February 14, 2019
9 Adar I 5779
Exodus 27:20 — 30:10
“You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten oil for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly. Aaron and his sons shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting which is over the Ark of the Covenant, to burn from evening to morning before Adonai. It will serve as a light for all time throughout the generations of Israel.” (Exodus 27: 20-21)
This is how this week’s Torah portion begins. It is a description of an eternal flame that is never to be extinguished. I grew up in a community where there was a red bulb inside a sconce hanging above the ark. The trick was to make sure the bulb never burned out.
In our community, we have a different kind of eternal flame. It is one that I believe was lit by those who came together to found the Tehillah community and has been maintained and nurtured by those who have followed over the years.
The biblical description makes it seem so simple. All you need is olive oil and those with the commitment to tend the flame. But we know better. There are many steps in maintaining the flame, the fire of a community, whether it be a real flame or a metaphorical one. It takes care and constant attention, and if one person falters, there needs to be someone else to take his or her place. For that to work, we need to pay attention to one another.
Tehillah has always been for me a hearth that invites all who enter to bask in the warmth and glow of the community. It is reminiscent of the sense of welcome that seemed to be a natural element of my family. But Tehillah is much bigger, and as a result, needs many hands to tend its flames.
The JPS translation above misses an important element of the Hebrew. Tetzavah literally means “command.” The word is an imperative. You shall command, not instruct. Creating the light is a commandment. Our tradition teaches us that that light is the light of Torah. Our Torah is one we grapple with, wrestle with, to create meaning to bring light into the world.
The onus is on each and every one of us to create a place where we can bask in the warmth and comfort of that hearth fire, that fire which is Torah. The light of that fire serves as a beacon in troubled times, as a source of strength to all who approach, and, most of all, it is the light by which we are able to go forward, not alone, but gaining strength from one another.
Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn