Wednesday, August 12, 2009

TU Bi'Av: Love me, tender

It is a hit, because it only can be a hit and we are so mild and cute, nice and lovely: "Mi ohev otach yoter mimeni\מי אוהב אותך יותר ממני = who loves you more than I love you" is the sort of syrupy, ever broadcast song sung by many local singers. We are so much in need of care, cuddling, hugging and know that our hearts can share with a soul mate, a sweetheart, beloved, girl/boyfriend, eventually a date, a boo, someone we can love more than anybody could love her or him...

Is it the price of solitude? Or is love so natural? The rape of the Sabine women is a Roman Empire saga and supposedly consisted, to begin with, in the abduction of the women. Indeed, the abduction conducted to rape. Rape of foreign women is strongly condemned by Moses in the name of God as a sign of idolatry. As time passes, it is so amazing and weird to read the news about the development of different attitudes in Israeli society. Rape, incest, men raping their wives, women raping men at times, children or teens submitted to sexual assaults and the head of the State crashing down for forced and thus not so clear carnal temptations. A lot of men are harassed by women or girls and children can be physically abused by their parents even in the more religious families.

The Semites are inspirited by violence and baseless instinct of possession. This is what is softly meant by "yoter mimeni\יותר ממני = who loves you more that I do?". Okay a very honey-honey song with sugar and slow-slow rhythm but the guy does possess the girl and that's it. And girls can possess guys and guys think they own their friends. This is love, nu-nu?

On the forthcoming Wednesday 5th of August 2009, we shall celebrate Tu Be'Av\ט"ו באב = the 15th of the month of Av. It is usually called "Chag HaAhavah\חג האהבה = Feast of love". At the present we are very fond of such feasts that allow giving flowers or presents to our special one. It may happen that the special one may grow to two, well… say not more, but there can be no special one at all. The worldwide celebrated Saint Valentine’s Day, in February, would seem rather parallel. This is not really the case. Tu Be’Av (like Tu bishvat\ט"ו בשבט = New Year of the Trees) falls on the 15th day of the Jewish month. In this particular case, it falls in the middle of the month of Av, i.e. one of the most tragic months in the Jewish history with the Ninth (tisha) of Av that for ever memorizes the “saddest days” of the two destructions of the Temple and of the city of Jerusalem. The 15th day always marks in the Jewish calendar the short time of the lunar cycle monthly recurring “full moon” (“Hayireah bimlu’o\הירח במלואו”). This is why the indefeasible faithfulness of God was disclosed so many times throughout history as mentioned by Talmud Taanit 26a, 30-31b. Is it not appealing that the Jewish tradition is never overcome by disasters, destructions, death, exterminations? And that Tu Be’Av, in the heat of summertime, should be the most joyous day of the year when the moon is full as ready to birthing new times and seasons.

Let’s talk a bit about tradition: it is said that Yom Kippur and Tu Be’Av are the two happiest days of the Jewish year. This relies upon the related birthing process that leaps over death to introduce into new months and times (Taanit 4,3). On that very day of the 15th of Av, in the fortieth year in the wilderness, the Israelites stopped dying in the desert. The clear sign of joy appears with the reply of the women to the punishment imposed by God to those who did believe the spies who slandered against Moses. Indeed, men were and remain too important for women. Here is the interesting point of “the feast of love”: the daughters of Zelophehad came to speak with Moses and the priest Eleazar and they were upset (Num.27:1-11). Their father had died in the desert, there were no men and they wanted men and inheritance! This is the very Hebrew counter-point to “the rape of the Sabine women”! This also became a day of “duty-free” service in a very tribally structured society. Thus as it also developed after the destructions of the Temple, young girls and women could dress humbly and go dancing through the streets and on the squares and look for some nice lad and possible bridegroom. It was a “duty-free” day in the sense that women could marry any member of any tribe as also, the sons of the tribe of Benjamin.

As the Zohar states, the Jewish people are like the moon: going up and falling down, erring and reaching goals and then getting lost again. But every step allows enhancing the quality of a new rise towards God and the Mitzvot.

