Sunday, July 19, 2009

Jealoys..., Human Faces..., Blah-blah..., Adversity... Summer notes

1) Jealousy, zeal and emulation

With regard to the parshat Balak/פרשת בלק, we were rather busy in studying the spiritual commitment and assistance to humans provided by animals in the Scripture, in particular Balaam and his she-donkey. This showed how the animal's influence is still significant today as the Morning Prayer blessing starts with the words of Balaam. But this journey through the zoo theological assistance system did not allow us stopping at the major event that happened at the end of the reading portion (Bamidbar 25:1-9): the terrible account of the then-unheard "profaning of the Israelites at Shittim; they corrupted themselves by whoring (lezenot) with the daughters of Moab who invited them to the sacrifice for their god" (25:1-2). Thus, the Israelite Zimri publicly scorned at Moses and rejected the God of Israel and had open sexual intercourse with a Moabite.

This creates the link with "Pinchas (son of Eleazar son of Aaron)", the reading portion which mainly deals with passion, zealotry in Bemidbar 25:10-30:1.Of course, it might be astounding that a she-ass corrected Balaam’s words or that a cock crowed in the event of a prophesied treason. But "committing harlotry with Moabite women and worshiping their god Baal Peor)" seems totally natural in the present. It is almost not shocking. It is not even a real sin.

The Sages had time to explain things and, let’s be cool, there must be some misunderstandings somewhere about the event. The situation is not a real question because - yes, we never heard a police horse refrain his rider to stab demonstrators in a riot, if any. But physical prostitution with pagan women and men… good gracious! This is so ten a penny! And then to have some little worshiping party with gods that line from trees to boats, bananas and incense boxes is just as fit as a fiddle even among the most remote Jewish buddy boo networks. People can be put at the stake with this sexual games and the year has been a rather hot one until just this very hour.

The real problem with Pinchas is that the man seeing this blasphemous circus, got very hot and mad at the scene and put all his passion in getting rid of the profanation. The method is not common at the present. Baal Peor is a small bigotry god compared to the constellation that we developed in the name of all monotheistic beliefs and new paganism. "The Lord said to Moses: "Take all the heads of the people and have them impaled (hoka otam) before the Lord in front of the sun (neged hashemesh\נגד השמש = publicly)". Moses did listen to God, but one Israelite suddenly brought a Madianite woman for himself and his companions. Pinchas took a spear, followed them and stabbed her "in the belly - the maw/ el-kevatah\על קבתה". And God was pleased by Pinchas' passion to avenge the glorious Name of the Lord. God Himself sent a plague that killed twenty-four thousand people among the Israelites to punish their idolatry and harlotry. He thus also praised Pinchas and said: " I grant him My Pact of peace - et briti shalom\את בריתי שלום (wholeness, friendship, loyalty)”. Interestingly, God speaks about Pinchas as being “shalem – loyal” (1 Kings 8:61) or like Jacob who came back “shalem\שלם – safe and sound” to Sichem (Gen. 33:18). He acknowledges Pinchas as an “allied friend”, a “sholem\שולם – co-worker” (Tehillim 7:5). The “Berit shalom\ברית שלום – Pact of peace” definitely links Pinchas to the Prophet Elijah as regards the frenzy killings of the Baal worshipers perpetrated by the Prophet on Mount Carmel. It also connects to the “Covenant of peace” described by Prophet Isaiah 54:10: “The mountains may move, and the hills be shaken, my loyalty (chasdi\חסדי) shall never move from you, nor the Pact of My friendship (brit shlomi\ברית שלומי) be shaken – said the Lord with loving-kindness”.

There is a problem indeed. “Shalom\שלום” does not mean “peace”. Pinchas stabbing attitude that slaughtered a woman and her carnal partner through the maw (a bit bestial) corresponds with the order that God gave to Moses to impale all the idolaters and the whoring Israelites. At the present, after 2,000 years of squeamish strictness along the Diasporas, Judaism and Christianity have developed similar kinds of Puritanism and this Divine decree and Pinchas’ murder would be considered as a proof of some Old Testament avenging God of wrath. Generations of Jews and Christian alike have been educated with awe, which is contrasting with the Oriental Jewish and Christian tradition, basically because of the absence of the “Original sin theology” that is more pregnant in the East. But this weekly portion has raised awe and fear among both the Jews and the Christians.

