At work, a conversation with an Italian coworker with an authentic Hebrew name made me think of the figure of the Catalan Jew, in Italian “Ebreo catalano”. Analyzing the two terms that make up this name we can see important ideas of what is behind the Jewish Passover, the original Passover and that, outside of distortions, it should be the only existing Passover as such: the Holiday of Birth of the People of Israel and our Exodus from slavery.
THE “EBREO” AND THE ATTITUDE TO BE FREE FROM THE ORIGINAL PESSACH
“Ebreo” means above all “that is on the other side”; which is “on the other side of the river”, and essentially “on the other side of the river that gives access to the Land of the ebreos” –to the Land of Canaan, the Yarden (Jordan) River.
The Hebrew, as the only person of all Humanity who (to this day) has dared to cross the whole river, is the person who can become Free par excellence. He may find himself humiliated, enslaved or imprisoned, but since the departure from Egypt of the First Passover as a National Body, he never loses his potential as a Free Man. This is so because Free Man is defined by his attitude; like the salmon, it is impressed on his soul that his existential mission involves swimming against the currents and vogues. This is defined by an attitude of integrity and honesty without concessions.
ABRAHAM, YITZJAK AND YAAKOV: THE FIRST WHOLEHEARTED, THE FIRST FREE
An attitude of integrity and honesty is what the Creator claimed from Abraham Our father just before forging His Covenant with him through circumcision:
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Eternal appeared to him and said: ‘I am the All-powerful G’od. Live following My ways and be whole.” (Bereshit/Genesis 17:1)
And after making this request, the Creator says:
“I will make a Covenant between you and Me, and your offspring will be very numerous.” (Bereshit/Genesis 17:2)
Therefore, there is a direct link between Abraham’s abundance in descent, which was barren before entering the Covenant, and his integrity. Abraham, then, having crossed the Yarden as a Hebrew, now enters into the Covenant with the Eternal that makes him Free from bondage with nature (and become fertile) and will free his offspring from the yoke of the Historical Repetitiousness that traps the nations, ripping out the first really Free People.
Having this bondage overcome by Abraham allows him to win the war of the 4 kings against the 5 kings (Bereshit 14:14-17), and the king of Shalem which means “complete” –crowns him as Prince of the world:
“Melchitzedec, king of Shalem, brought bread and wine. He was a priest of the Most High G’od, and he blessed Abram saying:
‘Blessed are you, Abram, for G’od the Most High, creator of Heaven and Earth. Blessed be the Most High G’od, who has placed the enemies in your hands.” (Bereshit 14:18-20)
The second Patriarch, Yitzchak, goes a step further, and is the first man to establish a relationship of full Freedom in his dealings with the Creator from birth. He establishes integrity in dealing with HaShem in a way that allows him to transform himself from the feminine soul (passive and receptive, as he was with his father Abraham in the Akeidah) to masculine (active and donor, as he will be with his wife Rivkah). This inner change, he does it through the Tefilah/Prayer. Yitzchak establishes a totally frank and direct relationship (in short, integral) and permanent relationship with the Creator, and is in a state of constant meditation with Him. This is attested by the fall of the camel of his future wife Rivkah when she perceives him at a distance (Bereshit 24:64), due to the impression that his spiritual potency causes her at the height of his evening self-examination with HaShem.
Yaakov is also a man of integrity, and HaShem explicitly tells us that in the Torah shortly after his birth:
“The boys [Yaakov and Essav] got big. […] Yaakov was a man of integrity, who preferred to live in tents.” (Bereshit 25:17)
Yaakov as an adult maintains his integrity in his dealings with HaShem, as he demonstrates in his renewal of the Covenant with the Eternal before leaving for Padan Aram,
“If G’od accompanies me and keeps me all the time I will be away, if he gives me food and clothing and makes me return safely to my father’s house, the Eternal will be my G’od, and this stone that I have planted as a sacred pillar will be G’odHouse og . And I, Eternal, will offer You the tenth part of everything you will give me.” (Bereshit 28:20-22)
This integrity in action allows you to transform the world, according to the Jewish vision of reality. Indeed, when he leaves the house of Laban, his wife Rachel takes the idols from her father Laban, depriving him of his weapon for materialistic worship (Bereshit 31:19); with Yossef, Yaakov also drives the transformation of the material world and definitely dissociate it from idolatry (from Bereixit 41:43), as Egypt traditionally did and, as I said before, Laban did.
