© 2020 Drew T. Noll

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cultural Mathematics and the Truth of Humanity

I went to a Yemenite wedding this week. It was cool… I hadn't been to one in the 5+ years that I have lived here in the Middle East. Thinking back on it, all I can 'really' remember is the way they danced. It was very special (and they knew it too!) Each individual had their own personal style, but following the same basic steps. There was a little shuffle, building up the tension to bounce, then a step and another, followed by a kind of 'drunken' looking sway-step out to the left side and a return with the same flare, accept in a kind of recoil… I couldn't see the women dancing, as they were all behind the machitzah (a sort of barrier to keep wandering male eyes from ogling the moves going on in the other half of Eden). I hear, though, that the women folk were tearing it up thoroughly — evidently 'way' more than the male folk and ‘we’ even had a big stuffed elephant guy in costume on the shoulders of some poor schlep! The room was buzzing, as each side do-si-do'ed up to the other, as the dancing rings of colorfully clad men swirled and cavorted for the entertainment of the groom and yes, the rest of us rag-tag band of peoples, joined by our proximity and our faith. It seemed that the dancing could go on forever. There was no thought of food, or of 'after,' or even next; there were young and old simply pounding their feet down to the floor, together, with their combined steps. We were all joined with friends and companions from around the world, solidifying the moment with our stomps, emblazoning the time deep into the memory of the earth beneath us, stamping truth into the world. We were alive.

Earlier in the week, the day before in fact, in France, a tragedy was unfolding. In Toulouse, a place that I visited once or twice, a Muslim on a motor-scooter opened fire on a Jewish school, killing Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his three year old and six year old sons Gabriel and Arieh, and eight year old Miriam Monsonego, the daughter of the school headmaster Rabbi Yaacov Monsonego. As shocking as that act of pure evil was, later, when the EU's foreign policy chief attempted to condemn the massacre, Catherine Ashton took the opportunity to make note of children dying in Gaza at the hands of Israelis. What is the connection, you ask? I guess Israelis = Jews, meaning that as tragic as the 'incident' was, Jonathan, Gabriel, Arieh, and Miriam had it coming for the absolute gall of being Jewish. As one quote I read said, "Such disgraceful equation reflects an incredibly twisted value system, coupled with total blindness in the face of global reality." It seems that the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, is championing a kind of culture too, but one of hate and ignorance, maybe not in that 'exact' order, but definitely ignorant and… yeah, you get it
Here in Israel, right before the betrothal under the Chupa (wedding canopy), a ceremony took place called a Bedekken or Veiling, in which the Chatan (Groom) lowers a veil over the face of the Kallah (Bride). This is a cultural custom that is attributed to the Biblical account of Rebecca and Isaac's first meeting, when Rebecca, in an innocent gesture of modesty, concealed her face under a veil. The Bedekken is also a cultural incarnation of the story of Rachel and Jacob, when Rachel's father Laban (Mr. White) sneakily substituted his eldest daughter Leah for Rachel at the Chuppa. So today, the Chatan lowers the veil over the Kallah to be absolutely sure that the woman he is marrying is who he 'thinks' she is. At the Bedekken, the entire place was full to the brim with the vastness of hope and of innocence. The Chatan came in and there wasn't any doubt, only purity and strength of vision. The Challah's prayers were so deep and full of intensity — she carried her grace down to the root of the world. They were happy. They were glowing.  They were royalty.

Meanwhile, the European Union’s embarrassing, so-called, clarification of Catherine Ashton's hateful and ignorant remarks didn't even try to deny their cultural and political agenda. The EU claimed that Ashton’s remarks did not 'mean' to compare the massacre in Toulouse to Gaza. Ultimately their 'clarification' only served to clarify the validity of the remark… It made no difference in what was originally said, whatsoever. In my mind, the state of cultural affairs in Europe is pretty well summed up in this quote: "it further demonstrated Europe’s spinelessness and the tendency to shift positions and appease different groups, without adhering to a credible, enduring moral compass.” Modern Europe appears to have become kind of a multi-flavored fancy-shmancy popsicle that has unknowingly melted onto the crumbling sidewalk, waiting patiently for innocence (as opposed to ignorance) to wander by, slip, fall, and become the scapegoat of ego and non-reason in the world. What am I talking about? Anti-Semitism, plain and simple
You know… the word 'Semitism' is derived from the Semitic tribes that were historically from the Middle East in the cradle of civilization, where (you guessed it), culture was born. Everything we know today, as far as national identities, social pastimes, language, and cultural mannerisms come from this very same cradle and it (as in the world that we know) all began about the same time that the words of God were written down in the Bible. Yeah, that was a segue… In this week's parsha, Vayikra (Leviticus 1-5) meaning, "And He Called," it begins with a small letter Aleph (א). We don't really understand from the text who is calling to Moses, but because the Aleph is small, it is clearly singled out as something special and deliberate. This is what I learned about it: Aleph is equal to 1, just like the letter Bet (ב) is equal to 2. The first letter of the Torah is a Bet ('B'ereshit), signifying 'choice' between 1 or 2 and specifically signifying the nature of Man as we relate to God and our world. The first letter in the Aleph-Bet, the Aleph, signifies the Creator or something beyond Man, something that enlightens Mankind and can burn us as well, like Aish (איש) Fire. The word 'Aleph' is spelled the same way as Aluf, which means 'Chief.' The letter Aleph (א) is comprised of one long line and two short lines, just like a Vav (ו) and two Yuds (י), one above the other and on either side. If you add Vav (6) + Yud (10) + Yud (10) together, you get 26.God's four letter personal name (that we forgot how to pronounce, so we don't try), the Tetragrammaton, is equal to 26. The numeric equivalent of the word for 'Love' (Ahava) is 13. So, what do we get? We get the marriage between Mankind and his bride, the Torah, which equals 1 'Love'. When Mankind loves his bride, the Torah, God loves Mankind, which equals 1 more 'Love'. The numerical equivalent of the word for 1 (Achad) is also equal to 13. So, no matter how you look at it, Love + One = 26 (The One), Love + Love = 26 (The One), One Love is One, Loved Ones is The One and ultimately, that is how we know that we are 'all' One… oy.

So, how does this work in 'real' life? Well, it goes kind of like this: Driving onto the grounds at the wedding hall, everything was brilliantly lit to define and emphasize the entrance. The under belly of the trees were illuminated as they shot straight up from the ground and into the twinkling darkness above, drawing energy from the constant flow of guests coalescing in the opening of the hallowed grotto. The entrance glowed in the dark, beckoning to us, calling people from all over the world into its bosom. There were white people from the Americas and Europe, black people from Africa and Arabia, brown people from Persia (Iran), Babylon (Iraq), and Jerusalem (Israel), North Africans, Irish, French, Spanish, Latin American, Russian, Canadian, and more. It was cacophonous and full, but we could breathe in deeply of the world under the surface of what we see, day-to-day. We were all together at this amazing joining of two very special souls, two Jews under the canopy of Heaven, joined with the Clouds of Glory fomenting above, in their love and in the love of God. We were 'all' sharing the miracle of our strange and beautiful world, a world that tries to share itself with us at every opportunity, a world that is not necessarily understood. We spoke languages from around the globe, danced with each other and marveled at our individual natures, our uniqueness. We shared each other's company and in that moment, under the canopy of love that was revealed to us as it unfurled overhead, we knew we were Israel… We knew that we were 'all' One.
To the families that have been traumatized in Toulouse:

May Hashem, Who is everywhere, comfort you amongst the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem

And to the Klempners in their wonderful time of simcha:

Mazaltov!!!

Shabbat Shalom le Kulam!