This week’s parashah, Beha’alotekha, means “in your raising up,” referring to Aaron’s mounting of the branches of the giant menorah in the Mishkan.
The lamp that Aaron raises is a beautiful one—with seven branches, hammered from gold, and incorporating a design of flower petals. It’s a crucial piece of the Mishkan.
But why do we need seven branches? Why not just one eternal flame, attesting to God’s unity?
One answer is that we never want the lamp to go out, so we need extra branches as a kind of insurance policy. The more the better.
Another answer, from the Hassidic tradition and elaborated by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, is that the branches represent the diverse souls of Israel. Each is important in its own right, just as our individuality within community brightens the whole. The flames represent our souls yearning for transcendence, while at the same time being anchored by the wick of our bodies. This is the “ratzoh vashov”—the push and pull, the tension of being a soul and body at once. As Rabbi Zalman explains, the nature of flames is to rise, which is why the verb “la’alot” (“to ascend”) is used in the name of the parashah (“Be’ha’alotekha”). And this is not something that we experience alone, as a single flame, but rather is a shared experience, as the menorah attests.
As I come to the end of my time as a Marshall T. Meyer Rabbinic Fellow at BJ, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be part of a community, how unique souls come together within a single structure and yet continue to shine on their own.
When I started in the summer of 2020, one of the first things I was tasked with at BJ was leading some of our minyanim on Zoom during a time when so many members were saying Kaddish.
I’ve been so grateful for the opportunity to explore and do so many exciting things during my time at BJ. But this experience of Zoom minyan is one that stands out to me as embodying the core of what has been so significant to me about the past two years: being part of a group of people who showed up for each other day after day through some of the most difficult times some of us can remember. This is what I think of when I think of “raising up” the light—illuminating for each other some of the darkest hours and not allowing the menorah to ever go out.
This is a special community of people who care deeply about Yiddishkeit, about the world, and about each other. It has been an immensely nurturing and vibrant, dynamic place to grow as a leader and community member, under the mentorship of not only the rabbis but also so many committed lay leaders.
I’ve had the opportunity to teach and to lead. To be involved with our Keshet team thinking about LGBTQIA+ access. And, significantly, to teach our Introduction to Judaism class and accompany those choosing to become Jewish. Each of these experiences contained a great deal of learning and growth, as well as connections and relationships for which I am forever grateful and from which I learned so much. In each of these experiences I’ve encountered the way in which, as a community, we become capable of kindling each others’ light to create a shared structure of an even brighter one.
As I go forward in my rabbinical school experience and rabbinate, my path will be shaped significantly by this community—by the examples of beauty in our music and joy in our celebration, as well as the pursuit of justice and willingness to re-examine with seriousness the core questions of our lives, informed by our tradition. I want to express my sincere gratitude to those who accompanied and learned with me at BJ, and extend an invitation for continued learning together throughout our lives. May we continue to bring light to each other, and to stand connected as sturdy branches of the same structure, holding each other up through this experience of being human.