This week’s Torah Portion, Tetzaveh, begins with a verse that introduces the concept of the Ner Tamid, the everlasting light that burns next to arks holding Torah scrolls around the world. Light is often used as a metaphor for divinity and holiness in many traditions, including Judaism. One of the reasons I love working in a Jewish Day School is that I get to be part of fanning the spark of Jewish identity inside our children into a Ner Tamid – a light that will last their entire lives.
The decision to spread light begins with individuals – each of makes that decision many times daily as we navigate the choices before us and their impact on others. That impact alone can be powerful, and focusing on our own choices is a big part of the learning that happens at Gesher and in many schools. If each of us were able to mindfully move through the world spreading light individually, that would be miraculous. But an even more powerful impact is possible when we coordinate our choices to spread light.
A culture that nurtures the collaborative effort to positively impact the world is a powerful entity, and it is only a single step away from the individual effort I described above. Such cultures are not free of internal conflict, but they use those moments to engage more deeply and build even stronger relationships. These cultures are also demanding of the individuals who engage in them: they require obligations of time and energy that are usually over and above a culture in which it is acceptable to just slide through the day and then go home.
When you have the opportunity to participate in a community of this kind, it will, by definition, be transformative for you — you can’t engage without experiencing your own growth and change as a result. But it will also be meaningful to see what an impact you can have in the world when you work together with others who share your values and goals.
The Jewish tradition is designed in this way. It encourage personal acts of Chesed (loving-kindness), but also includes laws, practices, and rituals that nurture a community to become partners in spreading holiness both within and outside of our own spheres. It is that kind of broad, powerful impact we strive for when we help our children understand the opportunity and obligation of engaging in a Jewish life.
This Shabbat, I encourage you to ask your loved ones how they would like to spread light in your family or beyond.