First-Borns

Numbers 3:11-13 First-Borns – Parashat Bemidbar הפטרת במדבר

by

Howard Adelman

 

וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. 11 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
יב  וַאֲנִי הִנֵּה לָקַחְתִּי אֶת-הַלְוִיִּם, מִתּוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, תַּחַת כָּל-בְּכוֹר פֶּטֶר רֶחֶם, מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְהָיוּ לִי, הַלְוִיִּם. 12 ‘And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every first-born that openeth the womb among the children of Israel; and the Levites shall be Mine;
יג  כִּי לִי, כָּל-בְּכוֹר–בְּיוֹם הַכֹּתִי כָל-בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּי לִי כָל-בְּכוֹר בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאָדָם עַד-בְּהֵמָה:  לִי יִהְיוּ, אֲנִי יְהוָה.  {פ} 13 for all the first-born are Mine: on the day that I smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto Me all the first-born in Israel, both man and beast, Mine they shall be: I am the LORD.’ {P}

What’s the deal? Why did I pay my friend, a Cohen, whose actual name happened to be Aaron (the Cohenim are all descendants of Moses’ brother, Aaron) to redeem one of my sons as a baby? It did not even cost me the five silver dollars I gave to Aaron, for he handed me the coin in the first place and asked me whether I wanted to keep it and give him, as a representative of God, my son, or whether I wanted to return the coin. I chose my son and he gave the five silver dollars as a gift to him. And I said a blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם. אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו. וְצִוָּנוּ עַל פִּדְיוֹן הַבֵּן

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning the redemption of a son.

I only learned much later that I should have redeemed my son for 100 grams of silver. I never weighed the five-silver-dollar coin to check if the weight exceeded the minimum amount. Was the whole ceremony invalid?

In any case, Aaron blessed my son. The ritual is called, “Pidyon Haben.”

It seems on the surface to be a nutty ritual. What does it mean that the first-born belongs to God? Why is a first-born redeemed? Why are the Levites provided as a substitute? What are these three verses about?

Exodus 13:2 reads: “Consecrate to Me every first-born; man and beast, the first issue of every womb among the Israelites, is mine.” If you have four wives or two wives, assuming they are Jewish, the first-born son of each of them belongs to God.

Exodus 13:12-13 reads:

12 you shall devote to the Lord the first offspring of every womb, and the first offspring of every beast that you own; the males belong to the Lord.13 But every first offspring of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck; and every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.

The commandment runs through the Torah text. (See Deuteronomy XV:19-22 where the reference is only to the first-born of animals.) It is not a one off in Numbers. Further, in Exodus it is connected to the tenth plague when the Lord slew all the first-born of Egypt. How? And why the first-born of animals as well as the first son?

In the case of animals, it must be unblemished, the best of the newborns among one’s herd. The Priest ate the flesh of the sacrifice. But no one eats the flesh of your first-born son. You do not want him to die. You get him back. And I even paid the money only symbolically. The rabbis say that a first-born is holy by nature. Ironically, holiness appears to be a given, not something acquired.

It is from this attribute that Christians insist that Jesus as the one and only son of God was sacrificed, as a beast is sacrificed, so that the sins of humans can be redeemed. What a contrast with Judaism. The Jewish ritual is a shell game. For I never gave Aaron my son. He never took him. It is all symbolic. Jews abhor sacrificing their children. Christians celebrate that God sacrificed his only son. Sacrifice is avoided for redemption, not to achieve redemption for oneself and clearly not for the sins of mankind.

Further, there is a twist. The first-born could be a girl. You do not have to redeem a daughter. Only a son. And only if he is the first-born, which he is not if a daughter is born first. The reference is both to boys and to first-borns. Both are necessary conditions. There are additional conditions. If the first-born son of a Jewish woman is delivered by caesarian section and does not “open the womb” himself, the child does not have to be redeemed. If the woman had a stillbirth, that child, even though born dead, was considered to have opened the womb so that even if she subsequently gives birth to a boy, that boy is not considered a first-born to be redeemed in the ritual of Pidyon Haben. But if she has twins, only the first out of the womb is redeemed. Finally, if the child himself is a Levite or a Cohen, he does not have to be redeemed. Why? Because he is destined to be a sacrifice and not someone sacrificed. Further, he is destined for religious institutional rather than political leadership.

There are a number of explanations for the ritual. One is that in Egypt, given Pharaoh’s command, the first-born sons were at risk. Another is that when God slew the first-born infants of the Egyptians, the first-born sons of the Israelites needed special protection. In another innovative interpretation, it is the first-born son of Jewish women, not Jewish men, who must be redeemed because the redemption is carried out for the shechinah, the feminine side, the nurturing side of God, the place where God actually dwells. In another account, the ritual is carried out in memory of Rachel whose fist-born son, Jacob, was sold into slavery.

I want to try another approach by trying to understand the nature of the first-born before trying to figure out the resolution of the puzzles and the connection with previous explanations.

Though key characteristics such as agreeableness, aggression, conscientiousness, extraversion and openness seem to be randomly distributed among children, first-borns seem to have a disproportionate share of the following twelve characteristics:

  1. Achievers who strive to win;
  2. Controlling;
  3. Careful rather than rash high-riskers;
  4. Diligent;
  5. Greater BMI (body mass index);
  6. Higher proportions of homosexuality;
  7. Lower insulin sensitivity, hence higher amounts required;
  8. Premature adults with a propensity for leadership;
  9. Reliable;
  10. Self-assured;
  11. Serious;
  12. Structured

Note that 21 of NASA’s first 23 astronauts who made trips into space were either eldest or only children. All seven of the original Mercury astronauts were first-borns. Fighter pilots are most likely to be first-borns or only children. Assuming the validity of the evidence concerning the significance of birth-order, though the data does not track first-borns following stillbirths, etc., what has all of this to do with the rituals described above? Even more significantly, what does it have to do with God and Jewish history favouring second-borns – think of Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob; Ephraim and Menassah. First-borns may receive a double inheritance, but also need to be redeemed from God.

It is noteworthy that Jesus was a first-born and Christ is considered “the first-born of all of Creation.” (Hebrews 1:6) Israel as a nation is referred to as God’s first-born son. (Exodus 4:22) Yet so many times it is a second-born who replaces a first-born in a leadership role. Relative to Judaism, Christianity, especially through the doctrine of supercession, can be considered a second-born which takes the blessing of Israel away. By nature and custom, in terms of privilege, first-borns have a clear edge.

Then why is the actual sacrifice of the first-born replaced by the dedication of that fist-born to service to God and then the Levites provided as stand-ins? Put another way, why does the first-born naturally belong to God while the second-born turns out to be the one chosen by God? Jesus, paradoxically, is a natural first-born, but the religion founded upon his sacrifice becomes the second born that historically Christians believed succeeded primogeniture in history.

I am sorry, but I do not have an answer. But I do have some thoughts. Four core ideas are involved: sacrifice; substitution; redemption and historical significance versus natural birth order. I begin with the last.

Of 44 presidents, 24 were first-borns, even more if one includes George Washington for his older siblings were half-brothers. (This was also true of FDR and Clinton who also had older half-siblings, adding further to the count.) John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson from the founding fathers were first-borns. In addition, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush were all first-borns. However, I suggest that although first-borns may be fighter pilots, fighter pilots are only the best political leaders for democratic monarchies or parliamentary democracies headed in that direction. Then you want first-borns as warrior kings, though with Jimmy Carter, the U.S. certainly did not get one.

The history of Canada, though a parliamentary rather than a residential system, is not much different. Of Canadian prime ministers who served more than a couple of years (this excludes John Abbott, John Thompson, Mackenzie Bowell, Charles Tupper, Joe Clarke, John Turner and Kim Campbell), Sir John A. Macdonald, as wily a politician as one can find, had two older siblings; his oldest brother died (William) when he was two-years old. Alexander Mackenzie had older brothers. Wilfrid Laurier had an older sister who died two years before he was born. William Lyon Mackenzie King had an older sister who lived to the age of 41. Only R. B. Bennett and Robert Borden, two notable failures as prime ministers, were first-borns before WWII.

 

However, after WWII when Canada came into its own as a nation, things changed with respect to first-borns. Only Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien were not first-borns. Louis St. Laurent John Diefenbaker, Lester B. Pearson, Paul Martin, Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau were all first-borns. Does that mean anything? Statistically, it certainly does. Being first-born plays a significant role in directing one towards political leadership.

 

Why then in the Torah did the Israelite nation in its genesis run counter to this propensity and told stories of younger siblings usurping the leadership role of his elders? Why would an unsteady and insecure character like Moses become the founding political leader of his people? Why does the Torah favour selection over the authority and natural leadership of first-borns?

 

Do first-borns tend to sacrifice others for their own advancement while second-borns sacrifice themselves for the public good? The careers of Justin Trudeau, Paul Martin, Lester Pearson, and Louis St. Laurent would seem to belie that. There is no evident correlation, though there is a possible one with ideology.

 

However, there is another sense of sacrifice. The first-born is the testing ground in parenthood, the child on whom all the inadequacies of parents (and God) are thrust. The first-born, with all the advantages of favouritism, is the sacrifice undertaken in raising children. Parents do learn something, as does God, from initial mistakes. Further, a later child can learn from those who go before, particularly lessons in figuring out how to get around road blocks. Relatively and disproportionately, first-borns are brave born leaders for the most part, but second-borns are more wary of direct confrontation. (There are exceptions, of course, Jean Chrétien is an example; as the 18th of 19 children, he had to learn to be scrappy to earn his place in the sun.) A second child inherits more experienced parents and has a chance to watch and learn more than the first-born. The second-born must rely more on his own wits to get ahead. This often makes the later-born a more cultivated leader without the brash thrust of the first-born.

