A touch of perpetual commandments

We are a few days before erev Pesach/Passover eve on April 8th at night. In the meanwhile, the country will get through a normal cleaning of houses. Families and enterprises will paint and renew rooms and facilities; restaurants and coffee-shops will surely close for a week or clean the place right after the end of the Shabbat, normally on Sunday.

The day before Pesach eve, families are involved in the search for the chametzחמץ or sort of edible dough/ fermentation accelerator substance, which was forbidden in the burnt-sacrifices on the Temple altar (Shemot 12:15-18).There is another sort of leaven, the original se’or ) שאור/dough which is not edible but may be present in other products. This is quite a funny occupation to collect some odd pieces of tiny chametz rests with feathers or lulav – לולב/palm branches that have been kept from the time of previous Sukkot, and spoons. Usually the mother would propose to “find” ten chametz-shtikelekhחמץ שטיקעלעך (pieces) corresponding to the ten plagues. The burning of the chametz or its sale to non-Jews are the major activities that allow to enter the time of freedom. From Nissan 14 through 21st (April 8 to 15), it is forbidden to eat unleavened products in Jewish homes and quarters in Israel.

Italian, French, Japanese, Korean or Russian restaurants can hardly cope with the koshering rules that do not only exclude bread or leaven. According to a rule of the Supreme Court, leavened products can still be eaten in restaurants and sold in non-Jewish quarters. It is a whole spirit that will be felt in various ways during the Feast. Curiously, Israelis often do not like that much the Matzah or unleavened bread that can be very sophisticated. I doubt that the ancestors baked orange or lemon taste matzot. The fresh and flavored kneydlechקניידלעך (matzo balls) of the East-European tradition served with mushroom or chicken soup is seemingly dressed up in some local falafel or other more kosher peas…

What do you plan to eat? In a society where people are noshing all the time and not only eating little bits of small sparrow dishes, it is a must to eat the Seder meal properly and to share it with the needy. Edibles can also be distributed to the many associations that are doing a huge work whatever hundreds of chickens or Seder meals that should include good portions. Harossetהרוסת is a delight…

The reading portion Shabbat “Tzavצו” is read from Leviticus/Vayikra 6:1-8:36: (The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:)Tzav – צו/Command Aaron and his sons. The better part of the reading deals with the institution of priesthood and the service of the Levites, the offerings that were presented on the altars inside of the Tent of the Meeting, later in the Temple. It is important to underline today the specific call and task linked to the quality of being a kohenכהן or a leviלוי within the Jewish community. At the present, it is much appreciated to add to a family name the word “haKohenהכהן – the priest”. We are longing after our judges and counselors as mentioned in the Amidahעמידה (prayer of the 18 Benedictions). It is quite possible that the intense and burden-like sacrifice of the Jewish community throughout the ages and in different contexts cause today, a quest for the renewal of an acting priesthood, with true sacrifices that may contradict the ethics of most wildlife and animal protection associations.

Still, this Pesachפסח, rabbis a large quantity of rams and lambs will come close to the Temple Mount to achieve the commandment of the Feast. Many groups are getting together because they intend to climb up the Temple Mount and pray there. The move is increasing. This year, various groups are getting ready to this event and gather in a lot of supporters, more and more Jews considering that it is a positive commandment.

After 3000 years of personal sacrifices that cost the lives of hundreds and thousands of Jews, the Israelite soul, born at the Sinai in order to return to the Land of Canaan, profoundly feels the need for olotעולות (sacrifices) and shelamimשלמים (sacrifices that could partly be eaten). They were offered by the “priests – kohanimכהנים”. The last daily act still performed by the kohanim (especially at the Kotel – Western Wall in Jerusalem) is the “birkat kohanimברכת כהנים”, the blessing they address to Israel and somehow to the whole world (Numbers/Bemidbar 6:22). This has been done everyday from the time of the wilderness to the two Batei-Mikdashבתי מקדש (Temples) and their destruction until now, any time and everywhere! In some way, it corresponds to a zevach todahזבח תודה, a non-bleeding thanksgiving sacrifice for peace. On the other hand, the last verse : “az ya’alu al-mizbachacha parimאז יעלו על-מזבחך פרים – then bulls will be offered on your altar” (Tehillim 51:21) means that “parim – bulls” are the Jews that made a sacrifice of their existences to testify for God’s truth. The institution of priesthood may be tracked back in the Egyptian “hom-neter” (servant of the supreme divinity).

At the Sinai, God’s sacrifices and those offered to Him transcend the ancient and gregarious call to extirpate death by killing humans, animals, frankincense. The Prophets Isaiah 61:6 – Jeremiah 33:21-22- Ezekiel 40-44 showed that the heart of priesthood is to say yes to any divine project and intercede for life, loving-kindness. Israel constitutes a unique “mamlechet kohanimממלכת כהנים – kingdom of priests”(Ex. 19:6;1 Peter 2:9; cf. Apocalypse 1:6 always cited in the traditional Byzantine and Latin Church liturgies and others as referring to Christianity, suspiciously a way of “replacement theology” that always tried to replace the perpetual aspect of Jewish priesthood – cf. Romans 9:4).

The Hebrew spirituality has given a special character to their priests. Nobody can choose to be a kohen. A man receives this at it birth and through the quality of his mother’s entrails. He must have peculiar skin and soul specificities, cannot marry a divorcee or be a convert. When the Temple was existent, the kohanim had no properties, no land, were permanently expecting their food and subsistence from the brother tribes.

