Saturday, January 24, 2009

Living water for the present

Judaism has inherited some rules governing daily life that are directly connected with the Temple. Thus, Judaism is known for its strict attitude toward purity and cleanness. Well, some streets could be cleaner, more decent. People could avoid to spit anywhere, anyhow. True, they would scream at you if you take a flower or a bud from a plant. At this point, it is even worst than to remove the mother bird from her nest to take her offspring, which is both inhumane, not vegeterian nor vegan.

This commandment of Deuteronomy 22:6-7 that protects the mother bird, her eggs and fledglings and only allows taking the young bird is unique.It shows that the Mitzvot are substantially ethical. Maimonides wrote about the "great pain of the animals" in such circumstances (Guide to the Perplexed, III, 48). The Noahide law that prohibits removing a limb from a living animal, is of the same vein. Plants and animals have been created before human beings and should thus be respected, preserved as signs of the world's beauty. Then, plants are growing as a consequence of such a wonderful miracle in this country that every flower is wondrously marvelous.

There is seemingly a certain gap between this idealistic view and legal reality to protect some species and our moral attitude in the present. This is described, scanned, viewed, analyzed, revised, contemplated: Israel might have a series of ethical problems, all over the map.Frankly, are we all broken up or the bones of the same bones? " Chevrah chavritit\חברה חברתית = full solidarity"? How can we be non-judgmental and still responsible for our actions? And also feel that we are committed to any action done by any inhabitants because we all together face the challenge of good and evil. This is why the " tumah vetoharah\טומה וטהרה = impurity and purity" laws are so important. By the time of the Temple, they allowed to protect the sanctity of the Place and of the people. The Torah, in Number chapter 19, determines the three major "impurities": leper, sexual life control and contact with the dead or corpses. Various Talmudic tractates deal with these matters (Taharot/Purities, Niddah / Menstruals, Nega'im-נגעים / Leper, Ohalot-עהלות / Corpses).

Leper is alas a very extant disease; Niddah is supposedly as one of the Talmudic guidelines to enjoy a decent and respectful sexual life. In Israel, we are used to death of people, usually buried very quickly. In the West, there is rather a sort of fear of death which is hidden as a basic human experience. Now, the concerned problems have been extended over the centuries. Tumah vetoharah show that impurity can be turned into purity, not by magical washing machine powders or "nikayon – cleaning products", but by a moral conduct. The Apostle James depicted it in a way that is very close to the permanent Jewish tradition: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained in the world." (James 1:27). To keep unstained (pure, separate) in the world is what allows us, as believers and/or God-seekers to accept the the Commandments or Mitzvot.

The whole process of Judaism is to comply with certain rules that are sometimes not understandable: the mikveh or ritual bath is of that nature. Although it sounds evident that cleanness is better than dirt. Vessels are also to be washed and cleaned carefully as described in Talmud Kelim\כלים. The observance of the laws governing kosher items constitutes a vital question for a thoughtful and humble attitude toward our society and environment. KoSHeR\כשר is linked to "gashar\גשר" (to bridge) and is related to a correct and healthy use of food, tissues, textiles, products, utensils, tools, devices, gadgets. On the other hand, "tref" comes from "taraf\טרף" (unclear, non-kosher, Talmud Sanhedrin 43a). Many rules, as going to the mikveh/ritual bath are indeed "chokim\חוקים" or "beyond any reasonable explanation" and "obvious" commandments at the same time. Yes, morals can be full of contradictions. The accomplishment of the Commandments brings more of divine wisdom to a world that often looks "treyf\טריף – split". The 613 Mitzvot also allow human nature to articulate rational and irrational positions.

Yochanan Ben Zakkai was present on the Temple Mount after the Holy of Holies had been destroyed. He was watching at the site where so many corpses were lying. He answered once to his panicked disciples: "By your lives! A corpse cannot make anybody unclean, nor can the waters make clean; in both cases, God alone can change something because He is the Great King" (Pessikta de Rav Kahana 40a/b). Purity is at the heart of Jewish and Christian morals. Not at the lowest available price! There is a price of excellence in achieving the one or many Commandments. By a decision taken by the first Synod of Jerusalem (45/52), Bishop James wrote a letter in the name of the early Church. He released the Gentile part of the Church from the observance of the 613 Mitzvot, but imposed the major Noahide rules to the Gentiles. Interestingly, this verse points out a constant link: "(Jesus said) unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20).

It shows how huge and difficult the challenge is, as the "Pharisees = perushim\פרושים" are those who are unstained in the world and, as the Christians, believe in the resurrection of the dead. Purity also means to care those who in contact with a death situation, such as orphans and widows. There is more than "charity-gemilut chassadim\גמילות חסדים". Eastern Orthodox Churches have also developed many rules to cope with similar issues as "impurity/purity" such as long periods of sexual abstinence during fasts, purity or protection of natural elements and food. These rules are lining with the kosher regulations in many aspects.

In various ways, most Christian "sacraments" or specific acts that show a holy and constant action of God in a person (e.g. Baptism) evolved from a Jewish practice in use in the first century. It seems, as regards the final introduction of the Birkat malshinim\ברכת מלשינים (Minim) or "Blessing against the heretics" (R. Shimon HaKatan), that the final "cherem\חרם – excommunication" happened ca. the 4th century for some matters. But rituals could appear to be common, in particular in the Middle-East and other regions. Christianity first spread through preachers who spoke in the synagogues.

