Parashah (portion) T’tzaveh – The Transformative Power of Mitzvot
Exodus 27:20 – 30:10

This week’s Torah portion is called T’tzaveh, which is usually translated as “Instruct!” or “Command!” The word itself shares the same root as mitzvah which is also, most often, translated as “commandment.” A mitzvah is a pathway, a conduit through which I am able to manifest through my actions the most wholesome qualities of my being sourced directly from the higher reaches of my soul. When performed with kavvanah, with the intention of bringing the Transcendent into the Immanent, a mitzvah transforms the one who fulfills it into a clear channel for the attributes of the One to infuse the Many. From that perspective, a Mitzvah is therefore the ultimate act of service; an act which transforms one into an instrument for greater inclusivity, compassion, generosity and love. Such a practice ineluctably promotes one’s dis-identification with the ego and one’s awakening to the Divine Presence within.

Sefat Emet, a Chassidic rabbi of 19th century Poland, powerfully captured this idea in the most radically progressive translation of the formula recited before performing a mitzvah: “…asher kideshanu bemitzvotav–‘Who has made us holy through His mitzvot’–ve-tzivanu–‘and made us into mitzvot…'” In our performing the mitzvot (plural of mitzvah), we make our self holy–we expand from self to Self–and become just that, a pure egoless yet unique channel in the service of the One: a mitzvah.

Now, as I was parsing a few verses from this week’s portion I saw the following commentary referring to Exod. 29:46: “This is the purpose of Israel’s existence in general…” Such a bold statement inevitably stopped me in my tracks. The verse itself is a central theme in Torah, but here, because it appears in the Torah portion T’tzaveh, it can be read as part of the instructions that God imparts Moses. And if that is so, then the following can also be read as an injunction to a spiritual practice. Here is my personal translation of this verse and of the one which precedes it:

I will dwell within the children of Israel, and they will recognize My Presence manifesting as all that is (Elohim). And they will know that I am both Emptiness (YHVH) and Form (Elohim), a force which empties them of their constricted conditioned mind, in order to fill them with My Presence. I Am Transcendence (YHVH) and Immanence (Elohim). [Exod. 29:45-46]

The verse instructs us to engage in mitzvah practice in order to, first, dis-identify from our ego, empty ourselves from the constriction of our conditioned mind; and, second, in order to realize that the Divine Presence fills us all and manifests as all of Creation. Then, we will be able to serve the Divine through becoming mitzvot, pure channels, bridges between Emptiness and Form; awakening in so doing to the nondual awareness which holds both as one, as not-two. As our commentator said, this might, therefore, be the purpose of Israel’s existence or better said, as we understand Israel to mean “God wrestler- spiritual seeker,” the purpose of all our existences.

© 2011 Rabbi Olivier BenHaim, All rights reserved.