Behaalotecha: The Presence of Light and Compassion

lightThe Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.” Aaron did so; he mounted the lamps at the front of the lampstand, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Numbers 8:1-3 (JPS Tanakh)

The Almighty is not in need of our light. On the contrary, we are in need of His. For this reason the Torah guides us in the proper way of taking full spiritual advantage of the light of the Menorah: The lamps must radiate toward themselves, meaning that the light they give should not only illuminate others, but it must come back and shine on the Menorah itself.

This returning light is at once a fact and a commandment. It applies especially in our day and age when the Temple and the Menorah are no longer standing, and when we must fill the void of the reflecting light that the Menorah once provided.

When the light we radiate around us by leading Torah lives returns to us, enhancing our spirituality and improving our behavior to one another, we will have fulfilled both the fact and the commandment of “When you light the lamps opposite the front of the candlestick the seven lamps shall give light.”

-from “Light That Returns”
A commentary on Torah Portion Behaalotecha

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)

I suppose this week’s commentary on the Torah Portion is only loosely based on the Parashah, but I must admit that I need a little extra “light” in my world. With that in mind, I’m “tweaking” my “meditation” to favor “light.”

The Virtual Jerusalem commentary compares the commandment of lighting the Menorah in the Tabernacle to the “light” of spirituality, goodness, Torah study, and scholarship. To a Christian, praying, singing hymns, and preaching the Word might all seem like more worthwhile activities than studying the Bible, but for some Jews, studying Torah is directly associated with obeying its commands to do good and to show kindness to others. When you take in the light of the Torah, it shines in the world around you as well.

That very well could be related to what the Master was thinking when he said the words we have recorded in Matthew 5:14-16. We shine our light because we have received that light from our Master and teacher. It extends out into the world but it also is reflected back toward us as those we have touched in a meaningful way received our light (which comes from our Master) and it returns to us as a blessing.

Yes, we need blessings and renewal because even among the body of believers, it can be a trying world. If you’ve been reading the comments made on my blog over the past week or so, you know that tempers became heated, nerves became frayed, and some among the body of Christ seemingly forgot that our Master taught us a new commandment to love one another (John 13:34). Of course, there is the concept of “tough love” or “I’m only telling the truth,” but the Bible is replete with teachings about how to approach a brother privately to solve a dispute (Matthew 18:15-18).

Of course, Jesus goes on to say:

Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” –Matthew 18:19-20 (ESV)

Naturally, the two have to actually agree on something, which seems easier said and done, and perhaps that “two or three..gathered in my name” means gathering face-to-face and not virtually in the blogosphere.

Yes, the “magic” of brotherhood I experienced at the Shavuot conference I recently attended has dissipated and once again, I encounter the actuality of “religious conversations,” where one can be accused of various misdeeds when the only “crime” that occurred was saying to the other person, “I don’t agree with you.” Failing to unreservedly honor another’s sacred cow can be a terrible thing (and I know a little something about pursuing sacred cows).

Tsvi Sadan calls the Messiah the concealed light, in part because the light of the Jewish King has been temporarily concealed from his Jewish brethern for the sake of the nations (see Romans 11). Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, in presenting the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, says:

It all began with an infinite light that filled all and left no room for a world to be. Then that light was withheld so the world might be created in the resulting void.

Then the world was created, with the purpose of returning to that original state of light — yet to remain a world.

All the world’s problems stem from light being withheld.

Our job then, is to correct this. Wherever we find light, we must rip away its casings, exposing it to all, letting it shine forth to the darkest ends of the earth.

Especially the light you yourself hold.

The Light was concealed. But its Source was not. The Source of Light is everywhere.