The "mikveh\מקוה – pl. Mikvaot\מקואות" is connected with the Temple service. The High Priest had to bathe before the Day of Atonement, but in fact much more often. "Ma'yan\מעין" = "fountain, source, sprinkling waters (Tractate Mikvaot 5,1, "a bubbling well" Nedarim 41b), also: bowel, womb, inside (Talmud Niddah 28b)" and is linked to "ayin\עין" which is a "source" and the "eye". "Ma'ayanot chochmah\מעינות חכמה = the well-springs of wisdom"(Tractate Tosefta Sota 15,3b). Mikveh implies the construction or utilization of living (flowing) waters. They may either fall from clouds in the shape of rains or snow, provided that it melts... Strange how, each year, we expect snow in Jerusalem and nobody required them to get into a mikveh...

Struggle for purity is a fight against deterioration or wearing effect of time. In the morning prayers, the Jews say: "My God, the soul You have placed within me is pure. You created it, You fashioned it. You breathed it into me… Blessed are You, Lord, Who restores souls to dead bodies - neshamot lef'garim metim\נשמות מפגרים מתים". Thus, men and women are proposed to go through this cleansing bath that is more than a spa, a sauna or Turkish baths. A checking person may help the woman and eventually the man to be sure that every part of the body has been cleansed accordingly. The Jew rises from under the living water as a new-born. Let's say that insensitive and people can thus melt like frozen ice into a thoroughly nice drizzle of renewed minds and skins. Jewish tradition suggests bathing this way repeatedly. The Orthodox, Conservative and hassidic movements require it every week. On the other hand, when an individual becomes a Jew, s/he should go once to the mikveh (i.e. "aggregating action to the community"), which has been refused by the Ethiopians who came to Israel as Jewish newcomers.

Interestingly, the Judeo-Christian baptistery in Nazareth is definitely similar to any mikveh. Seven stairs lead down to the pool through all the steps of temptations. Getting out of the water (baptizein), the person has been purified for the rest of his life and climbs up through the various degrees that bring to holiness. The Christian Orthodox baptism is still very close to the Jewish mikveh/purifying bath. Some Churches usually pour some water over the head of the person.

Jews and Christians and Christians among themselves often came into harsh conflicting discussion about "living waters". This is due to a problem of the respect for souls and spiritual identities. January 27 is an international Shoah and World War II victim memorial day. The real "Living water" bath maybe only understood with the courageous statement of R. Leo Baeck who was in a prisoner in Theresienstadt. He declared: "Who has revealed to the world the sense for the purity of conduct, for the purity of family? Who has given to the world, to the attention of mankind, the Image of God? The spirit of the Prophets in Israel and the revelation of God to the Jewish people."(cited by J.Telushkin, A Code of Jewish Ethics, p.25).

Even if somehow, we are prompted to get purified, we are overshadowed by a simple traditional statement outlined by Jesus of Nazareth: "You may be the children of your heavenly Father, for He makes the sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust" (Matthew 5:45).

av Aleksander [Winogradsky Frenkel]

January 25/12, 2009 – 29 deTevet 5767 - כ"ט דטבת תשס"ט

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Whose firstborn?

We could update the "photograph" of our congregations: true, they start before the birth of the coming babies or at their conception and include those whose might show in the future. And the Jewish specific feature is that Jewish women transmit Judaism as a mark of blessing in utero. In the Talmud, "Guf\גוף - body" is a fictitious sort of storehouse of soul in heaven, as in Tractate Yevamot 62a : "The son of David shall not come before all souls in the Guf\גוף are exhausted (sent to live on earth)" . This is interesting as regards the process of embodying each soul into a shape of flesh and blood - maybe some indication also found in relation with the "gilgul\גלגול - say: rolling soul" that may imply some migration of souls or reincarnation, though Judaism is very strict about personal carnal and mental destiny.

Each person is unique. At least, there is an undetermined number of potential souls that lead to the fulfillment of the Guf, thus not only a storehouse but the Divine Body in our world. Without being too E.T.-plugged and concerned about the existence of the galaxies, we, humans loitering on earth, do suffer of some "spiritual depressive symptom". In our 21st (58th) century, we know for sure that all possible tribes and nations were discovered on earth. Jews have the tremendous possibility to survey where the Lost Tribes settled and to find them eventually. But humankind may not reckon with the prospect that spiritual life and knowledge of God might exist as extensions of the Guf / Body still scattered in undefined galaxies or planets outside of the solar system.

This should be noted that Melekh HaOlam\מלך העולם – King of the Universe" is not our property, He reigns over the entire creation and entrusted the humans here, on earth, with special abilities to exist, develop or survive. But we might be willing in between to forget that the worlds are wide and on perpetual expansion.

Parshat Shemot\פרשת שמות (Exodus) reported the birth of Moshe and Eastern Christian Churches of the Holy Land celebrated the birth of Jesus. Firstborns are those, who have shown God's blessing of mother wombs, paralleled in the Jewish tradition with Pesach-פסח/Passover, i.e. the passing from slavery to freedom. Mothers might consider that they are indeed the true "slaves" as they domicile their children over nine months. And babies appear to be horribly "selfish" in their unconscious development or movements. On the other hand, "slavery" also implies lack of free space, absence of awareness. Slaves, as employees or executives, make their masters pretty much under their control. As regards babies, their passing through their mom's womb into the world creates a Pesach situation and somehow inaugurates the womb of a woman when she gives birth to her first son (Blog "call in utero" refers to male and female specifications beyond any sex competition).

