Light My Fire
May 28, 2021
By Rus Devorah Wallen

I’m Rus Devorah Wallen, and I’d like to share my T for 2, my Torah thought for two minutes, more or less. (This installment is a little bit longer in honor of my Jewish birthday and in commemoration of the anniversary of my “Stroke of Good Fortune.”)

This week’s Torah portion B’ha’alosecho, is roughly translated as “when you light up.”  The parsha begins: “The Lord said to Moses, speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘when you go to light the lamps.’”  This refers to his service of lighting the olive oil menorah in the tabernacle, which eventually would be the menorah in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

King Solomon said, “Ki neir Hashem, nishmas adam – The human soul is G-d’s candle.”  Even if historically, Aharon haKohein was the first and original ‘igniter’ tasked with lighting Hashem’s lamps in His Chosen Dwelling, metaphorically, we are all candles in need of kindling; we are all in Hashem’s sacred space.  We know that the Torah’s inspiring lessons are for everyone in all times and places.  Similar to the menorah, each of us deserves ignition, illumination, and inspiration.  We all need someone or some experience to “light our fire.”  Regarding the menorah described in our parsha, there are two important additional points of interest, 1) the oil that was used was the of the purest form, a virgin pressing, and 2) The menorah was made of one piece of gold, that was hammered – “miksheh.” In the Holy Tongue, the word “miksheh” also means hard or difficult.

The requirement of the Kohein was to kindle the candles until the flames were “olah me’oleho – continuing to rise up on their own.”  This is a hard task.  Often, the candle has been dormant, or in the analogue, the individual lacking inspiration may take a while for the wick to be rekindled. Habituated by unhelpful practice, we can become desensitized, insensitive, or uninspired.  The neuroplastic effect of repetition, gets  us deeper into more entrenched ruts. We may require something external or someone else, to extricate us from the trench.  We are blinded by our subjectivity and the gravity that is created by the repeated practice.  As the famous Talmudic statement goes,  “Ein chavush matir es atzmo mibeis ha’asurim – The prisoner cannot extricate himself from his own prison cell.”  You need an “outsider,” someone or something else with the “keys.” Often, a person needs to fall very low to find the impetus to help him up. In professional circles we call this “bottoming out.”  It is a bittersweet phenomenon where one falls to the lowest imaginable state before turning around so to speak, intentionally pivoting and shifting to forward gear. However, if the inspired return is strong and consistent, the “highs” are equally opposite to and often greater than the original fall. Meaning, the lower the fall, the higher the upturn. 

Most essential, however, is the commitment to repetition, partialization, and consistency. As Maimonides, the original neuroscientist explains in Hilchos De’os – Laws of Attitudes: “How can one train oneself to attain a permanent trait in the personality? He should repeatedly perform the acts which conform to the standards of the middle road temperaments. He should do this constantly, until these acts are easy for him and do not present any difficulty.  Then, these temperaments will become a fixed part of his personality.”

Without the experience of the challenge, one would not have the impetus to be catapulted back in such a strong way.  This relates to the “pressing” of the olive to create the most beautiful, clear and bright burning oil.  Additionally, as the first Gerer Rebbe, the Chidushei HaRim said about the Menorah that was “beaten” from one piece of gold, that “The menorah was able to shine specifically because making the menorah was “difficult” for Moshe Rabbeinu.  Since the word, “miksheh” comes from the root, kashe – meaning hard or difficult.  These two ideas, the crushing of the oil, and the “difficulty” hammering out the gold menorah relate to the famous quip in Pirkei Avos: “L’fum tza’ara agra – Commensurate with the painstaking effort is the reward.” Or, “no pain, no gain.”

As the Chidushei HaRim concludes, “This is how it is with all matters that a person struggles with.  To the degree one exerts himself and puts in effort, light will shine accordingly.”

These lessons are particularly meaningful to me.  Tonight, the 15th of Sivan of Parshas B’ha’alosecho is my birthday.  It also represents my REbirthday.  Four years ago, exactly a week ago on Shavous morning, I had what I proudly call, “My stroke of good fortune.”  G-d, literally struck me with a stroke of force to get me off of my metabolic collision course.  I was blessed to have family and close friends at hand to the rescue.  My husband, dear friends, Rob and Shira Goldberg (BTW, Rob is the impetus and inspiration for this T for 2 project), my sister Cindy, Ruth Chana, and all my guests were there to send me off in the ambulance to the neuro-ICU.  Belated thanks to those who served my dairy meal and cleaned up after it in my absence J.

Although, of course, it was a very worrisome time for my friends and family, even when I felt the initial symptoms of the stroke, and recognized what it was, I still had Bitachon – absolute trust that G-d was in charge and that I would be well.  While in the ICU, I practiced my relaxation and meditation techniques, and made a commitment to Hashem that I would guard the priceless vessel He gave me.  In less than a 48 hour hospital stay, my mental, spiritual, and physical life made a drastic lifechanging pivot, on a dime.  Who knew the episode would lead to such a personal metanoia!?  Since that Shavous, I have been zealously committed to my wellness, incrementally tweaking my program, as I learn and grow, read and research, listen to my doctor, and more.  I’m working so my own menorah can burn brighter and stronger. I feel incredibly blessed to have been directly and lovingly “pressed” and “hammered” by Hashem. I feel lighter and more vibrant than when I was 25!  I thank G-d, daily for the loving, “stroke” of good fortune that He gave me.  From it, I have truly appreciated the prominent Kabbalistic concept, “Yerida zu l’tzoreich Aliyah – This descent is for an ultimate greater ascent.”  May we all be able to grow from such challenges, finding and lighting our own inner flame of growth, health, and motivation.

Rus Devorah Wallen is an accomplished musician, performer, social worker, psychotherapist, and educator.

Light My Fire - Jewish thought of the week graphic