Friday, March 25, 2011

Parshat Shemini - Change

Parshat Shemini: Lev. 11:32-33 "And if any of these dead [creatures] falls upon anything, it will become unclean, whether it is any wooden vessel, garment, hide or sack, any vessel with which work is done; it shall be immersed in water, but will remain unclean until evening, and it will become clean.  But any earthenware vessel, into whose interior any of them falls, whatever is inside it shall become unclean, and you shall break [the vessel] itself.”

In line 32, the dead, unclean creature has fallen upon the outer surface of the object. But in line 33, the contamination is in the interior of the vessel. When the outside is contaminated, a gentle act (just immersion – not even scrubbing and soap) and patience (just wait until evening) are sufficient to create a change from unclean to clean. But when the inside becomes contaminated, then the radical act of breaking the container itself is needed. So too it is with us. When our garments or our skin (perhaps to be understood as our outer face or our social roles)  becomes uncomfortably touched, we need simply to immerse ourselves in something calm – perhaps chanting a psalm or saying a self-affirmation or a blessing –and then be patient that the discomfort will pass. However, when our innermost self is touched by something not alive and not kosher, we must take action to shatter the very conception of self. The deadness – the not change – that has contaminated the self, must be cleansed by a radical change, a breaking of our separate and limited self.

May we understand that change, both small and large, is continual. And may we discern those times when our best action is to be patient and wait for change to take place on its own, and when the most skillful response is to initiate change with an intentional breaking of our own patterns.

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