Brilliance and Imperfection: Pathways Towards a Stronger Community

Ner Adonai (3x) nishmat adam
The light of The Source of All is composed of the soul of a person.
(Proverbs 20:27)

During these days, when we can so easily be overwhelmed and discouraged by the darkness in the world, we often forget that the light we most yearn to see and feel in the world begins with us.

What is needed for a light, a ner? A wick and fuel.

Mishnah Shabbat 2:1 (traditionally recited each Friday evening) “With which [wicks] may one light [Shabbat lamps], and with which [wicks] may one not light? One may not light with moss [that grows in] cedars, nor with uncombed flax, nor with raw silk, … nor with desert fiber, nor with weeds [growing] on water. Nor with castor oil, nor … with [the fat from] sheep’s tails, [etc.]”

Mishnah Shabbat 2:2 continues: “The Sages permit all [of the following] oils: sesame oil, cotton seed oil, radish [seed] oil, fish oil, gourd [seed] oil. … Rabbi Tarfon says: One may only light with olive oil.”

All this is to say that our wick and fuel sources matter!

How can we each connect with our individual ner/neshamah? I suggest three steps.

Step One: Connecting with our individual ner/neshamah.

If our individual, internal ner was like an ancient light, how pure and steady is the light from the materials that we choose for our ner/ light? Are we choosing things like balsam oil and tar that burn hot and fast, and that rapidly ignite our indignation and anger so that they easily turn into a conflagration? In other words, do we allow our consumption of news, social media and others’ impatience and anger to fuel our neshamah? What kind of light do we give off when fueled by these sources? How bright are we as a “light to the world” when we, consciously and unconsciously allow these substances to be our fuel?

What kind of light do we sense we actually desire to shine forth? How pure is it? How strong is it? If you wish, take some moments to feel the light inside you. That light that is waiting for you to fuel it with the cleanest sources so that it can have the purest impact on you, your friends and family, and beyond, while giving you the energy to live up to your ideals and potential.

Step Two: The housing for our container.

There are different kinds of “housing” for candles. We might find it helpful to reflect on which kind of container we have around our ner:

For some of us, perhaps we actually have no container around our ner. There is no separation between us and the rest of the world. Our flame is ready to lash out, and, when impulsive, may even ignite a conflagration. In addition, when strong gusts of wind blow, we have no protection.

Or perhaps our tender ner is protected … with sharp and hard metal edges. In this case, some of our light actually gets blocked from fully shining out. We are housed in stiff, hard protection, and others need to watch out; they may get cut from our sharp edges.

Maybe we don’t have any hard edges at all! Perhaps we have pure glass surrounding us. But how clean is the glass? Has a residue built up, creating shmutz that also prevents our light from shining forth with its fullness?

Or maybe we have simple, clean, clear glass as the container for our ner, allowing our ner — the ner of Adonai to ultimately shine forth clearly and brilliantly. It is safely housed and can’t get blown out or start a fire. Not even a small ray of our light gets hidden or misdirected.

Which container do you aspire to have around your ner? If you aspire to have one with clear and clean glass, is there a gap between reality and our aspiration? If so, how can we close that gap so that our light can indeed shine out in its fullest radiance?

The following three practices can help us turn these aspirations into reality:[ii]

  1. Putting up a container if we don’t yet have one
  2. Removing hardness and blocks
  3. Cleaning our glas

But there is another two-step process with which we can engage. We can get to know more clearly the quality of the unique brilliance that is waiting to shine more fully through each one of us. And we can step into a co-creation of the larger container that will let all of our shining neshamot to appear most clearly. For the truth is, as much as we each aspire to have a clean, clear glass around our neshamah (and we can and should definitely work towards that goal), that goal will likely never be completely realized.

If, then, each one of us is “doomed” to continue to carry some amount of imperfection around our individual ner/neshamah, then the way that we, as individuals and certainly as a collective, relate to one another’s “imperfections” either a) allows the brilliance within to be fueled in such a way that enhances the light; or b) diminishes the light within those “imperfect” beings around us.