We call peace all the day upon Jerusalem, upon the world. In Hebrew, it firstly means that we believe in “justice” as in this Pact concluded by God with Pinchas (Num. 25:12). Is it so inhuman to explain the situation in such a way? Or are we cheating and fooling each other and God’s Divine Presence as we gossip like in a parrot fashion about peace and have been paying billions of billions of new old currencies over centuries to reach some dubious cease-fire treaties? Moses officials impaled the wrongdoers and Pinchas got a covenant of friendship with God after his infuriated slaughter. Justice induces passion. This has nothing to do with our justice. Right and righteousness, legacy is an obsession in the Semitic and Greek-Latin world of the Scripture. It certainly brought some insights about the way love slowly showed up throughout the ages.

John the Baptist and Jesus have terrible words about God’s wrath, family hatred and wars (Matthew 3:10; 24:6).It is quite another prospect to say that one accepts God’s decisions: “Atah tzaddik al kol haba alay\אתה צדיק על כל הבא – You are just in all that happens to me” (Ps. 51:7). And we must handle these words very carefully because we do miss a lot a real understanding in terms of “verticality”, of God as acting in our lives like the woman towards Adam: “ezer kenegdo\עזר כנגדו = a helper against our will”.

Peace does not imply the absence of conflicts or a crooked method to avoid quarreling if not more. “Shalom” comes from “shalem\שלם” which may be broken down into a) “Hishlim\השלים – to complete” as “he freed his slave who completed the quorum of ten persons” (Berachot 47b); b) To end, cease: “They must fast the whole day till it ends”. (Yoma 82a); c) To make friends/ surrender: “He will pay does not mean money but that he will surrender the evil spirit and you will be friends” (Sukkot 52a). Thus “shalem\שלם” refers to payments as “wiping out a pending debt of any sort” or “to give a reward, a recompense”: “beshalom\בשלום – for the sake of total trust, faith, confidence”. We do not often think of the fact that “peace” includes and involves combats, payments, as “to redeem (padah\פדה) = to reimburse a debt or a loan over a long-term period.” “Peace” is fulfillment and achieving or reaching out to specific goals. “Menuchah\מנוחה – quietness” is closer to what we usually would consider as “hesychia – time of rests, silence” and peaceful balance.

The Israeli society can give the impression of a quiet and patient atmosphere. By the time of Pinchas and the episode with Baal-Peor, our ancestors might have been more “grilling on fires and boiling”. There is a lot of aggressiveness under control that bursts out of a sudden.

But the real problem is that Pinchas is a man of passion, a zealot; say, he is right but the way he corrects the situation is full of anger, passion, zeal and frankly beyond reason and irrationality. To begin with, “kinah-קנאה/Aramaic kina\קינא = jealousy, passion”: “My zeal for Your house has been my undoing (ate me up) / ki kinat beytcha achalteni\כי קנאת ביתך אכלתני” (Tehillim 69:10; cf. John 2:17). Or, “I am consumed with rage-zeal / Tzimtachteni kinati\צמחתני קנאתי” (Ps. 119:139). Prophet Elijah has the same when killing the worshipers of the Baal. It starts with a zeal than cannot be stopped in order to implement something considered as vital and true, essential. Passion is not only “pathos” or feelings that are close to cruel sufferings affecting thoughts, desires, impulses, reflections. This leads or can develop into some pathology indeed. “Jealousy, lust and ambition carry man out of the world (= he quits himself and reality)” (Avot 4:21).

On the other hand, “emulation among the scholars increases wisdom” (Bava Bathra 21a/22a). “Kanna’in/m-קנאין-ם” were the zealots during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans (Numbers Rabba 20). The root means in the Semitic language an in-depth thirst that cannot be reasoned or quenched. It concerns the desire to possess and control truth. Then, people want to act in the name of this veracity or presupposed truth beyond any self-control or capacity of taking some distance. Judaism is curiously balanced with peaks of irrationality and acts of violence and a profound, unique sense of loving-kindness, compassion and analysis. In comparison, Russian “strasti/cтрастьи = (feelings of) passions” that may totally overcome and possess a soul with dangerous abilities to twirling passions and dreams. This may explain, for example, why Slavic souls extensively refer to dreams interpretation or underscore their importance in their subconscious, virtual and real day and night reality. The Semites are quite the same. Indeed, faith is the way to combat the raw basic instinct of fancies, fantasizing thoughts and attain a serene and untroubled state of spiritual and physical balance.