 

Precisely because the first-born is up for sacrifice, the first-born must be redeemed from God. This requires that a substitute be offered to minimize the extent of that sacrifice. The suggestion is not that second-borns and later-borns have a propensity to make better leaders than first-borns, but, rather that the two groupings constitute very different kinds of leaders, ones wary of competing in a wide-open field or vast sky, but, instead, prepared to search for a niche where they can shine. Hence, Jews became a niche people instead of fulfilling God’s wish that they multiply and dominate the world as God’s physical expression in the world. Hence a polity very different than either the U.S. or Canada, in spite of the wide differences between the U.S and Canada.

Rituals of Preservation and Elimination

Rituals of Preservation and Elimination: Vayikra Leviticus 1:1-5:26

by

Howard Adelman

There is almost an overwhelming consensus that the Book of Leviticus is the volume most remote from modern sensibilities. After all, it is about sacrifices, priestly garments and rites, ancient medical practices dealing with conditions such as leprosy, all apparently alien experiences. Leviticus seems so “primitive.” The volume focuses on all the distinctions among the tribes rather than the unity of Judaism. Some have dubbed it a spiritual challenge while others have been more forthright and called the Book of Leviticus a spiritual wasteland.

For Reform Jews, this section of the Torah is particularly formidable since Reform Judaism from the start repudiated a dynastic priesthood and the practice of sacrifice. Of special relevance is Reform Judaism’s explicit rejection of attempting to rebuild and restore the Temple. Calling Holy Blossom a temple instead of a synagogue was an overt and blatant exemplification of that rejection.

Rejection went along with substitution – the people, all the people, were priestly. Their mission was not to rebuild the Temple, but to be a light unto the world as they spread through the diaspora. Whether this meant upholding monotheism and the God of the Hebrews as the one true God or simply standing up for lofty ethical values of justice and peace were still matters that needed resolution, though the Reform movement has developed in the latter much more than the former direction. Sanctification was moral, not cultic. Sincerity of devotion replaced ritualistic practices as the highest ideal.

What do we do with one of the five books that is almost completely devoted to cultic practices? Do were merely focus on a few sections of the text that deal with mitzvot and the covenantal relationship to God requiring following God’s ethical and spiritual commandments? Does the purported spiritual bliss that should follow have nothing to do with the cultic practices? What do rituals, especially ones that seem both foreign and alien, have to do with spiritual enrichment? If alien, how can the passages in Vayikra be used to guide life and increase holiness in the world?

What happened to the sense of “purity”? What happened to the stress on a specific diet? What happened to the emphasis, not simply on being well-dressed, but on dressing in a special costume? Is Leviticus to be relegated to the dustbin of history, a relic of the past no longer relevant to our contemporary life? Is Leviticus a dated fossil of a species or religion that has become extinct? Alternatively, are the passages to be treated as metaphors upon which can be erected transformed practices with very different ideals wherein a burnt sacrifice becomes merely a literary tool to explore a deeper form of spiritual being?

I want to suggest that the dismissal of Leviticus may have been a mistake and that Leviticus has more to teach us that we need to recognize. This is because the prophetic voice is not the only source of authenticity. We need judges and lawyers, administrators and accountants, doctors and dentists as well as all the tradesmen, skilled artisans, labourers and suppliers of materials who helped build the mishkan in the last chapters of Exodus. We need practitioners of rituals and not just shit-disturbers who challenge those in power. I write as someone who has always revered the prophetic voice. However, we need people to do what is right and not just preachers calling for righteousness. Leviticus is a text for the practices of a spiritual community rather than about its goals, though the latter are not entirely neglected.

The mishkan was described in great detail in Exodus. It was where the holy tablets were kept, where God, when in residence as a cloud, filled the place. A tent of meeting preceded the construction of the mishkan. It was a portable place where Moses met with God. A tent of meeting is not a place for a political rally or a town hall, but a place where humans encounter God in his dwelling place. Vayikrah does not open with God occupying the holy of holies within the mishkan. Vayikrah does not open with God speaking through the priesthood. Vayikrah begins with God calling Moses, not Aaron, out of the tent of meeting. (I:1) God offers detailed instructions about the purity of the animals to be sacrificed by the people. If a burnt offering, it had to be brought before the tent of meeting as a request for atonement, as a request for expiation. Leviticus is primarily about the politics and administration of the Jewish religion to remove a blood-stain from the body politic, to clean the air of pollution.

In Christianity, Jesus personally replaced the sacrifice of animals. The blood of Jesus was offered as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of humans. Jesus body was the “more perfect tent of meeting,” for it was through the body of Christ that humans could meet with God. Jesus as the Lamb of God would forgive sins, not just specific ones, but all sins. And do so for eternal redemption. Thus, Christianity preserved, transformed and raised to a higher level the bones and blood of the Leviticus story.

Hebrews 9:11 literally depicts Jesus as personally the replacement for the high priest, himself the more perfect and greater tent offering, his own body as a sacrifice so that the God of wrath would be transformed completely into the God of love forever. Instead of a pure animal without physical blemish being sacrificed on the altar, the pure blood of Christ without a spiritual blemish would be sacrificed on a cross, not so humans could atone for specific sins, but as an atonement for all sin. Through ingesting the body of Christ into one’s own body, through surrendering oneself totally to the spirit of Christ, the Lamb of God would cleanse everyone of their sins, provided, of course, that one accepted Jesus as one’s saviour and redeemer.

However, Judaism is not about personal redemption as the ultimate goal. Individuals do have to atone for their personal sins through a guilt-offering and atonement through compensation. And the form of atonement depends on their station in the religious hierarchy – high priest, tribal chief or an ordinary individual. However, atonement is also needed to preserve the community; atonement for sins of the whole community is a distinct act itself. Judaism is about the eternal nation, עַם הַנֶּצַח (ahm hah-NEH-tsahkh). Eternal is not about that which remains unchanged forever, that which is above and beyond change.

Judaism is about a nation that will not and cannot be allowed to die and must change in order to live. The Jewish nation is timeless, is immortal, is everlasting – not in the sense of having a transcendent existence, but as being an everlasting and perpetual cause. Israel, Judaism, is the eternal nation, the body politic that must be preserved in perpetuity. Israel is about creating נִצְחִי (neets-KHEE) that nation. The study of Torah is the means to reconcile the God of history with the current historical moment. The ritual of Torah has to do with discriminating between that which must be expiated and eliminated or wiped and hidden away, on the one hand, and that which must be preserved, raised up and put on high on the other hand.

God is referred to as עוֹלָם (olam), as existing always and forever, permanently and perpetually. God is everlasting and lives continually for and in all time. God is not transcendent, living beyond time. God is a creative spirit who lives in time, in history, and even occupies space, though God is not embodied. The Jewish people as a collectivity have the responsibility for embodying the spirit of God.

Adam and Eve could not eat of the Tree of Life, could not live for eternity, lest they live forever וְאָכַ֖ל וָחַ֥י לְעֹלָֽם. (Genesis 3:22). Contrary to Christianity, God and man would not be together in spirit forever, וּחִ֤י בָֽאָדָם֙ לְעֹלָ֔ם בְּשַׁגַּ֖ם ה֣וּא (Genesis 6:3) God has a reputation, has renown, that lasts forever. And the goal of the Jewish people was to become a mighty nation with a reputation and renown that would live forever. רוּחִ֤י בָֽאָדָם֙ לְעֹלָ֔ם בְּשַׁגַּ֖ם ה֣וּא (Genesis 6:4) The message is not about one’s soul living forever outside of time and space in some transcendent heaven, but about humans living in this world as embodied creatures trying to earn renown for the people as a whole. Any nation can be a holy nation. Israel must be a holy nation.

That is why the Torah is a tale that runs from generation to generation (Genesis 9:12) so that we may pass on such ideals from parents to children and convey the mission of themselves as individuals to serve one’s people and thereby to serve God. Eternity is about succession and not about transcendence. That is why Jews are bound by an everlasting covenant and why Canaan for committed Jews must be an everlasting possession.

That does not mean that other people cannot live in Canaan. That does not mean that Canaan cannot be a national home for another people. In fact, if Canaan is to be an everlasting home for Jews, it must become a home not only for the Jewish nation, but can be a home for the Palestinian nation. Not their exclusive home. And not the exclusive home of Jews. But a home where Jews can dedicate themselves to a body politic that will glorify God’s name forever.  (Genesis 48:4) Jews must not only be embodied, but their national being must also have a body. But a body dedicated to the service of God’s name, for God is forever. God’s name is forever. God’s name is לְעֹלָ֔ם. (Exodus 3:15)

Jews are commanded to celebrate God’s name as a permanent ordinance, as a permanent covenant between God and his chosen people. Not His superior people, but a people chosen to carry the burden of the covenant. It is that which must be remembered. It is that which must be celebrated. And Leviticus is about that celebration. That celebration involves statutes that are passed on from generation to generation. That celebration is about a nation that lives under the rule of law and for the sake of justice. And that is why the nation requires the equivalent of a priesthood as a group dedicated to the perpetuity of the covenant, of the statute, of the law (כְּהֻנָּ֖ה לְחֻקַּ֣ת עוֹלָ֑ם וּמִלֵּאתָ֥ יַֽד־ Exodus 29:28) in addition to the responsibility of individuals to perform mitzvot.

Leviticus is about putting that obligation into practice. It is about administrative justice. Why start off with a sacrifice on the altar in front of the tent of meeting? Why only a male animal for a blood sacrifice, and one without blemish?  Because sacrifice must be about our works – about the best of our flocks and the best of our agriculture. It is not about the sacrifice of humans, any human, and not about the sacrifice of Jesus. The sacrifice of a male animal without blemish means that the best of what we can make or do must be in service of perpetuating God’s name.

Why a male? Why not an ewe? After all, female goats without blemish can be sacrificed for a guilt offering, for a sin committed by an individual against another. (Leviticus 4:27) However, males in general need to be reminded that though they, like women, are created in the image of God and must serve God in the activity of creation, they are embodied. Adam was a geek who thought he was there simply to be a scientist, to offer at its most basic a taxonomy for the world. He had to learn that he was an embodied creature with sex drives and an obligation to reproduce and raise children and to raise them to serve God. That is why one sacrifices a male animal’s body without blemish as a burnt offering to atone for being oblivious of what a male’s obligation is and remains. Eve knew it in her body. Adam did not. Lest we forget, sacrifice of a male animal without blemish is intended to atone for forgetting.

