Ki Tavo: Rise and Shine!

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Ki Tavo

I hope you are enjoying the last days of summer. This is the season when we notice the days getting shorter,
but the theme of radiant light begins (and ends) our haftarah for this
week:

“Arise, shine, for your light has dawned;
The Presence of the Lord has shone upon you
Behold! Darkness shall cover the earth,
And thick clouds the peoples;
But upon you the Lord will shine,
And His Presence [will] be seen over you.
And nations shall walk by your light,
Kings, by your shining radiance. (Yeshayahu/ Isaiah 60: 1- 3)

As in previous weeks, we’re in the realm of poetry and metaphor as we
read the seven “haftarot of consolation.” The prophet Yeshayahu
[Isaiah] is speaking to a people in exile, portrayed as darkness,
while the redemption, the return home, is portrayed as a time of
radiant light.

So far, so good, but what’s interesting about the passages above is
the portrayal of two kinds of light: “your light” and “The Presence of
the Lord” [Hebrew “kavod”] which will shine upon the people. The
nations of the world will walk by the light of the people Israel, but
Israel itself will be illumined by God’s Presence- at least, that’s
what it seems to be saying.

Given that light is a metaphor- the people are not physically going to
shine like Glo-Sticks – what does it mean that redemption- return from
exile- is a shining or radiance?

To answer that question, let’s refer to a midrash- or creative
interpretation of the Torah- from the Talmudic tractate Chagigah. The
question is posed: if God created the sun and stars on the fourth day
of creation, how can it say, “Let there be light” on the first day?
What was that first light of creation if there was no sun and stars?

The rabbis postulate that the first light was a kind of spiritual
illumination, which enabled people to see from one end of the world to
another. This light was then hidden away for the righteous of a future
time. That is, the first “light” of creation isn’t light at all, in
the sense of waves and energy, but is rather the spiritual insight or
perspective that enables us to see “from one end of the world to
another;” that is, the world in its unity and totality.

Getting back to our haftarah, “your light has dawned” could be
understood as saying: exile, as the paradigmatic suffering, could be
something that wounds your soul and turns the people bitter and cruel.
Letting our light shine after exile means: returning from a period of
suffering ready to lead in kindness and compassion.

After all, the first light of creation showed us the world “from one
end to another”- that is, from the Divine perspective, wherein so much
that divides humankind is revealed as small and insignificant. This
spiritual light- or, in English, what we might call “enlightenment”-
is saved for the righteous, but I see this as a description: the very
definition of righteousness would be the ability to return from exile
shining with compassion and positive faith!

This, then, is how I understand the idea of letting our light shine: I
won’t allow suffering to darken my soul, but instead will further
commit to serving the world in deeds and example. The light of the
Divine – the greater perspective which transcends the narcissism which
can sometimes comes out of painful experiences- is what changes me on
the inside; the light I share with others is how I change the world
through my acts of compassion and spiritual mindfulness. Arise and
shine- because our light comes from within and from a greater Source,
refracted through our hearts into a world which needs our glory.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

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