A couple of weeks ago, shortly before Shavuot, I received a text from a rabbi in Riverdale who needed a mohel for the Shabbos before the holiday. “Would you consider sleeping Friday night in Riverdale and walking home Shabbos afternoon?” he asked.
It was simple to understand his problem. It is not easy to be away from home on a 3 day Yom Tov. On the other hand, if a baby is ready to have his bris on the eighth day, shouldn’t we do all we can to fulfill the mitzvah? In fact, the Torah commands us to do the brit milah specifically on the eight day (unless the baby is not medically ready), when the baby is still very small, before he can make the decision on his own. This is to stress the fact that the connection we have with Hashem is beyond comprehension and intellect; it is an eternal and supra-rational bond. Circumcision reflects the eternal nature of our connection to Hashem by being the only mitzvah that alters the human body in a permanent way.
So what about that baby in Riverdale? Google Maps reported that Riverdale to Tenafly was a four-hour walk — not your typical Shabbat afternoon stroll. This was not going to be easy. But why make the baby wait, even for one day?
This week’s parshah sheds an interesting perspective on this topic. It begins by explaining how the priest, the kohen, lights the menorah in the holy Temple. The light of the menorah wasn’t just a physical light for illumination; it was a powerful spiritual light that touched souls and inspired people to be closer to our Father in heaven. Our sages teach us that each of us is, like the priest, a lamplighter. We all have the responsibility to kindle each other’s souls and illuminate our surroundings.
The parshah is named Beha’alotcha, which in context means “when you light” but literally translates to “when you cause to rise”. Rashi explains that the priest in charge of the lighting of the menorah had to kindle the lamp until the flame rose by itself and became a self-sufficient luminary. The lesson, then, is that each one of us should ignite and awaken that latent potential within the souls of those around us. And in a deeper sense, the way in which we light must be to kindle the lamp “so that a flame arises of its own,” implying that when we influence someone else, the goal should be to assist in developing their own potential and talents so that their light can shine independently and consequently they can light the lamps of others.
Each day, the kohen would enter the Temple to kindle the menorah and would find the lamps fully prepared for lighting. Earlier that day the lamps had been cleaned and new wicks had been inserted. The only thing the priest had to do was bring the torch he carried near to the wicks. His closeness to the waiting lamp would reveal the potential for illumination which the lamp already contained. From this we learn another important lesson for the spiritual lamplighter: Don’t think that you’re accomplishing anything that your fellow could not accomplish on his own. You are not giving him something he does not already have. Every soul is a ready lamp, which contains the purest oil and all that is necessary to transform its fuel to a shining flame. It only needs the closeness of another lamp to ignite it.
After talking to my wife, I replied to the text from Riverdale that I would be happy to perform the bris and then walk back home. Thank God, it was a beautiful Shabbos. I got to meet the wonderful community at the Ohab Zedek shul, its rabbi, Shmuel Hain, and be part of the vibrant services. Baruch Hashem the bris went as planned. Various congregants came to express appreciation for going out of my way and some shared with me moving personal stories in which someone did some kind of sacrifice that touched or inspired them in different ways. My walk home from Riverdale to Tenafly was not that bad either.
Every one of us is a lamplighter. Wherever we find ourselves at any given moment, that’s exactly where God wants us to be, with the mission of looking for another lamp to be ignited. If obstacles come our way, we shouldn’t let them stop us, even if it means a long walk across the bridge. As we can see, a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. When an opportunity arises to do an act of kindness, we never know the full consequences it will cause. A smile, a listening ear, some words of encouragement and love, or any way of giving and reaching out has the potential to kindle someone’s soul and in turn make them into another lamplighter.
May we be all empowered to ignite and enlighten our surroundings and may we soon light the menorah in the holy Temple in Jerusalem, with the upcoming redemption and Moshiach, speedily in our days.