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Archive for Desembre de 2010

In the opening weeks of reading from the book of Shemot, we come across Judaism’s three major ways of understanding how God works in our lives.  The first two appear in last week’s parashah, the third in this week’s.  Judaism understands God as the creator of all of which we are part; therefore we can communicate on a certain level with God, and consequently know that we are called to action in this life.  Traditionally, these three aspects are known as Creator, Revealer and Redeemer, and they have been adopted by Christianity and Islam as well.

Last week, standing at the burning bush, Moshe encounters God for the first time who when asked for a name, says “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh”, which is virtually not translatable but essentially means “I Am that which I Am” or “I Am becoming that which I Am becoming”, or a permutation of those ideas.  In other words, Judaism teaches that God is a verb, a form of “to be”, and thus God=Being.  Thus, I am always puzzled when people say “I do not believe in God.” It is as if one says, “I do not believe in being”, which considering we are being is a hard position to hold.  What people really mean is not “I do not believe in being”, but I do not believe in how we have been told being manifests in life.

Assuming God is being, and we are part of that being since we exist, then it follows that on one level each of us draws down the smallest aspect of God’s being or consciousness.  This is what we mean by God Reveals – as in the communications that happen between God and Moshe, or in a few weeks time, the communication that happens between God and the ancestors of the Jews, the children of Israel who stood at Sinai to receive the commandments.  Most of us today question not so much God, or even the possibility that God can communicate with humanity, but the  content of the revelation from God to humanity.  Outside of Orthodox understandings of religion – no matter what the religion – practitioners choose to follow the received traditions as the valued ancestral attempt to draw down God’s consciousness.  The Torah is our story of how we have understood and choose to live that life.

Each religion has its own story.  The essence of the story of  our ancestors, the path of redemption that we are called to walk, is told at the beginning of this week’s parashah, where God again reveals in a speech to Moses that famous passage that makes its way to our Haggadah and forms the basis of the four cups of wine plus the cup of Elijah.  God tells Moshe (and the children of Israel), “I will  freeyou…I will deliver you…I will redeem you…and I will take you … and I will bring you into the land.  In other words, the crucial event of our past is the being freed from the slavery in Egypt in order to come to the land of Israel where we are to serve God as a model nation.  We can always discuss the finer parts of the story, the details of what has been revealed, but we should understand that our conversation is not as much about God Itself, as to what it means to serve God.  Each individual has his or her way; each people its.  These crucial stories at the beginning of Exodus establish that the story of Israel  is one that takes us from servitude to humans to service to God, and thus humanity and life.

Anuncis

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Reflexions sobre la paraixà Va-erà (Èxode 6:2-9:35)

La lectura d’aquesta setmana, Èxode 6:2 – 9:35, comença amb Moisès en un estat de depressió. Tots els seus esforços per a salvar el poble de la esclavitud no han arribat a donar cap fruit. Al contrari, només han servit per a empitjorar la situació i els patiments al que està sotmès el poble. “No et preocupis -li diu Déu- les coses estan a punt de canviar.” La mítica història de l’èxode està a punt de començar!

Però just en aquest moment la narració s’interromp sorprenentment…

Just quan la història comença posar-se interessant, la narració s’atura i amb una interrupció més aviat llarga, per a repassar la genealogia de Moisès i Aaron. Aquesta història familiar es remunta a la època de l’avi Leví i inclou una llista de tots els oncles i cosins de Moisès i Aaron, descendents del germà Simó, Rubén i Leví. Només després d’aquest parèntesi amb la història familiar, la narració torna al punt on l’havíem deixada amb la frase «És a Aharon i Moisès que l’Etern va dir: “Traieu els israelites, segons els seus estols, del país d’Egipte.”» (Ex 6:26)

Per què era important per a l’editor del text que llegíssim la història de la família? I per què, d’entre tots els altres possibles llocs, l’ha haguda d’inserir en aquest punt, just quan l’èxode està a punt de començar?

