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Friday, May 31, 2013

Parshat Be'haalotekha: Seeing the Light of God

This week's parashah is Be'haalotekha (Numbers/Be'midbar 8:1-12:16). At the end of the last parashah, immediately following the completion of the building of the mishkan/ sanctuary, God spoke to Moses from between the wings of the cherubim that hovered over the Ark. In the opening line of Be'haalotekha Moses God tells Moses that he must instruct Aaron concerning his ascent to kindle the lights of the seven-branch menorah in the mishkan.

The light of the menorah represents, among other things, the light of the Divine. The Kabbalists/ mystics imagined that the seven branches of the menorah represented the seven lower sefirot/divine emanations or attributes that human beings can experience in this world.

Light as representing God's presence is also found in the image of the fire enshrouded in the cloud that hovered over the mishkan signifying God's presence. According to the text, the fire/presence of God would be seen within a cloud over the mishkan by day and as fire by night (the same time when the menorah was lit). When the cloud/fire would lift it signaled to the people that it was time for the community to move on. When the cloud would again descend the people would stop and set up camp and wait again for instructions from God.

Aaron's responsibility to light the lamps of the menorah, as well as the cloud and fire over the mishkan, also represent the divine-human partnership of which we are all a part. Moses may have been able to "hear" God's voice directly, we are told, but we, who all have "priestly potential (since God stated earlier that we are to be a holy and priestly nation), are the ones who can bring God's light into the world for all to see.
 
I first wrote this poetic midrash, writte in Aaron's voice, a few years ago.  But I have revised it and wanted to share it with you.

 
The Ascent
 
I ascend
to light 
God's lamps
an awesome responsibility

moses my brother
hears God's voice
from between the wings of the cherubim
God speaks to him
but not to me

still I ascend
I see I light  God's lamps
illuminating the sanctuary
God's house our house
illuminating my soul

Yes Moses    my brother
hears God's voice    or does he
only he knows the truth

yet I know   as we all know
I see God's light
I enable others to see it
within themselves

the lamps glow
illuminating my soul
their warmth penetrating my heart
all of our hearts

each night
as darkness descends
and fear spreads among the people
I ascend to light the lamps
for them for me
for us all

everyone begins
to see and feel the light
surrounded by love strength
glory majesty endurance
compassion righteousness
the shekhinah    the divine presence
her glorious light

in the camp outside the tent
all can see God's presence
cloud by day fire by night
we stand still
we stay where we are
trembling with fear
opening to love compassion mercy

in the daylight God's light is enshrouded
but we know God is present within the cloud

when night falls God's fire burns bright
searing itself into soul mind heart
reminding us of the presence
within us all

flames of fire are more readily
seen feared honored
than the vapor of a cloud
merely blurring vision
fogging the mind
blocking the way
while fire burns away the cloud
so we can see the truth

our challenge is to see
the fire in the cloud
the presence in the confusion
the not-quite-darkness-not-quite-light
within the cloud

we must remember
the soul is the light of God within each
the same light at the heart of the cloud
the cloud is God's glory
God's presence
ultimately unknowable unclear illumination

inside the tent
our sanctuary home the lamp is lit
by me by you by us
all of God's partners


while Moses stands there
listening to the voice only he can hear
between the cherubim
I am the one who ascends
yet in truth we all rise up as one
we all light the lamps
we bring god's light into the tent
into the world

you and I ignite the fire in the cloud
bringing the presence into the world
lending clarity to a clouded world
bringing the essence of the divine
into our lives

now that we have seen and felt
the cloud the fire the presence of the divine
we can ascend we can move on
knowing that God's glory will return
when we least expect it for it never really leaves
we must simply look for it
where and when we least expect it to be

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