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Archive for Agost de 2013

Una segona reflexió sobre el llibre

L’any passat na Rosa i jo vàrem acabar el procés de traducció, anotació, introducció i correcció del Kuzarí. Vam trigar tres anys a finalitzar el projecte invertint-hi hores de lleure i descans perquè creiem que la importància de la obra bé s’ho val. Una de les lliçons que he après és que avui en dia l’autor no només ha de ser creatiu a l’hora d’escriure o traduir la obra, sinó que també ha de ser creatiu a l’hora de presentar-la a la comunitat de lectors. Per a fer-ho bé, hem de reflexionar en com entenem el text avui i quin lloc ocupa el text en la nostra vida.

Heu agafat mai un llibre en préstec d’una biblioteca i us l’heu trobat tot subratllat i anotat? Segur que sí. Llegim individualment però tenim aquesta necessitat de compartir amb altres allò que hem descobert a través de la lectura, allò que ens ha tocat a l’ànima. Aquesta ha estat una constant en el mon jueu des de l’aparició del text bíblic. De fet, el Talmud no és altra cosa que una discussió per escrit sobre el significat d’altres textos clàssics com la Bíblia, la Misnà, el Midràs o la Baraita.

Volem interaccionar amb el text i ho fem en el marc de la pàgina impresa del llibre-objecte. A través dels subratllats i les notes en el marges el fem nostre, i ara gràcies a la revolució digital podem compartir notes i apunts i altres les poden trobar interessants. Aquest és cabal! La persona que va escriure en els marges d’aquell llibre de la biblioteca no ho va fer perquè volgués compartir la seva lectura amb nosaltres. Ho va fer per a entendre millor els arguments de l’autor. No comentem perquè volem que els nostres amics en el Facebook o el Twiter sàpiguen què pensem sobre el llibre que acabem de llegir sinó perquè jo, el lector individual, tinc un interès particular. Jo interacciono amb el text, i altres potser trobaran aquesta interacció valuosa.

Amb el pas del temps i de lectors, el llibre esdevé un esquelet que serà recobert successivament per capes de comentaris. Amb el llibre-objecte això es fa complicat perquè l’espai en blanc dels marges de la pàgina és per definició limitat, però la revolució digital ens ofereix una pàgina sense marges i el text pot anar glossat pel mateix autor – aquests comentaris serien text? O no? – i altres lectors, i pot tenir altres nivells de músculs i pell com dades biogràfiques dels personatges, relacions a altres passatges d’autors coetanis, o comentaris d’altres experts en la matèria que ens ajudin a contextualitzar el text.

Des dels inicis de la impremta per Gutenberg van ser necessaris uns quants segles per a desenvolupar una relació en què l’autor s’adreça a un lector individual. La revolució digital portarà a un canvi progressiu. Els nous autors adoptaran noves formes d’expressió que assumiran la existència d’una comunitat de lectors que podran comunicar-se, reflexionar i comentar sobre el text. La revolució digital amb les seves versions 2.0 i ara ja amb la 3.0 cap a una escriptura col·laborativa.

La tecnologia i les comunitat de lectors serà la força que donarà a llum noves formes de llibre on la comunicació no serà linear sinó circular. Però no veig que per això els lectors deixin de voler el llibre-objecte. Continuarem llegint Homer, Virgili, Bernat Metge, Shakespeare i Joyce. Aquest tipus de llibre no desapareixerà perquè són objectes culturals brillantment dissenyats. Això és el que els fa clàssics.

Passat i futur, conjunció? o disjunció? La resposta estarà determinada pel nostre punt de vista. Del que sí estic segur es que el futur ens portarà una relació més versàtil en la relació autor-lector perquè la era en què la edició era la instantània, la lectura linear, la relació jeràrquica autor-lector està arribant al seu final.

