Center for Jewish-Bulgarian cooperation

On the Other Side of the River

Jews or “Ivrim” means that these are the people who crossed the river. The river is the main symbol in all mythologies. It is always the enclosure of life and beyond it there is the otherworld, the nothingness. Between life and death, the river is a corrective to life. Abraham passed the Euphrates 6,000 years ago, but he also passed through everything that was life then. The emergence of the idea of One God at that time, when Man was surrounded by numerous deities, was a real revolution in thinking. That this God cannot be named or depicted is a triumph of the abstract over the senses. And this is so for no one can claim to know God better than another; for all people to be equal before the Absolute. For the first time human life had value and this God did not require human sacrifices. Even now, in modern times, in some Muslim countries crimes are punished by cutting off arms and legs, while the Torah accurately describes the property sanctions that can be imposed in such cases. And this is for the sole purpose to limit the self-destruction of mankind, to not multiply the evil. Aren’t the laws of freeing slaves every seventh year, of return of land, acquired by another, albeit in a fair deal, to its first owner after 50 years, unambiguous examples of humanity?  Even fruits on trees are left for the orphans and the poor every seventh year. What else is kashrut, but denial of barbarism? The idea of “kosher” is to observe hygiene, both of body and soul; to obey God’s commandment “Thou shalt not kill”.

Another big leap in the conceptual foundation of Judaism is democracy. Not accidentally, the Torah was given to the Jewish people in the desert – on neutral, no man’s land – to avoid chauvinism in Jewish thought or claims that these are people better than others. Indeed, the Jewish people were chosen, however not for privileges, but for responsibility and duty to their God, to observe all mitzvoth. In the Midrash, the debate between Rabbi Eliezer and the other sages is an example of democratic views and democracy in the relationship between God and man. Rabbi Eliezer argues in a dispute with other rabbis that he was right and ordered the river to change direction as proof of his correctness. Indeed, the river started to run in the other direction. But the rabbis said, “! We do not believe in miracles! You’re not right.” Then Rabbi Eliezer called on the house, in which they were, to collapse in support of his words. Indeed, the walls bent to the floor. Then the rabbis asked: “Who are you walls to take part in our debate!” and refused to accept Eliezer’s claim. Then he called, “If I’m right, let’s hear the voice of the Lord!” And they really heard a voice. But the rabbis still refused to accept that Eliezer was right. And the Lord asked, “Is it not enough that I am telling you?” And the rabbis responded: “You gave us the Torah, and in it, it is said that rightness belongs to the majority of the wise, and we obey.” Then the Lord laughed and said: “My sons did not betray me!” The relationship between God and man is dialogical. God listens to what one asks him. Abraham pleads with God not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if one could find one righteous man there. Moses is also an advocate of his people and pleaded with God not to destroy the Jews who made the Golden Calf. And God did not destroy his people. The first, who violated the dialogue between God and Man, was Man. God was looking for Adam, calling “Where are you?” And Adam, who has already picked the fruit of knowledge, hid in Eden and was not responding. Adam and Eve never talked to each other and it is no coincidence that their children come so quickly to fratricide. In Jewish thought, the lack of dialogue, of words, is more terrible than death. For God is word; the Torah is word. But after the peak of the suffering of the Jewish people – the Holocaust, God became Silence… In Jewish thought, since the time of the Maccabees, the idea of the martyr was born – innocent and righteous, who may suffer the most severe fate. Thus, in the Middle Ages, entire Jewish communities met death with “Shema Israel” on their lips. Their sacrifice shines with the brilliance of faith and the expectation of the Messiah.

But none of it existed at the time of Auschwitz – neither faith nor disbelief; neither error nor punishment; no hope of resurrection, no heroism. Therefore, who was this God who let this happen?!

Surely there is no greater punishment than God turning his face away and closing himself in silence; even for Job, whom God sent thousands of hardships and asked the philosophical question of suffering, happiness ultimately came and his misery ended, because God spoke to him.

From the diary of a young Dutch girl, Eti Hilesam (1941 – 1943), who died in Auschwitz:

“I’ll try to help you Lord! I understand that you cannot help us and we need to help you help us… Alas, you cannot do anything about the circumstances that surround us, for our lives. I am not holding you accountable anymore. You cannot help us, but we need to help you; we need to keep your place in our souls to the end.”

The new concept of God after Auschwitz is the new idea of Creation. It has analogies with the theory of the Khabbalists, according to which in the beginning God filled all space and in order to create the World shrank in full contraction and disappeared. This way he made room for the Being. This is called by them “tsim tsum”. It means that to be a Creator one needs a complete denial of oneself, of the power and of the divine name on behalf of the World and Man. God accepts to be dependent on his creatures, therefore to need them. So the risk of Evil is already present. By creating the World, God is deprived of the opportunity to influence it. And that is no longer the almighty God, but a weak and feeble God. He is not the God, who in “Genesis” goes down in Sodom and destroys it over the complaints of the mothers who came to him. During the Holocaust, God did not descend to earth to help those who were calling Him. After that, the Shoah Providence and Divine Justice lost their meaning. Six million innocent victims, destroyed by brutality and cynicism, forbid us to believe that God is guarding this world. Kabbalah teaches that the 36 righteous persons, who overturned the relation God – Man and made it a connection Man – God, were the only chance for the world to not disappear.

Everything is in the hands of Man. He determines whether he will allow God to enjoy the Creation. Maybe it is time for Man to give everything to God – all that God has put in Him and the World, depleting himself to the extreme; all Power, Mind and Spirit, which only human nature is capable of delivering to its Creator, by achieving its only vocation – to be Beginning and End…

The river will always continue to tempt the Jews to cross it. This is my attempt to look at the other side of this river.

Author: Alberta Alkalay

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VI Национален литературен конкурс

VI national literary contest

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Award Ceremony 'Keeper of Memory'

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Award ceremony for the participants in the V national literary contest

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Opening ceremony of the memorial plaque in Burgas

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