Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Exiled State - Shaping the Narrative!

Christianity made sure Easter always coincides with Passover. Passover lasts 7 days, but outside of Israel an additional day is celebrated, which in the orthodox services emphasizes the present state of exile and the future redemption of Jewish people. Israel’s national and mystical history associated with this day is as deep as heaven’s spiritual oceans and a study of the Biblical texts reveals the extent of the nation’s ancient connection to its land.

No other nation is sufficiently privileged to have retained its written record in such a well preserved state as that of the Jewish people. Its Torah (Bible) records a story transcribed by Moses who brought it to the Jewish people some 3400 years ago and the document records historical periods and the mystical construct that pre-dates its authorship. At a minimum the record retains its relevance by the continuum of ancestral Levite priests who, to this very day, trace their family lineage from a father to son. During Passover and throughout each of the past 3400 years these direct ancestors of Moses and his brother Aharon, the first high priest of Israel, have participated in religious services to bestow blessing upon the world.

In the period that followed the exodus by Israel and others that fled Egypt with them, the self described chosen people undertook the difficult task building their national commitment to a closer, unified, monotheistic state of being through common customs, practices and religious belief. The initiation lasted 40 years until all males who were over 20 years at the exodus, had passed on. Other than for leaders Joshua and Caleb, no other male remnants were permitted to enter the permanent land of Israel chosen for and by the chosen people.

The fledgling nation crossed over the Jordan River and first made their way to the city of Shechem (modern Nablus), land that was once occupied by Kanaan a nephew of Egypt’s founder Ham. This was Israel’s northern entry point to its promised land. Some 300 years prior, Jacob (who later changed his name to Israel) had once settled there and his sons led by Levi and Shimeon, in almost premeditated preparation for their future family nations arrival, massacred the Prince of Shechem and his kingdoms 24000 male adult inhabitants, a revenge act for his rape of their sister. It is also the location where Joseph was sold by his brothers before being transported as a slave on a caravan to Egypt. There, the new nation entered, formally memorialized their return and buried Joseph’s bones making Shechem his final resting place.

One would expect such well documented history to sufficiently establish an entitlement of a people to its land, however the the modern narrative of Nablus or Shechem ranks among the world’s greatest examples of imperial fraud, deceit and denial. Notwithstanding, the depth of Israel’s connection to this city, its enemies hate every undeniable historical fact for fear that exposure will overturn their ambit claims. Whilst most cannot reconcile detailed matters already past, we are fortunate enough to be living in the dynamic digital era where writers and editors painstakingly recall the past, flavoring it to suit their insurgent desires and no more so than @Wikipedia where this living record is being written.

In Wikipedia’s world, rules of editorial engagement are defined in an effort to promote accurate representation, but abuse and misuse is common. The editorial prize in a popular or politically charged subject like Nablus ensures attention to editors who best manipulate the truth to meet the ideological demands of their peers and benefits come quickly to those who get the mix right. Support from other editors aggregates to the ideological victor who receives commendation for their targeted editorial contribution and participation. The ideologically charged Nablus narrative is evident in its Wikipedia page, supported by one of its primary editors Al Ameer son - This editor has been awarded no less than 20 awards from his fellow contributors, he is a member of the ‘Early Muslim Military History Task Force’ and helped promote Yasser Arafat to Featured Article status.

Like the Roman name Palestine or Egyptian Kanaan, editorial defenders of Wikipedia’s Nablus narrative open their article with this disclaimer; “This article is about the city of Nablus in the northern West Bank, and its predecessor, the Roman city of Flavia Neapolis. For the biblical city of Shechem, at the same location, see Shechem.” From here on the authors deny Shechem a place in their Nablus narrative, suppressing its Biblical and archaeological history, in order to deliver the indoctrination of Roman origin that follows their reduced font disclaimer in their - ‘see Shechem’ link. The Wikipedia narrative denies the city its Israelite origin and promotes the perpetual suffering their denial imposes.

Joseph’s Tomb and its Torah inscribed twin mountain backdrop are a fundament of Israel’s connection to its land. Wikipedia’s Shechem entry describes the 2000 year history of Nablus preceding its Roman occupation and connects it to the Egyptian archaeological record when events catalyzed the unification of the Israel’s tribes out of which the modern Israeli nation grew. Shechem, after whom the city was named, raped Joseph’s same age sister Dinah to whom daughter Asenath was born and who, many years later, married Joseph with permission from Egypt’s Pharaoh. The marriage of Joseph, (mother Rachel) and granddaughter Asenath, (Rachel’s sister Leah's granddaughter), unified Israel’s matriarch’s and made Shechem Joseph’s father-in-law - another aboriginal fact the Nablus editors would rather ignore. Out of this marriage sons Manasseh and Ephraim were born and due to Joseph’s special status in Israelite history became entitled to 2 of the 12 permanent tribal memberships.