The Semitic tradition relies upon an in-depth conscience that various sorts of sacrifices (zevachim) ensure a connection between God and the humans. Abraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov offered sacrifices. Progressively this was instituted in a structure that started with the firstborn sons, then the sons of Levi, and defined as "Kohen\כהן - priest". This means that a spiritual community cannot live without special functions. Thirty years ago, in Jerusalem and the Jewish society, there was still a low understanding that the " Beyt HaMikdash\בית המקדש - Third Temple" might one day be rebuilt and the Avodah restored in its midst.

Say that the Temple - without ordinal reference - is alive (qayam\קים - existing) right now on the Mount. Any really well-trained, Talmud-Scripture well-read and praying bar-mitzvah would immediately know how to function inside the Holy of the Holies because the "Avodah\עבודה - Service" has "only" been suspended - and certainly not destroyed or removed from the living Jewish memory and traditional teachings. The respect of the Commandments (Mitzvot) displays and bounces back such an in-life daily reality that governs social and family relationships.

In that respect, it is clear that every Jewish woman throughout history has impressively confronted the suspended Temple Service by birthing firstborns and well-educated men 'til the time of a restoration, if any. Their menstrual lunar cycle as their care of the "taharat mishpachah – family purity" endure until men might serve to the full. For instance, the whole ritual of Yom Kippur clearly describes how the priest Zorobabel reinitialized the Service, incl. the sacrifices in the Temple (Nehemiah, Ezra). The prayer of the 18 Benedictions (Amidah\עמידה) repeatedly insists on the performing of the sacrifices.

Some peopleget mad at the sight of some blood and can't stand the slaughtering of animals. But there is something anchored in the Jewish spiritual experience that calls each of us to pray (to make a "zevach todah\זבח תודה – thanksgiving sacrifice)". Why?

To begin with, the " call in utero" to serve God was reserved to the "bechor\בכור - firstborn son", i.e. a "reshit 'on\ראשית און – first fruit of (a man's) vigor, birthright is his due (lo mishpat habechora "(Devarim / Deut. 21:17)."Kohen\כהן" comes from the root "KaHaN\כהן" whose reflexive form is "nitkahen\נתכהן: be appointed, chosen as a priest for sacrifices"(Talmud Zevachim 101b). The root exists in all Semitic language and refers to "slaughter, make a sacrifice". The problem is that things seem to be systematic or that they developed by allowing certain priestly divisions. No. when the sons of Levi sinned, the priestly function was distributed in a new way. Rules are more flexible and a lot of Jews don't know how flexible they are. The provocative element is not the existence of priestly or "clerical" functions. The word "kohen\כהן" is originally connected with the root "KUN" which indicates a move, a continuous, coherent and dynamic move, thus as in "kavanah\כוונה = spiritual intention, intention to pray with fervor". The different roots or meanings of the root show that the real purpose is to develop a true way of living through the richness of the Jewish traditions, from the smallest to the highest step. But this cannot be a routine, procedure or a function. Jesus has an interesting statement: "let your 'Yes' (ken\כן) means 'Yes' and your 'No' (lo\לא) mean 'No'" (Matthew 5:37; cf James 5;12). Both Jesus and the apostle James declare that with regard to "oaths – nedarim" that are so essential in Jewish spiritual attitude.

The Eastern Orthodox Church of Jerusalem celebrates on January 13-14 the Circumcision of Jesus that also includes his been brought to the Temple and his "pedyon haben\פדיון הבן – redeeming of the (firstborn) son" (Luke 2:22-38). The account of the only evangelist who was a proselyte, shortly recapitulates with some lack of precision the different steps following the birth of a firstborn. Nonetheless, bikkurim\בכורים (firstborns) firstly belong to God as said: "Kadesh Li khol bechor\קדש לי כל בכור: consecrate to Me every first-born, the first issue of every womb among the Israelites is Mine (Exodus 13:2). Then: "You must redeem (tifdah\תפדה) every first-born among your sons" (Exodus 34:20) at a defined price: "Take as their redemption price, from the age of one month up, the money equivalent to five shekels" (Numbers 18:16).

We have a good example of such a situation with Hannah's son, Samuel the prophet, whom she had fervently asked to God and still she accepted that he should not be redeemed (1 Samuel 1:20). Thus he served in the Temple as a "regular first-born bechor\בכור".

At the present, there are different attitudes toward such mitzvot / commandment as the redeeming of a first born. There is certainly more: when the father accepts to redeem cash his firstborn, he takes upon himself the responsibility to retain in his own family circle a son of man who, by birth-call belongs to God and should be trained adequately. The family debits God from one server who is then able to live with the others.

There is something similar in the Gospel of Luke (2:22-38) that accounts the redeeming of Jesus as a firstborn. In that way, he is allowed to share his life with his family and does not only remain God's share. Interestingly, his baptism at the Jordan River by John the Forerunner will allow to follow up the meaning of the rites that fully exist in both Judaism and, at least, in the Christian Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

av aleksander [Winogradsky Frenkel]

January 16/3, 2009 – 20 deTevet 5769 - כ' דטבת תשס"ט

A call in utero

How can we define a "community"? Grownups assuming their mature adulthood, maybe later than some decades ago? Or some Banot/barey mitzvot-ברי\בנות מצות (respectively for girls and boys,12 and 13 years-old) could exercise their full capacities, religious duties, found a family and lead a congregation? It sounds a bit dreamy, but youths can sometimes raise their parents (Malachi 3:24: "to turn... the hearts of the children to their fathers"). A great number of newcomers are thus assisted if not taught the Israeli way of living by late teens who give them a click of Hebrew and a touch of administrative know-how. Still, it is difficult to consider them as self-sufficient or being totally responsible for themselves and others.

