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D'var Torah - Perashat Beha’alotekha

05/31/2018 05:00:19 PM


Rabbi Hayyim Kassorla

"The Lord spoke to Moses saying, Speak to Aaron and say to him, when you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand." (Numbers 8:1-2)

The beginning of this portion is read twice a year, for this week and on the last day of Hanukkah. The Haftarah is also done twice a year, this week and on the Shabbat of Hanukkah. Both speak of the lighting of a seven branched lampstand or menorah. (This is different from the Menorah we use on Hanukkah which has nine branches.) It was the responsibility of the priests to keep the lamps lit at all times. 

Light is a powerful metaphor used not only in Judaism but in many other spiritual traditions. Even in our modern language when we speak of some kind of human understanding, we say that someone "saw the light." Cartoonists use a light bulb going on to symbolize an idea. Light is a metaphor of the mind or consciousness. The book of Proverbs teaches that "the soul of man is the light of God." (Proverbs 20:27)

If light is such a powerful and often used metaphor, it is worthy to ask the question what exactly is light.   On the most basic level, light is an electro-magnetic wave. Visible light is actually a tiny part of the electro-magnetic spectrum. There are waves with much lower energy and longer wave lengths such as radio waves and micro waves. There are waves with much higher energy and shorter wave lengths such as x-rays and gamma rays. Our eyes evolved to perceive a tiny part of this spectrum of waves which constantly surround us.

Light is something that exists beyond time and space, in some spiritual dimension that we cannot even imagine. We may look at light in this world but there is something other-worldly, non-spatial and non-temporal, almost spiritual about light. No wonder that light is probably the best metaphor for the spiritual dimension of life. The belief in Olam Haba, the world to come.

It is popular today to teach that we live in a physical world of matter in motion in time and in space. The universe is this and nothing more. Light seems to point to some other dimension of reality. Call it God or mind or consciousness or the soul. There is something beyond this world. It was the responsibility of the priests to keep the lights lit, to make sure that the world would never forget this spiritual dimension.  These ideas are as important today as they were in the ancient Temple. As Peter, Paul, and Mary famously sang, "Don't let the lights go out."

Shabbat Shalom

Thu, October 1 2020 13 Tishrei 5781