Parashat Tetzaveh – Erev Shabbat 6 March 2020
Week of 1-7 March 2020
Torah portion: Exodus 27:20-30:10 Haftarah: 1 Sam 15:2-34
Parashat Tetzaveh begins with the command to light a ner tamid (“eternal light”). Light can provide a sense of security and comfort. Many of us light candles in times of sadness and grief. Light allows us to see what is around us. It helps to allay our fears and reassure us of God’s presence in the midst of our darkest times. Chanukah and Christmas occur in the Northern Hemisphere at a time when night is at its longest and daylight at its shortest. In the Southern Hemisphere they occur when natural light is at its most abundant. Light is a central symbol in both of these feasts.
Light beckons us. It provides a focus in the darkness leading us on. A light is kept burning in synagogues above the ark (the place where the Torah scrolls are kept). This light is referred to as the ner tamid and is a reminder of the menorah that was placed in the Temple. It is also a reminder of the divine presence, or Shekinah (Sarna, 176). A similar light is also kept burning above the tabernacle in Roman Catholic churches, once more to signify God’s presence (this time in the form of the consecrated host). In St Patrick’s Cathedral Melbourne, yellow stained-glass windows allow the congregation to be bathed in light. These lights draw us towards the presence of God in our places of community and worship.
A Midrash in Shemot Rabbah compares the ner tamid to the word of God contained in Torah. Just as a person without a lamp will stumble in the darkness, so too will a person without the Torah stumble through life (Leibowitz, 515). In the Psalms we read: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (119:105).
According to the sages, one who performs good deeds (mitzvot) is like a lamp: just as a lamp is not diminished when other flames are lit from it, so too is a person not diminished through the performance of mitzvot (Leibowitz, 515). When we live as God has intended us to live, we reflect God’s light to the world just as the moon reflects the light of the sun giving light to the night. Just as one candle can be used to light another: it is in doing God’s will that my ner tamid might just ignite the ner tamid of those around me.
A 14th century poet Yedaiada ben Abraham Bedresi describes the Torah and humanity as the flame and torch of God on earth. Together they fill the whole house with light (Leibowitz, 521). In Jewish homes each Shabbat women light candles with their families calling to mind God’s presence. This weekly ritual helps to rekindle the light of God’s presence on a regular basis filling the whole house with light: a weekly reminder of the eternal presence of the Eternal One.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How do I bring the light of God into a troubled world? 2. How do I kindle or rekindle the light of God’s presence in my life and in the lives of others?
Bibliography: Leibowitz, N. Studies in Shemot (Exodus) (Jerusalem: 1980); Sarna, N. M. Exodus, The JPS Torah Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Philadelphia: 1991)