Return begets Return

Once there was an individual who was unmoved by his Jewish faith. An age-old hatred began to reassert itself. Like most, he believed this movement would soon subside.  But instead of getting better, it got worse.  And although he wasn’t personally affected by the violence, every new attack pained him more. 

Theodore Herzl’s essay about our individual’s plight contains a curious twist.  Something surprising happens.  His response to hatred’s return begets his own return to his Jewishness. 

Passover’s sweetness was shattered last weekend by anti-semitic bloodshed in Poway.  Courageous responses – among the living and the murdered – are worthy of the honor they now receive.  Imagine – again having to flee a sanctuary for safety. 

How then shall we respond?  Certainly not by turning a craven attack into a cause for ideological point-scoring. 

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein’s message feels wise and inspiring.  ‘In the face of darkness, spread light.’  Last month Rabbi Goldstein’s forcefully condemned terrorism against fellow-faithful of different religious commitments.  “Attacking innocent people is abhorrent! It is abhorrent when it is a shul in Pittsburg and it is abhorrent when it is in a Mosque in New Zealand!” 

Herzl’s nineteenth century response to attacks on Jewish life is clearly autobiographical.  But it also extends beyond the individual to our collective return.  “For our friend (the Menorah) became a parable for the enkindling of a whole nation. First one candle; it is still dark and the solitary light looks gloomy. Then it finds a companion, then another, and yet another. The darkness must retreat.” 

Today, as ever, our national vocation is to radiate light.  The eight flames of Hanukkah’s Menorah may symbolize eight covenantal ways in which Judaism emits light.  It nourishes growth, deepens joy, solaces grief, stirs hope, activates accountability, awakens empathy, warms companionship, and makes goodness glow. 

Let each of us respond to these dark and difficult times by striving to be that ninth candle, the Shamash, which serves only to light the others.  As Herzl’s essay concludes: “No office is more blessed than that of a servant of light.”

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