Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

Last night, hundreds of thousands of people, in surfing their television, found themselves watching one of the most beautiful events that has aired in the last four years: the figure skating championship for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Of all the young ladies competing, though all displayed extraordinary beauty, elegance, and talent in the soaring twirls and spinning twists, two women stood out from among the rest. They were small, slender, beautiful girls, wearing sparkling leotards, with glitter framing their dark eyes and concentration molded upon their olive brows. They came from two different Asian countries, where the skill of their dancing has earned them the name of national celebrities. One, a small, Japanese girl named Mao Asada, dances to a simple, classical piece, and, though her dancing is flawless, the choreography has only a fraction of the fire and energy that sizzles over a foundation of breath-taking elegance when Kim Yu-Na from South Korea takes the ice, dancing to the theme song from James Bond. She wins the competition after the stunning, passionate piece, placing five points above her Japanese rival, and exceeding her own record by two points.

The disinterested onlooker enjoys watching these prodigies as they perform; they rejoice with Yu-Na in her success, and, though they pity Asada for her own great talent being superseded, the performance of Yu-Na has left them so breathless that they know the score is fairly won. No one realizes the enormity of the expectation and the extreme responsibility that has been placed on these young, small shoulders by the people of their country. The competition between them does not begin and end with the Olympics: it buries deep, plunging down the course of a hundred years, through the histories of their people. The two countries, and the two girls who stand as the sacred representations of their cultures, are enemies of old.

In the early twentieth century Japan experienced great economic upheaval when the new emperor, Meiji, rose to power. The Koreans insulted and rejected Emperor Meiji in their trading with Japan, and the emperor, seeing that the samurai army was jobless and posing a threat to his regime, sent them off to conquer and colonize Korea. The Koreans experienced great hardship through their slavery to the Japanese over the course of thirty-five years, until America, after the bombing of Hiroshima at the end of World War II, came into Korea to free the Koreans. The people, government, and economy of Korea were utterly devastated after Japan's autocracy in their country, and, though the Americans helped them back to their feet, Franklin D. Roosevelt didn't finish the course of regeneration. He, on the advice of the general in charge of the mission, deserted the northern precinct of Korea to a socialist Russia, a communist Mao Zedong, and the new Marxist upstart Kim Il Sung to take over the government in that section of the country. Thus ensued the divide of North and South Korea. This history, branded in the minds of the Koreans and the Japanese, lies in the worldview with which Yu-Na and Asada compete. The angst of their countries' expectations is overwhelming in the very force of this age-old feud.

I once observed a young Korean conversing with one of my brothers about how he saw common ground between America and Korea, in that they both had a mutual enemy in Japan because of Pearl Harbor. I was shocked by this idea. In my thoughts, the tragedy of Pearl Harbor was such an incident of the past that the guilt correlating to it has been forgotten, and that this feeling predominates in America. Japan has been wholly forgiven, just as the memory of the enmity of the Revolutionary War between the English and the Americans is rendered obsolete in our present function as allies. In the same way, the Pearl Harbor incident has been wiped away from our consciences, so that now Japan is one of America's greatest allies. But to the young Korean gentleman, Japan––disregarding the fact that the grave offense paid them is one dating to almost a century ago, and that the Japanese have seen great retribution for their tyranny and are a wholly different people––is still a very grim enemy.

Thus I see how the worldviews of the Western and Eastern worlds utterly clash. Christianity, though started in the East, has spread like wildfire, until, coming to the West, it has conquered and revolutionized the European world. Because of Christianity, we are endowed with certain unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that happiness is made by the practice of Christian virtues. The Ten Commandments are instilled in our minds, and this moral creed has given us the ability to rise above all other countries in the corporate wisdom that has led to freedom of religion, liberty of speech, and the high-minded principle of love that has led us to be renowned for our 'short memory': for our forgiveness and for our willingness to give succor to those countries who have not had the influence of the Zoë to give them Life and Light.

In the Eastern world, however, the cultures are steeped in the religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Atheism, all creeds wholly selfish, either in the self-centered pursuit of forgetting self, the megalomaniacal pursuit of a god that sanctions genocide and hate, or the egocentric mind that believes there is no god and therefore that man is the master of his own destiny. Their worlds are old: newness is not welcomed, freedom of thought and independence of belief is denied, and the sins of the fathers are punished in the children. They nurse their hate, for they have never learned the joy that comes from obeying the words:

"Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you."

