Who Dwells in your Middle?

Photograph of Reb Mimi Feigelson
Photograph of Reb Mimi Feigelson
Reb Mimi Feigelson

Reb Mimi Feigelson, is the Mashpiah Ruchanit (Spiritual Mentor) and Lecturer of Rabbinic Literature at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University. (WWW.ZIEGLERTORAH.ORG)
She is an Orthodox - Israeli Rabbi and an international Chassidut teacher and story teller. She was the Associate Director of Yakar, Jerusalem and Director of its Women's Beit Ha'midrash.
In 2010 Reb Mimi was recognized by The Forward as one of the fifty most influential female Rabbis in the USA, and in 2011 was accepted to the Board of Rabbi's of Southern California as an independent Orthodox rabbi. Currently Reb Mimi has embarked on pursuing a Doctorate at HUC-JIR, titled: "On the Cusp of Life: From Scared to Sacred". It is an exploration of redefining funerals and cemeteries.

posted on February 20, 2016
Torah Reading
Haftarah Reading

"In my middle" is Fynn’s answer to himself, when he asks "Where is Anna?" (p.180) after she crosses-over (my preferred term for ‘death’). Fynn learned this from Anna, for whom he was a guardian, when she asked, where is the place where she and "Mr. God" meet? "Mr. God goes through my middle and I go through Mr. God’s middle" (p.50), the seven year old theologian explained [Mr. God, this is Anna / Fynn]. It is ‘in the middle’ that our parashah also seemingly begins. Sometimes, as I have found many times in life, the beginning is in somewhere "in the middle."

Our parashah does not open with the beginning of a chapter. It does not start with a more common format of a verse that exposes us to a mitzvah, namely "And God spoke to Moshe, speak to the children of Israel…." It begins with "And you shall command the children of Israel, that they take / bring to you pure olive oil for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually / eternally (tamid)." I wonder how many writing teachers would send this parashah back to its original writer, asking them to standardize the opening in compliance with many of the other Torah portions. This form of starting in the middle, beginning with ‘And,’ also repeats itself in the opening verse of the next chapter, chapter 28, "And…"

What about light, what about divine light has no beginning or end? While I hear the temptation to draw on notions of waves and particles to respond to this question, I ask us, instead, to sit with the question, rather than run to an answer. Perhaps there are questions that are meant to eternally be questions, and not an invitation for an answer. I do believe that it is our answers that separate us, while our questions are what we share. I ask us to share the question and to sit with the question: What about divine light is eternal and continual? What is embodied in divine light that remains eternal and continuous in our heart and mind and soul?

And what does it mean that this eternal light is positioned on the inside "In the tent of meeting" and yet "without the veil which is before the testimony?" Revealed and concealed simultaneously. What part of our relationship with God is revealed and concealed?

There are another two elements of the eternal light, the Ner Tamid, that holds my attention – what the wicks are made of and who can light the candles of the menorah. The Talmud teaches (Bavli, Shabbat 21a) that the wicks were made from the worn out clothing of the priests. What does it mean that the physical body of this light – the wick - is taken from cloth that concealed the body of the cohen? Imagine we could identify what garment the wick was taken from – what body part did it cover, and what is the symbolic meaning of that body part with which we can interpret our own actions? How do we embrace that potential of holy action in our own lives? How do we garment our naked potential to enable the manifestation of light?

The second element, as noted is the question of who can light the menorah in the temple, who can enhance the divine light? The Rambam Maimonides teaches (the laws of coming to the temple ‘hilkhot bi’at ha’midkash,’ 9:8), that once the cohen prepared the candles any male present could light the candles themselves. On the one hand miraculously the middle candle, that which was aligned with symbolizing the presence of the Shekhinah, was always burning, even in the long nights of the month of Tevet; and on the other hand, it was the source of the renewed light each and every day. A light which was both eternal and renewed, located in a place that is revealed and concealed, and though must be prepared by the cohen (and using no longer fit garments) can be light by an Israelite.

I ask myself what can I learn from two verses that start in the middle, "And…" though situated as the last two verses of chapter 27 itself. What can I understand from a commandment to maintain a pure eternal light that is the fruit of human action wed with divine miraculous and continuous light? What does it mean that the gift of sharing the light, by virtue of igniting the other candles of the menorah is not limited to the cohen, those designated from birth to serve, but rather also available to those who chose to come to a place of service?

I cannot not ask myself why do the first eleven verses of this parshah begin with "And…" and what would it mean to realign our external and internal light with "And" instead of living in the realm of ‘either / or’? How would it change our life if we used "And" instead of ‘but…’ for example?

The word in my middle that allows God to dwell in my middle is the word "And" in English. In the Torah it appears as one letter, Vav. In the Talmud (Bavli, Er’khin 2a) we are challenged again and again by a two word permutation: "l’atu’yei mai?" – to bring in / to include who? I smile when I write these two words, as I know I cried over them when learning for my smikhah (my rabbinic ordination) and I smile since I cannot write them without also hearing my smikhah ?avruta, Rabbi Yonatan Gordis, repeat these two words over and over again. I read them And I write them, And I cry over them, And I hear my ?avruta, And I smile, And I know I’m ‘Home’.

"V’atah t’zaveh," I read as saying, "And you command" AND as saying "‘And you are commanded,’ you are commanded to find a way to live a life that embraces the notion of And…" My middle, as the Ner Tamid, the eternal light, dwelling in the middle, is compiled from my middle, and God’s middle, and the middle of those who are willing and able to open the clench of their hands to take in something ‘more’ into their lives. I share my middle with those that say to God: "I want and yearn and desire to receive from You alef and bet and gimmel and daled and…" And "I offer You, God, my heh, and vav, and zayin, and chet and tet," And "I want to share with Your world my kaf, and lamed, and mem and nun" And "I thank You for Your samekh and ayin, and peh and tzaddi" And on And on And on…

I pray to share my middle with you, and I pray that when we sit to our Shabbat table, all those sitting with us are some of those with whom we share our middle.

The middle of the Torah is the word DaRaSH (seek) [Bavli, Kiddushin 31a]. I pray that we continue to seek those to share our middle with.

Shabbat shalom.