Parshat Beha’alotcha: Lighter Fluid

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Street Light
10 Jun 2009
Arts & Media

When you kindle the lamps…

There are so many of them, hanging on the walls and swinging from the ceilings. They line the corridors of this musty place and stand uptight on the nighttime streets of this sleepy hallow. They are all different, no two the same: countless shapes and sizes, a kaleidoscope of colors and countenances, a mosaic of personalities and possibilities.

It is very dark, and it is easy to stumble. Because it is so difficult for them to see, it is also so easy for them to bump into something, someone: so easy to hurt themselves, so easy to hurt others.

If it weren’t dark, they’d all see that they journey together to the same place and they’d stretch out a hand to those who don’t even know how to ask for it. But the reality is such that they can stick out a leg and trip those who are blind; the darkness is so complete they think it to be light; they are so lost they think this is what it means to be found.

They all have thoughts, all have feelings: some are pliant like melted wax, others stiff as dried logs; some are clear like refined oil, others black as coal.

They are all different, all unique. But they are all the same. They are all dark.

And then into the darkened cellar that is a universe with a forgotten soul he walks, with a burning torch in his right hand.

He walks over to a candelabrum, whose yellowed candles have long been scarred by the harshness of a potential not realized, and he lightly touches the tip of its being with the purity of the torch and the room begins to blaze – the candelabrum’s face, once so sad and lined, now shines with a passion restored.

To a hearth dusty and dirty, whose wood is so dry, so humorless, it hasn’t laughed in years; whose bark might be worse then its bite for its teeth have long gone to decay; and whose sappy heart has long begun to split, to this forsaken hearth he walks next. He bends down, extends the torch to a body in need of kindling, and, instantaneously, it jumps, alive, heart now sweet and sappy again, syrupy, sentimental, sensitive.

In the grate that is a form with long, greasy hair and short, bitten nails, lies a pile of jagged coal, its skin dirtying to anyone foolish enough to touch it, its reek unbearable to anyone on the inhale. He comes close, torch still in hand, burning brighter now with every fuel it has touched and ignited, and, unperturbed by charcoal’s look and stench, light torch meets dark coal and – wow! Flames begin to dance, sparks in tango, the music of a life in perfect rhythm.

And of course the pure oil of innocence come to light burns clean and true, everywhere you look, everyone you know.

They come in all different shapes and sizes do the lamps, the people, all different, all unique. But they are all the same.

They all shine together, a menorah unto the world.

Mendel Jacobson is a writer, poet and journalist living in Brooklyn. His weekly poetry can be seen at

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.