One of my favorite blogs to read and meditate on is Velveteen Rabbi by Rachel Barenblatt. Rachel is a rabbinical student who lives and blogs in western Massachusetts. This is coincidentally near where my brother lives and near where I spent a lot of time as a child, so I feel a tie to her for this reason. But I would love her writing no matter where she did it. It is is full of imagery that makes the divine more approachable, more meaningful, and more real.
She often, as a rabbinical student, writes some form of commentary on the weekly parshat (portion). I hesitate to use words here because those words will define something that I am not qualified to define. But here is my very limited understanding of the Jewish tradition surrounding their scriptures. It is very usual to read through the scriptures (Torah … a portion of our Old Testament) every year. You begin and end during Shemini Atzeret/Simhat Torah (which holiday falls at the end of the high holidays in the autumn). The scriptures are broken into portions (parshats) that are defined and one could find those in a variety of places. So that on any given week, those Jews who are doing so are all reading the same portions of scripture together. There is something comforting in that to me.
This week (as she has in weeks past) she wrote a poem, but led off with this bit from Leviticus:
And if any of those falls into an earthen vessel, everything inside it shall be unclean and [the vessel] itself you shall break. –Leviticus 11:33
I stopped right there. And could not go on. I did not (at that moment) read the poem. “Paul said something about earthen vessels. I know he did. Now where was it? And what was it, exactly?” All I could remember at that moment was it was a good thing and I needed to know the exact quote and I needed to read it in context. So I found it in 2 Corinthians 4 -
7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Then I went back to Leviticus, searching for earthen vessels and what their specific outcome was to be. I read bits of Leviticus for the first time and was legitimately fascinated. Paul, the phormer Pharisee, would have known this. Clay or earthen vessels could be used for sacrifice, but once used, they must be broken. Bronze vessels could be scoured and cleansed, but clay vessels must be broken. I was particularly struck by this in Leviticus 6 -
24 The LORD said to Moses, 25 “Say to Aaron and his sons: ‘These are the regulations for the sin offering: The sin offering is to be slaughtered before the LORD in the place the burnt offering is slaughtered; it is most holy. 26 The priest who offers it shall eat it; it is to be eaten in a holy place, in the courtyard of the Tent of Meeting. 27 Whatever touches any of the flesh will become holy, and if any of the blood is spattered on a garment, you must wash it in a holy place. 28 The clay pot the meat is cooked in must be broken; but if it is cooked in a bronze pot, the pot is to be scoured and rinsed with water. (italics are mine)
After all of this, I went back and read Rachel’s beautiful poem and was immediately struck by this verse:
The heart is an earthen vessel,
the body an urn: made from dust
and patched with slip,
divine fingerprints everywhere.
Read her whole poem, then her explanation of Talmudic tradition concerning clay pots. How they are broken and then glued together again. The Hasidic tradition which teaches that the earthen vessel is also a metaphor for our hearts. And I go back again to Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth … “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” We will be (or maybe we are already) broken, and then glued back together … “patched with slip, divine fingerprints everywhere.” Rendered useless and then useful again. In the process of becoming holy, we must also become broken and put back together. We must leave our cracks on the outside … an aesthetically imperfect vessel, which God can now use.
Copy link for RSS feed for comments on this post
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.