For most of us, and surely most of humanity, the past 13 months have required us to wade through darkness and confusion. In the natural inclination to search for the light and clarity, when we could, we summoned our inner strength and determination to live with hope and joy as we caught glimpses of the light that sustains us. As Jews, we are taught to look for the light. What is the source of that light?
Our sages teach, “May your eyes always sparkle with light of Torah and may you hear the music of its words.” We read the same words in the Torah every year. How can we maintain the “sparkle” if it’s the same words year after year?
Rabbi Ben Bag-Bag, a disciple of Rabbi Hillel, taught his students HOW to study the Torah. He said, “Turn it, turn it, for everything is in it.” Torah is like a kaleidoscope. Turn it ever so slightly and something new is illuminated, and we may look in wonder as if for the first time. Let it bring you comfort knowing meaning and purpose can be reawakened in your soul.
I see a connection to photography in Rabbi Bag-Bag’s teaching. A compelling photograph can evoke many emotions. I wonder how the photographer, (the creator of the photograph,) chooses the subject or scene. I wonder how the best photographers train their eyes to successfully convey what they want us to see. Why did a particular detail demand the focus? Isn’t it important to consider the context? What may have been going on in the photographer’s life or even the time period when the picture was taken? What may they have been thinking…experiencing? What was the context? Were the context different, would the photographer have chosen a different focus? And, then, of course, there is the light. Because light is such a crucial element of photography. The light needs to be captured.
In this week’s Torah portion, Emor, we encounter the litany of details and rules for the performance of rituals, and the enumeration of laws for the Temple’s priestly authoritative cult. Details of the Festivals are, yet again, confirmed. I’m sure you can imagine how many times I’ve “turned the Torah.” As I did so this week, there it was -- the light. Amidst all the rules and details, the Torah commands, “You shall have one standard for stranger and citizen alike, for I, the eternal am your God.” The Torah’s teachings are as relevant today as they were during the time of Hillel and his disciples.
Turn yourself, again and again, and contemplate. I pray that in the turning, the light will come shining through, and when it does, I pray you will be able to choose which to focus on.
Cantor Don Gurney