We are used to consider that a community is led by heads. Synagogues have rabbis, churches rely upon clergy. Both traditions refer to "semichah\סמיכה - ordination" - "chirotonia - laying of the hands" in Greek that is in force in most Christian traditions; with "new breaches" in some Jewish and Christian denominations which decided to ordain women (mainly Conservative, Reformed for the Jews and Episcopal / Protestant movements for the Christians).

But communities should not mirror some of their strong-minded heads! Let's say that we firstly envisage communities as a gathering of grownups, some of them having many young families and children, other more elderly people. A "kehilah\קהילה - community" reflects a wide spectrum that ranges from kindergarten to elderly home companionship. In some cases, people would not stand the presence of children or get nuts with them.Women? They have their space, not always so opaque to the others.

We rarely envision our community of faith and prayer as a living body mainly composed of former or future babies and, as a rule, as a process of birth. In Israel, there is no civil regulation of the legal wedding system to have babies in a secular way. Except if you go on a short journey to Cyprus or some other countries, some few embassies. But this has raised a lot of problems for the "chilonim\חילונים - seculars". Well, Jerusalem Teddy Kollek was openly an apikoros\אפיקורוס (sort of secular Jew with questions), a son of the former Habsburg Austrian-Hungarian Jewry. He was still a Jew, a character he received by birth.Thus it is normal that he was buried according to the Jewish tradition. Whether a prestigious Israeli personality or a simple citizen, "apikorosity or personal questioning" does not interfere for a community. It relies on a spiritual call that is difficult to deny in our society. There can be dramas: youths who arrived in the country as "olim chadashim\עולים חדשים" (newcomers), but still their Judaism was not "proven". For decades, some newcomers or new born babies were given an Identity Card (teudat Zehut\תעדת זהות) in which their "nation" was marked as "lo barur\לא ברור - not clear", "lo rashum\לא רשום - not registered". I even saw a "lo le'om\לא לאום - without nationality". At that time, there were many people under "bedikah\בדיקה - checking".

They were Israeli citizens or on the process to be recognized as such. I mainly speak now about how we cope with what is considered as "a birthright" – Israel is the State where any Jew may come, settle, be assisted to arrive, get full rights and duties before even having got to what the Israeli society presupposes today in its diversity. They are entitled to "return" to Israel because of their specific ties with Eretz Yisrael and the way the State can accept them as legally members of this community. This has been a challenging quiz over 2000 years. Then, to come back as "rapatrianty\рапатриянты - repatriates" as the former Soviets say is overwhelming because of a State of the Jews grounded on the Scripture. The unbelievable human family and personal backgrounds that makes this Israeli society unique is that it constantly refers to Jewish traditions and salient laws of flexible tolerance that deal with birth in peculiar contexts.

It is written: "God created man (et haadam\את האדם) in His Image (betzalmo\בצלמו), in the Image of God He created him; male and female ("zachar uneqavah\זכר והקבה") He created them"(Bereishit 1:27). But usual translations are wrong by definition. We could argue that this concerns one "adam" prototype composed of two vital elements, maleness and femaleness. This is linked to an incarnating process that fashions a body and substantiates the human developments. "Ki Atah qanita chliyoti\כי אתה קכליתי – You created/acquired my kidneys (conscience)" – Tesukeni bebeten immi\תסקני בבטן אמי – You fashioned me in my mother's womb" (Psalm 139:14). Then what about "zachar uneqavah\זכר ונקבה – male and female"? Good, "humankind" has "males and females". We live in a very unisex society (clothes, accessories, behaviors), sometimes on the verge of androgyny. Curiously the recent TV series dealing with the lives of hospital physicians, show more and more cases of "undetermined" sexual identity at birth. We might be either confused or driven toward some "abnormal defects".

There is this very ancient daily prayer that sounds firstly a bit special but is indeed very down-to-earth if not even hard-boiled: "Blessed are You, Lord of the Universe…/ Who fashioned man with wisdom (chochmah\חכמה) and many neqavim-נקבים/openings (mouth, nostrils) and chalulim-חלולים/cavities (stomach, brains) within him (Shacharit).As often in Semitic tongues, each word is repeated to underscore the importance of this human structure. "Zachar\זכר" (after the root seemingly underwent a change in the middle letter /ch/) means "to remember, recall". "Zechrut\זכרות" = male genitals (Talmud Sanhedrin 10:28d, Avodah Zara 44a), but also a "fructifying system, germ for plants, eggs" (Talmud Shabbat 7:9d). Memory and germinating factors mix up to produce life. Not only memory, but human decisions, brains, heart, feelings cause a man to look for a woman not only to "speak with" but to create a community", sort of joint-venture at times. "Neqavah\נקבה" determines "women as openings, orifices" as in "in the cavity (neqava\נקבא) wherein the pearl is seated" (Talmud Shabbat 90a).

There we have something that may often put aside in defining our communities. Man – as any animal or plant – but with the specification of making use of brains, will, conscience is the only creature to enjoy the same capacities as God to "fashion humans by birthing" and thus building families, tribes, communities that repeat what they were told: generations generate history open to the future of living bodies and souls. This is why the Halachah requires that every male give life by "clinging to his wife/woman – davaq bishto\דבק באשתו (Bereishit 2;24) – not the opposite. Males are the depositories of a seminal memory that allows to fashion, shape and create other human beings. This is an exceptional, totally sacred and natural capacity and, to begin with, the mark of a human identity. God said it was not good for him to be alone (Gen.2:18). Thus, Eve (Chavah\חוה) repairs this loneliness as "ezer kenegdo\עזר כנגדו – helper facing Adam" and flowing out God's imprints of male memory in shaping embryos, babies till they birth.

