William Hamilton

One Small Light

“Our world kept getting smaller” writes Jessie Fein in her inspiring new memoir. Not in a good way. As in when you bump into a stranger while traveling abroad who turns out to be your neighbor’s best friend, and you remark, “Such a small world.” No, smaller in a constricting way. Tighter. More frightening.  

Jessie’s talking about the painful decline in the health of her daughter Dalia, who’s life was taken the week after her 17th Birthday by a rare degenerative disease. 

Many of us are talking about what it feels like to be Jewish today. About the painful decline in moral clarity of those with similar values. About upside down claims. Reversals of cause and effect, like: “Wet pavement causes rain.” For the record, it was antisemitism that gave rise to the need for Zionism. 

Confusing good with evil, right and wrong, these are leading indicators or a moral disorder. When infected, your priorities criss-cross, and your purpose fizzles. 

This week’s portion of Torah is also about bringing order to disorders. The main ingredient in Judaism’s recipe for doing so is called holy. It’s not easy to define. For some the word is so abstract that it swallows whole the sentences in which it appears. For today, let’s just consider holy a name for sacred interests that are dear to God. 

Less important than what it is, is what it does. It clarifies distinctions, separating good from bad. It also defies gravity, hovering higher than what’s legal, and also what’s moral. Most of all, it promotes order. Actually it preserves, protects, and defends order. 

If you want a glimpse of what “love the stranger” (Lev. 19:34) feels like, watch this 2-minute clip of the highest ranking Muslim Israeli IDF Officer teaching in Arabic about the urgency of Holocaust education. 

We’re not fatalists. We never have been. And we will never be. And we will never be defined as victims. Victimhood is a trap. Because it deadens your agency. Instead, we’re carriers of sacred ways to restore order. To weaken chaos and confusion. And to strengthen sanity. 

Jessie Fein discovered how Dalia’s light steered and led her way. It still does. 

Tomorrow’s Eurovision Song Festival finalist, Eden Golan concludes her stirring song with holy words for her People (translated from Hebrew), “Don’t need big words, just prayers. Even if it’s hard to see, You always leave one small light.”

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