Shabbat Blog: What Does It Mean to be A Lamplighter?

Friday, June 17, 2022
Posted by: Rabbi Barry Gelman

וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ יהוה  

God spoke to Moses, saying: 

דַּבֵּר֙ אֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֔ן וְאָמַרְתָּ֖ אֵלָ֑יו בְּהַעֲלֹֽתְךָ֙ אֶת־הַנֵּרֹ֔ת אֶל־מוּל֙ פְּנֵ֣י הַמְּנוֹרָ֔ה יָאִ֖ירוּ שִׁבְעַ֥ת הַנֵּרֽוֹת׃  

Speak to Aaron and say to him: "When you [lit. make the lights rise] light the lamps, the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the menorah." 

Many of the classic commentaries on the Torah ask why when talking about lighting the Menorah, the text uses a phrase that means “when you make the lights rise”. 

Rashi (quoting the Talmud) offers an explanation that lends itself to an important teaching. 

בהעלתך. עַל שֵׁם שֶׁהַלַּהַב עוֹלֶה, כָּתוּב בְּהַדְלָקָתָן לְשׁוֹן עֲלִיָּה, שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לְהַדְלִיק עַד שֶׁתְּהֵא שַׁלְהֶבֶת עוֹלָה מֵאֵלֶיהָ 

WHEN YOU MAKE [THE LIGHTS] RISE — “Because the flame rises upwards (עולה), an expression denoting “ascending” is used of kindling them (the lights), implying that one must kindle them until the light ascends of itself.” 

According to the Talmud the lamp had to be lit in such a way that once it was kindled, it did not need any more assistance or adjustment - it could stay lit on its own. 

I have heard in the name of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, that the message we are supposed to take from this is that when it comes to the people we can influence, the ultimate goal is to help them develop their independence - “until the light ascends of itself”. 

This idea melds well with a story that Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was fond of talking about the time he visited New York and had a private audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. After answering a bunch of his philosophical questions, the Rebbe turned the tables and asked him questions about Jewish life on campus for students at Cambridge. “What are you doing to get students more involved?” Rabbi Sacks began to make an excuse for why he wasn’t very involved: “In the situation in which I find myself…” The Rebbe stopped him mid-sentence. “Nobody finds themselves in a situation. You put yourself in a situation. And if you put yourself in that situation, you can put yourself in another!” (account from here) 

Rabbi Sacks felt that he was being charged by a world leader to make a difference and change the world. That moment changed his life.  

It was at the point that Rabbi Sacks understood that “A good leader creates followers. A great leader creates leaders." 

I think this is the message of the menorah lights.  

We all need a boost to get started. Parents, teachers and friends all play a crucial role in our development. They guide, coax and encourage us so that we can eventually stand on our own.  

A community can play the role of lamplighters. There are so many opportunities in a community to encourage and help others so that they ultimately can stand on their own. 

I recently read a comparison of a leader to a lamplighter expressed beautifully. “As every woman knows, when you light Shabbat candles, sometimes you have a stubborn candle that goes out just as you take away the match. Then you have to try again, and it goes out again. And you have to keep lighting it, until it catches, and then it burns like all the others and you can go away. Sometimes you even have to stand near the candles for a minute to see if all the candles are going to remain lit and not go out. This is the meaning of behaalot’cha  

This is a teaching that is not only about helping, but it is about communal endurance - a commitment to stand with each other until the people in our lives can flourish on their own.

This is a lesson that applies to our material needs and our spiritual strivings. A community sees and addresses all needs and is there to help people achieve their goals.  

I think the onset of hurricane season has me thinking about all of the times our community has been there to help others get back on their feet and stand upright on their own. It is a point of communal pride (that I hope never needs to be on display again).  

Similarly, this community is full of spiritual lamplighters - rabbis, teachers, Jewish day schools, Hebrew schools, high school programs for Jewish teens – all of whom share the goal of helping us develop our religious and spiritual selves.  

While camp is in session at the JCC I have the incredibly fun privilege of running “boker tov” the few minutes in the morning when most of the camp is together in order to get the kids pumped up about their day.  

One of the things I do each morning it remind the kids that there is a way to be a Jewish camper and that is by being a mensch. We share stories of when campers have witnessed other campers act in a “menschie” way. All of this is to say that  the JCC camp is also a “lamplighter” We hope that by focusing this summer on Menschlechkeit, the kids will develop their mensch muscles and live a life of being good and doing good.   

Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Gelman 

Category: ERJCC Blog