N'shei Mitzvah is an adult celebration of learning. These five women had chosen to affirm their commitment to their Jewish identity and reaffirm their responsibility for performing the mitzvot of Jewish life.
As the Festival of Shavuot approaches, Abq Jew is honored to publish these words - one Dvar Torah per day - to once again demonstrate that "the Torah is not in Heaven." The Torah is with and within each of us and all of us!
The Torah Words of Anne McGoey
Copyright © 2012 Anne McGoey Used By Permission All Rights Reserved
This week’s Torah portion, known as Sh’mini, begins with Leviticus chapter 9. Eleven times, this chapter speaks of community through the use of words such as: “the Israelites,” “community leadership,” “the people’s offering,” and “all the people.” This leaves no doubt that the priests must offer sacrifices for the benefit of the entire community, not for themselves individually.
The following chapter, Leviticus 10:1-15, tells a story about Aaron and his four sons: Nadav, Avihu, Elazar, and Itamar. Nadav and Avihu think only of themselves. They offer a sacrifice on their own behalf, without considering the entire community. Consequently, they die.
Aaron, Elazar and Itamar, continue learning priestly responsibilities. Specifically, Aaron must avoid intoxicants in order to distinguish the ritually clean from the unclean. (Leviticus 10:9-10) Upon completing the sacrifice, the thigh and chest are returned to Aaron.
Moses tells Aaron, “The thigh and chest are meant to be a portion for you and your descendants for all time, as God commanded.” (Leviticus 10:15) Across eons of time, living in the twenty-first century, we are the descendants. But what use do we have for a thigh and chest?
For me, this story is not about sacrifices. Instead, it illuminates powers of the heart that were given to us for all time. I see three lessons about heart power in this Parashah.
First, interpreted as an allegorical story, Aaron and his four sons represent - one person, not five. The sons symbolize different aspects of Aaron’s thinking and behaviors. Becoming the High Priest requires heart transformation as Aaron learns to consider the well-being of the entire community above his own.
Nadav and Avihu represent old behaviors and beliefs, which no longer serve Aaron. Allowing those parts of himself to die, he embraces his higher qualities, personified by Elazar and Itamar.
This story reveals that conscious evolution of communities requires changes of heart by individual community members.
The second point considers the meaning of the chest and thigh. The chest creates a space for the heart, and represents holding the heart in conscious awareness. In an earlier story, Jacob’s thigh was injured as he struggled with a stranger during the night. In a moment of heart transformation, Jacob received the new name of Israel. (Genesis 32:25-33) Symbolically, the thigh reminds us that inner conflict is part of the process for heart growth and change.
Third, science is learning what ancient wisdom has always known. Researchers at the Institute of HeartMath have detected the heart’s electromagnetic field at least five feet from the body in all directions. The signal from one person’s heart impacts the brain waves of another. Appreciation generates an ordered heart wave pattern called heart coherence, while anger produces a measurably disordered pattern.**
Aaron must distinguish the “ritually unclean” from “the clean.” For me, feeling stressed, intolerant, and negative creates uneasiness that might equate to being “ritually unclean.” Feelings of appreciation, loving-kindness, and heart-coherence produce a calmer state, perhaps equivalent to being “ritually holy and clean.” From a state of heart coherence we are more likely to experience creativity and connection to those qualities that, in the words of the Psalmist, make us “little less than the angels.” (Psalm 8:5)
Through the heart, people have always participated as co-creators in partnership with the Source of Life. Now, the coming together of scientific knowledge and ancient wisdom has brought forth more understanding about the possibilities to create a conscious way of living, which is in harmony with each other and the earth, through accessing the heart’s energies.
This Torah portion calls our attention to powers of the heart that were given to us for all time. We are all interconnected through our hearts and the meditations of the heart do make a difference.
The words of the Psalm, which we say every week, mean so much more to me now.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart
be acceptable to You, Adonai, my Rock and my Redeemer.
** For over 20 years, researchers at the Institute of HeartMath (IHM) have been investigating the physiologic methods by which the heart communicates with the brain. They have noticed that the pattern of the heart’s electromagnetic waves will impact brain waves. In other words, we experience feelings in the heart before our brains can help us verbalize them. Furthermore, researchers have learned that the electromagnetic field of the heart is greater than that of the brain and can be measured at least five feet out from the human body in all directions. And the electromagnetic signal of one person’s heart can impact the brain waves of another person nearby. Understanding the significance of these findings, we can become more conscious about how we contribute to either harmony or conflict among people. An exciting project called the Global Coherence Initiative applies this research for planetary change.
“In mid-2008, the Institute of HeartMath created the Global Coherence Initiative to bring people around the world together to unite the collective power of their hearts to care for each other and our planet. Less than three years later more than 38,000 people in 87 countries are participating in this humanitarian and science-based project. . . . to help shift global consciousness from the instability and discord we often see to greater cooperation, harmony and enduring peace.” [Institute of HeartMath Newsletter, (Spring 2012, Vol. 11/No. 1) p. 6.]
For more information about heart coherence and research of the Institute of HeartMath go to www.heartmath.org/research. IHM has posted many of their research papers on-line. My information came from the following sources:
McCraty, Rollin and Doc Childre. The Appreciative Heart: The Psychophysiology of Positive Emotions and Optimal Functioning. Boulder Creek, CA: Institute of HeartMath, 2002, 2-3.
McCraty, Rollin. The Energetic Heart: Bioelectromagnetic Interactions Within and Between People. Boulder Creek, CA: Institute of HeartMath, 2003, 3.