Whilst displacement of important elements of a city’s narrative denies its history, it also serves those affected to strengthen their ancient tribal connection against the growing weight of public opinion motivated by distortion. This is the common trait of natives displaced in South Africa, North America and Australia and is not uncharacteristic to the rights of Israelis to their origin city in the land they first occupied. It also strikes at histories various attempts to deny the history of Jewish people usually as a forerunner to their elimination and eradication. The Israelite people are so deeply rooted in their land, there is no place some ambit historical claim can deny them. Therefore, its enemies defer to deceit and denial in order to defend their occupation of Israel’s land and to continue the exile of its people.

Solving the Riddle of Beit-El and Beit-el.

Rav Soloveitchik (ZL) advised that we look to the Haftarah of the Torah portion as a commentary in and of itself, so I use this to delve into the meaning behind the portion read on Pesach outside of Israel as Yom Tov on the second day. On the first day we read the Torah portion to do with the sacrifice immediately preceding the exodus from Egypt. On the second day we read the instructions for sacrifices required in the Mishkan one year later, for the festival of Pesach, in remembrance of the exodus and for the other major holidays.

In the first day’s haftarah we read of Israel’s re-commitment to the covenant through circumcision before they entered Israel 40 years later at the end of their exodus from Egypt. However, on the second day we read about King Yoshiayhu who restored, with full pomp and ceremony, the dwindling festival of Pesach in Yerushalam.

I can understand how the first day connects to the exit from Egypt and the entry to Israel, but for the second day why is this particular haftorah selected? Surely there are other stories in Tanach in the 815 years between entering the land of Canaan (Israel) that would perhaps be more worthy?

To understand this I look to the fact that the second day is only experienced by Jews outside of Israel. Its these Jews that the portions of the 2nd day must be speaking to. Perhaps the Jews in exile would be sufficiently inspired to discover the reasons for this selection. With this in mind I am motivated to try, but before I do it’s important to know the background.

Yoshiyahu was among the last kings in the lineage of King David along the ~400 year kings list that preceded him. His great-grandfather was Hizkiyahu, his grandfather Menashe was banished to exile and his father Amon ruled over the southern kingdom of Yehuda, but was killed by his servants. At 8, on the death of his father he was anointed king of Yehuda.

Yoshiyahu passionately followed the ways of King David, restored monotheistic traditions and renovated the Temple. During the renovation the high priest Hilkiyahu discovered a Torah scroll, written by Moshe Rabeinu, which was open on the section including Devarim 28:36 the curse predicting the exile of the Jewish people. Yoshiahu asked Hulda the prophetess of its meaning and she foretold the imminent destruction of the first Temple and the exile of the Jewish people.

Perhaps it was in an effort to change the nature of the prophecy that Yoshiyahu led the elders of Yehuda and the people of Yerushalam to the Temple where he read from the scroll and made a covenant to observe God’s commandments and the people accepted the same upon themselves. They immediately targeted all idolatry that had been brought into the Temple including vessels, pillars, trees and statues and burned them in the plains of Kidron (outside Yerushalam toward the Dead Sea) and carried their ashes to Beit-El. He banished idol practices, relinquished the Temple rights of priests who had followed any idolatry and defiled their altars. After all was accomplished they reconstituted traditions and made a Pesach celebration like no other before. No king turned to God with all his heart and soul like Yoshiyahu. Such was his genuine commitment to Torah and worship that the prophet Yirmiyahu ben Hilkiyahu managed to secure the return of some of the ten tribes who, for the first time in a hundred years agreed to live under his unifying reign.

On the surface the story sounds like a reasonable basis for selection on 2nd day haftorah, but further investigation into the missing sections of the story that did not make the haftorah reveal deeper mysteries of our exiled state and Jewish connection to the Temple. Firstly the haftorah is an amalgamation of two sections from Kings II 23:1-9 and 21-25, so what does 10-20 contain that it was left out? Perhaps the gory details of idol worship including the sacrifice of children to Molech in the valley of Hinnom. However, verse 17 and 18 stand out among all the destruction of idolatry, the altars and graves noted in these passages, because they describe how one specific monument was saved. An even closer analysis of the section reveals ambiguity, which are subjected here to their Hebrew analysis, which I highly recommend each reader studies. There are at least 4 major commentators who read this in differing ways;

