Monday, December 21, 2009

Tahara - being part of community

I participated in my first Tahara about a year or so ago.  As a Jew and Rabbit, I feel strongly that to be a member of a community means taking part in all aspects of community - that includes simchas and sadnesses, births and deaths.  I haven't participated in a Tahara since I've been in Israel but my soul friend Chava just wrote about one that she participated in on her blog Lightwavejourney and it reminded me that I've been wanting to post this for a while.  

Tahara fact: did you know that the prayer Ana B'Koach is part of the Tahara ritual? It is a prayer that helps the soul ascend to new levels. Just as it helps our souls ascend to new heights when we sing Ana B'koach during morning services or during kabbalat shabbat so too does it help our souls ascend to shamayim after we die.

Here is my piece on Tahara from 2008:

“Source of kindness and compassion, whose ways are ways of mercy and truth, You have commanded us to act with loving kindness and righteousness towards the dead, and to engage in their proper burial. Grant us the courage and strength to perform this work properly: this holy task of cleaning and washing the body, dressing the dead in shrouds, and burying the deceased. … Help us to see Your face in the face of the deceased, even as we see you in the faces of those who share this task with us. Source of life and death be with us now and always.”
From the prayer recited before coming into the presence of the Metah (the deceased).  

            Today I took part in my first Tahara, the ritual physical and spiritual preparation of the Metah (the deceased).  There was such holiness to be found in that sterile room located on the bottom level of the funeral home. Five women gathered with a sense of profound obligation and respect to prepare a member of our synagogue for the final ceremony that she will take part in as a member of the Jewish community.
            With prayer, verses of text and no talk save that which related directly to the awesome task at hand, we carefully bathed and wrapped the Metah in her burial shroud. The white shroud stood in contrast to and in harmony with the red of the earth of Eretz Israel that was ritually sprinkled on and around her in the casket. The white of holiness, purity, and possibility alongside the red of life, passion, connection to our earth combined to tell the outline of a person’s life.
            There is such symmetry in our lifecycle rituals –  
We lovingly and joyfully rush to bathe and swaddle a newborn child; we slowly and deliberately wash and wrap our Metah.

We drape our children as they come of age with a tallit, our young adults as they marry with a tallit or kittel (ritual white robe); we cover our Metah with kittel and/or tallit as their final garment.

We prepare ourselves for life affirming immersion in the mayim chayim (living waters) of the mikvah with the same thoroughness with which we prepare the body of the Metah for her final immersion in the earth’s womb. 
            I stand in awe of our tradition. I am grateful for the rituals that usher us, body and neshama (soul), into this world and through our life and I am grateful for the rituals that guide us, body and neshama, to the place beyond. Source of life and death be with us now and always. Amen.

Arlene Berger

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