** degut al calendari litúrgic i les meves obligacions professionals no podré escriure cap nou post durant les properes dues setmanes**

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Parashat Nitzavim

The Secret Things Unto the Lord, The Revealed Belong to Us

 

We approach the Yamim Noraim, the time in which we proclaims God as King, wondering how “the King of Kings” can allow so much evil in world. The teaching of Moshe Rabbeinu, from Parashah Nitzavim, always read the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, give us some of our best insight as to what it means for us to proclaim God as King while taking responsibility for the evil in the world. Moshe teaches: “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever to apply the teachings of this Torah.” (Deuteronomy 29:28)

 

There are just some things that are concealed from us, and why they occur will remain unknown, but that they occur is guaranteed. Among these are the amorality of nature and the unfair suffering of innocents through natural disaster and disease. Another of the secret things is the manner and timing of our own death. As we say “God is King” we acknowledge the Great Mystery over which we have no control, the world of natural disaster and random disease, the world that in one way or another will eventually call us to our end. During these days we proclaim the awesomeness of the Mystery and we cherish and take responsibility for each precious moment of our lives.

 

We accept responsibility when we acknowledge that “the revealed things belong to us and our children forever to apply the teachings of the Torah.” It is revealed to us that the cause of environmental degradation, animal suffering, war, famine and poverty, sexual abuse and random cruelty, is our failure, not God’s. The teachings of Torah, the mitzvot by which we structure our lives, teach us how to repair this world, to bring justice and compassion to it. It is revealed to us how much there is in this world for us to do – and to undo, when it comes to the hurt and pain we cause and endure.

 

At the end of this parashah, Moshe frames our choice of daily action as follows: “I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life …by loving the Lord your God, heeding God’s mitzvot and holding fast to God.”

 

Ours is to accept the Mystery of the Grandeur of Life into which we are born, and also to accept responsibility for the choices we make and the consequences. It is revealed to us just how much Torah and Mitzvah there is to do to make this world a better place. Shabbat shalom and shanah tovah u’metukah.

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Preparant-me pel sabatic

El projecte

El meu sabàtic comença d’aquí 20 dies. Després de 7 anys de treballar en la comunitat, la comunitat em permet dedicar sis mesos a jornada completa al meu projecte: la recerca sobre el desenvolupament de la mística jueva en terres catalanes. L’objectiu és poder presentar un esborrany de la meva investigació que abasti des del segle X fins el segle XIV, des d’autors com Abraham bar Hiya, el cercle de Girona, Naḥmànides fins al comentari bíblic de Rabenu Bachya.

En resum, l’objectiu és escriure un llibre sobre el desenvolupament històric de la càbala catalana però això m’ha dut a una reflexió que vull compartir amb vosaltres. Els que heu estat a casa coneixeu la meva passió no només per la lectura sinó també pel llibre com objecte (de culte i veneració). El paper, la tipografia, la tinta, la enquadernació, etc. Tots aquests elements fan del llibre una obra d’art als meus ulls. Per això he trigat uns quants anys a abraçar la idea del llibre digital. Allò que em va convèncer definitivament va ser una doble raó. Tot i viure a Estats Units continuo comprant llibres a Europa, però no tinc espera a que el paquet arribi, i les despeses d’enviament dupliquen el preu del llibre, mentre que el e-book es immediat i lliure de despeses. La segona raó es la evidència que el llibre ja no ocupa espai físic. Aquestes dues raons m´han portat a sacrificar el llibre-objecte per una altra cosadigital que anomenem llibreperquè encara no hem inventat un altre terme.

En els darrers dos messos ja m´he llegit tres llibres digitals i m´he adonat d’una obvietat: no tenen cobertes. Sense un final físic, com sabem quan s’acaba el llibre? Ara que em disposo a escriure m’adono que això pot esdevenir un malson per a l’autor. Amb el llibre-objecte, l’entrega del llibre a l’editor per a impressió era el punt i final. Ara, amb la mutació digital, el llibre-objecte ha esdevingut una mena de riu en constant fluir, sempre obert per a una correcció per a un nou afegit. El llibre digital, mancat de cobertes que marquin els límits físics de la escriptura, esdevé un procés constant.

