D’var Torah Marjan Helms May 2020

“I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel.
I am the Lord who sanctifies you.”
Leviticus 22:32

“I will be made holy among the children of Israel.
I am the Lord who makes you holy.”

What do we mean when we speak of holiness? What is holiness? Really?
If you could close your eyes for a moment—or let them drift unfocused into the inner spaces of your mind, with no hurry—and no forced attention… If you could simply rest …quietly…and listen to your own unique truth, what answer would come to your question, “What do I mean when I say, “holy?”
Before you reach too quickly for words or labels, try to sense your answer outside of words. When have you experienced holiness? Where? What did it feel like? What does it feel like now? Whatever you know or remember or imagine as holy, stay with that awareness. Rest in it. Savor it.

“I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel. I am Adonai who sanctifies you.” When we consider this glimpse of holiness, how do we respond? Is there a change in energy, an emotion, an inclination to do something or act in any particular way? The holiness code established in Leviticus calls for recognizing boundaries between what is sacred and what is profane. Both priests and the people at large are called to maintain a
purity that allows the Presence of God to be known.

What do we do to act on our experience of holiness? Or, to put that another way, What rituals do we observe to allow the Presence of God to be known?
We live now in troubled and frightening times, and there is no escape from the tragedy and madness that surround us. But I think escape is not what we want anyway, not really. I find myself drawn instead to an old-fashioned word—Redemption. It is redemption that we long for, not escape—not easy answers, not quick-fixes, not hiding our heads in the sand nor hoping in vain—but Redemption. And how can that happen? How do we reclaim the sanctity of our lives and our world?

Every day for two months I have marked on my calendar the latest numbers of Covid cases and deaths. I write the numbers, reaching out for some sense of connection, but I cannot comprehend their meaning. To reduce human suffering and lives lost to a series of digits is obscene. Like you, I read and listen to news and commentaries until my mind is saturated. I whipsaw from sadness to anger, outrage to despair. It’s far too easy to feel powerless and overwhelmed. So where is holiness in this moment? How do we find it?
How do we recognize it? How can we make ourselves available to receive it?
If we are to sense a boundary between sacred and profane, maybe we have to start by purifying our own minds.

When I first read through this Parshah, the thing that caught my attention was the repeated command to rest—to do no labor. It’s as if the glorious ideal of Shabbat is meant to infuse each festival throughout the year. I wonder if it is not also possible that Shabbat can breathe its grace into the smaller moments of day-to-day life. We need rest. And nourishment. We need moments to remember who we are—to know that we are not the news feed or the bickering, to know that we are separate from the anger and hatred and fear. We need boundaries—even the briefest of moments—to remember the Presence of God and to rest beside still waters. Surely this is the place where Redemption is born.

From the refuge that is Shabbat, I offer a suggestion:
Sometime soon, give yourself a few minutes to rest and lean back into your own heart.

Listen there for holiness—your own holiness, with your own  understanding. And then see if there is anything at all that you would like to do in response. Whatever that might be, no matter how small or simple, consider making it your own private ritual for a day or a week or for as long as you like. Let this gesture be for you as the fire offerings and purifications from so long ago. Let it mark a sacred boundary in time, a moment to
recognize what is holy, a moment to offer yourself to the work of Redemption.

I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel.
I am the Lord who sanctifies you.”

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