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Archive for Octubre de 2009

Des de fa messos un dels meus congregants m’ha intentat convèncer de mantenir un blog on publicar les meves reflexions setmanals. Com podeu veure finalment m´ha conveçut. Però poc podria imaginar-se aquest congregant que ho faria en català.

En el passat ja m´ha demanat les raons pel meu interes per a fer traduccions de l’hebreu al català. Des del seu punt de vista seria molt més interessant traduir i publicar en espanyoil perquè el nombre de possibles lectors és més gran. Tindria tota la raó, si només tingués en compte l’argument numèric, però vaig néxier a Catalunya i la meva cultura és catalana. Tot i que puguin semblar dues realitats inversemblants, configuren al meu pensament i em fan sensible a temes i formes que possiblement em passarien despaercebudes si hagués nascut en una cultura diferent.

Catalunya i la seva gent han estat una força creadora durant els segles. El fet que avui sigui una cultura minoritària demana de nosaltres que fem un esforç per a explicar-nos i mantenir-la viva. Cal donar a conèixer la nostra cultura, però alhora també cal que ens mantinguem al dia. Call alunyar la temptació d’aixecar grans murs que, en nom de la protecció, impedeixin l’entrada d’idees noves.

Catalunya té una rica herència cultural jueva que cal donar a conèixer, però alhora aquesta herència també ens pot enriquir personalment, i no només gràcies al turisme cultural! Per això m´he decidit finalment ha mantenir aquest blog.

Ha estat completament casual que hagi decidit començar per la paraixà Lekh Lekha, és a dir, pel text del pentateuc que llegim cada setmana a la sinagoga. Aquest Dissabte correspon a Gènesis 12:1 i comença amb les paraules “Vés-te’n del teu país, de la teva parentela i de la casa del teu pare cap a la terra que et mostraré.

Un rabí del segle XIX en el seu llibre Sefat Emet interpretra “Vés-te’n del teu país” com “segueix caminat, no t’aturis” i “cap a la terra que et mostraré” no com una destinació geogràfica sinó com noves metes i reptes. Els éssers humans sempre estem en constant moviment cercant quelcom nou i si un dia ens aturessim, el temps ens devoraria perquè només els àngels estan per damunt dels temps i els seus cicles.

Sempre estem en moviment movent-nos cap a coses noves perquè tenim un compromís per a complir amb nosaltres mateixos: ser motors de canvi per a crear el món tal com hauria d’haver estat des d’un principi.  Aquesta tasca però no està lliure de reptes, però tot i així sabem que hem de continuar intentant-ho.

El segon compromís el tenim amb les generacions futures. Com a jueus vivim en la paradoxa del constant record del que encara ha d’esdevenir. En altres paraules, tenim sempre present un somni que ens repetim a cada any de quina realitat volem per a aquells que ens seguiran.

Cal possar-se en camí, abandonar allò que és conegut i obrir-se al desconegut., Això és el que li exigueix a Abraham i a canvi només rep una promesa: “Jo faré de tu un gran poble, et beneiré, faré gran el teu nom, i serviràs de benedicció.” Viure aquesta promesa requereix emunà, confiança esperança, no la fe de creure en un credo. Aquesta emunà no és com la confiança dipositada en un contracte comercial – d’altra banda un estereotip del que s’ha acusat sovint a la teologia rabínica. Aquesta emunà és com la confiança que es tenen els esposos, sempre oberts a l’altre, compromesos en una relació que els fa créixer i madurar.

Catalans i jueus, com a pobles amb cultures minoritaris, sabem prou bé que allò que alimenta la nostra cultura i la fa viable per a la propera generació és la educació i la continuació dels rituals. A través d’aquests dos mecanismes som capaços de crear en cada generació una comunitat humana que representa  una de les parts d’aquesta relació.

Aquest compromís és etern no perquè cap mena de força o llei externa que ens obligui a complir-lo sino perquè cada generació hi continua fidel, com en una carrera de relleus en què una generació passa el testimoni a la generació següent en la forma de rituals i ensenyaments, sempre amb la vista posada en el futur.

