Kehillat Israel Rabbi Emeritus
Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D.
Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-28:10)
The first thing everyone notices is the light. You can’t walk into the sanctuary at Kehillat Israel, without being confronted immediately by a large, oversized glass sculpture in the shape of a large flame that is prominently mounted almost directly in front of you on the wall.
It was created by a glass sculptor from San Francisco named Nick Weinstein for our synagogue when it was built eight years ago and is the only one like it in the world. First of all although every sanctuary in every synagogue in the world has a “Ner Tamid”, an “Eternal Light” in it, ours is the largest one I have ever seen.
It was created in its unique proportion, because our sanctuary is one of a kind as well. As you step into the room you are immediately walking up a subtle incline that leads directly to the ark that holds the Torah scrolls in the center of the room. We did this so that everyone who enters the sanctuary automatically has his or her own personal “aliyah” (they are literally “going up” to the Torah), and consequently the entire room becomes the “bimah” and we are all sitting on the bimah together.
Our Eternal Light is oversized to fill the entire bimah which is the entire room with its light. The luminescence is so intense that at midnight on the Saturday before Rosh Hashana every year, we conduct our entire Selikhot service by the light of the Ner Tamid alone!
And second, our Eternal Light is solar powered. One of only perhaps two in the entire country and the first on the West Coast, we have three solar panels on the roof of the synagogue solely for the purpose of bringing the sun’s light, the sun’s energy, the sun’s power to fill our sacred space.
There is a Midrash that tells how the first day of Adam’s life, he saw the light of the sun and worshiped it until it went down at night. He was then filled with fear until the moon rose, and when he saw it’s light he worshiped it until the dawn. And then he realized as the sun rose once again, that the light of the sun and the light of the moon both came from yet another source – the eternal source of divine power that we call God – Ha-meir la-aretz ve-la-dareha berakhamim,” “Who brings light unto the earth and all who dwell upon it with compassion.”
For thousands of years light has been a symbol of the presence of the divine in the universe. We search for “enlightenment” because we somehow recognize that to bring light into our consciousness is to be open to the miracle of the sacred in the world.
In this week’s Torah portion the Children of Israel are commanded by God to raise up a Ner Tamid, an “Eternal Light” in the sanctuary over the Ten Commandments from morning till night throughout the generations for all time. The Eternal Light has been a symbol of God’s presence ever since and a reminder that the way we know God most intimately is by living our lives in accordance with the commandments and ethical teachings of the Torah scrolls which lie in every synagogue beneath the ever-present light of the Ner Tamid.
We have one verse from the book of Proverbs on our synagogue wall as well. It is on the same wall that holds the Eternal Light, and it says, “The human soul is the light of God.” Whenever we study Torah, whenever we live Torah, we bring light and enlightenment to our souls. And when we fill our souls with that special light, God is surely present in our lives and in the world.
Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D., is Rabbi Emeritus of Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation in Pacific Palisades, California. He is a nationally recognized expert in the field of moral education and is the recipient of numerous community awards, including the Micah Award for founding the largest full-service homeless shelter in Los Angeles. He is also a recipient of the Unsung Hero Award from the Youth Law Center in San Francisco. Steven has contributed to a wide variety of publications as an author and composer. He has written numerous books, including Raising Children in a Contemporary World (1992); Raising Ethical Children (Prima Publishing, 1994)…