February 4, 2022 / 3 Adar I, 5782
Beautifying the Sacred
outer beauty, inner joy
holy of holies
This week’s Torah portion, Terumah, offers detailed instructions on how to build the portable Tabernacle that the Israelites will carry with them throughout their desert travels. The instructions also describe how to create sacred furnishings for the tabernacle as well as clothing for the priests. It is the first of the last five portions of the Book of Exodus that all take into consideration the many aspects of how to create and honor beautiful and holy communal spaces.
A lot has shifted for me over the last week … in my circumstances and in my body. Where I felt somewhat adrift entering last Shabbes, this week I feel grounded and joyful and beautiful!
Early last Monday morning, I packed up my tent at El Santuario in the mountains of Libertad where I had been camping out for the last four weeks –living and working in a close-knit community, and exploring options for future possibilities. I spent the next couple of days in the Escazú district of San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and enjoyed celebrating my 67th birthday on my own there last Tuesday.
Most of my efforts to nourish my physical body and well-being during this Shmitah year have been focused on strengthening and toning my organs and muscles and skeletal framework—internal work and adjustments on how I move my body, and how I experience being inside of my body and connecting with optimum health. So, on my 67th birthday, I decided to celebrate and beautify my body’s outer surface! Rather than just trusting that my outer appearance would be a shining reflection of my inner journey; or seeing my physical appearance as merely superficial and even inconsequential, I decided to make some effort to “pull myself together,” as my mother would say. “We can all use a little help!” she would tell me.
Taking my lead from this week’s Torah portion, here is a somewhat detailed accounting of the steps I took to beautify my body on my birthday. (As is true of the parashat, it may be too much detail for some people!)
The day before my birthday, I re-visited the dentist’s office where I had my teeth cleaned the month before, and got whitening trays and gel for my teeth. So, on the morning of my birthday, I woke up with bright white teeth! In the morning, I had an appointment to have accumulated wax gently removed from both of my ears. (I had never had that done before, but it seemed like something a 67 year-old should have checked out! All went well.)
I then got my legs waxed, which I hadn’t had done in years. For these last many years, I’ve had almost no hair on my legs at all. But, amazingly, after the juice fast and liver cleanse I did at my 3-week wellness retreat last summer, hair began bursting out all over my legs (and other parts of my body)! With all of the bugs that were biting me in Gandoca last fall, I began wishing that I did not have so much hair on my legs to trap them. I have never been one for shaving my legs (or under my arms), but after months of being somewhat bothered and irritated by wind breezing through the growing locks of hair on my legs, I decided to be done with it for now.
With smooth legs, I decided to get a pedicure on my way out of the salon. The last pedicure I had was with Lila years ago, when we were having a mother-daughter day of beautification. The pedicure was a painful and excruciating experience (which Lila videotaped!), and I vowed to never have another pedicure in my life! But, there I was, open to caring for every part of my body … and, since some of my toenails had shifted in color and shape, I decided to go for it. I was delighted to have a completely different experience than my last pedicure. Truly transformative. What had been an incredibly rough and harsh encounter, became a soothing act of kindness. I got my toenails painted red (as my mother had often done), and I was good to go. My 68th year was off to a beautiful start! I ended the day with one of the most gentle, nourishing, and deeply relaxing massages I think that I have ever experienced. Pura Vida!
The following morning, I headed back to Gandoca … a 6-hour bus ride. When the ocean came into view as we entered Limón Province, I could feel my whole body exhale deeply. The ocean. Ahhhhhh. Happiness. A gentle smile returned and I could feel all of my facial muscles relax. And as the bus was making its way into the town of Sixaola, I felt like I was coming home to the gentleness of my being. Deep joy.
After being away from Gandoca for six weeks, I returned to the inner sanctuary of my simple room at Delia’s house. My holy of holies these days. Where each object holds beauty and purpose. Where the stripped down version of my material life suits me for now. Everything I need is here, infused with beauty and holiness, down to the last detail.
Dwelling in beauty and holiness, I smile.