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Session #2 – Texts

TEXTS

I  FOR ITS OWN SAKE

Toledot Yaakov Yoset, Bereshit (Warsaw edition, 1881), p. 21

I once heard the following parable. Two men entered into a mutual pact. After a time one of them became exceedingly wealthy. The other remained poor, but unlike his wealthy friend he walked in the way of the Torah. When the two met again they recalled the pact they had made, and the rich man gave his poor friend a sum of money with which to support himself. When the money had been spent the poor man came once again to his rich friend with whom he had made the pact. The rich man wanted to give him some more money, but the poor man said, “Rather than give me more money it is better that you teach how you made your money so that I can do’ likewise and also become rich.” The rich man replied, “You walk in the way of the Torah and worship Cod. Since not every man is worthy of having two tables, how can you expect to have wealth in this world as well as the bliss that is stored up for you in the world to come? Give up the way of the Torah and you may then become rich.” When the poor man heard this he decided to relinquish the way of the Torah and devote himself to gaining riches, but he was unsuccessful.

Returning to his friend the latter said to him, “The reason you have been unsuccessful was because your motive in giving up the way of the Torah was in order to become rich. If you resolve to give up the way of the Torah, come what may, whether you become rich or re­main poor, you will then perhaps be successful.” The poor man made this resolve, but was still unsuccessful. When he came again to his friend the latter said, “The reason you have been unsuccessful was because your very resolve to give up the way of the Torah, come what may, was itself for the purpose of acquiring riches. Evidently, there is no remedy for you.” The application of this parable is obvious. It refers to its opposite, namely, when a man does that which is good and upright, it must be without any thought of reward. As the Tanna says: “Be like servants who serve their master without thought of reward” (Avot 1:3). The reward will surely come after­ward, but your motive must not be in order to receive it. The whole of the above-mentioned idea applies here. Understand it well. And the words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious.

 

II WHAT CAN ONE LEARN FROM THE CLOWN?

Toledot, Va-yetzay (Warsaw edition, 1881), p. 51

Comment on: “And he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it at his head, and lay down in that place” (Genesis 28:11).

 

One should learn a lesson from the clown who, for the penny he receives, is ready to lose all dignity in order to make people laugh. How, then, can we fail to rejoice in God’s service? The wise man will draw a similar lesson from the example of the stony-hearted who use every kind of stratagem in order to do evil. In the same way one should use every stratagem in order to do good. We must add an observation I heard from my teacher. He said that when a soul comes down from the World of Emanation into the World of Action and observes how powerful the klipah is there and how little respect is paid there to the honor of the King’s glorious majesty, he arouses himself all the more to praise the glorious King of the universe for he is not like them, etc. And the words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious. Therefore, the verse says: “And he took one of the stones of that place, and he put it at his head.” That is to say, he derived a lesson from the men of that place, who had hearts of stone, so that, relative to him, they were called “the stones of that place.” And he “put it at his head,” that is to say, it was foremost in his mind so that he could be clearly aware of it, and he praised God all the more in that he was not like them. “And lay down”—va-yishkav—”in that place,” for there he had become even more worthy of inheriting the 310 worlds by means of the 22 letters. That is to say, he engaged in the study of the Torah with even greater enthusiasm because he realized that he was gifted with a heart of flesh and was therefore superior to them (who only had a heart of stone).

 

III  HOW CAN  RELIGIOUS SINCERITY BE ACHIEVED?

