February 7, 2020
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A Jewish Reflection
Commenting on the duty to keep an everlasting flame on the menorah in the temple , the rabbis attributed to God a pithy saying consisting of just four words in the original Hebrew: Neri beyadecha, venerecha beyadi: ‘ My light is in your hands, and your light is in mine.’
We are collectively responsible for God’s creation, for all life in this world. We have it in our power to put out the light, to destroy everything. We are entrusted with the opposite task: to serve and care for all living things, including not only our fellow human beings, but animals, birds, plants and the health of the very elements.
Creation, which according to the great poem with which the Biblical narrative commences, began with God forming order out of chaos, is now in our hands and at our mercy. Our shared task, across all faiths, philosophies, nationalities, and ethnicities is to transform cruelty into coexistence and disharmony into the harmony of true shalom. On this the lives of everything depend.
In these frightening times, when survival itself is at stake, we must not give up hope. We can afford neither indifference nor despair. In her most painful moments, when in the summer of 1942 Eti Hilesum was forced by the Nazis to leave her beloved Amsterdam for the transit camp of Westerbork in the north of Holland from where transports left regularly for Aushwitz, she wrote in her diary:
Dear God, these are anxious times….One thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that You cannot help us, that we must help You to help ourselves. And that it is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last.
We, too, need to safeguard the piece of God in ourselves, and, whenever we can, in each other. Unlike Eti Helesum, we are not alone, surrounded by enemies determined to kill us. We have allies within our communities, across our faiths and among people all over the world, whatever their ethnicity or philosophy. We all hold a spark of the sacred in our hands and hearts. The danger is that we close those hands in the endeavor to grasp immediate gain. Instead we must open them, in prayer and action, for deeper awareness and greater commitment to repair and redeem ourselves and the world to bring it close to the harmony of shalom.
Used with Permission
The Lord is my light and my help;