Shabbat candles
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“Your hands are high and floating through a darkened sky

So many eyes around you

The distant sounds as neon sparks light up my heart

I’m gonna find a brighter day…..

I really wanna see your face, and I see

Bright bright lights, bright lights to guide me

Bright bright lights, bright lights to guide me home.”

(Haevn, Bright Lights)

Friday morning, Erev Shabbat. Outside the window, the early morning sun is shining. Its soft glow enhancing the pink and white profusion of gay colors which can be viewed from my window.

In the garden, a black cat strolls by carefree. In the aloneness of the outdoor garden, she is unafraid, unthreatened. As the breeze blows by, and the green leaves of the trees wave merrily in the breeze. A few leaves are floating down, joining their motion with that of a white butterfly.

The butterfly approaches my window, fluttering persistently, as if trying to enter, or to attract my attention. To add her spirit of purity to that of the approaching Shabbat, to add sanctity and hope to our home, on the eve of this holy day. She flits about lightly and carefree in the morning breeze, sometimes in my view, sometimes disappearing for a while and then returning, with a reminder. It is Erev Shabbat.

“The candle of God is the soul of man” (Proverbs 20:27)

Towards dusk, we will light the Shabbat candles. We will light two candles, symbolizing the two forms of the mitzvah of Shabbat. To remember (zachor) the day of Shabbat and make it holy (shamor).

The two candles represent also the additional soul, which provides us on this day with a heightened sense of spirituality. “Reish Lakish said: An added soul is given to man on Shabbat eve, and at the conclusion of Shabbat it is removed from him…” (Talmud, Taanit 27b)

The lights will sparkle, will light the evening’s darkening, will light the holy Shabbat. May their glow brighten not only this day, but this week, and our lives. May they illuminate with blessing the lives of our children, of our family, of our Nation.

“For you, O LORD, light my lamp, my God lights up my darkness.” (Psalm 18:28)

We are now in the forty day period between Shavuot and the 17th of Tammuz. The time when Moses went up Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, while the Children of Israel waited below for his return.

“And the glory of the LORD settled on Mt Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” (Exodus 24:16-18).

The number forty is a magical number, which symbolizes gestation, renewal, rebirth.

Forty days represents the number of weeks from conception until formation of the fetus in the womb. (Bekhorot 21b)

The Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Perhaps this was the time necessary for the rebirth of a new generation, under the covenant of the Torah, that would be worthy of entering the Promised Land.

The number forty also represents metamorphosis, transformation.

Perhaps it is the time of testing, to see if we will retain our hope and faith.

Forty is the number of days and nights of rain during the flood that occurred in the time of Noah.

It is the number of days that the spies spied out the land of Israel.

A few weeks ago, we celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, a special day of holiness and sanctity. On this day, the girls of Israel would traditionally dress in white. And in honor of the purity and holiness of this day, we too celebrated white. We ate dairy foods, topped off with cheesecake and vanilla ice cream. And we remembered.

Shavuot is the day of the marriage of the nation of Israel to God. The Nation of Israel was as the bride, beneath a splendid wedding canopy.

The word Shavuot means “oaths”. On this day, a covenant was made, a covenant of devotion and loyalty between God and the Nation of Israel.

Shavuot is the day of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

On this day, the Nation of Israel accepted the ”yoke of the kingdom of Heaven”. (Berachot 2,2)

Each year on this holiday we renew our acceptance of God’s gift.

On Shavuot the Nation of Israel gathered together at the foot of Mt. Sinai. We heard and saw the Divine presence.

“And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud, so that all the people that were in the camp trembled.” (Exodus 19:16-18)

The book of Ezekiel describes a vision “As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. “ (Ezekial 1:4)

This chapter has been traditionally associated with the revelation at Mt Sinai, when we the Nation of Israel both collectively, and individually, experienced the Divine presence.

Why then did not this certainty, this knowledge of Hashem, remain with the Nation of Israel for the 40 days and nights that Moses was on Mt. Sinai?

The Children of Israel made the Golden Calf on the afternoon of the sixteenth of Tammuz when it seemed that Moses was not coming down from Mt Sinai, as promised.

The seventeenth of Tammuz will commemorate this event. It also commemorates other historical calamities that befell the Jewish people on this date.

The butterfly flits about outside my window, approaching, flying away, and then returning. As life, in which sadness and gaiety, tears and laughter, darkness and light will be present. Disappear. And then return, only to disappear once again. As the butterfly flits out of view, I await her return.

Why was knowledge of Hashem replaced by fear and doubt?

Or, was it?

Perhaps it is not by chance that Shavuot precedes the 17th of Tammuz, precedes the month of Tammuz, and of Av.

Perhaps it is faith and hope that enables the Nation of Israel until this day to withstand the many tragedies that challenge us.

The holiday of Shavuot will soon be followed by a time of destruction and desolation. And we will take with us the hope, the strength, the moral code, the knowledge of God’s presence and blessing.

It is with that blessing that we will face the challenges, the trials, the sorrow, that tomorrow may bring.

In life, quite often the solution is in our hands before we are faced with a problem. The source of our comfort, our hope, our redemption is present before our sorrow. In preparations for our sorrow in Tammuz and in the month of Av, we have already been provided with the resources, the sustenance we will need in order to deal with the upcoming calamity.

Together as a Nation we heard a voice, which will remain with us as a people through difficult times. Throughout our exile, and now as we are returning to the Promised Land, we remember. Within us are the echoes of what we heard at Mt. Sinai, and we are strengthened by the memory, by the message, which is eternal.

We remember our journey in the wilderness. A pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night accompanied us, to guide us.

“And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by light in a pillar of fire, to give them light; that they might go by day and by night.” (Exodus 13:21

One day, the Messiah will arrive, and Jerusalem will be canopied by a cloud of smoke by day and a fire by night. “And the LORD will create over the whole habitation of Mount Zion, and over her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory shall be a canopy.” (Isaiah 4:5-6)

And until that day. What will it be? Will we allow darkness to pervade our souls? Or will we take with us light into the darkness of the days to come? Will we add strife and destruction to a world which could be otherwise? Or will we allow tranquility and serenity, the singing of the birds, the fluttering of the butterfly, to accompany us in our lives?

I look through the window. The reflected lights of our chandelier sparkle on the glass window, as if outside.

With the brightness of day, the green foliage are their backdrop. And at night, the bright lights will glow even brighter against the surrounding darkness.

As we, who reflect our inner reality upon the outer world. The vision of the world may change, at times bright, at times dark. And yet the inner glow remains untouched, unchanged, undimmed.

May our inner light be as a source with which to light a world of darkness, our inner compass a source of morality and goodness to shed order and meaning upon a world which sometimes seems to be one of chaos.

“When His candle shone over my head, and when by His light I walked through the darkness”. (Job 29:3)

May blessing, light and peace be with us.

A black cat just walked by. Through the kitchen window, two black kittens may be seen frolicking under the foliage. Our hope for the future. As the night falls, they will fade from view. I will look for them in the morning.

Dr. Devorah Ungaris an American-born scientist and musician.who moved to Israel 30 years ago.