Friday, March 22, 2013

Tzav - pleasing fragrance

Parsha Tzav
Leviticus 6:8. "And he shall lift out of it in his fist, from the fine flour of the meal offering and from its oil and all the frankincense that is on the meal offering, and he shall cause its reminder to [go up in] smoke on the altar as a pleasing fragrance to the Lord.”
Leviticus 8:21 "But the innards and the legs, he washed in water, and Moses made the entire ram [go up in] smoke on the altar. It was a burnt offering [with] a pleasing fragrance, a fire offering to the Lord, as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

The sacrifices (the korban – with a Hebrew root implying drawing near) involved all the senses. We can imagine the sound of the live animal, the feel of the blood spattering, the heat of the fire, the site of the animals carcass, In the text, all of these sensations seem to be leading toward the “sweet savour” or “pleasing fragrance” for God. What is it about smell and scent that would call it to be singled out as the main sense making the sacrifice complete?

Smell – it evokes strong emotion. Some smells are so disgusting they can make us retch. Others are so lovely they can make us swoon or feel as though we are in love.  Smells evoke specific memory. And without smell, we cannot taste properly.

Smell is carried through the air, around barriers,  through cracks. A smell is often the first warning of danger – such as smelling the smoke of a fire.

Smell is at once the most individual of senses – infants can distinguish the scent of their mother’s breastmilk from other women’s milk – and the most democratic – you cannot confine a perfume that you might wear to be smelled by just one person in a room. It permeates the whole space.

If our deeds and prayers are the modern sacrifice, how then do we make them a “pleasing fragrance” that elevates them from the mundane to the holy?

They must be very individual– something that we are uniquely suited to do, something that expresses the very essence of ourselves. And we must release them freely into the world. We can’t just target our tzedakah or our prayers to people we know and love. We have to trust that our efforts will reach people in need.  Finally, to be like  a sweet savour, we have to acknowledge that just as taste is not complete  without smell, prayer is not fully realized without kavannah.

May we be blessed to act and pray in ways that uniquely express our true nature so that those actions and prayers are received like the coming fragrances of spring.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Parshat Vayakhel

Exodus 35:2: Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the Lord; whoever performs work thereon [on this day] shall be put to death.

This is a lived reality for me. If I don't honor the cycle of work and rest - daily, weekly, yearly - then parts of me begin to shrivel and die. Without a break from striving and working, my capacity to wonder, to appreciate, to honor life, begins to wither.

May we remember to honor periods of rest and reflection, and may this rest connect us to the wondrous, pulsing rhythms of life.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Parshat Ki Tissa

Ex. 32:1-4.  And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mount, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him: Make us a god who shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him.”  And Aaron said to them: “Break off the golden rings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them to me.”  And all the people broke off the golden rings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron And he received it at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it a molten calf; and they said: “This is your god, O Israel, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.”

After Moses fails to return down from Mt. Sinai for what seems like an interminable time, Aaron tries to placate the desires, fears and doubts of the people by making a golden calf.  In contrast to the wise-hearted people who were called to build and furnish the miskan and create garments for the priest following  precise and detailed instructions, the description of the making of the golden calf is remarkably brief.  It almost made itself, just like our ego-driven desires, fears, and doubts often seem to have a life of their own beyond our awareness and control.

May we be blessed to make the space and take the time to allow insight to arise so that we can be wise-hearted builders, rather than mindless slaves to our immediate cravings.