Monday, October 26, 2009

Who is the Other ?

This is the text of the lecture that I gave at the Swedish Center at Jaffa Gate on October 22, 2009. It is a theological and open reflection about who is "the other, the neighbor", in particular how we can or need or may, must recognize Israelis as a part of the society we live in. The lecture included other words and lively expressions. You have here the framework or the pattern...


THE TITLE OF TONIGHT's lecture evolved from "who is my neighbor" to "who is next" and now "who is the other?" We may see that the real subject may not really be included in those titles and thus encompass some of their realities.

As a matter of fact, when we speak of "neighbor", we systematically, or most often, switch to the core verse of the Bible "Love your neighbor as yourself/ואהבת לרעך כמוך" (Leviticus 19:18). To begin with, it should be noted that the Torah does not underscore any special meaning for this verse. But all Jewish and further on, the Christian traditions have seen a specific significance and place in God's commandments as shown in the verse. Thus, R. Akiva (2nd c.) said that the commandment of "love your neighbor" is the major principle of the Torah" (Nedarim 9:4).

One century earlier, Hillel presented the commandment in an interesting and reversed/negative way: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor”. He added - in a very similar way to Jesus' statements "This is the whole Torah, all the rest is commentary” (Shabbat 31a). The commandment sounds as the Golden Rule; many commentators declared that Hillel's words are more pragmatic and genuine, realistic because "And you shall love your neighbor" looks a bit vague and dreamy even if it seems positive. Medieval Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu shows that God proposes a request to the Jewish people and subsequently to all creatures: "The Holy One said: ‘Children, I only want that you love each other and treat one another with dignity’".

Let's be frank: these words are repeated the way parrots love to do it every day by very pious people and we are of course among those, here at Jaffa Gate and in the Holy City of Jerusalem, but at the same time we would easily admit that daily experience shows us the contrary of what God told the Jewish people and moreover all subsequent traditions.

Jesus Christ was indeed very close to Hillel. "If you then, being evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more shall your Father in Heaven give good things to them that ask Him? Therefore all things whatsoever you would like that men should do to you, do even so to them: for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:11-12).

Jesus quotes the full commandment as stated in Leviticus 19:18 “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself" in the three synoptic Gospels: St. Matthew 19:19 - 22/39 = St. Mark 12:31 = St. Luke 10:27. The quotation is moreover to be found in Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8. Intriguingly, Leviticus 19:34 states "You shall love the foreigner/stranger" as mentioned in Deuteronomy 10:19.

St. Mark includes a special logon: "To love God with all the heart, all the understanding and all the soul and with all the strength and to love his neighbor as himself is more than all whole-burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mark 12:33). Jesus’ answer is: "You are not far from the Kingdom of God = korbanקרבן, karov Matzdiki/קרוב מצדיקי = He is close to me the One who justifies me" (Isaiah).

And here we are tonight in the heart of the Old City of all sacrifices from the most ancient days and traditions, from the Temple Mount and Mount Moriah to the NAOS - the Temple par excellence or Church of the Holy Sepulcher = the Anastasis, the place of Resurrection from where all whole-burnt sacrifices were brought to redeem the entire creation...

We have to carefully note - though it has been noted throughout the ages - but still, we have to note the context in which Jesus Christ mentions the Rules of "to love your neighbor as yourself". It does not come out of a sudden, let's put that way that may keep us alerted. Jesus of Nazareth mentions the commandment in the three Synoptics as the natural connection with the "S'ma Isra'el- שמע ישראלl: Listen Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart (bechol levavcha- בכל לבבך), and all your soul (or life, being - uvchol nafshecha - ובכל נפשך) and all your strength (uvchol me'od'cha – ובכל מאדך= all that constitutes you as very good - tov me'od - me'od - טוב מאד מאוד\מאד\אדם = much living, Adam, a member of economic system as strength refer to "possessions, assets"; and non of us can escape from any economic system).

It should be noted with much attention that the commandment to "love the neighbor as yourself" is directly and solely connected in both the ancient Judaic and Christian traditions to the fundamental logon in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 : "Hear Israel". Jesus combines the greatest commandment that concludes Moses' life and became the proclamation of the Jewish faith with the "love of the neighbor as yourself" in St. Matthew 22:37 : "He said to a Pharisee: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind this is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:36-40).

