“Mom, I am heading out for the night. I am taking the car.”
“Have a good time, Amy, drive carefully… and I’ll leave the front porch light on for you.”
I remember having that same conversation with my mom hundreds of times when I was a teenager. I used to think that it was a bit silly that my mom insisted on leaving the front porch light on for me; but secretly, I was happy that she did. Not only did her care and concern show me how much she loved me, but it also made me feel safe and secure. I always knew that my house would be the one with the light on and someone waiting inside for me to make my way back home.
At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, God tells Moses: “You shall 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 Lord. It shall be a due from the Israelites for all time, throughout the ages.”
This passage is the biblical source for the ner tamid, the Eternal Light, which today hangs above the ark in every Jewish congregation. This perpetual light serves as a symbol of God’s eternal presence in Israel. But even more, the ner tamid is an ever-present reminder of God’s love, concern and care for the Jewish people, a symbol of the everlasting nature of our covenant with God.
Like a parent, God cares deeply about His children. God is deeply committed to us; God is dependable. And, like a parent, God makes sure to leave a light on for us, even when we venture far away, seemingly alone, or when we find ourselves lost or off-track.
Interestingly, the light described in the Torah portion, the forbearer of the later ner tamid, was intended to burn from evening to morning, the darkest portion of the day. Even when we are in our darkest periods, in our own difficult times, when we feel most distant from ourselves and from God, the Eternal Light is there to help us find our way.
“Perhaps,” writes Rabbi Kerry Olitzsky, “[the ner tamid] is where our parents got the idea to leave the light on the front porch when we were adolescents, reminding us that however far we travel into the night, the light will always be on guiding us home.” Perhaps that is so; I’m not sure. Maybe it was just my mom being a Jewish mother.
But what I do know is that when we are ready to make our way home, back to our best selves, back to the people we know we are meant to be, back to God, we need only open our eyes because the ner tamid, God’s front porch light, is always on.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim Sameach.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)