Minsan gusto mo dito

Monday, July 25, 2011

Living the Vow

If a man vow a vow to the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth (Tanakh, Bamidbar 30: 1-3)
            This week’s Parasha opens with a discussion on Vows. There is a striking difference between a vow made by a man and a vow made by a woman. A man’s vow is not determined by any disapproval from his family, on the other hand a woman’s vow can only be valid if the head of the family (the father if unmarried and the husband if married) approves it or has not expressed any disapproval. Despite the differences - which many women of this time would disagree (which I also would disagree upon) - it implies the importance of vows. Vows are not meant to be broken but to be fulfilled. Vows are powerful, it is not a “noun” but a “verb” it is meant to be acted upon. I would not go as much as differentiating a vow from an oath[1] not because it’s insignificant rather it requires a deep knowledge of the Hebrew language which I lack.
            Why do we make vows? What is the importance of vows? But first let me start with a more specific kind of vow. Vows made by religious (poverty, chastity, obedience and the charism) is defined by Malaviaratchi as a free and deliberate promise…they bind us in conscience and must be lived in a spirit of generosity and love.[2] This may give us a good theological definition of religious vows but what we are after is vows in general. However, this can be a springboard for understanding vows in general. As mentioned, vows are free and deliberate. We do not vow ourselves to a certain obligation without our willing it. It always comes from the heart of the person who makes it. Malaviaratchi ends his statement with stating that living the vow in spirit of generosity and love. He wanted to show that to live a vow is living it fully both in mind and action. Here we see the power of a vow. If we make a vow, it becomes the framework of our life. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth as God commanded. But why is it so? In the later part of the Parasha we see that Reubenites and Gadites requested Moses that they settle in the land of Jazer and of Gilead. Although Moses disagreed at first he later agreed with the request “if” their tribes would help them fight the settling tribes beyond the Jordan River. The ‘vow’ made by the two tribes is very significant in our understanding of the vows. First, is the responsibility we have and the consequences of not fulfilling our responsibility. In the case of Gadites and Reubenites is their responsibility to fight side by side with their fellow Israelites, their destiny to be with them, and the consequences they will meet if they fail to do so. The beginning and the later part of the Parasha are juxtaposed for they complement each other. A vow of course, any vow, is about fostering self-fortitude and overcoming fear or apathy in the face of a serious challenge.[3] Not only thus it states our promise but it gives us the hope to pursue a certain obligation. How? A vow to God can spur a person onwards by shoring up a shaky spirit and filling it with renewed inspiration, by emphasizing the hope and trust that God will assist him when no effort is spared on his part.[4]
            In the end of their journey everyone may want to just stop and not finish the race, or accept the face mediocrity to just stay in their comfort zone. They may want to say “Why add another burden to us? We have all those lands why not settle here?” and not look forward to what has been promised to them. However, the Reubenites and Gadites still went on the journey although they choose to settle in those lands outside the Promised Land. They choose to fight with their fellow Israelites. Like them many of us toward the end of a race may say why we need to cross? Why do I need to keep on studying? Why do I need to fight for my fellow men? Why do I voice out for the poor? We may not want to cross the Jordan Rive. We don’t want another obstacle because staying in our comfort zones means being safe and unharmed. The Gadites and Reubenites may not want to fight for their fellow Israelites but it was their vow that let them continue on with their journey. We may sometimes feel that what we did is enough and what we will do will not matter anymore. But a vow defines not only our present but our future, that every time we feel like stopping and ending the fight, the vows we have tells us, there is more and the fight will go on. Our vows becomes our identity, our paradigm, it becomes our strength. Our vows becomes the bridge over troubled waters.
            The vow becomes our life. Our vow is only fulfilled if we live it. Our vows meant for us to look forward to what God had promised to us, that we shall journey to let God fulfill his love for us. The Israelites went on a long strenuous sojourn, like all of us; we all have a long strenuous journey, and yet we keep on fighting, we keep on dreaming, we keep on learning, we keep on deepening our faith, there is no such thing as ‘enough’ –I have fought enough, I have learned enough - we will fight until the last drop of blood comes out of our body, until our last breath, until death we will journey. This is our vow.

