Tetzaveh: We Are The Light!

This week we deal with detailed instructions for the creation of the tablernacle. The opening verse of the portion instructs us to bring beaten oil of olives “for kindling lamps regularly” (Exodus 27:20). The Hebrew here “ner tamid” is sometimes used to refer to the “Eternal Light” of “ner tamid” that exists over the Ark in synagogues. The development of this “eternal light” is rooted in history. Its place, according to some scholars was opposite the Ark and was moved to over the Ark after the Roman conquest of Judea. These lights in this portion may actually refer to the “lamp stands” or “menorah” that are described here and elsewhere and, as you can see in the Arch of Titus in Rome, were a major symbol of Judea and early Judaism. But what of the idea of light?
Judaism plays with this concept a lot. Light, we were reminded in an old prayer book, “is the symbol of the Divine”. We are taught that light, like God, cannot be seen, we become aware of it only as it enables us to “see” other things. I was reminded of this idea in an interview on a recent Boomer Generation Radio program. We spoke to Dr. Jonathan Flacker, a gerontologist at Emory in Atlanta, and Mr. Colin Milner who heads an organization on “active aging”. Both remarked continually on the idea of people continuing to grow and experience and celebrate life, no matter what their age. In many ways, it reflected this idea of Tetzavah, in that the “light” of our own souls continues to shine, as our own “eternal light”, and just as the Torah instructs the priests to tend to those ancient lights, as a symbol of devotion to the Sacred, so too we need to tend to the light of our own souls. That internal eternal light allows us to “see” new things, to understand the gift that is our own life and to bring the light of our own experiences to others.
Perhpas this Torah portion is offering us another way of being mindful that we take nothing for granted, that we need to always take care of the light that is our own soul, for that is a reflection of the sacred aspect of existence. In this way can we continue to grow and bring the light of own experiences to the world and to others.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min

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