Rabbi Brian P. Immerman: Keeping the Light Burning Bright


During this time, we are also separated from our congregation families and leaders. We turn to one local rabbi for his words of wisdom about this challenging time.

Keeping the Light Burning Bright

By Rabbi Brian P. Immerman

Even though we have not been in our synagogue buildings for several weeks as a community, there is one light that is always on because it has no switch—our ner tamid, our eternal light. We place this light in front of our ark in ornate candelabras to fulfill the commandment in Leviticus, which teaches that the Israelites, "should bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, 'lahalot ner tamid,' kindling lamps regularly." Many of us have come to love and believe that ner tamid means that the light should never, ever go out, yet this understanding is only 300 years old.

In the ancient temple, this light was probably allowed to go out and was re-lit every night, according to our sages. Until recently in human history, light has been very expensive as we moved from burning wood to animal fats to oil and now to electricity. Today, with LED lights, we can ignore the light, confident that it is on for years and decades while costing only several dollars during that time period. Like so many of you, I miss seeing our ner tamid in our building, but I know that it is continuing to shine. While our buildings have been closed, our community continued doing what we do best—praying, learning, supporting, celebrating and giving. Worship services went online, community members reached out to one another, and donations to food banks and those most impacted continued to grow. And more than ever we understand what it means to be connected to others. Our community’s ner tamid will never go out.

The light that requires much more effort and care is the light that burns within us. It requires us to find energy that fills us, and to seek and recognize the blessings that surround us. Especially now, when we are physically separated, we might find that this is more challenging than ever before. It is essential that we all keep this light burning within ourselves and others.

We nourish our souls when we find opportunities for gratitude and hope. Take time to care for yourself, whether that means joining your synagogue community for worship on Friday night, learning on Shabbat morning or reading the growing stack of books on your nightstand. It can mean walking around your neighborhood or a park, calling a family member or friend, or going for a run or bike ride. Perhaps you will join the growing ranks of Jews who are finding joy in making their own challah for Shabbat. No matter what brings you joy, take time to seek out that activity to keep your light burning always.

May our connections and communities light the lights within each of us as we navigate our future together.

Rabbi Brian P. Immerman is the rabbi of Congregation Mishkan Israel in Orange. Connect at cmihamden.org.

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