Archive for Novembre de 2013

Parashat Mikets

Hear O Israel 

In this week’s parashah we continue the story of Joseph. Last week we left him languishing in a dungeon, the fate of the Jewish people in his hands and those on the outside having forgotten that he existed. This week, the Pharaoh has a dream which nobody can interpret. He tries all the usual channels and has no luck. He is at his wits end when finally, his servant, remembers Joseph, the young man in prison who interprets dreams. He mentions to the Pharaoh that there is someone who may be able to help him and Joseph is hauled up from the dungeon. The Pharaoh explains his dreams and Joseph interprets them. 

It has often surprised me that Pharaoh’s advisers were unable to interpret his dream. The explanation Joseph offers is not so complex and difficult, yet nobody from amongst Pharaoh’s formidable court can offer an acceptable understanding of the dream. Why? Some Torah commentators suggest that it was because Joseph had the skills and ability to listen which was lacking in the other advisers. The others entered the room with preconceived ideas and notions. They already had the interpretation they wished to present in mind and they bent and shaped the dream to suit their theories. Joseph, on the other hand, came into the room and listened carefully, with an open mind and then supplied the interpretation and for that reason, his was the one which rang true with the Pharaoh. 

How often in our lives do we feel that we are not seen or heard by the people around us? That we talk above the noise and bustle of others’ preconceived notions of who we are. How much better and more peaceful would it be if we all took the time to truly listen to one another and give the comfort and love which is needed. This Shabbat of Chanukah I pray that we can all shed some light into the darkness of the world and bring healing through taking the time to listen. Then maybe peace will descend on us and on all the world. 


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Parashat Vayeshev

The Torah is quite clear about the reality of life: it is not easy, it is not fair, but within its struggles and challenges, with faith and vision we can overcome and triumph. Last week we read the story of the third of our patriarchs, Jacob, being renamed Israel, a name which according to the Torah means, “one who has struggled with beings Divine and human and overcome.” We, his descendants, know his story as our own – life will be filled with struggles, with ups and downs. That lesson is the subject of the epic story of Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob/Israel, which begins in Parashat Vayeshev and continues through the end of the Book of Genesis.

 Joseph is a dreamer, a man with a vision, which he understands as a gift from God. His dream indicates that in a future time he will have leadership over his father and his siblings, something that concerns his father and angers his brothers. When the opportunity arises, they throw him in a dry well and debate whether or not to kill him. Instead, they sell him into slavery in Egypt. Here Joseph has some luck, rising to the position of running the household for a wealthy and powerful man, until this man’s wife falsely accuses Joseph of attempting to rape her, leading to Joseph’s being imprisoned. The depths to which Joseph descends are deep indeed.

 Yet in all this, Joseph never gives up on his dream or his vision. He understands, just like his father before him, that things are not delivered to us on a silver platter. Life presents each of us with different opportunities and different challenges – and in the journey of our lives we will certainly have struggles; circumstances will take us down. Even in the depths, Joseph maintains his faith that he has a purpose and role to play; at the end of his life, he indeed is providing protection for the rest of his family. Similarly, we, the Jews, have held on to our faith and vision – despite the hardships and oppression we have suffered over thousands of years – to serve the mystery of life by making it better for others with equity and compassion. Each of us, as individuals, should remember that even when we are in the pit of despair, life holds purpose for us. May we, like Joseph, keep our dreams in front of us so that like our namesake Israel, we overcome the struggles we encounter in life.

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Parashat vayishlach

This week we continue the story of Jacob as he now leaves his uncle’s house and begins his journey home. He is finally ready to meet his brother Esau after years of estrangement. The last time the two brothers were together, Jacob deceived Esau, stole his blessing and Esau vowed to kill him. Jacob is now ready to confront his demons, to take responsibility for his actions and to face the consequences of his behaviour. No more running, no more hiding, the moment had come for him to try and repair the damage and make peace with his brother. But Jacob does not know what is in Esau’s heart. After all these years, will Esau be receptive to his advances, will time have healed some of the wounds and the hurt or will they still be raw and exposed? Jacob is filled with trepidation and we are told in the Torah: “Jacob was afraid and distressed.” (Genesis 32:8)

