In the light

My son Avi and his friend are eating salad in the dark because Bracha is filming Yocheved in the kitchen and she needs it to be dark. I’m making vegan pizza – also in the dark – because we have no cheese in the house and I can’t resist the self-imposed dare to convince Avi and his friend that vegan pizza can taste superb. The verdict on the pizza was, “It’s good, but it’s not cheese.” – But it’s good! Yes!

Bracha asks: “I need some people to walk by in the street for a minute.” I pass since I want to finish up and get this pizza into the oven but Avi says he’ll do it. When I tell him he’s a good sport he says he doesn’t exactly want to do it but he’ll do it to help her out.

“Avi is such a good sport” I tell my friend today. She calls it “coasting, or “going with the flow.” I disagree that coasting is the same as flowing. Coasting is continuing with energy from the past, with no inclination to do anything any differently. Flowing is being open to new experience that’s floating by in the present. Avi is very much of a go-with-the-flow kind of guy.

It’s possible to go with the flow and never make any plans. I believe in plans and I believe in foresight. But then I try not to be rigid. I try to taste new things, experiment, say “Why not?” sometimes.

Today was one of those “Why not?” moments. When a friend asked if I would lead the women in singing Hallel at Rachel’s tomb for the new Jewish month I said “Why not?” and I was glad I did. We heard some words of Torah from Rabbi Shlomo Kimche about the Biblical Josef in this week’s Torah reading and about the holiday of Chanukah. Part of what he said was this: In a nutshell the Greek belief system was comprised of aesthetics, logic and ethics. If it’s beautiful and logical it’s good. Values change over time. Judaism is very supportive of aesthetics and of logic but its view of morality is different. Values are not relative. Musar – a moral, ethical way of life is determined by our masoret, what has been handed down to us through Torah from God. Josef was beautiful and logical but he had his values straight. He knew who he was inside, throughout his role as viceroy in Egypt.

This got me thinking: Torah law sits on the foundation of innate, natural morality. It is a mistake to think that innate morality and divine law are two dichotomous sources for guidance in life. Ideally Torah values are meant to be soaked up by us, becoming second nature. At the same time, much of what we innately sense as moral is reflected as such in halacha (the Torah way of life). The true distinction that needs to be made is not between God’s morality and man’s but between human innate morality and societal ethos. The latter is based on culture and changing tastes. The former is based on sensitivity to truth.

This caused me to recall something from the class that Rav Kimche had said as a by-the-way kind of statement. Josef cried seven times. Nobody in the Bible cried as much as Josef. Then it hit me: Josef was called Joseph the tzaddik (righteous) not only because he retained his Jewish name, language and appearance but because he knew how to cry. He had a level of spiritual sensitivity that allowed him to experience Torah not only given from an outside source but as something natural, that emanated from within.

The light that shines from the Chanukah menorah is God’s light that is all around us, and within us.

Happy Chanukah!

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