Emor: Turn On Your Love Light

This week’s Parshat (Torah Portion) Parshat Emor mentions the Menorah (a seven branched candelabra) that was used in the context of serving God in Mishkan (Tabernacle) Vayikra/Leviticus 24:1-4). The Menorah burned a fire that helped connect us to God. A fire of spirituality. However, there is more to the Menorah. Let me explain.

Later on a Menorah burned in the First and Second Temples. Since the Second Temple was destroyed the Menorah has not been seen. On the Arch of Titus in Rome there is a relief of Roman soldiers carrying away the Menorah. For this reason there are those who believe that the Menorah is somewhere in Rome.

Whenever I encounter people in a discussion of the whereabouts of the Menorah, the conversation inevitably turns to someone saying, “The Vatican has the Menorah hidden away and that is the reason that the Church does not allow scholars full access to their library.” I have no doubt that there are secrets being kept tucked away in the Vatican’s Archives, but while anything is possible, this scenario is as likely as believing that the Lost Ark is hidden in some secret federal warehouse as the Indiana Jones movies would have you believe. It sounds like a new book by Dan Brown.

The current location of the Menorah is a colorful topic. However, what interests me more is where the Menorah would be placed if it was ever found. If this scenario ever happened, here is how I believe events would unfold.

As soon as the Menorah was found, massive e-mails would go out worldwide announcing this miraculous discovery to the entire Jewish people and beyond. Jewish and general media would be on this story nonstop. A series of lectures would be organized and at a variety of Jewish institutions. What would inevitably dominate the discussion would be where the Menorah would be placed.

Many religious Jews would want the Menorah placed at the Kotel (the Western Wall, the last remaining wall of the Temple). Other religious Jews would feel that it should be on Har Habayit (the Temple Mount), which is the actual sight of where the Temple once stood. This would of course cause friction between Jews and Muslims because of the Mosque on the Temple Mount. This conflict between Jews and Muslims would lead to further arguments between politically liberal and politically conservative Jews.

Then a new group of religious Jews would come forward and articulate other locations to avoid conflicts. The Great Synagogue in Jerusalem would offer itself up as the perfect venue. However, the leadership of other Synagogues would counter, “no, why the Great Synagogue, why not my Synagogue?” The Chief Rabbinate would of course get involved and determine that the Menorah should be in their office. Jews who are critical of the Chief Rabbinate both from the right and from the left would have issues with this plan and engage in protests. Various Yeshivot would offer their locations. The Reform, Reconstructionist, Jewish Renewal, Conservative and some on the more liberal side of Modern Orthodoxy would suggest that the Menorah should be place at Robinson’s Arch, The Southern Wall, where these approaches to Judaism can have services without limitations.

Still secular Jews would feel that the Menorah should not be in any of these venues; it should be placed on top of the Knesset (The Israeli Parliament). Academics would also get into the argument and advocate that none of these locations are acceptable as the Menorah must be in a museum where it could be cared for properly and studied. The religious groups would counter issuing the following statement, “How dare you try to put the Menorah in a museum? That is where you want to put us. That is where you want to put Judaism. Not in real life, but behind glass where it can be admired from afar, but where it has no affect on people’s lives.”

This argument about where the Menorah would be placed would go on and on and on and thus the meaning of what the Menorah is about would be completely lost. In fact, if this story would unfold as I am unfortunately suggesting it would, the story would demonstrate that we as a people are conducting ourselves in exactly the opposite way of what the message of the Menorah is. What is the message of the Menorah?

If you were to look at the Menorah, you would note that there are seven branches, but they all come from one base. The message of the design could be that there are different types of Jews but with all of our diversity and all of our disagreement we are all one people. Am Echad, Im Lev Echad, one people with one heart. That is what we should be, but are we living up to the message of the Menorah. I do not think so. The loss of the message of the Menorah is far more tragic than the loss of the Menorah itself. Look at the conflicts, intolerance and hate that can exist between Jews of different religious or political orientations. There is nothing wrong with disagreement. I am not in anyway suggesting uniformity in Judaism. We are richer because of our diversity. However, we must come to understand that disagreement does not mean I hate you. A person can maintain their point of view passionately and intensely without in anyway degrading or devaluating someone they disagree with. I bless you all, that we all work towards a day of building a truly pluralistic Jewish community.

 

This week’s title comes from the song “Turn On Your Love Light” which is an R&B blues song that was recorded in 1961 by Bobby Bland. Joe Scott wrote the song. Don Robey aka Deadric Malone is also credited. The song has been covered by a number of interesting artists and bands. The greatest band in the land, the Grateful Dead, of course performed the best cover version of this song. The Grateful Dead first started performing the song in 1966, it was sung by Ron McKernan, aka Pigpen. There is a beautiful 15-minute rendition of the song on the 1969 double live album Live/Dead. Also in 1969 at Woodstock the Grateful Dead performed a 45-minute version of the song. Pigpen’s last performance of the song was at the Lyceum Theatre, London during the 1972 European tour. Pigpen died on March 8, 1973. The Grateful Dead brought the song back in the 1980s with Bob Weir on vocals.

To listen to The Grateful Dead’s cover of Turn On Your Love Light, click HERE.