We’re seven weeks in.
(to quarantine. not the Omer!)
Maybe shorter, maybe longer.
Depends where you are.
When was the last time you went out, without a care in the world? Just going to buy a coffee, or waiting for the bus, or meeting a friend. Maybe we washed our hands a little extra, or offered each other hand sanitizer. But few of us knew that that night out on the town might be our last.
I’ve been thinking a lot about ritual lately. About the rituals that we are missing out on, like communal prayer in synagogues or buying coffee at a cafe. The rituals that we’ve had to adapt for ourselves, like making our own coffee, or doing a Passover seder on Zoom, or praying alone. And the rituals that we have to work harder to take on for ourselves, like meditating or self-care practices, working out at home, or calling the loved ones we don’t see regularly.
Our ritual life is changing.
Can we make it for the better?
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with communal prayer. Sometimes it takes me to the highest heights, sometimes I wish I were alone, in my living room watching the sunrise; or out in nature, talking to God in my own words. But what happens when I don’t have even the option of gathering in community? Or when it looks completely different than it ever did before?
Ritual as Theatre (Theater!)
This week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot – Kedoshim is a double Parsha. It begins with the theatrical experience that was the High Priest, the Kohen Gadol, performing the complex and detailed Yom Kippur sacrifices. There’s all kinds of changing clothes, immersing in between, laying of hands, reciting confession, sprinkling blood, slaughtering goats, sending a goat off to the wilderness, changing clothes, lighting incense, and a thousand small steps in between.
It’s high drama, and for those of us who pay attention when this section, and its corresponding rabbinic passages take center stage in our own Yom Kippur prayer services, it seems like a fairly effective way to get thousands of people gathered in one space to experience the holiness, the intensity and the seriousness of the day.
The rest of our Parsha, and part of the following portion – Kedoshim, focuses on a list of prohibitions that feel far more mundane. A list of forbidden relationships, and then, a list of civil laws that seem more focused on common sense than deep ritual.
Love your friend as yourself
This verse, “v’ahavta l’re’echa kamocha”, was said by Rabbi Akiva to be the “greatest law of the Torah”, the one that encapsulates all others. So when we find it in this section, we’ve got to pay attention. We’re being told to be conscious of how we speak to others, without gossiping or making up stories. We’re being told to be conscious of how we behave with others, not taking revenge or bearing a grudge. We’re given guidelines for how we farm our fields, leaving a section for the poor and needy, and gifting to God’s representatives, the priests.
We are given the commandment to celebrate Shabbat; to care for the orphan and widow; and always constantly told to be aware of the strangers, because we were strangers in Egypt. We are reminded to honor our parents; to have honest weights and measures; and to avoid tribal human sacrifice, among other practices. What we eat, what we wear, and how we engage with others is subject to detailed instructions, because the bottom line is:
You shall be holy
Holiness, says Parshat Kedoshim, seems to be the utmost #lifegoal. And yet holiness, according to this section, is less about the high drama of the Yom Kippur sacrificial goats, blood and all, and far more intertwined with our daily lives. How we talk to our neighbors, how we hang out with our families, and how we get up in the morning and go about our day.
Could it be that these rituals, embodied in the physical world as much as the dramatic spiritual experiences, are just as holy, just as sacred, just as real?
This isn’t about quantity or quality.
The point of Mitzvot is not to measure and decide what is worth more or less. Who knows what kind of spiritual repercussions were possible when the Kohen Gadol lit the incense of Yom Kippur, and who knows what the people were inspired to do when they witnesses the confession bearing God’s entire ineffable name.
But we know that today, we do have the opportunity to walk with holiness, to be intentional in all we do, just by following the instructions of Mitzvot:
Embodied practices that guide us in how we live our lives, and connect us to the Divine through the intention that we imbue in them.
We are living in a time of adapting rituals, creating new rituals, and finding ways to add small rituals to our lives to keep ourselves sane. Who knew that showering every day – something we took for granted back Pre-COVID, is now a daily ritual that we have to remember to fit in and feel super accomplished once it’s done? Who knew that buying coffee every day could be replaced by being super intentional about grinding beautiful beans and meditating as we pour over our own home brew? Who knew that solo prayer provides the opportunity for us to find the ways that work for us, outside of the community; whether it’s by adding in our own poetic readings or songs; sitting in silence for extended periods; dancing; chanting; or joining a zoom congregation?
Our rituals are part of who we are, part of what gives structure to our day and meaning to our lives. Our ability to become sacred, to be holy, to be real in what we do and where we go, is what we are gifted with in this week’s energy of Kedoshim Tihiyu – You shall be holy.
I’d love to make this a conversation, so I”m asking you – please feel free to reply to this, and tell me:
– What rituals have you found more meaning in during this time?
– What rituals have you let go?
– What rituals have you adapted or changed, and how?
– What rituals have you added in?
Finally – if you’re looking for a great ritual to give structure to your day and remind you what day it is, may I suggest Sefirat Haomer? There are about 240 of us on this journey together, doing daily #SoulHacks that incorporate a practical tip to open our hearts and souls; and a daily meditation. You can sign up on email, Whatsapp or check them out on FB and Insta daily. The ritual is real!
Thank you for being you. Thank you for reading this. I pray for good news, healing for all, protection for the most vulnerable, strength to those on the front lines, and the ability to retain connection and community even amid the separation.