Alexander A. Winogradsky Frenkel

Good omens in the present world

Yonah in the Big Fish, in Aramaic, (c) Dayroro Boutros (Jerusalem)
Yonah in the Big Fish, in Aramaic, (c) Dayroro Boutros (Jerusalem)

On the eve of New Month Day (Rosh Chodesh/ראש חודש), the Jews celebrate a service called “Yom Kippur Katan/יום כיפור קטן – minor day of Atonement”.

Different things can be discussed about a minor Day of Atonement. It is basically a fasting day. It starts before the birthing of the New Moon. This “re-appearance” of the Moon inaugurates a new month in the Jewish tradition. At present, the Jewish calendar is only based on a lunar cycle system. The sun shines over the whole earth during a period of 12-13 or less hours. The sun illuminates the planet. It remains visible and never “disappears”, contrary to the moon. Indeed, the moon revolves around the Earth in more than 29 days. Intriguingly, the moon only reflects the light of the sun on Earth, which creates this impression of birth, growth, and disappearance of the small planet. The constant reappearance of the moon became a sign, for the Jews, of God’s fidelity and eternal faithfulness towards humankind and the Jews in their difficult journey through history.

Yom Kippur\יום כ(י)פור  – Day of Atonement is a unique day on which God can pardon each person, provided that humans can ask for forgiveness. it also presupposes that human beings can pardon in truth and accept the words of the penitents. There is more: Yom Kippur is a day of full brightness. It is white as a very clear and wonderfully shining in the sky of Jerusalem and in particular in the Middle East. It is indeed a joyous feast, full of hope and reconciliation between people who may disagree, come to argue and fight, and make war. They may not reach any agreement for a while – sometimes quite a long period. It means that “atonement beyn ish lechavro/בין איש לחברו – from a soul to a fellow person – is on hold, on stand by. It is not a time for faking good relationships. It is a time for all the parties involved to make up their minds. A time of real spiritual effort. There is no way to continue hurting, and injuring each other for all kinds of so-called evident or irrational reasons.

The white clothes worn on Yom Kippur mark that, after sorrow and sins, transgressions, and misconduct, God’s brightness enlightens and elucidates the darkest and often very pitiful aspects of our lives. White clothes also exemplify that the survivors come back from the great temptation of being cut from God’s project and perilous wanderings. Drug-addicted, drunkards are truly submitted to some trips that space out their lives and conscience (Apocalypse 7:14).

There is more: narcotics, drugs, lies, theft, corruption, insults, slander, and gossip are not limited to the big bad wolves hooligans, and misfits. People may show very bright in our society and be totally corrupt and prove to act as living trash. This is not really a judgmental statement. Human nature is broken and always needs repair. The point is to show loving-kindness and trust that God redeems or can help humankind in their search for full cleansing. But the sentence seems to be too systematic, a sort of pious “speech”. It is worse when this systematic piety is used to make criminal acts or defend one party against another.

Interestingly, we live in a system of “self-reflection”, as if every human being cannot look at himself by his own capacities and, e.g. needs a mirror. We are in the process of mirroring. In Hebrew, a “face” is plural: “Panim/פנים” because we have two “faces”, one is frontal and the other back-sided. It is thus impossible to see them as a full entity. It always appears like a twofold whole. Strangely enough, Yiddish has a Hebrew/German plural form: “Punimer – פנימער “.

The sun is much bigger than the moon and was created at the same time according to the Scripture to bring light towards or against the “Choshech/חושך – darkness”. Paul of Tarsus has a very traditional saying: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror… at present, I know partially; then in the end I shall know fully, as I am fully known (by God). So faith, hope, love remain, but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

On Yom Kippur, the scapegoat was sent in the Gey Hinnom/גי הינום – the valley of the Gehenna (which slopes down from Jerusalem toward Bethlehem as a sacrifice for the sins). The sacrifice that used to be in the Temple for Rosh Chodesh / New Month was also a he-goat (Hullin 60b). The explanation is curious: the moon is a smaller planet and indeed, on that day, a goat was offered as prescribed for the pardon of the sins. The Kabbalah school of Safed developed a fast, in the 16th century, with confession of sins. Strangely, this sacrifice was accompanied by a “flagellation”. It is not permitted to fast on New Month Day, thus, the fast was observed on the day before.

