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Exodus 27:20 – 30:10

The title of this Torah portion, T’tzaveh, is usually translated as “Instruct!” or “Command!” The word t’tzaveh has the same root as mitzvah, which also is usually translated as “commandment.” But a mitzvah is more than a commandment. It is a pathway, a conduit through which we manifest by our actions the most wholesome qualities of our being, sourced directly from the higher reaches of our 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 that transforms one into an instrument for greater inclusivity, compassion, generosity, and love. Such a practice ineluctably promotes our dis-identification with the ego and our awakening to the Divine Presence within.

The Chassidic Alter Rebbe of Ger 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 selves 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 Exodus 29:46: “This is the purpose of Israel’s existence in general…” Such a bold statement 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 to 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 the one that 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 that 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 the practice of mitzvot so that we may dis-identify from our ego, and, having emptied ourselves from the constriction of our conditioned mind, come to realize that the Divine Presence fills all of us 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, and in the process awaken to the nondual awareness that holds both as one, as not-two. As our commentator said, this may well be the purpose of Israel’s existence. Better said, as we understand Israel to mean “God-wrestling spiritual seeker,” it seems to be the purpose of all our existences.