In short, integrity and the resulting prize of Liberty on the part of the Eternal (through the Covenant with the Eternal) of the patriarchs will be the trace of the Jew conscious of his identity, as king David himself points out in the Psalms, as in his verse
“I keep myself with integrity with Him and I keep myself clean of all iniquity. Thus the Eternal rewards my righteousness; He rewards me because, in His eyes, my hands are pure.” (Psalm 18:25, 26)
Unfortunately, after these great figures, the Jewish people have fallen into serious lapses at the time of enacting Freedom, to seek to maintain integrity, and we have fallen into circularities in the style of the nations, as the prophet tells us,
“Their land is filled with idols, each one bows down before the work of his hands, what his fingers have made.” (Isaiah 2:8)
Passover is the opportunity to recover the original Freedom through regaining integrity, to renew the will to have it. The “catalano” points out ways to adopt this attitude of integrity, especially compared to her neighboring peoples. At the very least, he wants to have the will already, and as Rabbi Doctor Akiva Tatz teaches, if we can not “want”, the starting point is “wanting to want”. It is to this “derived will” that we must first direct our prayer.
DO NOT STAY WITH JUST TASTING IT: THE WILL TO BE FREE FROM THIS PESSACH
It is common sense that to be truly Free you must be whole, and to be whole you have to have the will. The Eternal always indicates to us:
“Freedom, ‘don’t just taste it'”
That is to say, the Creator often tells us how we should not be satisfied with crumbs of “freedom” granted by the empires that dominate us through their particular “moral system,” as has often happened to Israel and other peoples throughout History. The Eternal has always urged us to seek Him to free us completely, as the prophet says He will do for Israel every time we invoke Him, as (for example) He will do with the arrogant nation of Moab,
“The hand of the Eternal will replenish this Mountain, but Moab will be trodden where it is, as the straw is stepped on the raft of the dunghill. There he will move his arms as if he wanted to swim, but the Eternal will bend his arrogance and the effort of his arms. It will knock down the inaccessible bastions of your walls, Moab; He will bring them down, he will bring them to the ground, to the dust.” (Isaiah 25:10-12)
The Catalan people, who have also struggled to understand this message from the Eternal of “Liberty, don’t just taste it”, has also passed (and passes) parallel phases. An important historical moment was in the War of the Segadors (Reapers) (1640), when the President of the Generalitat of the Principality of Catalonia Pau Claris complained about a characteristic of the Catalans:
“Castile, haughty and miserable, does not achieve a small triumph without long oppressions […]. What is it that you lack, Catalans, if it is not the will?” (Speech by Pau Claris calling to the resistance against the Castilian occupation armies of Felipe IV and the Count-Duke of Olivares).
With a certain similarity what Judea did with the Greek occupation, the Catalonia of those centuries since the uniformitarian conformation of the Hispanic Monarchy, had remained with a certain autonomy. This was so until the pressure of the uniformizing tendency of the Crown became untenable, and the jump to Freedom was necessary, which in that case failed. It failed because of a lack of ideological clarity, because of a lack of will to cling to the national ideals of Liberty, as we shall see.
UNIFORMISM, A VERY CATHOLIC IDEA
The root cause of the failure was a policy of alliances that did not reinforce this national ideal of Freedom, but left the door open to maintain servitude to an alien philosophical-ideological concept, strongly reinforced in the Peninsula by the Catholic kings and the Inquisition: the use of political, religious, cultural, ideological and linguistic uniformization as an agglutinative of society, but in this particular case of 1640 , instead of linked to Castile, linked to the alliance established with France. For both Castile and France, two crowns that were at war with each other at that moment, a decisive common factor was the trend of Catholic ideological uniformity, always driven from the ideological heart of the two empires: the Vatican.
