Monday, August 11, 2014

The Rabbi and the Holy Face of Manoppello

(Editor's note: It's a great privilege to publish the following transcript of Paul Badde's interview for EWTN with the Rabbi Gabriel Hagaï regarding the Rabbi's experience of the Holy Face of Manoppello. The Rabbi visited Manoppello this past May during the annual feast of the Holy Face which took place just the week before the visit of Pope Francis and Patriarch Barthomew to the Holy Land. Rabbi Hagaï was born in Paris, is married with several children. He lived for twenty years in Jerusalem and then in Boston, where he served as a Rabbi and also was involved in social work with homeless people. In 2003 he returned to France and has worked as a researcher at a university in Paris. This interview will also appear in the next edition of Inside the Vatican magazine
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Paul Badde: What is an Orthodox Rabbi like you doing in a little remote place in Italy like this?
Gabriel Hagaï: I was approached by a friend who told me that there’s a woman in Sardinia who’s the last person that knows how to make a Byssus fabric from threads of mussels from the sea. And I was very interested because Byssus is a part of the garments that were the Priests’ garments in the Temple in Jerusalem. So we travelled to Sardinia to meet this woman who told us that there’s a veil in Manoppello completely made of Byssus. That’s why we came here to look at the veil which seems kind of a bridge between Judaism and Christianity.
Paul Badde: The “ephod” from the high priest’s garment was made of Byssus. and even the curtain in the temple was made of Byssus, although I cannot imagine such an enormous curtain made of the extremely precious Byssus.
Gabriel Hagaï: You’re right and wrong at the same time. Byssus is one of the threads that enter into the composition of the priests’ garments and the veil in the temple. So, it’s one of the threads that gives a kind of a golden hue to it when the sun hits the garments. Then there’s the gold that comes out. There’s a real gold thread and there’s also a Byssus thread within the garments.

Paul Badde: When did you get the first piece of Byssus in your hand to look upon?
Gabriel Hagaï: The first I had in my hand was in Sardinia. But the first I looked upon was in the Louvre Museum in Paris, where there were some pieces from the Egyptian time and it’s very fine Byssus.
Paul Badde: For Christians, Gabriel is the archangel who announced the Messiah to the Virgin Mary. Who is Gabriel for you?
Gabriel Hagaï: For Judaism, Gabriel is one of the angels that came to visit Abraham after his circumcision and he’s the angel that announced Abraham that he will get descendants. He will get a son, Itzhak, Isaac. And he is also the angel - because Gabriel means the strength, the power of God, the virile power of God - he’s also the angel that went to Sodom and Gomorrah to do God’s work there and destroy the cities. Anyway so it’s an angel that announced things and also can be very martial-like. And in the equivalency between Roman deities and angels, it corresponds to Mars. Mars is the God of war.
Paul Badde: We are created in the image of God. Christians believe furthermore that God became man and acquired a face in Jesus of Nazareth. Whom and what did you see here today? You came here to see a piece of Byssus but now you saw this veil. Whom did you see?
Gabriel Hagaï: Well, I saw the image of someone called Jesus. For me Jesus is a Rabbi. He’s a colleague. And he’s a Jew. I saw the face of a Jew. I don’t ask myself many questions, how come this image came to this veil and stuff? You know, I’m a very simple person. If there’s like a popular devotion to it and it brings happiness and it can elevate the consciousness of people who believe in this image, I say “Okay, this image is useful, is helpful to humankind.” So I accept the usefulness of this image. You know, as a Jew, we may look at Christianity as a heresy. For us, Christianity is a heresy of Judaism. But personally I think, it’s also right and it’s also wrong because Christianity, Christianism exists by itself, and because of the length of its existence in history, of course there’s the providence; this is God’s will. This is God’s providence. Christianity creates saints and creates many good things. So even if I don’t understand why there’s a need of a trinity, why there’s a need of a man becoming God as a God becoming man, I don’t try to understand. I accept the big boss knows things better than we do. Christianity says many things that I cannot hear. For us, it’s impossible to hear – like the only son of God. But still, it’s God’s will and since there’s God’s providence in it and it brings an elevation of consciousness to human being. I say “Okay, I accept it.”
Paul Badde: So you have no problem, to identify him as the Jesus of Nazareth, whom you see here, and second, you don’t see him here as a heretic?
Gabriel Hagaï: No, no. Not at all, you know. I accept things as they are.
Paul Badde: Some weeks ago, I’ve been here with an Argentinean writer. She had not heard of the Holy Face before and was very impressed by the image. The next day, she sent me an e-mail and told me “Look, Paul. I woke up this morning and the word ‘Shekhinah’ was on my lips and in my mouth. I didn’t know what it is. I don’t know what it is.” I said “Shekhinah? Shekhinah? Have a look at Google where you’ll find out what it is.” - How do you relate to this?
Gabriel Hagaï: Well, Shekinah is the presence of God, God’s presence. And of course, first of all it has a feminine attribute and it’s something – it’s a manifestation of God within creation. First, it’s very important. We say that humankind is symbolized by Shekhinah. When humankind is in exile, Israel is in exile, the Shekhinah is in exile. And it’s a way of … when humankind elevates toward the Godhead, it’s the first thing you can encounter. That’s Shekhinah. It’s God’s presence. After that you may encounter many other things on a mystical level. But Shekhinah is really like the real thing we can perceive here as a human being in a dualistic world. So Shekhinah is God’s presence. So if she dreamt about Shekhinah, it means that in her consciousness or something like that, there’s a message of God, and I say “Okay, there’s some presence, some Godly presence here.”
Paul Badde: Could you relate to it too?
Gabriel Hagaï: I’m a believer. I believe God is everywhere. So as I told you, if anything can elevate the consciousness of human beings, of course there’s God’s presence here.
Paul Badde: You told me that you had a dream years ago that Jesus appeared to you. What did he look like and how was he dressed? What did he tell you?
Gabriel Hagaï: I won’t tell you what Jesus told me but I’ll tell you that Jesus was dressed in white. He was all in white in kind of an ancient, like Roman, like a big “tallit”, a big and a white tallit. His face was a very beautiful face. I don’t recall the face very well, but it may have been this face because when I kind of look at the Manoppello image and I kind of press my eyes, it looks like what I saw in my dreams. Actually I dreamt of him another time …
Paul Badde: This morning, I saw you march into the Church, right behind the Holy Face. You’d been the one in front of all the priests, in front of all the pilgrims, you’d been the one marching behind the Volto Santo into the Church –

