The Body of Torah
One of many things I love about Torah is how earthy, real and embodied she is and aspires to be. The spirituality of Jewish tradition doesn’t merely tolerate the body: Torah began with the body. (Remember Adam and Eve?)
The covenant was made to connect people, flesh and blood. Spiritual principal and practice was made to speak not only on a mountain top but also around kitchen tables, on agricultural fields, in how we feed the vulnerable, in how we love each other. Torah – and by extension Jewish life – is about our embodied lives as we live them here and now.
I write these words with trepidation. Especially in a time of pandemic, it’s tempting to split our Judaism in two parts – one for making the best of what may be, however difficult, and another for a loftier spirituality of etheric realms, angels and hereafters. It’s tempting to put our spiritual focus on an elsewhere and later that we hope might be better. And it’s edgy to write about a spirituality of the body when many bodies around us (and everyone’s body eventually) won’t cooperate.
Maybe that’s part of the point: to teach us to treasure each day, to seek and wring from every day what blessings we can. Easy words to say, but often very hard to live.
When the corona lockdown began, I wrote about the spirituality of melting down. Amidst the many joys and tremendous pride of Jewish life, it’s also true that the spiritual journey is an alchemy of inner transformation that sometimes can feel like melting – a change of both shape and identity. We are resilient, but we are not the same.
Seven weeks later, Sinai is coming into view: Shavuot will come next week. And suddenly the words of Torah, the very embodiment of Torah, strike me as never before.
The ancient teaching that our enslaved ancestors couldn’t be ready to receive Torah any sooner – not in Egypt, or at the far edge of the Sea, or just a week after freedom – suddenly resonates in a new way. They had to walk the desert for seven weeks to work out of their bodies, out of their souls, out of their very essence, the old reality that would be replaced. They needed to walk off their bondage until even their bodies believed it.
Put another way, only a people who’d walked through the desert for seven weeks could be ready to receive Torah – to commit to live differently, and to keep that commitment with their bodies, their souls and their very essence. Only then could Torah become embodied through us.
We’ve been locked down for awhile, and our liberation from lockdown is slowly coming into view. When we’re free, will we be ready to commit to live differently? to keep that commitment with our bodies, our souls and our very essence? Has social distancing truly taught us what’s important, and galvanized us to live that way?
We’ll find out soon enough. See you at Sinai!
Past corona-themed spiritual messages from Rabbi David:
Week 2: The spirituality of melting down
Week 3: The liberation journey when so little feels like freedom
Week 4: How can we celebrate? How can’t we?
Week 5: Countdown to what’s next
Week 6: On spiritual resilience
Week 7: On Israel: Identity, Pride and “Exile”
Week 8: Enduring Spirit
Week 9: Beyond Ready