The commentators on the Torah, with their attention to detail, note that it could have said Jacob was afraid, or Jacob was distressed, the two words convey a similar meaning, so why use both? They conclude that each word must be there to tell us something different. Rabbi Judah Bar Ilai suggests that Jacob was afraid he might be killed and distressed that he might kill another. Jacob did not want to confront the situation in which he may lose his life, or even more challenging in some respects, take the life of another human being, even though it would be in self defense and so justified. Rabbi Sacks writes: “Jacob’s greatness was that he was capable of moral anxiety even at the prospect of doing something entirely justified, namely, defending his life at the cost of his brother’s”

On Monday we celebrated Veterans Day, a day when we think of all those who have fought in war. Wars are tragic events where nobody wins and everyone is changed and affected by the situations in which they face the same dilemma as Jacob. I recently watched a documentary about a group of young men, boys, who enlisted in the US army and were sent to Afghanistan. It followed their journey from carefree teens from small town America to war veterans, in the space of a few years. They returned home changed men, they had seen and experienced the trauma, the pain, the conflict of war and they were not the same. Their innocence was lost and they were tortured souls. We read about the cost of war and conflict and often we focus on the statistics, we think about the physical wounds, the deaths and too often, we forget the toll on the soul, the impossible situations in which soldiers find themselves and the decisions that nobody wants to make. Tragically, these conflicts go back to the time of the Torah and the dilemmas are no less real today. So we must continue to work for and pray for peace, for a time when there is no more conflict, no more war, and we can truly beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, the lion will lie down with the lamb and all will live in peace. Oseh shalom bimromav, Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu ve al kol Yisrael ve al kol yoshvei tevel. May the One who makes peace in the heavens, bring peace to all the earth. Amen.

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Parashat Vayetse

November 9−10, 2013, marks the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht – “the night of broken glass,” foreshadowing the Shoah and the beginning of Hitler›s “Final Solution”. During this terrifying night in 1938, Nazi storm troopers, police, and Hitler Youth raided and destroyed thousands of Jewish homes, shops, and synagogues. Ninety-one Jews were killed and 30,000 Jewish men were taken away to concentration camps, 5,000 Jewish shops were looted and 191 synagogues attacked, bonfires being made of Sifrei Torah, sacred texts and other books of Jewish learning. In the years that followed most of the world stood mute as the atrocities continued to mount.

Already, prior to this, from the time of his ascension to power, Hitler had begun his attack against the Jewish people, promulgating legal actions against Germany’s Jews. In 1933, he proclaimed a one-day boycott against Jewish shops, a law was passed against kosher butchering and Jewish children began experiencing restrictions in public schools.

By 1935, the Nuremberg Laws deprived Jews of German citizenship. By 1936, Jews were prohibited from participation in parliamentary elections and signs reading “Jews Not Welcome” appeared in many German cities. In the first half of 1938, numerous laws were passed restricting Jewish economic activity and occupational opportunities. In July, 1938, a law was passed requiring all Jews to carry identification cards.

After Kristallnacht, the German government sought to accelerate the pace of forced Jewish emigration. The German Foreign Office and the Propaganda Ministry also hoped to exploit the unwillingness of other nations to admit large numbers of Jewish refugees to justify the Nazi regime’s anti-Jewish goals and policies both domestically in Germany and in the world at large. The St. Louis, a ship that carried nearly 1,000 Jewish emigrants, was refused entry in ports overseas, its refugees having to return to Europe. With the outbreak of World War II, the war against the Jews began in earnest.

We remember the events of Kristallnacht and its aftermath this weekend, paying honour and respect to its victims. We learn with our teaching of “Never Again”, we should be ever alert as American Jews to language that marginalizes minorities and rejects refugees.

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Intelligenti pauca

Van caldre uns quants anys per a que la càbala fos acceptada com un corrent legítim, i encara més, normativa en el judaisme. Ens han arribat escrits molt crítics amb aquest corrent durant la època de rabí David de Posquieres, pare d’Isaac el cec.

