Parshat Beha’alotcha: Poetry By Candlelight

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11 Jun 2008
Arts & Media

It isn’t restricted to nighttime in garbage-strewn

Alleyways of graffiti-sprayed poetry when darkness

Opens its foaming mouth and lets loose with a

Howling curse fumes of rancid breath, morgue-

Gray in both color and countenance –

No, darkness is neither susceptible nor

Exclusive to time and space:


I have known men to live in sunlight and think in coal

Just as I’ve known others to think lightheaded and feel

Dark-hearted –

No, darkness needs not a dark canvas on which

To paint its sordid art –

In fact, the whiter the parchment, the blacker the ink

Seems to be.


A person can be in a dark place…

But it is much worse when a dark place is in

A person –

Then, no matter how bright the future

May seem or how illuminating the sun

May be, no matter how far away he goes

Or how still she stands, that darkness will

Eat away like a famished parasite until even

The last drop, the last ounce of childhood

Lies all shriveled up in the fatal position.


When you kindle the lamps

Toward the face of the Menorah

Shall the seven lamps cast light


(O, but if it be true that darkness can live inside man

How much truer is it with light?)


When you kindle the lamps…


Arise o flame, flicker and dance

To a heart-beat, a soul rhythm

In time with the world and its

Beings, shooting forth rays of

Light through and throughout

Turning a shadow of doubt into

A glimmer of hope…


It takes merely one candle to

Illuminate an entire cellar:

One person, one shining soul

To illuminate an entire universe


For are we not flickering flames,

Light on our feet, lighter yet in our hearts,

Dancing the world into lightness?


But, of course, how?

What gives us the right to burn?

And make others burn?



Toward the face of the Menorah…


What is darkness if not fragmentation?

And what is light if not unity?


The source, the face of the Menorah,

Cast of unity, one solid piece of pure gold,

Peace on its face, tranquility on its lips,


Its light raised upward and raising others,

Its luminance shining forth, not only in its soul,

Not exclusive to its Holy Temple, but through

Its windows, windows facing out to the simple

World beyond, illuminating the bleak earth…


Shall the seven lamps cast light…


But some can think that unity too

Is exclusive to one time and space,

That light only belongs in certain

Communities or among specific

Scholars and saints…


Some would be wrong:


A candle may be an individual soul,

But a candelabra, a Menorah, is a people,

A nation of many souls, many candles shining

And illuminating, glimmers of more than hope –

Glimmers of purpose, of passion


It may be in a dark world in which we live –

But it is a bright light which lives in us…


All the individual branches are cast of the same solid piece of gold –

Let us face it, the face of the Menorah, and may we

Raise the light!


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.