However, preservation, putting away and raising up are not the only functions. Sins must also be expiated, eliminated or removed. They must be wiped away (Akkadian kuppuru) and covered (Arabic kafara) rather than raised up. In Macbeth, as much as the Lady cries out, “Out, out damn spot,” the blood stain remains unless there is expiation.

Man in the form of Jesus is not a substitute for an animal sacrifice. Rather, an animal sacrifice is a substitute for human sacrifice which reminds man what he must give his life for – an embodied existence, a life that commemorates the renown of God and raises up the nation of Israel as a memorial to God. We give of our blood and sweat to make a better world and do not rely on the blood of a God-man to escape this world for eternal salvation. For what must be saved is the here and now, the moment that must serve all time. There is NO eternal redemption, only the task of continual, of perpetual redemption.

There is eternal damnation, not by being sent to purgatory, but by being put to “death,” destroyed spiritually as a Jew, by being cut off from one’s people. Execution means exile from the community, most generally, self-inflicted.  Why is idolatry the greatest sin? Because idolatry is the worship of a material artifact as divine rather than the human collectivity in a divine relationship. What is a sin offering (hattat)? In Yitz Greenberg’s words, it is “a purification rite brought for sins committed by people which generated impurity in society.” (my italics) Moral impiety becomes a sin and not just a state of guilt because society is polluted. The public is therefore ultimately responsible for moral pollution. Humanity, handed the gift of freedom by God, has the responsibility of tilting the balance of creative versus destructive forces in favour of creativity.

As individualism was stressed more and more, Jews became even more removed from cultic practices precisely at a time when rituals were more important than ever for preserving the cohesion of the community. Reform Jews have emphasized and extolled non-cultic piety at the expense of ritual piety, stressing the importance of the individual Jew rather than the preservation of the community. Reform rabbis argued that this was the way Jews survived the destruction of the Temple. However, one could argue that the reverse was true, that the preservation, transformation and raising up of cultic piety and the practices of expiation as removal, as wiping away rather than covering up sin, preserved the people; the over-emphasis on the individual simply leads to the creation of ethical humanistic Judaism and the gradual erosion of Jews as a people. This argument suggests that performing other-oriented mitzvot is insufficient for preserving cohesion among the people.

Like Christianity, Judaism must preserve, transform and raise to a higher level the bones and blood of the Leviticus story, but in a very opposite way to the Christian path, through service to God via service to God’s people, to God’s nation, to making that nation an exemplification of the preservation of the covenant. We have not discarded the Kohanim on the dustbin of history. These patrilineal descendants of the Aaronite priesthood are given special privileges and duties in the rituals of worship in a synagogue. Reform in rejecting the priesthood took away those privileges. They should be restored for that is how memory is preserved from generation to generation, by preserving, by raising up and putting a traditional political practice onto a bima of ritual. That is a function of ritual – to preserve, to transform and to raise up on a more formal plane what was once a core embodiment of the nation’s spiritual richness and to remove and wipe away the blood stains of its historical sins.

Should a blood inheritance be the instrument of such preservation? Or should the inheritance of the spirit of special dedication allow anyone to become spiritually a Koan? Or can we do both? Should each synagogue collectively recognize a dedicated group who are assigned the responsibility of maintaining the schedule of synagogue service on a rotating basis? We already do so without designating the group as priests. Volunteers come forth and serve that function. They should be esteemed and given recognition in what they wear and in the deeds they perform in the service.

We could consider resurrecting the Davidic practice of giving over to six families the responsibilities for two of the fifty-two weeks of the services, with one family performing those roles for each day of the week that their collectivity carries that responsibility. That means 26 x 6 = 136 families assuming very systemic and recognized roles in the life of synagogue worship.

The ritualistic practices of old can be preserved, can be transformed and, in being transformed, raised up so that the Jewish people can perpetuate itself as a people in a covenantal relationship to God.  At the same time, this restoration also requires elimination, rituals of wiping out and covering up sins by unveiling them, by eviscerating the body politic and exposing the blood stains that pollute and make impure our political life.

Chayei Sarah – The Life of Sarah: Genesis 23:1 – 25:18

Chayei Sarah – The Life of Sarah: Genesis 23:1 – 25:18

by

Howard Adelman

See Rachel Adelman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDz_isnR0RI) “Reading Rebekah Unveiled: A Study of the Female Ruse in Genesis” presented at the Harvard Divinity School last spring.

There is nothing original in my interpretation, in contrast to that of my daughter. I simply fuse her innovative reading with those of others and my own. I steal freely from my daughter, but I take full responsibility for what I have written. Though there are differences over the particulars, the general meaning is more or less clear and my take is not idiosyncratic. The parsha is called, “The Life of Sarah,” but it is really about her afterlife and the heritage she left behind, both through her only son Isaac and herself as resurrected in Rebekah. For the parsha is about both Abraham’s negotiations for a burial space for Sarah after Sarah died as well as about obtaining a wife for Isaac and its consequence. It is about the meaning of Sarah’s life as it is revealed in the unveiling of spirit as it is realized in history after her death.

Sarah dies in Kiryat Arba, in Hebron. Sarah is buried there in the Cave of Machpelah with the permission of the local people who offer not only the cave, but the field around it to Abraham who is by then a wealthy and notable person. However, Abraham refuses to accept the grave site as a gift and insists on paying for it. To repeat what I have written before, this is an axial moment of the shift from a shame culture to a guilt culture. Some of the local people of Canaan, specifically the Hittites, may have converted to the belief in a single God. Yet what is now called the West Bank is not seen as a place from which a proper wife can be found for Isaac. Isaac is not allowed to have a bride from the local people. The locals, even when they have adopted the beliefs of the Hebrews, are not into a contractual system. They look askance at getting 400 shekels from Abraham for the burial site. Ephron initially treats the offer as an insult. But Abraham insists on paying the money. He wants a contract, a quid pro quo. With contracts there is guilt, either before the law or in moral terms, for failing to fulfil the terms of the contract.

Yet, Abraham wants a wife for Isaac who does not have initially to be observant, but one who is akin to his own beautiful wife, Sarah, someone from his own homeland. Isaac really loved his mother. Three years after she died, he is still mourning her death. He needs a wife, but he needs a wife to replace and fill his soul as his mother had. His mother had been dedicated to him, her long promised son, born of her old age. But she could not prevent her husband from taking him off to sacrifice him. And she dies when her husband and son return. From the shock of his return? Is that why she dies? Or is she the real sacrifice so that her son may finally leave his studies and his prayers and go in search of a wife to replace the love she had for him. It is ironic that a child named after laughter turns out to be studious, pious and introverted.

Sarah’s death produces in her other-worldly nerdy son a desire for a wife, a desire for a woman that can fill his mother’s shoes. Isaac is a momma’s boy. Sarah sacrifices herself for the future of her son. And Abraham sends his most trusted servant to organize an arranged marriage between Isaac and someone from the homeland, the place of his and Sarah’s birth. Unlike the tradition of arranged marriages, this is a love story, a story of two who contract the marriage themselves in spite of whatever external arrangements have been made.

Eliezer, Abraham’s most trusted servant, travels to Mesopotamia to seek a wife for Isaac. Before Eliezer can arrange a shidduch, organize an arranged marriage, he sees Rebekah at the well at dusk when the women draw their water. Rebekah happens to be the niece of Abraham. the daughter of Bethuel, son of Milkah, who was the wife of Abraham’s brother, Nahor. Rebekah offers Eliezer not only water from her jar, but also water for all his camels. That is about 250 gallons; she has to draw all that water. Camels can really drink water! Eliezer is overwhelmed. Rebekah has passed the test of loving kindness.

Rebekah is unique in the Torah. She is the only one of the matriarchs who is given a family tree and is chosen as the real mother of the Jewish people. She is the essence of the Jewish people – giving to another out of sheer goodwill. Only then does Eliezer learn that she is related to Abraham. Rebekah’s older brother was Lavan. Eliezer tells Lavan of the dowry that awaits Rebekah if he agrees to give Rebekah as Isaac’s wife. But Lavan knows his sister’s character, her independence of mind, forthrightness and wilfulness, even though she is also kind-hearted. He knows he cannot force her to leave her homeland. And he asks Eliezer, what if she chooses not to come? Eliezer replies that it will depend on God’s will, with the implication that God’s spirit will speak through her actions. It does. She is asked whether she will go to a new land, to Isaac. She, without hesitation, says, “I will go.”

She and Isaac fall in love, but not because the two are related. That is only revealed later. But because they are related, the love may have come easier. Isaac falls in love with Rebekah. Rebekah in turn loves Isaac. The love seems instant. But is it? How does it come about?

Look at the way they first see each other. Isaac continues and is heir to the blindness of Adam and in his old age he will actually be physically blind when he has to give the blessing to one of his own sons. For when Isaac first sees Rebekah, he does not actually see her. He sees camels approaching in the distance and the picture is a haze produced by the sand of the camels’ feet. He sees patience and tolerance. He sees long-suffering and endurance. He sees the Ships of the Desert. In that haze is the hidden Rebekah, someone who is calm and collected, direct and responsive on the surface, but underneath is resolute and will never forget. She will protect and eventually realize what is deepest in her heart, not with malice aforethought, but through cunning and subversion. Finally, she will carry that burden of trickery on her shoulders so that her son Jacob will not be burdened with the guilt of tricking his father. She will be the true purveyor of what it means to belong to a guilt culture.

Isaac, on the other hand, is walking with his camels. Rebekah can clearly see him. She is struck in awe. She knows. But knows as Eve knew in a deeper way than requiring any direct test or examination. Though she has the ability of this inner sight, it is she who is attuned to the smell of the camels, the taste of the sand, and the rest of the unforgettable sensuous experience of that first moment.