It is a gift to be given a “brit shalom\ברית שלום = Pact of friendship” sealed by God. Now, all the systems of beliefs and religion and thus Judaism, Christianity and Islam have shown horrible times when zealots acted as true “terrorists of God”. Purity of faith and acts often climaxed in the Kiddush HaShem\קידוש השם (sacrifice), as during the siege of Jerusalem or at Masada. But who can pretend to be an envoy of the Lord (the same exists among the Christian and Muslim without the problem of any “missionary activity”)? Who can have the nerve to work in the very Name of the Only One and claim to be zealous at the present, without confusion? Fencing and framing ourselves by rejecting the others softly or with violence and without any sense of tolerance or loving-kindness is a real danger of fundamentalism that affects every community, at least most of them. Identity is stronger at the moment than "being, existing" which is a true miracle of constant survival for the whole mankind.
Indeed, we seemingly go through new processes that would require to determine or give some precision about who we are. There are such periods in history. They show up and disappear on regular basis. But the real God-witnessing person or community is the one that in-depths remains open to the widest possible scope of what is humane and spiritual. They know their lives are built on miracles.

The root for “Kinah\קנאה = passion” is “to acquire”. This means that such envoys calling for peace were “acquired” by God and they did not capture Him. Talmud Tractate Gittin positively recounts the life and martyrdom of John the Baptist which the Eastern Orthodox Church will celebrate on Saturday, in particular in Ein Karem were his parents lived. His words of penance were zealous and apparently revengeful. On the other hand, it is certain that he was beheaded as the consequence of an autocrat’s passionate oath to accept any desire expressed by a power-thirsty daughter obeying to her corrupt mother (Matthew 14:10). In this full passion-consumed environment, John appears to be a man of peace and considered as a link with Prophet Elijah. True zealots either disappear in the merkavah-מרכבה/chariot or are humbled till they are beheaded but their souls can’t be killed. They emulate and sustain faith.

av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

July 15/2, 2009 - 23 de Tamuz 5769 - כ"ג דתמוז תשס"ט

2) Human Faces

“Would Abraham or the Sages of old naturally cope with the hi-tech world in which we live? In all times, the challenge has been to overcome fears, panics to feel alone and to face the “burden of some survival”.

In a very famous low voice sung sort of poem, the French Greek but mostly Jewish music writer Georges Moustaki wails: "With my face of foreigner ("mug of a dago" is more exact) / of wandering Jew / and of Greek shepherd...". The words are scarcely audible with a touch of artistic charm and sex-appealing pathos while his fingers hardly reach the cords of a big guitar.

Yes, we have three decades of hits continuously reprogrammed in Israel because we love to feel history down to the pits of all roots, even sound records. And a real talent to appear as a miserable shlimazlשלימזל - the rejected all-alien that still would attract any mermaid slowly dancing on the beach. He had written the famous best "Je ne regrette rien - No, I don't regret" and "Mylord" sung by the genius Edith Piaf whose crisping vocal cords could damn crowds of fans. They can't be compared with Yossi Banai who put some songs into Hebrew with much feelings and skillful insights of universal experiences. The Beatles' "Help" echoes the Swedish Abba group's "Money, money" hit that still advertise how they want to spicily get "in a rich man’s world". Abba is being programmed every 10 mn. on some Israeli radio... that time, the Soviets were vanishingly praising "The evenings of Moscow" - peace was secured by the Choir of the Soviet Army - while the Chinese were tuning about "proletarians who ought to love proletarians and enhance culture among the rice cultivators". Wham got into Georges Michael’s “wake me up before you go”. We belong to a generation of broadcast sounds, especially rhythmic in English; it doesn’t matter if it is not in Hebrew: as the Queen rock opera Freddy Mercury sang “We are the champions”.

He was the Zoroastrian pop singer followed by Nirvana’s “Smell like teen spirit” to develop the good odor. Rap, R ‘n B paved the way to the boys/girls bands like the “Spice girls”. Oh! and our Sarit Haddad recites the "Shma Israel" in a song in which she does confess with a good tempo "Ani achshav levad6אני עכשיו לבד / I am now alone". I don't buy that at all. She is now 31, I missed her concert, alas in Jerusalem, but she is backed by Rav Ovadya, by all the Tzaddikim! Nothing to say at this point about late Michael Jackson - the sad story of a genius whose life was broken but all the colors of American dreams, shots and scandals and still, we do not know where his remains are...