Fa unes setmanes vaig tornar a rellegir Niebla de Miguel de Unamuno. En aquella novela Unamuno fa una reflexió sobre la meta-ficció. Avui la tecnologia ens empeny a fer una reflexió sobre el procés d’escriptura. En aquest flux constant, on queda l’autor? Qui és el lector? Amb la revolució digital, els rols tradicionals d’autor, lector i la relació entre ambdós també pateix una transformació fonamental. Dels meus anys de primer de carrera recordo el professor Miralles explicant-nos, a Crítica Literària, com la lectura individual és un fenomen modern. Aquesta és una lliçó que encara explico avui a aquells que ens visiten la sinagoga. El text bíblic en hebreu és anomenat Miqra, és a dir lectura, però no és una lectura individual sinó pública, comunitària, i per aquesta raó requereix la presència d’un quòrum, o minian.

En aquesta mutació l’autor ha mort en favor de la experiència del lector. Avui la tecnologia ens permet fer una lectura interactiva i inter-connectada amb hiperlinks, referències als articles de Wikipèdia i altres, però també una fragmentació del text amb el copia i enganxa. Passatges d’una obra poden ser copiats i enganxats tantes vegades que corren el risc d’acabar descontextualitzats.


Com a investigador busco una relació amb l’objecte de la meva recerca, les obres i el pensament dels místics jueus d’aquest període. Com autor busco una relació amb el lector en un tema tant complex com el de la càbala. Per això he decidit embarcar-me en aquest aventura en la que, durant els propers mesos, aniré exposant idees i reflexions sobre la meva recerca per a crear una lectura col·laborativa.

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Parashat Ki tavo

My Father Was a Wanderer

 

Our Torah portion this Shabbat contains one of the only fixed prayers in the Torah. It is to be recited in the midst of the ritual of bringing the first fruits to the Temple.

 

The Mishna describes the celebration of this ritual. People would gather in their villages and towns for a night of merriment before beginning the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The next morning, accompanied by flute player, followed by an ox with golden horns, they made their way to the Temple. People stood at the sides of the roads cheering as the pilgrims marched into Jerusalem with their offerings, welcoming them to the holy city. When the pilgrims reached the Temple, the Levites burst into song and then, in the midst of all the joy, celebration and levity, the pilgrims approached the altar and recited the prayer, (familiar to us from its use in the Pesach seder) “My father was a wandering Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there…the Egyptians dealt harshly with us …we cried to Adonai…Adonai heard our plea…freed us from Egypt and gave us this land…now I bring the first fruits of the soil which You Adonai gave to me.”

 

How incredibly powerful, after the party, the celebration, the wonderful high that the pilgrims must have been on, they recite a prayer in the first person, recalling the oppression of the past and acknowledging that their bounty and freedom is not because of their own merit but because of God’s grace.

 

Many commentators of the Torah have discussed these verses, this ritual and its meaning. Martin Buber notes that it is central that people are required to say “MY father…” it is not a prayer written in plural, it is personal, a direct link between the pilgrim and their history. At this crucial and significant moment the person is, through their words, joining hands across time and claiming their own place in history. But more than that, they recall, not the triumphs of our beginnings but the degradation, the humiliation, the suffering. In our moments of greatest joy, we are reminded that we had humble beginnings, that we have not always been so fortunate and that we should count our blessings.

 

Maimonides goes further and says the recitation is an antidote to materialism. He says: “People who amass fortunes and live in comfort often fall victim to self centered excesses and arrogance. They tend to abandon ethical considerations because of increasingly selfish concerns…bringing the baskets and reciting the prayer promotes humility.” (A Torah Commentary for our Times translation pg 159) Rashbam however believes that the significance lies in the fact that each person had to bring their own basket and recite the prayer. They could not deputize someone else, they all had to have the experience of saying: “My father was a wandering Aramean…” He suggests that as a result, the moment is life transforming for the pilgrim, they begin to see the world from a different perspective, remembering their beginnings, putting their own good fortune in the context of their former suffering. Reminding them, especially during the good times, to connect with and reach out to those who are where they once were.