Another question that shows in such a context: When Jesus is put to the stake, it is traditionally accepted that his quoting of Psalm 21/22 "Eli, Eli lema sabachtani - Elohi, Elohi, lama azaftani – אלהי אלהי למה עזתני" - "Oh God, my God why have You forsaken me" which implies the full recitation and quoting of the whole psalm. It is also possible to ask ourselves how far the mention by Jesus of the great commandment in its first verse only, should not also imply and spiritually include the whole of the “Sh'ma Israel” as it is in Deuteronomy 6 (ss. 6-9): "And the words that I command to you today take them to heart, impress them upon your children, recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind then as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a frontlet (crowns) between your eyes; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

This leads to consider different aspects: the commandment is not vague, or only directed towards God and the "personal self". It is trans-generational, it obliges to give instructions and to teach God's Reign from generation to generation. The commandments have to observed at home (a fixed place) and on the way (when going on a journey, a trip, a pilgrimage and we know that "regalim - רגלים" used to bring the Jewish people and the followers to Jerusalem, mainly to this City and not to some mere dreamy place located out there through the world. Of course we all know of New Jerusalem (Moscow) or numerous Bethlehem throughout the planet. Still, the places existed and remain consistent here, at least to begin with. The great commandment also requires to attach God' s Presence to our physical bodies and existence.

This is in such a spiritual stage of consciousness, awareness, conscience that indeed, it is possible to admit that reaching God's Image and Likeness allows us, as a consequence to be able to show some positive feelings toward our neighbor! It does not mean we can love, or even like our neighbor. It means that we can understand by God's great commandment confirmed by Jesus Christ how much we come near to ourselves, our inner individuality and identity and therefore look positively to the "neighbor".

At least, it is always dangerous to cite the two commandments outside of their full contexts because we may not understand that God spoke in a special place, to a special people and for a certain context that develops and includes more and more generations with exclusion.

Please note that in the Book of Leviticus the commandment to "love the neighbor" is directly preceded by strict prohibitions against taking revenge or bearing a grudge. It is more than important because, all things being equal - more or less let's say - we spend our time hurting the others, the neighbors, the parentage, the foreigners with the fervent hope that they will never take revenge against us. Interestingly, this also concerns the animal world. Rabbi Abraham Twerski said: "Carrying resentments is like letting someone whom you don't like live inside your head rent-free, without paying any rent". We all can behave like elephants at this point.

This is why the first path is to feel comfortable with who we are, on a personal and societal level. This is a very hard task. Still, if we cannot change people in order to make them as we are, we could accept the phrase: "I can't make people like me, but if I wasn't me, I would like me"...

We come here to the "virtual" part of the society we live in. At the present, we can be moved to tears by the terrible events that affect fictional characters in movies; we may not be able to react with any similar intensity when the same sort of horrible events hit the people we know or when we are a part of such dramas. We cry and we sob when the hero or heroine fall in love, not when our neighbors do.

The commandment to be good or to love the neighbor is expressed in most cultures and civilizations, in particular in the Greek culture, which is next door and always has been present in the area. The same is applicable with regards to the Hindu(ist) and Mazdean traditions. But let's focus on the Biblical background.

Now, the real problem is to understand the commandment correctly. VEAHAVTA LE'REACHA KAMOCHA – ואהבת לרעך כמוך, does it indeed mean: "an you shall love your neighbor as yourself"? I comment the verse in English right now. In Russian, for example, "vozliubish blizhnago kak i samogo sebia", can either refer to "neighbor as being very close to you or a person who is known as being closely (bliskii chelovek) "acquainted, provided, inter alia, that "close relationships are long to be fixed and defined in the Slavic and Russian society, this from ancient days.

"REA - רע" is a parodox in Hebrew as in most Semitic roots: they usually include both a positive and a negative aspect. Horayot 10b shows it: "Even the good which wicked men do is an evil with the righteous (= they can't enjoy it)"; The same in Berachot 1c: "Don't be like the fools who sin and offer a sacrifice, not knowing whether they offer it for the good they have done or for the evil".