At present, the ritual mainly consists of the recitation of various penitential psalms. It starts, on the eve of the New Moon with a blessing “Chodesh mevarchin – חודש מברכין = bless the month” followed by the redundant recitation of the 13 Middot-מידות/Attributes of Love (“The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing His kindness for a thousand generations and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin” (Shemot/Ex. 34:6-7).

A request is also pronounced asking for healing and renewal: “Hashivenu HaShem aleinu venashuvahהשיבינו ה’ עלינו ונשובה – come back to us, Lord, and we shall be renewed, pardoned” / “Chadesh yameinu kekedem/חדש ימינו כקדם = renew our days as in the days of old”. This may be the most challenging part of our slow-to-move and slow-to-believe spiritual life. We are slow, uncertain, and unwilling to think that God renews all things and human beings every day. Then the proclamation: “HaShem hu Eloqeinu/ה’ הוא אלהינו – The Lord is our God” which is said 7 times as on Yom Kippur (8 times) and at the hour of our passing away.

Indeed, the appealing part of the minor Day of Atonement is that Israel dug out a new slant for the Jewish people and all the nations of the world. It bears witness to Divine fidelity and constant care. The month is a special, limited period of a cyclic birthing up to fullness, then slow daily sliding down to “see you soon again” disappearance.

Each month, the moon mirrors, the sun, thus renewing our earth then seemingly goes on a leave. It is a very natural method that is very likely to self-analyze or introspection. There is much “psycho-analytic inquiry” in such a physical and astronomic process launched by God at the very beginning of creation.

Usually, Jews know about confession in some Christian Churches (e.g.: Eastern Orthodox and Catholics). We often don’t know or feign to ignore that, in the Temple, people used to confess their wrongdoings or give thanks orally for God’s wonders in their lives. And that rabbis hear oral confessions without any sacramental consequence or capacity to pardon.

Maimonides gives a good example of some formula that is still found somehow in the pattern of the “Ma’avor Yabok/מעבור יבוק – Passing the Yabok (a long accompanying prayer of a person who is passing away)”: “Anna HaShem chatati/אנא ה’ חטאתי, I have intentionally sinned, I have sinned out of lust and emotion, and I have sinned unintentionally. I have done and I regret it, and I am ashamed of my deeds, and I shall never return to such a deed.”

The Christian Orthodox texts are very similar to the lists of sins printed in italics and, as the Roman Latin rite starts by “sin by speech – dibbur/בדיבור”. Speech and words often carry a lot of rational/irrational, conscious or uncontrolled faults, mistakes, defects, trespasses, guilts, and sins summed up in the “לשון הרעה – evil tongue-Lashon haraah” mental process. It always requires care and healing. Internet shows to be as real life: people tend to wipe out and remove others by ignoring them with much arrogance. This has nothing to do with the power of a positive silence that the Chofetz Chayim loved in the “שמירת לשון – keep your tongue (speechless = silent)”.

Now, Judaism proposes to read a confession of sins at least three times a day. It is a very insightful series of verbs in the past tense and alphabetical order. “Viduiוידוי – confession” as a prayer for pardon (Yoma 87b) refers “to point out, make known, acknowledge” (Pessahim 87b) as a duty, on Yom Kippur, to be accomplished by the High Priest and any Jew. The text of the Vidui is very difficult to translate into any tongue.

