The Internal Light

Over many years, young students have visited our synagogue. I usually explain to them the significance of the various symbols in the sanctuary. I always point out the importance of the ark, Torah scrolls, and the Ner Tamid (eternal light) burning constantly above the holy ark.

I pointed out that we use the eternal light because of the verse in the Torah (Ex. 27:20), “And you shall command the people of Israel that they bring pure olive oil beaten for the light to cause a lamp to burn continually…”

Shortly after one visit, I received a package of thank you letters from the youngsters. The letter I remember best was from a 5th grader who wrote in part, “I especially liked your explanation of the internal light.”

The youngster had stumbled on a profound truth about us. We do indeed each possess an “internal light” and that may well be the most important human endowment we receive at birth. It is a spark of divinity kindled within each of us.

The internal light has been variously identified. One writer described it as “the soft whispers of God in man.” George Washington admonished, “Labor hard to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.” Lord Byron put his perception of the “internal light” into poetry:

“Whatever creed by taught or land be trod, Man’s conscience is the oracle of God.”

Our Bible described the internal light in these words, “The spirit of man is God’s candle.” It is this built-in candle which is our most distinctive quality. It is this light which enables us to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong, compassion and cruelty, truth and falsehood. It is this unique capacity which sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Thus Maimonides observed in his Commentary on the Mishnah, “What restrains beasts from doing harm is external—a bridle or a bit, but man’s restraints lie within himself.”

The internal light does more than equip us with the ability to make moral distinctions and decisions. It also confers upon each of us supreme value. We are each special and unique. We are each a sacred refraction of divinity. God has shared with every one of us a measure of His illumination.

When we forget our inherent God-given worth, we look to others for applause, for approval, for validation. We become like street beggars with our little tin cups extended soliciting a few coins of praise. We permit others to determine whether and how much we matter.

During the blustery spring winds, we need to remember the power of our internal spirit. The light within is that which enables us to kindle the spirit of hopefulness in others. And there is one more thing that our internal light does. It illumines the path leading to creativity and self- expression.

A Parisian artist once complained to the renowned sculp- tor Jacques Lipschitz that he was unhappy with the quality of the light he was painting. He had even gone to Morocco in search of a change of light but to no avail. “An artist’s light,” Lipschitz told him, “comes not from without, but from within.”

And so it is with all of us. B’Shalom,

Rabbi Martin Levy 505.670.4671

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