El rabí alemany del segle XIX, Samsó Rafael Hirsch explica en el seu comentari que es tracta d’una estratègia narrativa. Just abans de que Moisès i Aaron comencin a tenir èxit en canviar la història, la Bíblia vol ensenyar-nos dues importants lliçons en l’àrea del lideratge.

La primera lliçó és la humanitat dels nostres grans dos herois. Ja ve de temps antics – diu Hirsch – que els humans tenim la tendència a considerar els herois com éssers mitològics, quasi divins, o posseïdors d’habilitats extraordinàries. Aquest no és el cas de Moisès i Aaron. Com demostren pel seu llenguatge humà, eren persones corrents. Com tots nosaltres, tenien pares, germans i cosins.

A diferència dels herois mitològics, – escriu Hirsch – Moisès havia nascut humà, es comporta com un humà i restarà humà. Aquesta lliçó sobre la natura humana ordinària dels nostres herois porta un missatge formidable: El potencial per a un lideratge autèntic no és només cosa d’uns pocs, sinó tots el portem dins.

Alhora, quan els nostres líders fan història, mai ho fan sols. La qualitat del lideratge no neix i es desenvolupa en una generació, sinó que va madurant i millorant amb el pas del temps a mesura que valors i qualitats passen de pares a fills. Moisès i Aaron són líders humans, però les qualitats que aporten al seu lideratge tenen la seva arrel en les generacions que els han precedit i a les lliçons que han après dels seus predecessors.

Aquestes dues idees – la humanitat dels líders i la importància dels valors que hem heretat – ja estan presents, amb una gran eficàcia, en el moment del naixement de Moisès. El text ens diu «Entretant, un home de la casa de Leví es va casar amb una noia de la mateixa casa, i va tenir un fill.» (EX 2:1-2) En aquest punt, la narració bíblica fa mans i mànigues per a conservar l’anonimat dels personatges: Un home sense nom i una dona sense nom tenen un fill sense nom. Podria ser qualsevol. Potser podríem ser nosaltres. Però, al mateix temps, el llinatge del nostres herois és important. El text especifica la tribu a la que pertanyen el pare i la mare de Moisès, per a recordar-nos que tots nosaltres som hereus dels valors, els talents i les qualitats del nostres pares.

 

 

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La missió de Moisès d’alliberar el poble de la esclavitud comença amb dubtes sobre sí mateix. «¿Qui sóc jo…» pregunta a Déu davant de la bardissa que cremava «…per a anar a trobar el Faraó i fer sortir els israelites d’Egipte?» (Ex 3,11) La resposta de Déu consisteix en donar a Moisès tres senyals miraculosos com a prova que Déu serà amb ell durant la seva missió. En realitat, aquests senyals no són una resposta a la pregunta de Moisès: «Per què jo, entre tantes altres persones?»

 

Sabem molt poc sobre la vida de Moisès abans del seu encontre amb Déu a la bardissa. Però, en l’espai d’uns pocs versets, tres esdeveniments claus tenen lloc. Tots tres tenen el mateix punt en comú: Moisès intervé en disputes d’altra gent.

 

El primer episodi té lloc quan Moisès deixa els patis del palau del Faraó per arribar a tenir consciència del patiment dels seus germans israelites. Es queda sorprès en veure un mestre d’obres egicpi que colpejava un esclau hebreu. Moisès, en un atac de ràbia, colpejà l’egipci, que morí.

 

El segon episodi té lloc uns dies més tard. Moisès torna a sortir del palau. Aquesta vegada veu a dos israelites que es barallen. Moisès els separa i demana al que donava els cops: “Per què colpeges el teu germà?” Aquell es gira i respon: “És que potser em mataràs com vares matar l’egipci?”