[1] Rabbi Micha Berger made a good distinction between an oath an a vow http://www.aishdas.org/mesukim/5764/matos.pdf
[2] Malaviaratchi, Initation Into Religious Life, ( India: Redemptionist Publications, 1985 ), p.70.
[3] http://vbm-torah.org/archive/intparsha65/42-65matot.htm
[4] ibid

The zeal that is for God

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Phinehas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his passion for Me, so that I did not wipe out the Israelite people in My passion.  Say, therefore, 'I grant him My pact of friendship.  It shall be for him and his descendants after him a pact of priesthood for all time, because he took impassioned action for his God, thus making expiation for the Israelites.'"
            Phinehas won expiation for the Israelites and a pact of priesthood for his descendants. Phinehas here served the Lord’s will very well, he fought against the idolatrous Israelites with zeal and passion. Phinehas showed a good model for all of us. Those who serve God must learn to take an impassioned action for the Lord. This is also true to religious or people who consecrate themselves to God. Vows made during profession is not merely compliance of the Canon, but it is our way of taking an impassioned action for God, that we will dedicate our whole lives in following the Lord’s will. Obedience must be like Phinehas obedience that he must take ‘action’ to what the Lord wishes for him to do. Imagine Phinehas a Jew killing another Jew, this would really hurt him, or confuse him, this is what we call brutal. We might wish a lighter punishment. I hope it was a lighter punishment. We could even ask: is it justifiable that you kill someone because he made a sin? Was it really God’s will? Was he a fundamentalist or something – a bigot? However, the point that God wanted to make (or I hope he does) is that when you do something, you do it with diligence, from the heart and not a mere observance to the rule. God did rewarded him not because he killed someone but he did something with zeal and passion, he understand that Phinehas lived in time which had a different mindset, and that this story reminds the Jews that when we wish to serve the Lord do it not on a minimal level but to use all our energy in giving it up to him.
             And the Lord said to Moses, “The plea of Zelophehad's daughters is just: you should give them a hereditary holding among their father's kinsmen; transfer their father's share to them. "Further, speak to the Israelite people as follows: 'If a man dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter. If he has no daughter, you shall assign his property to his brothers.  If he has no brothers, you shall assign his property to his father's brothers. If his father had no brothers, you shall assign his property to his nearest relative in his own clan, and he shall inherit it.' This shall be the law of procedure for the Israelites, in accordance with the Lord's command to Moses."
            Zelophehad had died because of his own sin[1] but had left no son, so his daughters went to Moses if they could inherit Zelophehad’s right of property. We assume that in time of Moses women are second class citizen, not only in Jewish tradition but also in other cultures (e.g. read Plato’s republic – women had no legal personhood in Athens). Women’s struggle (all over the world) over their rights would last even up to this day. Going back to Zelophehad’s daughters we could see an existing movement toward a society that concerns women’s right. However, let us not also immediately assume that Israelites do not recognize completely the role of women. Miriam played a great role during their exile as spiritual nourishment for the Israelites. However, their role in such society is not yet elaborate and limited. When Zelophehad daughters brought the case to Moses he did not simply dismiss the matter because he understood the ‘problem’, Moses may be thinking: who has the right over the land of Zelophehad? Unsure of the solution to the situation, he immediately consulted God. The Lord immediately approved the appeal and had made it to a Law.
            If we look closely to the text we can see that the case was brought by the daughters themselves. Feminist movement is not done by their male counterparts it always brought up by ‘fearless women’ who assert their rights as equal citizens in society. Imagine if women would not fight for their right maybe even up to this time we would work on a worldview that women are just handmaids to men – maybe Ateneo would be an all boys school and LST would not have women professors. In most Arab nations wherein women’s role in society is still underplayed, women are not allowed to have liberal stand against their male counterparts and would not even allowed to have drivers license, have also stories of their own. Last month we heard that women went and started to drive to tell the government: “We too have rights!” This actions made by women are not simply act of rebellion but an act to fight for one’s right – a human act!
            Laws are not static. In the text we could see that laws can be flexible to the needs of time, when situation arise laws maybe insufficient, laws does not guarantee that all needs of the society will be given. Human laws that govern our society must adapt to the needs of time. In the text, we could see that God did not say: “This people have no right to question what I have given them” but it was considered and that they have created a law to serve the needs of the women.
            After Zelophehad’s daughters appeal to Moses, we could see a new leadership in the pilgrim people of God. Joshua was now chosen as the new leader of Israel. Moses is old and he won’t be able to enter the promised land thus, the Israelites need a new leader capable of leading the stubborn Israelites. The Lord did not chose Joshua son of Nun on his own caprice (although it may sound like that –why not a woman leader?). Joshua had a quality that I would like to emphasize that is necessary of leadership. He was a servant-assistant of Moses. Nobody could lead the people of Israel better than a man who could be a servant himself, who could be obedient and faithful, who is humble enough to be a subordinate. Along with Caleb he had trusted in the Lord in believing that God would allow them to occupy the land flowing with milk and honey. This two qualities are necessary in leading the Israelites – a man who trust in the Lord and humbles before God. This is a new beginning for Israel.

