Lasting Lights

Imagine a room full of shouting people; walls plastered with large sheets of paper covered with scrawls. What is it?  A kindergarten for children with poor social skills?  No, it is a typical brainstorming session.

Originated in the 1940s by advertising man Alex Osborn, brainstorming with its freewheeling tossing out of ideas and absence of criticism, is controversial. Some swear by its effectiveness while others dismiss it as nothing more than entertainment for executives.

I frequently facilitate corporate brainstorming sessions and I’ve also done some rewarding ones with my family. They can work well. However, a certain Torah principle must be followed.  Once ideas and solutions have emerged during the fun period, you’re only halfway through.  The tough process of analyzing, critiquing, and reconciling conflicting ideas must be tackled or the first part was a waste of time.  Expecting to achieve insight without hard work ignores reality. Let’s take a clue from Scripture.

The Torah is divided into 54 sections called Sedras, each with its unique name. A Sedra encompasses a number of Biblical chapters. The chapters as we know them are not part of ancient Jewish wisdom. They were put in place by Archbishop Langton during the 13th century. While the chapters are useful for locating verses in Scripture, they occasionally distort God’s intended divisions. Sometimes, Stephen Langton even presented one chapter as bridging two different Sedras, causing us to miss a shift in focus. Analyzing the original Sedra divisions and their names is a worthwhile endeavor. For instance, only six Sedras have names of people in their titles; 3 who were Jewish and 3 who were not.  In each group, two are righteous and 1 is wicked.  Sarah, Pinchas, and Korach comprise the first group while Noah, Yitro, and Balak make up the second.

Two other Sedras have very similar names.  Tetzaveh, the eighth Sedra of the Book of Exodus, means “You shall command.”  Tzav, the second Sedra of the Book of Leviticus, is the instruction “Command!” 

תצוה                  צו

TZaV                             TeTZaVeH

The similarity in name leads us to compare the two. We see that both mention a continuously burning flame (Exodus 27:20 & Leviticus 6:5). Exodus speaks of a continuous flame in the candelabrum, the menorah, while its Leviticus counterpart refers to perpetual flame upon the altar.

Well, which is it, menorah or altar?  Actually, both, but their appearance in similar sounding Sedras directs us to examine them together, revealing useful information. In Jewish thought, the menorah and its light always represent education and wisdom.  Even in English we use the word “enlightened” to mean educated.  When we say, “She’s a bright girl,” we mean that she is smart, not that she glows in the dark.  

The altar, on the other hand, represents sacrifice. The word has an undeservedly bad reputation. Instead of equating it with martyrdom and suffering, think of it as an offering one is fortunate to make.  Nothing of value can ever be achieved if nothing of value is invested. 

The light of the menorah isn’t about I.Q. The world is full of high I.Q. but incredibly foolish people. It instead reflects a deep comprehension of how the world really works. Gaining that wisdom, whether it is in relation to one’s marriage, children, society or business demands willingness to work hard, passing up ephemeral ‘quick fixes’ and sacrificing present relaxation and fun for future gain. 

The connection between the two eternal flames reveals that becoming wise always involves sacrifice.  Studying Mathematics, History, Accounting or Physics is much harder than studying Social Studies or Gender Studies. As too many recent graduates are discovering, it is also much more valuable.  Serious students of truly enlightening courses will have far less time for partying than fellow students coasting through fluffy, insubstantive programs.  If you’re not willing to sacrifice, you won’t gain a real education. The flames of the menorah and the altar are inseparable.

Reprinted and updated from June 2012

9 thoughts on “Lasting Lights”

  1. I am currently between jobs, but your perspective on brainstorming hit the mark. At my last job as a field supervisor and no I didn’t supervise field, but was out in the field, driving from one job site to another and making sure everything was running smoothly. Nevertheless, we did a brainstorming session and because we didn’t use any Biblical principle in our discussions (I may have been the only Believer in our group), the powers to be. ended up not implementing the “sense-able” ideas but giving precedence to a few far out thoughts. Too bad they didn’t some of their God given wisdom since the bad ideas flopped and cost the company money. We all should pay more heed to His Word and what it teaches us. Thank you again for your insights. It sure makes me focus more on God’s wisdom, then my own.

  2. Today’s Thought Tools along with the Valentines comments led me to think of King Solomon who, noted for his great wisdom said; “It is better to live on a corner of the roof than to share the house with a nagging wife.” (Proverbs 21: 9) This no doubt comes out of his learned experience from having so many wives and concubines. In retrospect, any wisdom that I have acquired over the last 70+ years come out of the crucible of various painful failures and experiences I learned not to repeat a second time. Thankfully, not needing a Hallmark Holiday to remind us that every day has been a Valentine’s Day for us these last 48 years is significant of something started well and done properly that will finish well just as God intended it to be.

  3. I was praying for wisdom this morning and the timeliness of this is not lost on me. I am in a position of leadership but not the top spot for a large volunteer organization. A leader was confronted with the consequences of inaction and was passed over for promotion and has now retaliated harshly and possibly illegally to the one who received the promotion. 2 camps have formed – force the removal or make nice and offer another chance of which there have been many so far. The choice seems sacrifice approval of men or reflect David’s unwillingness to directly remove Saul. What Jewish wisdom am I missing? I feel torn. FYI in my studies this year I have been focused on 1 Samuel so I have be zeroed in on this. What is the wisdom to know when and if a leader should be removed?

  4. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

    Thank you Michael,
    wish it was my perspective and my insight. It really is all ancient Jewish wisdom, but I am a faithful and accurate transmitter!

  5. Michael Overstreet

    Rabbi thank you for your perspective and insight, it is always insightful and thought provoking. Be well and all the best!

  6. Dear Rabbi Lapin, I have always heard the sections referred to as “parshas”. Why would some Jews call them parshas and others call the sections sedras?

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Michael-
      We all have our own lazy habits we each fall into, and a common one among Jews is dropping the term sedra and using parsha for everything. Like most erasures of distinctions, some information is invariably lost. The correct usage is sedra for the 54 weekly ‘portions’ and parsha for the ‘open’ or ‘closed’ paragraphs.

  7. Love it! Every time I see the Hebrew letters I think in aliens, I don’t know why.
    I hope you had a nice Valentine with Susan (Just in case you believe in that).

Comments are closed.

Shopping Cart