The precise meaning of "re,acha - רעך" is thus "your fellow", which, like "your neighbor" suggests someone with whom we routinely have contact. This is the way it is understood in most cases. "Fellow" implies a person that accompanies, but the word is Old Norse = Félag = Verlag = laying money to join!!! Reah\רעה" is connected to Hebrew and Aramaic that means to join, welcome, gladden, rejoice. This is why the paradox is present: dark turns to light, what is bad or evil turns to good or goodness "joined efforts" - companionship = sharing bread along the way; sputnik = sharing the same direction. But it does include the mental attitude to turn from bas to good, to tame what is alien. Otherwise, it is evident that we could have "sheykhen - שכן" as it is the case in Aramaic.

But "neighbor" is not the person who is "close or near to us". Let's say that Scandinavian "När = close = Germ. Nah and Nächst = the thing or person that is most to the closest!! It does not mean the person or proximity: the thing is near! This is remarkably to be found in Yiddish: "no'ent \ נאענט= nah but it is not a NEAR OR CLOSE AT HAND THING OR PERSON. IT REQUIRES A MOVE TOWARD A PLACE OR INDIVIDUALS OR A PERSON. And interestingly "kroyv קרוב - = cousin = people who can be connected by some family or blood links, but not living closely to each other. The same is valid in Swedish: "att naa = to come near", which means a movement. To love a neighbor can never mean to remain/stay put. It obliges to a series of psychological and physical moves.

At this point, it is quite possible to consider that Hebrew: "veahavta lere'acha kamocha – ואהבת לרעך כמוך " implies the view to love the people who are next to us, but also those who can cause evil or bad things to us, and also our enemies. Even if Today's Judaism would reluctantly admit such a position as being self-evident, it would interrogate the tradition the same way "ger toshav – גר תושב" is either a resident and a part of the community or a idolater who is a full foreigner. To begin with, it was Abraham's status to be protected in all Middle-Eastern traditions.

Psalm 90/91 shows how demons can be overcome and how people in the desert or in situation of profound solitude could be afraid from other human beings. This fear is constant and taming is a great par of some form of healing or getting to be humans.

One constant rule is that, in principle, people would say they love humanity. And the more they would love humanity, the more they would serve humanity, but if we have to stand the same people in reality that has to meet in daily life, the more we share with them, the less we maybe able to simply stand them as appears in the monk's confession in Dostoyevsky's "the Brothers Karamazov".

In fact, "To love our neighbor as yourself" include a profound human balance of feelings and dignity.

The problem is not of "neighborhood" or vicinity. The problem is to get together as Saint Paul defined it, especially in the epistle to the Ephesians: "Now therefore, you are no more strangers or foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God (and you are built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone) in whom all the building fitly framed together grows unto a holy Temple of God; in whom you are also built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit”. This is the real meaning of RE-ACHA = רעךjoined/built together. (Ephesians 2:19-22).

As a consequence, we must come to the fact that building together proceeds from a spiritual and full of faith because it is founded in the major verses of Ephesians: "That that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promises, having no hope and without God in this world: But now in Christ Jesus you who were sometimes far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”

“For He is our peace, who has made both (Israel and the pagans) one and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us having abolished in his flesh the enmity (even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of two one new man, so making peace)" (Eph. 2:12-14).

Indeed, we slowly can come or reach to some meaningful understanding, something that may make sense if we consider that we are faithful and pious people, and we all are. You cannot avoid Divine matters in Jerusalem, but it depends how it works in our relationships.

In any way, and this can seem to be a bit "crazy" or "torn up side down", but "to love the neighbor as yourself" is just as impossible as to show any sort of evidence that God is real, alive, living, life-giving and the Sign of Resurrection. In that sense, LOVE = GOD'S LOVE THAT CALLS HUMAN BEINGS IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCE OF LIFE. Love does not mean "cuddles, hugs and kisses". Why not? But when the bride calls "Yishakeni – ישקני - Kiss me" to the bridegroom in the Song of Songs (1:1), it should be noted that they never meet!!

Saint John's chapter 21 after the resurrection has it: Jesus speak of perfect love (Agapein) and Peter answer he likes Him (philein). In the same verse, Aramaic has "richam = like, love with our viscera, intestines, insides", but then it is a love of lovingkindness and not directly the love of all the Divine Attributes.