Gabriel Hagaï: Well, the Capuchin brothers said to me, “As a Rabbi, you’re invited to walk behind like us.” So I said “Yes, it’s a good gesture of openness. We have to communicate on many levels” and so - yeah, I walked. And my dream last night was exactly like I was going down those stairs that look like the ones in the Church and Jesus was opening a door and saying “Quick, quick, Gabriel. There’s the procession going.” In my dream, I said “What?” I said “Okay, I’m obeying, but what procession?” And, you know, in my dream, it wasn’t clear. I didn’t know what this prophet was talking about. Anyway but in this morning, I said “Oh, this is it. This is what I felt in my dreams, you know, kind of premonition like.” So it was – yeah, it’s moving like to have dreams like that.
Paul Badde: And you realized, really, it’s him again in your dream?
Gabriel Hagaï: Yeah, because in dreams, you don’t. . . people you encounter in dreams don’t have to introduce themselves. You know who they are. When you see an angel in a dream, you know which angel is talking to you, or a saint or anyone.
Paul Badde: But can you recall – what did He say? He said “Come down” or “Follow me” or what did He say?
Gabriel Hagaï: “Come down quick.” “Come down quick.” And “The procession is starting.”
Paul Badde: In Budapest, in Hungary, in the 19th century, there was a Rabbinic school of thinking that thought that the messiah at the end might look like Jesus of Nazareth. That it might be Him. Have you ever heard of it?
Gabriel Hagaï: I have heard of it. When the messiah will come, he will come for everybody, especially for Jews, Christians and Muslims who believe a messiah is about to come, or come back. So if Christians say it’s Jesus maybe it will be kind of a Jesus-like messiah. As a Jew, I don’t care. You know, Jesus, he was a Rabbi, so I mean, he’s a good messiah. Why not? You know, if he comes back, I’m okay. (laughs)
Paul Badde: But is there still a school of thinking which is considering that it might be Him?
Gabriel Hagaï: Yeah, because Ashkenazic Jews will say the messiah will be an Ashkenazic Jew. And Sephardic Jews will say he’ll be Sephardic. But it’s stupid because when the messiah will come, he will come for everybody and he will come with prophets who will certify that he’s the messiah. And He will make peace with everybody – everyone will agree, because it will be like a kind of a miracle revealed. And, of course, if the messiah doesn’t come for Christians and Jews and Muslims alike, altogether it’s not worth coming. (laughs)
Paul Badde: What I heard and experienced here very often, is that people see this image, this veil, in some way as a mirror. I’ve seen Africans who saw an African here, Chinese who saw a Chinese here. So this Holy Veil has a messianic dimension, doesn’t it? The image here on the veil?
Gabriel Hagaï: The people who come here to look at the veil, look at it with the eyes of faith. And such a spiritual intention, of course, will give blessed fruits. And the mirror is like a fruit, a blessed fruit, a fruit that someone can receive. So you may see what you are open to, and then God makes you see things that work for you and help to elevate your consciousness.

Paul Badde: But there’s a difference between this image we have here and a masterpiece, let’s say of Leonardo da Vinci. A painting of Leonardo da Vinci would be a masterpiece, but that wouldn’t have – how should I say – that mirror quality.

Gabriel Hagaï: There’s an ethereal quality to the image here because it’s like on a kind of a transparent veil. It’s very thin. It’s very ethereal. It’s like smoke. It’s kind of out-of-worldly quality to it. The technique that was used, I mean the technique on the veil is very interesting because, of course, when you change position and according to light, the image is not the same. It’s a changing image. Maybe there’s a special way of communicating to consciousness when people come here and look at the veil with the eyes of faith, and something happens to them.