Photo of Kim Yu-Na

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Man Moses, Part 2

Moses, the conqueror of Ethiopia, the prince of Egypt, the shepherd of Midian, led his father-in-law Jethro's flock into the wilderness, until he came to the mountain of Elohim. There, in the midst of a bush, he saw the God who is a consuming fire. But this consuming fire did not devour the bush. Elohim spoke from the miracle. He declared that the ground on which Moses stood was holy, thus foreshadowing the almighty wonders that were to happen there in the future. He declared Himself an everlasting God, living through the generations. He declared Himself the great I AM: YHWH. He declared that Moses would be the savior of the Israelites, and, when Moses protests that he is not worthy of the task, Yahweh declares that it is through the miraculous power of the presence of Yahweh in the staff in his hand that he will be believed by the Israelites and will escape Pharaoh.

Thus begins the Exodus. Moses journeys to Egypt, where Pharaoh meets him with breath-taking arrogance and we first see the fickle foolishness of the Israelite people. But the staff of God, in the hand of Aaron, Moses' mouthpiece, proclaims the wonder of the Wonder-Worker. Every time but one that a miracle is performed, Yahweh commands that the staff be used to execute it, culminating in the parting of the Sea of Reeds, where Yahweh is present in a pillar of cloud and fire. Thus is born the model from which the traditional portrayal of every wizard from Merlin to Gandalf has been taken.

The Israelites walked dry through the Reed Sea, while the entire army of Pharaoh was drowned in pursuit. They walked through the wilderness, making their way by the guidance of their God back to the holy mountain that began the Exodus, Mount Sinai. It was here, as Yahweh prophesied at the burning bush, that Elohim showed Himself to His people. Yahweh told Moses that He would descend on the third day of the Israelites' stay at the Mountain of God, and, in preparation, the whole people were consecrated and purified. On the morning of the third day, thunder and lightning rent the heavens, a thick cloud enveloped the mountain, and a stentorian trumpet blast shook the air. The Israelites trembled. Moses led the people out of the camp to stand at the foot of the mountain where they would meet Yahweh. Smoke, like the smoke that billows from a furnace, swarmed over the mountain, which shook violently as the trumpet call grew louder and louder. Moses spoke and the Voice answered him, calling him to the top of the mountain. He stayed there, fasting and worshipping before Yahweh for forty days, the same number of days that the Savior of the world would fast and worship before Elohim in the desert. He prostrated himself before the throne of Yahweh, and Yahweh imparted to Moses the Holy Covenant.

This was the first face-to-face encounter between Moses and Jehovah, and was to be the beginning of a relationship that would be the closest and most present of any human's interaction with the Creator until Elohim's Son entered the world. As the Israelites journeyed to the promised land, Yahweh would lead them in the pillar of cloud-fire, only appearing in his earthly form to Moses, whose face was so resplendent with the glory of God when he left his presence that he was forced to wear a veil when he was not in the Tabernacle of Meeting, so that the Israelites would not see the glory fade away from his face. Moses would even be allowed to see Yahweh in undisguised form, though the actual Face of Elohim was barred to him for his own safety's sake.

After forty years of wandering in the desert, barred from the promised land for a life-span by the stupidity of the Israelite people, having been offered the patriarch-ship of the future races of the world and having refused the offer, having tasted the living bread of Yahweh, having brought water from the rock, having seen Jehovah in the full glory of His image, this man, Moses, came to his last days. The most humble man on the face of the earth, right before he was destined to die, was brought to Mount Nebo where Yahweh showed him all the land that the chosen people were to acquire, the promised land, flowing with milk and honey. The Bible says that Moses was one-hundred-and-twenty-years-old, and yet his eyes were not dimmed and his vigor was un-impaired. Yahweh's strength had been given him. He died there in Moab, as Yahweh had chosen, and Jehovah, the God of the Heavens, buried him in a secret place.