In the commandment, as following the “Shma Israel”, we are merely called to know or get aware of what those we like, dislike, have to stand, frequent, encounter, love or maybe hate NEED. WHAT THEIR NEED ARE. In that sense, love commences to get a bit consistent. Not when worstate that things were much better in the good old days. Psychology and attitudes, from pride to lack of self-esteem, shyness. We are then commanded to accept who is facing us and reciprocally.

This is also very useful in marital life: spouses need to be given what they need and not mere gifts. But in general the commandment goes far beyond anything that we can conceive or understand.

This is shown during the Byzantine Divine Liturgies of Saint John Chrysostomos and Basil the Great. The celebrant, having blessed the faithful with peace, opens the Royal Gates and says: Let's love each other in order to confess in one spirit/soul - neehuv ish et rehu uvlev echad n’hoodeh/ vozliubim drug druga da edinomysliem ispovedim
נאהוב איש את רעהו ובלב אחד נודה -
Возлюбим лруг друга да единомыслiем исповемы
and the celebrant goes out and bowing in front of Christ icon, saying: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

We do not need to shake hands, or to kiss those we know and turn our backs to those we hardly can look at. This sort of "love" is "at-one-ment", makes and creates us ONE beyond what we can even understand and imagine when we share this peace. It is funny and strange how we always want to share and receive something and participate. Here, participation consists in receiving the One we cannot see and Who keeps us alive. Thus, it has nothing to do with shaking hands!

Now, we have to be frank, okay!!? I lecture tonight not because there are so wonderful and nice and cute ideas we could share a bout our spiritual backgrounds, future and cannot agree upon in our daily life here, in this city and country. We meet everyday, every week, every month, sometimes once a year. We would hardly frequent each other.

One of the best opening-up movie is certainly "Gaestebud" "Babette's banquet", a remarkable Danish film. A French woman is sheltered by the time of the Restauration in Jutland in Denmark, in a small village where nobody can talk and share. They meet just to face each other. The woman becomes a servant. One day, she wins a huge fortune at the French Lottery. She decides - she was a famous fine cook in Paris - to prepare a gaestebud, inviting everybody for a splendid banquet and she spent all her fortune. Joys and laughs, hospitality and conversations come out of this exceptional banquet which has been interpreted as a real theological reflection about Eucharist and the Presence of the Holy Spirit.

I came to lecture because I said - in between - that it was more than intriguing if not strange and bizarre that on a day dedicated to "Pilgrimages in Jerusalem" not a single word has been said - I repeat no a single word and I did pay attention with much care about the Jewish pilgrimages! Looking through the window, they were precisely coming up to Jerusalem and to the Kotel - כותל (Western Wall, among other places)!!! I thought it was a bit, just a bit too much! Hajj in the Muslim and Christian and Bulgarian and Orthodox traditions, please, no problem. But not a word about the very nature of the God-seeking attitude that abides the Jewish soul from Ur-Kasdim to Egypt, Beersheva and Mount Moriah over the past 3500 years if not more, because a positive and definitely not a judgmental question.

Israel does exist. Just you to know and you do know! All of you know about that. It may itch or be pleasant. This is not the problem. We cannot oblige anybody to accept the one or those who are in front or next or close to us. On the other hand, we can pray, reflect upon how we behave towards ourselves and our fellowmen/women. It does not mean the yare wrong and we are right. It means we can slightly open up our eyes and conscience.

Emotions exist, both positively and negatively. Rejecting of keeping silent about people, nations, humans is never neutral. It is a way to come closer to what is unbearable - sometimes to each other and most of the time for irrational reasons. The rest is a matter of needs as I mentioned: time overshadows an covers our needs and requirements and slowly joins those who can hardly cope together. This move is of great importance. It shows that the eschaton is moving ahead of us.

With regards to the faith of Israel, there was an interesting statement made in 1968 by some Rabbis: "It is precisely that that Christianity brought to the world that hid Israel to the Nations”. It continues to be the case. But when we come back to our own room, just inside, let's think of what we can positively share and do share without being able, for the moment, to speak too much of that.

Archpriest Alexander Winogradsky
October 22/9, 2009 – ג' דחשון תש"ע

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