18 February 2016
This week’s parasha is Tetzaveh, which focuses on the building of the sanctuary, the vestments worn by the priests and the (reluctant) relinquishment of the High Priesthood to Aaron by Moses. The portion begins with, “You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly. Aaron and his sons shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain that is over the Pact [so that they burn] from evening to morning before God” (Exodus 27:20-21).
This is the first reference to the ner tamid – the eternal lamp which glows in every synagogue throughout the world. Judaism is a religion of light, and more specifically, candles. We begin each Shabbat with the kindling of the candles, as well as each holiday. We bid farewell to the Sabbath with the Havdalah ceremony, again with a candle. We memorialize our loved ones with yartzheit candles, and we call Chanukah the Festival of Lights.
The Torah remains the ultimate source of light – helping to guide us through darkness and uncertainty. The ner tamid, placed directly over the holy ark, reflects the strength of this metaphor and vice versa. It is through the ritual of candle lighting that we recall the power of light over darkness, hope over despair and truth over falsehood. Given the world we live in, the seemingly pervasive anger so often cited, and the darkness of terrorism and hatred, we’ll be needing lots of light these days….