When reading the Book of Leviticus, I admit that I am very challenged — because it has no narrative. It is full of laws, some of which are puzzling, and they cause a certain unease.
My way of being patient with the text, and especially this week when reading the portion of the week Emor, is to continue to see before my eyes the idea, the metaphor, that our body is likened to a Tabernacle, to a place where holiness is supposed to dwell, and we are the high priest in it. Therefore, if there is a fracture in the body, or a lesion, anything that impairs its wholeness (from the word whole, and not perfection), it “disqualifies” it, even temporarily, from serving as a dwelling place for holiness.
Once I attended a Family Constellation workshop, [see Box], and the facilitator asked if there were any participants in the group who were pregnant or alternatively someone who was currently suffering from some physical difficulty (there was one participant whose leg was bandaged).
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Bert Hellinger (1925-2019) developed Family Constellation Work, an effective therapeutic process that helps to break destructive family patterns of unhappiness, illness, failure, and addiction. The results are often immediate and life-changing. Hellinger revolutionized the heart and soul of family therapy by illuminating the unconscious, and often destructive, loyalties within families. He observed that traumatic events, such as the premature death of a parent, sibling or child, an abandonment, crime or suicide, can exert a powerful force affecting later generations. Entangled with unhappiness from the past, family members often continue patterns of anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, fear, chronic illness, and unfulfilled relationships. Identifying what he termed “Orders of Love,” Hellinger observed that certain governing principles must be respected in order for the love in the family to flow in a healthy way. And that when these orders are disturbed, for example, when a child unknowingly carries the burden of a parent, suffering and unhappiness ensue. Hellinger found that each member in our family holds a special place and has an equal right to belong to the family system.
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She explained that these people could participate in the constellation but only as spectators. She explained that this is because their attention cannot be fully given to the figure they are supposed to represent in the constellation. Their physical matter limits them and even their connection to their own intuition.
It reminded me of the role of the High Priest in the Holy of Holies and the motives that are described in the Parshah.
When a few months ago I found myself with a sore back, quite disabled from doing anything and suffering — all my attention was focused on my back, on my pain.
I tried to understand what my body was trying to tell me in the language of pain, but really, my body was not a “place” worthy of “holiness”. I had to cancel a group I was about to lead and just focus on myself and my healing.
Holiness can dwell in a place that is whole, that can contain it in its entirety. And if we return to our image, my body can serve as a dwelling place for holiness when all of my attention can be turned inward and not outward, when nothing can divert my heart, thoughts, feelings, actions, from turning inward and connecting to the divine spark, to the perpetual candle flame within me, to the Creator power within me.
When the mind of the High Priest within me is distracted, because of a defect, even if it is temporary, he will not be able to devote himself to the sacred work in its entirety.
He may do his job in a limited way (especially if he has a broken arm or God forbid is lame or blind).
For exactly the same reason a sacrifice which has a mutilation should not be offered.
And this is also the reason for being careful about what we eat and what we allow to enter our body:
Carrion (which has no life) and prey (those animals that feed on carrion and carcasses) cannot be used as food for the priest because they carry the specter of death.
And death is impurity — an opaque thing, closed to holiness.
Even what comes out of the mouth (not just what comes in) distinguishes between holiness and impurity, between energy that brings life and energy that brings death. Therefore, one must be careful in speaking. One who curses – is condemn to death.
Recently, a mother whose son was having a bar mitzvah approached me about this issue:
וְלֹ֤א תְחַלְּלוּ֙ אֶת־שֵׁ֣ם קׇדְשִׁ֔י וְנִ֨קְדַּשְׁתִּ֔י בְּת֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה מְקַדִּשְׁכֶֽם׃
You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people—I the LORD who sanctify you (Leviticus 22, 32)
This is how I understand the verse:
First keep in mind that the word KADOSH in Biblical Hebrew (root letters ק.ד.ש.) is not to be understood in the sense that we understand it in modern Hebrew (=holy), but in the meaning of something that was chosen and separated from the collective, as something special.
Therefore, when a man marries a woman, he sanctifies her, meaning that he has singled her out of all the women, chosen her to be separated from the rest to become his partner. (Marriage in Hebrew is called Kiddushin).
In this spirit, God asks the people not to sacrifice to him like all the Gentiles, not to behave as all other nations do with “their Gods” and this, by observing prohibitions and commandments that set them apart from other nations.
And so, there is a process of mutual sanctification between God and his people:
He chose them from all the peoples (to sanctify them) and they, in keeping the various commandments and observing the prohibitions, separate themselves from the all the other nations and give place to God (holiness) within them.
And this is how I understand the verse:
..that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people
NIKDASHTI (I may be sanctified) appears in a passive tense in Hebrew (Binyan NIFAL)
So it is as if God gives the people the right to sanctify him, and he is passive in the process, he is the one being sanctified and they are the ones who sanctify him, and on the other hand he is the active one and the one who chooses to sanctify them I the LORD who sanctify you
It is a mutual sanctification system.
When I choose someone, and want to “sanctify” him, and he will not want to make room within him for me, that is, the movement will not be mutual, the connection is doomed to failure. There will be no “kiddushin.”
I bless us all to be worthy to sanctify and to be sanctified, to create a place for love within us, and to always remember that each and every one of us is a small dwelling place of holiness, and we all together make up one great network that can contain lots of holiness and lots of love.