[1] Numbers 27:3

Seeing in God

Ernest Joseph Louis Ganancial

            Balak summoned Balaam to curse the Israelites for fear of invasion. Balaam refused the first request of Balak because God did not want him to do so. In the second request God had only allowed Balaam to go to Balak with the condition that Balaam will do what God exactly wanted him to do. Why curse Israel, what is it to curse Israel? Curse is a very powerful act. An act that Balak may avoid defeat if ever the Israelites will confront him.
            Balaam is a diviner[1](a foreseer, to be inspired by God[2]), as we can see he was a non-Jew or someone coming from outside of the Israelites company. God speaks even to those outside of Israel’s tribe suggesting God had the power to speak to others outside of the chosen people. God intervenes even to a hired a prophet. God said to Balaam, "You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed[3]. God intervenes so that his plan for his people, his promise will not fail, that even those outside of Israel will yield to his plan. However, later we can see that But God's anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the ass, and his two servants were with him[4]. This is confusing. Why would God be angry if he allowed Balaam to do so? This is anthropopathism, however, it suggests that Balaam may have misinterpreted what God said to him; he took it as a go signal that he may curse Israel. The truth is that its not God’s will that Balaam will go but a permission that he may go because he was stubborn and could not understand that God in no way will curse Israel. But this permission we could see that God allowed Balaam to go so that he may prophesy and may tell Balak that Israel is blessed and will always be blessed.
And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; and the ass (Other translation would suggest she-donkey) turned aside out of the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the ass, to turn her into the road. Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she pushed against the wall, and pressed Balaam's foot against the wall; so he struck her again.. Then the angel of the LORD went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left.. When the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; and Balaam's anger was kindled, and he struck the ass with his staff. Then the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said to Balaam, "What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?"[5]

            Here God wanted to change Balaam’s direction through sending an angel; the angel was not seen by Balaam – he was blind to the angel. What and is this not-seeing of Balaam and why? He was not able to see because he was blinded of his “plan”- to go to Balak. But the she-donkey saw the angel. Balaam a seer could not see while the she-Donkey could see the angel and went away from the road. Balaam is a prophet he could have seen what God wanted him to do but it was the donkey, an animal considered to be stupid has been sensitive to the will of God. And due to his anger with the donkey for going into the wrong (right) way he beat the animal. The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master's crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand[6]."
Balaam as a gentile prophet should have seen the angel, while the donkey, a stupid animal should have not. But the opposite happened. It was Balaam who did not see the angel he was blinded by the fact that he will go to Balak. While the donkey wanting to protect his master (out of loyalty and faithfulness), veered into a different direction. In spite of this Balaam was insensitive to the intention of the donkey and punished the donkey for not agreeing to his will. Three times this event occurred, three times the donkey avoided the angel, and three times Balaam beaten him. Why? God could have just stopped Balaam in many ways but why let an angel whom Balaam could not see stop him? It is intentional, God never works on chances, the Lord wanted to shame Balaam and to show how great the power of the Lord is. That even animals will submit to his will and another thing is that those who are lowly, the fool, the stupid will know what God wants while those who are wise and great will not. Great Balaam may be, it is the donkey that was able to see the angel. And then believing he was right and the donkey was wrong Balaam beat the donkey (poor donkey).
            I could see here a “teacher complex” or the “crusading mind”.  The teacher complex is understood as interested in teaching but does not want to learn[7] while the crusading mind assumes a stance of aggressive proselytizing and “bulldozes man and history without appreciation of their complexities.”[8] Balaam thought that the act of the donkey was an act of stupidity. Rather it was an act of wisdom, and that Balaam’s action was an act of stupidity. He was not able to see because he is too full of himself thinking that what he is doing was the will of God, but it was to those who are stupid that God has shown his will.
            Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed his head, and fell on his face.[9] If only Balaam have been perceptive to the will of God, he would not have beaten his donkey, but he was not, he judged the donkey and was about to kill the donkey. And if the donkey did not avoid the angel he could have been killed, knowing the will of God is difficult as implied in the text even the seer was not able to recognize the angel, unmindful of the angel, but it took the power of the Lord for Balaam to see the angel. It is the Lord who opened the eyes of Balaam so that he may see the angel and instruct him on what God wants. The implication tries to tell us how God speaks. First God speaks to the lowly – the donkey in this case; second God always initiates revelation. God’s knowledge and ways are beyond human understanding, and if we assume too much i.e. that we know what God wants, it may lead us to our own harm. E.g that oftentimes an authority (like Balaam) is enough as a standard for knowing God’s will; and those who are lowly cannot be a recipient of this grace, but as in the story it is the opposite that may occured. That it is why it has always been a question. Why are the rich running a poor country? Is it their foreign education that allows them to become wise? Do they know what is the need of the poor? Often the criteria for leadership is popularity and connections how about experience and compassion? This is blind leadership! Even in local communities is it mere intelligence or should it be wisdom of the lowly we should listen to? To know God’s will is not by mere worldly criteria; but to face the reality per se and see who correctly understand the situation.
            After this, Balaam performed four oracles; if we look at Joshua we could understand the Divine will and how powerful it is. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel; and he sent and invited Balaam the son of Be'or to curse you, but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I delivered you out of his hand[10]. Instead of cursing Israel Balaam blessed the Israelites, Balaam is just a mere prophet as much as he wanted to curse Israel he could not for God had already planned the victory that is for Israel. And in Micah: O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Be'or answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.[11]"   This verse tries to remind Israel that God saves them, even through those outside of Israel, by speaking to gentiles, that his power encompasses all.