 

We too must remember that our ancestors were wandering Arameans, that we were persecuted and oppressed, we suffered and we searched for a safe haven, a place where we could be sheltered and protected. As we read these passages this Shabbat, we look around us and see the asylum seeker policies of the two major parties forgetting our obligation to care for the stranger, to reach out and offer shelter. Instead we see an atmosphere which is heavy with the rhetoric of fear. I pray that we can find a way, through our remembering, to open our hearts to the suffering of others and speak out to create a way for our country to have secure borders whilst also treating all who seek a new life here with dignity and compassion.

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Parashah Ki tetze

WHO SAYS MITZVOT ARE GOOD DEEDS?

 

The common understanding of mitzvah as good deed skews the way the term is used in Torah – for the word has to do with actions we are commanded either to do or not to do. Individuals these days, accustomed to developing self-expression, esteem and autonomy find it difficult to imagine there can be constraints on that growth potential. The concept of mitzvah suggests that the community and the tradition (understood as the voice of God speaking through the Torah) do limit our autonomy. Indeed, this limitation is one of the fundamental concepts in developing a just and law-based society.

 

Mitzvot are at the heart of the Jewish legal system (they tell us the what to do and not do; Halakha is the development of the”how” to apply the mitzvot). Nowhere in the Torah does it state that there are 613 mitzvot, that concept developed over the first millennia after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. By the Middle Ages, lists of those 613 mitzvot were being compiled by various rabbis – and while not in 100% agreement, there was consensus on about 580 mitzvot. Today, the list developed by Maimonides (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon of the 12th century) has been accepted as authoritative by the Jewish community; according to his count 72 of the 613 mitzvot, the highest concentration, are found in this week’s parasha.

 

Studying the mitzvot of this week’s parasha, one quickly realizes that mitzvot are not necessarily good deeds. They cover a vast array of concepts, from marriage and divorce, tort and criminal law, to laws of war. The concluding mitzvah of this week’s teaching requires us to “blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” The basis of the command is the cruel war of terror waged by Amalek against us.

 

The question is whether to fulfill this mitzvah one must exterminate Amalek – not one person, but an entire people. There are indications in the Bible that this is how the mitzvah is to be applied. Today, after a century of genocide, many look for new interpretations of these teachings, a new Halakha of applying certain mitzvot. We yet have a desire to see the good within the mitzvah. Along these lines, one of our congregants suggests that the command to blot out the memory from under heaven can mean that we must work to eliminate not Amalek but the concept of genocide from human consciousness. It is along these lines of thinking that there is hope to keep the concept of “the 613 mitzvot” as one that unites, not divides, the Jewish people.

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Parashat Shoftim

WAR AND PEACE

This week in our parasha, the Israelites learn the rules for times of war; who should fight, how the battles will be won and what to do if they are victorious. Some of the rulings seem very harsh to us today but there are a number of overarching themes which are significant and important. The Israelites are warned against wanton destruction. Nothing is to be destroyed on the land, especially not fruit trees and if trees must be cut down for use in the war efforts it should be only what is needed. (Deuteronomy 20:19-20)

One of the most striking rules is that before the Israelites wage war on another group, they must first offer terms of peace. (Deuteronomy 20:10) There are no winners in war, and the ultimate goal is to live and exist in peace. In Jewish teachings, peace is more than an absence of war, it is wholeness, completeness, perfection. And it is that state of being for which the Israelites and indeed all Jewish people are to strive. The value of peace is embedded in every aspect of Jewish thought and teaching. In our greeting, “shalom” is the wish for peace. And even asking, “ma shlomcha?” “how are you?” is literally asking, “How is your peace?” “Are you at peace?” at one, whole within yourself. Jews are taught to strive for peace not just between nations but also between people and even within ourselves. We are all looking for that wholeness and oneness.