15.Furthermore(וְגַ֨ם), the altar that was at Beit-El and the high place which Yerov’am ben Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, also(גַּ֣ם) that altar and the high place he broke down. Then he demolished its stones, ground them to dust, and burned the Asherah. 16.Now when Yoshiyahu turned, he saw the graves that were there on the mountain, and he sent and took the bones from the graves and burned them on the altar and defiled (וַֽיְטַמְּאֵ֑הוּ) it according to the word of the LORD which the man of God proclaimed. 17.Then he said,“What is this monument (הַצִּיּ֣וּן) that I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the grave (הַקֶּ֤בֶר) of the man of God who came from Yehuda and who proclaimed such words/deeds upon (עַ֖ל) the altar of Beit-El.” 18. He said, “Let him alone; let no one disturb his bones.” So they left his bones undisturbed (אֶת) the bones of the prophet who came from Shomron. 19. Yoshiyahu also removed all the houses of the high places which were in the cities of Shomron, which the kings of Israel had made provoking the LORD; and he did to them just as he had done in Beit-El. 20. All the priests of the high places who were there he slaughtered on the altars and burned human bones on them; then he returned to Yerushalam.

23:15 וְגַ֨ם אֶת־הַמִּזְבֵּ֜חַ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּבֵֽית־אֵ֗ל הַבָּמָה֙ אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָשָׂ֜ה יָרָבְעָ֤ם בֶּן־נְבָט֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר הֶחֱטִ֣יא אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל גַּ֣ם אֶת־הַמִּזְבֵּ֧חַ הַה֛וּא וְאֶת־הַבָּמָ֖ה נָתָ֑ץ וַיִּשְׂרֹ֧ף אֶת־הַבָּמָ֛ה הֵדַ֥ק לְעָפָ֖ר וְשָׂרַ֥ף אֲשֵׁרָֽה׃
‎23:16 ‏וַיִּ֣פֶן יֹאשִׁיָּ֗הוּ וַיַּ֨רְא אֶת־הַקְּבָרִ֤ים אֲשֶׁר־שָׁם֙ בָּהָ֔ר וַיִּשְׁלַ֗ח וַיִּקַּ֤ח אֶת־הָֽעֲצָמֹות֙ מִן־הַקְּבָרִ֔ים וַיִּשְׂרֹ֥ף עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ וַֽיְטַמְּאֵ֑הוּ כִּדְבַ֣ר יְהוָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר קָרָא֙ אִ֣ישׁ הָאֱלֹהִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֣ר קָרָ֔א אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֖ים הָאֵֽלֶּה׃
‎23:17 ‏וַיֹּ֕אמֶר מָ֚ה הַצִּיּ֣וּן הַלָּ֔ז אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֲנִ֣י רֹאֶ֑ה וַיֹּאמְר֨וּ אֵלָ֜יו אַנְשֵׁ֣י הָעִ֗יר הַקֶּ֤בֶר אִישׁ־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙ אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֣א מִֽיהוּדָ֔ה וַיִּקְרָ֗א אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֤ים הָאֵ֙לֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשִׂ֔יתָ עַ֖ל הַמִּזְבַּ֥ח בֵּֽית־אֵֽל׃
‎23:18 ‏וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הַנִּ֣יחוּ לֹ֔ו אִ֖ישׁ אַל־יָנַ֣ע עַצְמֹתָ֑יו וַֽיְמַלְּטוּ֙ עַצְמֹתָ֔יו אֵ֚ת עַצְמֹ֣ות הַנָּבִ֔יא אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֖א מִשֹּׁמְרֹֽון׃
‎23:19 ‏וְגַם֩ אֶת־כָּל־בָּתֵּ֨י הַבָּמֹ֜ות אֲשֶׁ֣ר׀ בְּעָרֵ֣י שֹׁמְרֹ֗ון אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָשׂ֜וּ מַלְכֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לְהַכְעִ֔יס הֵסִ֖יר יֹֽאשִׁיָּ֑הוּ וַיַּ֣עַשׂ לָהֶ֔ם
כְּכָל־הַֽמַּעֲשִׂ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָׂ֖ה בְּבֵֽית־אֵֽל
‎23:20 ‏וַ֠יִּזְבַּח אֶת־כָּל־כֹּהֲנֵ֨י הַבָּמֹ֤ות אֲשֶׁר־שָׁם֙ עַל־הַֽמִּזְבְּחֹ֔ות וַיִּשְׂרֹ֛ף אֶת־עַצְמֹ֥ות אָדָ֖ם עֲלֵיהֶ֑ם וַיָּ֖שָׁב יְרוּשָׁלִָֽם

A very careful reading of this passage, juxtaposes its prophetic counterpart some 330 years earlier during the reign of King Yerovam (Kings 13:11-32), suggesting the man who came from from Yehuda is also the prophet who came from Shomron. Yoshiyahu was refrained after defiling the altar with human bones by his discovery of the monument (‏וַיֹּ֕אמֶר מָ֚ה הַצִּיּ֣וּן הַלָּ֔ז אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֲנִ֣י רֹאֶ֑ה). The word ha’tziun - used as ‘monument’ in this context, is the only occurrence of the word in Torah/Tanach. Further he was told by the men of the city it is the grave (הַקֶּ֤בֶר) - ha’kever of the man of God who came from Yehuda, another exclusive word.

