This short article is a commentary on Parshas Bemidbar. The commentary was written on Lag B’Omer for the Community of Jewish Contemplatives website and cross-posted here. It takes the form of a brief commentary on two selected texts: one from the Torah reading for the week (Parshah), and one from the Prophets reading for the week (Haftarah). The third source text is a Psalm verse chosen totally at random. Happy Lag B’Omer!!
The Torah text is one of many verses in Parshas Bemidbar describing the vocation of the Levites. A vocation is a calling and a choice, and it is clear from the wording of the text that the choice in question is God’s own.
The establishment of laws relating to the temple and ritual functions of the Levites are not applicable to all Jews, but the principle of their chosenness and separation to God is. The Psalm text reminds us that though we are neither Priests nor Levites- the life of a contemplative Jew is a vocation too.
Those of us who have an inclination and a capacity for what one might call meditative or contemplative prayer are given these character traits as gifts in the same way as people may be given talents as musicians or painters, business managers or salesmen, health service professionals or social workers, and so forth. These are all examples of individually tailor-made vocation and chosenness.
Within Judaism, some of us are Teachers of the Torah, some of us are its Lawyers and Spiritual Healers. Some of us are its Scribes or its Craftsmen. But all of us are its pupils and all of us are called to be its practitioners.
Even though some of us may appear to work far from the focal point of the Tent of Meeting which dwells invisibly at the centre of our Nation’s encampment, we are never far from its influence if our personal orientation is towards our internal mishkan. By maintaining a connection with that place which is the Makom of all places- we are never far from our true centre in God.
For our little group of contemplative Jews – whether we are working in secular employment or on extended retreat- we are a tribe of Miskarvim and Miskarvos who feel “drawn close” in a most specific way. Our special service to the wider community is our compassionate prayer for them and for “all creation”. Our special “standard” marks our own “area” within the camp of Israel. (see Numbers 1:52) As I have often written before: We are not special in any elitist sense, but we are distinctive -as we feel we are called to a certain type of spiritual activity within the Jewish Faith. We are those who know that our fulfillment can only come from a life spent in the Courts of our God.
All Israel is chosen.
In a sense, our Nation is the replacement for the firstborn of the Human Race.
As such, all Jews are responsible for (the equivalent of) the service of the Temple (through our davening and through our observance of the ritual mitzvos) and we are responsible for the exercise of Justice and Mercy both in our practical acts of physical and monetary compassion and in our petitionary prayer.
The exercise of this compassionate tikkun is not the preserve of an elitist group. It is the responsibility of all Jews. Neither is it an option: It is a Divine Mandate and nothing less than a binding mutual betrothal: a shockingly explicit act of spiritual Love in which the Master of the Universe becomes the Spouse of the soul. (Hosea 2:18)
As the Haftarah text reminds us: If we are faithful in our observance of The Contract, He will be our God.
If we are to be drawn near to God in contemplation, we do this within the “four walls “ of the Torah. These are the Courts referred to in our Psalm text. If we bind ourselves to love God Himself with the intention of remaining faithful, then our marriage to Him will be consummated. This refers to the relationship between Israel the Nation and her God... but it also refers to each individual Jewish soul and her “Ishi”. We have been promised this.
“And I will betroth you to me in faithfulness and You shall know HaShem”(Hosea 2:22)
We say these words as we bind the tefillin straps on our hands and we have the marriage contract in our hands (as it were) whenever we kiss the tzitzit. He whispers His promise in our ears every time we conclude the third paragraph of the Shema, and the door to our hearts is opened every time we cross a threshold and bring the message of its mezuzah to mind.
These are some of the moments or acts in each Jewish day which allow the Light of the Covenant to shine through chinks of awareness onto our ordinary lives and they are the life-line of all Jewish Contemplatives.
None of our contemplative prayer is for our own personal development. None of our meditations have a therapeutic or psychological motivation. Everything we do, we do as part of our relationship to our Spouse through the details of the Covenant. The texts and practices of the Torah are not just the text and instructions for the Nation’s relationship to God- They are also the intimate signs and symbols of love and faithfulness which are passed back and forth between the individual and the One who is Ribono shel Olam. The tzitzit,mezuzah,tefillin and Sh’ma (for example) are not only a part of the ketubah (Marriage Contract document) , they are also an active and mutual conversation. These little words of endearment and little touches of affection are the caresses which keep us faithful and which remind us that what we do is part of a plan whose deepest purposes we may never comprehend.
May the memory of the Tzaddik Shimon Bar Yohai (whose Spiritual marriage we celebrate today) be for a blessing.
N R Davies
Sunday May 22 2011