This past week I received a wonderful gift from a special friend, an extraordinary photographer and poet. It was a book of photographs, a collection of samples of a long and distinguished career as a “humanistic” photographer. Incredibly relevant to this week's Torah reading which opens with the invitation by Moses to the Israelite community to “bring clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly...outside the curtain which is over the Ark of the Pact....”(Exodus 27:20-21), is the title and purpose of this lovely book-”Dipping into the Light. “ The author takes the title from a poem by Mary Oliver,”Winter Hours,” who describes prayer as “ a dipping of oneself toward the light.”
References to light abound in the Bible , from the very first item of creation,”and God said 'Let there be light' “ to the kindling of lamps in the Sanctuary, a place where the divine can dwell within the hearts and souls of the Israelite community. Our tradition drew the parallel between the creation of the world and the the construction of the Sanctuary to suggest that God's creation is in a sense re-enacted through the efforts of Isreal to construct a spiritual home for the divine Presence in the world. Thus, the lighting of the olive oil is a daily act of godly creation. In fact, one can summarize all of spiritual effort as an act of “dipping” oneself toward or into the light.Without the possibility of spiritual and human luminescence in the world, our lives would be engulfed in despair and sorrow. In the words of my friend, Abraham, light “returns daily to reassure us not to despair; we wait in the dark, we wait in faith, and night eventually turns into day.”
What I always find remarkable in my friend's thinking and work is his adamant faith in the beauty and sacredness of all things. Most of us struggle to find goodness in the manifestations of that which we consider evil; yet my friend Abraham recognizes in the photograph and the poem , an expression of ”darkness (which) holds stars in her bossom and is the womb where life and creativity incubate.” To this principle and teaching he has dedicated his life.
I am filled with gratitude for his gift; it is a wonderful Midrash on the Torah reading of this Shabbat. Perhaps as an exercise by which to bring light into each Shabbat, we could ask ourselves and our loved ones- what has brought light into your life this past week?
What are you grateful for, and in articulating a response , we can illuminate our hearts by simply dipping our “toes” into the light.