The problem is to manage all i-pods, MP3 players, i-phones. Full equipment presupposes computers, laptops ("nayad" sounds so sweet), notebooks, cell phones and cellular’s, with recording memories, images, pictures, videos, films, tape-recorders; yes! and then 160 satellite television channels plus some competitors, all the singers of the universe... I get my personal breaking news directly from all my computerized tool bars.Is it still a bit mebubal-מבולבל /confused"? Thus, it would be good to feel so connected that it would even allow me to reach out to find some boo, a buddy (post-“Friends” generation) in Palau. No Jews there but you could get some former Guantanamo Uighur prisoner who spontaneously immigrated there. Just unbelievable. Impossible. Look! Ten years ago, I was watching the news, "beshidur chai-שידור חי - live" from a small Japanese storm-beaten island. Two Japanese soldiers were explaining that they would never surrender to the U.S. Forces and would rather commit hara kiri (ritual suicide); they were expecting the response of the Emperor of Japan whose divinity had been abolished by a decision taken by Gen. Mac Arthur. Then, what a chance! I was full instrumented to know that World War II (supposedly) was over and there, in the hell of remote stormy islands, two valiant soldiers were still fighting ghostly foes.

I thought of Abraham Avinu, of course. From Ur-Kasdim to Haran down to Egypt, up to the terebinths at Mamre and Machpelah, you see, Grandpa, we shall overcome some day, but at the right time, the right place, not like these two rescued chaps that emerged from some odd abashment between past and future.

This bewildering point is the synchronic (same-time) occurrence of events that connect us with diachronic (time-crossing) situations that happened in different locations. We have it in the Israeli society. It requires a lot of watchful and judicious attention and understanding. Some inhabitants not only behave as if they were living some centuries ago. Their ways of thinking can show us the contemporary outlasting of men and women from the various ages. And simultaneously, we can check or survey the disruptions that affected the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Middle-Eastern collectivity, in particular as regards their relationships to faith. Thus we can meet people that “express” the time of the Temple (the Madianites of our weekly reading “Matot” that heard of John the Baptist, but not Jesus’ baptism, cf. the Sabba’im), but also Yemenites who developed the Zohar and still use Aramaic. Ethiopians show us very ancient practices connecting Judaism and early Christianity.

Some former Soviets would link the Scythian Crimea of the Antiquity and the Khazars that converted to Judaism and disappeared in the 7th century. In the 9th century, Grand Duke Volodymyr (Vladimir) of Kiev dramatically chose the Byzantine Oriental Christian faith then expressed in one Orthodox and Catholic Church after having consulted the Jews and the Muslims. Their presence in Israel is often positioned with some aggressiveness towards a long-century experience of confrontation with Islam and the Mongolians. We can also meet with contemporaries of Rav Luria’s disciples and the yeshivot of Safed that go to the same supermarkets as some monks from the Hagion Horos (Holy Mount Athos). They observe the rules of Eastern Orthodox Christian regulations. They do explain more accurately than any breaking news how Rome and Constantinople split in 1054 and cannot repair the situation at the moment.

Let’s come back to the caring hospitality shown at Mamre’s Oaks by Abraham Avinu and his right jolly laughing wife at the announce of her birthing a son. The scene has been drawn, designed, painted. We have tons of icons with and without the patriarch and Sarah. No film, no picture, no video and, of course, no canned laughter. They were two wilderness NFA Arameans dwelling under some big tent, without I.D. cards and photos. They were not dotting the I’s of their pods, phones, MP3 players, world TV networks. They got one (several indeed) Divine breaking news whose developments are prolonging at the present. “I bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the sea-shore; all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants because you have obeyed My command (Bereishit 22:17-18).

Now, by the time of Abraham and Sarah, there were no computers, mobiles, sms messages, instant messengers, ICQ (born on the Israeli coast), Trillian and others connecters. Identity was a “word is a word”. Either you say the truth or you are fined and can eventually be killed in an oral cultural environment. Abraham, for instance, got afraid and presented Sarah to King Abimelech of Gerar as being his sister (Gen.20:1-18). A world of visions, nightmares, dreams and talks, well online chats with the Lord. This is the silent world counter-point of our multi-media stuff. We swirl in a super high tech mall or mart of sounds, cries, music drone dizziness and may lose our identity.

In Hebrew, “panim\פנים = face” comes from the root “panah\פנה = to turn (one’s face). In Gen. Rabba 91: “pney haaretz\פני הארץ = the wealthy”; “she can cover her nakedness/appearance” (Berachot 24a, Niddah 14b). “The Torah has law for each of which there are 49 “clean” and 49 “unclean” ways of interpretation” (Cant. Rabba 2,4). “This question must be brought inside and even to the innermost” (Bava Metzia 16a). In the context of Abraham at the terebinths of Mamre, the ancestor had no proof of identity as we can check today. Hebrew “Panim” is a plural because of the numerous aspects of an identity. Like the “face of a watch”, a human shows a visage and a hair backside without expression. But appearance and countenance reveal an image, not necessarily who we are indeed. We are overcome with images and looks that do not exhibit the heart of the souls. A decade ago, was created in Harvard the famous world top “Facebook”. It is doubled with “Piczo” or drawing natural sites for the development of contact networks. Just as “Myspace” (which is very “musical and sounds”) and the various albums and blogs, they question our identity as holders of the “imprint, mark/chotam\חותם – Gr. “sphragis” and not only our self-esteem which is a basic virtue according to the Jewish rabbinic tradition.