It starts with a statement that is also widely unknown, i.e. that Jews do recognize to be sinners: “Our God and God of our forefathers… we are not so brazen and stubborn as to say… that we are righteous and have not sinned (chatanu\חטאנו) – indeed we and our forefathers have sinned. How? In the alphabetic order are mentioned the following transgressions and faults: “Ashamnu/אשמנו”… striking the left side of the chest with the right hand/fist (introduced for long centuries into the main Christian rites) – guilt, betrayal, robbery, slander, (mental and physical) perversion, wickedness, ill-mindedness, will, (mental and physical) violence, false accusation, evil, scorn, persecution, stubbornness, deceit, forgery, corruption, abomination, leading others astray. Confession also deals with awareness or absence of consciousness, if not of conscience. Human speech, ideas, thoughts, and acts are shaken or twisted with many “parasitic ideas = Yiddish: dziges\ דזיגעס-דזשוקעס” that are beyond reasonable or balanced control.

The above list echoes the worst possible transgressions that harm, and destroy our societies worldwide. Just rotten to the bottom. We are driven by confusion, distorted actions, crooked mentality, and decisions. Murders are scheduled everywhere as always. Per se, nothing really new. Trangressions can kill. And killing a soul, a person proceeds very simply, obviously.   Some may think they are big intellectual whizzes. Ideas come and go, in a planetarian and swift process of constant transit. Others would trap a man, or a woman, just to assassinate, not even because their brains work and can build anything. There are huge breaches that annihilate the ability to transmit normal, regular historical and cultural, religious knowledge and experience. At times, it appears to be twisted and misleading. Worse is when the structures seem to be rebuilt and coherent and, still they are used for abuse and not to create a balanced set of principles and commandments.

The Christian Orthodox tradition underscores that the Great Fast (Lenten Fast – Velikii post/Великий пост) of 40 days starts joyously fasting and praying during this period that leads to the “Kalo Passkha/καλο πασχα – Good Easter”. According to the Julian calendar in use in the Eastern and Oriental Churches of Jerusalem, Great Lent or the Forty Days commences today on March 19, 2024. The service is intense and profound. After the readings, the clergy and the faithful face each other, kneel down, and ask for forgiveness as Jesus said “Therefore, if you bring your offer to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar and go first be reconciled with your brother” (Matthew 5:23-24), which is reminded all through the Byzantine Liturgy: “Pardon and release of our sins (we ask the Lord)”.

The essential Christian prayer “Our Father Who art in Heaven” follows the Kippur pattern: firstly, to pardon others to receive God’s forgiveness (Matthew 6:9-14).

This service is indeed very close to the specific order of the prayers said on the Sunday of Atonement/Forgiveness, certainly rooted in Yom Kippur. It often coincides with the new month Adar and is dedicated to long hours of studying the Scriptures, the life and death of Moses who supposedly was born and died on the same day of the 7th of Adar (Beyt this year) according to the Jewish calendar.

The Eastern Orthodox believers will focus on this atonement as paving the way to the Resurrection confessed by the Church. Peter-Kaipha had asked Jesus how many times one should pardon? Seven times? Jesus said: “Not seven, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21).

This corresponds to the measure/middah-מידה (= measure, attributes of loving-kindness, full offering measure in the Temple). Basically, it tracks back to the sign of Cain (Gen. 4:24) granted by God after Cain had murdered his brother Abel. This sign protected him and his descent, i.e. all of us, as monthly clearance. Can we cope with this, and face the question of how many times we ought to pardon when we often say “We will not forget and never forgive”? There is a contradiction in this statement uttered in most religious traditional groups. We are all marked somehow by the sign of Cain. It is not a transgenerational passport, a “hook” called an “Ot/אות = sign, miracle, omen, remembrance” in the Book of Genesis 4:11-16 (Bereishit).

We often go through very special days. Incredibly irrational nights and days, made of faults, defects, and misunderstanding. It may seem at times that faith is swindling in our only considered as a set of regulations that human beings are allowed to twist and misuse. Pardon consists of wiping out hell and trusting God Who can change our lives and make them new and meaningful. There is always a good omen in the present world.

About the Author
Alexander is a psycho-linguist specializing in bi-multi-linguistics and Yiddish. He is a Talmudist, comparative theologian, and logotherapist. He is a professor of Compared Judaism and Christian heritages, Archpriest of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, and International Counselor.
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