Friday, October 5, 2007

Let there be Life...

This mixed media piece entitled "Adam and Eve" is from Miriam Schapiro and was featured in the 2006 Feminist Art Project. Miriam Schapiro was born into a family of Russian-Jews . Her father was an artist and industrial designer, who began teaching her art when she was six and encouraged her artistic interests. Schapiro found success early as a hard-edge geometric-style painter. Influenced by the feminist movement of the early 1970s, she changed her style radically, embracing the use of textiles as symbolic of feminine labor.


Kenneth M. Chasen

During my days as a rabbinical student, I spent some time working as a Jewish chaplain at a large Los Angeles hospital. On Friday afternoons, it was my responsibility to see that each Jewish patient received a small set of electrical Shabbat candles.

I remember being repeatedly amazed by the impact of this simple task. In room after room, I witnessed wondrous transformations as I plugged in the lights. Breathing became less labored; pained expressions gave way to peaceful looks. Sometimes the relief induced by the candles was only momentary, but it was still clearly discernible.

I asked my mentor at the hospital, Rabbi Levi Meier, about this phenomenon. He responded by pointing out something that I had not previously noticed in this week's parashah.

On the first day of creation, God said, "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:1-5), and light appeared to banish darkness. I had always thought of that light as the light of the sun, but Rabbi Meier reminded me that the sun, moon, and stars weren't formed until the fourth day of creation. (Genesis 1:14-19) He then left me to ponder what kind of light was actually created on that first day.

The rabbis of the midrash offer a clue. One story tells of Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman, whose mastery of rabbinic legend was widely acknowledged. A colleague challenged his expertise by asking, "How was light created?" He replied, "God was wrapped in a special robe, and the brilliance of God's beauty shone from one end of the world to the other." (Genesis Rabbah 3:4)

Indeed, the light created on the first day was no ordinary light: It was God's light -- the radiant light of life itself. It was the light that gave birth to all that followed. And it is the light that shines in and upon each one of us still, if only we can feel it and bask in it.

The candles that illuminated those hospital rooms brought a little bit of God's light into the depths of the darkness. They rekindled the light of life that had begun to dim inside suffering souls. Certainly, we all encounter such moments during which it is hard to see the light. But, as Rabbi Fields teaches us, our challenge is to see the world through the window of wonder -- to search vigorously for God's light of life that surrounds us, to harness the rays that reach into us, and to use them by joining with God in furthering the work of creation.

On the first day, God created life. And ever since, it has been our task to make that light grow brighter. Let there be life! Shabbat shalom.

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