Paul Badde: But you realize we don’t find any trace of color nor paint on this veil. You cannot even paint upon it. It is technically impossible. It is completely inexplicable how this image came onto or into that veil.
Gabriel Hagaï: Yes, yes, yes. You know, in every miracle, often there’s an opening to skepticism. Otherwise, we as human beings, we wouldn’t be able to remain like free in our will. God gave us free will. So even if there’s a miracle, there’s always an opening to say: “Oh, I’m skeptical, and I may remain skeptical.”
Paul Badde: But You wouldn’t hesitate to see miraculous dimension in this image.
Gabriel Hagaï: No. I believe in miracles and I believe miracles transcend religions. Miracles are made for humankind. So every saint is not a saint of this religion. He’s a saint for all humankind and every miracle is a miracle for all human kind. So if it’s a miracle, it works for everybody.
Paul Badde: Let’s talk about another great miracle. The Maharal of Prague - the famous Rabbi Loew who once created out of clay the Golem as a living figure to help the Jewish community in an hour of deepest need - he once said that if men would try to stretch their hand and fingers towards the tree of life the messiah would come. Now, we see not only men trying to stretch their fingers towards the tree of life, but an entire industry. Do you think that it’s time for the messiah to come or to come back as we say?
Gabriel Hagaï: Because it’s not humankind that waits for the messiah. It’s the messiah who waits for humankind. Messiah is the raising of consciousness. When humanity attains a certain level, then the messiah reveals himself. There was a Rabbi and the Prophet Elijah used to come to him in a dream-like vision. So once he asked “Where is the messiah?” He said to him, “He’s in Rome, you know, at the doors of Rome and you can look for him there.” So this Rabbi, in a mystical way, went to Rome and searched for the messiah and found the messiah among the lepers in the doorways of Rome, and asked “When are you coming?” And the messiah answered him “I’ll come today.” So when the next morning the messiah didn’t come, the Rabbi asked the Prophet Elijah, saying “This messiah is. . . he’s a joke. He makes jokes because he’s not serious. He said he will come today. Yesterday he told me that, and today he didn’t come. How come?” And the Prophet Elijah explained to him “No, he was quoting a verse: ‘Hayom im b'koli tishme'un’: ‘Today, if you listen to My voice,’ says God. - So of course, the coming of the messiah is linked to the listening of God’s voice.
Paul Badde: There’s a high probability that this veil comes from a grave - according St. John’s Gospel of the Resurrection of Christ. Which means it was quite impure. Then it contains an image. Doesn’t it contradict your beliefs and opinions somehow? I mean, to get that close and to be such an object of veneration.
Gabriel Hagaï: What’s forbidden to us is to make God’s image. So it’s totally okay to paint faces and there were Jewish painters and if you look at manuscripts, where you find always little figures, human figures here and there. So I mean, it’s okay for us, first of all. Secondly, impurity like, death impurity, is only like the body itself. Things that were attached to the body are impure, but it’s not the same impurity. The body himself is called: Avi Avot Hatumah, meaning it’s the father of all impurities. But everything that touched it is impure. Yeah, indeed. But it’s not this – it doesn’t bring more impurity, so you know, it’s okay.
Paul Badde: Aren’t you afraid of your fellow Rabbis, I mean, that you came into such ..
Gabriel Hagaï: No, you know as Rabbis we’re free. We don’t have bosses and any structures that say you have to do this and have to do that. As a Rabbi, I studied like for 14 years in Jerusalem and according to what I understand within the coherency of my tradition, I’m very free to act, and you know I may act like that. Other Rabbis will disagree with me. Okay. But they will respect me because in Orthodoxy, there are many ways to Orthodoxy, many choices where you may choose one and the other may choose another. But there’s respect because we know that each of these choices were made within the coherency of the Rabbinical tradition. So there’s this side – there’s a place for my decision within the Rabbinical coherency, the Rabbinical tradition, and especially within the mystical tradition, because I’m also a mystic. I’m also someone who studied our mystical tradition.
Paul Badde: What’s your conclusion after this encounter with this Holy Face from the heart of the Christianity?
Gabriel Hagaï: My conclusion is that what I think is not important. What’s important is the spirituality that is alive here because pilgrims come here with a lot of faith and this faith works on them. If among the millions of pilgrims there was one who was touched by grace and became a saint, I think it’s worth it. And I believe there is more than one in a million. Many, many Christians that come here, pilgrims, are touched by grace. They are transformed. Their consciousness is raised and they realize their Godly spark inside. There’s this realization that this image is my image. So this veil is inside me. I’ve, on my heart, this veil, this image is here. So I’m – we’re all created in God’s image. So when this realization comes and you realize that “Oh, I’m not the only one of God’s image. All humankind is of God’s image. And there’s no me alone, there’s more me than me. You’re not less me than I’m and I’m not less you that you are.” So when there’s this realization and there’s this huge love to humankind, because there’s this love of God, so when someone succeeds to this moment of grace, it’s worth it and I found it here.
Paul Badde: Thank you so much, Rabbi Gabriel. Toda raba and Shabbat Shalom.
Gabriel Hagaï: Toda raba!

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