 

El tercer incident té lloc després que Moisès s’adoni que han descobert l’egipci mort i que la seva vida corre perill. Fuig a Madian, on seu al costat d’un pou. Poc després set noies, les filles de Jetró, el sacerdot local, s’acostaren per a donar a beure a les seves ovelles, però un grup de pastors locals les encalcen. Moisès corre a defensar-les i espanta els pastors, de manera que les noies puguin fer beure a les seves ovelles sense ser molestades.

 

Nehama Leibowitz, una experta comentarista bíblica, ens fa veure que aquests tres incidents ens presenten un esbós complert de Moisès com una persona apassionada per la justícia en qualsevol context. Primer Moisès intervé en un conflicte entre un israelita i un egipci, després entre dos israelites i finalment entre dos no israelites. En tots tres casos Moisès defensa la causa justa.

 

Abans de trobar-se amb Déu a la bardissa, Moisès ha demostrat la seva passió per defensar la justícia, sense tenir en compte a quin poble pertanyen la gent a la que defensa.

 

Sembla que aquest sigui el missatge dels tres senyals miraculosos que Déu li mostra a la bardissa. En el primer, un bastó que es transforma miraculosament en una serp. El segon, la ma de Moisès agafa la lepra i el tercer, l’aigua es torna en sang. Un bastó, una ma i l’aigua. Aquests tres símbols es corresponen als tres episodis de la joventut de Moisès: el bastó correspon a l’egipci que colpejava l’israelita; la ma de l’israelita que colpejava el seu company i l’aigua del pou al que les filles de Jetró no podian acostar-se.

 

Qui sóc jo per a dur a terme aquesta missió?” es pregunta Moisès. La resposta de Déu sembla ser: “Tu ets aquell qui ha demostrat un afany sense fallida per la justícia.” És aquest afany que el fa perfecte per a la seva missió. Treure el poble de l’esclavitud cap a la llibertat.

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Moses escaped the tragic fate of enslaved people, “in the land of bondage,” he is a prince of Egypt, but he cannot close his ears and his urge to say “let my people go.”

 

In the eyes of power and princes, he is already suspect. One day he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, subsequently he was and denounced by two Hebrews, forcing him to flee to Arabia. Thus the prince becomes a pariah. He became Jethro’s shepherd of, priest of Arabia, and he married one of Jethro’s daughters, Zipporah.

 

Twenty years have passed and it seems that Moses forgot all about the crash of his people. In the desert he has a strange vision, “the burning bush that was not consumed.” That may be a response to his piercing and permanent torment regarding the fate of his people.

Then he gets the call: “Go and say to Pharaoh, let my people go.” The mission is terrifying, then, as anybody would do, he moves back and uses all possible arguments: his age, his sentence in Egypt, his lack of articulation “I have never been a man of words,” the Hebrews will not believe me and finally the question “And if they ask me “What is His name?” What shall I say to them?”

 

The answer is surprising: “I am who I am.” “Being” with a capital “B”. Being sent me to you. Indeed the verb to be is the future here, “I’d be the one who will!

 

A God to happen? A God that is being brought closer or pushed away by human actions? But God said further to Moses “Thus hslall you speak to the Israelites. The Lord, the God of your fathers, God Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob has sent me to you.”

Why these two answers? what can they mean? The first response would suggest a religious approach totally selfless and purely speculative. The second, God of the ancestors of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, responds to our need for evidence and speaks about a faith that is linked to a story, like the one who acts just because of the promised reward.

The first two paragraphs of the Shema address this dual approach. The first speaks of the unselfish love, the second responds to the need of promises. As shocking at it might seem for our consciousness today, many texts of our ancient tradition suggest that these two two attitudes, these two approaches can co-exist.

 

But can we really separate them? Can we consider each of these two categories as unrelated to each other?

 

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The parashah Vayehi is the last in Bereshit (Genesis).

 

Yaacov, Israel, on his deathbed, makes promise his son Joseph to bury him in Canaan, in the Cave of Machpelah, with his fathers Abraham and Isaac.

