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Looking For Babel V – Reverberations


There are times when Eric Kaplan is the “fun” guide through a maze of thoughtful challenges, such as in, “Does Santa Exist?” 

Some of his blogs remind me of the more stern professor, such as in yesterday’s, “America, The Land of the Dead.

Then, there are the days when he reminds me of Rabelais playing with his giant creation, Gargantua; genius in playful creativity. (I strongly dislike those days; not because of Eric, but because of a painful confrontation with Gargantua, of which I have recently been reminded by a sixteenth-century, Jesuit priest. I’m sorry – imaginary sob and tragic wave of hand – it’s just too painful for this post!”)

 

Well, so, imagine my horror, when on my journey to Babel, I learned of Eric’s connection with that priest, Matteo Ricci!

 

When I read his, “America, The Land of the Dead,” it was clear he too, was considering Babel; ‘although it seemed that America was understood as being the “Land of Children” it was in actuality understood by Italians, French, Thais, Japanese as the “Land of the Dead”.’

The Dor HaPilaga – The Great Dispersion, following the Tower of Babel, created situations in which I would be stopped in a gas station in the Ozarks and be asked if my Yarmulka hid my horns. 

 

The Dispersion led to a group of soldiers stopping my cab and demanding cash from the ‘rich American businessman.’

 

The Dispersion has China looking at us and wondering how a country without the basic human right of stability and knowing what to expect, could accuse them, who think in terms of decades not new elections, of violating human rights.

 

When we have difficulty grasping why others would perceive us as “The Land of the Dead,” we are experiencing the reverberations of the Dispersion.

******

 

In Jonathan Spence’s fascinating, “The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci,” he uses an image drawn by Ricci and included in a Chinese book, as, “The First Image: The Warriors.” Spence compares Ricci’s experience of soldiers with those he saw in China, ridiculously, “under the thumb of civil authority,” and finds them “weak, effeminate”. 

 

Dr. Spence includes a Babel tale:

“Some artists, searching to encapsulate the victory (in October 1571 of the Catholic commander in chief Don John of Austria over the Turks), did not even bother to study the actual tactics or methodology of the battle but merely changed the labeling and some trifling details on heroic pictures of the Roman legions’ defeat of Hannibal in the Second Punic War near Carthage in 202 C.E., so that bemused viewers around the world – versions of these prints, in exquisite detail, had reached Japan by the late sixteenth century – could see legionaries in short tunics carrying the insignia of Ancient Rome, a few of them wearing Spanish ruffs or carrying muskets, hurling themselves against the elephants of the infidel.”

 

******

 

The Dispersion snaked its way through the centuries to Japan and longer into the future, curling its way around our century, wrapping countries, races, religions, political parties, families, individuals, choking out tolerance and understanding.

******

In “Journeys, The First Step,” “Each Step,” “Everyday Song,” and, “The Path Ignites the Soul,” we actually have been examining the role of Halacha in untangling the horribly twisted path of the Dispersion. 

 

Halacha, the Journey, guides us in seeing with clarity, listening with open hearts, and engaging the world as it is.

 

No wonder it was in Babel that we studied and mastered the Babylonian Talmud; at first glance, complicated and complex but with guidance and training, an entrance into Yashrut – A Straight and Focused Path.

 

No wonder we refer to the Opening Book of the Bible as “Sefer HaYashar,” How The Patriarchs Managed To Find a Straight Path Through The Dispersion.

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