According to Jewish law, a sanctuary requjires three things to be considered kosher. The first is a Torah scroll. During any Jewish service, we never lose sight or focus on what is most important, the holy text of our Torah. The second is a bit harder to discern, especially if you are looking around in this sanctuary, because I have to let you in on a secret, we don't have it. The second item is a window. Each sanctuary must look out onto the outside world. Please rest assured, however, the building plans for our renovated sanctuary do include the construction of beautiful window that will look out onto a garden. And the third item? It is the subject of our Torah portion T'tzaveh this week. It is the ner tamid, the eternal light.
You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly. Aaron and his sons shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain which is over [the Ark of the Pact], [to burn] from evening to morning before the Eternal. It shall be a due from the Israelites for all time, throughout the ages. (Exodus 27:20-21)
Needless to say, this is not the way we light our ner tamid. Unless, the electricity goes out (God forbid), our ner tamid is always on. Unlike the above instructions, our Ner Tamid in our sanctuary requires no effort.
But as meticulously described here, the maintenance and care of the eternal light is so important that the Torah expounds many verses upon it. After being tasked with such a huge responsibility, I imagine Aaron making a Google spreadsheet and organizing the community into shifts so that he could be assured that someone would always be taking care of the eternal light.
I promise that the next time you call temple, you will not be asked, By the way, we had someone cancel. Could you bring some beaten olives next Wednesday at around 2 am?
But even if modernity alleviates us from the burden of kindling the Ner Tamid, we have a responsiibility to keep the flame of Judaism alive.
We have to honor our past just as we reform traditions for the future. We should take Judaism seriously, engaging in study, participating in ritual, strengthening our synagogue, reaching out to those in need. These are the ways that we light the ner tamid.
In a few weeks, we will celebrate Passover. The central message of Passover is for us to act as if each one of us was personally freed from Egypt. In this way, Passover is not limited to being a historical remembrance. It is an experiencial liturgy, as we experience the freedom from Egypt.
Similarly, we must light the ner tamid of Judaism so that the Judaism we experience is not only lived by us and honored by us, but also, created by us. Too often we learn what Moses did, we learn what Abraham and Sarah did, but we don't experience Judaism for ourselves. Judaism is not a third person activity. It's meant to a first person creation. This is why it was so important that Aaron and the priests took an active part in the lighting of the ner tamid. As we continue to create our Jewish lives, burning the ner tamid of Judaism, we should do the same.