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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Hiddur Mitzvah (beautifying the Commandment)

In Judaism, there is a wonderful concept called "hiddur mitzvah," which literally translates to "beautifying the commandment."  We are taught that it is not enough to merely carry out the commandment; the objects that we use to do so must be physically attractive.  Hiddur mitzvah is a concept that is near and dear to my heart, and I really try to make it part of my everyday life.  I needed something to do to soothe my soul before bed and prepare myself for sleep (I've been having a lot of trouble sleeping recently); my ritual prayers for the day are done, and I have written two letters to God, my daily limit.  I decided to go around my apartment and photograph my beautiful Judaica.  Below are the results.

The following three pictures are of my kippah collection, grouped as follows: suede in picture one, non-suede small in picture two, and the rest in picture three.  Only three did not make it into the pictures: my Ugandan one which is currently on my head; my "pajamas" one which seems to have disappeared; and my black velvet, ultra-Orthodox one which I save for days of mourning and/or fast days.  In any case, here are the suede ones, which are the only ones I will wear to work once I am working.  Left to right: pink from my Bat Mitzvah, dark purple from my Bat Mitzvah, lavender from "Emily's" wedding, plain navy from my high school graduation, navy with a notched navy and silver border from a Bar Mitzvah since I moved to the city, royal blue with a notched burgundy and silver border from a Bar Mitzvah since I moved to the city, turquoise (quite a bit larger than the others) from a Bar Mitzvah since I moved to the city.  (In case you haven't caught on yet, most suede kippot are freebies from various events.)

This picture shows the rest of the kippot I will wear during the school week, all selected for size.  Left to right: gay pride crochet; purple and black crochet bought in Israel; very first ever (crochet), a gift from my father when I was eight; second ever (crochet), a gift from my father when I was 10; green and yellow--neither was a color I had before--made for me by my first friend in the city; embroidered, free with my Bat Mitzvah prayer shawl, very faded now.

And here is the entire rest of the kippah collection, minus the three mentioned above! Yes, my new weekday rules mean many of these do not get worn; I make up for it on the Sabbath and holidays.  There are five rows in this picture.  Top, Left to Right: hand painted silk by designer Yair Emanuel (actually small enough to be a weekday kippah, but it's so fragile I save it for special occasions; also, the background was supposed to be blue, not fuchsia); silk with red dragon (bought to go with Rutgers tee shirts); navy crochet from Bat Mitzvah in the city; purple and pink crochet by the same friend who made the yellow and green in the picture above; green and white crochet from Bar Mitzvah in city (they had them in two color schemes that day, this green and white or blue and purple; I thought the other was prettier, but I needed the green more).  

Second Row, Left to Right: bright blue satin with internal clip, handmade by Bat Mitzvah family (Bat Mitzvah at my undergrad); turquoise canvas from Bat Mitzvah in the city; golden raw silk from designer Yair Emanuel (this one is God's favorite; and no, I don't know what I mean by that, but yes, I'm totally serious); machine embroidered silk "geometric shapes magenta" by designer Yair Emanuel; machine embroidered "flowers magenta" (also bought to wear with Rutgers tee shirts) by designer Yair Emanuel.  

Third Row, Left to Right: machine embroidered blue silk by designer Yair Emanuel; "pink pomegranates" machine embroidered silk by designer Yair Emanuel; very soft black velvet from younger brother's Bar Mitzvah, lining repaired by me; standard Army issue from the last camouflage print,lining repaired by me.

Fourth Row, Left to Right: free with older brother's Bar Mitzvah prayer shawl, by designer Gabrieli; midnight blue "Bar Mitzvah beanie;" sky blue "Bar Mitzvah beanie;" ivory brocade found in family drawer.

Bottom Row, Left to Right (These are all Friday/holiday evening kippot): burgundy/maroon embroidered velvet, found in family drawer; machine embroidered, red silk from designer Yair Emanuel; "Birds in Color," hand embroidered, by Yair Emanuel (high school graduation gift...I don't spend that kind of money on a kippah every day.)

