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    Lighting up – B’ha’alot’cha

    Our task as Jews was spelled out by Isaiah. Un’taticha l’or goyim, he said: “I shall make you a light to the nations” (Isa. 49:6).

    That is one of the reasons why light is such a widespread symbol in Judaism. Jews are the eternal light, the ner tamid, meant to bring truth and morality to the world.

    It is symbolised by the menorah in the sanctuary, ordained in this week’s reading: “When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the menorah” (Num. 8:2).

    It seems a completely clear command. But the rabbis say Moses had difficulty working out how to construct the menorah. So God said to him, “Take a ball of gold and throw it into the fire and it shall be formed by itself”.

    Two things are crucial to this Midrash – gold and fire. Gold is material wealth and popular acclaim. Both have their place in life, but they can be obsessions; people rob and kill for their sake, and that is the opposite to the truth and morality which it is our mission to teach.

    A person who wants to live up to the Jewish task has to be prepared to throw materialism into the flames and let it be purified and recast into means to serve a spiritual end.

    Some philosophies deify desire. Others deny it. Judaism believes in directing it. It directs physical desire by the rules of modesty, appetite by the dietary laws, and the drive for possessions and status by saying, “Earn them if you can, but use them in the service of the Almighty.”

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