This Little Light – Beha’alotecha 5777

Posted by on Jun 9, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine…

 

There’s a story about a small village somewhere in Eastern Europe… the lord of the local manor decided to do something good for the community. He built them a new synagogue, with everything you’d imagine—a lovely sanctuary, a spacious social hall, a full kitchen, rooms for classrooms, offices, meditation rooms… On the bright sunny day of the opening, as he showed the kehilla, the community, around, everyone ooh’d and ah’d, Then, noticing a seemingly obvious flaw in the design, one of the townspeople asked, “Where are the lamps? What will provide the light? What would happen in the evenings, or during the dark, stormy winters?”

 

“A great question! You see the posts for torches? We have special torches for everyone, and all I ask, is that you bring your torch with you when you come. When you fill the building, you will be the light.”

 

Proverbs 20:27 tells us, “The soul of a person is the candle of God.” Our souls—our very selves— give light to the Eternal.

 

Everywhere I go, I’m gonna let it shine

Everywhere I go, I’m gonna let it shine

Everywhere I go, I’m gonna let it shine

Let it shine, let it shine let it shine.

 

In this week’s torah portion, Be’ha’alotecha (When you ascend to light…), early in the 4th book, B’midbar, in the wilderness (or Numbers), Moses instructs his brother Aaron, the High Priest, about how to go up to light the giant, gold menorah, with its seven candles…

 

It was Aaron’s job to light the menorah every day.

 

The previous torah portion, Naso, ends with the leaders of each of the 12 tribes bringing new gifts to the Mishkan. Midrash imagines that these 12 men are jealously seeking a role in creating the sacred space. The story goes that when the people were invited to bring gifts, back in the book of Exodus, the tribal leaders held back, wanting to “make up the difference” if there were a shortfall, rather than leading by example. The people brought so many gifts of their hearts that Moses had to stop them, so the tribal leaders gave nothing. But, then they realized they didn’t want to be left out of the communal project.

 

And Aaron apparently felt the same way, which, we are told, is why God told Moses to give Aaron this special task… Let him bring the special light.

 

The chassids teach about the Mishkan’s menorah, or lampstand’s seven stems. Seven is the Jewish number for spiritual perfection. But also, seven for the lower sefirot, the mystical emanations of the divine light, which are also seven aspects of serving God: with kindness (chesed), awe (gevurah), beauty and compassion (tiferet), perseverance (netzach), character (hod), love (yesod) and humility (malchut). The light of the menorah is clearly spiritual light.

 

Nachmanides (13th Century sage) commented that the menorah lighting was a sign for Aaron that his descendants would always care for the light. He noted that, more than a thousand years later, his descendants, the Maccabees, would fight to free the land of the Assyrians, purify the temple, and rekindle the menorah.

 

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine…

 

And that’s the power of Jewish spiritual light. Each of us needs to bring our own light into the community. We each have our own contributions, our own special gifts to contribute. And, as was true with the original donations to the Mishkan, we continue to bring the gifts of our hearts, what lights our souls, what gives passion to our steps. For example, Mike told us that bringing his music has changed how he perceives High Holy Days—a benefit to him, but how much more to do us?

 

When each of us brings our gift of the heart, our own torch, then our space is ablaze with spiritual light. When we each bring our own light, we become like a tallit, a representation of the spiritual light that envelops the Holy One in Psalm 104…a shelter of peace in the chaos of the world.

 

So many gifts surround us—all the work that the Gan HaLev board members each do to keep the community together, for example. Or visiting the sick, welcoming the stranger, bringing food to a family with a new baby or experiencing loss, celebrating in joyful moments, being the person who makes sure others—especially kids and seniors—feel seen and heard, helping people find housing, creating opportunities for learning, helping at the food bank or senior lunches. It’s about finding your own unique, personal imprint on Jewish life in the Valley. Or wherever you live.

 

Sacred light is also an antidote to spiritual darkness. So much is dark in our world right now…terrorist attacks all over the world, stabbings on trains, deportations and forced separations of parents from children, threats to our republic’s foundations, threats to the environment… Everywhere we turn, we find darkness. But each of us carries our tzelem Elohim—sparks of the Divine—within us, our souls are alight, like the torches in the synagogue.

 

Out there in the dark, I’m gonna let it shine
Out there in the dark, I’m gonna let it shine
Out there in the dark, I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, shine, shine
Let it shine!

 

When we find our own special light, our way of serving, we can stop feeling despair at the state of the world, as we do our part to make it better…better… better…better. And when we act, we feel better than we do when we sit in the dark. When we act, we bring divine light into our reality.

 

In Pirkei Avot, the teachings of our ancestors, Rabbi Judah HaNasi poses the question, “What is the right path?” And he answers: “One who honors both self and other. Be as mindful of small acts as great ones, for you cannot know the consequences of either.”

 

And how can we do this?

 

By recognizing that small deeds can have just as much effect on our souls and on others as large ones.

 

An example of a small act that made a difference:

 

At a spiritual care team meeting at my old job at Alta Bates, one of my colleagues told a story of providing a used coat to a homeless patient in the emergency room. As he helped the person into the coat, the recipient exclaimed,

 

“It’s such a warm coat! How wonderful!”

 

Then, “And it’s got a zipper! It’s warm and it’s got a zipper!”

 

As the chaplain zipped it for the person, he heard,

 

“And it’s got a hood! Oh my, it’s got a hood!”

 

The person’s gratitude over such a small act of kindness overflowed in the department, as people recognized what was happening. Several staff told the chaplain later that it had left them in tears.

 

It was just a little thing, but it made so much difference to that person.

 

The person who donated their old, albeit warm, zippered and hooded, coat might just have been cleaning out their closet, not imagining the effect that coat would have on its recipient. I hold this story in my heart, and have started to give my old or too large clothes to the hospital to be given to others whose day, if not whole winter, could be turned around.

 

May we each find our own personal and unique light and shine it bright into the darkness. May we provide the light that dispels the dark in our homes, our community, our world.

 

Now one more time:

 

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine…

 

Thanks to R’ Monique Mayer for spurring me in this direction.

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