Be a lamplighter!
Our parsha begins with the instruction for Aaron to not just kindle, but actually "raise up" (be'ha'alotcha) the menorah, invoking the image of flames shooting up. Rashi offers insight into this unexpected choice of words. He teaches us that Aaron must "keep lighting until the flame ascends on its own" (Num. 8:2).
We too are living through a moment of rising up. And perhaps one of the most important questions we can be asking ourselves is, "What is my role?" For Aaron it was clear. He was called to light the menorah itself. And for some of us, our roles feel clear. But I have spoken with many of you this week who have described a sense of disorientation as we try to tap into the visionary potential of this unstable moment. You are not alone.
Deepa Iyer wrote back in March, "Lately, I've been stuck in a fog, cycling through periods of motivation and stillness, outrage and exhaustion, determination and grief. Even though I'm connected to various networks, mentors, and organizations, I couldn't figure out where I fit in, what my lane was, or how to begin."
Some of us have spent the last several weeks or months in the hospitals and in the streets as frontline responders. But that is not wise or possible for all of us. What else is needed? The antidote to Iyer's disorientation was her ability to see herself as part of a larger ecosystem. Her own self-reflection gave way to the creation of this insightful tool to map our roles in a social change ecosystem. There are so many roles to play in movements for justice and healing. Iyer writes, "This exercise can especially be helpful to re-align ourselves when we feel lost, confused, and uncertain in order to bring our fullest selves to the causes and movements that matter to us."
We as a community are healers and weavers, caregivers, storytellers, disrupters, guides, and visionaries. We are phone bankers and bakers, street medics and artists, media mavens and jail support providers. All of our voices and skills are needed. The question before each of us is "How can I be part of this movement for transformative change? What is my role?" In the words of Rabbi Tarfon, "You are not obligated to complete the work. But neither are you free to desist from it." (Pirkei Avot, 2:16)
The Sefat Emet, a Hasidic master, tells us that to be a lamplighter means the more we grow our own souls, the more Holiness is revealed in every place. As one mentor wrote to me earlier this week, "This Black-led uprising is pointing the way for all of us who love justice." Personal and collective transformation are inseparable in this moment, and always. I invite you to take some time this Shabbat to journey inward and consider in what ways have you been, and can you be, a lamplighter in this moment?
May we all know that we are contributing to and connected by something much greater than ourselves. May we have the courage and stamina to rise up for justice, until the flames of justice can ascend on their own. May this be a lasting fire, an eternal movement for racial justice.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.