Keeping the Light On

February 23, 2024

Four months into this unconscionable war between Israel and Hamas, in what is meant to be the Holy Land, amid calls for a ceasefire, if not an increase in humanitarian aid, Israeli settlers are still setting fire to Palestinian olive trees in the West Bank… And here in the US, a gathering that should be as wholesome as a Super Bowl parade is torn apart by senseless gun violence, and innocent people celebrating their hometown team’s victory, lost their sense of security, if not their lives… 

This moment has left me wondering: Is there no place left where we can feel safe, celebrate or mourn, or live without having to look over one shoulder? Without waiting for the next shoe to drop? It’s beyond exhausting… and I cannot help but ask myself how I, in good conscience, can nonetheless have the audacity to hope, to ultimately believe, that it’s all going to be ok?

I can and I do because, even amid the exhaustion, in order to get out of bed in the morning, to put one foot in front of the other, to persist forward in the face of unimaginable hurt and loss and tragedy, I know, because Jewish tradition not only teaches but has given us a perpetual light in the physical and proverbial darkness. This week’s Torah portion – Parshat Tetzaveh, opens with the description of the only aspect of the mishkan, the traveling wilderness sanctuary, that remains with us today: the ner tamid, the Eternal Light. For the ancient Israelites, the commandment to keep this light over the altar burning was meant to represent the ever-presence of the Eternal, but it extends beyond that particular context: even then, we learn that this symbol is to remain “forever throughout [the] generations on the behalf of the children of Israel.” 

For our own time, the Eternal Light represents the enduring commitment of the Israelites to the covenant they received at Sinai and the Jewish people to Torah, which comes as a package deal with other commitments as well: the continual commitment to building and maintaining Jewish community, to values taught and lived out by our ancestors and by us, and I believe, to holding onto hope – even in the uncharted wilderness, even in the face of uncertainty and layer upon layer of darkness swirling around us… These, taken together, are the pilot light that remains kindled, the lighthouse that guides us to safety, the torch, passed down from our ancestors, that will light our way toward a better world.


Rabbi Jenn Queen