Tagged: hiddur mitzvah

Beautifying the mitzvah

Because I eat Shabbat dinner alone, I take pictures of my table when it’s set before lighting the candles.  Otherwise I feel like all my work just vanishes into the ether.  It’s not as gorgeous as it could be, but I still feel proud of getting things together in time.  This summer has been hot.  Hot.  The American Woman lives in Utah, and has never really experienced humid weather like we get on this side of the continent.  When I was out there I found the dry desert heat pretty okay, as per the commonplace dictum, but here I wilt in summer.  My place doesn’t have air conditioning, so there will be no cholent until the weather cools off.  Instead I’ve been rolling out karaite-style, eating sliced vegetables and cream cheese on whole wheat challah (hidden under the shawl I use as a cover) and yeah, vegetarian sushi last week.  It’s not certified kosher, but it doesn’t contain any treif and that’s good enough for me right now.  You wanna go?  I’ll fight you.  My tablecloth (it’s actually a curtain) is wrinkled because I couldn’t face ironing in this heat.

What is hiddur mitvah? It literally means the adornment, embellishment, or beautification of a mitzvah, a practice that can put us in relationship with G., however we understand G.

In practical terms hiddur mitzvah is a personalizing, giving of ourselves, and opening our hearts in any number of ways that allow us to make unique, meaningful, beautiful contributions that connect us to G. This might look like buying a challah that’s a little nicer than others. It might mean setting the Shabbos table with extra care and using nicer dishes. During the sit-ins, hiddur mitzvah was practiced by those who wore their best suits. It is adding a different quality, attention, and level of holiness to one’s actions.  [*]

I’m an artist, and also a geek for religion, so this is a topic I feel pretty strongly about.  Rituals, liturgy, art, music, sermons and homilies, texts, printing, vestments, sacramentals, jewellery, anything and everything religious that can be made beautiful–I’m all over it.  Hiddur mitzvah is a great nutshell term for something that’s always been deeply important to me.

Fish-shaped havdalah spice-box, European, 19th c. Skirball Museum at Hebrew Union College. Me, I have some bay leaves and nutmeg in a little cardboard ring box. This is a great injustice.

My inclination for the hiddur-est mitzvot of all can get me in financial trouble, in fact, so it’s good for me to hold back a bit and focus on kavana and like, actually doing the mitzvot.  Instead of scouring the city for nicer candlesticks.  On Wednesdays now I start thinking about Shabbat, what I want to eat and what I should try to incorporate.  Without Shabbat, my tendency is to eat whatever whenever, to clean when the apartment is breeding wildlife, and to not stop reading tumblr while I aimlessly shove food toward my face.  It’s not easy to put the laptop aside even for Shabbat dinner, but I do.  (I read from my siddur or the Bible instead, because I have to be reading something, okay.  I can’t sit here alone and stare at my plate.)

There’s a lot that I don’t do yet, and I try to add something else every week.  This week I tried the “pre-tearing the toilet paper” thing, but let us say I underestimated my needs.  I flipped switches without thinking and twice thought “the hell with it, I’m supposed to break Shabbat anyway, I’m a gentile.”  I write on Shabbat.  Sometimes I watch TV (which I actually don’t do much the rest of the week).  It’s not perfect, and it’s not even imperfect in the ways I want it to be.  But I try to make it as nice as I reasonably can, because closeness with God deserves effort.  I beautify the mitzvot and the mitzvot beautify me.

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