For the Jewish tradition, our “faces” (it curiously gave the Yiddish plural form “punimer\פנימער”) are not narcissistic. If millions of self-addicted people spend hours in vamping up a virtual online presumed contact way to show off who they are or think they are, our self-esteem can be brought to the measure of our suffering of personal solitude; we might even feel abandoned in an immense universe of whirling voices, sounds, changing or photochopped images. Would Abraham or the Sages of old naturally cope with the hi-tech world in which we live? In all times, the challenge has been to overcome fears, panics to feel alone and to face the “burden of some survival”. There is a sort of parallel between Sarah’s laughter and our swiftly virtual “lol”. Is it a desperate search for some kind of existence? In Israel, we constantly face “chopped” images of a wide God’s Likeness that is going through a sort of puzzlement.

It is said: “An extra measure of love was made known to the humans as they were created in God’s Image” (Avot 3:14). This also explains why Adam was unique and created singly: it allows every human being to get aware of the fact that s/he is personal has the same likeness as God and thus be saved –each soul encompasses the whole universe” (Sanhedrin 4:5).Good enough, but this is not what we may see in daily life. We go through times of shows, passivity and self-content. Modern techniques are a plus for a society as far as they allow it to improve its welfare and capacities. But the realm of visible things or people is nothing compared to the vast and immeasurable source of capacities that are beyond our sights and envisioning skills. This absence of plenitude may be a spiritual challenge in times of licentious, loose and libertine turmoil.

Jesus made an intriguing statement: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and no town or house divided against itself will stand” (Matthew 12:24). We have the tools utilized for building up ourselves and not making us sleepy or spaced out. We don’t reach immortality or more power because we have records and archives at hand. Abraham’s blessing is stronger than anything we can share and thus requires a deft touch of reality.

av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

July 12/June 20, 2009 - 20 deTammuz 5769 - כ' דתמוז תשס"ט
4) In the Face of Adversity

Tonight starts the fast of Tammuz 17 commemorating in the Jewish community the first breaches through the walls of Jerusalem by then thus a time of reflection and conversion to God, fasting and also expectation for the consolation that God has shown after the full destruction on Tisha Be'Av (Ninth off Av, in three weeks).

The main purpose is how to serve God and why. There is a real need in our generation to understand how we are handling over our heritage, not as a privilege, but as received for granted by the Most High only by His Will; there is something evident and still a matter for deeper envision of what serving means and implies. We are chains, links, connections and each has to teach, to educate, to repair and build up something that never happened before, for the benefit of more and more people.

In 1932, late Metropolitan Andrii Sheptytsky [Андрий Шептицський] addressed these lines to the Ukrainian youth. It was a time of very great turbulence for the country. He had been heading the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church for a long time. In that very year, hunger was decided by the Soviet communist authorities. It is known as the "Holodomor=голодомор - mass murder through hunger, famine". I often relate to the event without making it a nationalistic combat for any internationally recognized "genocide". This can evolve into a serious subject of debate and contest among the nations. Indeed, millions of inhabitants of the Ukraine were killed by famine over these years, mainly Ukrainians but also Czech, Gypsies, Jews and other nations.

The outstanding character of Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky proposed to answer these years of turmoil and nonsense with faith and by transmitting the values of human respect for life and dignity. If we have a real look at today's situation in Israel, it should be noted that there do exist a lot of similar points. I always mention, wherever it is possible, that Sheptytsky's personality and actions embraced much wide insights than those required for the development of Ukraine. In his country and through the great diversity of its inhabitants, he reminded all about the divine laws and human rules that should govern our lives.

These are the excerpts (cited by Andrii Krawchuk, Christian Social Ethics in the Ukraine) :

"... to do one's duty in the face of adversity, to bear the heat of the day, the scorching rays of the sun, the ill will of people, the hatred of enemies, the absence of trust from among one's own, the want of assistance from one's closest friends - and in the midst of such work, to fulfill one's task to the very end, without expecting any laurels for the triumph or any reward for the service... In our hands is only one moment we do not link up our work without those who came before us, and if those who come after us do not link up their work in their time with our work and with the work of those who came before us, then what can our nation achieve, even after centuries?"

(Metropolitan Andrii Sheptytsky)

No comments: