Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – T’tzaveh
The Book of Genesis teaches that before we knew the sun’s light, the moon’s reflection, or any of the celestial stars, we knew light. “Light” was God’s first creative act, “God said, ‘Let there be light! There was light.” The Rabbis seek to determine what this light is and how it might be different from the sun, moon, or stars.
In rare uniformity, they determined that pulling light from darkness at the beginning of creation spoke not to the physical illumination of the world but only to the spiritual light. Ignorance reigns until we open our eyes, giving light to truth and wisdom. In Genesis Rabbah (a commentary some 1700 years old), Rav Judah explains that this light illuminated God’s path through creation. Where is this light? It remained with God while God created the celestial bodies to light the world for us. If we transcend the physical and engage our spirit, we have access to this enlightenment. Psalm 97 tells us, “Light is sown for the righteous; joy in the upright heart.”
Moving forward to this week’s Torah portion, we read of the command to light the “Ner Tamid -Eternal Light.” God instructs Moses to keep a fire burning 24 hours a day. This light is from the candelabra (menorah) that stood visibly just outside the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle (Mishkan). This light was distinct from the ritual fire on the altar. The altar fire was utilitarian; it cooked/burned the sacrifices and offerings. The sole function of the lit menorah was to provide the spiritual awareness that God was always open for business, whether you participated in the ritual offerings or not. That light was for your soul’s offering. Today, we find an eternal light in every Jewish sanctuary. It is not part of the ritual of any worship. No prayer refers to it. It is on whether you are there for a service, passing through the building on business, and even as a party with loud music fills the social hall – the light stays on.
Country star Thomas Rhett sings, “In a world full of hate, be a light. When you do somebody wrong, make it right. Oh, don’t hide in the dark; you were born to shine. In a world full of hate, be a light.” I don’t know Mr. Rhett, but these words provide a clear commentary I have ever read on the powerful message that this light throws at us, “I am always on lighting the spirit; you must be as well.”
In this age, even while this most prescient ideal should be our driving force, is anyone of us not exhausted? Whatever our profession, calling, career, or task, each of us gets called on to serve for the good. Even in a world that seems more concerned with beating each other than providing light with each other, this charge remains our portion. Indeed, if you are on the front lines, the emotional pain and exhaustion can be excruciating. The resultant stress destroys the body, the vessel that holds, carries, and protects the spirit. When the vessel cracks, one’s spiritual powers can only dissipate.
Perhaps the sages understood just how motivational this innocuous light might be, especially in spiritually dark times. Even as we might casually see it, it reminds us to be that light. Even when we are tired, it reminds us to be that light. In times of frustration, be that light. Pirke Avot (part of the 1900-year-old Mishnah) teaches us, “In a world where no one is behaving like a human, be humane.” Even if you don’t think anyone is watching, be that light. Your shining spirit is as much for your renewal as it is for everyone else’s example. Even when our body is hungry, it is the fuel that continues to light the soul.
Harry Dixon Loes’ gospel piece from the 1920s fueled the Civil Rights Movement, reminding each of us of our obligation to bring light. “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. Let it shine, all the time, let it shine! All around the neighborhood, I’m going to let it shine. All around the neighborhood, I’m going to let it shine. All around the neighborhood.”