Light is a classic symbol for us. In this portion we encounter the importance of light at the outset of the reading. In the construction of the mishkan we read in 27:20 that we are to bring oil of olives “for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly”. This ner tamid is to be set up “outside the curtain” (21), as is the case to this day. We know that for us “light is the symbol of the Divine” in each of us. We read in commentaries that when we do a mitzvah we give and bring light and that the letters of nun and resh can stand for the phrase nefesh ruach or a soul with a spirit.
There is a lot to unpack in this portion. We also read of the clothes that priests wear, especially the breastplate of the High Priest, and are reminded of how we often judge people by what they wear. Indeed, one can spend a lot of time on this subject of how we determine people by the clothing they choose; as if the outside of the person is a true reflection of what is in a soul. But let us return to light for part of the commentaries stress that it is incumbent on us to continue to light the light of our own soul. What can that mean?
I think that this idea has particular meaning now as we near the one year anniversary of the shut down associated with Covid. The stresses and strains and mental health impacts are well documented. Many see a “light” with the development of vaccines. But focus on our souls for a second, and that traditional idea that the light of our souls is a spark of the Divine. How do we fan that spark so it grows? In Proverbs (20:27) we read that the “human spirit is the light of God”. Our life force, our soul is that aspect of our self that reflects the highest values of life. It is this light that helps give meaning and purpose for us. How can we continue to fan that flame of divine mystery? One comment noted an image of the candle (as with our portion) saying that a candle be snuffed out, it can burn out or it can light other candles. “When the flame is passed on to others, the flame wil continue to burn long after the original candle has been extinguished”
Here is a brilliant image for us. By living a life of mitzvot we insure our own legacy as we light candles of souls we touch by what we do, what we say and how we live. Think of an eternal series of candles being lit by the good works that pass from person to person and thus from generation to generation. Now THAT is a real eternal light!
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.