February 11, 2022 / 10 Adar I, 5782

#20 TETZAVEH
Holiness Dwells Within

Exodus 27:20-30:10

holiness shines through
among and in between us
out of the narrows

Last week’s parashat, Terumah, included the well-known passage (from Exodus 25:8):

וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם 
And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.

In this week’s parashat, Tetzaveh, there is a similar, but expanded, passage (from Exodus 29:45-46):

וְשָׁ֣כַנְתִּ֔י בְּת֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְהָיִ֥יתִי לָהֶ֖ם לֵאלֹהִֽים׃ 
I will abide among the Israelites, and I will be their God.

וְיָדְע֗וּ כִּ֣י אֲנִ֤י יְהֹוָה֙ אֱלֹ֣הֵיהֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר הוֹצֵ֧אתִי אֹתָ֛ם
מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם לְשׇׁכְנִ֣י בְתוֹכָ֑ם אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיהֶֽם

And they shall know that I the LORD am their God, who brought them out 
from the land of Egypt that I might abide among them, I the LORD their God.

 The above translations are from JPS (Jewish Publication Society). As I have been reflecting on the weekly Torah portions through the frame of my own journey of embodiment–and making the care of my physical body my highest priority throughout this Shmitah year–I came up with this interpretive translation:

May I realize the holiness that dwells within me and lives in my every cell.
May I honor that my whole being was created in the realm of divinity;
that my physical body is a sacred vessel of holiness.

I love this reminder. And lifting up this interpretation helps deepen last week’s parashat for me and within me. But this week’s offering goes even deeper, expanding on the teaching and specifying that divine holiness will abide among “the Israelites.” While this can be understood as “among the Jewish people,” literally, Israelites means God-Wrestlers–those who struggle to reconcile the holiness that permeates all of creation with the suffering and injustice that devastates the lands.

The next line “And they shall know that I the LORD am their God, who brought them out from the land of Egypt that I might abide among them,” recalls not only the historical Exodus experience of leaving the actual land of Egypt, but “Mitzrayim” is literally a place of narrowness.

So, to honor my journey of embodiment throughout this Shmitah year, here is my take:

Holiness abides within my continuing struggle to celebrate the divinity that permeates all of creation, including my own physical body. Holiness abides in my efforts to transform the suffering and alienation that I have experienced throughout my lifetime within and from my own body. Holiness abides in my lifelong battle for self-acceptance and well-being that has raged within my physical body and can finally be liberated from judgment and derision, freed from the narrowness of enslavement. Mindfulness is my constant companion, shining the light of awareness and reverence in each moment, opening my heart to what is possible.

And I understand that this awareness was born out of a place of heartache and devastation, a place of constriction and contraction; A wrestling deep within my body for an acceptance of my whole self, my beautiful self, all of the beautiful parts of me. And it is because I have come through times of loss and deep grief that I am able to experience feelings of the sacred in every breath. The work of transforming suffering is the path of holiness.

To paraphrase the great political activist Abraham Johannes Muste who said “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”  I say: There is no way to holiness, holiness is the way.

Celebrating and caring for my body as holy is the way.

Honoring the sacred journey of transformation and healing is the way.

Embracing holiness in every cell of my being is the way.

Living a life that honors my true and whole self is the way.

Cultivating awareness and compassion is the way.

And, all along the way, I know that a great, unending love lives within me and all around me–soothing my heartache, easing my journey, celebrating my own beauty, encouraging me onward.

Wishing everyone a deeply nourishing Shabbes … May it be a time of tender connection with the great holiness that dwells within and all around you,
Yael

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