“Speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘When you light the lights, let the seven lights give light at the front of the lampstand’” Numbers 8:2


The symbolism of the phrase  “when you light the lights” can be understood in different ways. 

It describes what happens when you stoke a fire. With a little spark a fire can quickly spread. Anyone who has seen a bush fire can attest to this. Hate-filled speech such as Islamophobia can have the same effect, quickly spreading fires with words. 

Yet this phrase also gives us an image of hope and building a world full of light and goodness. When you “light the lights”, you can extinguish the darkness.  

The kabbalists, our mystical ancestors, taught that God withdrew part of God’s self to allow the world to exist. God placed that part of God’s self in vessels but the vessels couldn’t hold God and they broke, shattering into so many pieces.  

Those pieces became lodged in every corner of creation. It is our duty, the kabbalists taught, to repair (tikkun) the world and redeem these divine sparks, which in turn repairs God. Goodness and light are there — we just have to find and liberate them.
As Rashi says, the phrase literally means “when you make the lamps go up”. You have to keep lighting the lights until the flame catches and goes up. In the text, this phrase is repeated again and again. You have to keep trying.  

The duty of lighting these lights falls not only on a select few, the priests — as in this week’s parashah — but on all of us. We are responsible for the words we use, the words we listen to and the action we take. We have a choice to stoke the lights of hate or the lights of love.  

Our sacred duty is, in every action we take, to find the divine sparks in and around us and, with others, light the lights to create a just society founded on compassion and community.

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