B’ha’lotcha: Lift the lamp, now let’s move!

“May the light of love be with you every day”.  That’s a quote from a song by one of my favorite songwriters, David Roth.  We’ve known each other a long time, and even though he may not think so, he writes with very Jewish ideas. This week, the Torah portion begins with God saying to Moses, telling him to speak to Aaron and say, “When you lift the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.”  He’s talking about the layout of the Tabernacle, but I like to think of it as a lamp that gives light at the front of the community, giving it something to follow. Light is a powerful metaphor: truth, purity, faith, God, pick one you like.  The Israelites at this point in the story are finally taking off from Mt. Sinai and heading out for a forty year trek, and they need something to keep them focused.   The Tabernacle (and by extension, God) is going to do that, being present with them all the way.  They hope. We have lots of menorahs in our house ( chanukiot in Hebrew), the things we light every year for Chanukah. I love how the menorah lends itself to such artistic interpretation with materials and design.  But the Chanukah menorah has nine candles, one for each night and the “helping” candle, the shamash  The menorah of the Bible had seven lights.  It was a symbol of Judaism long before Chanukah; it was present in the Tabernacle in the wilderness.   Keeping that lamp lit was one of the priests’ jobs, and they took it pretty seriously. Perhaps it’s interesting that the symbol of this brand-new people is a multi-flamed object, not a single flame – you know, like representing the one God.  Why so many points of light?  Isaac Luria, a 16th c  Kabbalist in Sfat (the center of Jewish mystic thought), said the six branches of the menorah represented the scientific and academic disciplines one can delve into, and the center light is was the Torah.  “Secular learning and faith are not rivals; each has its own concerns and addresses its own set of questions. They shed light on each other and together they illumine our world.” (Etz Chaim Torah and commentary, p. 816) I like this idea a lot.  We are a diverse community; we were then, and we certainly are now.  I was at Limmud Colorado last month, and in a true “Limmud moment”, I was reminded even more so how diverse we are, and how that is really a blessing.  I was in a session about the state of the American synagogue, and one of the participants was a rabbi/author who left the pulpit because he said there’s no way to pray in a synagogue. “ It’s impossible”, he said, “even I couldn’t pray there.“  A woman there was highly distressed at this remark, calling the  man “poison” in the community.  The whole group was silent for a moment, then someone said, “That’s Limmud!”, the group started to laugh, including the two original “antagonists”.  That room was a safe place to express, share, and disagree, all with respect and honesty…arguments “for the sake of heaven.”  The rabbi and the other woman continued to disagree, but their comments sparked quite a few conversations around the tables from then on, and that’s good for the community. There are many lights on the candelabra, and they do combine into a powerful illumination for us and the world.  The Jewish people may be a “light unto the nations”, but it’s important to remember that the light in our community comes from multiple sources, combining to form a steady and blessed flame.  The Torah candle in the middle is our tradition and beginnings, but it’s also the focus for the future.  Just as the Israelites set out on their journey following the flame, so do we today, following both the center flame and the lights surrounding it.  As long as those lights burn with love and respect, they will show us how to build that society that God wanted the Israelites to build: one of justice and compassion, a true light unto the world.

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2 Responses to B’ha’lotcha: Lift the lamp, now let’s move!

  1. Aaron says:

    Any further thoughts about what the other six branches mean?

    • anitasilvert says:

      What I was reading didn’t go into further details but I’m guessing the six are all areas of disciplines and science, history, bio etc, whatever our current knowledge has developed to, and groundingnitnin faith/Torah. Didja read my top ten Torah list?

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