Be a Lamplighter: A Reflection on Newtown and Darkness

December 20, 2012Rabbi Sari Laufer

I have a bunch of blog posts brewing in my head, but felt like I couldn't write anything until I wrote about Newtown. But, what could I say? What can I say? I've been almost wordless all week, focusing intensely on the lights of Hanukkah last week, and trying to imagine how we can continue to shine light into the darkness. What can I say?

I was struck by a story I heard on NPR, about St. Rose of Lima, the Catholic church in Newtown, which - like many houses of worship - was overflowing on Sunday following the shootings. In its pews were students, friends of those children; in its pews were parents, looking for comfort and consolation; in its pews were mourners, one of their own children - scheduled to play an angel in the Nativity Play - had been killed. Her parents were sitting in those pews.

That poor priest, I thought to myself. What words can he offer? How can he possibly preach?

In the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church, last Sunday was Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, the Christmas season. Gaudete Sunday gets its name from the Latin word "gaudete," meaning rejoice; it is the first word of a certain part of the ceremony. The theme of Gaudete Sunday, then, is joy. And so, he preached on joy. On the need to find it, to celebrate it, to still be able to feel it. What an awesome task; what a sacred responsibility!

One of the educators at my synagogue shared a story last week, in the midst of Hanukkah and before the massacre in Connecticut. I think it's an even more important story this week, after the lights of Chanukah have faded and as we struggle to move forward after a national tragedy:

Students come to their rebbe, wondering "What is a Jew? What is our mission in the world." Unsatisfied by his answers about God's commandments and Jewish law, they ask again: "What is a Jew? What is our mission in the world." Finally, the rebbe answers:

Many years ago, before electricity, there was a person in every town who would light the street-lamps with a light he carried at the end of a long pole. The tall lamps stood there ready on the street-corners, waiting to be lit; sometimes, however, the lamps are not as easily accessible. There are some lamps that stand in far forsaken places, in deserts, or at sea.

We need someone dedicated and caring to go out of his way to light even those lamps, so that they may fulfill their purpose and illuminate the paths and walkways. We, each of us, he went on to say, must be a lamplighter - illuminating the world, and helping others find their light.

I'll leave the politics for another post and just say that the world is dark today, my friends. How can you be a lamplighter?

Rabbi Sari Laufer is the associate rabbi of Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City. She blogs at Torah Blahnik and tweets ("perhaps too prolifically") at @rabbilaufer

Originally posted at Torah Blahnik

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