It’s All About the Light


BEHALOTECHA Numbers 8:1-12:16

If it''s true that all we need to know we''ve already learned in kindergarten, eavesdrop with me, if you will, on one of the classic dialogues between Alice and the Cheshire Puss.

Alice: "Tell me, what''s the best way for me to go?"

"It all depends on where you want to go," answered the cat.

"I don''t really care," replied Alice.

"Then it doesn''t much matter how you go," responded the cat.

Well, my friends, we care.

The difference between being a "wandering Jew" and a "journeying Jew" is the difference in how you lead your life. Roaming about aimlessly and without direction is wandering – traveling with purpose and meaning – even if getting to the ultimate destination takes 40 years. It is a stunning insight about directionality that we are introduced to this week.

Moses was to instruct Aaron that "when you kindle the lamps, el mool p''nei hamenora, toward the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast light."

Perhaps no other symbol is more representative of the Jewish people and Jewish journey than the menorah. On Feb. 10, 1949, the Knesset established the seven-branch menorah as the official symbol of the State of Israel; it is displayed outside the Knesset building in Jerusalem.

The official design of the menorah is the same as it appears on the Arch of Titus in Rome. In the year 70 C.E., Rome laid waste to Jerusalem, destroyed her Temple, exiled the Jews, renamed the city after a pagan god, and – as if in a final act of derision and ignominy – took captive the menorah, the symbol par excellence of Jewry.

Though the design on Titus'' Arch is not the exact design of the Temple''s menorah, it was adopted as the official symbol of Jewish renaissance. Yes, there was a big brouhaha over its adoption at the time, but what stunning symbolism.

Direction Matters
Let''s learn something bold from the very design of our menorah. I believe this "argument from design" is an argument for Jewish survival and, dare I coin the term, "thrival."

The menorah had seven candles, but the wicks all inclined toward the middle candle; that is, the three wicks on the right leaned left toward the middle, and the three on the left leaned right toward the middle. I don''t know if Frank Lloyd Wright or Maya Lin would have designed it this way, but God did.


The Talmud understands the middle candle as pointed in the direction of the Divine Presence. However you understand this, one thing is incontrovertible: Direction matters. The Jewish people, in order to possess light and be a "light unto the nations," must be inclined toward this Presence. Our values and visions, ideas and ideals must reflect and refract this light.

We have a word for this. It''s called Torah. And is not Torah our shared sacred story?

So go toward the light – direction matters.

Rabbi David Gutterman is executive director of the Vaad: Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia, and director of Jewish enrichment of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.



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