Perhaps it’s the heatwave, or maybe it’s the summer vibe and memories of late-night campouts, but I’ve got fire on the brain. As far as analogies go, it’s a particularly apt one. Our Jewish passions and identities are not spontaneous things which just come about. We are built up, we are ‘sparked’ by other people who are already aglow, and then we are sent off to shed our own light and continue the great chain of Jewish tradition. We start with a burst of energy and, just like a fire, to keep the Jewish journey going we must continue feeding our neshama with moments that give us meaning and joy.
For me, travelling to see the different facets of the Jewish diaspora keeps my soul fed and happy. In 2019 Taylor and I had a brief tour of Jewish Morocco, and it was transformational. Morocco stole a small piece of my heart, and I can’t wait to go back. One of my former chavruta invited me to visit him and his husband at the Jewish community in Curacao, where they have one of the oldest synagogues in this hemisphere! A few days ago I was comparing travel experiences in Lithuania with a Yiddishist who gave me a few spots to visit next time I make it to Eastern Europe. And, while yes, it is the opposite of the diaspora, I can certainly feel Jerusalem calling me home. The travel bug has been itching hard after the last few years, and who knows… maybe my next trip abroad will be with our community!?
Fire puns aside, I hope that you are also engaged in spiritual self-care practices. Rabbi Arthur Green argues in his book Judaism 10 Best Ideas, that Joy/Simcha is one of the cornerstones of our faith. Joy builds an appreciation of the divine and strengthens the soul. He compares the spiritual practice of joy akin to going to a wedding. Like a good guest, we celebrate everything we can. How great is this food, how lovely the decorations, how happy the family, how beautiful the couple! It is good to celebrate the blessings of life.
And one might say When it comes to the mitzvah of celebrating with the wedding couple, it’s easy to be joyous! But what about when it’s hard to be happy? “When the ancient Israelites wandered through the wilderness for forty years, a certain group of Levites were given the privilege of carrying the Holy Ark. ‘How heavy it must have been,’ somebody commended, ‘with those massive stone tablets inside it!’ ‘No,’ a Levite answered. ‘The Ark carried those who bore it.’ The same is true of any mitzvah carried out with Joy. It elevates and ‘carries’ the one who does it.”
Sometimes we carry joy into the world and light the fire. And sometimes, we are the ones whose spark needs to be rekindled. This summer, as you are building up your own Simcha, I hope that you are getting enough of both; the moments that are keeping your spark burning strong and the opportunities to inspire others to glow even brighter.