Rebekah covers her face, but in embarrassment, not in shame. She is awestruck. And the gesture will adumbrate her whole marriage with Isaac. For although she never surrenders her esteem for him, for his holy ways, for his learning, she herself will reveal that she has a more direct access to God. She need not receive instructions or revelations from Isaac. She can get them directly from God. But she must also veil this non-rational, non-deliberative direct intuitive contact with the spiritual world. That part of herself must remain hidden from Isaac. She does not don a naqib because her parents tell her, but to hide her awe, to hide her embarrassment at her flushed cheeks and feelings, and most of all, to hide that SHE KNOWS. For a woman of audacity even as a young teenager, of decisiveness and one who clearly knows her own mind, she also has to hide her superior access to God’s word in spite of her enormous respect for her husband.

One cannot avoid that the story is about love. But what kind of love? For Rebekah it is love at first sight. This is the only real love story in the whole of Torah. Yet the section is called “The Life of Sarah”. Last week I jumped ahead to understand Sarah’s death to comprehend her character and the role she plays. But this tale ends up being about the lifelong love story between Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac loves Rebekah all his life. The parsha is not ostensibly about Sarah. Yet it is called the story of the life of Sarah when it is about what happens after Sarah dies. But it is a story of how love begins and grows between Rebekah and Isaac. He not only never takes another wife, he never sleeps with another woman. What has this love story to do with Sarah’s death?

Because Rebekah is very forthright, though also very modest, she literally falls for Isaac at first sight. She falls off her camel and then puts on her veil to hide her flushed cheeks. She is embarrassed at what she feels. She is also afraid – not of Isaac, but at what she is feeling. Instead of Abraham’s fear and trembling when he takes Isaac to fill the command of the sacrifice, we have awe and embarrassment.

Isaac, is also overwhelmed by her kindness, by her loving kindness, her hesed. Though she is described as beautiful, he cannot see that physical beauty since she wears a veil, but he does see the beauty of her character. The match is beshert. It was meant to be. So though there is an element of preparation, of calculation and judgement by Abraham’s servant, a response to what is observed, what basically happens is that each is struck with Cupid’s arrow. They barely talk to one another. He knows but requires evidence to come to that knowledge, the very evidence Abraham’s servant brings back to Canaan. It is akin to the same type of empirical evidence that will later fool him when he gives his blessing to Jacob rather than Esau. Though they love one another, Rebekah is also the trickster without whom Isaac could not have fulfilled his mission. Requiring evidence is Isaac’s weakness.

Rebekah, in contrast, knows directly. She does not need evidence. But why for Isaac is she the right one? She is a woman from Abraham’s homeland in Mesopotamia and not yet a follower of Abraham’s faith in the belief in the one God. Isaac is religious and sees her after he finished his afternoon prayers. He does not fall in love because she observes the same faith in the one God, but because she comes from the same homeland as Sarah. And because she is a very kind woman. She is sensitive. She can pick up social cues that go beneath appearances. But like Abraham, resolutely and immediately, she decides to leave her homeland as a young teenager to return with Isaac. She is very decisive. She is very straight. She knows what she wants. There is no hesitation. The spirit of Abraham is now to be transmitted through Rebekah even though Isaac is the pious one.

Isaac and Rebekah remain faithful to one another their whole lives. It is indeed a love story. But this is not because they were totally compatible. They are not. They come from opposite poles of human existence. They are two very different characters. Isaac is other-worldly. Rebekah is very grounded. Further, Rebekah has to trick Isaac – this other-worldly nerd – into giving his blessing to Jacob and not to Esau. Isaac is a social conformist who believes in continuing the tradition of bestowing the blessing on the older one. But Rebekah, like Abraham, is the rebel. Primogeniture be damned. She knows what social science and psychology will discover in the twentieth century, that first-borns tend to be rash and adventurous – they become the fighter pilots. Second-borns have a propensity to be more reflective, more contemplative, more cautious.

Rebekah chooses Isaac to get the blessing, not because she does not love Esau, her other twin and older son. But she is the one with common sense who recognizes the child who can best carry the future of a people on his shoulders. Rebekah is not only the epitome of loving kindness, but she is shrewd and calculating, careful to take into account the best interests of her family and both her children. She knows what Isaac can never know even with all his time spent in study.

Rebekah, however, is not the woman who divides her family, but the one who yokes the two different peoples that will arise from her children. As her name suggests, she is the link that ties differences together, between her and her husband and between her two very different sons. She recognizes the real differences between the twins. She is the true visionary. But she will pay for her sin of foresight by assuming the guilt for the trick played on Isaac. She remains to the very end a woman of virtue, a woman wiling to give of herself for the future.

Shimon Peres movie: The Price of Kings.17.04.31

Shimon Peres: The Price of Unsatisfactory Documentaries 17.04.12

by

Howard Adelman

I was going to review the documentary, Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace, but the analysis will take more time. Instead, today I will review The Price of Kings: Shimon Peres, a documentary filmdirected by Richard Symons and Joanna Natesegara that I saw yesterday afternoon. It is one of twelve planned documentaries on leaders that the directors plan to make. The first one was on Arafat released in January 2011. The Peres film is the second in the series released a year ago. (The third is on Oscar Arias Sanchez from Costa Rica was released in November 2012.) The opening of the Peres film is a confusing collage alluding to the theme of the series as focusing on the sacrifices leaders make to dedicate their lives to political leadership. The film asks: what would you sacrifice for your beliefs? Since the film never really even probes the question, I would be surprised if the film stimulated an intelligent answer.

I think it is very hard not to make an interesting film about political leaders. They have led eventful lives. If you can get an interview and have them talk on camera and then add views of associates, family members, friends and critics, over half your job is done. The filmmakers are to be congratulated for getting that part accomplished. The film not only has many minutes from Peres, but includes Yitzchak Navon, the 5th president of Israel, and Professor Michael Bar-Zohar, the biographer of David Ben Gurion, who also in 2006 published Shimon Peres: The Biography. Former Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Ahmed Querei and an Oslo negotiator for Arafat, and Ahmad Tibi, the Israeli-Arab leader of the Arab Movement for Renewal Party, make cameo appearances. Uri Savir, the Chief Negotiator for Israel in the Oslo process, has a much larger role. Uri Avnery makes an appearance as does Ruth Dayan who was married to Moshe Dayan. Gideon Levy, an ex-aide, and Peres’ friend, Danny Gillerman, have very serious parts. Human Rights campaigner, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, has much to say and is even given the final pronouncement. The problem then is editing the material and knitting it together. The directors use a simple technique – the historical trajectory of the life of the leader focused on the most famous historical events. For Peres, whose life covered the sixty-five years of the history of Israel, there is no difficulty in finding those key moments.

However, the selection of music, perhaps inspired by Peres’ current aged dour visage, is so melancholic that the film is often experienced as a dirge when the violins are not being used to bring forth your tears. Helena Bonham Carter, the actress from Alice in Wonderland, The King’s Speech and Les Misérables, is the narrator; her script is pedestrian, clichéd and often wrong, and the officious newsreel voice that she adopts, even though it is that of a woman, takes us back to newsreels of the fifties and sixties. The interrotron technique that appears to have been used for the Peres interview catches the face of the interviewee close-up, but also ensures formality and distance rather than intimacy and disclosure. The lighting on Peres when he is being interviewed against a black backdrop reinforces stiffness and platitudes rather than casualness and open comments. And some of the B-roll! At the end of the film there is a scene of the Tel Aviv beach with a cement podium as a backdrop and two sunbathers on chairs in the foreground. One of the sunbathers brings his legs together, then separates them, then brings them together again as if he suffers from ADHT. But then he appears to be exercising. What this scene has to do with the life story of Peres, I have no idea. It is just an ugly picture! Is that the message the director wants to convey about his view of Peres, that underneath his reserve and dignity he just sways from side to side wherever the political winds take him?

Peres left Poland at the age of eleven; before he left, he promised his grandfather that he would always be Jewish. Peres describes arriving Palestine with its golden sand beaches, blue skies and the perfumed air of the Mediterranean as arriving in paradise compared to the sullen gray skies of Poland and the crowded small shtetl of 1000 families that he left behind. Most of his extended family died in the Holocaust, including his grandfather to whom he made that solemn promise. One day, they were all gathered together by the Nazis, forced into the community synagogue and all shot.

One thesis in the film is that Peres remained an outsider because: a) he was not born in Israel and spoke Hebrew with a Polish accent; b) he never served in the army; and 3) he was too much of a thinker. But they never asked what he read, what his favourite writers were or where he got most of his inspiration. Further, surely the filmmakers knew that he served in the Haganah and was charged at a young age with giving an organizational structure to the collection of militias from pre-state Palestine to create the Israeli army. Finally, one would think that the filmmakers would have asked, why, if he arrived at 11 years of age, he still had an accent? They do not. Like many of the issues raised and theses propounded without any evidence, there are no follow-ups. As we heard the claim of the disadvantage of speaking Hebrew with an accent, we wonder about Begin and the hordes of other non-Sabra founding fathers, but do not expect the film to provide any answers.

In the film, Peres says that if you have to choose between being Machiavellian and doing everything you can to achieve power or naiveté, he prefers naiveté. I wanted to scream: Why did you not ask why Peres defined Machiavellian as the pursuit of power by any means, or the even easier question of why pose those as the only two alternatives? The film loves to capture protagonists cast between two poles. Peres might opt for one pole, such as naiveté and offer a rationale, but the director suggests that this is evidence of his being conflicted. The script writers themselves seem to have a propensity to favour a tryptych of concepts rather than visual panels to make pronouncements – Peres combined religion with a conscience with a commitment to good government. Other than the odd shot of Peres with a kippa, where is there any exploration of Peres’ religion in the film or even an allusion to the fact that as a young boy influenced by his grandfather, Peres was a Haredi while his family was really non-observant? Where are the questions about the influence of his religious beliefs on his politics? Whenever these summaries were offered, I had to mentally close my ears lest they distract from the focus on the events and actions in which Peres was involved.

