Shabbat Shalom with a Healthy Side of Torah


This week, we start over again. We bridge the distance between the end of Torah and its beginning on Simkhat Torah, but now we find ourselves rooted in the next cycle of reading through the text. The world is created and recreated every year we start all over again. One would think that for the 2000 plus years over which this practice has taken place, at some point we should know it already. Every year, though, brings some new insight; uses some experience of the previous year that spawns a whole new line of commentary. Sometimes, though, it is important to retrace our steps, and reinvest ourselves in the lessons we learned years before … but somehow forgot.

Every person who has offered a commentary on the Bible has had something to say about the creation of light. We have twisted it and turned it so that it is a metaphor for knowledge pulled from ignorance, for good and evil, for faith and paganism. I would like to take us back to something far more basic. There is a story I read the other day.

A wealthy man had three sons, and to choose which one was best suited to carry on the family business. He devised a test, and took his three sons to an empty room instructing them, “Fill this room as best as you are able.”

The first son got to work immediately. He called in all sorts of heavy equipment, and brought in earth to fill every corner of the room, floor to ceiling, wall to wall.

The man emptied the room to give the second son his chance. As an accountant, he had years of accumulated boxes of records that now had a useful purpose. It didn’t take long and the room was absolutely filled from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, with paper.

The man then cleared the room for the third son who seemed very casual about the task and did not seem to do much of anything towards its goal. As evening set in, he brought his father into the room. It seemed empty still and was completely dark. He took a candle from his pocket and lit it. The room filled with warm light. Dad awarded him the business.

We fill our lives with so much stuff. We are tied to our calendars, to our belongings, to our …stuff. We have over stuffed closets and resources galore. I am not saying that it is bad to have nice things, but how tied into our things and agendas are we? If we lost it tomorrow, how whole could we be? To best appreciate the beautiful things that we have and the opportunities that allow us to have amazing experiences, we have to be in touch with something basic, something that strikes at our core, something upon which everything else’s relative value depends. Life is empty without warmth, without enlightenment … without light. It is light that allows us to see what is hidden from us in the dark. We can close our eyes to the needs of the world; to the love waiting for us in the arms of those near; to the beauty that fills the space around us. Even while necessary for a great many tasks on earth, earth and paper are not beautiful; are not filled with spirit; and do not change the world.

We are each other’s light in this world. We help each other to see beyond yesterday’s limitations and painfully hurt each other, return the spirit to darkness. There is a prayer in our morning liturgy, “Barukh sh’amar v’ha-yah ha-olam – Praised is the One who spoke the world into being.” As written, the first command in Torah is, “Let there be light.” Everything that follows is dependent on this light. It does not emanate from the sun or the stars (day 4), it … just is, and it “was good.” It is the spark of light that animates each of our lives. The Kabbalah teaches that it is the shattered urn of light that brought us to life, to return the shards to the vessel that it might again be whole. Light is the embodiment of understanding and appreciation. Where we drive out light, or hide ourselves from light, we diminish in spirit. Even while our possessions may mount, they will do far less to fill our souls with joy and our lives with meaning. We spend too much time going through the motions of living … this year may we bask in this light, celebrate in this light, and thrive in this light and “Uv’kharta b’khayim – choose life.” Shabbat Shalom.