What is the connection between relationship with the Divine and Jewish Meditation?
Torah Teachings on the Jewish Path of Presence by Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks
Parshat Tetzaveh Summary – P’shat
Parshah Tetzaveh opens with the commandment (Tetzaveh) that the Children of Israel should bring pure olive oil to kindle the Ner Tamid – the “everlasting flame” of the Menorah, which Aaron is to kindle each day, “from evening till morning.”
The priestly garments, to be worn by the kohanim while serving in the Sanctuary, are then described: 1) the ketonet – linen tunic; 2) mikhnasayim – linen breeches; 3) the mitznefet or migba’at – linen turban; and 4) the avnet – a long sash wound above the waist. In addition, the Kohen Gadol (high priest) wore: 5) the efod—an apron-like garment made of blue, purple, and red-dyed wool, linen, and gold thread; 6) the hoshen—a breastplate containing twelve precious stones inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel; 7) the me’il—a cloak of blue wool, with gold bells and decorative pomegranates on its hem; and 8) the tzitz—a golden plate worn on the forehead, bearing the inscription “Holy to Hashem.”
Parshat Tetzaveh also describes instructions for the seven-day initiation of Aaron and his four sons—Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Itamar—into the priesthood, and for the making of the golden altar, on which the ketoret (incense) was burned…
Torah of Awakening
וְאַתָּ֞ה תְּצַוֶּ֣ה אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֨וּ אֵלֶ֜יךָ שֶׁ֣מֶן זַ֥יִת זָ֛ךְ כָּתִ֖ית לַמָּא֑וֹר לְהַעֲלֹ֥ת נֵ֖ר תָּמִֽיד׃
Tetzaveh – You shall command the Children of Israel to bring you oil of olives, crushed for lighting, for kindling lamps continuously…
- Shemot (Exodus) 27:20, Parshat Tetzaveh
When Reb Yaakov Yitzhak, the Seer of Lublin, was a young disciple of Reb Shmelke, his rebbe imposed a certain responsibility on him. Reb Shmelke told young Yaakov Yitzhak that he should help him never lose his deveikus – his inner connection to the Divine Presence in all things. He should watch his master especially during the activity of Talmudic debate, when the act of intellectual arguing could distract him from this awareness. If he noticed his master losing it, he should gently touch his gloves to remind him. Reb Yaakov Yitzhak reported that he never had to touch his master’s gloves even once.
Why would the master give his disciple such a task, if in fact he never needed his disciple’s help? Of course, it was to help his disciple remain mindful himself! By watching the deveikus of his rebbe, he was also able to remain awake. To be constantly present and live from the wellspring of wisdom that arises spontaneously from our own depths of awareness, we have to be tremendously selfish. It takes a heroic effort to continuously arouse Presence, moment by moment. But if we know that we are not doing it only for ourselves, and that being present helps us to better serve others, it becomes a duty. Just as a parent generally does not forget to go to work to make money to buy food for the children, so it is far easier to remember to be present when you know that it is your duty to others as well.
וְעָשִׂ֥יתָ צִּ֖יץ זָהָ֣ב טָה֑וֹר וּפִתַּחְתָּ֤ עָלָיו֙ פִּתּוּחֵ֣י חֹתָ֔ם קֹ֖דֶשׁ לַֽיי׃ – You shall make a frontlet of pure gold and engrave on it the seal inscription: “Holy to Hashem.” -28:36 The High Priest
The High Priest must wear a special head piece – a gold platelet which bore the Divine Name. וְהָיָ֤ה עַל־מִצְחוֹ֙ תָּמִ֔יד …and it shall be on his forehead always. -28:36 The Talmud (Tractate Yoma) comments on this verse: “…that he should never divert his attention from it.” In other words, he must remain constantly mindful of the Divine.
It is very clever that the symbol of the Divine, the engraved name, is on his forehead – so close to his eyes, yet impossible to see! That is exactly what Presence is like. You can’t see it because it is the seeing itself. The awareness looking through your eyes in this moment is the waking up of Existence through your body/mind. That awareness tends to fall into the dream of thinking, “I am this body-mind; I am so-and-so.” But in becoming aware of awareness, you can drop this sense of the limited “I.” The awareness is not “yours” really – it is God’s awareness, seeing through your eyes…
שֶׁ֣מֶן... לַמָּא֑וֹר לְהַעֲלֹ֥ת נֵ֖ר תָּמִֽיד׃ עַל־הָעֵדֻ֗ת oil ... for kindling lamps continuously… upon the (tablets of) witness… The “oil,” the “lamps,” and the “witness” are all different aspects of consciousness: “Oil” is the simple fact of consciousness, that which we already are at the most fundamental level. “Kindling the lamp” means being aware on purpose – that is, becoming present. “Witness” is the basic activity of awareness as Presence: Receiving the fullness of What Is in the moment, without distortion or resistance. Through the “kindling of the lamps,” that is, the practice of Presence, these three aspects become one: consciousness becomes aware of itself as the witness.
The word for “witness” is עֵד ed. Ordinarily, we unconsciously assume ourselves to be a bundle of thoughts and feelings, inside our bodies looking out; we think of ourselves as the entity. But on the deepest level, we are simply the ed – we are the consciousness within which the experience of both the person and the world around us arises. This is the secret of the 1960s sitcom Mr. Ed theme song, which ends with the talking horse singing, “I am Mr. Ed!” It is true – the deepest “I” – our innermost identity – is the ed – the witnessing consciousness within which all perception, all experience, unfolds. To know this for ourselves, we need only become aware on purpose. How do we do that?
When you look at a painting, you are actually looking at a visual design of paint overlaid on a canvas. But when you look at the painting, how often are you aware of the canvas? You are looking right at it, but the mind doesn’t tend to focus on it. You see only the design. What happens when you remind yourself that you are also looking at the canvas? As your mind holds the awareness of the canvas in addition to the design, you may notice that it becomes still.
Now, try being aware of your awareness. We tend to look for God on the level of the painting; we want to find a better, more Godly picture. But all along, That which we seek is already inherent in the canvas. Meaning: become aware of your awareness, and the Divine Presence inherent in all things reveals Itself. Furthermore, Presence changes the “painting” as well – with practice, the shape of your thoughts and feelings will come to reflect your inner depth, changing your experience of life from the deepest level, rather than merely rearranging things on the surface. But how do we practice this constantly? How can Presence be more than fleeting?
Tetzaveh – command it! Just to have the intention is already to do it. We are already perceiving what we are perceiving. We don’t have to perceive something else; we need only perceive on purpose. This is the Path of ע Ayin, the practice of simply “seeing,” of being the Witness…
Read more teachings on Tetzaveh HERE.