A Shabbat Message from Rabbi Berkman

June 21, 2024


Sometimes the cycle of Torah readings and the cycles of nature align so beautifully, and we are reminded of the echoes of each in the other. This Shabbat, we read Parashat Behaalotcha, the beginning of which focuses on the lighting of the menorah, the 7-branched candelabrum, which is to stand in the mishkan–  the portable tabernacle which travels with the Israelites throughout their desert journey. Imagine what it was like for our ancestors on their sojourn – in a wildernesss so vast, so empty and unmarked, with blinding sun during the day and such deep darkness at night. It is no wonder that our ancestors needed a portable mishkan, a center to center them, to ground them, and within it, a lamp that would stave off the anxiety of wilderness, of darkness. 

Instructions for the building of the mishkan and of its ritual objects, including the menorah, are extensive and detailed. A remarkable number of verses are focused on the menorah in particular. This is to be created and lit by human beings – though God’s presence will also travel with them in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night – this menorah with its seven flames will be a symbol of the mutuality of the God-Israel relationship. It must be constructed, and lit, by human hands. 

Light is an important part of Jewish liturgy. In the evening we speak in prayer of God who “rolls away light from darkness and darkness from light” and “brings on the evening,” in the morning we speak of the light that sustains creation, praising the “Creator of all lights.” Yesterday was the Summer Solstice, a time when the hours of daylight peak, and then immediately begin, ever so slowly, to decrease again. What a powerful and humbling reminder that we live within cycles of the natural world, with the movement of the cosmos something that we in fact do not and cannot control. When we connect to natural phenomena- whether the solstice, a rainbow, or a strong thunderstorm such as we had last night – it is an opportunity to be humbled and awed by the power of nature and at our own lack of control. As our tradition reminds us in so many ways, that sense of smallness and of awe need to be in balance with our sense of power and responsibility. We live within natural cycles of light and dark, of seasons and solstices, but we also must create and sustain the lights we make – the lights we construct by bringing our own unique light into the world, lighting the way for the rest of our fellow travelers in our own time, in our own wilderness. 


Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman