A package is delivered. My housemates and I unwrap it carefully. Inside is a tightly woven flax doll. The doll is and is not alive; it is a baby and full grown. My housemates consider it a baby. We should rejoice, they say, because new life is rare in our community.
On Friday, I ask my Jungian therapist, “What should I learn from this dream?”
“Flax is used to make linen,” she says. “What are your associations with linen?”
“I don’t like coarse linen,” I say. “It wrinkles, it’s stiff, it…”
The therapist waits patiently.
Finally I remember. “My prayer shawl (talit) is made of fine linen.”
“Linen is prominent in the Bible, isn’t it?” she asks.
On Saturday at synagogue, we read about the daily offering in the wilderness sanctuary:
The priest wears his linen outfit, with linen pants next to his body. He picks up the ashes from the offering the fire has consumed and places them by the altar. He takes off the outfit and puts on another one. He takes the ashes outside of the camp to a ritually pure place. (Lev. 6: 3-4)
A daily ritual, just for the priest.
Dress in linen. Watch fire consume life. Collect ashes. Change clothing. Take out trash. Go to quiet place. Reflect. Launder linens. Start again.
A daily ritual of death and rebirth.
For my Christian colleagues, “death and rebirth” is the pre-Easter theme.
“Death and rebirth,” may even be the essence of Christian spiritual growth.
Our Jewish calendar agrees. Passover, Hanukah, Tisha B’Av, Yom HaShoah. All commemorate the “near-death and rebirth” of our people.
What does “death and rebirth” mean as a psychological theme?
That I am one sort of person for a decade or so? Who, when challenged by crisis, retreats into herself? And emerges changed, clothed in the sparkling clean linen of a new inner era?
That’s what I used to think.
But now a sparkling new “me” seems a silly expectation. An unreasonable standard. A self-congratulatory fiction.
“Dissatisfaction,” says my Jungian therapist, “is the shadow side of the inner work we do.”
And I understand: To know myself is to know more of myself.
There is always more. There is no finish line.
Metaphorical “death and rebirth” are not significant life moments.
They are every moment.
Every moment, I am baby and full grown.
Every moment, I am alive and not alive.
Every day I take out the ashes. Every day I change clothing.
Unwrap life carefully, says my dream. Rejoice. Repeat.
Images: (1) A woven straw doll, precious to my mother, Ruthie Duhan z”l. (2) The atarah (collar) of my talit, made by Bette Thompson, which says in Hebrew “The priest shall launder his garments.”
For more reflections on Parshat Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36), click here