Parashat Tetzaveh 5779

Rabbi Sandra Kviat – 15 February 2019

The Konmari/Marie Kondo method for creating sacred space

Slaughter the ram and take some of its blood and put it on the ridges of Arons right ear and on the ridges of his sons right ears, and on the thumbs of their right hand, and on the big toes of their right feet; and dash the rest of the blood against every side of the altar round about. (Ex.29.20)

From Parasha Yitro and onwards we’ve seen the development of a people through the giving of laws, rules around festivals, the creation of a sacred place (the mishkan/tabernacle), and now the sanctification of people, by creating priests.

And then we have what to modern eyes is a very odd ritual – the sprinkling of blood on the extremities of a handful of priests and the altar. Why the ear, finger and toe? A commonsense midrash teaches that the ear symbolises the ability to listen to people, the thumb the actions we take and the toe, how we make our way in the world, all pointing to the priest as a person who needs to be gentle, considerate and attuned to others around him. And then we have the really interesting part where the blood is sprinkled on the altar. It is easy to see it all as a purification or atonement process, using the symbol for life or the life force as the active ingredient in the purification.

Another way of looking at it is that the ear, finger, toe and surrounds of the altar are all the boundaries of our bodies and of sacred space. By setting a specific intention for the place as sacred, a space for offering gratitude, the story explains the importance of having a sacred space, knowing why it is sacred, and shows the rituals needed before we use the space, to get us in tune with what can happen in a that space. And that’s where there is a very surprising link with the enormously popular show on decluttering called ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’.

Her motto ‘sparking joy’ is turning up everywhere, she has devotees all over the world, and rolling up your towels seems to now have become common wisdom.

But before she introduces the people in her show to her techniques of decluttering, in order to appreciate what you have, she does something that is often overlooked. She finds a place in the house, she sits down quietly and asks everyone to either participate or at least to sit in silence with her and appreciate the space they are in, she then meditates, finishing by gently stroking the ground in semi circles, before she bows and stands up again.

She explains it as thanking the house and helping the inhabitants remember their love for the place, and not just the struggles and frustrations they have with the clutter. It is not about judgement, interior design or exhibitionist glee, it’s about cultivating empathy for where we live. As she writes on her website: ‘The question of what you want to own is really the question of how you want to live. Learn how to visualize your ideal lifestyle’.

Taking these ideas out of the media hype and applying it to our parasha this week opens up the story of the ordination of the priests and the altar in a different way. Why is the daubing of blood on the ear, finger, toe and altar important? Because it is about cultivating a sense of empathy through how we enact ritual, how we relate to the physical world. It’s the biblical way of sitting down and meditating, thanking the altar and the space around it. Or if we were to apply the Konmari method to creating sacred space we would say; ‘The question of what you want to sanctify is really the question of how you want to live’.

And the blood? That’s just a modern discomfort with what the ancients saw as the ultimate lifeforce – a form of spiritual super-detergent.

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