This is why men must observe the bound-to-time Mitzvot-מצות/Commandments while women are seemingly not time-bound (a few exceptions are mentioned in Talmud Qiddushin 33b). Women are naturally bound to time because of their machzor\מחזור (menstrual cycle and time of fecundity). Say that women are living throughout their life with the showing and disappearance of a fruitful physical and mental (thus also spiritual) calendar. This agenda basically corresponds, per days, to the lunar Jewish month.

We can then give whatever explanations about the fact that the character of being a Jew is transmitted by the mother. This is not stated in the Torah. It has a very special meaning: "You drew me from the womb, made me secure at my mother's breast. I became Your charge at birth; from my mother's womb, You are my God" (Psalm 22:10-11).

Being a Jew is a call in utero. Every human being is fashioned according to God's image and likeness. Before being delivered to this world, a Jew is already a child of Israel. On the other hand, no human being was born a Christian. Whatever origin, Christianity implies to be baptized. Interestingly, in case of emergency, every human – whatever backgrounds or beliefs – can perform a baptism. But no one was ever born a Christian. This is a problem for some nations that often consider they would have gotten some privileges because of their specific Christian backgrounds. Some Christian communities disappeared (North Africa, Arabia, Tibet, China, Mongolia).

On the other hand, sacredness has to be preserved and respected as the mark of God. This call in utero is unique and can somehow be compared to the Temple and the Shechinah (God's Presence). Indeed, the community of Israel starts before birth. Medical monitoring from the earliest days of conception allows at the present another positive attitude towards what a community is and our responsibility.

Quoting the Jewish tradition about the Shechinah\שכינה, Paul of Tarsus said: "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy". (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

av aleksander [Winogradsky Frenkel]

January 16/3, 2009 – 20 deTevet 5769 - כ' דטבת תשס"ט

the fashioning of woman (Eve)
יצירת חוה

Who is where?

On Friday 16th of January 2009, we start reading a new Book as weekly portion, i.e. "Shemot\שמות - (the) Names" in Hebrew, called "Exodus or the flight from Egypt, the house of slavery" in usual translations and traditions.

In Hebrew, it is normal to refer to the first words of Biblical Book: "Ve'eleh shemot Bney Yisrael\ואלה שמות בני ישראל הבאים מצרימה את יעקב איש וביתו באו" = these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each coming from his household" (Shemot/Exodus 1:1). We penetrate the history of a specific small Jewish rooted family. They entered Egypt out of hunger, were saved by Joseph, the son and brother they had left and sold, betrayed. In return, Joseph saved, nourished and redeemed them and made them honored by Pharaoh. Hebrew shows more: eleven brothers entered a foreign country that, at first glance, welcomed them and provided them with a lot of wealth in the fertile region of Goshen.

To begin with, the sons of Israel were accepted. There might have been other troubles or famines, as time passed. Then, a new Pharaoh showed up who did not know Joseph. The problem we have to face is that Jews are either too few, or too many -multiply or disappear by leaving a region. History has also shown how they were plundered, massacred. There is a point that should be highlighted. The Book of Shemot\שמות (Names) prolongs the history initiated in the Book of Bereishit (Commencement) -Genesis of all the universe, beginning with the creation of the world, planets, sun, moon, stars, vegetable and animal creatures and finally the humans. The Jewish tradition insists on that aspect. After thousands of years, Jews are trained to the fact that micro-groups of ten-twelve people can suddenly grow to millions after some centuries or eventually collapse in some circumstances

Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem into the humble family of a carpenter with a prestigious priestly and King David's backgrounds. He started with three Galilean disciples, then 12 that extended to 70 or 72 and finally there are millions of disciples. On the other hand, they did disappear, as the Jews, from some regions, often for the same reasons of rejection or collapse. This is why it is important to take into account this Book of Shemot because it obliges to humble ourselves: Shemot\שמות means "Names" and the Jewish people were conceived as in the image and likeness of God-Elohim (Gen. 1:27) (HaShem - the Only Name) and they only belong to This Name or aim to testify to this Holy Name. Jews have no other reason to exist than to engrave God's Presence into a without soul. This allows another connection to "Shem", Noah's son who is the ancestor of the Semites, dwelling in a place "there (sham\שם)" where The Name is present.

Then, Exodus, from Greek "going - way out", explains the development of a nation in a hostile context. They came to be blessed with food and wealth. They are forced into bondage and seem to be satisfied with their slavery when God decides to save them against their will. We can hardly figure out today what happened by the time of Moshe/Moses. This account is more than relevant, consequential and far-reaching: we trace back this week to the roots of a call to permanent freedom and perpetual release from bondage. There is some extravagance to being born in order to testify that the Lord constantly frees a special group as the model of leberation process proposed to all humankind. This process has been renewed over and over again throughout the ages. This implies other invariant patterns: how to relate with the pagans, the Gentiles. How to overcome our stiff mental reluctance to move ahead. The honest monotheistic believers admit that freedom is worthier than any tricky involuntary projects ordered by hating rulers.