Some of these were impossible to ignore – such as the erroneous cliché that the UN gave birth to Israel because of the guilt over the Holocaust, a cliché that even most Jews believe. A good historian will show you why this is utter nonsense. One of the more important reasons was the problem of dealing with the 200,000 Jewish refugees left after the war. But that issue is not raised in the film nor whether the intake of those Jewish refugees played any part in Peres’ early life. Instead, the film focuses on the exodus of the Palestinians who became refugees and whom the Israeli authorities banned from re-entering. Does this have anything to do with Peres? If so, what? If not, why is this episode in the film?

The film makes clear that Peres was on the side of those Zionists who accepted partition and an Israel with only 45% of the land of Palestine but ended up with 78% because the Arabs never were satisfied with the amount allocated to them. Thus, war was inevitable in a fight over land. If that fight was to be settled by force of arms at the Arab’s choice and not mutual agreement or external imposition, then why would Peres not take 100% and instead settle only for 78%? There are good answers to which Peres would probably agree, but the question is never asked, perhaps because the director is not neutral and cannot even imagine giving a respectful voice to the right wingers who are presented stereotypically as religious zealots. The film seems to have an underlying thesis – that peace was sabotaged simply by the work of Jewish extremists and the settler movement more generally, as if the Palestinian terrorist bus bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that are shown in the film and that turned the Israeli public against Oslo, played no part. Contrary to some commentators on the film commending its neutrality, I found the appearance of neutrality a sham. The issues are discussed superficially and without any depth.

The film is gripping because the events and characters are gripping. The film engages but doesn’t really probe – except with one provocative (and inappropriate question in the context) suggestion that Israel is an apartheid state. However, by an large the questions are left out of the film to enhance the impression of letting the characters voices carry the film.

Peres is given credit for organizing the arms supply to the army of the new state, but we are told nothing of how he accomplished the feat. If the directors asked Peres, the footage was left on the cutting room table. There is one interesting anecdote told in the film that I had never heard before. Peres was corralled by Ben Gurion to accompany him in the car to Tel Aviv. Ben Gurion told Peres out of the blue that Trotsky was a lousy leader. "No War, No Peace. That was not a decision. Decisions have to be clear and unequivocal." Lenin was the real leader for Ben Gurion. Peres was puzzled by the story. Why not explore the puzzlement? What was Peres’ view of leadership?

Peres is also credited with bringing the capacity to produce nuclear weapons to Israel and with building the "textile factory", the Dimona reactor. But how or why – you will learn nothing from the film. You will not even hear Peres’ evasions.

On the Entebbe operation, the film sums up the position that, while Yitzhak Rabin wanted to negotiate with the terrorists, Peres was totally opposed and was convinced that a plan of rescue could be developed, in spite of the total scepticism of the head of the armed forces, Mordechai Gur. This potted summary is all we get along with a mixture of facts and errors about the raid that Peres’ himself calls one of the bravest and most heroic deeds performed by Israeli troops. An example of an error is heard when the narrator states that five aircraft landed in Entebbe when there were only four Hercules aircraft.

The story and activities were quite a bit more complicated than the edited summary. As Peres himself described them when he opened the storyteller’s festival as recorded by Shahar Chai for Israel News (10.01.12) in a news item headed, "I convinced Rabin to launch Operation Entebbe." Here is what Peres said:

"The chances of rescuing 101 Jewish hostages 4,000 kilometers away seemed miniscule…The conclusion was that we should comply with the demands to release the terrorists," but Peres then left out the qualifier – if a feasible rescue plan could not be developed. It is true that most were sceptical that a feasible rescue plan could be created and he himself thought the chances were miniscule. "The Fantasy Headquarters" made up of gutsy creative officers did come up with a plan and Peres convinced the cabinet that the risks were worth taking. So while Prime Minister Rabin continued to give the impression that he was keen on negotiating, the plan was implemented.

This is a very different version that the impression created by the film of Peres as a determined decision maker willing to take risks and Rabin as a waffler willing to back down on a sacred principle of no negotiations with terrorists. Further, it contradicts the overall impression the film makes, and the stated conviction of the director, Richard Symons, in reinforcing the image of Peres as a very successful second in command but not a decisive and gutsy leader. In fact, Symons has said on tape that he thinks Peres lacked a backbone and was deeply conflicted even if the evidence in his own film contradicts that conclusion. The film spends a few seconds mentioning the back channels behind Oslo, but only a mention; there is no suggestion that this initiative might belie the stereotype of Peres as just a second and never qualified to be a first.

Further, there is so much about Peres that is omitted – his imposition of a military organization on the inchoate ragtag of militias inherited from pre-state Palestine, his early career initiatives in modernizing agriculture and spreading those innovations to Africa, his later initiatives that helped make Israel the "start-up" nation.

Peres is presented as a person with enormous self-control – which he did have – but he also cried when told of Yoni Netanyahu’s death, but that is not stated or admitted in the film. What is said by a colleague – I cannot recall who said it in the film – was that Peres was both very decisive and very flexible and willing to change. Peres admits he made many mistakes, but the filmmakers never ask him whether his decision not to call an election in 1995 in the aftermath of Rabin’s assassination, contrary to all the advice he received, because he did not want to ride into office on the coattails of Rabin’s blood, was one of those decisions. Had his own ego stood in the way of practicing proper Machiavellian politics? Again, the film provides no answers.

The film does provide a very moving account of the success of the rally in Tel Aviv in November of 1955 when Rabin was murdered, but especially of the close rapport Peres and Rabin had finally developed and when Peres had never seen Rabin so relaxed, happy, smiling and, most of all, friendly. The glint in Peres’ eyes as he described Rabin putting his arm on his shoulders could not and should not be missed. These touching moments – such as the account of and by Peres’ granddaughter, Mika, riding in the back of a car in Washington with her grandfather and saying what she thinks of him, are very moving.

Finally, to return to the ostensible theme of the series, what did Peres sacrifice? Peres explicitly states that the most rewarding and satisfying experience in life is work. Peres did a great deal of important work. His granddaughter cried when she expressed to him directly how proud she was of him and what he accomplished. Where was the sacrifice? What greater nachas is there?

Shimon Peres.17.04.13.doc

Live or Die in Entebbe – a review

The Need for Recognition: A Movie Review 16.04.13

by

Howard Adelman

Today is Yom Ha’atzmaut (יום העצמאות‎), Independence Day commemorating the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948 which, as I wrote yesterday, then fell on the 15th of May, but is celebrated in accordance with the Hebrew calendar on the 5th of Iyar. Unlike yesterday’s films that I reviewed, which were strictly about Memorial Day (Yom Hazikaron – yesterday) and eschewed politics, this film, Live or Die in Entebbe, briefly deals with politics and the celebration of one of the outstanding military accomplishments of the Israeli Defence Forces, the rescue of 102 hostages (88 Israelis) captured and held by terrorists in Entebbe after an Air France airliner was hijacked. It is a coincidence of history that this widely recognized unprecedented heroic rescue took place on 4 July 1976, the 200th anniversary of America’s Independence Day. However, Live or Die in Entebbe skirts over the heroic elements of the mission in the first few minutes in a summary form and then deals with its core subject matter, the civilians who died in the rescue attempt and the effort to acknowledge and recognize their sacrifice.

But first the heroic parts of the story. In addition to the book, Ninety Minutes in Entebbe by William Stevenson, the following films have been made about the heroic political and military aspects of this episode:

Victory at Entebbe (1976 – 119 min.) directed by Marvin J. Chomsky

Raid on Entebbe (1977 – 145 min.) directed by Irwin Kershner (Golden Globe winner)

Operation Thunderbolt (Mivtsa Yonatan Operation) (1977) Menahem Golan

(nominated for an academy award as best foreign film)

Operation Thunderbolt: Entebbe (2000) Eyal Sher

Entebbe Hostage Rescue: Operation Thunderbolt (2011) National Geographic

Rescue at Entebbe: An Interview with the Chief Pilot (2012)

We now add Live or Die in Entebbe to the list.

Victory at Entebbe had a high powered list of actors, including Anthony Hopkins (Yitzhak Rabin), Burt Lancaster (Shimon Peres), Kirk Douglas (Hershel Vilnofsky) and Elizabeth Taylor (Edra Vilnofsky) who recriminate the Israeli government for not negotiating, for their daughter Chava is on the plane, Richard Dreyfus (Yoni Netanyahu, the leader of the 29-man assault team), Helen Hayes (Etta Grossman-Wise, a passenger on the plane who distracts an Israeli ex IDF officer from trying to tackle the hijackers), and others. It seemed as if every Hollywood star was keen on being involved in portraying such a heroic event. The movie was shot, edited and ready for showing in five months and tried to portray the story from four angles, the hijacking itself, the process of political decision-making, the military perspective and the plight of the hostages.

A superior film, Raid on Entebbe, did not have as stellar a cast, but top actors nonetheless – Peter Finch as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Horst Buchholtz as Wilfred Böse, the German terrorist, John Saxon as Major General Benny Peled, then commander of the Israeli air force, Jack Warden as Lt. General Mordechai (Motta) Gur, the IDF Chief of Staff, Charles Bronson as Brigadier General Shomron who was in overall charge of the total ground operation, and Robert Loggia as Yigal Allon. From the cast list it is clear that this film paid far closer attention to the military planning and execution, slighted the politics and virtually ignored the perspective of the victims.

Operation Thinderbolt, in contrast, was not a re-enactment but a documentary interspersing news footage with interviews of many of the key players such as Janet Almog (a hijacked passenger), Michel Bacos (the Air France pilot), Ehud Barak (then in the planning team for the operation), Moshe (Muki) Betzer who was responsible for integrating the intelligence information with a detailed plan and led one of the assault teams, David Kimche (Deputy Chief of the Mossad at the time), Tricia Martel (hostage), Benjamin Netanyahu, Benjamin Peled and Shimon Peres.

