On being lamplighters

“When your identity isn’t alive, it can’t give you strength. But when it’s a living force – when you know who you are, where you’ve come from, and the calling that awaits you – then the strength that identity can give you is indomitable.” These words of Natan Sharansky have a lot to teach us about inner strength. Gil Troy, who coauthors Sharansky’s important new book Never Alone, has coined the terms Pilates Judaism and Pilates Zionism to capture the importance of building a strong inner core.

In this week’s portion of Torah, we meet that iron core. Jacob and Joseph refuse to buckle under the weight of emotionally demanding experiences. First, Jacob refuses to be consoled after being presented the bloody multi-colored tunic, suggesting that Joseph has met his demise. The Prophet Jeremiah envisions how Rachel, Jacob’s wife and Joseph’s mother, will also defy consolation, insisting that exile will be followed by return and restoration. For his part, Joseph resists the aggressive advances from Potiphar’s wife. Each of these incidents employs the Hebrew word for vigorous resistance, mi-un (Gen. 37:35, 39:8, Jer. 31:14).

Deep within each of them pulsates an insistence that there is more at stake than what appears to have happened. Jacob and Rachel refuse to accept their grieving as pointless.  And Joseph, in the marrow of his bones, knows that more is at stake in his mission. To resist the tempting requires a person to insist on the abiding.

On Hanukkah this means resisting an either-or choice of particularism or universalism. It means insisting that particularism is essential for universalism to matter. Unless I bring something unique to a conversation, I add little value to it. The same is true for learning from the uniqueness of others. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, of blessed and beloved memory, used to say there is no contradiction between “being secure in one’s home, yet moved by the beauty of foreign places.”

May our strong Pilates-core enable us to be lamplighters who emit our own particular glow of hope to a world eager to share in it.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
Related Topics
Related Posts