There are some similarities between the birth of the Jewish boy Moshe, saved from killing all Israelite newborns and being adopted by the sister of Pharaoh (Shemot 2:5-11) and the birth of Jesus, the murder of all the Jewish babies ordered by Herod. He fakes to be willing to praise the newborn and wants to know where he was born in order to slay him (Matthew 2:1-12). Then, another Joseph (son of Jacob, (Matthew 1:16)) is told in a dream: "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt." Thus, Herod became furious and ordered the slaughter of the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, citing Prophet Jeremiah (31:15): "A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children and she could not be consoled since they were no more." The Church recalls the "Children massacred by Herod" soon after the Nativity of Jesus. When Herod died as a tyrant, Joseph "took the child and his mother and went to the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael\ארץ ישראל), but fearing Herod's son, they settled in Nazareth (Matthew 2:21-23).

There is a fathomable similarity between the two accounts: to fathom consists to measure "with outstretched arms" as God always did and does. Exodus 6:6 (or Deuteronomy 4:34) is cited in almost every single Jewish prayer: "bizro'a nituyah\בזרוע נתויה = with outstretched arm (I will redeem you)".

In both cases – commemorated at the same time, with parallel and dissimilar views – Jews and Christians firstly recall the birth and saving of Moshe and, on the other hand, the birth and saving of Jesus. In both cases the will to power is so resolute, violent and mighty that murders are preferred to life. Of course, it was totally bizarre to the enslaved Jews to be protected by the man they considered as the son of Pharaoh. Again, we face "appearance" vs. "being" as when Joseph appeared to his brothers as an Egyptian manager. Our generation never experienced the singularity reported in the reading of this week. We survived thousands of years of pagan hatred and two millennia of estranged bewilderment in our facing other monotheistic communities. Jews settled too often in various parts of the world with the impression that – remaining somehow or totally faithful to the Jewish traditions – they would be protected by some sort of rulers. This is a tragic bluff that deceived generations. In the Shemot reading, we see how Moses is conscious of being a foreigner (his first son is Gershom\גרשום = (I) was a stranger there). Is it the chronicle of a liberation process? We might be tempted to make comparisons, all through history. Exodus is and remains unique as it climaxes with Pesach\פסח / Passover and the going-out from bondage to delivery.

There might be more. Humans are good at reducing God to a sort of despotic ruler Who issued numerous ordinances, some of which we comply with; and most often we systematically select those we accept or reject. This is the dialogue between God and Moses at the bush that does not burn up "has'neh bo'er ba'esh vehas'neh eynenu ukal\והסנה בער באש והסנה איננו אכל" (there was a bush all aflame, yet the bush was not consumed – Ex. 3:2). God said to Moshe: "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob". The root of the word "S'neh\סנה – thorn bush" is connected to Aramaic/Hebrew (different spelling): "sina\שנאה – hatred, removal".

God is different, totally alien to any sort of image we can figure out. Humans use to hide themselves or try to be high-profile in this world. Such a bush changes any moment into times of eternity and any jealousy into wiping out wickedness. This is what Rabbi Yehiel Michal of Zlotshov explained when he said that Abraham had accomplished all the 613 Mitzvot\תרי"ג מצות / Commandments. He declared that Abraham loved God with all his heart, soul and spirit. Moshe progressively gets to this point: being "dressed" as a foreigner to his own people. God is indeed loving and kind, faithful and merciful. He turns and returns to the human beings constantly, with much faithfulness to a call.

From the time of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob until Joseph and the 12 sons of Israel, Jews have been alien (they do not enjoy the same rights as the local citizens) even if Machpelah is theirs as the "the burial site bought by Abraham from Ephron the Hittite" (Gen. 50:13). There are tons of small or bigger nations that hate each other for racial, cultural, social, economic reasons. In this particular weekly reading, we have to face the kernel reason: Jews only exist to attest that, from nil, God calls to being; He calls to enhancement, unexpected growth and freedom. Eretz Yisrael is given to the twelve sons of Israel as a permanent lease for life. Thus, Judaism is bringing forth non-perishable seeds of reality, survival and hopeful continuance.

Two texts from the Talmud are very similar: Tractates Nedarim 39b and Pessahim 54a.They explain that before God created heaven and earth, seven counselors were discussing with Him to know whether it made sense or not to launch the process! These pre-existing advisors were: Torah\תורה, Teshuvah\תשובה (penance), Kisse HaKavod\כסא הכבוד (Throne of Glory), Devir\דביר (Holy of Holies), Gan Eden\גן עדן, Gey Hinnom\גיי הינום (Gehenna) and Shem HaMashiach\שם המשיח (Name of the Messiah).

They appeared step by step, through the process of historical development. But one thing is constant, endures and questions us at the present. Even back in Eretz Yisrael, how do we prove to be seeds of freedom? Moses was thus given a password to speak to the enslaved Jews: God has a Name: "Ehyeh Asher Ehyehאהיה אשר אהיה" (Shemot 3;14).This Name continues to convulse and reshuffle our daily lives and paths. Say it may correspond to "I am Who I am" – frankly, it sounds stiff; correct, but inelastic and aloof. God is merciful... The burning bush without consuming reveals that God's Name means: "I will (not 'shall') be/come the Who to the fullest of Who I will be/come". This sounds jet-set stylish, but read again, please: it is a motion without automatics; or "I will become/develop to exist to the fullest the One (Who)I will live to the full".

With Exodus, we face a new creation project as read each Shabbat: "Vaychulu hashamayim vehaaretz\ויכולו השמים והארץ – heaven and earth were achieved" (Gen. 1:31). Not finished: "yachulu\יכולו" echoes an action on the move to the full, as the kallah\כלה (bride) who begins her life-long path with her special one.