The core elements of the story are very straightforward. On 27 June 1976, an Air France passenger jet, Flight 139, an Airbus A300 flying from Tel Aviv to Paris with a stop in Athens, was boarded by two West German terrorists, Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann as well as two Palestinian members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine along with 54 additional passengers. The terrorists hijacked the plane just after it took off, forced it to land in Benghazi, Libya for refuelling (where a passenger escaped by pretending to be having a miscarriage) and ended up at Entebbe Airport in Uganda where the hijackers were joined by three other PFLP members and were protected by the Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, and his guards. The passengers were divided into two groups, Israelis and others. The others were released, including Jews who were not Israeli citizens. Air France sent a plane to bring them back to France. The captain, Michel Bacos, refused to leave his passengers and his crew followed his example and opted to stay behind with the captive Israelis. Of the original manifest of 248 passengers, 94 remained behind (the Air France manifest showed that 92 carried Israeli passports) along with 12 Air France crew members. The hijackers demanded an exchange of the Israeli hostages for 40 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons on terrorist charges and 13 detained in Kenya.

At the time, Yitzhak Rabin had been Prime Minister for two years and was determined never to negotiate or compromise with terrorists. While foreign diplomats negotiated with the terrorists on behalf of Israel, mainly the Americans, an Israeli retired IDF officer, Baruch "Burka" Bar-Lev who had known Idi Amin for years, tried unsuccessfully to negotiate directly with Amin. During this time, the Israeli government immediately began planning a rescue effort for the deadline originally given by the hijackers was only five days away. Henry Kissinger, then Foreign Minister of the USA, subsequently criticized Israel in a private conversation with Israeli Ambassador Dinitz for using American equipment in the raid. Later, Jimmy Carter would try to imitate the Entebbe operation in Operation Eagle Claw to free the 52 American hostages in Iran on 24 April 1980, but it was a complete humiliating fiasco which was aborted halfway through. In turning back, a helicopter crashed into a transport aircraft and eight servicemen were killed in the fire which destroyed both aircraft.

Israel had already decided to negotiate with the hijackers and release the prisoners, but only if a military rescue operation proved unfeasible. What they did get with American, Egyptian and Amin’s help, was an extension of the deadline until 4 July. Because an Israeli firm (Solel Boneh) had actually built the old terminal where the hostages were held, Israel had detailed plans and quickly, virtually overnight, built a mock-up of the old terminal where the hostages were held. Further, Mossad agents interviewed passengers who had been released, particularly one French Jew who had served in the French military and provided a detailed account of how many terrorists there were, the weapons they carried, where they were positioned, and how many of Idi Amin’s troops were seconded to guard the old terminal (100).

Special forces were selected for the attack, now codenamed Operation Thunderbolt, and one of the army officers came up with the plan to land the planes sent for the rescue under cover of darkness and then send a Mercedes limousine painted black, which they borrowed from an Israeli, accompanied by two jeeps. The three vehicles would role out of the back of the Hercules cargo plane and drive to the old terminal where the hostages were being held as if they held Idi Amin himself. One small team would head to rescue the hostages while another team took care of the 100 Ugandan soldiers (45 were actually killed). Troops led by Shaul Mofaz from the other planes would blow up Idi Amin’s air force (fifteen Soviet-built MiG-17s (3) and (12) MiG 21s) and surround the airport to prevent Amin sending in a counterforce. There was a plan B. If the operation failed and the troops became trapped, Israel would send in troops to overthrow Idi Amin.

The idea was very imaginative, but very high risk on a number of levels, both because of what the Israelis knew and what they did not know. The four Hercules aircraft, first of all, had to fly very low to remain undetected by radar on the way down for 2500 miles. Low meant flying at 100 feet and sometimes as low as 35 feet. That required exceptional skills, especially by the lead pilot, Lt. Col. Joshua Shani. Second, at that level, the four Hercules aircraft sent could not help but constantly hit air pockets. Most of the 300 or so troops on board the four aircraft became air sick repeatedly on the way down and were in the worst condition to act as a fighting force. Further, the planes did not have enough fuel to fly back. The Israeli government had to get Kenya’s cooperation to allow the planes to land in Nairobi for refuelling – which they received at the last minute with the help of the Jewish owner of the Block hotel chain in Kenya, which included the famous Norfolk Hotel – the hotel that was bombed on 31 December 1980 in revenge with 13 killed and 87 wounded. Kenyans had paid a price earlier when Amin killed hundreds of them living in Uganda after the raid as revenge against Kenyatta for helping the Israelis. Finally, the lead plane had to land at night with the runway dark until lights could be strung to guide the following three planes in to land. Two other Boeing 707s followed, one equipped as a flying hospital to treat wounded soldiers and civilians which landed in Nairobi and one with General Yekutiel Adam who would be in charge of Plan B if it was necessary.

Secondly, many things could go wrong. And they did. Israelis did not know that Amin had just switched to driving a white rather than a black Mercedes. Secondly, the surprise was not as great as intended. One Ugandan guard fired at the jeep and an Israeli soldier had to take him out with a silencer, but the element of complete surprise had been lost. The constant vomiting and the speed of disembarkation had disoriented the soldiers and made them unsteady so that they were unable to follow their routines exactly as they had practiced them. Nevertheless, the rescue team reached the terminal, but not before one of the Ugandan soldiers shot and killed the commando leader, Yonatan Netanyahu, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s older brother.

This is one item that virtually anyone who has heard of the Entebbe raid knows as well as the fact that Idi Amin afterwards had 75-year old Dora Bloch, an Israeli captive who had earlier been rushed to Mulago hospital in Kampala because of a piece of meat stuck in her throat, dragged out of her hospital bed, beaten, murdered and her body thrown into a swamp. A number of Ugandan doctors and nurses who tried to protect Dora Bloch from the soldiers were also killed.

But that was later. The hostages still had to be rescued. Once inside the terminal, one soldier was instructed to order everyone to remain lying on the ground. However, he was hardly able to speak after the quick run to the terminal, shooting guards on the way. He quickly shot the terrorists in the room guarding the hostages and in the process he and others in his small troop of four, killed three civilians and wounded ten others by friendly fire. All three had been near the terrorists. One was 20-year-old Jean-Jacques Maimoni, a French citizen who had wanted to immigrate to Israel but whose grandfather feared putting him in harms way if he was conscripted into the IDF. Maimoni, who is seen only in photographs, is the central attention of the film. For in Paris, Jean Jacques was to meet his two month old nephew, Jonathan Khayat, who thirty five years later would make this film with the help of his friend, Eyal Boers who directed the movie. Jonathan Khayat works as an Associate Director, Recruitment and Admissions, of the MBA Program in the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill University. By all accounts, his uncle, Jean Jacques was remembered by the other passengers because he went out of his way to help others, one time being hit hard by a terrorist for standing up on behalf of another hostage. Further, he had a French passport and could have possibly left with the other non-Israeli Jews but evidently chose not to.

In the film we learn how precisely he was shot, why and how his great uncle had been first told that he died of an asthma attack, what the effects of suppression had been on the family, how his aunt and uncle in seeing the body knew he had been shot by Israeli soldiers, and what the effect of non-acknowledgement and non-recognition had been on the family.

Live or Die in Entebbe also interviewed the son of Pasco Cohen, 52, the manager of an Israeli medical insurance fund, who was travelling with his wife and children, and raised the upper part of his body off the floor to check on the safety of his son, Shai. His daughter, Tzipi, who was 8 years old at the time, always celebrated their rescue and never held anything against the IDF for killing her father by friendly fire. Jonathan Khayat had also tried to interview family members of a third hostage, 56-year-old Ida Borochovitch, a Russian Jew who had recently emigrated to Israel, who was also killed by Israeli gunfire. However, her family had emigrated from Israel and Khayat was unable to find where they had gone.

In the earlier documentary, a hostage had testified that Wilfried Böse had insisted that he was not anti-semitic but just anti-Zionist. Further, another hostage had testified that when he entered the old terminal in response to all the shooting, he could have opened fire on all the hostages lying on the ground but chose not to. When he opened fire at the commandoes, he was immediately shot by Israeli soldiers. The commandoes then burst open the door where the hostages said the remaining three terrorists were and killed them.

Though the film focuses on giving recognition to the civilian victims who are oft forgotten and put in the background to help enhance a myth, the documentary also gives recognition to the other five Israeli commandos who were wounded, particularly Soron Herschko who was shot in the spine by one of Amin’s soldiers. He too was interviewed in the film and Khayat told us in the Q&A after the film that in spite of being a quadriplegic, Herschko told him that he has never regretted for a moment going on the mission.

In turning a heroic tale into one of memory and recognition, in acknowledging that three of the captives were killed by friendly fire, the heroic story is not impoverished in the least but given greater depth and breadth. Further, the laws of war demand that civilians not deliberately be put in harms way; this law applies to your own civilians as much as the civilians on the other side. Four civilians were killed (Bloch by Idi Amin much later), and ten others were wounded; seven terrorists were killed – a high ratio. But almost a hundred civilians were rescued. Yitzhak Rabin said in advance that if 25 were killed, he would consider the rescue mission a failure and would resign as Prime Minister. He did not have to face that vow.

One last point! None of the films on the Israeli Entebbe raid adequately put the film in a longer range political context. It is no surprise that the memorial aspect and the more balanced perspective are now surfacing in a way that does not detract from the heroism. There is also the perspective of the past. One is Africa. The humiliation of the 1976 raid encouraged Amin to try to recover his status by military adventurism towards Tanzania that led to disaster and the eventual overthrow of the Amin regime in 1979. At the UN, most counties were in awe of what Israel had accomplished even if they were otherwise critical of Israel. The Westerm countries were generally very supportive. UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, however, revealed his true colours and criticized the raid as "a serious violation of the national sovereignty of a United Nations member state." Israel itself had been through a period of deep self-doubt since the Yom Kippur War in 1973. The Entebbe raid changed the spirit of Israel overnight. Further, the role of Anwar Sadat in trying to free the hostages is not well known and Sadat would bring a new shock and a radical change in the relationship of Israel and the largest Arab state.

