With what profits will we remember of year 5769? Is it possible to understand anything and to detect God’s projects that so many would eventually deny?
Our civilization is divided into the speediest instant messengers, some up-to-the-second thrilling tempo of life and a burden-like, often shameful and scandalous waste of time and competences. Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been sleeping since the 4th of Tevet 5766 (January 4, 2006).
Precisely one year ago, the world was about to sink in the worst financial collapse since 1929. It appeared that the corruption of the trading world and stock exchanges had then reached a borderline if not a deadline. Traders are again overpaid, again States fund and fund again banking institutions that waste the money again and again and further again! It then appeared that Iceland and Ireland had sold their souls. Iceland had developed to a very prosperous and wealthy countries in the past decades. I remember how we lived on a very high level there and people used to work intensively. Today, the country is on sale and was about to be captured by the Russian Federation, I mean at least that such money were about to be injected that the Icelandic State would be a sort of satellite. They had been growing bananas, oranges because of their geysers and the assistance of the American presence… Today people sell their houses and – unheard – they have needy in the streets…
The same is happening with Ireland. Moreover, it appeared that the educational system of the Catholic institutions in this very religious had been rotten for decades by the local clergy, sexual abuses, rapes and humiliation of the pupils for several generations. Along with that, America’s collapse is going on, California is on the verge of bankrupt, also unheard for the State that simply could sustain the whole or at least some areas of the other States of the Union.
Germany turns 60 years new style. This started in 1949; there was the split into two entities: the Western Federal and the Eastern Democratic republics that reunified only 20 years ago as the prelude to the fall of the communist regimes. Whatever blind we can be and want to stay, Germany as Poland have been cut from huge national territories. It would be a mistake or a sort of misunderstanding to think that the Prussian refugees have no memory and that the cities of Koenigsberg and Memel belong to the past or turned “post-Soviet” or “Russian”.
Europe cannot find the right way and errs, as in the first beginnings, with a Euro and increasing numbers of candidates. The Second World War started exactly 70 years ago. Europe cannot overcome the period and is at pains with her soul. There is a document at the Vatican Library dating back to the 11th century. It shows how the schism developed between Rome and Constantinople. The anathemas took much more time to be in force. In some areas, it is even difficult to think that they ever were in force.
But Catholicism and Orthodoxy do not care and don’t have any sense of living memory to really and decently correct a situation that traced back to the then one Roman Empire era. Rabbi S. Aviner (Ateret Cohanim) has a very insightful question that he shares with other decisioners: Is the Jewish people allowed or entitled to return to the places of death from where they were murdered and extorted till their memory disappeared? When Abraham intervened for Sodom, God listened to him. When he decided to destroy the two cities, he told Abraham and Lot not to look back, which is also a provision uttered by Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 9:62).
It is a pending question: what do the Jews have to do in Europe as communities? The move has been constant throughout history and long before Christianity. The Jews were praying in Greek in Athens and Rome while the Mizrachim/מזרחים or Oriental Jews never cam back from Iraq, Persia, South Arabia and Yemen until our generation. The Jews of Alexandria (Egypt) who simply lived for centuries next door to Israel could not or hardly decide to return home in 1948-52. The main problem is to know whether it is permitted or not to leave Israel once a Jew returned and rooted his future here. It is even interesting in a legal point of view: the “aliyah/עליה ” starts when Jews ascend to Zion for ever. At the present, it becomes a huge theological rabbinical question as people can come and get an Identity Card and then leave again or back and forth.
This is very likely to be compared to Abraham before he had to settle and bury Sarah his wife. But look back: the whole thing is like a blurred picture and we wait for some clarification that may only come from time unveiling new times and epochs. Israeli society is very dynamic. But it develops in a context of constant blackmailing speech. In 1967, Jews knew who was who. Today, things are indeed blurred. But the process of melting is ongoing and will not stop. The Jews have the right to be more and more suspicious and extremists are as right and the most forward leftists and Israeli human right movements. This is a paradox, but it shows how life is complex.
