The how, but not the why, of the Eternal Light


This week’s Torah portion is Tetzaveh, Exodus 27:20–30:10.

Light is a powerful symbol in the Torah and in our world. When one looks at the aron kodesh, the Holy Ark, one sees a burning flame. Styles of those lights may differ, but the fact is that synagogues throughout the world have one. That ritual light is known as the ner tamid, the Eternal Light.

At Adat Reyim in Springfield, Va., the ner tamid is sustained by a seven-day lit candle. Its design allows sparks of light to shine throughout the sanctuary. The lamp is beautiful and allows for the theme of this week’s Torah portion to shine every day in our sanctuary.

Last week, the Israelites began gathering the materials for the Tabernacle. In Tetzaveh, the Israelites help bring the divine light of God into our world.

In the opening verse, God instructs Moses, “You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly. Aaron and his sons shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain that is over the Pact [so that they burn] from evening to morning before God.”

This verse is the first of only two times that the Torah makes reference to the ner tamid. (The other reference is in Leviticus 24:2.) While the instructions for constructing the lamp and keeping it burning are explained in detail, the reason it should be kept lit is not explained.

Even if it is not explained, light is very important to us. It is introduced in Genesis on the first day of creation when God separates between the darkness and the light. From the book of Isaiah, the Israelites are told to be a “light to the nations.” Proverbs 6:23 states, “The mitzvah is a lamp and the teaching is light.”

There is also a midrash about tikkun olam, the mitzvah to repair the world, that states that when creation occurred. there was a vessel with the light of God in it. The vessel was not strong enough to hold these divine sparks, so the vessel shattered.

It is thus the obligation of human beings to uncover those pieces of the vessel covering those sparks in our world and unite them to repair our world.

We are part of this light. We are part of gathering those divine sparks and keeping the divine spark of God in our world. Every time we make the world a better place, we are living Torah and participating in Torah aura, the light of Torah. We need to internalize that spark and help usher it into our world.

Questions to consider:

Think about a time in your and your family’s life when you felt that you were using that internal divine spark of God to help make our world a better place. What was that experience?

What could you and your family or friends do to help bring the divine spark into our world on a regular basis?
Would it be helpful to have a special reminder in your home to do mitzvot (commandments)? What could that reminder be? n

Rabbi Jennifer Weiner is educator at Congregation Adat Reyim in Springfield, Va.

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