Friday, December 19, 2014

Chanukah 2014: Yotzeir Or

Rabbi Eliezer said: In the light that God created on the first day, a person could see from one end of the world to the other. When God foresaw the misdeeds of future generations, God hid this light from them, reserving it for the righteous of the future.

Asked the disciples: "where was it hidden?"
He replied, "In the Torah."
They asked, "If so, will the righteous find something of this hidden light when they study Torah?"
He replied, "They will find and continue to find."
They asked, "If so, what should the righteous do when they find some of this hidden light in the Torah?"
He replied, "They should reveal it in the way they live." (From Martin Buber's Or HaGanuz)
I shared that story back at Rosh Hashanah, and it seemed appropriate to revisit it now. For one, we are in our season of Light: It seems this time of year we hear an awful lot about light. Everyone from the president to David Wolpe to every Jewish musician wants to say something about being a light, or lighting the way for others, or other really lovely ideas and images. For another, we are in our season of darkness. I don’t just mean the darkness of winter; now seems like an especially dark time in the world. From the threats Israel faces within and without to our own anxiety about our city, to the deaths of so many children in Pakistan, lights snuffed out too soon by barbaric murder, the words of Jacob Rader Marcus (z’l) seem awfully appropriate: it’s dark out there.
We need light, our prayerbook reminds us, when gloom darkens our home. And every morning we praise God as Yotzeir Or, the creator of Light. Not just at Chanukah time or in the winter, but every day. We do this in order to offer Praise to the One who began creation with the words, “Let there be light”. We do this in the hopes that God will continue to shine light on all of us: the light of renewal, of learning, of joy. Or chadash al Tzion tair: let a new light shine on Zion! But we also read this prayer as an instruction. For it isn’t only God that is Yotzeir Or; we have the power to be Yotzeir Or. It maybe God who created light, but we can bring forth light in the way we live. It would be easy to sink into the darkness of selfishness, of cynicism, the gloom of defeat. But we may not, we must not. No matter how dark our world seems, we are obligated to shine a light to those around us through the way we live Torah.
One taper isn’t enough to light a small room, never mind the world, but one taper is enough to light another. And another, and another, without being diminished itself.  We call that light the Shamash, a word that we say means ‘helper’, but is the same word as the sun in Hebrew. As we celebrate Chanukah, that holiday that means ‘dedication’, let’s rededicate ourselves to being the Shamash, to revealing the light hidden within not only ourselves but each other, the light of Torah. Thus we may chase away the darkness and illuminate the whole world with a new light, a light of hope.


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