Tetzaveh: Why is light the most common symbol for God?

Friends,

Our Torah portion speaks about the ner tamid, which is often translated as the “eternal light” but it would be better to understand it as “always light” because it always had to be tended to.  The Hebrew suggests this meaning rather than the more familiar eternal light.  The ner tamid is the only commandment associated with the ancient tabernacle that we still do today almost exactly as it is commanded in the Torah.

Here is our question for this Shabbat: Why is light the most common symbol for God?

One answer, suggested in the Etz Hayim Commentary, is because light itself cannot be seen.  We become aware of its presence when see other things that it illuminates. So too with God.  We become aware of God’s presence when we behold the beauty of the world, or the love of others, or the goodness of others.  It is only in light’s reflection that we discern its reality.

This analogy to light works also with fire, another symbol for God, used in Judaism.  Fire is also not an object.  We become aware of its presence when we feel it.  Fire is also a process of liberating energy from something combustible.  Fire requires our efforts to tend it.  That is why the ner tamid must be the “always light.”  Thus God becomes real in our lives when we liberate the potential energy within ourselves for good.

People often ask where is God?  I admit that the light and fire of God can too often be obscured.  But the helpful message of these metaphors is that we have to look very hard to discern their reality.  Light and fire are often perceived by the glow or warmth they create rather than in their own realities.

What is the Bible’s most familiar image for God?  It is the burning bush.  When Moses stands before the bush he is amazed that it is not consumed by the fire.  You have to stare a long while before discovering that the bush was not consumed.  Miracles are discerned over time not immediately.  Making God a reality requires effort.  It is a matter of looking carefully.  It is a matter of always tending the fire.  It is not a matter of magic.  It is instead a matter of recognising when and searching for the glimmer and reflection of light.

Have a wonderful and blessed Shabbat –

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Rabbi Steven Moskowitz)

Parashat Bo: Fighting the gods of Egypt

 

 

 

 

Chaverim Yakarim

 As many scholars have noted, the plagues that struck Egypt during the Exodus can be interpreted as being assaults on the various gods of Egypt: the Nile, the sun, even to the firstborn of Pharaoh. But after the “official” plagues have ended, one more Egyptian god will come under assault. “Speak to the whole community of Israel and say that on the tenth of this month of them shall take a lamb to a family, a lamb to a household” (12:3). God told the Israelites to acquire a lamb—which is not just an animal, but an Egyptian animal god. In other words, it seems as if God is telling the Israelites to get themselves an Egyptian lamb-god and therefore buy into the Egyptian religious system—which means becoming good Egyptians. The Israelites must live with their lamb-gods for four days. That’s enough time to become comfortable with their new gods. It is also enough time for their Egyptian neighbours to have seen them and to have therefore assumed that the Israelites are (finally) prepared to fit into Egyptian life.

Not so fast—The Israelites then slaughter their lambs. They dab the blood on the doorposts of their houses—in a place where everyone can see it. That is why a midrash portrays God as understanding that “as long as the Israelites worship the Egyptian gods, they shall not be redeemed. Withdraw your hands from idolatry and take a lamb, and therefore slaughter the gods of Egypt and make the Passover.”

The slaughtering of the lambs, therefore, did not only symbolise physical freedom and national redemption. It was also an outward manifestation of freedom from Egyptian idolatry—and, with that, the Israelites are ready to truly make their break with Egypt.

Today, killing lambs is not our idea of a good time, nor is it a symbolic act. But when our ancestors made their courageous break for freedom they had to break with every aspect of their enslavement. May we find the courage to break with poisoning traditions in our lives, which limit our own freedom as we enter this new secular year.

Shabbat Shalom—Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin)