shabbat”(Pessahim 105a). Or, to “betroth, marry thus consecrate a woman by penetrating her “makom\מקום – place of living/birthing”; therefore “a man cannot betroth a woman before having seen her” (Kiddushin 2:1).

But “Ikadesh - אקדש ” may both mean “to sanctify a woman, betroth her” or “to be condemned”. “Kadesh” also means “to reject” even if “K’deshah - קדשא – being a prostitute – can “in some cases be a minor crime” (Sifre 1). Pagan cults and temples made use of “dedicated prostitutes” and this why the Jewish worship cannot be linked to any sort of such impurity. And indeed, piety may sometimes drive some people to sinful acts or to commit themselves with such situations. This is why the “reviving” activities of Prophets Elijah and Elisha in the two Books of the Kings as regards women are to be viewed as a full part of prophecy. Between “assur\אסור-prohibited “and “mutar\מותר – permitted”, “yattir yattir\יתיר'יתיר – you want to release, may it be given to you to release” is a substantial element of “delivery, freedom, release” included in the ancient letters of ordination of the rabbis and the spirit of the “zevach todah\זבח תודה – thanksgiving sacrifice of the heart”.

The last part of the reading imposes a right refunding of the victim in cases of prejudices. “shever tachat shever\שבר תחת שבר, ayn tachat ayin, shen tachat shen\עין תחת עין שן תחת שן – fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The injury inflicted on another shall be inflicted on him” (Lev. 24:20). This law should be explained extensively, at length. It is a simple and basic law of righteousness, balance applicable in cash rather than injuries. It also takes into account the spiritual value of damages. Verses 15, 17 and 18 are at the heart of the common, evident, compulsory “Torat Kedushah\תורת קדושה – Law of Sanctity, Torat Kohanim\תורת כהנים – Law of priesthood” that governs the Jewish innate people.

It is said: “Anyone who blasphemes his God shall bear his guilt; if he also pronounces the name HaShem/Lord, he shall be put to death; “kol haedah kager ka’ezrach\כל העדה כגר כאזרח – the whole community as stranger or citizen”. Let’s take a breath! Because there we see the depth of human responsibility and why it is incumbent on a Jewish soul to apply it with respect to priesthood. A kohen is born to sacrifice what is due to God. It is actually suspended. It does not mean it disappeared.

But, if anyone “yikallal\יקלל – blasphemes” and pronounces the Name of the Lord as to destroy Him, both strangers and citizens (Israelites) will put him to death. We would say that such a attitude has caused in the course of history horrible and heinous, abomination crimes and lit stakes or bonfires as “fires of bones, but that were still alive”. Thus, we should be careful with such apparently avenging laws that hide a lot of wisdom.

On the other hand, they systematically make no difference between “strangers and citizens” as full member of the whole community. This is a point that we hardly can embody on a voluntarily basis at the present. Ergo, if anyone kills any human being, he shall be put to death. This is linked, in this context, with the Ten Paroles as applied within the Law of Priesthood. Death penalty is also on hold, but this does not cancel the fact the the “whole community” remains the full entity of “strangers and citizens”.

The expression is often found in Paul of Tarsus (Epistle to the Ephesians). It means that we are all equal, more than equal. We have the duty to make “one” where killings, hatred, evil and deceitful tongue would seem easier to apply in some cases. We may abuse at times of our rights as citizens (strikes, prolonged paid unemployment, medical care, gratuities). The stranger, foreigner who is dwelling with us has the same rights and obligations, provided a full respect of God, humanity and others. Moreover, whoever kills an animal is bound to restitute it. Verse Vayikra 24:22 repeats: “Mishpat echad yehyeh lachem\משפט אחד יהיה לכם – you shall have one standard (law) / kager ka’ezrach\ כגר וכאזרח – for stranger and citizen alike; ki Ani HaShem Elo’heichem\כי ה' אלקיכם – for I the Lord am your God”. Not easy to say and substantiate in such a multi-fractured society as the Jewish communities and the State of Israel. There might be defects, errors. Still, we are called to cope with this commandment that is a commonplace element of basic Jewish priestly regard upon every living soul.

Such a small exiguous territory that thus opens up on width and suddenly turn off, immures and cages in minds and grey cells. On Tuesday 12th of May, there will be the great merry feast of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai which falls on the 33rd (LaG) be’Omer\ל"ג בעומר (of the computing of the Omer), i.e. the 18 Iyyar. It is also the remembrance day of the death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students that either perished in the war with Bar Kochba against the Romans (idolatry toward a false messiah) and/or were involved in such a lack of understand and acceptance of each other that it came to the borders of idolatry and tongue murder.

Since the second century, the Jews have venerated the author of the Zohar\ספר זוהר (The Book of Splendor). It is a day of joy in the time between Pesach and Shavuot. Children are often oyfgesher’nt\אויפגעשערנט (hair cut) for the first time as R. Shimon was a famous nazir/nazirite-נזיר (consecrated). A time of eating, drinking wine at the tomb of the Rabbi who was a torch for the enlightenment of the Jewish Mysticism.

The Zohar and the Kabbalah are not the “cheap” wide-spread so-called Jewish magical books denied by some denominations that should firstly be given the opportunity to understand the roots of a vast movement connected with the Chassidic groups of Eastern Europe.

On forthcoming May 17th, the Eastern Orthodox Church reads the Gospel of the Samaritan woman who discussed very freely with Jesus at Jacob’s well located at Sychar in Samaria (John 4:4-42). Women play a significant role in the Christian Paschal season. Samaritans and Jews would not have spoken to each other at that time, especially and man and a woman. At the present, Ukrainian young women became Samaritan faithful members of the community in order to energizing it. And the discussion goes about where to worship God. In Jerusalem in the Temple or Mount Garizim (where the Samaritans did celebrate the sacrifice of Pesach)? Jesus recounts her life and does not condemn her because of her past five husbands while she is not married to the sixth one she has now(this may be an allusion to all levels of divine covenants)… She got intrigued.

Indeed, Jesus never condemned any woman. True! how peculiar to encounter across times and places! Bonfires that shall bring light of hope, remedies, health, comfort in Meron, at the tomb of R. Shimon Bar Yochai. Flames that were withering out of the altar to remind that there is no stranger no citizen in the Edah\עדה – the whole community of God, but the perceptible service and respect for any being. Just as we could be there, two days ago, to join the Samaritan feast of Pesach. A whole humanity composed of substantial flames for the living.

av aleksandr [ Winogradsky Frenkel]

May 6/April 22, 2009 – 30 le’Omer 5769 - כ"ז לעומר וי"ב דאייר תשס"ט

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