Our Light to the Community

June 9, 2023 / 20 Sivan 5783

Aaron is remembered for many personal qualities and unique tasks, and in the opening verses of this week’s Torah portion, Behaalotecha, Aaron is specifically assigned the daily responsibility to kindle the Tabernacle’s seven-branched menorah. In fact, our tradition teaches that Aaron, who was the only one who performed this action during the entire forty years of wandering in the desert, did so every day with the same commitment, dedication, and enthusiasm as he did on the first day he was tasked with this responsibility. 

At the same time, light is a very powerful metaphor in our Jewish tradition. Light enables us to see, in an otherwise dark world (Exodus 10:22-23), while also providing us warmth from the coldness of its absence (Pirke Avot 2:10). Additionally, we are tasked with being “a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6). In fact, the menorah that Aaron is responsible for lighting each day is the sacred ritual object that eventually becomes represented by the ner tamid (the “ever-lasting light” found in every modern sanctuary to this day, Leviticus 6:6).

Our great sage Rashi elaborates on the meaning of this week’s Torah portion’s namesake, Behaalotecha, which originates from the word עולה (“ascending”). We learn that when one brings their flame close to the wick of another, one is responsible to maintain the flame until the unlit wick possesses its own flame that “ascends” upward to the heavens. Pulling away our flame too soon and the other wick flickers out, leaving our flame too long and we burn excess oil from the candle to be lit.

So too is our obligation to assist others. We must maintain our support until the person in need is ready to preserve their independence. Whether the assistance is emotional, financial, or even educational, there is a balance and consistency needed to ensure that when we eventually pull away our “flame”, the person in need is ready and able to sustain their own light.

As the Jewish Federation, we are set up to follow Aaron’s lead and find ourselves in the position of extending the community flame to other Jewish agencies and individuals. And like Aaron, we take great pride and passion in our role and responsibility. Yet, as individual employees of the Jewish Federation, we too find ourselves sometimes in need of being rekindled. 

This week was one of those weeks. I had the pleasure and privilege of spending the week at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, being around fellow adult learners and being taught by national scholars on broad Jewish topics. In one class, under the guidance and instruction of Professor Brett Ashley Kaplan, we read novels of recognized Jewish writers ranging from Philip Roth to Nicole Krauss to Nathan Englander, gaining insight into Jewish life. In another class, we read research on celebrations and rituals from biblical times through the first and second temple periods up until modern rabbinic and scholarly responsa, led by Professor Leonard Greenspoon. There are times when we need to refuel and even relight our flame so that we in turn can relight others’.

This week, I encourage each of us to do a quick check of our lighter fuel and if we’re running low, find a way to refuel. Conversely, if we’re burning bright then let us find another member of the community whom we can help rekindle their flame. As this week’s Torah portion teaches, we need to support those who need our support while they secure the ability to shine in our absence, because we are…


Shabbat shalom,