Ben Porat Yosef, Haye Sarah (Pietrikov ed.), pp. 82-83

The Mishnah in the first chapter of Avot reads: “Antigonos of Socho says, ‘Be not like servants who serve their master in order to receive a reward; but be like servants who serve their master not in order to receive a reward; and let the fear of Heaven be upon you'” (Avot 1:3). This statement seems to contradict the statement in tractate Pesahim (50b): “A man should always engage in the study of the Torah and in carrying out the precepts even if his motive is unworthy (she-lo lishmah, literally, ‘not for its own sake’), for as a result of doing it out of unworthy motives he will eventually come to do it out of worthy motives (lishmah, literally, ‘for its own sake’).” How then could Antigonos have put it so negatively: “Be not like servants etc.” so that, as a result, Zadok and Boethus became heretics, as it is said there? You might argue that the passage in tractate Pesahim does not intend to convey a rule for saints (mishnat hasidim) and therefore states that a man should do it even if his motives are unworthy, for he will eventually come to do it, etc. Avot, on the other hand, is a rule for saints, hence the negative form. But this cannot possibly be correct since the passage in Pesahim states: “A man should always engage, etc.,” implying, that no distinction is to be made between a saint and an ordinary man who follows the normal rule and that to both of these the rule applies that they should do it even where the motive is unworthy, etc. Another difficulty is: Why does the text repeat: “Be not like servants, etc., but be like servants, etc.”? Would it not have been preferable simply to say: “Be like servants who serve not in order to receive reward”? Furthermore, what connection is there between this and the concluding observation: “and let the fear of Heaven be upon you”? And we must also try to understand the very obscure verse in Psalms (37:37): “Mark the quiet man, and be­hold the upright; for the end of that man is peace.”

It appears to me as follows. The Rambam writes in his Eight Chapters to Avot, and also in the second chapter of Hilkhot Deot, that it is the way of the sages to prefer the way of moderation in all matters of the Torah except for the man who has gone from the middle way to one of the extremes. His remedy is to go to the opposite extreme for a time until he reverts to the middle way. Consult these works. Now you will understand the verse in Psalms: “Mark the quiet man,” i.e., follow the middle way, the way of Jacob who is called a “quiet man” (Genesis 25:27). But there are times when it is necessary to grasp one of the extremes. This is called “upright,” going beyond the strict letter of the law. Hence the verse says: “and behold the upright,” namely, the man who has gone to one of the extremes. “For the end of that man is peace,” i.e., when one has gone to an extreme his “end,” i.e., his cure, is to go to the other extreme for a time so that eventually he may come to follow the middle way that is called “peace,” the harmony by means of which contradictions are resolved and extremes correlated. And this is easy to understand.

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BIOGRAPHY

JACOB JOSEPH BEN ẒEVI HA-KOHEN KATZ OF POLONNOYE (D.C. 1782), rabbi and preacher; the first theoretician of Ḥasidism. Jacob Joseph, whose birthplace is unknown, became rabbi of Shargorod, the second largest community of Podolia. In 1741 he came under the influence of *Israel b. Eliezer Ba’al Shem Tov (the BeShT). A controversy with his community ensued, as a result of which he was expelled from Shargorod in about 1748. He left for Raszkow, a very small community, where he remained until 1752. In 1750/51, he hoped to go to Ereẓ Israel, but this project did not materialize. From Raszkow, he went to *Nemirov , where he remained until 1770 and openly propagated Ḥasidism. On the death of Aryeh Leib, the preacher of Polonnoye, Jacob Joseph was appointed to this position, which he held for the remainder of his life. Jacob Joseph did not succeed the Ba’al Shem Tov in the leadership of the ḥasidic movement, and this left him embittered. His son, Abraham Samson, who settled in Tiberias and Safed, was childless. He published his father’s writings. His relative by marriage was Ḥayyim b. Menahem Zanzer, head of the kabbalists of the klaus of Brody.

