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We Never Lose Hope  #768

03/03/2023 03:09:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Tetzaveh

"You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly (Exodus 27:20).

We Never Lose Hope

With mixed emotions, on the morning of Saturday, November 3, 2012, the Cantor and I silently crossed over dozens of fallen branches, unlocking the side door to Congregation Tifereth Israel.

On one hand—with some concern—we were stepping over the raw debris from Hurricane Sandy.

Our community was without power, and some of our congregants were struggling to keep warm.

On the other hand, a bar mitzvah was planned, and we had no thought of turning back.

As we walked into the darkened sanctuary, we saw something remarkable.

Our congregation’s eternal light—the Ner Tamid—radiated with a soft pink hew across the front of the sanctuary. It drew its light directly from the sun through a solar panel installed on the roof a few months earlier.

While most of Glen Cove and the area anxiously remained in darkness, our holy ark basked in a calming, steady light. Standing there, somehow we felt comforted, and filled with hope.

A generator eventually arrived to provide power to the first few rows in the sanctuary, and we held the bar mitzvah that morning with minimal light, but with maximum joy.

This week, I thought about that bar mitzvah, and the unique comfort we felt. Most of all, I thought about the purity of that moment—even without the trappings of our sanctuary, that there was an undeniable feeling that God was among us.

The importance of light opens this week’s ParashahTetzaveh (And you shall instruct)—as God commands the Israelites to produce pure olive oil to light the original Jewish santuary.

Jews know how important light is. It commands our attention as we kindle Shabbat candles—or celebrate Chanukah.

But 3,400 years ago, it meant more. It stood for positivity. It stood for God. It stood for hope.

How interesting that this is the only weekly Torah portion in the last four books of the Torah—where Moses’ name is not mentioned.

Our Sages speculate that this was designed to remind us that the Torah is not about a single person. Rather we are all unique and precious in God’s sight. 

Some Sages speculate that Moses’ absence was devised to ensure that no cult would ever be established in his name. It is, perhaps, one reason why his name is never mentioned in the Passover Haggadah.

Rather, Judaism focuses on God and on all humanity—and that light burns within us and between us.

So, this week, before the Torah turns its attention to anointing Aaron and his sons as Judaism’s priestly class—the Kohanim—we focus on the originjal menorah, and the purity that emanated from it.

Our Sages note that, like God, we cannot hold light in our hand.

We become aware of its presence when we witness God’s creation, through our children, our grandchildren, the miracle of birth—the magnificence of this planet.

It is manifested in the burning bush and by the candles that flicker on Jewish festivals and celebrations—and perhaps most of all by the light of the Jewish people that never dies.

It reminds us that wherever we have travelled, whatever persecution we have endured, wherever we have been exiled—God’s eternal light travels with us.

The Talmud talks about many types of oil or other substances we can use to kindle lights—turnip oil, gourd oil, even bitumen. But we hold out for the purity of olives.

For an olive branch represents peace. Therefore, its essence—which was poured into the menorah—had to be pure, uncontaminated by jealousy, pride or greed.

Light represents the capacity within each of us to nurture optimism and hope, and to spread it when the world around us seems dark—even when it feels that the power has been turned off.

One of the most iconic Israeli songs talks about hope. It was written by the late Naomi Shemer, titled Al Kol Eileh, and its chorus implores us Al Tishkach et Hatikva—to never give up on our hopes and dreams.

In 2018, Israelis—strangers—were invited to a Tel Aviv auditorium to sing Al Kol Eleh together to witness how more than 10,000 strangers can gather—some survivors of the Holocaust—all weathering daily threats from terrorist groups and hostile nations—to embrace and become one single light.

For the purity of tikva—hope—will forever burn within you and me, and the Jewish people.

This week’s Torah portion reminds us that when all is dark, when it seems we are surrounded by debris and downed branches, when our foundation appears weak, we can still reach within and embrace the purity of God’s light.

By remembering that God does not dwell in the heavens, but rather within us and around us, we can endure any storm.

The Book of Isaiah reminds us as Jews to serve as a light unto other nations. We have not always succeeded, but it is our God-given mission:

When all around us appears dark we turn toward the light.

For by choosing light, we choose life.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784