Monday, March 14, 2011

PURIM or "From Face to Face"

Seen in Jerusalem

Photo: Miriam Woelke

No doubt that the great medieval Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534 – 1572) as well as his student Rabbi Chaim Vital (1543 – 1620) inspired me writing the following article. 

The Jewish Kabbalah makes a distinction between the concept “From Face to Face – Panim be’Panim” and the complete opposite. A perfect “From Face to Face” condition is taking place when the Jews keep the Torah and thus, follow the will of G – d. The we, the Jews, and G – d are looking each other into our faces; symbolically speaking. In case, the Jews do the opposite and don’t follow the Torah anymore, G – d may hide His face and draw the Shechinah (His presence) further away from us. Not totally, as Christian missionaries and the churches love to claim. What it exactly means when G – d is hiding His face is that the Jews have to go into Diaspora and are subject to the will of the nations. Eventually G – d will lead us home to Israel in the times of Meshiach. The right Meshiach and not the dead Jew J.

This also happened in the times of Esther and Mordechai that G – d was hiding His face. The Jews were living in the Babylonian Diaspora after the First Temple had been destroyed. After a while, many Jews started to feel comfortable in the Diaspora and assimilated into Babylonian society. Not all of them but too many forgot about the Torah and totally neglected any study. Halachot ? Not really, and we see this from the fact that many Jews participated in the feast of Achshverosh. They ate although the food was anything but kosher.

When Diaspora Jews assimilate too far and start feeling too comfortable, G – d always gives them a reminder of who they really are and what their duty is in life. This happened in Babylon when Haman started his vicious lottery in order to find set a date for the extermination of the Jews.

G – d hid His face and the nations ruled over the Jews. Only when Babylonian Jewry repented (thanks to Queen Esther), reality turned around. The Jews did Teshuva and suddenly G – d didn’t hide His face anymore. The perfect kabbalistic term “From Face to Face” came back and the moment this is happening, G -d alone rules over the Jewish people and all the other nations have no power anymore. G – d and the Jews will have this kind of relationship eternally. 

The Talmud Tractate Shabbat 88b teaches us a very famous idea: 

"Only when the Babylonian Jews did Teshuva, the acceptance of the Torah by the Jewish people was fulfilled. When the Jews stood at Mount Sinai, they only accepted the Torah out of fear. It says that the Jews said “Na’aseh veNishma – We will do and then hear” but, as a matter of fact, the Talmud says that they were frightened. Only through their deep and honest Teshuva in Babylon many many years later, they fully accepted the Torah".

Before G – d gave the Torah to the Jews, He asked all the other nations whether they don’t want His Torah. The nations said NO because they were more interested in continue to steal and murder. Only the Jews accepted it without even asking what the Torah says. However, there is a teaching that there actually were some people among the nations who were ready to accept the Torah but they had to listen to their King who refused. Meaning, they never had the chance to be involved in the Torah, as, later on, the Jews received it. The commentary says that those willing people are the souls of the honest converts to Judaism.

The ideal relationship between G – d and the Jews is “From Face to Face”. When the Jews do His will, G – d will protect us and no one is able to hurt the Jews. The ideal condition was taking place at the times of the First Tempel when the Cherubim (special kind of angels) were facing each other on the “Aron HaKodesh – The Holy Ark”. The moment the Cherubim didn’t face each other anymore, mischief was ahead. The Jews weren’t following the Torah anymore and G – d hid His face. Thus, the two Tempels were destroyed.

Until today, the Jews depend on the will of the nations but Purim has the power to show us that we are destined to lead a different life. Return the perfect “From Face to Face” condition with G – d and, as a result of that, the nations are going to loose their power, as G – d protects us.

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