Learning Light: TorahCycle Tzav

TzavThis week’s reading has two important themes: the initiation of priests and the ner tamid, an eternal light. A flame that should never go out, mirroring the holy in each of us. A clear and glowing reminder of the cellular dynamic: you connected to the spark and pulse of a living universe.

While we’re doing the daily dance of mortgage and dieting, the priests are tending the sacrificial fires. Keeping that holy flame burning to remind us of why we’re really here. Their process of initiation is different from regular folks. But we’re all on the same journey, just a different path.

I’m not a good Buddhist. I buy into the story of self, reinforced in each living moment. Also that we’re part of a bigger story, eternal mind, a great big love dance of souls. But I believe we’re here working out our personal karma. With luck we evolve, make progress, however large or small, and help others along the way make progress too. That we go through life doing our karmic homework piece by piece as various forms of initiation. Leaping and dancing in some nows, howling in pain in others.

And through it all the everlasting light. In synagogues it hangs above the ark. In our hearts it’s the holy spark we each sense through our joys and tears, the deepest and most elemental piece of ourselves. The part that always knows home, and the part that’s always yearning for the next initiation.

Sometimes we’re sugar junkies, hoping for the epiphany road. Other times we’re farmers, steadfastly plowing the fields of our consciousness. Other times priests, accepting and making offerings and sacrifices. We learn through joy and sorrow, delight and tragedy, depending on the moment of our lives.

But we’re all here learning pretty much the same lessons: to be good, and to become better; to care about others; to be open; to love; to heal what and where and how we can; to share what we’re learning.

It’s great when there’s laughter or cake along the way, when we have the abundance of goodwill that comes from loving family and deep friendship. But there’s lots of days when life’s just going out to the fields to tend the vines, checking if the grapes are ripe yet, straining for a whisper of the divine presence. And times when life hurts. Because instead of joy there’s sorrow, and instead of cake there’s not.

That’s when we’re taught the next layer of initiation. When we data mine our aching hearts for the lessons we’re supposed to be learning. When we open to hear the new syllabus we’re being handed, and swear again not to fall behind in our homework. If we remember to study by the light of ner tamid, we’ll be guided by that holy radiance, and be comforted and taught by our holy spark.

Exercise: Think about which events and times of your life have been your greatest teachers. Do you learn more or better through joy or sorrow? What lessons are on your plate now and how’re you doing with your homework?