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Sunday, 5 July 2015

Time to buy a prayer mat

Daf Yomi Nedarim 41

Ever wonder where certain prayer and ritual items come from?  Some of the most identifiable religious items of other faiths originated in Judaism.  Somewhere along the line, however, we decided to hang up our mats because our religious ritual item had been ‘borrowed’ away from Judaism. 

The prophet Yechezkel declared, “And you, son of man, prepare for yourself the instruments of exile.”
Rabbi Ami quoted Rav: The instruments of exile are a candle, a plate, and a mat. 

Why would we require these specific three items in exile?  Each of them is rich with symbolism and conveys an important message to the Jewish people in galus (exile).

Why do you need a candle in exile?  A candle shines forth light.  Our purpose and mission in the Diaspora is not to wander aimlessly, mimicking the nations around us.  Our mission is to be an or lagoyim – a light unto the nations.  Your ancestors were sent into exile so that you could spread the Divine light.  If you’ve forgotten your purpose and just doing your best to get by, you’ve forsaken the mission! 

Every day, before heading out to work, you need to check you have everything you need: Briefcase, check.  Laptop, check.  Notepad, check.  How about the candle?  Are you setting out today, committed to making the world a better place?  Some people carry a physical candle in their briefcase as a constant reminder of their mission.   Never forget why you head out to work amongst the nations of the world – G-d has placed you there to spread the light!

Why do you need a plate in exile?  You don’t really need crockery or cutlery in order to eat.  But dining utensils separate man from beast.   While we were in the Land of Israel we held our heads high.  We were kings and queens.   And then we were exiled in chains, flung to the four corners of the world.  Many a human being, carried off in chains, would lose his humanity.   Treated like an animal, it’s hard to stay focused on who you really are.  And time and again, we were evicted from our homes and found ourselves in exile in a new foreign country.

At such lows, we might have thought, ‘The main thing is to be able to scrounge for any food to feed my family.’  But the prophet Yechezkel declares, ‘You are better than that.  Not only shall you eat, but you will eat with dignity.’  When you recall constantly that you are a human being, created in the image of G-d, you hold your head high and recall your mission and purpose in this world.

Why do you need a mat in exile?  A mat separates the earth from the Heavens.  Do you know where Heaven begins?  Sometimes the clouds are hovering so low that you wonder where the earth ends and Heaven begins.   The answer is that Heaven begins precisely where the earth ends.  When you place a mat over the earth and place yourself upon it, you are declaring that have departed from the earthly realm and you are now in the Heavenly realm.

The prophet Yechezkel was reminding the people that in the depths of their despair, they must recall that they are Heavenly individuals.  The Almighty sent you here on a Divine mission.  You are His ambassador and all you must do to enter Heaven and escape the clutches of this lowly world is to spread your mat over the earth and enter into the Heavenly abode.  Of course you don’t literally move to a spiritual realm, but it serves as a constant reminder of the mission you were sent to accomplish in this world.

Don’t leave home without your candle, plate and mat.  They are your instruments of exile – your constant reminders of the mission you have been sent to accomplish.  May you merit fulfilling your mission here on earth by staying focused and living a Heavenly life all the while in an apparently corporeal existence!