 En el curs de la meva investigació la creació literària és un tema recurrent com heu pogut veure en els meus posts, (a) perquè estic escrivint les conclusions de la meva recerca i (b) perquè investigo un cos de doctrines els autors de les quals defineixen com esotèriques però no tenen cap impediment per a posar-les per escrit. Aquest interès pel procés d’escriure ve del fet que un dels objectius és analitzar la aparença pública del discurs teològic. Els avanços en els camps de les ciències socials ens han obert els ulls a una realitat actual i també històrica on els límits són fluïts. La càbala no se n’escapa: grups que potser no són tals grups, coneixements esotèrics que publicats cara al gran públic, etc.

 La producció literària és, doncs, la cara pública d’aquest discurs teològic que contribueix al procés de formació d’identitat, de comunitat i de cànon. Per tant, cal reflexionar sobre el context polític, social i intel·lectual, per a poder entendre un discurs religiós que ha adquirit força i significat a través de forces i disciplines històricament diferenciables.

 Mantenir el secret és el tema literari comú a tots els autors cabalístics de Girona fins a tal punt que Meixul·lam de Piera dedica un poema a com guardar un secret. El recurs al secretisme és una estratègia bàsicament política. Quan una persona s’auto-anomena com posseïdora d’un coneixement reservat està fent un gest de poder i superioritat sobre aquells que en són exclosos. Azriel afirma que una persona no pot assolir per sí sola aquest coneixement sinó és mitjançant esdevenint seguidor d’un mestre. Naḥmànides en la introducció al comentari a la Torà (Pentateuc) afirma que tot el coneixement còsmic i diví està contingut en les Escriptures però les seves al·lusions i referències són tant subtils que escapen a la raó humana. Només aquell qui ha rebut aquest coneixement d’un mestre pot realment entendre els misteris amagats en el text.

 Aquesta revelació pot prendre diferents formes, colors i gustos. Pot venir de boca d’un mestre, del mateix Moisès, un àngel, Elies, o el Sinaí, però el punt subjacent és exactament el mateix: les veritats divines no poden ser compreses només amb la raó. Cal formar part de la cadena de la transmissió.

 L’ús del secretisme és doncs una manera que tenen els autors cabalistes de reaccionar al context polític i intel·lectual del moment. En el segle XIII aquests autors es troben davant d’un doble repte. Per un costat l’avanç d’un racionalisme neo-aristotèlic que presenta el llenguatge mític antropomòrfic del text bíblic com una al·legoria mentre que pels autors cabalístics en especial Jacon ben Xexet, es tracta d’una tradició secreta que prové d’una veritat sublim revelada. Al seu entendre, la essència del judaisme es troba en els misteris que transcendeixen la ment humana (mythopoiesis) i que només poden ser assolits a través de la revelació. Això els permet superar el problema de l’antropomorfisme sense haver de recórrer a la al·legoria.

 El segon repte és els esforços actius de conversió al cristianisme especialment per les noves ordre mendicants que s’instal·len a les ciutats amb l’argument que els jueus són cecs i que no han entès el veritable sentit de les Escriptures. La estratègia del secretisme per part dels cabalistes serveix en aquest cas per a defensar i construir una identitat jueva.

 En el pla intel·lectual tenim un interès transversal per la màgia i els coneixements hermètics. Els autors cabalistes adopten algunes d’aquestes doctrines com la idea del cos com a micro-cosmos o la eficàcia teúrgica de les accions humanes, però ataquen altres idees com el determinisme astrològic. No considero aquest fenomen simplement com una influència sinó com l’adopció d’una estratègia: les tradicions antigues tenen més prestigi i se les considera més properes a la veritat.

 Aquest corrent cabalístic provençal i trasplantat a Girona situa a l’individu en el centre del drama còsmic i diví en virtut a la teúrgia, és a dir, gràcies a que mitjançant la seva praxis religiosa -estudi i pregària- pot fer davallar el flux que emana directament de la divinitat pel benefici propi i de la comunitat.

 Conclusió: el context no ho explica tot però ens pot ajudar a comprendre millorar alguns fets que poden semblar-nos paradoxals. Els autors cabalistes prenen la literatura rabínica clàssica com a marc de referència de la qual manlleven expressions, imatges i mites, però alhora també estan en diàleg amb el context en el que viuen responent adoptant una sèrie d’estratègies que faran la càbala un corrent legítim i normatiu en el judaisme. 

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