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Parashat Tetzaveh

February 23, 2024
7 Adar 5784
Exodus 27:20 - 30:10

Dear Friends,

Fashion Week in New York ended just about a week ago. This week, I read through forty verses about how the priests were to be attired. It's a very different kind of fashion show - one designed to impress the people and the Divine.

However, this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, "you shall command" (Exodus 27:20 -30:10), begins not with the details that need to be followed by a particular group of people but rather with the following command that is for all of us throughout all time.

“And Moses,” God commands, “you shall command the sons of Israel to use pure olive oil for kindling the light of the lamps. Aaron shall set up this light to burn continuously in the sanctuary. It will serve as a light for God for all generations. (Exodus 27:20-21)

As much fun as clothes can be, and the many ways in which they are a source of self-expression, the notion of an eternal light is both needed and heartening. It draws me in, given this moment in our world. The commandment to use pure oil is an indication that this is not simply about lighting a match. There is work that needs to be done to create that light. It requires maintenance and vigilance. The more people I talk to, the more I hear how tired people are feeling. By and large, their deepest frustration comes not from their private lives, where they do have some agency, but rather from a sense that the world is in a very dark place and that there isn't much, if anything, that we can do to stop impending doom.

This frame of mind is not consistent with a Jewish approach. There are those that find Judaism to be a lachrymose religion because we frequently point to the terrible things that have befallen us over the millennia. What they fail to consider is that not only are we still here, but that we are enjoined over and over again to celebrate the very miracle of our existence. This work of keeping the light of hope burning even through the darkest of times takes a great deal of effort and faith. But we know that simply standing still and bemoaning our situation accomplishes absolutely nothing.

My students were recently working on writing prayers. It was particularly challenging for one of them. We went back to the basics, working to access our senses - in particular, the Shma, which calls upon us to hear with our entire being. Here is the prayer that emerged in the face of the darkness that this child so clearly perceived. “Listen up everyone, what I really want is peace, so sing together, talk together and laugh together.” Indeed, the light that we need at this very moment is not one that we can bring as individuals. It is only together that we can create an eternal light that carries within it the seeds of hope and possibility.

You may wonder how we can do this. We cannot be lethargic. We need to find what energy we possess and share it with those around us, doing the heavy lifting of supporting one another as we create spaces of joy, hope, and understanding. It is the only way forward in dark times. We are blessed to have an eternal light to show us the way.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner Cahn

Wed, May 22 2024 14 Iyyar 5784