Our prayer book is replete with petitions for peace and every service contains “Oseh Shalom.” Of the Torah it is said, “all its ways are pleasantness and all its paths are peace.” As we interpret the Torah we must do so with peace in the forefront of our minds. If there are two possible scenarios or interpretations, we are to choose the one which brings peace. But we are not to wait for peace to descend on us by an act of grace from God, rather we are required to chase after it. “Seek peace and pursue it,” calls our Torah. The commentators ask why does it say we should seek and pursue peace, surely they are one and the same act. They answer that we must seek peace in our communities, and pursue it for the whole world.

Our task is to bring peace through our active involvement and engagement. This week the Israelis and Palestinians continue their talks for peace. They are walking a difficult road together, there will need to be compromises on both sides, decisions made which will be heartbreaking and difficult for both groups but with the value of peace ever before them, we pray that they will reach a place where we can truly say that peace has descended finally, on both peoples.

Oseh shalom bimromav, Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu ve al kol Yisrael ve al kol yoshvei tevel. Amen May the One who makes peace in the heavens, bring peace upon us, upon all Israel and upon humanity. Amen.

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Parashat Re’eh – Shabbat Mevarachim

 

In our parashah this week we find two times where God commands us to rejoice and to celebrate. The first, when we bring our offerings to the Temple, we are told to bring them and rejoice together with our household, “you your sons, your daughters and with your male and female slaves.” (Deut 12:12) and then again at the end of the portion when God commands us concerning Sukkot: bring your offerings and celebrate “you shall have nothing but joy.” (Deut 16:15)

 

It is not merely suggested to us that we celebrate but rather we are commanded; mark these precious moments, fill them with joy and celebration. And this is not a solo enterprise, it is for us to do together, as a household, as a community. Sometimes I think that we get so caught up in the daily grind of life, the rush, the pressures, the stress of living that we do not take the time to celebrate, to really rejoice in the special moments. God recognized that in us and so commanded that at least twice a year we should stop and remember the reasons we have for joy and rejoicing. Even those times when it seems there is nothing to celebrate, we are told; stop, celebrate, find something for which to be grateful and fill your hearts with joy, just for that moment.

 

And I think we are in desperate need of hearing that message, to be told to stop and celebrate, surround ourselves with love and fill our hearts with joy. Not only at special birthdays, anniversaries, but in our regular, ordinary, everyday lives. Celebrate the beauty of the moments, be thankful and grateful be filled with joy for what we have and not what we don’t have.

 

I know that it is so easy to say and all of us know the truth and wisdom of living a more balanced life, but it is so hard to do. It is such a struggle to fight constantly against the messages which come from the world around us. We see such excess. Celebrities and stars are presented as real, it is suggested that we should aspire to have what they have; handbags which cost as much as the gdp of a small nation, exotic holidays, mansions…

 

But Judaism is incredibly wise, it tells us to focus our energies in another direction, it calls upon us to take notice of what we have rather than to concentrate on what we do not have. Every day each of us are called upon to say 100 blessings. To give thanks, 100 times every day and when we say blessings it helps to elevate us.

 

It focuses our mind for just a moment on what we have to be thankful and grateful for in our lives. Scientists have been studying happiness and they found that people who kept a gratitude journal, writing down every day something for which they are grateful, were much happier and healthier than others. Judaism has its own gratitude journal, it is the system of blessings that we are called upon to recite every day, reminding us to stop, just for a moment, rejoice and be grateful for the small things we may otherwise take for granted. Or walk on by without noticing. Sometimes it takes those things to be taken from us before we really appreciate them. But Judaism struggles with us to be sure that does not happen. So in the mornings we thank God for giving us another day of life, for the world, for the sunshine for the rain, for making our bodies, for giving us insight and wisdom, for the beauty around us.

 

I hope and pray that we can celebrate and find joy in our blessings, to find the beauty in the world and to be grateful and thankful for what we have rather than resentful for what we do not have.

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