Someway, Jesus summarized what God proposes to any Jew and believer: "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head" (Matthew 8:20).Indeed, we start, this week, a huge trip with the go-getting Name of the Lord!

In these days of hardships and confusion, it maybe terrible for all the nations and the people embattled in the conflict in the Middle-East and Israel, Palestinian Territories under control of the Palestinian Authority, to clear our minds. Whose shemot/שמות-names? What kind of Exodus? From where to where and for whom with whom; for the sake of whom or what? There are indeed times and delays.

The Shabbat and the One Church as One Body is like Jesus' tunic: it is not a lot, a gambling party, it is impossible for any human to tear it up. There are days and nights when we appear to be lost. God searches unity and leads us though to discernment.

Av Aleksandr [winogradsky frenkel]

January 11, 2009/Dec. 29, 2008 – 15 deTevet 5769 - ט"ו דטבת תשס"ט

Jerusalem by night - ירושלים בלילה
The sign of Resurrection - Anastasis, Jerusalem.

The Monk Anthony The Great

The Monk Anthony The Great (356 AD)
By Reader Michael Hann

a very great ascetic, the founder of wilderness-monastery life and as such the father of monasticism, is entitled "the Great" by Holy Church. He was born in Egypt in the village of Coma, near the Thebaid wilderness, in the year 251. His parents were pious Christians of illustrious lineage. From his youth Anthony was always serious and given over to concentration. He loved to visit church services and he hearkened to the Holy Scripture with such deep attention, that he remembered what he heard all his entire life. The commandments of the Lord guided him from the time of his very youth. When Saint Anthony was about twenty years old, he lost his parents, but in his care remained his sister, a minor in age. Visiting the church services, the youth was pierced through by a reverent feeling towards those Christians who, as it relates in the Acts of the Apostles, sold off their possessions and the proceeds thereof they applied in following after the Apostles. He heard in church the Gospel passage of Christ, spoken to the rich young man: "If thou wouldst be perfect, sell what thou hast and give it to the poor; and thou wilt have treasure in heaven; and come follow after Me" (Mt. 19: 21). Anthony understood this as spoken to him personally. He sold off his property that remained to him after the death of his parents, he distributed the money to the poor, he left is sister in the care of pious virgins in a monastic setting, he left his parental home, and having settled not far from his village in a wretched hut, he began his ascetic life. He earned his livelihood by working with his hands, and alms also for the poor. Sometimes the holy youth also visited other ascetics living in the surrounding areas, and from each he sought to receive direction and benefit. And to a particular one of these ascetics he turned for guidance in the spiritual life.

In this period of his life the Monk Anthony was subjected to terrible temptations by the devil. The enemy of the race of man troubled the young ascetic with thoughts, and with doubts about his chosen path, with anguish over his sister, and he attempted to incline Anthony towards fleshly sin. But the monk preserved his firm faith, he incessantly made prayer and intensified his efforts. Anthony prayed that the Lord would point out to him the path of salvation. And he was granted a vision. The ascetic beheld a man, who by turns alternately finished a prayer, and then began to work -- this was an Angel, which the Lord had sent to instruct His chosen one. The monk thereupon set up a strict schedule for his life. He partook of food only once in the entire day, and sometimes only once every second or third day; he spent all night at prayer, giving himself over to a short sleep only on the third or fourth night after unbroken vigil. But the devil would not desist with his tricks, and trying to scare the monk, he appeared under the guise of monstrous phantoms. The saint however with steadfast faith protected himself with the Life-Creating Cross. Finally the enemy appeared to him in the guise of a frightful looking black lad, and hypocritically declaring himself beaten, he reckoned to sway the saint into vanity and pride. But the monk expelled the enemy with prayer.

For yet greater solitude, the saint re-settled farther away from the village, in a graveyard. On designated days his friend brought him a scant bit of food. And here the devils, pouncing upon the saint with the intent to kill him, inflicted upon him terrible beatings. But the Lord would not allow the death of Anthony. The friend of the saint, on schedule taking him his food, saw him as though dead laying upon the ground, and he took him away back to the village. They thought the saint was dead and began to prepare for his burial. But the monk in the deep of night regained consciousness and besought his friend to take him back to the graveyard. The staunchness of Saint Anthony was greater than the wile of the enemy. Taking the form of ferocious beasts, the devils again tried to force the saint to forsake the place chosen by him, but he again expelled them by the power of the Life-Creating Cross. The Lord strengthened the power of His saint: in the heat of the struggle with the dark powers the monk saw coming down to him from the sky a luminous ray of light, and he cried out: "Where hast Thou been, O Merciful Jesus?.. Why hast Thou not healed my wounds at the very start?" The Lord replied: "Anthony! I was here, but did wait, wanting to see thine valour; and now after this, since thou hast firmly withstood the struggle, I shalt always aid thee and glorify thee throughout all the world". After this vision the Monk Anthony was healed of his wounds and ready for renewed efforts. He was then 35 years of age.