Former Soviet newcomers are also at pains to get into the society but they do, as the Ethiopians do. The result is that generations will breed a new Israeli culture that has to be strongly rooted in Judaism. It also shows the terrible fall of the Christian Churches and their lack of confidence as well as local credit. The Churches pathetically need to turn to the Jewish AND Israeli culture and society.This is the difficult way of having been trained by centuries of dualities. Today the situation is confusing for the ecclesiastical communities. We do assist to an extravagant revolving process of the Church history. But History is ongoing by nature; faith is different. Nobody is allowed to betray a single soul for the sake of faith or usurping the pretence that faith can lead to abandon true faith. In the Gospel, the disciples were in the house with closed doors “by fear of the Jews”. Today, the disciples and hierarchies are in the same situation because of their own panic and fright to lose their goods and properties.
The general situation did not help Israeli society this year. It could manage in a very special way to overcome the international crisis. This shows the existence of reliable and real networks of Israeli developing activities that also sustain different regions of the world. On the other hand, “exclusion” and forms of “racism” that always existed among the Jewish communities mirror at the present the way most nations behave and appear to be framed. It will pass. It is a very strangulating period of stress and distrust.
For the first time in history, the visit of the Pope of Rome showed how constrained the Churches are and certainly will be under the control of the Israeli authorities. There is a real problem of justice and righteousness. Even if it sounded a bit arrogant (it was not and only a real question), the fact that the Rabbinate of Israel could require from the Pope to give explanations about those Jews who could not join back their Jewish communities after World War II constitutes a rare if not unique event that should humble Christendom. Indeed, there are a lot of missionaries while other denominations are openly anti-Semitic or frightened to do anything. It will take a long time to get settled.
It is never good for Israel to feel that alone. It is not normal for Christian communities to get so estranged in their own requirements and the encounter with the Jews. It may happen some time and there are some tiny signs. It does not that we can encounter in depth. It only means that new measures will be used in the future for the Jews to apprehend Christianity. Maybe the Churches do not get so easily to that point.
In the coming year, the real problem maybe how to face the emergence of Israel as a State collecting people from all the nations; and how this can be a source of some dialogue with the Christians. The dialogue with Islam has a long history that should be taken into account by all groups.
In the course of 5769, we roved here and there and rambled in the search of some long-term solution. Our ancestors were wandering from Ur-Kasdimאור כסדים down to Egypt and back to the Land of Canaan. Abraham erred – because he was seeking God or it would be more adequate to say that God took him on a journey. He was – as we often shared it here – “bekhom hayomחום יהיום – in the very heat of the day”. Together with Sarah, he was struggling along throughout wide spaces and unknown people, but he did it consistently, cheating at times but overcoming all the “nissayonot – נסיונות/ tempting tests proposed by God while Sarah could have a grin or some laugh. No real problem: it was still prophetic. We read quite the same with Moses’ story. He constantly remained a man of faith in the context of impossible challenges.
Elie[zer] Wiesel’s first account written after his experience in the concentration camp of Auschwitz echoes this profound darkness and abandonment: “Di Nachtאון די וועלט האט געשוויגן – די נאכט – the Night”. The young survivor of a “Nacht und Nebel – night and fog” period could hardly describe what is beyond any description. As numerous survivors, it took time before he could only smile. Thousands of pious Jews got away from their ancestors’ faith in the living God and until today, it remains a very painful and open wound for a great number of souls. It is an act of divine loving-kindness that some men and women, survivors and their children could surface after the Churbanחורבן (Extermination) with something parallel to the seeded steadfast, inflexible though not rigid emunah-אמונה / confidence-faith of Abraham, Moses or Job. In this respect, the rather joyous spiritual traditions experienced by the Sephardim and Oriental Jewries do reinvigorate and everywhere allow curing the scars left by history. Indeed, sarcastic and cynical attitudes mirror how the twentieth century had thickly been marked by darkness and despair.
True, the communist terror and various forms of genocides in different countries (South Africa, Turkey, Cambodia, Rwanda) would also enter in some sort of conflict with the light shown at Mamre’s oaks. The Russian Eastern Orthodox monk, saint Silouane the Athonite, declared: “Keep your soul in hell and do not despair”, which definitely links the Oriental tradition with the powerful rise and revival of Judaism.