I will turn to the latter issue in my review of another film from the Toronto Jewish Film Festival tomorrow. Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace focused on the Sadat visit to Jerusalem, the Camp David Accords and Peace Agreement. The film is being shown late this afternoon at the Sheppard Centre on north Yonge St. and I will review it tomorrow morning.

The Need for Recognition16.04.13.doc

Three Movie Reviews.15.04.13

Three Movie Reviews 15.04.13

by

Howard Adelman

Blue Line

The Cave – Nekama

Rainbow – Keshet Be`Anan

Today is Yom Hazikaron (יום הזיכרון‎), Memorial Day, the day set aside to commemorate the Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day (Yom Hazikaron l’Chalalei Ma’arachot Yisrael v’l’Nifgaei Peulot Ha’eivah יום הזיכרון לחללי מערכות ישראל ולנפגעי פעולות האיבה‎). This evening Yom Ha’atzmaut (יום העצמאות‎), Independence Day begins commemorating the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948 which then fell on the 15th of May but is celebrated in accordance with the Hebrew calendar on the 5th of Iyar. The above three films have everything to do with Yom Hazikaron, the second on the list in a perverse way, but all three have nothing to do with Yom Ha’atzmaut. That is to say, all three movies are about the military, but all three have nothing to say about politics. I saw all three at one showing last evening at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF). The first was a delight. The second was wonderfully acted and very moving. And the third was magnificent.

Blue Line is a 20 minute 2011 short in Hindi, Hebrew and English made by Alain Sauma for French television. The film opens with a shot of blue painted boulders in a line, widens to a gorgeous shot of green hills and a small pond, and widens again until we see a UN peacekeeping observation post and then an Israeli observation post on the Israeli-Lebanese border. The scene is gorgeous and is probably intended to be located in the north-east in North Baalbek and the borders of Baalbek, Beka‘a, Hasbaya or North Rashaya. Based in Beirut, Sauma generally shoots commercials, such as a beautiful very short film asking for support for Gaza called Bring Gaza Back. He also shoots propaganda films against terrorism. This film has the usual stereotypes of armies, whether in the Israeli army or working as Indian peacekeepers. There is the soldier who wants to keep strictly to orders. Then there are the humanitarian soldiers who try to apply common sense when dealing with a small incident but in a zone that makes humanitarianism seem not only risky but a potential trigger for resumed fighting across a cease fire line. The action is initiated by a boy minding his cow in Lebanon and falling asleep on the job as his cow wanders across the cease fire line. The film is whimsical. Its humanity warms your heart until, in the end, the story is juxtaposed against the real war.

The Cave (Nekama) is an Israeli 22 min. short directed by Yoav Cohen, one of 13 Cohens who are filmmakers in Israel. He made the film as a student at the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School in Jerusalem. At first you are unsure what is going on. The fifty year old casually dressed bald man seen making a fire in a cave looks like an Israeli Mossad or Shin Bet agent. Then you see that he has a captured a youth in uniform, tied him up and gagged him. The kidnapper of the soldier speaks fluent Hebrew. Is the tied up youth a fellow from the Lebanese or Jordanian army or one of Arafat`s soldiers? If I was an Israeli, I would have recognized the insignia and caught on before three minutes of the film had passed. The soldier is Israeli. The kidnapper is an Arab, named Yusuf – it is not clear whether he is an Israeli Arab or from the West Bank. He has kidnapped the soldier and tied him up. Is this not where the Blue Line ended? No, for Yusuf has not kidnapped the soldier for political reasons, but to exact revenge for what he and his wife went through at the hands of Israeli soldiers. The acting by Yusuf Abu-Verda playing Yusuf is simply brilliant. The film is beautifully shot with a red camera so the details within the cave stand out. The script is almost poetic. It is a must see movie.

Imagine The Hurt Locker looking artificial beside this 41 minute film directed by Eliran Elya called Rainbow or Keshet Be`Anan. Documentary film footage is shown of real Israeli troop going through the sand and rocks in search of body parts for proper burial of dead soldiers whose armour carrier had been attacked and blown up. This took place in Gaza and this archival film is interwoven through the movie. The film is about a troop of half a dozen soldiers sent into Gaza to guard the body part collectors. When they are shot at, the soldiers take cover in a house that they find is occupied by a Palestinian family with a sullen father, a rather animated older grandmother and a brood of children, one in bed suffering from asthma. A wayward Israeli army photographer is found and forced to take cover with them; the photographer was assigned to their unit and simply went ahead on his own. We know from the start that the enterprising photographer obsessed with getting his shots will spell trouble. The claustrophobia of the house in which they take refuge makes the castle in the Israeli film Beaufort look roomy.

Again, there are a variety of types. The troop is made up of the self-centred soldier and the romantic wayward and even rash one, the do-gooder and the responsible Michael, the commanding officer, who tries to keep his troops safe without imposing unnecessarily on the trapped Palestinian family as the soldiers are periodically shot at by snipers. The film see-saws from situations of fear to the movements of well trained soldiers, from boredom to the religious soldier praying, from one soldier taking water belonging to the family when his own runs out to the medic helping the child. The film is fast-paced and taut, carried by suspense and fear but lightened up by camaraderie and care. Until the climax!

The director, Eliran Elya, and Producer, Oren Rogovin, were there for a Q&A. We learn that this exact situation took place when he was in the army. Rainbow was both the code name of the mission and the house that they had lined up to occupy while they protected the gatherers of the body parts. The White House was the source of the sniper fire but I would not read any political symbolism into that. With minor alterations, what is portrayed actually happened. Shockingly, this superb film was made with all volunteer labour and total dedication and cost $2000. The film is a fitting tribute to Yom Hazikaron.

The film was all the more poignant for me, as I am sure it was for so many Israelis. I recalled when my grandson was in the paratroopers on the Gaza border and his best friend was killed a few yards from him by a grenade from a grenade launcher. I phoned him not long after the event and what he said kept going through my head and cutting through my heart as I watched the film.

May peace come and may no more civilians be harassed or injured or killed and no more Israeli soldiers` lives sacrificed.

Three Movie Reviews15.04.13.doc

Parashat Vayikra.Leviticus 1:1- 5:26.Peace, Sin and Guilt.16.03.13

Leviticus 1:1- 5:26 Peace, Sin and Guilt 16.03.13

Parashat Vayikra

by

Howard Adelman

Why do Jewish children begin their Biblical Jewish studies with Leviticus? On the surface, Leviticus is a total bore for children. Once you try to analyze the text, you have to conclude that the concepts must go way over their head. Further, if the book is a set of instructions for priests (Torat Kohanim), why should a youngster be interested? In any case, rabbinic Judaism prevails and there is no longer a Jewish religion centred on temple rituals, so what relevance could such a book have as an introduction to contemporary Judaism? Why would any child be interested in different categories of sacrifice, initiation rites into the priesthood and the horrific consequences if you make a mistake?

Leviticus is an emotionally disturbing book. A child has not yet acquired the censors and indirection, the inhibitions and redirections. The direct even involuntary attraction towards a powerful emotional response provides the power of the text. It is not that the children are pure in being without sin but pure in the sense of their openness to another, especially empathy for the emotions of the other.

Leviticus is about such openness. "Vayikra" means that God called. Moses is called. We as inheritors of the Mosaic credo will eventually be called. We are not called from heaven. The voice calling us comes from midst of the Tent of Meeting. In the Maori community that I will discuss at the end in reference to the movie, The Whale Rider, the call comes from the spirit of the whale. We all have a calling. Depending on our community, that calling can originate from different sources. Children have to learn to listen for their calling.

1. And He called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying,

א.וַיִּקְרָא אֶל משֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר יְהֹוָה אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר:

And what are we called to do?

2. Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When a man from [among] you brings a sacrifice to the Lord; from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice.

ב.דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם אָדָם כִּי יַקְרִיב מִכֶּם קָרְבָּן לַיהֹוָה מִן הַבְּהֵמָה מִן הַבָּקָר וּמִן הַצֹּאן תַּקְרִיבוּ אֶת קָרְבַּנְכֶם:

We are called to speak to the children of Israel.That includes real children as well as adults who still behave as children. Why and how do we speak to the children first about sacrifice?

The first lesson we are required to impart is in the form of a horror movie. A man, adam not ish, a representative of all humanity rather than a specific human, comes near so the child can witness. What is sacrificed on the high altar before the temple? Preferably an unblemished bull, but possibly a sheep or goat or even a turtle dove. In every case, killing, dissection and creating a bloody mess are involved. There is a slaughter of the animal, splashing its blood on the altar, skinning the animal, dissecting the animal into sections, piling the parts in a particular order with the head and fat on top of the wood so the fat drips down and sizzles in the fire. When the innards have been cleaned, washed and piled with the other parts of the animal and the hind legs on top, we then watch the face and eyes and mouth of the animal consumed first by the flames as the animal is burnt until there are only ashes left. It is a scene designed to arouse fear in the child.

This type of sacrifice is called a burnt offering. We can capture its meaning by going back to the first sacrifice, Cain and Abel providing a burnt offering to the Lord. Cain was a farmer. He offered the best of his labour, grain, as a sacrifice. But God chose to recognize Abel’s animal sacrifice. In a jealous rage, because the sacrifice of the best products of his labours for God were not recognized, Cain killed Abel. God preferred to recognize the nomadic way of life of the shepherd even as humanity was adopting to a sedentary agricultural way of life. The irony is that God’s recognition was not for that which was to be valued as historically the superior way of life, but as the way of life that had to be sacrificed to give way to agricultural societies.

