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12.8.2017 Weekly Torah Portion

PostPosted: Fri Dec 08, 2017 10:20 pm
by RabbiMark
Fanning the Flames
Light a Candle
Everyone should understand that within each of us a lamp glows,
each lamp is like none other.
We must work to reveal our own light for all to see,
making it a torch that can illumine the world.
-Avishai Zilik

I remember, as a young boy, watching my mother cover her eyes and light the Shabbos candles every Friday night. Sometimes we would have Shabbat dinner together as a family, sometimes we would go out to eat - but most weeks my mother would light those candles without fail. Kindling the Sabbath candles has become one of my favorite home rituals, it’s something precious - a reminder of my childhood, a spark of light against the darkness, a way to mark the transition of time.

And as I think about sparking to life the flame of the Shabbat candles in my home tonight, I cannot help but think of the fires raging all over Southern California, and, in particular, the Skirball fire here in Los Angeles. As I look at pictures of the hell-scape that was the 405 early Wednesday morning, I am reminded that those two little flames that dance on the mantle of home - providing light, warmth, nostalgia and ambiance are the not-so-distant cousins of the flames of decimation, terror, and pain that continue to sweep through so many communities here in SoCal.

My reaction to the duality of the nature of fire is, at first, resistance. How can something that provides such warmth and comfort also be the agent of such destruction? How can I reconcile bringing the very same source of ruin into my home week after week? In fact, the Torah recognizes the danger inherent in kindling fire - especially on Shabbat, a day in which we are prohibited from dousing the flames should they get out of control. Exodus 35:3 reads: “You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements (within your homes) on the Sabbath day.” Shabbat is meant to be a time in which we are able to take a step back from life and enjoy - we are able to reflect on our spiritual paths - free from existential threat. And fire, when left unchecked, is inherently an existential threat.

Maybe that’s the key.

Fire in and of itself isn’t inherently bad. Fire does what it does - it consumes, it turns matter into heat, it gives off light. It doesn’t have a will of its own, it doesn’t think about what it is going to devour next - it just does. Much like us.

See, the thing is that we are kind of like fire ourselves. We have the potential to be incredibly destructive or to be a source of light in the darkness, all at the same time. The thing is that we take measures to protect ourselves when we kindle the Shabbat flames within our homes. We put the candles out of reach of small children. We light them in a tin pan, over a glass plate, or on a granite countertop. We do everything in our power to safeguard our homes from the destructive potential of the fire.

Why don’t we always do that for ourselves? How often do we forget to protect ourselves from ourselves?

I know that I fall into the trap of thinking that taking proper precautions to prevent potential physical harm is all that I need to do. All too often, I ignore that precious self-care that keeps me sane, that keeps me grounded, that keeps me from being a force of destruction in my own life and the lives of my loved ones. How often do we all forget to take care of the things that keep us from burning up?

How do we do this?? How do we remain centered in the face of our destructive potential? How do we keep ourselves from going to a place of desolation and terror? How do we keep ourselves in check? I turn to the Psalmist, who writes:

Send forth Your light and Your truth; they will lead me;
they will bring me to Your holy mountain, to Your dwelling-place. (Psalm 43:3)
It is You who light my lamp; the LORD, my God, lights up my darkness. (Psalm 18:29)

Sometimes, when I feel that destructive impulse, I find that it is due to a feeling of disconnection or isolation: in that moment, for whatever reason, I am feeling particularly distant from myself, God and other people. So it is when I feel the first spark of discontent that I purposefully fan it into a flame of connection, a roaring fire of love. I do this to remind myself that I am in a deep and loving relationship with God, myself and the people around me. By taking this contrary action, I light up the darkness in my life.

So as the men and women of the national guard, firefighters and volunteers battle the flames that threaten the homes, lives, and livelihoods of so many Californians, in an out of this holy community - I pray for their safety. I pray for the safety of all of us and our loved ones as we kindle the flames of Shabbat this week. I pray that we are all able to turn those sparks of potential destruction into flames of connection and love.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Andy