The simple reading underscores this action occurring in Beit-el Shomron. However, if the text exclusively refers to Beit-el Shomron why would a grave of a man of God from Yehuda be at an altar in Shomron - the kingdoms were at war? Who fits the description - the man of God who came from Yehuda that is also the prophet who came from Shomron? To discover the answer we must try to understand the location of Beit-El or Beit-el to which this man came.

Today there is enormous confusion over place names in modern Israel with their origin in Torah. The confusion occurs because of mystical or literal interpretations, or through local or foreign competition or intervention through the millennia including as a result of the in-fighting between the Kingdoms of Yehuda and Ephraim for the temples ultimate location. In any event, (K2-23:20) we learn Yoshiyahu defiled the altar then the high places in Shomron before he returned to Yerushalam. Further, we understand, the act of Yoshiyahu was prophesied at the time of King Yerovam who lived in Shchem (K1-12:25), that Beit-el in Shomron was the location at which Yerovam dedicated the idolatrous altar. This was also the high place of one of the golden calves used by him to compete (K1-12:28) with Temple worship in Yerushalam and the southern kingdom of Yehuda. Finally, from an alternative reading of 23:15 the altar Yoshiyahu defiled near the monument at Beit-El could be counterpart to the idolatrous altar at Beit-el in Shomron.

Analogous to competing Beit-El/el’s of Yerovam and Yoshiyahu, the prophecy and message crystallizes. The man of God from Yehuda usurped King Yerovam with a prophetic proof when he split his altar at Beit-el, then he succumbed to the persuasion of his false prophet nemesis from Shomron, went against his own prophecy and was mauled to death by a Lion that was also at peace with the Donkey (Kings 13:11-32). The false prophet buried the man of God in his grave and requested his sons to bury him together in the same grave. Surely this points the reader to recognize the pathological condition that locks Israel in its exiled state and perhaps Beit-El is a key.

In the simple reading one is left to believe these events occur in Beit-el Shomron. In the alternative reading of 23:15 Yoshiyahu first defiles the altar at Beit-El before defiling its counterpart altar at Beit-el. Then the encrypted description of the man who came to Beit-El, as a man of God, from Yehuda who returned to Beit-El, as a prophet, from Shomron could also relate to Yaakov and the monument he dedicated to God at Beit-El? And where is this monument? It is located beside the altar of Beit-El in the City of David, Yerushalayim, not in the modern city of Beit-el (Shomron).

We can just begin to sense the fledgling and broken state of Jewish culture, interrupted through generations of wayward kings each of whom flavored Torah life, temple tradition and belief to benefit their plans. The Torah portion for 2nd day Pesach that instructs the holy days sacrifices of the Mishkan is linked to Yoshiyahu because he fervently restored Jewish life and culture prescribed in Torah. Yoshiyahu’s heightened sensitivity to Torah led him to destroy idolatry, restore The Temple, celebrate Pesach and hide the Ark of the Covenant in its still secret location, yet at 39 his body was pierced by 300 arrows of the lame Pharaoh Neco who was refused clear passage through Israel to attack the looming enemy, the king of Assyria who dominated Babylon. Approximately 22 years later the First Temple was destroyed.

Pesach, the one holiday Jews are commanded to remember their redemption from exile had almost been forgotten in Yerushalam. The monument, erected 1100 years earlier by Yaakov in the location he named Beit-El adjacent to which The City of David was built had also been forgotten. The men of Yerushalayim (the City of David) confused by the Yoshiyahu's statement at Yerovam’s altar at Beit-el about the man of God from Yehuda, the Prophet from Shomron. Their confusion reflecting Yerovam’s prerogative, the segmentation of the nation - the exiled state!

Today we have identified the location of the City of David, ancient Yerushalayim, the Gihon Spring, the fortified upper ridge (bama) at the Gihon which I maintain is Beit El - once called Luz, including the monument of Yaakov and even the adjacent altar on which Yitzchak was offered and which Yoshiyahu defiled. Perhaps this location holds within it ‘the stone the builders despised that will become the chief cornerstone’ and which if we care to remember it, will reorient our understanding of ancient Yerushalayim and through it the importance of Beit-El to the future development of the city.

See Part II - Solving the Riddle - continues...