Having gained spiritual experience in the struggle with the devil, the Monk Anthony pondered going into the deeps of the Thebaid wilderness, and in full solitude there to serve the Lord by deed and by prayer. He besought the ascetic elder (to whom he had turned at the beginning of his monastic journey) to go off together with him into the wilderness, but the elder, while blessing him in the then as yet unheard of exploit of being suchlike an hermit, decided against accompanying him because of the infirmity of age. The Monk Anthony went off into the wilderness alone. The devil tried to stop him, throwing in front of the monk precious gems and stones, but the saint paid them no attention and passed them on by. Having reached a certain hilly spot, the monk caught sight of an abandoned enclosed structure and he settled within it, securing the entrance with stones. His faithful friend brought him bread twice a year, and water he had inside the enclosure. In complete silence the monk partook of the food brought him. The Monk Anthony dwelt for 20 years in complete isolation and incessant struggle with the devils, and he finally found tranquillity of spirit and peace in his mind. When it became appropriate, the Lord revealed to people about His great ascetic. The saint had to instruct many layfolk and monastics. The people gathering at the enclosure of the monk removed the stones sealing his entrance way, and they went to Saint Anthony and besought him to take them under his guidance. Soon the heights on which Saint Anthony asceticised was encircled by a whole belt of monastic communities, and the monk fondly directed their inhabitants, teaching about the spiritual life to everyone who came into the wilderness to be saved. He taught first of all the need to take up spiritual efforts, to unremittingly strive to please the Lord, to have a willing and unselfish attitude towards types of work shunned earlier. He urged them not to be afraid of demonic assaults and to repel the enemy by the power of the Life-Creating Cross of the Lord.

In the year 311 the Church was beset by a trial -- a fierce persecution against Christians, set in motion by the emperor Maximian. Wanting to suffer together with the holy martyrs, the Monk Anthony left the wilderness and arrived in Alexandria. He openly rendered aid to the imprisoned martyrs, he was present at the trial and interrogations, but the torturers would not even bother with him! It pleased the Lord to preserve him for the benefit of Christians. With the close of the persecution, the monk returned to the wilderness and continued his exploits. The Lord bestowed upon His saint a gift of wonderworking: the monk cast out devils and healed the sick by the power of his prayer. The multitude of people coming to him disrupted his solitude, and the monk went off still farther, into the so-called "interiour of the wilderness", and he settled atop an high elevation. But the brethren of the wilderness monasteries searched out the monk and besought him at least often to pay visits to their communities.

Another time the Monk Anthony left the wilderness and arrived amidst the Christians in Alexandria, to defend the Orthodox faith against the Manichaean and Arian heresies. Knowing that the name of the Monk Anthony was venerated by all the Church, the Arians circulated a lie about him -- that he allegedly adhered to their heretical teaching. But actually being present in Alexandria, the Monk Anthony in front of everyone and in the presence of the bishop openly denounced Arianism. During the time of his brief stay at Alexandria he converted to Christ a great multitude of pagans. Pagan philosophers came to the monk, wanting by their speculations to test his firm faith, but by his simple and convincing words he reduced them to silence. The Equal-to-the-Apostles emperor Constantine the Great (+ 337, Comm. 21 May) and his sons deeply esteemed the Monk Anthony and besought him to visit them at the capital, but the monk did not want to forsake his wilderness brethren. In reply to the letter, he urged the emperor not to be overcome with pride by his lofty position, but rather to remember, that even over him was the Impartial Judge -- the Lord God.

The Monk Anthony spent 85 years of his life in the solitary wilderness. Shortly before his death, the monk told the brethren, that soon he would be taken from them. Time and again he instructed them to preserve the Orthodox faith in its purity, to shun any association with heretics, and not to weaken in their monastic efforts. "Strive the yet more to dwell ever in unity amongst ye, and most of all with the Lord, and then with the saints, so that upon death they should bring ye into eternity by their blood, as friends and acquaintances", -- thus were the death-bed words of the monk passed on in his Vita (Life). The monk bid two of his disciples, who had been together with him the final 15 years of his life, to bury him in the wilderness and not arrange any solemn burial of his remains in Alexandria. Of his two monastic mantles, the monk left one to Sainted Athanasias of Alexandria (Comm. 18 January), the other to Sainted Serapion of Tmunta. The Monk Anthony died peacefully in the year 356, at age 105, and he was buried by his disciples at a treasured spot glorified by him in the wilderness.

The Vita (Life) of the famed ascetic the Monk Anthony the Great was written in detail by a father of the Church, Saint Athanasias of Alexandria. This work of Saint Athanasias is the first memorial of Orthodox hagiography, and is considered one of the finest of his writings; Saint John Chrysostom says, that this Vita should be read by every Christian. "These narratives be significantly small in comparison with the virtues of Anthony, -- writes Saint Athanasias, -- but from them ye can conclude, what the man of God Anthony was like. From his youth into his mature years observing an equal zeal for asceticism, not being seduced by the avenues of filth, and not as regards infirmity of body altering his garb, nor the any worse for it in suffering arm. His eyes were healthy and unfailing and he saw well. Not one tooth fell out for him, and they only weakened at the gums from the advanced years of age. He was healthy of hand and of foot (...). And what they said about him everywhere, all being amazed at him, whereof even those that did not see him loved him -- this serves as evidence of his virtue and love for God in soul".

Of the works of the Monk Anthony himself, there have come down to us: 1) his Discourses, 20 in number, treating of the virtues, primarily monastic, 2) Seven Letters to monasteries -- about striving for moral perfection and regarding the spiritual struggle, and 3) a Rule of life and consolation for monastics.

In the year 544 the relics of the Monk Anthony the great were transferred from the wilderness to Alexandria, and later on with the conquest of Egypt by the Saracens in the VII Century, they were transferred to Constantinople. The holy relics were transferred from Constantinople in the X-XI Centuries to a diocese outside Vienna, and in the XV Century -- to Arles (in France), into the church of Saint Julian.