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People Are the Source of Light

06/19/2019 08:56:38 AM


Rabbi Ron Segal

An oft-repeated story tells of a mountain village in Europe, several centuries ago, in which there was a Jewish nobleman who wondered what meaningful legacy he could leave for the townspeople. After much thought he decided to build a synagogue. No one saw the plans for the building until it was finished. When the people came for the first time they marveled at its beauty – the majestic high ceilings, the intricate carved wood throughout the building, and the finely woven tapestries. They stood in the sanctuary, admiring the ark and the beautiful Torah mantles, until someone asked, “Where are the lamps?  How will the sanctuary be lit?” The nobleman pointed to brackets that were affixed to the walls throughout the synagogue, and then gave each family and resident of town a lamp which they were to bring with them each time they came to the synagogue. “Each time you are not here,” he said, “a part of the synagogue will remain dark. This is to remind you that, even in the most beautiful of spaces, it is ultimately you who provide light for a community.”

In the opening verses of this week’s Torah portion (B’ha’alotcha), Aaron and his sons are commanded to mount and light the lamps on the hammered gold menorah in the ancient Tabernacle. The lamps are to be tended to daily to ensure they never go out. There is a commentary in the midrash which notably relates that it is not for God’s sake that we light the menorah, but for our own. “And God said: Out of the darkness I brought light; do I then need your light? I only told you to kindle lamps in order to elevate you” (B’midbar Rabbah).  

As renovations and construction continue to take place at Temple Sinai, the spiritual significance of both the story and the midrash are particularly striking. While needed updates and new aesthetic touches will unquestionably add to the visual beauty of our synagogue, it is the truth of this week’s lesson that remains paramount. For light to emanate from every corner of the synagogue, it is ultimately up to each and every member of our congregational family to bring your lamps, and to share your light and your spirits. May all appreciate the vital role you play in helping to illuminate Temple Sinai.   

Wishing you a Shabbat of Light – 

Rabbi Ron Segal

Wed, February 19 2020 24 Sh'vat 5780