For those of you with little tolerance for Chassidic mysticism, I prefer to think of these writings as metaphorical. If indeed we shine some of the “concealed light” of our Master, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, as he taught us, we must not let the light be concealed. We must “rip away its casings” and expose that light to others. But what light are we talking about and what happens when it shines?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. –Matthew 5:3-12 (ESV)

I suppose I could have quoted from any number of the Master’s teachings, but this one seemed particularly appropriate. Who is blessed? The poor in spirit, mourners, the meek, people who are passionate for righteousness, the merciful, the pure of heart, peacemakers, those persecuted for the sake of righteousness, the reviled, those falsely accused on account of the Master.

If you toss the Beatitudes into a big bowl, take a large wooden spoon and stir vigorously, you can come out with the idea that if you are persecuted, reviled, falsely accused, or just plain “bad mouthed,” you should still respond with meekness, act mercifully, be peacemakers, and mourn for the souls of those who need to personalize conflict in the name of Christ. What an odd way to react to a verbal slap in the face, but then the Master also said something about turning the other cheek (though probably not literal in meaning).

Sorry, I just needed to ponder those thoughts and to consider that even the world of religious discourse (some would say especially the world of religious discourse) is no less filled with landmines and tripwires than any secular conversation.

He could have placed streetlamps along all the pathways of wisdom, but then there would be no journey.

Who would discover the secret passages, the hidden treasures, if all of us took the king’s highway?

Toward the light Rabbi Freeman uses light and darkness to describe the presence or absence of wisdom and knowledge of God, but I choose to see this as a metaphor illustrating peace, mercy, and righteousness, or their absense. A movie I’ve seen a few times starring Harrison Ford as (of all people) the President of the United States, contains one of my favorite lines of dialog:

Peace isn’t merely the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.

In my case, I’d settle for only the occasional absence of conflict (since, after all, this is the Internet and human beings are involved), the presence of compassion, and the soft glow of a bit of kindness, like candlelight, holding the darkness at bay.

Good Shabbos.

4 thoughts on “Behaalotecha: The Presence of Light and Compassion”

  1. Hi James, as usual another good blog. I really enjoyed meeting you at the conference and visiting with you a little bit. I haven’t been able to read all of your blogs this week because of needing to take my wife to St. Louis for an appointment with a doctor. But from what I have seen you are sure on a good track. We “Messianics” (which of course means different things to different people) seem to have been more about internalizing the truths we have found in Torah and the Messiah (thus hiding the light under a basket) than letting the light we have found shine to those around us. It’s the difference, as someone at the conference said, between “being right” and “doing right”. I believe we are finally beginning to learn it is more important to “do Torah” than just learn Torah. Anyway, I just wanted to send a short word of encouragement and let you know I am still following your faith journey even if from a distance. I enjoy what you write and appreciate your efforts at being a peacemaker in so many of the debates that seem to rage on the internet. We so need voices of reason such as yours, Jacob Fronczak, and the publications of FFOZ. And you’re right, there really was a sense of “brotherhood” at the conference even though I know we were all at different levels of understanding and observance. And I think that is what our Master would desire from us more than anything. As my wife and I traveled this week we listened to D.Thomas Lancaster’s message “A Promise of What is to Come” that I downloaded from the Beth Immanuel web-site. I wish everyone involved in the movement could listen to that message (maybe 10 times) and realize the truth of what he was saying. We are not trying to re-create the first century, although we are learning from the believers who lived at that time. What we are trying to do is create the last century by realizing what the Messianic Kingdom will look like and trying our best to bring that reality into our lives and the world we live in. Keep up the good work and Shabbat Shalom to you and yours.

  2. Wow, Mel. Thanks. I really appreciate your words of encouragement (and now that I’ve met you, I can “hear” them in your own voice). My continued prayers for your wife. May God grant her a complete healing from Heaven.

    Don’t worry about not being able to keep up with everything I blog about. I write a ridiculous amount. Even my Mom can’t keep up. 😉

    I agree that the important focus of all believers is to “do right” not just “be right” or “think right” or “believe right”. Ultimately, people like me who create blogs and what we produce aren’t as important as one person helping another and actually living out what the Master taught.

    Good Shabbos to you and yours.

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