Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Tzav

I went to the barbershop to get a haircut. It was good to see Gus, my barber. As is his routine, he asked me how I wanted my hair cut. I told him that I wanted him to make me pretty. With all candor he replied, “I’m not sure there’s much to work with.” Not being overly self-conscious, I extrapolated from his comments that a haircut was not going to change the palatability of my physical features in any dramatic fashion. He could make the window dressing look better but the rest was what it was and was up to me. Gus’ truth: He has the power to make folks look beautiful, but it doesn’t mean that they are.

From the barbershop, I went to the UN to receive my speaking credentials. While there, I was able to sit in on a conference on Children with Down Syndrome. Two moms spoke about the incredible blessings that their own children with Down Syndrome changed their lives. Yes, their affliction was visually apparent. The pure joy in their soul was not at all dependent on their physical appearance.

I was struck by how these two completely unrelated incidents in one day both screamed at me to pay attention to this week’s Torah portion. The text details the ritual service at the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Rabbis readily equate the Tabernacle in the wilderness with the Temple in later Jerusalem. The rituals of worship at the Mishkan begin the formulation for what happens at the Temple.

In describing the workings of the Tabernacle, Torah describes an internal worship and an external one. One is done in the inner chambers and others outside of the structure; on the altar out front. Worship has two natures.

Humans also live in dual spheres: the inner and outer selves. We spend a lot of energy caring for the external (what we look like) and keep yearning and promising to do more about improving the inner self. Too often, we end up compromising both and end up looking at our entire self-affirming that we really did intend well.

What if we look at our duality through a different lens? What if we deal with the real challenge that governs these self-conversations: ego? What if my inner and outer is not about me?

What if the struggle for wholeness is not about me? Instead, what if it is how I see all of me (the inner) in relationship to the world around me (the outer)? I have seen a ton of self-help books that implore readers to start with the inner-self. Torah, however, tells us to begin with the external.

If I begin each day focusing on me, I will often struggle to look to the needs of everyone else. The primary worship takes place on the altar out front. This altar’s fire has to stay burning 24 hours a day as a beacon of light and warmth. Special needs get taken care of in the inner chambers, not until we find comfort and trust with each other out front.

If we start each day focused on what we can do in the world, we will have to assess our resource pool immediately. If we want to accomplish a significant task, we need to evaluate the mission first. Only then are we able to determine whether or not we have the necessary abilities to accomplish the goal. Only then can we assess what and how we need to grow in order to be successful. If we start with only an assessment of what we already have, we may never grow; we may never dream the dream in the first place.

We grow and heal our own shortcomings when we begin our “self” conversation outside of ourselves. The barbershop patron who walks out thinking the world is blessed or cursed based on his/her hair may exult or meltdown over the physical, without the perspective that it is only hair and it grows back. The scared parent confronted with the difficult news of a child’s abnormality finds the strength to love in ways he/she could never have imagined. God commands us to look past our egos and fears and push ourselves to learn and do more than we might have been otherwise conditioned. It really is all about the ability to love… absolutely. Let’s strive to more of it. Shabbat Shalom.