Celebrating the Spiritual Levels of Torah

Torah is a teaching that continues to unfold, guiding us to appreciate the text more fully
as our awareness evolves.

Torah Portion for the week of Feb. 10 - 16, 2019:

(Exodus 27:20 - 30:10)

Light in times of darkness

Last week's Torah reading focused on creating Sanctuary in the outer as well as the inner world. This week's parashah tells us some of what is required within that Sanctuary. It all begins with Light.

And you shall command the people of Israel that they bring you pure beaten oil olive for the light, to kindle the Everlasting Light (Ner Tamid). (27:20)

First, we create the environment for Light. In the outer world, we were told to bring pure olive oil. In the inner world, we are to bring the intention needed to draw our awareness of that Light. This is not just any light, but the Light called Ner Tamid, an Eternal Light. But though the Light is Eternal, we are not always aware of it. Even in the outer world, this Eternal Light radiates most critically in darkness.

In the Tent of Meeting outside the veil that is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall set it in order from evening to morning before the Eternal; it shall be a statute forever throughout their generations on behalf of the people of Israel. (27:21)

In later generations, rabbis determined that there was to be a light burning always in synagogues, but that is not what is called for in Torah. The spiritual text refers to the Light that is to be realized in times of darkness.

There is another reason why the Light is to be kindled each night. To have the Ner Tamid always burning leads to our taking it for granted. We even can forget that it is there. But if we make it a practice, always, to find Light as we enter external darkness, we learn to find Light when we enter internal darkness.

Internal night is the time of forgetting, the time of loneliness, anguish, pain, and despair. To have a regular practice of bringing Light helps us awaken even in the midst of our struggles.

Practices that frame the day

And this is what you shall offer upon the altar; two lambs of the first year day by day continually. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning; and the other lamb you shall offer at evening. (29:38,39)

A remarkable story appears in Ein Yaakov, the 15th century collection of wisdom from the Talmud. When three rabbis are asked what verse in Torah they considered to be the most important, one points to the Sh'ma (Deut. 6:4), the "Watchword of Israel." Another favors the verse chosen by Hillel and Akiba: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). But the most unexpected response is, "The one lamb you shall offer in the morning; and the other lamb you shall offer at evening" (29:39). What is it that makes this verse so special?

Each day is to be marked by this morning and evening. Commentators have identified the two lambs in various ways. Some say that the morning offering is thanksgiving for awakening, gratitude for the possibilities that the day brings. The evening offering is thanksgiving for a day that has been.

But more than this, the verse is chosen as central because it presents one of the practices that frames the day. In the beginning of this parashah, it was the lighting of the Ner Tamid each evening; here, it is the daily sacrifice of gratitude and thanksgiving.

The practice includes offering gratitude each morning and evening, and in darkness, to remember Light. These daily practices help us frame our lives with moments of remembering. With gratitude and with Light we meet the deeper nature of our own beings.

Writing Prompts

At this moment, I am grateful for. . .
I most need to realize Light when. . .
As I open to Light, I find. . .

Focus Phrases

I begin and end my day with gratitude.
In moments of darkness, I find Light.
I remember the One I Am.

Photo: Mark Reden