Jacob Joseph’s first and main work was Toledot Ya’akov Yosef (Korets, 1780), containing homiletics of the author, as well as the “words which I heard from my teacher,” namely, the Ba’al Shem Tov. It is the first work to express the basic teachings of Ḥasidism, both in a positive formulation as well as in the bitter criticism it contains of the traditional Jewish leadership and its scale of values. The work played an important role as one of the factors which aroused opposition to Ḥasidism. Copies of it were apparently burned in Brody. Jacob Joseph’s other works are Ben Porat Yosef (Korets, 1781), homilies mainly on Genesis; at the end, the letter sent by the Ba’al Shem Tov to his brother-in-law in 1750/51 was published for the first time; Ẓafenat Pa’ne’aḥ (Korets, 1782), a commentary on Exodus; and Ketonet Passim (Lemberg, 1866), a commentary on Leviticus and Numbers. Because of the long delay in the publication of this last work and other reasons, S. Dubnow considered it to be a forgery, but it is now regarded as authentic (see J.G. Weiss , in JJS, 9 (1958), 81–83). From various allusions, it has been assumed that Jacob Joseph also left a large work in manuscript destined to be a commentary on Deuteronomy. Jacob Joseph’s homilies are traditional in structure. Their contents reveal him as leader of a community, as well as a penetrating and incisive theoretician and social critic. He viewed the preacher as the physician of the soul which he helps to cure by means of the ethical principles which he teaches. The preacher should pay due attention to the general form of the sermon, its content and method of delivery, and adapt it to the standard of his audience.

THEOLOGY

Jacob Joseph taught that the presence of God is manifest everywhere and in each and every human thought; even “when man is engaged in prayer and an alien and evil thought enters his mind, it has come to man so that he may improve and uplift it. If he does not believe in this, then his acceptance of the rule of the Kingdom of Heaven is incomplete because, Heaven forfend, he then restricts His presence” (Ben Porat Yosef). He proposes that man should resolve the ever-present tension created by matter which draws him to evil and by spiritual form which calls him to good through combining the joy of matter with that of form, thus achieving the perfect joy. Evil inclination will then be subdued of itself, becoming the tool of good. The ultimate purpose of man is “Thou shalt adhere to Him.” This adhesion is only possible through joy, while fasting and self-affliction bring sorrow, and sorrow is the root of all evils. Prayers should be recited with a purified and concentrated mind and with joy. It is within the power of the ẓaddik to change an evil decree to a favorable end through his prayer, also on behalf of those who are associated with him.

The same relationship within man also exists within society. There is the “multitude” and the “scholar.” The man of merit and form is the ẓaddik, while the “multitude” is matter. The ẓaddik is likened to the head or the eyes of the body, and the multitude to the feet. The congregation is thus conceived as a living organism, the ẓaddik being its life and soul in his generation. This organismic premise precludes the concept that only a few are elect. It follows that the interrelationship in this corporate body causes any failure on the part of even the lowest member – whether in matter or in spirit – to be reflected far more damagingly in the state of “the head” – theẓaddik. None of the members can adhere truly to God, so long as only one, even if an ignoramus, is not conscious of his need to be uplifted through the head (the ẓaddik). Hence it is the duty of the ẓaddik to exert his influence over him. Moreover, for the sake of this unification with the multitude, and so as to be able to uplift it, a ẓaddik may sometimes have to descend from his own level and to sin for the good of his task. This concept of the “descent of the ẓaddik” holds an important place in Jacob Joseph’s teachings. The Jew of the multitude is incapable “of studying the Torah, and as this is through no neglect of his own, God will not punish him” if he adheres to the ẓaddik. He is enjoined to believe in the ẓaddik with absolute faith, without any afterthoughts or doubts as to the ẓaddik’s way of life, because all his actions are performed for the sake of Heaven.

The “man of matter” must also support the ẓaddik financially to enable him to fulfill his duty successfully and devote himself to God through Torah study and prayer. Jacob Joseph taught the importance of the communal Sabbath “third meal” for the hasidic congregation, saying that he who does not participate in it with his brethren “makes his Sabbath profane” (Toledot Ya’akov Yosef, beginning of the section on Noah). Jacob Joseph’s hostility to the ordinary type of rabbi is expressed in his denunciation of them as “Jewish demons, the equivalent of the Satan and the evil inclination itself, the whole of their Torah studies being for their personal aggrandizement.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Dubnow, Ḥasidut, 93–101; Horodezky, Ḥasidut, 1 (19513), 105–32; M. Wilensky, in: Joshua Starr Memorial Volume (1953), 183–9; B. Dinur, Be-Mifneh ha-Dorot (1955), 147–55; S.H. Dresner, The Zaddik (1960); G. Negal, Manhig ve-Edah (1962); A. Rubinstein, in: Aresheth, 3 (1961), 193–230; S. Ettinger, Toledot Am Yisrael ba-Et ha-Ḥadashah, 3 (1969), 57, 59; idem, in: Journal of World History, 17 (1968), nos. 1–2.

