2016-02-17 / Religion Column

Caring for the light within us and in those around us

RABBI JENNIFER FRENKEL
Cong. M’kor Shalom

Parashat Tetzaveh Ex. 27:20-30:10

In the Book of Proverbs we read, “Ner Adonai nishmat adam”—the lamp of God is the soul of man.

Our Torah portion, Tetzaveh, begins with God’s instruction to the Israelites to bring pure olive oil to the tabernacle, the portable sanctuary they have constructed in the desert, so that the lamp inside would burn continually. It is the very first ner tamid, what we call the “eternal light,” although better translated as “the lamp that is always to be kept burning.”

Several chapters earlier, God promises to continually dwell among the people if they create a suitable space for Him, and the ner tamid serves as an ever-present reminder that God is with us always. Interestingly though, the Hebrew phrase “v’shachanti b’tocham”—“And I shall dwell among them” can also be translated as “And I shall dwell within them.” It is not solely our synagogues and sanctuaries which become dwelling places for the Holy One, but our very bodies and souls as well.

It is, though, so easy to forget that there is a spark of God in everyone, ourselves included, and so easy to forget that we should treat ourselves and others accordingly. We often fail to care for ourselves properly, quickly casting aside our own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs to keep up with the demands of life; certainly not treating ourselves as if there is a divine spark dwelling within us that we are responsible for caring for. And often we struggle to remember that there is that same spark in the people we come in contact with throughout the day, especially the ones who test our patience and push our buttons.

Our forgetfulness around this matter is not a new phenomenon. We see it over and over in Torah. Painfully aware that the people just can’t seem to be able to remember such a simple truth, God first has the Israelites create the tabernacle, a constant reminder that God is with them and is concerned with how they treat one another. And then God has the people set up and tend to the ner tamid, the light that is to be kept burning to remind them of not only God’s constant presence in the world, but also of their own divine light within.

But even these reminders are not enough, so God comes up with something a bit more obvious and direct. As God is instructing Moses on how to make the clothing for the priests, God commands that the priests wear a gold plate on their forehead inscribed with the words, “kadosh l’Adonai”—“Holy to God.”

Now, imagine for a moment, that inscribed on your forehead were those same words, words you saw each time you looked in a mirror— when you woke up in the morning, before you went to bed at night, every time you caught a glimpse of your own reflection—a constant reminder that, in God’s eyes, you are holy—set apart, special, unique, seen for what you are, and loved for who you are.

And imagine if you saw that same inscription written on everyone else’s forehead too. Imagine if every time you looked at them, you were reminded that they are holy to God too. That they, too, matter to God and are loved by Him.

We are each kadosh l’Adonai — holy to God. And when we catch ourselves forgetting that, let us stop for a moment and look even harder to see the inscription written on each person’s forehead—a reminder of their sacred purpose, a reminder that they, too, are holy vessels holding divine light. And may we strive to always act in such a way as to live up to the inscription on our own foreheads…acting in a way that is truly holy to God. .

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