When I was growing up, my mother and sister loved to watch Mr. Ed, the TV show about the talking horse.
I have a memory of coming home from school and finding them on the couch in a darkened living room with the theme song playing: “A horse is a horse of course of course…” with my mother singing along.
At the end she sang, “You never heard of a talking horse? Well listen to this!” Then she pointed at my sister who belted out, “I AM MR. ED!”
It’s a funny memory but with profound implications!
You see, the word for “witness” in Hebrew is “Ed.”
Ordinarily, we go around thinking “I” am the character in the story; “I” am the one who does this and that, who comes home from school, who sings the funny song.
But the song tells us- the “I” is actually the “ed”- the witness, the conscious presence that’s aware of everything- the song, the singing, the living room, and the character who’s singing. But to be aware of the awareness takes a special effort. It’s not difficult, but it’s subtle. It’s a kind of effortless effort.
When you look at a painting, you’re actually looking at a visual design of paint overlaid on a canvas. But how often are you aware of the canvas? You’re looking right at it, but the mind doesn’t tend to register it. You see only the paint.
What happens when you remind yourself that you’re also looking at the canvas?
As your mind holds the awareness of the canvas in addition to the paint, you may notice that your mind becomes still. That’s because when your mind holds the awareness of the unseen, there’s less freedom for it to wander. The same is true when your awareness becomes aware of itself. Your awareness is like the canvas- the constant yet invisible component of all experience.
We tend to look for fulfillment on the level of the painting, looking for a perfect picture, or seeking to change the picture to make it better. But all along, what we seek is already inherent in the canvas.
Become aware of your awareness, and the shape of your thoughts and feelings will come to reflect your inner depth, changing the “painting” of your character from the deepest level, rather than merely rearranging things on the surface.
This week’s reading describes various clothing worn by the Kohanim- the priests- the spiritual leadership in the community. The High Priest has to wear a special head piece- a gold platelet which bore the Divine Name. It says:
“V’hayah al mitzkho tamid-
“And it shall be on his forehead always.”
The Talmud (Tractate Yoma) comments- “…that he should never divert his attention from it.” In other words, he must remain constantly mindful of the Divine.
It’s 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's exactly what deveikus, or awareness’ awareness of awareness, 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, I am this story, I am so-and-so”.
But in becoming aware of awareness, the mind becomes still and the sense of “I” as the story drops away. There's the sense of awareness, but there’s no “me” in the awareness; it’s simply Reality witnessing Itself.
Than you can truly know, “I AM MR. ED!”
As it says in the beginning of the parshah:
“Tetzaveh et b’nai Yisrael v’yik’hu elekha shemen…
“Command the children of Israel to bring you oil… to kindle a lamp constantly… outside the Edut- the Tablets of Witness”.
The “lamp” is your awareness.
The “oil” is the fuel- your consciousness.
The “Edut”or “Tablets of Witness” are your inner witnessing. These are three aspects of the same thing: consciousness becoming aware of itself as the witness:
Awareness’s Awareness of Awareness.
But being aware in this way requires a constant effort. How can you possibly maintain this effort? How can your awareness’s awareness of awareness be more than fleeting?
There’s a story of Reb Yaakov Yitzhak, the Seer of Lublin.
When the Seer was a young disciple, he was asked by his master Reb Shmelke to help him never lose is deveikus- his constant awareness of the Divine in everything.
The rebbe asked him to be especially watchful during the activity of Talmudic debate, when his intellectual arguing could distract him from the Divine. If he noticed his master losing his awareness, he was told to gently touch his gloves to remind him. The Seer reported that he never had to touch his master’s gloves even once.
Why would that 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 in deveikus along with him.
To remain present constantly and live from your own inherent freedom, from the wellspring of wisdom and peace that springs from your own awareness, you have to be tremendously selfish. It takes a heroic effort to constantly arouse deveikus, moment by moment.
But if you know that you’re not just doing it for yourself, that you in fact must do it in order to serve others, it becomes not just about you. 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's far easier to remember to be present when you know that it’s your duty and service, not just for your own pleasure. It’s a mitzvah- something that's “commanded”-
“Command the children of Israel… to kindle a lamp constantly"
On this Shabbat Tetzaveh, the Sabbath of Commanding, may we be aware of the command that our awareness be aware of awareness! May your awareness burn brightly within you, illuminating your mind and your heart to love deeply and feel fully.