Moses, love, and light (a d'var Torah for Shemot)
December 22, 2013
Here's the d'var Torah for parashat Shemot which I offered at my shul yesteray morning. (Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.)
Talmud teaches (Sotah 12a) that when Moses was born, the house was filled with light. In this week's Torah portion we read that Moses' mother saw that he was good, and in Genesis 1 we read that God saw that the light was good. The same phrase is used to describe both Moses and that primordial light.
Remember that at the beginning of the Torah, God says let there be light, and there is light, and God sees that it is good -- and only some days later does God create sun, moon, and stars.
The light of the first day of creation is not literal light. It is the light of wisdom and insight. The light of love. Today we sang "For with You is the source of light" -- not talking about the sun and moon, but about that primordial light.
In the kabbalistic understanding, that primordial light shines from ein-sof, "without-end," the most infinite, transcendent, ungraspable aspect of God. Using the scientific paradigm, we might call it the light of the Big Bang, still emanating into our expanding universe. Or using Hasidic language, we could call it the light of God's yearning for us.
I love the teaching that God birthed the universe in order to be in relationship. Before there was creation, there was only God; but that was lonely. So God pulled back to make space for something which was not-God, and in that space, creation came into being.
In today's parsha we read about Yocheved birthing Moses. When we bring children into our lives, we too have to pull back to make space for something which is not us. We make room for relationship. It takes intention and awareness to respond to our children as Yocheved did -- to recognize and nurture the light in them.
If you've ever practiced yoga, you may have heard the greeting "namaste," which means "the light in me greets the light in you." The light in me greets the light in you. Maybe that's a glimpse of the first light that God called good, shining within each of us.
Yocheved, mother of Moses, hides him for as long as she can. When she can no longer keep his light under a bushel, she places him in a wicker basket and sets it afloat on the Nile -- the very river in which Pharaoh had commanded that all Hebrew boy-children be drowned.
But instead of the waters of drowning, these are waters of redemption. As his sister Miriam the prophet watches from afar, the daughter of Pharaoh finds him there. Immediately Miriam rushes to her side and offers to hire a Hebrew wet-nurse...which means that Yocheved is able to continue nursing her own child.
For our sages, the love of a mother for her child was symbolized by the act of nursing. And our love is a reflection of God's love, which is also likened to nursing! More than the calf wants to suckle, says the Talmud, the cow yearns to give milk. More than we desire God's blessing, God yearns to bestow blessing upon us. God yearns to bestow love. God yearns to bestow light.
Much later in our story, when Moses comes down from Sinai, Torah teaches that he had to veil himself because he was shining with divine light. His encounter with God was so profound that he came away glowing. Have you ever had an experience of such profound wonder and joy that you came away glowing? That's primordial light, shining through you.
On this Shabbat, may our eyes be opened to see the light in each other. And may our hearts be opened to receive the flow of love and light which God yearns to bestow.
Image: an artist's rendering of the Big Bang, from here.