Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Ready And Prepared: A Drash on Emor

By Trisha Arlin

This week's parsha is Emor, Speak, a command to Moses from God, Eh-mor el haCohanim, Speak to the priests.  What follows is a series of rules that Moses must pass on. In chapter 21, God has Moses lay down the rules for the priests, the cohanim, on how not to defile themselves, lo yee tama,  to remain ritually pure, tahor.

The idea of ritual purity for priests or women usually has very negative connotations for me, since I, like most people, tend to think of purity as good and impurity as bad.  Clean is good, and dirty is bad, right?  But often what the Torah calls impure is to me the normal stuff of life, the normal goopy viscous liquids we encounter, that every human being must engage in or with...I leave the specific goop to your imagination...and I just can't see that as bad.  But that's my modern English speaking interpretation because that's not what Jewish ritual purity is about.  I think it's about readiness, about preparation, about being ready for holiness.

Remember that, readiness and preparation.

For the cohanim, the priests, that would have meant becoming ready to do the sacrifices and rituals of the temple.  For the High Priest, that would have also meant readiness to enter the Holy of Holies,  Kadosh HaKodashim, the small building that only he entered and then only entered once a year, on Yom Kippur, to meet God in the most sacred and separate place and beg forgiveness for himself, his family, and his community.  I say sacred and separate place because though we often translate the word Kadosh to mean holy it actually means, separate.  We make something holy by separating it from the everyday, the khol.    Another name for God is HaMavdil, the One who seperates.

And that's how I think of ritual purity, as a holy separation, a readiness for sacrifice in the Torah and today, a readiness to prepare us for tefillah, prayer, gemilut chasidim, acts of loving kindness and tikkun olam, repair of the world. 

In this parsha, in chapter 21, there are a series of acts and rituals that a priest must perform to maintain his, and it's always HIS, holy separation.    How he relates to the dead, how he shaves, what kind of women he can be with , what he wears on his body, what shape his body is in....these are restrictions of their time and I don't feel a need to list them, or obsess and be angry about how they are sexist and elitist.  We can stipulate that about half the Torah if not more.    I'm interested in now.

One way we can purify ourselves in modern times is with water, like washing your hands before a meal.  To really purify yourself you  to go to the mikveh.   You do a full immersion in water, your entire body, and say a prayer.  Traditionally observant men and women go to the mikveh for many reasons, for women once a month, or after a birth, or for a wedding or for conversion, but liberal Jews often go for other reasons , to ritually acknowledge life changes and events  like a B'nai Mitzvah, a graduation, menopause, a divorce, a gender transition, all sorts of things. 

What else is there to be ritually pure for?  I'm a Kohen.  Or, to traditionally observant Jews, a Bat Cohen, a daughter of a Kohen.    In the Conservative synagogue I grew up in, that meant my father, certainly never me, got called up to the Torah first, because a Kohen is supposed to always have the first of the traditional seven aliyot.

My father also would get called up to do the special blessing of the priests during the High Holidays, something we have done and not done at Kolot.  Perhaps it makes us a bit uncomfortable, to think that somebody, simply because of his or her genes,  might be able to somehow channel God and holiness and facilitate redemption and teshuvah.  It makes me uncomfortable, but I have to admit, when I have done it it's been very cool,very mystical and special.   You cover your face with your tallit, put you hands up in a mystical sign, and it's like you become a conduit for holiness.  It's profound.  Now I know, as a good leftie progressive, that I'm not supposed to feel this or to like it, but i do.  I feel the responsibility, I feel separate and holy and somehow even a little tahor, ritually pure.  It is good.  And why should I keep all that good feeling to myself?  Especially in this time that calls for some much action from us, wouldn't it be great if you each could  imagine yourself as the Cohen Gadol in your own Kadosh HaKodashim, the High Priest in your own Holy of Holies, immersing in your own mikveh, to imagine yourself as a holy vessel, pure and ready for inspiration and holy action.

