Among the most familiar of all the blessings we recite as Jews is the “motzi,” the prayer recited before eating bread. The youngest of children learn to say it, and often the oldest and most cherished family members recite it at a simcha. Actually, the motzi is an inaccurate statement of the facts. In fact, what the blessings says, “God brings forth bread from the earth,” doesn’t happen. God brings forth wheat from the earth and we make it into bread. Whenever I say the motzi, I ponder the idea of partnership between God and human beings. Bread would not exist without that partnership. We couldn’t have bread without wheat, but God wouldn’t have bread unless we ground the wheat into flour.
In this week’s Parasha, Terumah, we begin to read about the commandment given to the Israelites to build a synagogue in the desert. The Mishkan, or God’s dwelling place, was supposedly an engineering marvel, a structure that was meant to be assembled and disassembled over and over again in each new location the Israelites made camp. The Mishkan was the first synagogue in our history. Its design and construction are described in intricate detail in the Torah, including all the pieces of sacred furniture it contained such as the altar, the table of showbread, and the Menorah, the golden lampstand that is remembered in every synagogue in the world in the form of the Ner Tamid, the Eternal Light that is suspended above the ark.
The Ner Tamid is a constant reminder of our partnership with God. In order for the Ner Tamid to burn, people had to keep it burning. Olives for the oil had to be crushed, the cups on the lamp had to be filled and refilled with the oil, the wicks had to be replaced. Without our continual human efforts that lamp would burn out. The Ner Tamid was a partnership that required regular, consistent and dedicated effort to maintain.
From the beginning of creation, we were meant to be God’s partners in continuously improving the world. We are “shutafim shel ha-kadosh baruch hu,” full partners with God in making the world a better place.
In the ancient world, before the invention of window glass or hi tech windows that keep heat in our homes and filter dangerous rays from the sun, windows were cut into the stone buildings of the age on an angle. That is, they were cut to be narrower on the outside and wider on the inside in order to allow light to enter and diffuse into the building while keeping out some of the dust and dirt of the outside world. But the windows of the Temple in Jerusalem were cut in the opposite way, narrower on the inside and wider on the outside, to allow the light of the Ner Tamid to shine out into the world.
The Ner Tamid speaks to us of partnership with God. Its light does more than bring warmth and illumine the space we occupy. It symbolizes our potential to brighten the world.
Our teens experienced that potential over the long Presidents’ Weekend. Our USY chapter, under the leadership of Andrea Fleishaker and Jamie Mittleman, spent four days in Philadelphia celebrating Shabbat, having fun, and, most importantly, giving of themselves to make a difference. Working with Jewish Relief Agency, Repair the World and Boys and Girls Clubs of America, our teens invested themselves in issues of poverty, hunger and caring for the needy. In partnership with the Divine, they helped to shed the light of the Ner Tamid on a small corner of the world.
We should emulate their example.