Friday, August 5, 2022

"You Shall Be..."

 For some reason, I awoke from a dream this morning with the jeweled breastplate of the high priest in ancient Israel on my mind.  Go figure.  Since the image kept nagging in consciousness, I decided to follow it back into the description of the breastplate in Exodus 28.  In the midst of a lot of detailed description of the garments that the high priest of Israel was to wear for ritual purposes is the colorful detail of the chosen mishpat (the “ch” is pronounced with a sort of ‘clearing the throat’ sound), the breast plate of decision or judgement.  It was a ritual garment crafted from gold and blue and purple and crimson yarns, and “fine twisted linen” embellished with 4 rows of precious stones.  In my imagination it appears rich with the deep jewel tones of carnelian and emerald, turquoise and sapphire and amethyst  - 12 stones in all - each representing one of the 12 tribes of Israel.
Upon it were also constructed the Urim and Thummim which were items that constituted a device for determining the will of the Holy One in matters that were beyond human ability to judge.

What impressed me most after all the glorious and colorful description of this ritual part of the high priest’s garments were the instructions for the intention with which it was to be worn by the high priest: “Aaron shall carry the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of decision over his heart when he enters the sanctuary for remembrance before the Lord at all times.”   

I have often thought about how life might be different if we human beings were to wear some kind of beautiful ritual garment over the heart that would keep us always mindful of the sanctity of each human life we encounter in our daily wanderings.
I wonder if such a garment might give us pause before giving silent permission for more prisons to be built?  Would it help us to see people without homes as precious lives huddled in alley ways and under bridges? Might wearing a beautifully woven garment of decision and judgement make us more alert to laws that dehumanize and dis-empower some of the most vulnerable among us?  How might a Supreme Court make decisions guided by a just mercy well tempered with compassion rather than power politics if the justices were required to wear an elaborate jeweled garment representing all the people over their collective heart - - reminding them?

Another ancient command comes to mind: “you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).  Even taken out of context, it is a reminder to humankind of a high calling; a reminder that we have the capacity to be whole -  - wholly whole - - not just as individuals, but as a collective expression of the very highest levels of creativity and generosity and hospitality and compassion.  We have written within us the capacity to be priests to one another in the highest and best sense of the word.  We have within us the ability to recognize one another’s wholeness - - one another’s holiness. Not only that, but we are also capable of being on the receiving end of the priesthood of another when we are in need of wisdom, comfort, guidance, strength, or compassion.

The high priest’s breastplate was to be worn by Aaron “over his heart when he enters the sanctuary for remembrance before the Lord at all times.”  The BaalShemTov (Master Of The Good Name) wrote: Remembering is the source of redemption, while forgetting leads to exile.)

Living as we do, in an unrelentingly stressful world, it is easy to live in a state of forgetfulness - or absence of mindfulness.  In remembering who we are, who we are in relationship with  one another, there is our redemption - our “return” as it were, to wholeness and holiness - - our return from exile.  

The ritual garment, the jeweled breastplate with the Urim and Thummin reminded Aaron of his high calling.  When putting on the ritual garment he was to carry the names of the tribes of Israel on his shoulders “like a father carrying a child on his shoulders to keep the child safe.” (B’er Mayim Hayyim).  Aaron was  told to carry the names of the tribes over his heart so that when making judgements, he would consult not only the rules, but his heart as well.   It is a heavy priesthood.  We need to take up the garments together.

As we enter this day:
May we be peaceful.
May we be happy.
May we embody love and understanding.
May lovingkindness manifest through our lives.
May we receive the priesthood of all whom we meet.
May we offer our priesthood to others.
May we dwell in peace.

Vicky Hanjian

No comments: