For years now, as I’ve read and reread our Torah stories, I’ve been intrigued by the process itself, of what happens when one returns anew to a piece of literature. Why in some instances does a mundane detail suddenly jump off the page, while in other instances, something entirely new emerges from a familiar section of text?
Each year, I am drawn to the opening of this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh. God instructs Moses to command the Israelites to bring “clear illuminating oil, made from hand-crushed olives, to keep the lamp constantly burning.” This ner tamid or eternal flame is meant to burn from evening until morning, in God’s presence. There is much to consider here regarding the oil and how it was made—by hand and by the people themselves—and concerning the lamp, a lamp that is filled with sufficient oil to burn until sunrise but that burns all day.
I have read this passage dozens of times, maybe more. This year, what emerges from the text like a figure emerging from the fog is the lamp, illuminating the darkness, an embodiment of the edict that we, the descendants of the Israelite people, the inheritors of their legacy, be a light—especially in a time of darkness.
A friend of mine shared a blogpost his daughter had written while she was studying abroad. There is, in her essay, another image of fire, but the flame she describes is not one that illuminates. It is, rather, one that consumes. I wanted to share her words with you because they speak about an all too frequent occurrence: antisemitism and confrontation, in this case, endured by a young Jewish woman. I’m pained for her and, really, for us all.
For more than three thousand years, we have been taught by our tradition to personify the flames of the ner tamid and to be a constant and abiding source of light in our world. Now is the time to commit ourselves anew to filling the darkness with light. Shine forth.
Rabbi Jay Strear
President & CEO
Please email Rabbi Strear at CEO@JEWISHcolorado.org with comments or questions.