As we tuck away our menorahs for another year, and tidy up the aluminum foil, dreidels and extra candles, I hope we have also tucked some of that candlelight within ourselves. There have been too many (once is too many) serious incidents of anti-Semitism this past week, many in New York, in London England, throughout Europe. Yet again, we struggle with the question of what to do in the face of such threats. Security at the door is a defensive measure, albeit an increasingly necessary measure. But security at the door is insufficient. Can we learn anything to help from within our tradition, perhaps from this week’s Torah reading, Vayigash?
Yes. This week we are also celebrating with Susan Edwards, Shoshana Leah bat Boaz, who has chosen to honour the threads of her Jewish self, inherited from her beloved father. Even as his habits were mere hints of his heritage, Susan chose to fully convert to Judaism. In doing so she will be wearing her tallit, how own ‘coat’ of beautiful threads woven together to proclaim her choice to be a Jew.
There is a teaching from the Sefat Emet that I think helps us hold the light from Hanukah into the coming days, and understand the strength of desire that leads many of us into Judaism.
He teaches: We read in Proverbs: “Counsel is like deep water in the human heart; the wise one draws it forth” (Prov. 20.5). What is this water, this mayim chayim – living water within us?
The Sefat Emet teaches that, “Judah and his brothers, the tribes of Israel were called to drink from deep wells: “Drink water from your own cistern”. He teaches that hidden within those inner wells we find our life. (Remember Joseph was thrown into a deep well/cistern by these same brothers when there was nothing, ayin, in that well).
But in Torah we read that God will pour pure water over each of us (Ezekiel 36:25). This “water” comes from a source that pours forever. But sometimes we don’t feel that Source within, we feel only ayin, empty nothingness.
His teachings continue. “In yet another verse from Proverbs, we read, “Seek it like silver; search for it as for a treasure.” Rabbi Simcha Bunem taught the following, based on this verse: We should seek it like silver and search for it like treasure. Seeking is like a person who wants to acquire something, while searching is sometimes a matter of getting something back that you have had, and lost”.
Torah teaches us we always need to both seek and search. Joseph sought out his brothers, he sought out meaning from dreams, he sought ways for people to survive during drought and famine. His brothers too searched – and found what they thought had been lost – their brother Joseph. And most touchingly, Jacob found his beloved son again, and the son found his beloved father.
We should struggle to find what has been lost and we should seek for the treasure we have not yet known. We each have treasures within our soul – we each have potential – be that potential lost or found again. And there are those gifts, those glimpses of treasure that come to us, glimpses of a treasure barely imagined. This is the light we take forward, a kindling of our neshama, our soul, that candle lit from within.
May we all feel the lights we have kindled over these past eight days continue to bless us with hope. May we find our own internal cistern and seek out the mayim chayim, the waters of life, that Torah teaches us, and may we welcome with particular joy this week that choosing of life, a choosing of connection within our community we call Kolot Mayim. May Judaism continue to bring light into a world that can feel much too dark. So we don’t just say yes; we say yes and yes – yes to seeking and yes to searching. Yes to our Written Torah and yes to our oral Torah. And most profoundly, yes to each other.
To my dear Kolot Mayim family, I wish you all long life, l’chaim,