Now we move on to Judaica other than kippot!  This is the prayer book I've had since first grade,  with the cover I made for it in tenth grade.  The flowered material is reminiscent of the painted flowers on the first book cover this prayer book had.  The ribbon bow is just for an extra-feminine,finishing touch.  Because this prayer book is starting to fall apart (it has been 17 years), I save using it for special occasions.

This is my Sabbath and/or holiday candle setup, except without the candles! I am still using the little brass candlesticks I have used since I was very young because something went wrong with my graduation gift and I am still sorting out the problem.  In any case,the cloth runner you see under the candlesticks, I made right before my last semester of  college to go under electric candles.  (I was living in a dorm; can't light real candles in a dorm; and yes, that means I used an electric menorah come Hannukah that year, as well.)  Now I use this runner under real candles, just with foil in between.  I maintain that the cloth is some of the most beautiful I have ever seen, ever...certainly it ranks in the top three.


This is my hand washing cup! A Jew is supposed to ritually wash hands, with a blessing, every morning upon waking and also before eating bread.  I've been really bad about remembering, but today I wrote myself a note and placed it under my clock on the windowsill; we'll see if that helps.  I want to remember; I find the ritual powerful and  meaningful, and besides, the cup was expensive...not to mention gorgeous.

This is the towel I bought  to go with the cup! The writing is in Hebrew; it is the last three words of the  hand washing blessing. I put the towel through the wash once and the embroidery started coming loose.  Lesson learned...will never put that towel through the wash again.


This is my tikkun, the book out of which I learn my Torah readings! I have had it since I started studying for my Bat Mitzvah...so 12 years now.

This is my "Prayer Portfolio," as I call it.  It is a many-pocketed folder in which I keep all the letters I write to God.  The front pocket is for Reece's Rainbow  related letters; the back pocket is for extra paper; beyond that, I deliberately do not  organize.  Every so often, I like to go back through and reread every letter I have ever written...a process that can take hours, as I have been writing for years.


This is a picture of my current stationary, the prettiest Letters to God paper I've ever had! I didn't know when I ordered it that the Easter lily is a Christian symbol...but I've decided I don't care.  God is being worshiped beautifully...that has to be enough.

I didn't want to take my tefillin (phylacteries) or tallitot (prayer shawls) out of their bags, because somehow that seemed like too much exhibitionism.  So the next three photos show them in their bags.  Here are my tefillin, traditionally only worn by men but you should all know by now that viewpoints like that never stopped me.  I had wanted a pink bag, but I guess there just aren't enough women wearing tefillin for pink bags to be profitable.  This was the next best thing.

This is the tallis I made, also bagged.  The atarah, or neckband, matches the bag; the tallis itself is white and flowered, with off-white ribbon stripes.

And this is my Bat Mitzvah tallis! I'm incredibly proud of this one.  Not much to say about it, except it's really well made and I enjoy wearing it in the cooler weather.

This is my tzedakah box.  It is here that I collect money to donate to charity.  "Tzedakah"  is one of those words that doesn't really translate.  "Charity" is the usual translation, but charity carries overtones of a nice-yet-optional thing to do.  Tzedakah is not optional; it is my obligation as a Jew to give.  Once I am working, I will give ten percent of my earnings; as it is, right now I just collect my spare change in this box.


Last but not least, this is my mezuzah! A mezuzah is a container holding a scroll with holy words.  We normally hang these on our doorposts, but I am waiting to have the proper scroll.

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I am a bipolar, Jewish young adult (had my Hebrew birthday, the one I count, and turned 23 this past January) who also suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. I love life and I live for my best friends: they are my purpose and my reason for trying so hard. I remain passionately devoted to those I love; I will not let my disorders make me totally self-centered. I like to read, write, and sew. My Rabbinical school plans did not work out, and I am now hoping to go into the field of Early Childhood Education. Please note: I am currently maintaining only Carried in His Hands. Enjoy!