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The Light Within

Ner Tamid, Great Synagogue, Budapest, Hungary

Torah Talk on Tetzaveh

This week we read the Torah portion of Tetzaveh in the Book of Exodus, which gives the first commandment to create a ner tamid, an eternal light, for the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, the first sanctuary of the people of Israel. We are told that there should be a continual fire, a constant light shining on the altar, a sign of God’s faithful and permanent presence in our midst.

That light is found today in every synagogue in the world, no matter how humble the shul or how grand the Temple. The light burns always—to remind us that God is with us, always, and we only need to be open to that presence in our own lives.

Where is God? With us, always, as the ner tamid symbolizes.

And that light of the ner tamid can serve as a reminder to each of us of the sacred light, the nitzutz Elohim, the spark of Divine fire that is within each of us and needs only to be fanned into a flame to inspire us to create holiness in our everyday world.

There is a beautiful, brief poem on the subject from the Chasidic mystical text Keter Shem Tov, translated in Barry Holz and Arthur Green’s book Your Word is Fire:

When you focus all your thought

On the power of the words of prayer

You may begin to see the sparks of light that shine within them.

The sacred letters are the chambers

Into which God pours His flowing light.

The lights within each letter, as they touch,

Ignite one another,

And new lights are born.

It is of this that the Psalmist says:

“Light is sown for the righteous and joy for the upright in heart!”

If we are to preserve our spark of sanctity, our own ner tamid, we will need to resist the darkness that attempts to conquer us; but we will need, as well, to remember that there is something brilliant, bright and holy within each of our souls.

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