Celebrating the Spiritual Levels of Torah

Torah is a teaching that continues to unfold, guiding us to appreciate the text more fully
as our awareness evolves.

Torah Portion for the week of March 17 -23, 2019:

(Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36)

The archetype of priest lives within each of us

Last week, meeting the sacrificial system allowed us to acknowledge the value of those rituals for our ancestors. Sacrifice was a korban, a word that also means "to draw near," signifying an act that functions to bring a person closer to God and to community. This week's parashah focuses on commands regarding offerings to be made by the priests, by Aaron and his sons.

The reading begins with instructions regarding the fire for the burnt offerings.

And the priest shall put on his linen garment, and his linen breeches shall he put upon his body, and take up the ashes which the fire has consumed with the burnt offering on the altar, and he shall put them beside the altar. And he shall take off his garments, and put on other garments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. (6:3,4)

The priest was to wear his official garments in the Sanctuary service. Before taking the ashes outside, he is to change into ordinary clothes. Many commentators note that one's dress reflects status as well as a sense of respect for specific venues. Some suggest that clothes worn on the Sabbath, for example, should be different from clothes worn during the regular days of the week. Certainly, the change of garments by the priest tending to the evening ashes signals this kind of distinction. Special clothes for the "holy work," and regular clothes for "outside activities."

Most of us have at least two relatively distinct roles we play. We usually wear "work garments" of our employment, our professions, our jobs, and then put on "regular garments" when at home or with friends. Sometimes, we literally change our clothes, but "garments" refers to more than outer clothing.

We know that the archetype of priest lives within each of us. We are the priests, and we are the "regular" folks. Those distinctions of class and function, while often acted out by different people, can be honored within each of us as aspects of our own identity.

The clothes we wear relate to the roles we play, and what is expected of us in the various settings in our lives. Perhaps the priestly archetype and the "ordinary person" archetype tend to be particularly different, even though they are both aspects of our conditional self, our ego, responding to different conditions in our lives.

The command that the priest wear regular vestments when operating outside the Sanctuary speaks to the necessity to honor both aspects of our own identity.

Release the ashes from our hearts

In Jewish mystical tradition, the heart is our inner altar, but it is an altar that is all too often smothered beneath yesterday's ashes. Sometimes the ashes of a lifetime threaten to extinguish the flame within us that seeks fresh expression. Like ashes from the sacrificial fire, that accumulation impacts our capacity to be supportive of our own health and the well-being of others.

While the elaborate and detailed instructions in this parashah concern the ritual of sacrifice and priestly dress, some of those ancient rituals can serve even now. The instructions go on to say that, every morning:

The fire of the altar shall be ignited with [the remaining coals] . . . So that there shall be a constant fire kept burning on the altar, without being extinguished. (6:6 selections)

The coals that retain the fire are not removed, for they will ignite wood for the new day. But the ashes left from the day before must be removed from the altar, to allow the fire to burn more cleanly.

Our attachment to old dramas, like the ashes from spent fires choking an external altar, clogs our capacity to bring renewed love and compassion into our lives. Every morning, we are asked to release the ashes from moments already lived to allow our inner flame to inspire our greater spiritual evolution.

We release our ashes best by remembering that, behind all our roles and history, we carry the Flame of awareness, the Light of consciousness. That radiance can be so easily eclipsed by the stresses we experience, and dimmed behind pretense.

When we release the ashes from our hearts, we can remember old pains without any longer carrying them as burdens. Then, each day, we can open ourselves to renewed illumination from our inner heart flame. Our roles are conditional, but the Light we carry is not.

Writing Prompts

I use the ashes I carry from my past to convince me that . . .
If I honor those ashes by simply naming them, I find . . .
Freed from the weight of the past, I can . . .

Focus Phrases

I choose to release resentments I am carrying.
My heart is open for love.
The Light of my being shines brightly.

Photo: Mark Reden