And this is the core of the problem: Pau Claris, a Catholic priest as he was, appealed to the Vatican to help free his people, and naturally the deal failed. This is so because in its essence, the Catalan people are not uniformitarian or intolerant of difference per se, an element opposed to the ideological concept of the states that surrounded her, clearly aimed at absolutism and uniformitarianism, as it finally ended up hatching with the War of Succession a few decades later –in that case, with Castile and France, in a natural way, allies.
Today, almost everything has changed, including the view of toleration to difference, although it has been done in an erroneous, paternalistic and ethnocentric way. The nucleus that unites all the errors is the authoritarian philosophical vision that was perfected from the incendiary preachings, the Spanish Censorship and Inquisition, that is expressed in general in the rejection of the true plurality, that comes from the Catholic Church in collusion of interests with the cenacles of power.
MULTICULTURALISM, THE NEW “CATHOLICISM”
But now the Vatican ideology and its direct or tacit followers need to resort to another “Catholic” –which means “universal”– idea to exercise its ideological control over the population: multiculturalism.
Multiculturalism is a fluid ideology that proclaims the supposed benefits of the blurring of national and individual identities, in favor of a “jumble” that has the apparent objective of preserving coexistence and peace among people with diverse identities.
This enveloping ideology has had dire consequences. This has been noted very much throughout Europe, where governments have strongly applied multiculturalist politics. Its result has been on the one hand the alienation of young immigrants from other cultures, and on the other, the loss of national identity of the Europeans themselves. In Israel, although to a lesser extent, a similar phenomenon has also occurred with the Arab inhabitants who legitimately have no interest in becoming Westerners, and who as an alternative have only been provided with a backward and violent Palestinianism.
At the strictly individual level, blurring and confusion have also been encouraged, putting “new identity labels” on all types of gender or sexual tendencies. The result is the dismantling of the family and society, instead of the healthy correction of its repressive vices acquired from the centuries of Catholic obscurantism.
We must reverse this situation. We know that no culture has the solution to all problems, but we also know that a chaotic mix of elements that are key to forging individual and national identities also leads to disaster. We must put order (“Seder” [סדר]), and move from the impoverishing mix of multiculturalism, to a benevolent and just interculturality; we must be able to speak again in the face and be able to defend that protecting respectful interculturality is the way to recover true freedom.
INTERCULTURALITY AS THE CRUCIBLE OF FREEDOM
First, here, we must talk about the main slavery of today in the West, which is slavery to the politically correct. A yoke that is forged either through a permissiveness that replaces goodness, or at the other extreme, an intolerance that supplants justice. Both errors, due again to the tensions (for or against) of the uniformitarian universality of multiculturalism, have de-energized society, deactivated the moral nerve and removed creativity.
The other element that adds up (going against us) in the war of the new multiculturalism is the old hedonism. In this way, the multiculturalist society finds itself in a permanent “hedonistic” tasting of reality but does not amend the necessary aspects of change; the following concomitant situations occur (thanks, Ivan, for the conversation where my idea came from):
- There is critical sense (we label problems well), but it is a superficial and sterile criticism, and there is no capacity to real change.
- There is much desire for change, but it does not settle into a firm will.
- There is a will to obtain results, but there is no patience or commitment.
I observe that there is a common thread to all these problems: each one wants to adjust reality to his egoistic taste, disregarding what is different from what one thinks, which makes it impossible to make a joint social construction that endows capacity, will and commitment to an association of diverse people.
The solution, as Rabbi Chaim Zukerwar points out, is to conform to a truly Universal Law that puts altruism at the center, so that there is a framework that respects individual and national differences to give air to its creative nature, and channel them for individual, national and global benefit. And the basis of this rectified universalism, as I have said, is benevolence and justice.