 

He also adopts Joseph´s children, Ephraim and Menashe, who in many ways are two young Egyptian princes. They will become two of the 12 Israelite tribes

 

At the last moment of his life, Yaacov offers one lat blessing to his children. These blessings are remarkably short and punchy. They are like flash pictures of each one of his children as if he is trying to point out the potential that each one carries inside

 

The words that open this parashah “And Jacob lived seventeen years in the land of Egypt…” force the rabis to ask themselves: Yaacov live in Egypt and Canaan, but he never lived in the land of Israel? An the surprising answer is no. Judea was a tiny country, with meager resources or wealth, surrounded by a vast and hostile environment. We could not call it “living” but rather “struggling for survival”

This applies even today and here in our comfortable diaspora we do not realize of that. Perhaps we do not do all what is in our hands to try to help them. And yet we know that if the doors would close for us in the countries where we live, Israel would still open its doors to us and our children.

 

May we never forget and be aware, fair and generous to act accordingly and provide our hep when needed. I think today, among other things, of the terrible fires of Mount Carmel. None of us should shirk their duties to contribute to the rehabilitation of the site and assist those affected by the tragedy.

 

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In this week’s parasha, Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers after years of separation. Joseph has every right to be angry and upset with his brothers, afterall, they sold him into slavery and told Jacob, his father, that he was dead. Joseph suffered time in servitude and in prison, wrongly accused of a crime, before he worked his way up to become the second most powerful man in Egypt. Yet when it came time to tell his brothers his true identity, Joseph took them into a private room and said: “I am Joseph.” The Torah tells us that the brothers were afraid, they were scared of what Joseph would do to them now that he had  them alone in a room, and they were nervous about the punishment he would mete out to them. Joseph senses their anxiety and he allays their fears, telling them that everything which happened to him was part of God’s plan and they should not be afraid. Joseph could have treated his brothers harshly, he could have harmed them in revenge for all that they had done to him, but he did not. Instead he gently took them aside, to a private place where they would not be embarrassed, he told them who he was, and then spoke with them kindly, trying to assure them he meant them no harm and held no malice towards them.  What a remarkable act of grace and compassion. But this is not the only example of such behaviour in our parasha.

 

Amongst the names of the people who left Canaan with Jacob and came to live in Egypt, was Serach bat Asher. Nestled amongst the list of people was this woman who is mentioned in only one other place in the Torah, also in a list of names, this time, the one of those who came out of Egypt more than 400 years later! The Rabbis of the tradition say that it is not a different Serach bat Asher, rather it is the same one who has been granted an extremely long life to reward her for her kindness. They say that she was a gentle, beautiful soul who was entrusted with the task of telling Jacob that his son Joseph was alive. Everyone knew that Jacob was an old, frail man and the shock of discovering his son was alive could have been catastrophic, so the way the news was broken was all important. That is why Serach bat Asher was given the task. She had all the qualities of goodness and compassion which were required, and she told him so gently that he was able to hear the news and celebrate rather than being overcome by shock.

 

Both Serach and Joseph remind us how important our words and deeds are, how crucial it is to be compassionate and kind in our speech and to be ever vigilant to ensure that we do not use our words or actions to cause pain or harm to another. This week I was horrified to read the words of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in response to the devastating fires in Israel. He said that the fires were punishment for not observing the Shabbat. How can such an accusation ever be acceptable let alone from a religious leader? What effect do such hateful comments have upon people who have lost loved ones, their homes, their livelihoods? Words such as these need to be condemned, we must distance ourselves and our religion from pronouncements such as these and turn our thoughts, words and actions towards healing, comforting and helping the people who are suffering, a nation which is in mourning, a country and a people who have endured so much now having another terrible tragedy with which to grapple. May we always remember the lessons of our parasha, to speak and act from a place of compassion and love.

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