May 22, 2024
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May 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Be the Light. The Shabbat Candles.

The Shabbat candles.

The light. The candles. The truth is… they never spoke to me. I have three major mitzvot to fulfill. When I knead the challah, I feel it. The prayer that goes into each flip of the dough, the rise and fall of my larger-than-life ego when it doesn’t rise the way I envision, the mikvah that enables me to mirror purity. But candles? In recent years, not so much. I’ve seen great miracles come from welcoming Shabbat early, 12 minutes to be exact… lives being changed before my eyes from being ready for Shabbat with passion (unlike recent times where I’ve clung to the extra 18 minutes like I was hanging on for dear life … Yes it is true, sometimes I’m a Jew out of loophole convenience).

The lights.

What is the deeper meaning? I could not connect to it the way I felt I should, irrespective of any lesson given over. This Yom Kippur, though … the light bulb finally went on. Not in the Biblical, this-is-what-the-Bible dictates way—but in my own, vulnerable and personal way. Now that I am here, in this place, I’m not sure why it took so long to arrive.

Women. Are the light. Or the darkness. We hold, in our tiny, balls-juggling, frail-yet-mighty grip, powerless and powerful hands … the light to allow ourselves, our families, our children and our homes to shine.

How do we bring in Shabbat?

How do we respond to playing with our children for eight hours straight? How do we react to a passed test? A failed test?

How do we respond to being woken up early on a fast day? (What, just me?)

How do we respond to sibling rivalry or when our husbands say, “Sure, I will *babysit* for the kids.” (Um, just me again?)

How do we respond when our children want to show us their projects and we are preparing their dinner? Eat right or feel important? Tough choices. No great answers.

And, my dear self … How do I respond to my daughter’s school rules when discussing them with my child? What about the woman who ignored me in the park? How do I present myself and pass judgment on others if I don’t know the full picture? To speaking ill of our sister shuls and schools? To saying, “Well, I could do this better than she can, smarter, awesomer. My skirt is four inches longer than yours? I wear lace fronts and you don’t think it is OK? I go to this shul but you go to that shul. I am me, and you are you—respectfully or with ill will?

Who hears this inner battle? The children. And what do we become? The darkness.

But … we could be the light.

I’m not entirely sure how. Judging is easy. Benefit of doubt … not so much.

What do we answer when our kids say, “Why did God make a divide? Why? Why are they having play dates and not me? Why should I include if others don’t? Why did you roll your eyes at the person walking by?” All the whys, and then more whys.

I don’t always know how to answer these questions being asked of me.

What I do know—is that to our children, we can do more than be the light. We can create the light. I could choose to smile first at that lady in the store. I could invite someone sitting alone in synagogue home for a meal.

I can look around and simply share my heart.

We must teach our children to judge favorably and love themselves of course … but also love others. Those who go to this school, that shul, this camp, that job. Those who are shorter, taller, larger, smaller, too quiet or too loud.

That doesn’t mean ignore the issues.

How we address them is how we shine the light … our light..to our children and our future generations.

No one is going to change because I reacted distastefully to a situation in front of my children.

I am not that powerful. But actually—I am.

Who said it? Rabbi Israel Salanter.

“When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. But I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my country. When I found I couldn’t change my country, I began to focus on my town. However, I discovered that I couldn’t change the town, and so as I grew older, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, but I’ve come to recognize that if long ago I had started with myself, then I could have made an impact on my family. And my family and I could have made an impact on our town. And that, in turn, could have changed the country and we could all indeed have changed the world.”

We can shine light on our children with our right hands … and our left hand, at the appropriate time, place and tone of voice address the injustice in our communities and the entire world. And we should. No one else will. Once we have a handle on our families, that is … and they have the right amount of brightness from the women who have the most amount of responsibility and influence—the mothers.

So now when I light Shabbat candles and welcome in the holiest day of the week, I pray for the wisdom, the right facial expressions, the right tone of voice, know-how to shine just the right amount of light directly upon my family.

Praying for a healthy, happy, successful-in-everything day, week, year and life for all of us because there ain’t no “I” in team and unity has a “u” and an “I.” We are in this together, so we may as well learn to respect and love each other, take and give light when needed, wherever we can. And be there for each other in our own capacities while welcoming others with all they have to offer.


Vicky is the mother of three and lives with her family in Edison.

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