This week, one important lesson of Beha'alotecha is that there are times when we have to do even more than shine our own lights: we have to become lamp-lighters, the kinds of people who can ignite flames in others, causing light to spread far and wide.
This week's Torah portion, Beha'alotecha, begins with the command to Aaron: "When you raise light in the lamps..." (Numbers 8:2). The Torah is talking about lighting the physical, seven-branched menorah used in the portable sanctuary set up by the Israelites in the wilderness. But, the medieval commentator Rashi adds a layer of spiritual significance of the verse, noting that the word "beha'alotecha" comes from the Hebrew word olah (meaning, ascending/rising), and reading this verse as explaining that a lamp-lighter must hold the flame to the wick until a flame arises of its own accord.
Last week as we brought in Shabbat together at our Virtual Candle-Lighting, we sang the words "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine" (a gospel song from the 1920s that was adapted and used widely in connection with the civil rights movement). This week, one important lesson of Beha'alotecha is that there are times when we have to do even more than shine our own lights: we have to become lamp-lighters, the kinds of people who can ignite flames in others, causing light to spread far and wide.
If we didn't know it already, the events of the last two weeks have driven home the point that we are witnessing -- and living -- history-in-the-making right now. This is a time to be fully alert and awake to the possibilities for justice that are emerging faster than most of us could have imagined. Light is spreading fast as new ideas and conversations take hold, and we have the opportunity to serve as lamp-lighters, conveyors of the light, in a variety of different ways.
We all strive to stand on the side of right, taking an active stance against racism and hatred, and spreading the light of justice, peace and equity. Of course, we acknowledge that this may look different for each of us, given not only our different interests and the range of ideas we may hold about the best public policy solutions, but also the complexity of this COVID-19 moment (when different individuals will need to make different decisions about the risks of showing up at public marches and protests). There is no one-size-fits-all way to show up in this historic moment and help spread the light... just an imperative that each of us must aspire to be lamp-lighters to the best of our ability!
This week, the two of us participated in "interfaith protest chaplaincy" (together with colleagues from other faith traditions), spending time in the area of Capitol Hill now known as "the Autonomous Zone." There, we were witness to a remarkable gathering of humans from all backgrounds and all walks of life... a continuous teach-in, with face-masks and food being distributed freely, with medics and legal advisors circulating, with volunteers picking up trash and scrubbing graffiti off of storefronts.
Tomorrow (Friday, June 12th) , as many of you probably know, Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County has called for a general strike and a silent march, the goal of which is "to honor lives lost and send a powerful message that Washingtonians no longer tolerate the racism that is built into so many of our institutions." For those who feel comfortable marching right now, please click here for more information about the march. (People are asked to assemble at Judkins Park beginning at 1pm and then silently march, starting at 2pm, to Jefferson Park, where there will be closing remarks.) This march is billed as "family-friendly," and masks and social distancing are expected. If you're interested in marching as part of the Kavana contingent (and we may meet up with a larger Jewish community contingent), please email Kavana partner Brooke B. to connect about where to meet.
We are also in conversation with other Jewish groups in Seattle about banding together to provide support to protestors -- including supplies like PPE, bag lunches and hot meals (stay tuned for more information coming soon on these opportunities). And of course, there are countless other ways to participate: through education (of ourselves and others), reaching out to our elected officials, supporting POC-owned businesses, and making meaningful donations to support the organizations doing work we value. A couple of great Jewish resources in this moment include T'ruah's "Resouces on Police Brutality, Protests, and the Black Lives Matter Movement," and Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner's list of "Ways your Congregation Can Act Now for Racial Justice." Even the pre-election work we were already planning to do around voting rights and voter registration, engagement and turnout ties in to the themes of racial justice (see below for the new event we've added to our calendar on July 1st).
As we were reminded just a couple weeks ago at Shavuot, just before our ancestors received the commandments at Mount Sinai, we were called on to be a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation." This means that the task assigned to Aaron and his sons (the priests) in this week's parasha -- to "raise light in the lamps" -- is in fact a task assigned to all of us. How will you act as a lamp-lighter in this moment? What role(s) will you play? Now is the time to commit and to spread the light.
Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum & Rabbi Josh Weisman
The Torah is usually terse and concise, but this week's parasha, Chayei Sarah, centers around a long story that is anything but! All 67 verses of Genesis chapter 24 are devoted to a single narrative: the tale of Abraham sending his servant on a journey to find a wife for his son Isaac, and returning with Rebecca, a woman of great agency, strength and generosity.
We Jews know how to wait. That is, we deeply understand humanity's imperfections, and that the presence of injustice or cruelty in our world cannot undermine our steadfast focus on trying to achieve our vision of a more perfect, more just future. We have lots of historical experience to draw on, and much language for this kind of spiritual resilience. One line that's been swimming through my head this week is from the prayer "Ani Maamin": "v'af al pi she-yitmameah, im kol zeh achakeh lo." Translating loosely here (and transposing what we're waiting for from a messianic figure to a time characterized by messianic ideals), this means: despite the fact that it's taking a long time for the world to change in the ways we believe it should, still, we are undeterred; we will wait - and work - until we arrive at an era of peace and justice.
Yesterday was the second anniversary of the violent attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Its memory casts a long shadow for me, and this year, the anniversary feels like a powerful reminder of the very high stakes of next week’s election.