Here is one last visual before our guided meditation.

Every Shabbat we have the opportunity to light two (or more) individual candles at the beginning of this weekly holy day. We close Shabbat with the lighting of a Havdalah candle. What constitutes a Havdalah candle? Two or more wicks, joined together. For after tending to our own neshamot for all of Shabbat, our internal ner grows brighter. We are likely to find that we are no longer a solitary ner, but that our own neshamot are more inclined to join with others  in human form, plant form, animal form, spirit form, or energy form. The Divine light shines through us even more brightly when we join our light together with the light within any or all of these other forms.

A Guided Meditation

I invite you to put everything aside, all your thoughts and feelings. If you are comfortable, please close your eyes. As I guide you in a moment to let your attention slowly move from the top of your body down towards your feet, let your body relax as your attention moves down. We’ll start now by bringing our attention to above our heads. Feel a calming weight, or a waterfall, moving everything in its way further down and out, clearing a path of openness, allowing an emptiness to remain in its stead.

We now continue to bring our attention down to the top of our head, across our forehead, over our cheeks, jaw, neck, throat and shoulders. We move it across our chest, our belly. We can stop there for a moment, just breathing deeply, in and out.

Let your attention continue to drop down into your legs, knees, shins, feet and into the purifying elements of earth below our feet. We can grow roots out the bottoms of our feet roots that extend deep and wide, literally grounding us and holding us steady. 

Imagine now being part of the most light-filled community. How old are the people around you? Do they span the life spectrum, from ageless infant to wise elder, each radiating out a unique quality of light? Without even looking at those around you, can you sense their energy and the love with which they are holding you, desiring only your greatest good and your greatest light to shine forth?

You feel this in the warmth of their gaze, the softness around their mouths, and in their gentle and strong presence. You can breathe a little easier when you are in this space. You can lower your defenses. No matter what you do, there is no critical judgment, and hence you never feel any shame or embarrassment. Instead, you feel such deep support for you to be living in alignment with your highest ideals and potential. When you fall short of that, you of course always know that it wasn’t intentional, and in this community, everyone else knows it as well.

If and when you desire, your community is ready to offer guidance that can actually help you close any gaps that appear between your ideals and “reality.” In the clarity and light of this container, you feel more deeply the wonder and miracle of that Divine spark within each person you encounter. Not only that, but in this container, you have the spaciousness to turn inward, toward your own Divine spark.

Within this clear, solid container in which everyone is holding up the greatest possibilities for you, each one of us can finally ask: “What is possible for me? What have I always wanted to try or explore, yet possibly never dared to even name? What brilliance is inside me, waiting for my loving and nurturing attention?”

We’ll take some moments of quiet now to see what arises. Perhaps words, perhaps an image, a scent or another sensation, or perhaps nothing comes to you … yet! And you can repeat this exercise again time and again until your own inner wisdom feels safe and free to emerge. But there is no “wrong” and no criticism. Let’s see what happens.

Whatever came to you, repeat those words; replay those images or scents, name or feel into the sensations you experienced. I invite you to put your hands on your body where you felt those sensations.

Let us begin to look at one another with wonder about the brilliance that is waiting to come from the others here. Through such a join pathway, we will begin to powerfully transform our Oseh community from a collective of single nerot/neshamot and even clusters of nerot/neshamot to a wide and bright Havdalah candle.

We can not only begin to bask in the wondrous light of one another, but we can more intentionally become those co-creators who build the loving and supportive container that accepts the imperfections in one another, even as we work to continually live in greater alignment with our highest vision of ourselves. In this way we will individually and collectively become such a greater light, a ner of the Divine.

[i] Listen to Rabbi Shefa Gold’s setting of these words to a chant. This text can also be found in Kol HaNeshamah: Prayers for a House of Mourning.

[ii] Rabbis Daria Jacobs-Velde and Josh Jacobs-Velde have developed at Reconstructionist Congregation Oseh Shalom in Laurel, Md., a series of workshops to guide participants through these three practices.

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