“When you mount the lamps let the seven lamps give light.”
This week our Torah teaches of the Levites’ responsibilities in caring for the tabernacle. At the very front, leading the way, a seven-branched lamp, full of light. The flames of these lamps are to be kept burning continuously. They are our ner tamid, our forever light, representing the light that burns within each and every one of us and nothing, nothing is to get in the way of keeping that flame lit; not weather, not wind, not movement, not lack of oil, nor human hand. The flame must survive as the Israelites make their way through the wilderness. No easy task. Not unlike us today.
Our light, too, is being threatened, maybe not by wind or weather, but for sure by recent events. Rocket attacks on Israel, civil unrest within Israel, anti-Israel rhetoric, antisemitic rhetoric disguised as anti-zionism, anti-zionism itself, antisemitism itself, violent attacks in our community, and even infighting amongst ourselves!
Meme after meme after meme. Hashtag after hashtag after hashtag bombarding our feeds, bombarding our children. So much noise and ugliness how can we even imagine keeping that flame lit let alone burning brightly? Our shoulders are indeed heavy, to say the least.
In 2006 I was standing on the bridge at the Irmas campus that connects my office to the gym. Rabbi Dennis Eisner stands with me and we are watching his young son laughing and playing with his friends on the field. One would think his face would be full of light enjoying such a moment but no. His expression is solemn.
“Are you OK?” I ask.
“Yeah, I’m just so sad to think that one day these beautiful children so full of joy will find out people will hate them just because they are Jewish.”
That is one of the most painful memories of my rabbinate. And at the same time, one of the most powerfully motivating and hopeful. Why? Because affixed on that very bridge are the words attributed to the Chassidic Rabbi Reb Nachman of Bratslav:
"Kol haolam kulo gesher tzar me’od!"
"The whole world is a very narrow bridge and the most important thing is not to be afraid!"
Yes, these last few weeks have been painful and scary and confusing, and full of darkness. But these past few weeks have also been full of beauty and hope and resilience and light!
In Israel, we saw thousands of Israeli Jews and Palestinians protecting each other and marching together in the name of coexistence. Our schools are filled with children laughing and playing, professing a love of Torah, professing a personal pride in being Jewish. Our temple’s youth group just installed their board, made up of determined, creative, and passionate teens. Other teens in our community are standing up to the injustice they are seeing and experiencing in their schools, writing letters to their administration, and demanding to be heard. Still others, in their own form of protest, are wearing blue and white clothing every day to school. Our college students and our young adults are calling and zooming with me to discuss, learn, ask questions, insisting on going beyond their social media feeds and hashtags! And a recent student from Rabbi Shapiro’s Choosing Judaism course said to me on the day of her conversion, “Judaism isn’t just for the good days, the easy days, we must stand together, tall and proud, during these really tough times.”
She is right. So as we continue on in what feels like the wilderness to us right now, may we find hope and strength knowing that our flame is bright, our flame is strong; our flame, our ner tamid, is forever.