BENEVOLENCE AND JUSTICE, THE IDEOLOGICAL NUCLEUS OF INTERCULTURALITY
The basis and starting point of interculturality are, on the one hand, the aspect of benevolence marked by the verse of the Hebrew Scriptures.
“Do not be vengeful or bear a grudge against anyone of your People. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Eternal” (Vayikrah/Leviticus 19:18),
and on the other hand, on the side of justice, the “Golden Rule”, which takes the form, in the Catalan proverb, of
“What you do not want for yourself, do not want it for anyone else”,
that has a source in the Torah with the dictum of Hillel the Elder in his response to a prospective convert:
“Whatever is hateful to you, do not do it to others. This is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary. Now go, and study it.”
The source of Leviticus establishes the idea of doing benevolence by giving to others; the Golden Rule establishes a more general idea, the idea of doing justice through respect for one’s neighbor. One and the other can be combined into one: respect (give space to) others.
Giving space to the other is to do goodness and justice at the same time, and allows communication to be delivered and preserved. To give space to the other, in short to let the different one also be free, is in the essence of the correction of the uniformizing vision, essentially taxating, that we have seen at the beginning and that affects all Humanity, and increase the space of Freedom.
ELIAH THE PROPHET, THE MODEL FOR THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE JEWISH PEOPLE
A figure that the Sages tell us that meets the Righteous in his life in order to reinforce them in their study of Torah and their acts of kindness is the Prophet Elijah (Eliahu haNabi). According to Tradition, the prophet Elijah, his spirit, is also present to each circumcision ceremony, where each male baby enters the Covenant of Abraham Our father. For the Jews, Liberty is enacted through the benevolence of giving our knowledge, our Heritage and our Identity every Jew, and doing the Justice of preserving our identity.
At the national level, for our preservation, the Eternal makes us Benevolence and Justice by giving us the Festivities, among which, the Passover festivity that we will soon begin. Precisely, on Passover Night, we wait for the Prophet Elijah at our table, and we prepare a glass of wine, which makes the 5th of the Seder –“Order” of the Passover dinner [סדר]. Elijah saved the Nation from a path of moral submission to the Baal (I Kings 18), and renewed the vision of the path that opened the first Passover: to be aware that our national Freedom lies in our identity is based on being the people committed to a life of integrity. Why is it like this?
According to our Sacred Texts, at the time of the partition of the Red Sea, the angels complained to the Eternal and said:
“Both the Egyptians and the Hebrews are idolaters, why should we drown the waters the ones and not the others?”
The Eternal’s answer is in the Torah:
“Therefore, say [Moshe] to the Israelites on My behalf: “I am the Eternal. I will rid you of the forced labor of the Egyptians and free you from slavery. With the power of my arm I will rescue you from them, which I will punish them harshly. I will make you my people and I will be your G’od. Then you will know that I am the Eternal, your G’od, the one who took you off from you the forced labor of the Egyptians. Then I will lead you to the country that I promised to Abraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov, and I will give it to you in possession. I tell you, the Eternal One.” (Shemot/Exodus 6:6-8)
That is to say, the primary objective of G’od, then, by saving the People from slavery, was the fulfillment of the Eternal’s Covennant with the Patriarchs, and giving their offspring the Land of Israel. It was not for the righteousness of the people, as Moshe points out, but for the merit of the Patriarchs:
“You will not enter to take possession of your country because you are roghteous or straight of heart. The Eternal, your G’od, will drive out these nations from before you, because they are guilty: thus He will fulfill the oath that he made to your fathers, to Abraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 9:5)
Thus, Passover Night and its Seder, are the best opportunity to renew our commitment, to be worthy children, living and spreading our ideal of Freedom, both the individual and the national, through paying tribute to the integrity of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, who took us to the path of Freedom, and commit to always follow their example. Let’s be worthy children, renew our commitment and regain our Liberty.
Chag Sameach! (“Happy Passover” [חג שמח])