“Veahavta lereacha kamocha\ואהבת לרעך כמוך – and you shall love your fellowman as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18). We are submitted to “love” because only God is Love. But as we just remembered the destruction of the Temples, we could reflect upon the fact that the first Temple was ruined due to rational and conscious hatred while the second Temple was razed out of a baseless / irrational hatred. Now what happens if we compare these two reasons that prevailed for the destructions with the joyful “full moon” marriage chasing that became a “feast of love”. Sex is a very small part of what love implies and encompasses. Nonetheless, at the present, in Israeli society, it shows to prevail as it always did throughout the TaNaKh: with much confusion of feelings, irrational pulses or slanders.

When the daughters of Zelophehad came to petition Moses they did not ask for love: they asked for men and inheritance, which means they wanted to birth babies and be secured as women. Women do need to be financially and socially secured even if they often initiate or support business developed by men. These daughters had a basic request: we need men to prolong the tribe – indeed all the tribes – that died in the wilderness and we need money, land, properties. At this point, it is evident that Tu Be’Av is a feast for women as they choose their partners, friends, special ones or husbands. Men often don’t get to that. It is at times horrible to observe or even to audit how women are treated with much disregard and total lack of respect in Israeli society and Jewishness. It is incredible that the number of battered women, as also men and children continues to increase and shows difficult to stop. Each sex is more and more victimized by rapes, incest and this is in full contradiction with the realm of the Mitzvot a proper and traditional, usual family and lifestyle.

This is why more and more youths need to be coached, guided or “cured”. When the children of divorced or even multi-reconstituted families “live together” in order to feel some warmth and support each other, they were hardly prepared to any real “love” and awkwardly move ahead or stay on stand by knowing nothing or ignoring the risks of STD or venereal diseases. I see this in at many different levels of the inhabitants and this is the real quest. This is why acting “theology” does not consist in parroting pious words of the Sages. Early in the morning or at night, when youngsters are spaced out because they can only be drug-addicted, they firstly need a hand. They gather in special areas of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other towns. But this hand must be full of understanding and, truly, the tradition of the Sages does provide a lot of answers to face the terrible increase of impoverishment. Impoverishment also includes lack of real love.

Love is not only lovemaking with condoms, pills, abortion. Thus it can be reduced to a speechless relationship without sincere and open talk. There is often nothing to share except bones playing with bones under skin. Indeed, the Jewish tradition has developed a highly positive view of sexuality. At the present, the situation is a bit confused. Personalized desires of groups of individuals, egoistic and rather childlike behaviors tend to imbalance the relationships in new couples. I recently heard two olot chadashot/female newcomers explaining that, according to the tradition, they were only obliged to have sex with their husbands on a regular basis, wash up the dishes, keep the house clean and get the more possible money. Plain and simple. This is another aspect in a country where it is rather difficult to marry and, till today, to find love outside of one’s own tribe (Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Mizrachim… and why not any other tribe living in Eretz Esrael).

Love is a gift, a real gift sent by God. Love is like a miracle and it is a miracle that is renewed everyday in so many families. And love can show at any age. A woman physician was visiting Jerusalem with her daughter who was leaving for the Army. They were not Jewish according to the Halachah. The mother suddenly asked: “Is it so important to be Jewish?” She had been abandoned by her husband. She was surprised when I replied: “Don’t you think love is more important than anything else?”. Or the contact with a rabbi, who did not know what to do: his wife got fascinated by the Gospel right out of the blue moon. We had exceptional discussions: yes, he had the possibility to divorce her, but, she was still Jewish and, by the way, did he love her? They did not quit.

Jesus started his preaching by assisting at a marriage in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11) and two Jewish miztvot/commandments were evident to him. He never denied them: marriage and priesthood. “Love” is a major motto for any Christian believer, just as “joy” (Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Seraphim of Sarov). As regards “love” we might not be quite aware how milder, more caring, compassionate the world of the heathens became through Christendom. We don’t have any idea of the hideous violence that existed in the Barbarian society, even if new paganism recently emerged out of various trends.

This year, on Tu Be’av it would be so be so tender, like God: “HaShem, El rachum vechanun\ה' ה' אל רחום וחנון, Lord, Lord of mercy and loving-kindness”. And then we could also discover each other, without fear.

av Aleksander [Winogradsky Frenkel]

August 1/ July 19, 2007 – 11 deAv 5767 - י"א דאב תשס"ט

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