“Night” is en vogue. It makes sense because it allows showing that people who dedicated their lives to God could – like anybody else – be terribly affected by some total privation or defect of God’s Presence. A young French Catholic nun, saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who died at the age of 26 years-old, was the first to describe with remarkable insights her experience of “night, or divine apparent absence” as a spiritual test. Jewish and Christian, Muslim renewal and sometimes stiff attitudes contrast and might come into conflict with this experience of a spiritual “eclipse / tzimtzum-ציצום” that affected the last century in many aspects.
Nonetheless, there is a profound gap between the Jewish and Christian approaches with regards to this darkness or “night”. The reading portion of this week is a twofold one; the second portion is usually read after Rosh HaShanah. These Shabbat readings “Netzavim-Vayelechנצבים וילך” are thus to be found in Devarim-דברים / Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20 and 31:1-30.
Our memory is short-minded and sighted. This is true in our own lives and records. We may be swirling in a world of pictures, takes, shots, videos and films. Images are stored en masse and fade. Days pass, disappear and change. They apparently may give the impression of some déjà-vu. Fashion swings that way. There is a special way for Jewishness to apprehend tenses. But Judaism cannot focus on any positive “night or darkness, absence of eclipse / tzimtzum of God”. Christianity has it as a part of natural Gentile and “heathen-rooted” tendency. It turns to be a positive experiment because it shows that God chooses and man may feel as left aside, abandoned.
The most difficult part for Jews is to admit that such a spiritual posture is not linked to idolatry and that faith in God may show as “ from under ashes or dust” (cf. Gen. 3:19; “Al efer tashuvאל עפר תשוב – you shall return to dust”). The so-called “culture of death” has reigned over too many events that affected Christianity in the past century. On the other hand, Jews may forget that they are proposed two ways, once again, for the last time before Autumnal New Year: blessing or curse. Indeed we ask that the year end with its curses and that New Year start with God’s blessings. Does it mean that we enjoy any real free will and free choice? Pre-destination and absence of free will or conscience have prevailed throughout the Christian history and that souls are at stake.
The Catholic Church revised this essential point during the last Council that ended in 1965. The Oriental and Orthodox Churches are less flexible until now, though they mainly focus on conversion, return to God and resurrection. Indeed, our freedom depends, as concerns Judaism, on how the Mitzvot are so real and abide our souls that everything only depends on God.
The reading portion proposes a set of choices to which we are submitted beyond any personal decision. True, we are called to bless, to build, support, save, cure and help. Daily life may be rather a burden that too much misses simple justice. We have seen that during the year: “shuvשוב – again, return, renew” is the main spiritual and human tendency. Judaism is shaped to value life and not death. Life supersedes anything and this is the exceptional spiritual plus that Judaism brought and maintains, and somehow sustains among the Nations. It is the real challenge of the hardships faced in the timid development of a dialogue with the Christians. This is the terrible difference between Jews and Christians. Just as the night would seemingly be considered as a positive sign of humbleness, death may be a temptation to see if survival is possible. Judaism focuses on a choice: take the good measure of your days and nights and why should God extend them?
“Veshavta ad HaShemושבתעד-ה’ – you will return to (= until) the Lord” (Deut. 30:2). Hebrew says “adעד – until” because God expects that the believers or humans in general turn, convert, respond in a swiveling and revolving move toward God until they reach Him in the “adעד = eternity, world-to-come, forever” and not only for a while, say even a “year”. And the same verse continues: “You (gather) them again (“shavשב”) those that were scattered (“shvutechaשבותך – deported that you call back and return”). Jesus also spoke of newness, of making all things new. But this is at the core of what Rosh HaShanah and the reading portions want to teach us this week. This kind of newness that is a perpetual call to all human being that has a breath of life: indeed things are new.
Then, it is true that there are different schools. Either people are too scared to place their bets or would say they don’t care. There are tons of clichés, if any: life is too short; I do what I want; this is my decision. The real challenge in the “teshuvahתשובה – conversion, penance, response, revolving return forever to God” is that it requires that every soul is ready to invest the maximum, more than anything they think to possess in order to get to that point. This is the highest effort that surpasses every effort. That’s the point. It sounds not inhumane and still it shows the price of life.
“Remember us for Life, King Who desires Life, and inscribe us in the Book of Life, for Your sake, Living God”.
av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]
September 8/Augt 26 2009 – 20 deEllul 5769 – כ’ דאלול תשס”ט