Looking For Permanence II
People often ask me about the Jewish problem with tattoos.
I believe that it is an issue with the idea of permanence. (See Looking For Permanence) One of the Jewish inmates I served as a prison chaplain had a tattoo of a heart with a long list of names of women he had loved. Ever name, save the last, had an additional tattoo across it. He told me that he was going to have the bottom name crossed out as well because she had abandoned him when he was sentenced to life in prison.
“Why have the names tattooed on your (huge) arm if they don’t last?” I naively asked. “I only tattoo the name of a woman who I’m gonna be with forever,” he answered with full sincerity.
Rather than a permanent tribute to love, he had a permanent record of failed relationships.
I usually ask people with tattoos that are a few years old, if they would choose the same design today. Although a few people say, “Yes,” most people would choose a different design. They simply decide to have another tattoo with the new design.
“If you realize that your taste changes, why do something so permanent?”
“This one will last! I have a better sense of myself and how I will be for the rest of my life.”
Judaism celebrates our ability to change and grow. We are never stuck if we choose to change and grow. We rage, rage against the idea of permanence, except in a Covenant with God, and that is a reflection of God’s Unity, and not of our ability to achieve permanence.
It may feel like our problems are permanent, but they are not. We may expect our relationships to last, but not all, will. Judaism sees life as an ever-changing adventure, and warns us against locking ourselves into anything that will limit our ability to evolve.
The Torah associates such ideas of permanence with failure or blindness. Eisav failed because of his desire for permanence. The Torah does not associate God’s Name with anyone while they are alive, because even the great one’s can fall and fail. Yochanan Kohen Gadol served as High Priest for 40 years, only to lose his way. There is only one person in the bible with whom the Torah associates God’s Name even while the person was alive: Isaac. His blindness limited his movement to his immediate home, and there was no danger of his falling off his righteous path.
So, I’ll forego any tattoos, at least for now; after all, nothing is permanent.
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