Making Sense of the Sedra: Bo

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Making Sense of the Sedra: Bo

Bringing light into the darkness

Shabbat candles are key to bringing light into our lives
Shabbat candles are key to bringing light into our lives

There is a famous old story of a wealthy businessman with three sons. He wanted to hand over his business to one of them and decided to test them to determine who was the most suitable for this task. Each son was taken to an empty room and asked to fill it as best he could.

The first son donned his hard hat and filled the room with soil, using bulldozers and shovels, packing the space from floor to ceiling. The second gathered all the old papers and files from the company archives, piling the room high. The third son, waiting till dark, simply brought a candle and a box of matches. With the flick of a match the room was instantly filled with light. Guess which son got the job?

This week’s parasha, Bo, contains the plague of darkness. Our world can be a very dark place at times. The modern world has seen many people try to fill voids with material possessions, akin to filling a room with items. This has not necessarily made us happy though. The relative material wealth of our society has not solved all of our physical, spiritual and emotional problems,

By contrast, Shabbat shows us that Torah, Jewish law and spirituality, connection to God and to our fellow people are, like a candle, what bring light into the world. We are told, for example, that if one does not have enough money for both kiddush wine and Shabbat candles, Shabbat candles take precedence. Similarly, if one does not have enough money for Chanukah candles and Shabbat candles, one should choose Shabbat candles. This is because in both cases, Shabbat candles symbolise shalom bayit, a peaceful home, filled as much as possible with light from which we benefit.

The Talmud, the main work of Jewish law and ethics, tells us that in the merit of righteous Jewish women, we were redeemed from Egypt. Those women would, despite enduring horrific, crushing labour, come home from a day’s work, bathe and anoint themselves in order to remain radiant for their families. In the darkness of slavery, they brought light.

What brings light to the world is not our money, but how we share it with others. It is not our houses, but how we welcome others in. Our kind words and our smiles. An individual is a spark. Together we can light up the world.

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