Home Digital Content Library “Too Close to Home,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings
Blog post

“Too Close to Home,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

February 11, 2022 | 10 Adar I 5782

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings as we make our way toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

Too Close to Home

Hatred, antisemitism, intentional prevarication, and violence evoke the image of darkness.

So does disparity of access to health care and implicit biases that lead to inequity of treatment.

These two causes of darkness came together two weeks ago and two blocks away from Longwood Avenue and Nessel Way when a ragtag group of Neo-Nazis based in Worcester rode the T, lined up outside of Brigham and Women’s Hospital to protest their warped understanding of important research on disparities of health outcomes on non-white and poor patients. Their misinformed signs made misrepresented accusations about preferential treatment to these populations.

The same week, homes along Miami Beach and elsewhere found plastic bags on their front lawns filled with a leaflet about Jews causing Covid with a list of Jews involved in the CDC and government “supported” by quotes from Protocols of the Elders of Zion. An antisemitic hate group called the Goyim Defense League has been engaged in these and other hateful acts around the country.

Hate, lies, antisemitism, and prejudice have permeated our conversations about banned books on the Holocaust in schools, anti-Israel rhetoric, hate speech to provoke crowds, and the list goes on.

Darkness is everywhere.

Where is the light?

In this week’s Torah portion, we find a spark in the description of what comes after the building of the Mishkan, the traveling sanctuary, was finished: Ensure light.

You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly.

לְהַעֲלֹ֥ת נֵ֖ר תָּמִֽיד (Exodus 27:20)

Kindling lamps literally means to elevate light. But not just to lift it but to do so regularly. That can mean continually but not necessarily continuously. It conveys the idea of a constant action that must not cease. It required vigilance, never letting one’s guard down that the light would go out. It would have to become a habit of attentiveness.

Judaism focuses on the light as a force for inspiration and alertness. We must continue to shine light in these dark places. When there is hatred, bias, and antisemitism, we pay attention. We respond and denounce it. We work to foster allies and relationship.  It is a habit of attentiveness.

The instruction in the Torah, however, is not just for immediate constant vigilance to raise the light. “It is a requirement, a statute, for all time throughout the ages.”

חֻקַּ֤ת עוֹלָם֙ לְדֹ֣רֹתָ֔ם מֵאֵ֖ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל (27:21)

This does not mean that the Israelites would be wandering forever in the wilderness. To the contrary, the directive predicts a long future through the regular and constant attentiveness to elevate the light.

Antisemitism and hatred is very old. So is our vigilance and awareness of the need to denounce and respond to it. It is serious and frightening. We do so not just because these nefarious behaviors are wrong and disgusting but because we believe that Judaism has a message and purpose that brings light into the world, worthy to lift up and celebrate through justice, compassion, and kindness “for all time, throughout the ages.” We have inherited an ancient tradition that lifts up and shines light even in the darkest of times. The ancients bequeathed the light to us.

Tonight when we gather for Shabbat, we will welcome the moment with Lecha Dodi and we will sing the words: Awake, awake, your light has come! Arise, shine, awake and sing!

Together we can lift up the light.

Shabbat Shalom!

  • We gather for Qabbalat Shabbat with author Daniel Sokatch, onsite and online at 6:00 p.m. No need to register; just come! Or join on Zoom, on Facebook Live, or stream on our website. Following the service, Daniel Sokatch and Rabbi Suzie Jacobson will engage in a conversation about Daniel’s book, “Can We Talk About Israel: A Guide for the Curious, Confused, and Conflicted.”
  • Tot Rock Shabbat gathers online at 5:00 p.m.
  • Torah Study will begin at 9:00 a.m. To join the conversation interactively, access Zoom. You can also watch on Temple Israel’s website or Facebook page.
  • 10:00 a.m. Thank Goodness it’s Shabbat at Home.  Please register here.
  • We say goodbye to Shabbat and welcome a new week at 8:00 p.m. with Havdalah. Join on Zoom.

Connect with me here. I look forward to corresponding with you and to hearing your thoughts.

Shabbat Shalom!