[3] Numbers 22: 12 (Revised Standard Version)
[4] Numbers 22: 22
[5] Numbers 22: 24-28
[6] Isaiah 1:3
[7] Barde, G., CP, The snub-nosed Christ: What if Jesus were a Filipino?, 2002
[8] ibid
[9] Numbers 22: 31
[10] Joshua 24: 9-10
[11] Micah 6: 5

Monday, July 04, 2011

Moses Sin

In Kadesh Miriam died and was buried. There was no account whether they mourned for her in contrast with her brother Aaron, explicitly stated “And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days”[1]. However, Miriam’s death was paralleled with Aaron’s death in the end of the chapter and one of the few women whose death was accounted in Torah. This leads us to the significance of Miriam. Miriam is the sister of Aaron and Moses. She is the one who looked over Moses when he was a baby in the river Nile. She also challenged Moses leadership earlier in the book of numbers when Moses married a Cushite woman. Her rebellion caused her to be Leprous. However, her death outside the Promised Land was not due to punishment but of natural occurrence. Her death was immediately followed by the text “Now there was no water for the congregation”[2]. The death of Miriam was quickly followed by the lost of water. Is Miriam’s death associated or closely linked to the lost of water? If yes, what is the significance of water – the symbolism of water with her and her leadership? Some commentators would say that when Miriam died, the Jewish people did not properly grieve for her and therefore the Lord caused the "Well of Miriam" to dry up[3]. However, we could not assume that people did not grieve. It is more appropriate that the death of Miriam per se caused the well to dry up and not the people’s failure to grieve over her death. Miriam represents the water of Israel. Water has many purposes. First, it is use to cleanse. Before Miriam’s death was an introduction of a ritual of cleansing this must have anticipated the death of Miriam or vice versa Miriam’s death was use to justify the ritual. The Latter I support, Torah was actually a Babylonian exile literature, so text from numbers must have been a justification of a certain tradition. Therefore Miriam is actually “a water of cleansing” for the Jews – a person able to heal their diseases. For she herself have been under a disease and was able to survive it. Second water is nourishment for the people this is without contention. During a desert journey we imagine a woman who provides water to quench the thirst of the people. Therefore, Miriam is a symbol for spiritual nourishment.

People began to complain to Moses and Aaron. Without water people would not be able to survive. Here people’s trust in Moses began to shake off. The Lord then commanded Moses "Take the rod, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water; so you shall bring water out of the rock for them… And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly”[4]. The rod becomes a symbol of authority, Moriarty[5] would suggest that it was the staff of Aaron, and the rock as some commentaries would suggest the rock of Miriam. It is stated that Aaron and Moses should “tell” the rock to produce water, but there was no statement that it should not hit the rock, and not to hit the rock twice. There was no explanation to why Moses hit the rock twice, so it must be symbolical, and why he hit it rather than simply commanding it? Although we could also say that “tell” might connote “hit” or both words mean “to command”.