Curiously, the same is described in the epistle to the Hebrews as concerns the Church priests. It was possible to destitute unworthy priests(Avodah Zara 3b) who often did not show as models of virtue. Still, the mutual dependence of the Jews and their priests created a spiritual thirst for more blessings. The Tehillim have a special verse: “Nishba HaShemנשבע ה’ -God has sworn/ velo yinachemולא ינחם – and He will not repent/ atah kohen le’olamאתה כהן לעולם-you are priest forever/ al divrati malki-tzedekעל דברתי מלכי צדק- after the manner of Melkitzedek, the right decree – after the words pronounced by Melkisedek (Ps. 110:4). The Jewish tradition (Rashi) tried to oppose the Greek version that allowed the Christian to focus on the priesthood of Melkisedek as the model for Jesus as the high priest. Thus “al divratiעל דברתי = after the manner = kata ten taksin = after the order, state (of Melkisedek)”. The rabbinic tradition, on the contrary, interpreted “al divrati” as “after the words, statement of Melkisedek” who welcomed Abraham after the battle against the Amalekites (Gen. 14:1-16).

Instead of giving thanks to God first, the priest of Salem blessed Abraham, committing a sin through which Abraham received his everlasting priesthood. God did promise that Abraham’s descent will have the priestly privilege of being a sign of blessing. A few hours before Pesach 5769, as it seems that a large part of Jews are either scared by “other people, foreigners living in this country”, we should be aware that many people would develop a high level of xenophobia that rarely showed to such an extent. We should remember that we are called to serve and that “in Abraham all the nations shall call upon each other his blessing received from God”(Bereishit 18:18; 22:17).

Thus, as many contemporary thinkers and Orthodox Jews have pointed out, there is a basic link and solidarity between the Jews and the Nations and this connection is deeply rooted in the creation of man in the image and likeness of the Ony One. Michael Wyschogrod even thought that this is “perhaps the single most powerful statement of the Bible”. In the TaNaKh, it precedes the election of Abraham and of Israel and therefore is placed at the peak of all mitzvot and human life and social networks.

Nonetheless, priesthood with faith and the Pharisaic position of belief in the resurrection of the dead is shared with the Christian Creed. The option of the Sadducees often showed in the Jewish history. They did not believe in the resurrection and. Although they had no hope except in this life, they offered the sacrifices. Priesthood implies to believe “be’emunah shlemahבאמונה שלמה- with perfect faith” that humankind can reach out to holiness, “qedushaקדושה – sanctity”. Depravity, corruption, misconducts can be and are repaired by God as spiritual disabilities. Prophet Isaiah’s word “Qadosh, Qadosh Qadosh, HaShem Tzevaotקדוש קדוש קדוש יי צבאות – Holy, holy, holy the Lord of the Hosts /male ha’aretz kvodo מלא כל הארץ כבודו – all the earth is full of His glory” is constantly repeated during the prayer of the 18 Benedictions (Amidah; known as “Qedushaקדושה”).

This is also this week the Shabbat Hagadolשבת הגדול that precedes the Feast of Passover. A great Shabbat, maybe also the great Shabbat par excellence. We saw, in the past weeks, how essential and significant the Shabbat is in the Jewish destiny. It is not a day-off. It is resting in the sense that God took a rest, had a break. It is the holiest time that shows every seventh day. The Shabbat is unique as the day One of the creation. It celebrates a fulfillment that continues to be developed “asher bara Eloh’im la’assotאשר ברא אלהים לעשות – as God did it realizing it” (Gen. 2:3). On the 10th of Nissan, a Shabbat (Ex. 12:1-3), the Israelites took the lambs they ate for the Feast. Rams, lambs and ewes belonged to the animal deities of the Egyptians who started to quarrel among themselves (midrash Tehillim Rabba 136:6) and did not attack the Jews. There is more: in offering the lamb as a mitzvah commanded by God, the Israelites delivered themselves as the Egyptians from the pagan cult. It often happened and still occurs that the Jews would have to act or use pagan objects in order to change their heathen nature into a divine observance.

As a rule, Christian Easter is celebrated after the Jewish chag Pesach – חג פסח/Feast of Passover. In the Churches, this Saturday and Sunday will be Palm Day commemorating the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem and his acclamation by the people waving the Palms (lulavלולב). This has raised a lot of interrogations as to know if the evangelist John’s schedule was not mistaken so that it would coincide with the Feast of Sukkot – סוכות/Tabernacles. There is no evidence that the palms which were waved to acclaiming Jesus might anyhow be connected with the few lulav branches kept for the bedikat chametz (search for the leaven), which would make sense as Jesus will say he is “the lamb who takes and removes the sin” (John 1:29). This line has not been explored that much at the present. The Oriental entrance starts on the Mount of Olives, at Beth-Phage (as the way of the Cross – derech HaIssurimדרך העסורים in Hebrew on Good Friday), but closer to Jerusalem for the Western Churches. Traditions often intermingle here. Psalm 118:25 “Baruch haba beShem HaShemברוך הבא בשם ה’ – blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord” has been since the time of the early Church in most liturgies, added to the Qedusha called Trisagion/Trisvyatoe/Sanctus in Greek, Slavonic and Latin. And it is followed by the verse of that psalm.

A new Pesach/Passover? A new Passcha/Easter? It is always new. What remains new, incredibly new, constantly new, urgently new and “forward” is that God continues to call us pass from “avdut lecherutעבדות לחרות – slavery to freedom”.

av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenke]l

March 30/17, 2009 – 5 deNissan 5769 – ה’ דניסן תשס”ט

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