I have a confession: Tattoos sort of fascinate me. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it lies somewhere between the story behind them and the permanence of them. (Unless, of course, it was a drunken college moment you endlessly regret later – then it’s just funny.)
I’ve never gotten one because of faith-based directives. Jewish law does not permit the intentional defacement of the human body. In simplistic terms, G-d had a hand in creating it, and you carry a little piece of G-d with you, so you should take really excellent care of your body. There is also the piece that says you cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you have one, although I can’t recall any rabbi actually enforcing that. It would be in violation of a larger Jewish principle of Kavod Ha-Meit, giving honor to the dead.
That said, I don’t have one, but I’ve often thought of what I would do if I got one. I know it would be small and simple, but I could never come up with exactly what it would be. I see beautiful examples of symbols and lovely pieces of text – often in other languages. And, quite frankly, I have no idea where I’d place it. I’m not sure I’d want it easily seen, but I’m also not sure I’d want it never seen.
Today I figured it out. I realized it wouldn’t be a symbol, it would have to be text. Then I stumbled across this amazing piece of hebrew calligraphy on Pinterest and it really struck me. I’d never seen Hebrew reinterpreted into calligraphy, but I really liked it. It reads “ahava”, or love. It was less about the word and more about the style, though.
Every year I pick a word that sort of guides that year, and because it changes, I knew I could never choose a one word tattoo that going to sum up everything for me for as long as I was alive. I needed an idea – or some sort of philosophy.
And then it hit me. “L’chi lach” This Hebrew phrase comes from the story of G-d telling Abraham to leave his father’s land and journey to Eretz Israel. It was another twist on how I see the basics of Judaism in general: There is a blessed path set forth for you. G-d gave you the rules to live by to stay on the path, but ultimately you control your life. Live a good life, you get that path. Make some bad choices, there are consequences you must live up to, but there are ways to be accountable and atone for those choices and possibly return to that path.
The deeper meaning is that it is not only a physical journey, but a personal one. It is a journey of self discovery, self-direction, and personal choosing. And as I thought about it more, I realized how much that was a part of how I live my life and how I raise my kids.
In fact, this Hebrew phrase and translation “…on your journey I will bless you…” is on both of their birth announcements and was the song OldestDaughter and ArtsyDaughter walked husband down the aisle to when we were married. Marriage and kids and life and learning – it’s all tied up in the journey.
I don’t know that I’ll ever pull the trigger and get inked, but if I did, this is the plan.
How about you? If you don’t already have a tattoo, have you thought about what you’d get and where? Or if you DO, where is it and what did you get?