Parashat Tetzavveh 5780

Cantor Tamara Wolfson – 6 March 2020

When I was growing up, my friends and I used to love to watch a show called “Are You Afraid Of The Dark?” Each episode centered around its own terrifying campfire ghost story, unsolved murder mystery, or something similar. I put on a brave face in front of my friends, but if they had asked me if I actually were afraid of the dark I would have had to honestly answer “yes”. Those scary stories on TV stayed with me well into my nightmares, and even on nights when I hadn’t watched the show I still had to sleep with a night light. Sometimes I’d wake up with a start in the middle of the night, look immediately towards the glowing bulb by my dresser, and breathe a sigh of relief before curling back up in bed.

Long before scary TV shows, humanity had good reason to be afraid of the dark. Within the darkness lurked unforeseen stumbling blocks as well as animal and human predators. Darkness was the ultimate manifestation of how little control we actually had. Without natural light or candle light, we were at the mercy of the darkness and were utterly helpless. It’s no wonder that the imagery of the eternal light — the ner tamid — that we find in this week’s parasha is such a comfort. A light that never goes out, endlessly cutting through the thick darkness, is akin to a security blanket protecting us from becoming overwhelmed by our vulnerability — almost like an adult nightlight for the entire congregation.

It’s easy to take the ner tamid for granted when we view it in a packed sanctuary with the overhead lights on, the room warmed by the voices of our community and energized by our prayer. But next time you’re ever walking past your sanctuary on an “off day”, take a look inside. In a vacant darkened sanctuary, the light of the ner tamid seems to shine even brighter to pierce the emptiness. And for someone who has been historically afraid of the dark, I’ve found that some of my most meaningful spiritual moments have occurred in an empty sanctuary — just me, the darkened space, and the eternal light. In those moments, I was as soothed by the ner tamid as I was by my childhood night light. I felt held by a force greater than myself, providing me with a sense of peace and security that could drive out any nightmares.

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