Boston Light, the first lighthouse to be built in what would become the United States was also the last lighthouse to have an official keeper. Sally Snowman stepped down from the role as the world slipped into 2024.
Little Brewster, a tiny island near Boston, has been home to Boston Light since 1716. The lighthouse will continue to serve, but it will join its sister lighthouses across the country in complete automation. Lighthouses continue to dot our waterways. Their beacons guide lonely captains on dark, stormy nights. Their light offers comfort, warmth, and cheer to a tempest of fearful hearts, but no one kindles or preserves them. They operate without human intervention.
There is another kind of lighthouse that continues to shine, but this one requires human effort. “For the Commandment is a candle, and the Torah is a light” (Proverbs 6:23). These Divine lights burn for eternity, but they only enter our hearts if we open the door. For this light to make a real-world difference and to lead us on the path of righteousness, we need to open our hearts and souls.
Wax and wick do not a candle make until we strike a match. The Torah and its commandments can’t guide us unless we study and observe them. G-d gave us the candle and the wax, but He placed the match in our hands. If we study the Torah with passion and embrace our Judaism with enthusiasm, its light will shine in our hearts and souls.
As the last lighthouse keeper steps down, we must ask ourselves, who will keep G-d’s lighthouse? Will we strike that match? Will we open our hearts and minds to its flame?
We might serve as kindlers, but the light is Divine. As G-d is eternal and categorical, so is His Torah and its moral code. Human codes are malleable. Mores and opinions, like fashions and styles, shift with the wind and sway with the vagaries of human opinion. But G-d’s morals are absolute.
They tell the story of a powerful battleship sailing through the night. The captain spies a light directly in its path and instructs the oncoming ship to change course. The responding message insists that the battleship change course. Enraged, the captain radios, “I am a battleship with the power to obliterate you; you change course.” The return message is not long in coming. “I am a lighthouse, your call.”
The Torah is a lighthouse that never changes course. Other ships are larger, faster, fancier, and nimbler, but the Torah is enduring—written by an unchanging G-d.
A ray of light might shine through a diffuser and look softer on the other end. It might shine through a prism and be deflected. It might also burst into a kaleidoscope of color. You might conclude that the light is malleable or that there are multiple lights. In truth, there is only one light; the channel through which it travels makes it appear different. Akin to clear water that looks green when poured into green glass.
There are multiple opinions on many topics that form the Torah’s spectrum. There is a kaleidoscope of custom and tradition. There is a diffusion of perspectives and approaches. However, there is only one source of light. There is no pluralism in the Torah. Our multiple opinions and traditions must align with the single source of the Torah’s light.
G-d gave us the Torah at Sinai. There are many ways to understand it and many variations of custom and halakhah. But all must be in step with the source of the law—G-d’s word at Sinai. Opinions that abrogate G-d’s unchanging law, opinions that proclaim aspects of the Torah outdated because they are not in step with modern culture, are not part of this light.
This is where we come in as lightkeepers of the Torah’s lighthouse. We must vigilantly ensure that we are not swayed by charlatans who claim that the Torah’s kaleidoscope of opinion legitimizes the abrogation of its eternal laws. The lightkeeper’s task is to ensure that the light shines bright and true.
This week, as we read the Torah portion that describes our receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, let us not do what Sally Snowman recently did. Let’s not step down from our role as lightkeepers. Let us preserve G-d’s Torah and ensure that it shines forever true in the hearts and minds of our people.
Rabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Gurkow,currently serving as rabbi of congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, is a well-known speaker and writer on Torah issues and current affairs.