“And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them." These are the waters of Mer'ibah, where the people of Israel contended with the Lord, and he showed himself holy among them.[6]” This one is very confusing; suddenly the Lord became angry with Moses and Aaron and punished them.

There are suggestions to why the Lord punished both Moses and Aaron. First, commentators would suggest that the story is incomplete and has omitted the offense made by Moses out of respect. Second other commentators would suggest that Moses instead of just commanding the rock to produce water Moses strike the rock. While others would contend that God intended Moses to hit the rock but not twice. This case was actually similar to that of Exodus 17: 5-6. While others would say that it was due to Moses lost of temper, the manner in which he lead, the people. Instead of making God known and showing God’s mercy Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, "Hear now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?[7]" Instead of making the occasion a joyful manifestation of God’s effortless control over nature, they had turned it into a scene of bitter denunciation.[8] And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.[9]" Why such punishment? God could have just chosen a lighter punishment – like making Moses sick. But why die outside of the promise land? It is like a prisoner promised of freedom right upon his death. This may leave us a message but first we have to look that Aaron, Miriam and Moses died outside of the Promised Land. Miriam died first out of natural occurrence, in the last part of the chapter Aaron died at Mount Hor and his priesthood was carried on by his Son. Moses died just outside of the Promise Land. So why all of them have to die outside? They’re probably old that time. Many of those who entered the Promised might have been Sons and Daughters or the third generation after their escape from Egypt. See, many have died upon the journey. But God did not forget the promise, he does not. In the end the people of God dwelt upon the land although 40 years after their exit in Egypt. See as mentioned earlier this story is about the memory of the Jews – it has a deep message for all of us.

Why God did punished Moses and Aaron? Moses and Aaron are like parents; they should let go of the people they’re old enough. Moses and Aaron should be with God by the time they have done their part in leading the Israelites in the Journey. The message of this punishment was to all the people who tried to think that what they have done, they have alone. This happen occasionally to priests or teachers, or even missionaries. We often say the “I did this or that”, or “I am the one” failing to see that without God we can never do all the things we accomplish; this is what happen to Aaron and Moses. They of course are in a state of grief. Miriam died and that I have the right to be angry. But Moses and Aaron did not see God is still showing love to them; even without Miriam, God is still in their midst to provide water – living water. God will still give them the spirit of Joy. But Moses and Aaron did the opposite of what God wants them. Grief is not an excuse to forget God’s wonder in our lives. Often if a family member dies we can grieve over a death but it is not an excuse to blame God or forget God’s love. Our success is a manifestation of God’s love, and if we try to emphasize our own work rather than God’s providence we will end up being frustrated. Because only in God can we find meaning in our lives. See, the meaning of their Journey was the promise land a sign of God’s love but Moses and Aaron in their grief failed to see that God is still showing his compassion and had mislead the people that the wonder they are about to show is their own. They ended up not reaching the promise land – not reaching the meaning of their journey.

However, the death of the three leaders (Moses will die at the end of Deuteronomy) does not mean that their journey is in vain. A message for the Jews during the Babylonian capture and for all of us fighting for a cause: We may die but the fight will not be over. See Moses believed that someday the Israelites will reach the promise land and there they can dwell peacefully. So they went on a journey, but the journey seems in vain - they sojourned for years. But God never forgets his people he provided all their needs and soon they will reach the land God promised for them. See if you are fighting not for your own but for your people, for the good of humanity, your journey will not be vain because you are not travelling alone. Israelites during the capture might die but they’re hope in God will not, if they die they believe the next generation will carry on with that faith, that is why they keep on remembering what God has done for their people – that God forget that promise to be with them always. It’s like fighting for a cause. We may lose this battle now, but tomorrow God has not forgotten his promise and that he will be with us and make us win that battle. A journey Moses has not finished but his fellows have. Moses’ death was not that of the punishment but of hope. And that hope was not in vain.

[1] Numbers 20: 29

[2] Numbers 20: 2

[3] http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Parashah/Summaries/Chukat/chukat.html

[4] Numbers 20: 8,11

[5] The Jerome Biblical Commentary

[6] Numbers 20: 12-13

[7] Numbers 20: 10

[8] Moriarty, F. SJ., The Jerome Biblical Commentary

[9] Numbers 20: 12