The animal sacrifice is now given not for its recognition as having a higher status, but for atonement, for acknowledging the sacrifice and loss of a way of life that once was and is no more. There must be a sacrifice to atone for a way of life that no longer exists, that has gone up in smoke, and now persists and exists only in symbolic and token forms. God requires that we recognize and atone for the ways of life that have been sacrificed in the civilizing of humanity. Through the rituals of sacrifice, the community symbolically preserves its past. The rituals provide the songline for community survival.

How does the child experience this? A child would certainly not grasp the symbolic significance. I am convinced that this is where fear and trembling are appropriate and properly describe reactions that could be expected on first seeing such a truly awesome sight, the burnt, or more accurately, ascendant offering upon the high altar. What ascends to heaven entirely in a cloud of smoke is no more on earth and in history.

In Ezra 3.3, even in the face of enemies, especially when surrounded by enemies, the burnt offering must be made to teach a community that it is fighting for its way of life. If death from the enemy is to be feared, the greater fear is the existential one, that the way of life of your community and society will be wiped from the face of the earth and from history. "Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening sacrifices." Children of Israel are instilled very early in life with existential fear.

Animal and grain sacrifices are no longer made competitively side-by-side, but in succession. Ch. 2 begins with the depiction of the meal sacrifices, a fire rather than a burnt offering, an acknowledgement that bread must be made and food cooked by applying heat. Except for Shavuot, leavened bread is not sacrificed on the altar. It goes on the table. Only unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, is sacrificed. As chapter, verse 11 states, "No meal offering that you sacrifice to the Lord shall be made [out of
anything] leavened. For you shall not cause to [go up in] smoke any leavening or any honey, [as] a fire offering to the Lord." We keep the tastiest and best now for our own consumption.

Chapter 2

1. And if a person brings a meal offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil over it and place frankincense upon it.

א.וְנֶפֶשׁ כִּי תַקְרִיב קָרְבַּן מִנְחָה לַיהֹוָה סֹלֶת יִהְיֶה קָרְבָּנוֹ וְיָצַק עָלֶיהָ שֶׁמֶן וְנָתַן עָלֶיהָ לְבֹנָה:

2. And he shall bring it to Aaron’s descendants, the kohanim, and from there, he [the kohen] shall scoop out his fistful of its fine flour and its oil, in addition to all its frankincense. Then, the kohen shall cause its reminder to [go up in] smoke on the altar; [it is] a fire offering [with] a pleasing fragrance to the Lord.

ב.וֶהֱבִיאָהּ אֶל בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֲנִים וְקָמַץ מִשָּׁם מְלֹא קֻמְצוֹ מִסָּלְתָּהּ וּמִשַּׁמְנָהּ עַל כָּל לְבֹנָתָהּ וְהִקְטִיר הַכֹּהֵן אֶת אַזְכָּרָתָהּ הַמִּזְבֵּחָה אִשֵּׁה רֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ לַיהֹוָה:

For all fire offerings, we add salt. For of the three parts of earth – wilderness, settled areas and the sea – the settled areas increasingly displace the wilderness. But what of the sea? The sea too, even though it was never a way of life, once covered all of earth and had to recede. The sea must be used in service to settled society. Thus, with all offerings, salt must be added. Salt becomes the symbol of the Covenant. In order to have settled life, the sea had to recede. Civilization proceeds by pushing back the subterranean life, the life of the sea, and expanding human settlements of the land and bringing as much as possible into the light of day. Salt, the best preservative known in the ancient world, allows food to be preserved and put away in storage. The salt of the Covenant allows that which is preserved and stored away to be raised up. That is why Israel was given to King David and the children of Israel to be preserved and raised up. (Chronicles 13:5).

"And every sacrifice of your meal offerings salt with salt and do not banish salt, the Covenant of your G-d from on your meal offerings. Place salt on every one of your offerings…" (Leviticus 2:13)

"All the sacred gifts that the Israelites set aside for the Lord I give to you, to your sons, and to the daughters that are with you, as a due for all time. It shall be an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for you and for your offspring as well. (Numbers 18:19)

Once the dialectic of the Cain and Abel sacrifices are re-enacted, three other sacrifices are depicted – the peace offering, the guilt offering and the sin offering. Chapter 3 begins with the peace offering. In analyzing the peace offering, we must ask in what sense are we both drawn closer to death and enriching our experience of life? What is being substituted for and lost through the sacrifice? In what sense is the offering an offering of oneself? In one sense, in a peace offering, we give up very little.

3 And he shall offer of the sacrifice of the peace offering an offering made by fire unto the LORD; the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that is upon the inwards,

4 And the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the flanks, and the caul above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away.

Not much of a sacrifice! You simply put on the altar what you would not eat anyway – fat and blood. The rest is divided between the priest and the sacrificer. We are not talking about giving to express gratitude for a benefit gained. Nor for a benefit expected! The zevach sh’lamim or "sacrifice of well-being" was a voluntary animal offering, sometimes to fulfill a vow. (Leviticus 3:1-17) What is given up and surrendered is excess. The fat is burned on the altar. It must not only substitute for but be inclusive of what is excessive. By giving of ourselves in acts of charity and benevolence we gain a sense of who we are as humble beings. For we identify then with all who are humble. In that way we come to peace with ourselves and with every other member of humanity. If fear accompanies a burnt offering, happiness and contentment accompany a peace offering.

Historically, in Judaism, Judah ha-Levi exemplified the giving and the product of a peace offering. The sages taught that none drew so near to God as Judah. By giving up the work that defines you for a day of rest, by substituting prayer and study and worship for blood, sweat and tears, we gain a new love, Shabat. "On Friday doth my cup o’erflow, What blissful rest the night shall know, When, in thine arms, my toil and woe Are all forgot, Sabbath my love!" The highest reward for the peace sacrifice is Shabat itself. "Bring fruits and wine and sing a gladsome lay, Cry, ‘Come in peace, O restful Seventh day!’"

In chapter 4 of Leviticus, we are introduced to the sin offering. Note the emphasis on "unintentionality". The sin is inadvertent. But the offering is not; it is an obligatory one.

1. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,

א.וַיְדַבֵּר יְהֹוָה אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמֹר:

2. Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If a person sins unintentionally [by committing one] of all the commandments of the Lord, which may not be committed, and he commits [part] of one of them

ב.דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר נֶפֶשׁ כִּי תֶחֱטָא בִשְׁגָגָה מִכֹּל מִצְוֹת יְהֹוָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא תֵעָשֶׂינָה וְעָשָׂה מֵאַחַת מֵהֵנָּה:

3. If the anointed kohen sins, bringing guilt to the people, then he shall bring for his sin which he has committed, an unblemished young bull as a sin offering to the Lord.

ג.אִם הַכֹּהֵן הַמָּשִׁיחַ יֶחֱטָא לְאַשְׁמַת הָעָם וְהִקְרִיב עַל חַטָּאתוֹ אֲשֶׁר חָטָא פַּר בֶּן בָּקָר תָּמִים לַיהֹוָה לְחַטָּאת:

What happens if the children of Israel unintentionally sin? The text immediately jumps to the koanim sinning and bringing guilt to the people. Only later do we return to the sins of the community committed out of ignorance. Are the people punished for unintentional sins? Can the koanim commit unintentional sins? The text is clear. The koanim and the community as a whole bear a greater responsibility for sins of ignorance than any individual; a young male bull must be sacrificed.

14. When the sin which they had committed becomes known, the congregation shall bring a young bull as a sin offering. They shall bring it before the Tent of Meeting.

יד.וְנוֹדְעָה הַחַטָּאת אֲשֶׁר חָטְאוּ עָלֶיהָ וְהִקְרִיבוּ הַקָּהָל פַּר בֶּן בָּקָר לְחַטָּאת וְהֵבִיאוּ אֹתוֹ לִפְנֵי אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד:

The animal parts are not consumed nor even burnt on the altar but taken outside the camp to be consumed by fire. Depending on your status in the community, there are different expectations and different levels of sin offerings.

Finally, we have the guilt offering. It differs from the sin offering in that, although the actions may appear inadvertent, whether it is the neglect of the Catholic Church or the Canadian government to have protected children sexually and otherwise abused in the aboriginal school system or the interpersonal digs and actions that upset our partners as indirect ways of expressing our anger, they are actions that hurt another, actions that we can be conscious of and correct. Our secular society relies on therapeutics instead of ritual outlets to deal with guilt and anger. Our society lacks rituals to deal with inadvertent sins and sadness when it blankets the whole community.

Last night I once again watched the beautiful and very moving movie, The Whale Rider, the 2002 film directed by Niki Caro about a young Maori girl of eleven years old in a Maori patriarchal community on the east coast of New Zealand. It is the strongest feminist film I have ever seen. The Whangara Maori date their history back through many generations to a single ancestor, Paikea, who travelled to New Zealand by canoe but before his arrival, the canoe capsized and he was saved by riding to shore on the back of a whale. The chiefs have always been the first-born sons of Paikea’s direct descendants. The eldest son of Koro, the leader of the community, left New Zealand to pursue an art career in Germany. He left behind his daughter, Pai, who has to break through the melancholy that hangs like a heavy cloud over the community to eventually prove, against all Koro’s inherited beliefs, that she, Pai, is the one destined to inherit the leadership of the community and bring it back to the joys, celebrations and love of a way of life that need not be lost by modernity. Pai heard her call.

Only after the community has overcome the sin of ignorance to break through the collective melancholia, only once they as individuals and a community have broken through the various degrees of guilt over self-indulgence, bad habits (smoking and lack of exercise), to not caring sufficiently for one another and the next generation, only once they have broken through once again to re-connect with their animal spirits, the whales, who in the breakdown of spirit have beached themselves on shore, only when they once again re-engage in a form of peace offering, can the community truly enjoy and celebrate the equivalent of a shared communal meal and the fire offering to the divine.

Vayikra.Leviticus1.1-5.26.Peace.Sin.Guilt.16.03.13.doc