In the past week very heavy winds struck Los Angeles, and in our chapel a window broke and the Ner Tamid came crashing down. Ner Tamid is usually translated as “eternal light,” and it is supposed to be perpetually lit as inspired by the menorah in the ancient Temple, and some say, as a reminder of God’s eternal presence.
So what happens when such a light is extinguished? In our chapel, what happened was that the children who witnessed it continued their service, and our prayer minyan continues morning and evening each day while it is being repaired. The light is a symbol; the behavior it is intended to inspire is what counts most of all.
Throughout Jewish history, synagogues have been destroyed or abandoned and “eternal” lights extinguished. The true eternal light is in the heart of each Jew who takes up the words of the tradition and offers them back to God. Despite the winds, the window and the crash, the light did not go out in our chapel; prayer and God’s presence still shine bright.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).