[Moshe Hallamish]

Source Citation: Hallamish, Moshe. “Jacob Joseph ben Ẓevi Ha-Kohen Katz of Polonnoye.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 11. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 41-42. Encyclopaedia Judaica. Gale. Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. 25 Oct. 2009 <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/start.do?p=GVRL.judaica&u=rrcgvrl>.

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Parashah Lech L’cha

From a geographical trip to a journey for identity

Sometimes, in our lives, events rush and collide, joys and sorrows, various stuff. The parashiot of Genesis are rich in events, and Parashat Lech Lecha in particular. It begins with a call to “travel” and concludes with an appeal to the fulfillment of an identity.

Our Parashah begins with an outcome, an important event: after 10 generations of silence, the Eternal reconnects with humanity. This contact is not a statement of faith or dogma but rather it’s an invitation, an urgent invitation made to the political opponent who refuses King Nimrod’s absolute power and the idols.

It is important to know to stand up and oppose, our people knows it very well. But opposition alone does not lead to anywhere. Once one has defined what refuses, they must look at what they aspire. Thus the Eternal directs Avram, “Go for yourself, leave your land, your place of birth, and your father’s house to the land I will show you.” The revelation is the beginning of a quest not an enclosure. As might be wanted express Saint-Exupery when he said that love is not about looking at each other but looking together in the same direction. So goes the Covenant, and what concludes the research of Abraham alone open new adventure.

Avram and Sarai to leave Egypt, and there Sarai is first taken and later on then released. Lot separates from Avram to prevent disputes. He was taken prisoner and by Avram’s hand  he is freed relief. God renews the promise to Avram and shows him the stars, “so shall your descendants,” as brilliant? So large? As high and poetic? Stars are the symbol of destiny therefore our rabbis teach: “ein mazal leIsrael – There is no fate (horoscope) for Israel.” The progeny of Avram
will be numerous in spite of the innumerable difficulties in childbearing. These are not problems that stop us.

Sarai proposes Avram to take Hagar as “surrogate mother.” The three of them, then, enter into a complex dynamic from which they all come out injured. Ishmael is born.

It is after these event that all changes. The characters become more universalized and discover a new dimension. Avram becomes Avraham and faces the true name (identity) of his wife: Sarah and not Sarai. The brit mila, the alliance the word, this is how the message carried in the body is past. Only then Yitzhak will be able to come out.

Yitzhak, a child of maturity, as we have received the legacy of an old wisdom.

Yitzhak, a child who will face many hardships, as is our case.

Yitzhak, a child whose decline give him a healthy humor and indestructible hope.

Since Abraham and Sarah, we continue our path — Lech lecha, we constantly deepen the meaning of our identity – Sarah shemah (Sarah is her name) – we hope to give birth to children or achievements impregnated wisdom, courage and humor.

Shavua tov

  • Abram, Sarai, and Lot go to Canaan. (12:1-9)
  • Famine takes them to Egypt, where Abram identifies Sarai as his sister in order to save his life. (12:10-20)
  • Abram and Lot separate. Lot is taken captive, and Abram rescues him. (13:1-14:24)
  • Abram has a son, Ishmael, with his Egyptian maidservant, Hagar. (16:1-16)
  • God establishes a covenant with Abram. The sign of this covenant is circumcision on the eighth day following a male baby’s birth. (17:1-27)

To know more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lech-Lecha

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