(This next paragraph is a short version of a guided meditation)  So I invite you to cover yourself with your tallit and imagine that everything outside your tallit is mundane and everything inside it, especially you, is kadosh, holy and separate.  Today we are all kohanim.   Close your eyes, breathe regulary, imagine that every breath is a prayer to and for life.  Think of yourself as stepping out the door of this room and finding yourself in a meadow, where you see a small house in the distance, a house of one room, with a door but no windows.  You walk towards it and realize, this is your Holy of Holies, where you are the Kohen Gadol.   You go inside, there is a small pool of running water there, this is your mikvah.   You are completely yourself here, and you step into this mikveh and go under the water. Baruch atah adonai elohainu ruach ha olam, asher kidishanu bemitzvoav, eetivanu al hatevvilah.  Bless the One-ness, God, Breath of the Universe, sanctifying us with God's commandments and commanding us on immersion.  Dunk yourself again, and make up your own blessing, one for your family and friends.   Dunk yourself again, and make up another blessing, one for your community and your world.  Come out of the water.  There's a lovely fluffy towel.  Dry yourself off.  Imagine that now you are ready for holiness, for action, for change.   When you are ready, stand, come out of the Holy of Holies, walk out the door through the meadow, back to yourself with the tallit covering your head.

Blessed One-ness
We give thanks for the cleansing water
That makes us ready and prepared for prayer and action.
We are all holy vessels
Made in the image of God.
We give thanks for the ones who offer prayers.
We give thanks for the ones who take action.
We cannot heal the world without both,

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Culmination: Malkhut of Malkhut Day 49

We count the Omer for seven weeks, 49 days:
The loving kindness and benevolence of Hesed;
The strength and holy limitations of Gevurah;
The spiritual balance and beauty of Tiferet;
The eternal endurance of Netzach;
The prayer and intellectualism of Hod;
The gateway of Yesod, collecting all of these sefirot and transmitting them to
Malkhut, the end of the chain, our human world.
Malkhut of Malkhut – It is the culmination.
This is where we live, this is the here and now,
God's name in Malkhut is Adonai Ha-Eretz, Lord of the Earth.
But in Malkhut we are ALL the lords of this realm,
We are one in the One-ness.
These are our laws, our nations, our communities, our religions,
These are our choices, our mistakes, our kindnesses, our glory,
We are the rulers, here.
So here's a prayer for this world of Malkhut and all of us Jews
Of all colors and kinds
In the last day of the Omer,
Making our choices,
Hanging out at the foot of Mount Sinai,
Deposited here by seven sefirot and 49 days of counting,
Waiting to receive Torah:
Baruch Ha-Mavdil,
Blessed is That Which Divides,
Giving us the illusions
Of time and space
Of 49 days and seven weeks
So that we may grow and learn
And take joy in the moment,
So that we may rest on Shabbat
And not go crazy,
So that we may, when it’s time, start dancing.
We give thanks for this seventh week of the Omer
And the metaphor and earthiness of Malkhut,
Which gathers us up in culmination and community
And takes us to Shavuot,
To study the choices of Ruth and Naomi
And join with all those waiting
For the gifts of Mount Sinai.
Blessed Wholeness
And the joys of holy separation!
We are many and we are gloriously unique
But we are also one in the One.
Please, may we not divide ourselves against ourselves
So together, different and the same,
We may look upon God’s back.
So together, different and the same,
We may pray, study, create,
Commit acts of lovingkindness, heal the world, forgive and be forgiven,
And receive Torah.
And let us say,

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Love of Foundation

Barukh Kadosh Hu,
Blessed One-ness,
On this Day 36 of the Omer, 
Hesed of Yesod,
Love of Foundation,
Compassion for the Underpinnings,
I love Structure.
Yesod is life, it is everywhere.
It is
Ritual, the points along the journey,
The beginning and the middle and the end,
The liminal gateway,
The container,
The funnel,
The candle lighting and the candle dousing.
It is
The five-act screenplay, the haiku, the sestina, and the three-minute song;
Chairs around a dining table so we know where to sit;
My skull, a safe and solid place to keep my brain.
Math, a plausible place to plan the beauty.
It is
The access code, the retinal scan, the thumbprint,
It is Entrance;
Fiber optic cable, the string between tin cans, wifi,
It is Connection;
A tree, a shul, an archway,
It is Protection;
Schist and granite, concrete slabs, a finished basement,
It is Foundation.
I truly enjoy arguing with Yesod.
I push and pull it, break it when I can.
But I know even as I abuse it
Yesod is always there, offering me the walls of Sanctuary.
Barukh Kadosh Hu,
Blessed One-ness,
On this Day 36 of the Omer,
Hesed of Yesod,
Love of Foundation
Compassion for the Underpinnings
I love Structure
And I give thanks.