The most ancient sacred Jewish writings are most likely contained in the story of creation. There in the opening passages of Genesis, we find among the most powerful and poetic of all Jewish writings, the description of how God created the universe and all that is in it.
I have always been fascinated to read those remarkable, simple opening words that describe God’s first act of creation. “God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” How fascinating to ponder that singular choice of our ancient, ancestral spiritual poet who decided that the very first creative act of God must have been the creation of light.
Jewish mystics pointed to the seeming contradiction in the creation story that has God creating light on the first day, but waiting until the fourth day to create the sun, moon, and stars which to most observers appear themselves to be the normal sources of light. They concluded that this primordial light which God created first, then became the very stuff of creation out of which the world itself and everything in it are made.
“Light” became a continual image of the presence of the divine throughout Jewish spiritual writings, liturgy, poetry and legend. In the Book of Psalms is written, “Light is sown for the righteous,” implying that the more we are privileged to bask in the light of the divine, the more holy and righteous and worthy we must be.
Kabbalists have always identified light with the Shekhinah, God’s feminine qualities, and taught that from the Shekhinah comes sacred emanations of light that shine upon our world and find their reflection in the souls of the spiritual seekers in our midst.
In the Biblical Book of Proverbs we read, “The human soul is the light of God.” From this we learn that the most direct and intimate experience we have of God’s presence is by looking within our own souls.
And each week when we light the Shabbat candles it is as if we are creating the sacred space of Shabbat itself by illuminating the souls of each one who recites the blessings, drinks the wine and blesses the food we eat.
Proverbs further claims, “The mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is a light.” It is as if every time we study Torah, every time we do a mitzvah, we are ushering into the world sparks of divine light to bring greater holiness, greater godliness into our lives and everyone whose lives we touch.
So it should come as no surprise that this week’s Torah portion begins with a commandment to Aaron and his sons, acting as the High Priests of the Jewish people, to begin each day with the lighting of a lamp in the sanctuary to serve as a Ner Tamid, an “Eternal Light” that will burn within the sanctuary for all time.
As long as that light burns, we are conscious of the presence of God in our midst. That is why in our own sanctuary we created a Ner Tamid that is solar powered, drawing its energy from the sun in the heavens, reminding us of the power and presence of God in our world. And that is why we teach the mystical tradition of Tikun Olam – Healing the World, through the redemption of the sacred sparks of the divine that lie within every human soul through the simple, yet transforming act of doing mitzvot every day.
It is up to each of us to light our own inner lamps, allow our own inner divine sparks to shine forth as brightly as possible, and in turn to follow in the path of Aaron and his sons, by lighting the divine lights within others to bring the enlightenment that comes with recognizing the presence of godliness that shines all around us.