'And there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the HaShem knew face to face.' Deuteronomy 34:10

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Man Moses: Part 1

Israel dwelt in Egypt. God blessed His people, making them fruitful in number. Their God was El Shaddai, the God whose Kingdom is the little child.

They were a prized nation, for Joseph, one of the greatest commanders in Egypt, was at their head. But a Pharaoh rose up who knew not Joseph, who knew not the covenant, who knew not that El Shaddai who blesses, and he grew afraid of the strong, numerous nation. He ordered genocide. All male Hebrew children up to two years of age, must be drowned in the Nile. This genocide would be repeated hundreds of years later, when Herod ordered merciless child-slaughter in order to kill the Christ.

But Israel's savior would survive genocide, just as the Savior of all humanity would. In the depths of Goshen, the Israelites' primary region of habitation, lived a man named Amram. His wife, Jochebed, had three children, Miriam, Aaron, and Jekuthiel, a new-born baby. She was a courageous woman. She was a mother. She hid her precious baby boy for three months, and, when she knew she could no longer succeed in hiding him, put him in a basket and trusted to that El Shaddai who gave her this precious child to save him from destruction.

Her little girl Miriam watched the chosen child as it wound its way through the busy, infested Nile, closer and closer to the royal palace. She heard Pharaoh's daughter and her handmaidens washing in the Nile, heard their gasps of surprise as the basket floats into view, saw the princess of Egypt take pity on the child. The Princess Thermuthis knew it was a Hebrew child, a child of not only slaves, but shepherds, an occupation scorned by her people––a nation so degraded in Egypt that the mass slaughter of the Hebrews' children could be executed without a qualm. Yet she loves the child as her own. According to the Midrash, when Moses returns to Egypt as the wielder of the miracles of YHWH, she will be exiled and scorned for being his surrogate mother, and will leave Egypt with him in the great Exodus. Her name will be changed to Bithiah, meaning 'Daughter of Yah', and she will take the Judahite Mered as her husband. Click here to read the Biblical mention of Bithiah.

Miriam seized the opportunity, when this princess was observing the baby with tender interest, to suggest a Hebrew nurse for the child. The princess probably guessed what has taken place, and acquiesced willingly. She took pity on the Hebrew mother. Thus Moses is nursed by his own mother, and, through the strong bonding that takes place, becomes sealed in the Hebrew culture.

Once he was weaned, however, the princess adopted him as her own son, calling him Moshe, which is similar to the Hebrew word 'mashah', meaning 'to draw out' and the Egyptian word for 'child'. Moses, attached through his most formative years of childhood to his Hebraism, will now be raised as a royal Egyptian, with all the privileges and education of a prince of Egypt.

According to Josephus, Moses grew to become the foremost commander of the armies of Egypt. He had great military acumen, though he was slow of speech. One of the most famous stories about his life as a general is in the histories of Josephus, when he led the Egyptians against the Ethiopians who were invading the country. According to the histories, while he was besieging Tharbis, one of the cities of Ethiopia, an Ethiopian princess fell in love with him and wanted to marry him. He agreed to do so if she would deliver the city into his power. She did so, and Moses married her. Click here to read the Bible's account of Moses' Ethiopian wife.

His warrior career came to an end when, one day on visiting his mother-people, he saw a Hebrew slave being maltreated and was so incensed that he murdered the Egyptian overseer and buried the corpse in the sand. The affair was talked about among the Hebrew slaves, and Moses, on hearing from a higher source that it was known in the royal household, and that Pharaoh would most likely execute him for it, escaped across the Sinai Peninsula, a gigantic stretch of barren, desert country that only the strongest could survive in.

Coming to Midian, he stopped to drink at the Midianite well, and, while he was there, saw a group of seven shepherdess sisters being driven away from the water by some rowdy shepherds. Moses, seeing the violence taking place, had enough fighting strategy inherent in his bones to save the shepherdesses from the whole group of shepherds and their flocks, and then enough strength remaining to draw the water needed for the sheep of the seven sisters. The girls' father, a priest of Midian, was so grateful for the service and so awed at what Moses had done that he adopted him as his son, made him superintendent of his flocks, and gave him his daughter Zipporah in marriage.

It was forty years later, while shepherding his father's flocks, that Moses saw the first glimpse of the fire of the God whom he would see face to face in the coming years.