Exodus 27:20 – 30:10
(You Shall Command)
Tetzaveh describes the inside of the Mishkan, the implements. and clothing of the Priests. Then, finally, it describes the ceremony of Priestly consecration.
WHEN I WAS A CHILD ATTENDING SYNAGOGUE I was fascinated by the ner tamid, the “Eternal Light,” that hung above the ark. No matter if I was bored or sad or confused, the ner tamid filled me with hopefulness and curiosity. Everything changes; everyone dies; yet here was a light that would shine on regardless of circumstances. No matter what storms of doubt I suffered, this small light was constant. Through winds of change, through the tumultuous rains of my shifting experience, the ner tamid did not falter or flicker. I took refuge in this light and found it within me. Tetzaveh begins by blessing us with the light of eternity. We learn that this light, which is consciousness itself, requires our daily attention.
As Tetzaveh goes on to describe the vestments of the priests — the ephod, breastplate, robes, and crown — we see that all the same colors and materials that went into building the Mishkan now adorn our bodies. Each of us is clothed in the garments of the Holy Indwelling, reminding us again that God has made Her home within us. We are blessed with wisdom of the heart, and from that wisdom flows forms of expression and creativity that radiate beauty and honor.
TETZAVEH DESCRIBES THE CEREMONY OF CONSECRATION, as we become priest and priestess in service to Shekhina, the Indwelling Presence of the Divine in our lives. In honor of our devotion to this sacred work we wear fine linens of luminous gold, shining blue, royal purple and passionate scarlet, and precious jewels engraved with the sacred names of our beloveds. Blue pomegranates and golden bells adorn the hem of our robes, and every detail is meant to remind us that this beauty has a purpose.
Across our foreheads each of us carries an inscription that hangs down from the crown of our priesthood. It says, “Kadosh Le-YudHayVovHay” (Holy for God) who is, was and will be the Ground of Being. When we get distracted or confused, it is possible to look at the forehead of a friend and see their lives inscribed for Holiness and remember what we too are working for, and why we are alive.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
TEZTAVEH OFFERS US the spiritual challenge of consecration to the priesthood. We are called to be a “nation of priests,” and a “light unto the nations,” and are given the opportunity to take that priesthood upon ourselves consciously and dedicate our lives to serving the One, the Whole, the Holy.
Within that challenge, the first requirement is a daily practice of tending the ner tamid, the light of consciousness. This is the steady practice of awareness that underlies all other practice. Slowly, I begin to identify not with the self that is continually changing, but with the one who is paying attention to all these changes. When the flame of awareness is burning steadily within me, it illuminates the act of perception, rather than just the object being perceived. At this point, I can begin to discern the lenses through which my perception becomes distorted; I can realize when a passing mind-state has colored my reality.
THE CHALLENGE LIES IN GLIMPSING the pure light of consciousness and seeing that light refracted into the ten thousand colors of our subjective experience. That experience of reality and its drama of mortality is so interesting, so compelling, so seductive that it blinds us to the light of the eternal shining through it all. It is only through the dailiness of practice – the repeated touch of the eternal, the persistent effort of the heart, the frequent affirmations of a wider expanse — that we can begin to free ourselves from the trance of our particular drama and enter into the holiness of conscious presence that crowns this world.
AS PRIESTS AND ARTISTS OF THE HOLY, we are commanded to honor that holiness by awakening the wisdom of the heart. The wisdom of the heart manifests in our love of beauty, because the function of the beautiful is so central to the life of holiness. Beauty has the power to send us to the Source. That same beauty can also trap us at the surface if we are not conscious of its power and purpose. We can consciously use the elements of this world (such as color, texture, fragrance, sound, light, or movement) to open the doors to all the worlds.
The danger lies in falling in love with the forms themselves, worshiping the words, the ritual, the idea, the artistry, rather than what all those forms are pointing us towards. Our spiritual challenge is to adorn and surround ourselves with a beauty that will inspire us to see the whole world as a mirror for God’s Holiness.
GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE
The practice of preparing for Shabbat can be an opportunity to awaken the wisdom of the heart and become priests or priestesses in service to the Shekhina, the Indwelling Presence that makes itself known through the radiance of Shabbat.
Chant in Preparation for Shabbat
AS YOU GET READY FOR SHABBAT, use the sacred phrase that lifts up your intention for holiness. As you clean the house, repeat the words:
For the honor of the Sabbath
AS YOU’RE COOKING a delicious meal… “Lich’vod Shabbat.”
EVEN WHILE WASHING the pots and pans… “Lich’vod Shabbat.”
WHILE SETTING the table… “Lich’vod Shabbat.” Then as you shower or bathe, washing off the worries of the week, you can chant, “Lich’vod Shabbat.”
REMEMBER THE ELABORATE VESTMENTS of the priests and their intention for holiness. As you pick out your clothes and dress, let it be a ceremony of intention… “Lich’vod Shabbat.” (“I adorn myself for the honor and radiance of this day.”)
CHOOSE A FRAGRANCE that you only wear on Shabbat and anoint yourself with it saying… “Lich’vod Shabbat.”
FINALLY WHEN YOU ARE READY and come to the table, treat it as a holy altar, remembering that with the Shabbat candles you are consecrating this day with your delight.
Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.